The Problem with Crowdfunding: Crowds Don’t Do Anything. Individuals Do.

Uncle Sam

My post yesterday about identity and masks mentioned a book called Situations Matter by Sam Sommers. And as I am in the middle of a crowdfunding campaign that is very important to me, I paid special attention to a section of the book dealing with the psychology of crowds. People, in a crowd, are much less likely to offer help. They assume that someone else will take up the slack.

We’re so used to feeling anonymous and detached in crowds that simply asking people to imagine being surrounded by others is enough to make them less helpful. In one creative set of studies, researchers instructed participants to visualize themselves in a crowded movie theater or out to dinner with thirty friends. 5 After answering several unimportant questions —like, what room temperature would they prefer in the theater—participants moved on to an ostensibly unrelated charity survey. Having just pictured themselves in a crowd, respondents pledged smaller donations compared to participants who had earlier been instructed to visualize an empty theater or more intimate dinner for two… Even being with imaginary people shapes how we think about helping. You can understand why we get used to feeling this way in crowds… Over time, we learn to associate these two ideas: on the one hand, being in a crowd, and on the other, relinquishing responsibility. Crowd. Lack of responsibility. Crowd. Someone else will take care of this. Make the connection enough times, and eventually the mere thought of a group of people is enough to trigger passivity.

So here you come to the great challenge of motivating people to do something as a group. It is the power of the group that makes it achievable and yet the sense of being part of a group is demotivating in itself. Imagine Stephen Rhea in the movie Shine here: It’s a mystery. It’s a mystery.

So I am going to do a bit of a test here and take some of the suggestions Sommers made for overcoming the innate inertia of the crowd.

“In short,” he wrote, “the characteristics of the helpee are more important than those of the helper. Instead of focusing on the types of people most likely to offer you assistance, you should spend your energy framing the person( s) who needs help in the most sympathetic light possible”.


Laura Lee, the Helpee

So let me tell you a little bit about myself. This is me, last winter, in Phoenix, Arizona. From the time I was a little girl I had an aptitude for language inherited, no doubt, from my late father who was also an author. When I was a girl I wanted to be an actress. My grandmother was a professional radio actress and she encouraged me in this. I suspect my acting dream, though, had more to do with exposure to actors on television than any family legacy.

Acting was never natural to me, and I thought that the fact that I had to work at it somehow made it a true calling. My father continued to insist that I was “a born writer.”

I was always attracted to performers. I admire them. (Probably because I loved it but was no good at it myself.) In high school and college I became deeply interested in popular music and decided to pursue a career in radio. Radio was a good compromise. You could be a performer but also remain hidden. I had a decent radio voice and it suited my introverted personality.  Little by little, though, it became clear that I had a special ability to express things in writing. I could dash off radio commercial or news copy where others struggled. At some point I caught on that this was the logical path for me. Writing was my calling and it has been both the path of least resistance and the hardest career path I could imagine.

My new novel, Identity Theft, comes from an idea that I have been wrestling with, on and off, for fifteen years. After many reworkings and revisions, I feel it is ready to share. It is quite different from my first novel, Angel. It highlights other aspects of my writing, personality and experience. It involves more humor. One reader even called it a dark comedy. I’m proud of it, and I want to get it out there.

Although I have generally been traditionally published, and plan to continue to publish my non-fiction that way, I have taken a cue from musicians who are all running their own record labels these days. I want to publish Identity Theft myself. (Writers don’t have the wonderful advantage musicians have of being able to earn money performing their composed works.) So that is me– the helpee. I hope you find me sufficiently sympathetic to want to lend a hand to make this dream a reality.

So what next? I turn back to Sommers.

The key, as you now know, is to break through the barriers of anonymity and ambiguity that come with crowds. The next time you’re desperate for assistance, your best bet is to ask for it specifically and directly… You can see this advice in action in those other Sally Struthers commercials, the charitable ones asking viewers to sponsor an individual child for a low daily rate. The ads make an unambiguous case that assistance is needed. They tell the individual donor that she can actually make a difference. Then they show her precisely how to do so, right down to the exact dollar amount. Each of these factors renders helping a more reasonable, realistic course of action offering concrete benefits.

So let me tell you the truth– I can’t do this without your help.

As I mentioned before, for most of my adult life I have chosen to follow my particular aptitudes. These have also been some of the most challenging paths in terms of making a living. When you work with a traditional publisher (I have done 14 books or so with them), you get an advance to do the work and then the publisher pays for the editing, layout, design and printing. In order to produce Identity Theft to the professional level I am used to with traditional publishers, I need to hire skilled people and I will need backing.

The good news is that I am not asking for anything more than the cover price of the book– $15. If you are willing to order the book now, in advance, you can help a writer share work she has been laboring on for more than a decade. Only $15– the price of a book. If that is a financial stretch, you can place an advance order for the ebook for $10. You get a book, for the regular price of a book. Hopefully it is a book you will enjoy. Movie tickets cost that much and provide an hour and a half of entertainment. A book is something you can spend hours with.  So this is my pitch. It is not a donation or charity, just an advance order, and it will make a huge difference in the life of a struggling author.

Right now I am pleased to say that after only two days the project is 21% funded, but Pubslush is an all-or-nothing platform. If it does not reach its goal it will not be funded. You will not be charged until the campaign ends 17 days from now.

So I need you. Yes, you. Sitting there reading this.

Please visit the Pubslush page, read about Identity Theft, and if it sounds like a book that you think should exist, please pledge your support.  Thank you.

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