Diane Duane's crowdfunded publishing experiment finally concludes

Six years ago, Diane Duane started to ask her readers if they'd be willing to subsidize her next book through subscriptions as she wrote it. Things went great for a while, and then they didn't. Diane's health, circumstances, and life went through a long, bumpy patch and her book went off the rails.

Now she's finished it, and put it online with a long and heartfelt apology to the readers who'd backed her.

This is an important -- and underreported -- problem with "micropatronage" and "street performer protocol"-style artistic experiments. Writers are often late with their books. Sometimes they're so late that the books are given up for dead (I was once contracted to write a book called /usr/bin/god, which died on the vine after 80,000 words, so I started writing Makers, which also stalled, so I wrote Little Brother, which gave me the insights I needed to finish Makers, which my publisher accepted in place of /usr/bin/god, and that's how this stuff goes sometimes). When that happens, hardcore fans -- the kind who pay attention to the things authors say about upcoming books in press interview -- are sometimes let down, but mostly, it's a private matter between the author, her agent, and the publisher.

This is normal, and we know how to deal with it in the world of traditional publishing. But in the world of public writing-as-performance where there are hundreds or possibly thousands of people with a financial stake in the book -- people who aren't editors at a house with 400 books under contract, but rather people who've never been around a book during its creation -- it gets really difficult and sticky.

I have a lot of sympathy for Diane here. Boing Boing readers have written to me periodically over the years to ask if I knew what was happening, and Diane always seemed to be working hard, amid a lot of hardship. But I have sympathy for the readers, too -- who donated in good faith and didn't know what to make of what had happened to their money.

We're going to see a lot of this in the future, as more writers try this kind of experiment. Off the rails is the normal state for most books, and readers rarely get to hang around the sausage factory watching the ugly production cycle.

First of all: how to get at the final chapters of the book. Everyone will have been mailed a username and password at subscription time. There has been a change to the passwords that originally went out, as the YoungWizards.com hosting provider has changed its password protocols slightly. Emails will be going out to you soon to clarify the change: or if you're in a rush, use the contact form at the-big-meow.com to get in touch with staff, who will mail back the new info to you.

Once the subscribers have seen the material, in line with the way we've always done it on this book, all the final material will go "free range" at the the-big-meow.com website for anyone to look at. This will happen ten days from now, on Feb. 12th.

After that, before it goes between covers, the book has to undergo a professional edit. I have the good fortune to have worked with a number of excellent freelance editors over the years, and I'll be contacting one of these shortly to hire him/her and sort out schedules and so forth. It would be unwise to assume that this process would take less than a few months.

Once the edit is handled, the new draft of the book will go out to the subscribers again - this time in a single file package. (Yes, we'll be doing it as an ebook in multiple formats, as well as hard copies, for those who want them. There'll also be an omnibus ebook of all three of the FW novels, but that's something to think about later.) Once the revised draft is out, it becomes time to go to print. Over the spring I'll be looking into what artist will have the time (and affordability) to get involved in a cover - ideally a wraparound, to make the best of the dust jacket that will go with the hardcovers.

"The Big Meow": Completion (Thanks, Diane!)


  1. Now all we need is “The Door Into Starlight”, the last in a set of book she started in the early 80s…

  2. My congratulations to Ms. Duane on completing the novel.

    I think the real cause of the project was, believe it or not, not so much the delays themselves as the lack of communication with her fan-investors. If anyone else were to follow in Ms. Duane’s footsteps and/or adopt the challenge-grant, put-something-in-the-kitty, subscription-model manner of funding a book, and should a similar derailment occur in that person’s project, above all, STAY IN TOUCH with your fans and BE CANDID.

    I can sympathize with the emotional need to seclude during tremendous trials (in fact, more than she’d know), such as what she describes in the linked-to blog entry — but even if they can be understood after the fact, such actions, during the period of time in which they’re unexplained, create significant problems.

    Silence on a subject forces the other party to fill in the blanks, and in this case, there wasn’t much that could be filled in that would’ve portrayed Ms. Duane in a positive light.

    If you stay in touch, your fan-investors are already pretty predisposed to like you and your stuff … it’s amazing how understanding people can be if they’re dealt with in a straightforwarded and honest way.

  3. One read on this is that serialized novel projects like, say, Catherynne Valente’s “Girl who Circumnavigated Fairyland”, or most of what Dickens wrote, require a different skill set than novels-delivered-as-a-lump. There are certainly novelist tricks-of-the-trade that don’t necessarily transfer (like the mystery writer’s business of writing the first half, including all the suspects, and then going back and revising when you decide which one really did it)…

  4. I was one of the original kick-in-a-contribution funders. I’ve enjoyed Ms. Duane’s writing in almost all its incarnations, and thought this crowdsourced support was a novel way to get a book going that otherwise wouldn’t have been published (from the pre-e-publishing days).

    After a couple of years following along on her website, she started to make fewer and fewer posts. Both her blog and Peter Morwood’s blog pretty much faded, and the youngwizards site mostly was kept active by fans. I agree with the other fan who said “If only they had kept the fans apprised of what was happening.” As it was, I have no idea what’s been happening in her professional (not to mention personal) life. A brief post every few weeks would have sufficed. Youngwizards was reluctantly moved from the list of sites I visit daily to my “not recently interesting” file. It should say something that I only found out that The Big Meow was finished from boingboing, and not from any of DD’s sites, or even as an e-mail automatic notice that the project was done. I hope she remembers to let me, and the probably dozens of other supporters, know about it. It’s a cautionary tale, both for writers and their fans.

  5. As I note here, it’s interesting that the original Street Performer Protocol idea involved the work actually having been completed before being crowd-funded (and even held in escrow by a third party, who could assure potential subscribers they weren’t buying a pig in a poke).

    The problem with this from the writer’s perspective is, of course, that it amounts to writing a novel “on spec”, which most professional writers hardly ever do—so by and large they adopt all parts of the proposal except the complete-and-in-escrow bit. For some writers (Sharon Lee and Steve Miller, for instance), this works better than others.

  6. I love the whole idea of crowdsourcing, but as you suggest, Cory, it introduces a whole new kind of pressure; suddenly you have an obligation not just to your agent/editor/publisher, but to a whole lot of nice people who’ve been generous enough to support you.

    I’m stupidly nervous about the pressures of up-front funding. (Fortunately, this isn’t something poets have to deal with very often; no six-figure advances for us!) I keep toying with the idea of applying for an Arts grant for my next book, but I hate the idea that the filthy lucre would turn the writing from a pleasure into a duty…. If only they’d give you the grant *after* you’d written the book!

  7. I was one of the contributors for this project. All I really wanted was an update on what was going on. I fully understand the life happens and gets in the way of what we really want to do sometimes. I’d given up on it ever getting completed. Glad to hear that some closure has happened with this.

  8. Kind of reminds me of Stephen King’s “The Plant,” his “before its time” effort with an early subscription-based ebook, where he would put up a new chapter each month, but when subscription numbers didn’t remain steady and dropped, the project was stopped.

    At least Duane has finished the book, while “The Planet” remains unfinished.

  9. Thx for posting this, Cory – I hadn’t heard about this final update! I was also an original subscriber, and I agree – the major issue was not that it took time, but that communication was sparse. That’s ok though. Here’s to hoping the final work is worth it… I’m pretty sure it will be. :)

  10. I don’t think “schedule slippage” has to be a problem with micropatronage. As a successful crowdfunded author who deals with her own health issues–and through year, a kind of messed-up living situation–that delays and derails her attempts to keep a schedule, I really think Diane nailed it in her mea culpa post where she fingers a lack of communication as the real problem.

    In the three years that I’ve been living exclusively on crowdfunds, I believe there have been times I have come very close to losing my audience’s trust, patience, and support, and these have been the times when I haven’t been willing to communicate, when I’ve clammed up… often for fear that admitting I was having problems would be what drove them away.

    I’ve only recently really started communicating with my fans on the same level I did at the beginning, and I can already see a huge difference in the level of involvement that’s happening in the comments and in the level of financial support I’m receiving.

    (There are also psychological benefits to openness that makes it easier to recover from the mired-in feeling that comes with missed deadlines piling up. Chances are that Diane felt the weight of both the problems that caused the deadline failures and that of the misses themselves, and that can make everything so much worse. Sharing burdens with a sympathetic audience… and a writer’s fans are often such an audience… can be healing.)

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