Crowdfunding a Novel: Fantastic and Frustrating

Interested in crowdfunding a novel? Susan K. Hamilton, who has crowdfunded two novels, shares the joys and frustrations authors can expect when publishing via this 21st century route.
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Interested in crowdfunding a novel? Susan K. Hamilton, who has crowdfunded two novels, shares the joys and frustrations authors can expect when publishing via this new and exciting route.

In the “good old days” getting published was a labor of love (or insanity). If you didn’t have an agent, you prepared a synopsis, gathered the correct number of sample chapters and wrote what you hoped was an amazing query letter. You packed it all in an envelope along with a SASE (for you young’uns, that’s a self-addressed stamped envelope), sent it off, and waited. And waited. And waited some more.

Then with the advent of print-on-demand publishing, indie authors suddenly found they had a reasonably priced alternative to traditional publishing. And they took advantage of it: according to a recent Bowker Report, “self-publishinggrew at a rate of more than 28 percent in 2017, up from an 8 percent increase during the prior year” and the total number of self-published titles exceeded one million for the first time.

 Enter today!

Enter today!

However, for some authors, self-publishing isn’t the avenue they want to pursue. If you’re one of them, then crowdfunding your book might be the answer.

I have crowdfunded two novels—Shadow King (Inkshares, 2018) and The Devil Inside (forthcoming from Inkshares)—as part of participating in the Launchpad Manuscript Competition. The experience was exhilarating and rewarding… and it was frustrating and exhausting.

If you’re thinking about crowdfunding your book, here are a few things I’ve learned about the process:

Crowdfunding a novel is HARD work.

Crowdfunding is a great avenue for up-and-coming writers to get published, but a campaign is not simply, “tell them and they will order.” You need to be ready to invest a large chunk of time, effort and attention in your campaign if you want it to be successful.

Be serious about the process. Be serious about your book and building an audience. If you’re not willing to put in the time, you’re putting yourself at a disadvantage. Plan on investing at least two to three months of highly focused attention on your crowdfunding efforts. I work a full-time job to pay the bills, and when I was crowdfunding, I felt like I was working a full-time second job. Do not make the mistake of assuming crowdfunding is easy.

How to Crowdfund Your Writing With Patreon

Be prepared.

You must be just as prepared—heck, even more prepared—for a crowdfunding campaign than you do for submitting a query to an agent or publishing house. Make sure you have a great synopsis and a great pitch. Have an online presence on different social media platforms. Know who your target audience is and be able to tell them—clearly and succinctly—why your book is worth investing in.

There are a lot of authors out there competing for your potential audience’s attention. Make sure your voice is clear and compelling.

Have a plan.

Like a real marketing plan. Know who you’re going to target with requests and when. Know what channels you’re using. Understand how you’re going to keep track of who has ordered and who hasn’t, and how you’re going to follow up.

When I was crowdfunding Shadow King on Inkshares as part of the Launchpad Manuscript Competition, I had ZERO idea what I was doing. I just started emailing friends and family willy-nilly, telling them about the competition and asking (okay, begging) them to order a copy. I didn’t really have a good elevator pitch for Shadow King memorized, so in some cases, I struggled to explain what the book was about – I very quickly came up with a much better pitch than I started with.

Be able to explain what crowdfunding is.

During my first campaign, I also had a hard time explaining how crowdfunding worked (I had a hard time with a lot of things in my first campaign). Many people thought the book would be delivered to them as soon as the competition ended. In reality, it was nearly two years from the end of the competition to my launch date. The people who support you need to understand that the funding part of the process is only the beginning, not the end.

Delight goes hand-in-hand with disappointment.

Now that sounds like a real downer, I know. But what I mean is that you’re going to have some people—friends and family—who say, “Of course I’ll pre-order a copy.” Then they don’t, even after you remind them several times. It is a frustrating and disappointing feeling to have someone not come through after they promised they would. This happened to me both times I ran crowdfunding campaigns. So be ready for it.

But on the other side of the coin, you’ll also be delighted—during my first campaign, I contacted a high school classmate. We hadn’t been particularly close during school, and I hadn’t seen her in over 20 years. I didn’t expect her to order, but I asked anyway, and to my surprise and delight, she said “yes” and ordered the very same day.

Despite the frustration and nights with not nearly enough sleep, I would not trade my crowdfunding experience for anything. It made me learn and stretch in new areas. It made me think about my audience and start to build relationships with them. It made me face the reality of what it takes to successfully pitch and market a book. Those are all lessons I may not have learned had I not gone the crowdfunding route.

Crowdfunding may be the path for you, it may not. Only you can decide that.

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SUSAN K. HAMILTON: Susan K. Hamilton is the author of three novels in the fantasy genre: Shadow King, Darkstar Rising, and The Devil Inside (forthcoming in 2019). Shadow King landed on the Top Ten finalist list of the 2016 Launchpad Manuscript Competition out of over 1,000 entrants from 24 countries and was published by Inkshares in October 2018. The Devil You Don’t reached the Top 25 finalists list the following year and will be published under the name The Devil Inside. Susan lives near Boston, Massachusetts with her husband and cat. An avid equestrian, you can often find her at the barn when she’s not writing. She rediscovered her love for writing at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst when her writing teacher freshman year told the class that their last assignment was “to write something creative.”

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