Crime Reporter Scott Anderson on Crowdfunding a Book Through Kickstarter

Scott Anderson, author of Shadow PeopleLast fall, we covered several Kickstarter campaigns by journalists and other writing types. Now that Scott Thomas Anderson’s book, Shadow People: How Meth-driven Crime is Eating At the Heart of Rural America, is fully funded and available via Amazon, we caught up with Anderson to discuss the reporting and publishing process.

How did you promote your Kickstarter campaign? What do you think made the difference between getting it funded and not?
I was very lucky in the sense that I had already received major grant funding to work on “Shadow People.” I only got involved with Kickstarter after I walked away from my book-publishing contract and wanted to make sure the report would still reach the public at an affordable price. I used social media to promote the Kickstarter drive rather than turning to my professional colleagues in the media, and that was because I’d need their support a lot more once the book was actually released. I focused most of my energy on trying to make a compelling Kickstarter page that would answer all of the questions backers might have. In the end, that was enough to get the project funded.

Aside from finding funding for the book, what was the toughest part of the process?
Probably writing about the child abuse cases. That’s one of the most invisible but prevalent crimes associated with the meth epidemic. The journalist in you knows that you have to show the filth and suffering for what it really is; but you also don’t want to do it in a way that’s reveling in the misery that these little kids have gone through.

Shadow People CoverI’d imagine the reporting must have been challenging. Were there times when your life was endangered?
During the 18 months I was an embedded reporter with law enforcement, there were probably two times when my safety was directly at risk. One of these instances is described in the book; but the other isn’t, and it happened on May 27, 2011, along a wooded riverside in El Dorado County, California.

I was with two sheriff’s deputies following a newly cut footpath that led from a house that had been burglarized into a glen near the water. We were suddenly looking at five warped, windowless modular homes cocooned in webs; and beyond was a crumbling house with rotted eves and tarps for its doors. To our left was a camper surrounded by piles of garbage and stripped metal parts. Its shell had a smattering of loose trash bags along the roof. We could hear a generator buzzing, and the faint garble of an old radio inside. The deputies approached the open door. I was right at their heels. The first deputy called out, “Sheriff’s Office,” as he leaned in. And then the deputy’s .40 caliber was up. I could hear him yelling, “Get away from the gun; get away from the gun. Back off that gun now! Now!” The sergeant between him and I was also lifting his sidearm.

Basically, inside, two parolees were smoking crystal meth. The shock of suddenly noticing the deputy, coupled with the paranoia of their meth use, caused one of them to hunch in closer to his loaded 9-mm pistol on the table. The deputy was shouting at him, but his hand was just fluttering in the air just above his weapon. Fortunately, the suspect’s thought-process rebooted just in time to prevent bullets from flying into and out of the tin sides of the camper.

What precautions did you take while making sure you were immersed in the subject to get create an honest portrayal of the situation?
In addition to the embedded work with law enforcement, and traveling to different small towns across the country, I interviewed nearly 200 current and recovering meth addicts. I told them my book was focused primarily crime and the victims of crime, but that I also wanted to try to understand their world as best I could. The cycles of violence and victimization by go with meth are a human catastrophe — and as I journalist and technical writer, you have to try to keep it in context.

What’s next for you? Promoting the book, writing a new one, taking a break?

Right now I’m doing a series of public awareness talks in California and communicating with various youth prevention initiatives and victims’ advocacy groups across the country about my findings in the book. I’m hoping next year I’ll start working on a new project around some of the breakdowns in the American criminal justice system.

Shadow People: How Meth-driven Crime is Eating At the Heart of Rural America is on sale nationally at Learn more about Anderson through Facebook and his website.

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About Susan Johnston

Susan Johnston is a Boston-based freelance writer whose work appears in, The Boston Globe, The Christian Science Monitor,, Parade Magazine, and SELF, among other places. She is the author of The Urban Muse Guide to Online Writing Markets and blogs at The Urban Muse.