By Jeremy Greenfield, Editorial Director, Digital Book World
De Campi, a 39-year-old music video and commercial director and
graphic novelist based in Durham, NH, hoped that a publishing house
would pick up Ashes, a follow-up to her critically acclaimed 2005 graphic novel Smoke. After making the rounds at publishers with Ellenberg, de Campi realized she would have to fund the Ashes
project herself; while some publishers were interested, they would not
agree to pay the artist while the book was being drawn, she said.
These days, self-publishing is common. Once stigmatized as “vanity
publishing,” the practice has lost some of its stink with authors such
as Amanda Hocking and Barry Eisler self-publishing their way to big-time
book-sales and commercial success.
What is less common are some of the extreme measures authors take to
fund their self-publishing projects. Some sell their possessions – even
the clothes off their back – while others enlist the help of their
family, friends, clients and colleagues. The point isn’t, as the name
“vanity publishing” would suggest, merely to see one’s name in print –
the rewards today for a successfully self-published book, some authors
believe, are potentially great: a deal with a major publishing house.
Hope springs for this self-publishing set, despite the fact that the
number of self-published authors who are picked up by a major publisher
is dwarfed by those who are not.
Getting creative in the case of de Campi, meant turning to
Kickstarter, a crowd-sourcing website where entrepreneurs can raise
money from the public for their projects. As was widely reported in book
blogs, de Campi set up an account on Kickstarter to raise $27,000 to
publish her book. Much of the money is to be spent paying James Broxton,
the graphic artist for the book. Through Kickstarter, those who want to
support de Campi’s book can buy a limited-edition hardcover copy plus a serialized digital edition for $30, or a cameo for themselves as a minor character in the book for $1,200, for instance.
“Next year there will be this little club of people getting chapters
of the book,” said de Campi. “Once the book is done, we’ll be sending
out hardback editions. This then lets us still have room for a trade
edition down the line.”
For de Campi and others, this is the goal: Get picked up by publishers who once rejected them and reach a mass market.
Michelle Dunn, a 45-year-old author who writes about credit and debt
collection in Plymouth, NH, risked nearly everything she had for a shot
at this goal.
In 2007, she sold her profitable debt collection business and in an
ironic twist the buyer soon failed to make his monthly payments to her.
High and dry and running out of money, Dunn tried her hand at writing.
Publishers weren’t biting and her family needed an income.
To bridge the gap, Dunn literally sold the clothes off her back – on eBay.
“I had some nice, quality, expensive clothing because I had worked in
corporate America,” she said. “I was writing and so I didn’t need it
Her book, Become the Squeaky Wheel, came out soon after. The
title is almost out of print and its success, in part, helped her
secure a deal with John Wiley & Sons for her most recent book, The Guide to Getting Paid, which came out in May of 2011 in hardcover and as an e-book. The Guide is Dunn’s 14th book.
“I self-published 12 books. By doing that, I gained a platform,” said Dunn.
It’s the “Blair-Witch” model all over again.
In the late 1990s, Mike Monello, now-executive creative director and
partner at New York-based creative agency Campfire, was a struggling
filmmaker. He and his film-school friends were just about ready to give
up their dreams of careers in movies.
“Blair Witch was one, true, last-ditch effort,” Monello
said. “We thought we got to make one last one and make it work or else
we have to get real jobs.”
Monello and his film-school friends raised $30,000 from friends, family and other investors to make The Blair Witch Project.
Due in part to a strong grass-roots marketing campaign and a product
that was called by critics “the scariest movie ever made” and “ingenious
in its simplicity,” the movie was optioned by a major studio for $1
million, plus a percentage of the overall take for the filmmakers, an
unheard-of deal for first-time content-creators like Monello and his
Anthony Meindl, a 40-year-old acting teacher and writer-director in
Los Angeles, also hopes that he can tap the resources and creativity of
his family, friends and colleagues to hit it big.
When Meindl met with agents and publishers about his project, At Left Brain, Turn Right,
a book meant to help readers achieve success by activating the creative
sides of their brains, he was told it was too niche to work for a mass
Undeterred, Meindl convinced some of his contacts to provide services
usually handled by a traditional publisher. His acting student, Randy
Raphael, for instance, designed the cover for the book. In exchange,
Raphael is taking classes from Meindl for free.
With the help of those around him, Meindl hopes to publish the book
in print in January with an e-book roll-out soon to follow. He and his
team plan on sending out review copies and organizing an online
The goal? Build a publishing empire a la Timothy Ferriss, the self-help author who has sold millions of copies of The 4-Hour Workweek
and similar titles. Until recently, Ferriss was published by The Crown
Publishing Group, a New York-based imprint of publishing giant Random
House. In a twist of the narrative – self-published obscurity to
big-time publishing house – Ferriss announced in August that his next
book would be published by Amazon, a company that has been a platform
used by so many who publish their own work.
Will de Campi’s Kickstarter gambit work? For the funding to kick in
and the project to move forward, the graphic novelist will have to raise
$27,000 by Sunday, December 18 at 5:02 p.m., according to her Kickstarter page. She has raised almost $12,000 as of November 8. With 40 days to go, she has to raise nearly $400 a day to make it.
Even if she does make it, her agent, Ellenberg, said that there’s no
guarantee her novel will then be picked up by a publishing house and
re-released to the mass market.
“There are a limited number of slots of the three or four or five
publishers who do graphic novels,” he said. “There is a percentage of
worthy projects that don’t get published.”
De Campi is optimistic, which is why she left the door open to trade
rights in the first place, and, besides, “Part of making art happen is
leaning on friends and family,” she said.