where the writers are
What I'm Up To

On the morning of her thirteenth birthday, Lily kissed her father and knew that he would be dead by nightfall. The image of his death dropped into her mind suddenly and without warning. As her lips touched his she saw behind the thin skin of her closed eyes his face, pale and wet, rising up from the waves surrounded by caressing fingers of sea grass, and she screamed. 

So begins LILY, a modern(ish) fairy tale about a girl who discovers she has the ability to see how others will die simply by touching them. Only she doesn't want this gift, and takes extreme measure to protect herself from it. When her mother--because every fairy tale has to have a wicked (step)mother--sells Lily's services to an evangelical preacher and his wildly popular travelling tent revival, Lily is torn away from the idyllic place she's always known as home and thrust into a world of greed and manipulation that threatens to destroy her unless she can find a way back. Oh, and did I mention that the old witch Baba Yaga has sent her on a quest as well? Or that there's an annoying 7-year-old boy preacher named Little James who tries to save her soul? Well, it's that kind of story. And that's all I'm going to say about it. 

Many of you already know me from novels including The Road Home, Z, What We Remember, Jane Bites Back, Suicide Notes, and many others. I've been writing and publishing for more than 20 years. In fact, it's the only job I've ever had. So why am I launching an Indiegogo campaign for my latest project? Because the publishing world has changed in dramatic ways over the past few years. The old model isn't working terribly well for most of us, and I believe it's time to explore other avenues for getting our work into the world.

LILY is an experiment in more ways than one. It's unlike anything else I've written. It's an odd book--a truly magical one--and it's been waiting patiently for its time to shine. It's also the first thing I've written without worrying about how it fits into the traditional publishing market. As a result, it's very special, and that's why I'm launching it in a special way.

I'm not telling you much more about the book because I want it to be a surprpise. (But you can read the first three chapters on my blog.) I'm hoping that if you've enjoyed my other work that you'll take a chance and see what I have in store for you this time. I can't guarantee that you'll love it, but what's life without a little adventure? 

What I Need & What You Get

I'm keeping this really simple. I'm raising money for the completition and production of the book. It's almost done. I just need to buy a few months to finish it. The physical reward for your contribution toward helping me do that is the book, in ebook, paperback, or hardcover format depending on the level you choose. With the ebook you get a hand-written thank-you card as well, because so far no one has figured out a way for authors to sign ebooks. The paperbacks and hardcovers will be inscribed.

"But this is a lot to pay for a book!" Yes, it probably seems like it is. But LILY isn't just any book. It's a book that will never be available in stores. I'm not doing this to get attention for the book in the hope that a big pubisher will want to snatch it up and give me more money for it. I'm doing it to show people--including myself--that there are still readers who value unique reading experiences. I'm only printing a few hundred copies, and once they're gone, they're gone. No one but Indiegogo supporters will ever have this first edition of this particular Michael Thomas Ford novel. 

So no, you won't get buttons or pencils or posters. You'll get a book. But it's a really special book. Only a few hundred other people will have it. And you'll also be helping us change how books get into the hands of readers.

And by the way, if someone tells you that $35 is too much to pay for a hardcover book, ask them how much they spent for the last concert they went to. I just shelled out $75 to see Blondie. Was it worth it? Absolutely. They were amazing. But a book is more than a 2-hour experience. Also, you get to keep it to read again. And if you want to, you can lend it to a friend to experience as well. These things all have value, even if a book doesn't (usually) come with Debbie Harry blowing you a kiss from the stage. (And if you really value that live, in-person experience, I have a donation level for that.)

The Impact

Let's take a moment for a lesson on how the traditional publishing industry works, because this might help explain why I'm undertakinng this experiment. As a writer, I give my book to a publisher. In exchange, they give me a little money (the advance) as a good faith gesture. But that money isn't really a payday. It's a loan. Before I get any more money from my book, I have to pay that loan back in the form of a royalty I'm credited with for each copy of my book that sells. Only after I've paid back the advance do I get any more money.

So let's say a publisher really loves my book and decides to give me an advance of 10K for it. (I'm using round numbers to make this easy on my math-impaired brain.) The publisher prints a paperback and assigns a price of $15. If I have a good deal with them, my royalty rate is 8% of that $15 sale price, so for every copy of LILY sold, I'm credited with $1.20. If my math is correct, this means I have to sell 8,334 copies of my book to pay back that 10K I was given as an advance. Only after that's done does the publisher owe me anything else.

And here's the thing--most writers never earn back that advance. 8,334 copies is a lot to sell. Most books sell far fewer copies than that. FAR fewer. So most authors are never going to see any money beyond what they were given for an advance. And advances are getting smaller and smaller as publishers get more and more reluctant to take chances on anything other than books with broad commercial appeal.

Part of the problem, of course, is that 92% of a book's sale price (on the paperback in my example) goes to the publisher. Now, they've taken all the risk and put up the money for editing, designing, printing, marketing, and distribution, so maybe this is fair. I'm not here to argue that. I'm just trying to explain why it is that the authors of the books you love to read so often seem to be in financial distress. 

This is why I love things like Indiegogo. It gives writers (and all artists) a chance to take our work directly to readers. A huge percentage of what you donate will still go to covering the costs of editing, designing, and printing a book, or recording a CD. But because more of what our work earns is going to us, the artists you support will have a fighting chance of going on to make the next record, or write the next book, or create the next show. By removing the obstacles created by outdated ways of operating, we're creating new opportunities. And that's exciting.

Other Ways You Can Help

I know there are a lot of ways you could spend your money. There are always other projects, or other deserving charities. One of my personal interests is dog rescue. There are literally millions of dogs out there who need help, and I can't help them all. So I make decisions based on where I think my time or money will be used most effectively. (That's not true. My decisions about dogs are generally irrational, which is why I have a house full of them.) My point is, I make choices every day about where to help, as I know you do as well. If you aren't in a position to donate to my campaign, please consider helping by spreading the word. All I need is 280 people to donate at the Paperback level, or 200 at the Hardcover level. Maybe there are even 467 people who want LILY as an ebook. Although I kind of hope not, as my arthritis makes it really difficult for me to write by hand, and the idea of writing and addressing 467 thank-you cards is kind of sick-making. But I'd do it for you. I'm a giver.

Please--share my campaign with friends you think might be into it. Put it on your Facebook page. Send out one of those awful "My friend is doing this cool thing!" emails. You'll get karma points. And if we meet in person, a hug. Possibly cookies.