Crowdfunding for books is an increasingly popular way for indie authors to raise the money they need for their book projects. I mean, really: writing and publishing a book costs money: from funding your day-to-day expenses while writing the book, to producing, marketing and distributing your book.
Oriana Leckert is director of publishing and comics outreach at crowdfunding platform Kickstarter. We talked with her about how authors are running crowdfunding campaigns and what you need to consider before crowdfunding for books.
You can also listen to our conversation by tuning into The Empowered Author Podcast episode featuring Oriana, which you can access right here.
Before you start: remember the crowd
Crowdfunding is all about connecting with your community—your crowd. And you do want to have one built before you launch your first crowdfunding campaign as an author.
- Find out where your target readers and other writers in your genre are gathering. [Not sure how to identify your target reader? This might help.]
- Then work out how you can be participate in these communities of people. For example, you can build your social media followings or attend conferences and festivals and actively participate on speaker panels.
- It’s a good idea to start sending out newsletters or other magical missives to your community so that the first one you send won’t be the one where you’re asking them for money.
Beyond the network you’ve already built, who are your other supporters and the readers who are going to care about what you’re doing? Knowing your crowd is key before you start crowdfunding for books.
Define your project
To give your crowdfunding for books campaign the best chance at success, clearly define your project, describing what it is in a succinct and compelling way. [For some ideas, check out 117 publishing projects showing what’s possible on Kickstarter, for example.]
This includes defining what exactly you’re raising funds for (writing? illustration? end-to-end project funding? living expenses while you write?) and setting your funding goals.
This exercise will also help you decide on the type of funding you need. Most of the time, for authors publishing a book on Kickstarter, you’ll be after project-based funding rather than ongoing.
The elements of a Kickstarter campaign
Oriana suggests that you take about six weeks from deciding to run a Kickstarter campaign to actually launching the campaign. This gives you enough time to refine the details.
A Kickstarter campaign has three elements:
- Video: You need a video that is short, bright and compelling. Oriana suggests a length of about a minute. It doesn’t have to be a high-end production—you can even use your phone for this—but it should be a teaser that draws people in and leads them to your story.
- Story: The story is the part where you really talk about what the book is about, why you’ve decided to write it, where you are in the process and the book specs. Oriana says that it’s important to take a visual approach to this, since most people will leave the page if there’s just a big wall of text. If you can’t use images, you can add visual elements through graphic-style headers and bulleted lists.
- Rewards: The rewards are what you’re offering your backers, based on how much they’ve given your campaign. With rewards, you can really be creative. For example, you can offer custom playlists of the music that’s inspired you or a “further reading” PDF of books that helped you in your journey. For higher tiers, you can offer deluxe prints of the book’s cover art. The possibilities are endless. However, Oriana says that you need to think very carefully about the rewards that you offer and whether you can handle the time, labour and money necessary to create and ship them. It’s better to under-promise and over-deliver.
Engage them in decision making
Kickstarter—and potentially other crowdfunding platforms—gives you a direct line to the people who will back you. Design your campaign to include engagement opportunities that involve them in making decisions about your book. For instance, ask for input on their preferences for the cover. Then you can offer, for example, for another $1,000 raised over your goal, to add French flaps or a string bookmark.
This makes the people in the crowd feel more connected to your work and gives you an opportunity to find out what they want from the book.
Promoting your crowdfunding for books campaign
In order for the campaign to be successful, you need to promote it. Oriana suggests that you start with your inner circle: everyone who has ever shown even a passing interest in your literary endeavours. Send them individual emails to tell them what you’re doing and inviting them to be a part of it. It’s best to draw up your mailing lists and decide what you will send at what stage, before the campaign goes live.
In terms of social media, Oriana’s advice is to use the platform where you’re the strongest. Every few days, post about an element of the campaign: elements of your own journey, news items relevant to your book, specific contributors, and the like. You can even cross-promote with other writers or other people running crowdfunding for books campaigns to reach a broader audience.
How does the money work?
Kickstarter is an all-or-nothing crowdfunding platform. Which means you have to reach your fundraising goal in order to get any money. This is to avoid the situation where you’ve made a bunch of commitments about fulfilment to backers who have pledged money, but you didn’t reach your goal and as such you are not going to be able to fulfil your commitments.
In the words of comics creator Spike Trotman, “A failed Kickstarter is a dodged bullet.”
So, be realistic about your funding goals. If the number of backers you need doesn’t seem achievable, you need to scale down your goal and perhaps the scope of the project. And remember to factor in about 10 percent in fees.
In the end, every Kickstarter campaign—and what makes it successful—depends on the crowdfunding for books campaign itself.