LynneQuisition: Tugboat Yards

It seems like every couple of days, we hear about a new venture aimed at helping authors strut their stuff. One new kid on the block is Tugboat Yards. Lydia Laurenson, who does publisher development for the venture, agreed to take a seat in the comfy chair (all together now: “Not the comfy chair!”) and answer a few questions.

First, Lydia, where did the tugboat thing come from?

Lydia: Tugboats are small, powerful boats that help big boats. Our founders liked the image of many tugboats pulling a larger boat!

The Tugboat philosophy is that content is monetizable if people present the opportunity in fun and engaging ways. We also believe that audiences will support a creator generally, instead of paying per piece of content. We are building the site because we want to help creators find these opportunities. (It’s also something that I happen to personally be passionate about.)

Lynne: It looks to me like Tugboat Yards is a crowdfunding site – a place where you ask people to fund your book or movie or whatever. You set contribution levels, with corresponding prizes for each level. Lois Lewandowski gave us a more thorough explanation in her post on Kickstarter, and she even gave Indiegogo a whirl in the name of research. What sets Tugboat apart from those sites?

Lydia: Tugboat is indeed similar to those sites in that Tugboat provides infrastructure for creators to earn support from their followers. So a lot of people think of Tugboat offers as similar to Kickstarter rewards. For example, a lot of people use Tugboat to offer social media shoutouts to their supporters, and that’s also a common Kickstarter perk.

The big difference is that on Tugboat, we’re helping people build a sustainable relationship with their audience. For example, Tugboat can serve long-term recurring functions, like subscriptions. One creative person just started offering his fans membership in his coffee posse, where he sends them a monthly bag of the same coffee he’s been enjoying! I love that.

Importantly, we also include tools to help creators be effective entrepreneurs, like graphs and statistics that show which offers are most popular. (For people who are familiar with the phrase “customer relations management,” that’s what we’re building, and it’s tailored to the needs of indie media creators.)

Lynne: What sorts of opportunities would you offer indie authors? Is this the sort of thing someone with a tiny marketing budget could take advantage of? What about someone who is just starting to build an author platform?

Lydia: Tugboat took me on partly because I’ve tried all kinds of things while working as a writer. Real example: one of my pseudonyms made legit money by offering copies of my books signed with kiss marks. If Tugboat had existed when I did that, I could have saved myself a lot of setup effort by using it.

Right now, managing a niche audience is way harder than it has to be! An indie author might be coordinating all audience-building activities separately — from a mailing list, to a batch of Twitter followers, to blog readers, to self-publishing efforts. It’s exhausting, and I think that one of the neatest things about Tugboat is that we’re gonna make this stuff easier to coordinate.

A person who hasn’t built an audience yet won’t make much money through Tugboat, because the platform helps people engage with their audience. But in general I’m happy to talk to anyone who has an interest in us.

Lynne: How is Tugboat Yards itself funded?

Lydia: We’re a young company, but our founders both have a long history with Internet media. Our CEO, Andrew Anker, helped start Wired! Andrew has also personally invested in lots of cool online media properties. Our Chief Technical Officer, Brad Whitaker, was the first full-time engineer at Livejournal. The two of them have drawn impressive investors. Business-y folks are welcome to check out our AngelList profile to learn more about who’s backing us.

Lynne: Lydia, thanks for being here and good luck with your venture. Guys, if you’re interested in finding out more, check out the  Tugboat Yards website.

Author: Lynne Cantwell

Lynne Cantwell grew up on the shores of Lake Michigan. She worked as a broadcast journalist for many years; she has written for CNN, the late lamented Mutual/NBC Radio News, and a bunch of radio and TV news outlets you have probably never heard of, including a defunct wire service called Zapnews. But she began as a fantasy writer (in the second grade), and is back at it today. She currently lives near Washington, DC. Learn more about Lynne at her blog and at her Amazon author page.

17 thoughts on “LynneQuisition: Tugboat Yards”

  1. Hi Lynne,
    As you know I had a disaster on Indiegogo. I hate to admit this, but I don’t get their specific platform could do what she is saying. I’ll go over and check out the site. Thanks for the interview.
    The biggest problem I have with crowdfunding is that you are expected to ask friends, family, and your network to fund a future project. I would prefer for people to talk about my next book launch and encourage their friends to buy the book then ask for money. Have I totally missed the point here? I see where there is a long-term function, but I can’t imagine monitoring a coffee club.
    Thanks for the information. I don’t want to sound negative, but I fail to see how this site can replace the efforts of indies establishing a following on Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook, and other social media channels.
    I will look into it. I’ll leave kiss imprints on my books if it will sell them. 😉

      1. I know what you’re saying, Lois. It’s like when the kids have to sell magazines for a school fundraiser — you know it’s only going to be family members who buy them. Now the chocolate bar fundraisers are another story. Hmm, maybe if we could sell Indies Unlimited chocolate bars with kiss imprints on them… 😀

        1. … or girl scout cookies. I’m obsessed with Thin Mints.
          I have a pin on one of my boards. A little girl is smirking and behind her a house is on fire. The caption reads, “Next time, just buy the damn cookies.”

  2. It’s always interesting to get it straight from the horse’s mouth so to speak, and I applaud Lydia and all those brave enough to step up to the Lynnequisition for their pluck. I have to say, however, I’m with Lois on this one.

    Thanks for stepping up, Lydia, and thank you, Lynne, for another excellent public grilling.

  3. I do not support IndieGoGo campaigns and the like for authors. Most if the ones I see are writers asking for money to get their books published. I can’t understand WHY they need this funding. It isn’t that expensive. Editing is probably the most pricey part and most editors will work with you – many even take payments. Maybe I am missing something about this and am willing to have an open mind about it if anyone wants to give some suggestions as to why these platforms are needed. 🙂

    1. I think this sort of thing falls in the realm of “building your brand.” Or it ought to, anyway. 😉

      I also don’t get why people try to raise money for book publishing. Maybe they’re trying to make enough money to live on while they write it? Because you’re right, Nickie, going indie doesn’t cost that much.

    2. Of course, if you’re in a financial position to write and publish books for free, then that’s great! 🙂 And certainly, as an independent writer, I’ve never raised money to fund the costs of a book. But I’ve sold books, and I’ve given lectures and workshops, and I’ve offered editorial services and consulting. These are all things that a person could offer through Tugboat.

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