08/24/2012 03:16 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Writer Ross Pruden Wants Your Dimes

By: Noah J. Nelson

Writer Ross Pruden spends a lot of time talking about crowdfunding. On his own blog Infinite Distributions, at TechDirt and as those of us who follow him know pretty much all day on Twitter.

What he hasn't done yet is actually run a crowdfunding campaign. That all changed this week, when Pruden launched Dimeword.

The Dimeword campaign is straightforward: for ten bucks a backer can commission Pruden to write a 100 word story. That works out to a dime a word, hence, Dimeword. Alternatively backers can choose to toss in one dollar and they will have early access to all the stories written as part of the project. There are a few other perk tiers, but that's the heart of the project. Pruden sees the project as an experiment, and a way to build up an audience for even grander plans.

Once Pruden reaches his $1000 goal and the book is released, Pruden will put the Dimeword stories into the public domain. That's a step beyond the Creative Commons license, because once those stories are out there people will be able to do anything they want with them: even make money off of them. If they are clever enough to find a way to do that with something that's already free.

We interviewed Pruden, whose career has spanned acting, writing and directing, through the modern convenience that is email.


TURNSTYLE: How much input those who commission the stories have over them?

Ross Pruden: In an ideal world, all $10 donors would pick their genre, character, style, etc. but that gets quickly unmanageable. So I decided to let the first 10 donors pick their genre. In fact, my daughter just busted open her piggy bank and borrowed $3 in quarters from her sister to be one of my first $10 donors -- her story is going to be about a "unicorn pegasus". Not sure how that's going to go over...

After the stories are written, I won't be taking notes or doing rewrites because the idea is to be paid on the front end, and $10 is a decent amount if you're writing something short in 10-30 minutes. However, if you spend three hours on each story going back and forth with donors to integrate their input, it's not the best use of one's time. That said, this whole campaign is one big experiment, so I may end up soliciting more input from donors if the campaign's value proposition isn't enticing enough.

TS: Why go with commissioned stories?

RP: Because at at this point, it's not about the work, it's about the fans. A big mistake I see all the time is starting too big, like funding a novel for $10,000 on your first time around. To get to that kind of goal with your first Kickstarter, you've got to have either a killer idea, a killer fan base, a killer sales attitude, or all three. Of course, few have just one of those things. Artists need to start small by building a loyal fan base from people who already know them, and *then* expand that fan base by offering their fans such amazing value that they feel compelled to tell everyone they know.

Another big mistake is doing the work for free and then asking to get paid for it. Commissioning a story is selling many things only I can sell: 1) the creation of a new work, 2) patronage, 3) belonging (to a community of other patrons), and 4) a unique experience. If I don't reach goal, none of those things happen and I don't waste my time writing something that I may never be reimbursed for. For example, many of my finished screenplays may never be sold because I have no desire to track down the right development executive and spend three years of my life *maybe* getting a paycheck. Thus, commissioning a story is selling four things *around* that story that wouldn't happen if the campaign isn't successful.

My long-term goals are no different than other artists. I want to write a novel, a feature screenplay, and direct a feature film. If my plan is to crowdfund those projects, and it is, then I can't do that yet. That plan is too ambitious and will fall flat on its face right now. So my strategy is to slowly build unique and delightful experiences over a series of Kickstarters that solidify and expand my fan base and make larger projects more viable with crowdfunding.

TS: When did you first get interested in crowdfunding?

RP: My first wake-up call was Mike Masnick's case study of Trent Reznor. Reznor wasn't crowdfunding per se, but it illustrated how powerful a committed fan base can be when you offer them something scarce, and of real value to them. I mean, holy s#!t -- $300 Limited Deluxe Edition sets for $750,000 in just 30 hours? Wow. And that was made despite (and probably because of) giving all his music away for free.

Around the same time, I heard Brian Newman talking about ways to sell your movie when distribution deals are so awful that they are effectively the same as giving your film away for free. Newman listed all of Kevin Kelly's "generatives" , i.e., unique value-adds for abundant content. IndieGoGo was the first crowdfunding platform I ever heard about, and Danae Ringelmann (one of IndieGoGo's founders) once told me she'd heard Kevin Kelly talk about generatives and had "preached the gospel" ever since. If you look carefully at all crowdfunding platforms, they're designed to encourage users to offer things only they can sell, which is the quintessence of Kevin Kelly's generatives.

When I realized how powerful crowdfunding could be in the right hands, I was sold. I knew it would ultimately wrestle power from major gatekeepers like film studios, record labels, and book publishers.

TS: What got you writing in the first place?

RP: I was an only child growing up in a Manhattan skyscraper, so I didn't have a back yard to run around in. Manhattan's a big city and all my friends lived far enough away that it was a challenge to go visit. I had to come up with ways to entertain myself and created these crazy imaginary worlds. Maybe that's why I can relate so well to Spaceman Spiff in Calvin & Hobbes. My ability to quickly create stories roots from that, for sure.

In high school, I did reporting for my school newspaper, which is another form of storytelling. Then I got really good at performing in plays, which led to my interest in drama, and in metered poetry. It wasn't until college that I started writing screenplays in earnest.

TS: Your introductory post on Dimeword was back in November of last year, what took so long to get it rolling?

RP: Life got in the way. A screenplay gig I had to finish, a huge video editing job that crashed my computer, my email went offline for a month, had to reformat my computer, a family vacation, out-of-town visitors... finding a decent stretch of time where I'm not distracted by family or work obligations is impossible. If I really waited until the perfect time, I might not do Dimeword until my kids graduated from high school.

My own self-limiting beliefs get in the way, too. I'm a huge analysis guy. I'll pore over data ad nauseum before making decisions, which gets in the way of learning by doing. The best lessons are always experiential and I knew for a long time that, despite all I knew about crowdfunding, the best way to learn was to run a campaign myself. I didn't want to run a campaign for something unimportant -- you should never make your friends feel you're spamming them -- so I waited until I came up with something I could get behind as fun and interesting. Execution is another matter entirely: doing a campaign well requires a lot of skullsweat in writing, editing, and shooting a pitch video, creating art for the headers, planning a release strategy... my life is so hectic now that a small issue like email going offline becomes a month-long odyssey, so lining up all my ducks in a row to do a proper campaign -- which would take a week if I had no kids -- takes about six months.

TS: Give us a visual here: where do you do most of your writing? Where will the Dimeword magic take place?

RP: My office is in our basement overlooking Puget Sound. I wish I could say I cast my gaze across the bay to wax poetic, but the light reflecting off the Sound is so bright compared to light in our basement that I can't ever look out the window. Sadly, I have two white curtain drapes nailed on the wall to dim the light in here.

My desk is littered with various tech gadgets like headphones (one for gaming, one for video editing), Canon 7D, blank DVD-Rs, a digital audio recorder, my phone, a baby monitor, and a scale (for weighing perks). And bottled water -- can't have open containers of liquid around this tech with kids in the mix. I also have 20 cylindrical Catholic candles lined along my window sill. I'm not religious but I love all the different colors the candles make when they're lit up. My wife thinks I'm crazy, but I think it's cool in a kitchy kinda way.

My iMac is an absurd 27" wide and I'll use Scrivener to write all the stories on it. Sometimes I may write in Textedit and paste my work into Scrivener to keep the stories in one place. As a graphic designer, typography is critically important to me -- I prefer to write in a nice font like Garamond or Baskerville. Depending on my mood, I may write in silence or play ambient music on Soma FM over iTunes.

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