Robin Sloan

Featured Superhero: Robin Sloan

Allison Domicone, October 20th, 2010

This year we’re letting some of our exceptional CC Superheroes tell you in their own words why they support Creative Commons and why you should too. The first is Robin Sloan, a writer who works at the intersection of storytelling and technology. Here is his story. Join Robin in supporting Creative Commons with a donation today.


Robin Sloan

Robin Sloan

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“I’m a writer you probably haven’t heard of. But if I’m right about Creative Commons, and about the way books and culture work — and if I’m a little bit lucky — then your kids will read my stuff. And their kids too.

Let me bring you up to speed:

Just about a year ago, I used a site called Kickstarter to gather a posse of patrons and, in the span of about two months, wrote and published a short novel. It featured a character named Annabel Scheme, a sort of Sherlock Holmes for the 21st century.

After it was finished, I mailed the books off to my backers — about a thousand copies, total — and then put the PDF online, for free, with a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 license.

Often, that’s where this story ends. Triumph! Success! Righteous sharing! Right?

I actually think there’s another step. So I’ll explain what I did next, and then I’ll explain why.

I had a chunk of change left over from the printing — around $2,000 — so I turned it into a Remix Fund. I polled my patrons for interesting ways to reimagine the story I’d just published, and interesting people to do the reimagining. I got a small avalanche of suggestions, each with a small budget attached, and so we all voted on it. The winners included a singer/songwriter and a 3D artist. They did their thing, and now there’s an Annabel Scheme song and a stunning set of images of her alternate San Francisco. (And, in true CC spirit, the raw 3D models can be downloaded and reused, as well.)

But why bother? Why not just wait for people to discover the book, get inspired, and remix it under their own steam? Isn’t that more legit?

Maybe. But for me, Creative Commons is a survival strategy.

I think the most important thing about a book is not actually the book. Instead, it’s the people who have assembled around it. It’s everyone who’s ever read it, and everyone who’s ever re- or misappropriated it. It’s everyone who’s ever pressed it into someone else’s hands. (That’s another thing about Creative Commons: it supports not just remixing, but sharing, too. I publish in Amazon’s Kindle store as well, and I love it — but if you buy one of my stories over there, you can’t ever give it to anyone else.)

Anyway, it’s that group of people that makes a book viable, both commercially and culturally. And without them — all alone, with only its author behind it — a book is D.O.A.

So I’m utterly intent on assembling that group, on nurturing it, making it passionate and resilient, and I’ll use every tool at my disposal to do so: Kickstarter, my site, Twitter, a Creative Commons license, and a Remix Fund to boot.

Did it work for “Annabel Scheme”? It’s too early to tell. There’s been more remixing since that first flurry — there’s this software project, and I just learned last week that there’s a comic in the works, too.

If you aspire to create culture today, in the year 2010, you cannot escape the vastness of it all — the sheer quantity of stuff that is being produced, and the sheer quantity of stuff that is being forgotten. In a world like this, Creative Commons is not just a license — not just a passive agreement with some theoretical public. Instead, I think it’s an active, urgent signal to a posse of potential allies.

It says: I want this thing to succeed, but I need your help.

And it says: join me. Make this yours, too.

So please join me in supporting Creative Commons. After all, we’ve got a lot of kids and grandkids to entertain.”

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Robin Sloan’s “Annabel Scheme”

Cameron Parkins, January 14th, 2010

Robin Sloan, a San Fransisco-based writer best known for his short stories and writing at culture blog Snarkmarket, recently completed work on his first novella, Annabel Scheme.

Sloan used Kickstarter, a social fundraising platform, to garner patrons for Annabel Scheme prior to publishing. By offering a number of incentive levels with varying amenities, Sloan was able to raise just shy of $14,000 for the project – over $10,000 more than he had originally asked. Had he not been able to raise the original goal of $3,500, no backers would be required to pay, making the process low risk for those looking to fund, as Kickstarter puts it, “creative ideas and ambitious endeavors.”

Towards the end of the fundraising round, Sloan decided Annabel Scheme was to be released under a CC Attribution-NonCommercial license – more than that, he chose to devote $1,000 of the excess budget to a remix fund. Sloan put out an open call for pitches on interesting ways to take the book and build something new from it. These pitches are now being voted on by the book’s backers, with an announcement on fund allocation forthcoming.

A unique project all around, it is no wonder Kickstarter awarded Annabel Scheme best project in their 2009 retrospective. You can download the novella for free at Sloan’s website.

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