Buying time: Liz Sinclair on asking for money to write her book

I was very curious when I heard about Liz Sinclair‘s project ‘Help Me Write My Book’. Like many writers, Liz has to work to support herself, and of course, work takes time away from what she’s really wanting to do – write that book. My first reaction, honestly, was something along the lines of ‘why does she think she has the right to ask for cash from other people?’ But through email contact, I found that this is something Liz has obviously thought through. I thought some others may have had the same initial reaction as me, so with Liz’s permission, I’m reprinting an edited version of her emails. Do drop me a line in the comments and tell us what you think.

Liz says:

One of the reasons I took a year off from work/Melbourne life to come and volunteer in Bali in the first place was to have more time in my life for my writing. Bali is much cheaper to live in, and that was a factor in my decision to come here. My risk seems, in the end, to have been successful as I’m now much-more published and have gained a much higher profile for my writing. I think writers owe it to their talents to think creatively about how to find more time to write.

I don’t mind you asking about how I can ask people for their money. Trust me, the same question has crossed my mind many times. Who am I, etc.? But isn’t this just extension of even being a writer? Who are we to put our words out there? And yes, I did just go out there and ask for it, and most people won’t ask for what they want. I find most writers and artists dreadful at believing in and promoting themselves and asking for what they need or want. I have felt very guilty, at times, when I read stories about kids needing surgery or people losing their homes, but dreams are vital and important too, and I work actively in my other life to help poor families in Indonesia.

I had been asking people for money for two years as a grant writer, so it seemed a short step to asking for myself. There are precious few grants that let you take time off to write your opus, and still pay the rent; they’re highly competitive and often go to established writers. It’s just as crucial for society to support the arts as to alleviate poverty.

Also, I help other writers every chance I get – refer to a publisher, network, talk about their book, etc. I firmly believe that a ‘rising tide lifts all boats.’ A number of newly-established and as-yet unpublished writers have given me money for November. I will help them out, in turn. I am in an unusual situation. Through my networking, and by helping other writers, I have direct access to editors at Random House, Harper Collins and Anvil Press (PI), as well as Insight Publications in Melbourne. So networking, and supporting other writers, works to help ourselves.

I’ve had a number of people tell me that I’m sort of living their dream, and inspiring them. Most of the contributions have come from friends and family, and more than half of the contributions have been over the $10 I asked for, with several at $50, $70 or $100. It will be interesting to see if any of my donors get motivated in their own life and follow through on their own projects. Already, I’ve had one friend decide to make more time to write by sending her eldest to school early. I love inspiring others!

As for fund raising, I’ve raised about $1200, and there’s still promised payments to come in. I’ve got enough to take off November, and part of December. I asked for more than I needed, expecting to be short of my goal.

Since I started my fund raising, I’ve noticed a number of other writers out there also asking for money to support them during November to write a book, but none seemed to have used social networks, or gotten ‘ballsy’ about asking, like I did. But I have to say, I worked in business and retail for many years, so some of these skills have rubbed off on my writing. I think every writer should take a marketing course or read marketing books, ie Guerilla Marketing for Writers.

A friend told me about several bands (Radiohead, Meridian, Porcupine Tree) that raise money from their fans for a new album. The bands then give donors a special edition, signed CD. He suggested I give people something back in exchange for their money, hence the offer to give people who donate a copy of my book once it’s published.

I got the attention of the book editor at The Huffington Post, who’s asked me if I want to blog about raising money to take time off to write my book, then blog the actual writing of it. If this comes about it will hopefully help to get publishers interested.

But now I’m finding an interesting thing: now that I have to write the book draft, I’m getting incredibly nervous. Part of the reason I set it up this way was to force myself to sit down and do it. I can’t back out now, or I’ll lose face and disappoint people. I wonder if one reason we don’t ‘make the time’ or ‘find the time’ in busy lives to write our great works is because of fear, not a lack of time. Theodore Sturgeon wrote his short stories in 15 minutes every morning when he was starting out and working as a steelworker all day.

You can follow Liz on Twitter, to see how it all pans out.

11 thoughts on “Buying time: Liz Sinclair on asking for money to write her book

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Buying time: Liz Sinclair on asking for money to write her book – LiteraryMinded -- Topsy.com

  2. Wow, I really find this idea extremely interesting. I’m awfully jealous of the attention she’s getting for it and really hope she raises more money. I admire her guts in asking for money.

    I’d be interested to hear how she’s approaching people. I’m doing a similar thing for November. I’m asking people to sponsor me for NaNoWriMo, either for starting, how much I write, if I finish or a combination of the three. Usually people are donating $1 for 1,000 words and another $50 if I finish.

    But 50% goes to Equal Love, the group campaigning for same-sex marriage rights in November and so far I’ve raised $450 if I finish 50,000 words.

  3. Hi Ben, I think she’s very tactfully approaching people through social networking.

    That’s awesome that 50% of yours is going to Equal Love. Good on you, and good luck. I believe Liz has signed up for NaNoWriMo now too.

    In case anyone reading is wondering about NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) here’s the link: http://www.nanowrimo.org/

    And I’ve just had this brought to my attention (thanks Tim) – another fundraiser (who has raised heaps!): http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/robinsloan/robin-writes-a-book-and-you-get-a-copy/posts/2725

  4. That Kickstarter chap has an astonishing number of supporters! insane. One more chapter in the ongoing crazy story of publishing fiction, innit. Great post, this is very interesting, Ange.

  5. I say, if her approach works, good for her. I think it would be appropriate to repay those that have supported her with, for example, signed editions of her publications. Many novice painters, for example, move into a professional phase by family and friends buying their early works; in some cases those people greatly benefit when the artworks increase in value if the artist becomes recognised.

  6. Inspiring tale. I’ve followed a similar route; currently studying full-time at the University of Amsterdam as a very mature-age Master of Arts student on exchange from University of Technology, Sydney. I saved hard for years, then took 9 months leave of absence from work, and with the blessing of a very understanding partner, took up residence here back in August. Crikey has even published a few of my “Letters” from Amsterdam, Brussels and The Hague yesterday.

    So my sabbatical is entirely self funded, but when the money runs out (around Easter next year, I reckon), think I’ll be looking to innovative solutions like Liz’s to help me finish that magnum opus, which has certainly found its voice and its legs since I left the distractions and excuses of Sydney behind.

    One fund raising option I’ve thought about gets its viral cue from Alex Tex, the UK undergraduate who ‘sold’ blocks of 10×10 pixels on a single web page to advertisers. The gimmick drew so much traffic that he made his million pound target in just over a year. True story – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Million_Dollar_Homepage.

    I was thinking of doing something similar online allowing people/companies to sponsor a page of my book for any amount they wish and give them all a mention on the credit page of the best seller (how many people can say that?) as well as on the hugely successful web site that will emerge from this ingenious plan. Stay tuned …

  7. I don’t know if Radiohead ever asked fans for money (they did use a pay-what-you-want marketing gimmick for the release of In Rainbows), but there are a number of recording artists seeking investment capital from fans, the latest being Public Enemy via http://www.sellaband.com.

    Anyhow, the ongoing changes in the content/entertainment landscape present fantastic opportunities for authors who can write a good business plan to not just ask for cash as a favour (so to speak) but present a viable investment opportunity.

    No disrespect to Liz Sinclair — good on her quite frankly! — but if I’m putting up some cash to a prospective author I’d like to see my money back, and then some. It sounds a little brutal I know, but there’s plenty of others like me and I think that represents a wonderful opportunity for authors.

  8. Pingback: November Writing Frenzy! — Speakeasy

  9. I guess there’s always been a tradition of artists having sponsors/patrons, so why not? It’s just a different way of going about it.

  10. Good luck to Grant with your MA! Did you try the Churchill Scholarships?

    I agree with the comment about artists needing patrons. Social networking is the 21st century version. And artists need support, particularly emerging ones. I sigh every time I read the criteria for an arts grant, and it talks about how a writer must show a ‘substantial body of published work.’ I feel like screaming, what do you think I’m trying to achieve? I wouldn’t need your piddling grant if I had produced a ‘substantial body of work.’ Or maybe I still would. The pay’s not great.

    I have to say that most of the money I raised came from friends and family. Only one person I don’t know well gave money, $100, largely I think because he is an aspiring writer himself (he works in IT). Writers and artists I knew also gave me funds.

    But I’ll tell you, having people donate funds feels just the same as having a regular deadline with any publication. I feel compelled to write, to deliver on the book.

    Anyone wanting to follow my trials in getting this book finally written can read my blog at http://lizsinclair.com/WriteAway/.

  11. As Manager of the Australia Business Arts Foundation’s Australia Cultural Fund it was most interesting to read this article. Many writers are not aware that AbaF offers a facility where approved artists can raise money through donations – and AbaF is able to offer the donors a tax deductible receipt. This service is available to all Australian individual artists/musicians/composers/dancers etc who meet certain criteria.

    If your readers/writers are interested in finding out more about this service please contact us at acf@abaf.org.au or check out our website at http://www.abaf.org.au/donate or call 03 9616 0300 for more information.

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