Over the last few years, the popularity of crowdfunding sites for funding a variety of projects has lent itself to becoming a legitimate option for writers. It provides them with the opportunity to fund their self-publish dreams without breaking the bank. The upside of crowdfunding is being your own publisher. You’re in control of everything. Of course, that’s also the downside.
This guest post is by Diane Shipley. Shipley is a freelance journalist who writes about books, pop culture, technology, and psychology—or any combination of the above. Her bylines include The Guardian, The Los Angeles Times, Writer’s Digest, and Mental Health Today.
She’s also a frequent contributor to Twitter (@dianeshipley).
Administrative tasks can be more stressful, time-consuming, and costly than authors anticipate. Kelly Thompson says that these tasks have eaten up a fair amount of her time, meaning that she is currently writing a book every two years rather than every year, as she had originally planned. She asked for $8,000 on Kickstarter in 2012 for her first novel, The Girl Who Would Be King, the story of two young women with extraordinary powers. Although she raised $26,478, she ended up paying $5,000 out of pocket and going into credit card debt in order to fulfill her orders, mostly because she underestimated shipping costs. She also had to make multiple trips to the post office and says that parcels took over her fourth-flight New York walk up. In 2014 she raised $57,918 for her second book, Story Killer, and temporarily moved to her parents’ house in Utah so she could ship books more easily. “We had 709 backers for the first one and almost double that for the second—there is no way I could have done that [from my apartment in] New York.” Because she was more organized and had better calculated her costs, Story Killer was profitable from the start.
However, it hasn’t generated as much buzz as The Girl Who Would Be King. In early 2013, a writer for influential science and culture site io9 gave the book a glowing review, which sparked renewed interest in the book. It’s since become an Amazon bestseller and been optioned twice, most recently for television. Thompson had originally tried to get the novel traditionally published, and even came close with one of the big five, but kept getting feedback that it was too dark, not YA enough, and didn’t fit neatly into a particular genre. She now thinks those are the elements that have made it a success. “I found it interesting that Story Killer didn’t find the same success when The Girl Who Would Be King seemed like a much riskier model. But I think it goes to show that people want something different, and when they see it, they respond to it.” She understands why publishers are cautious about acquiring this type of book, but she thinks they’re missing an opportunity by not looking to crowdfunding success stories for new talent with a built-in audience.
Crowdfunding Success Stories
- To Be or Not To Be: That Is the Adventure: Ryan North’s choose-your-own-adventure version of Hamlet raked in a jaw-dropping $580,905 on Kickstarter.
- Hello Ruby: This children’s book by Linda Liukas that uses storytelling to teach the principles of computer coding, raised $380,747 and was republished by the Macmillan imprint Feiwel & Friends.
- The Serendipity Foundation: Sam Smit’s debut, a thriller about ‘terrorism with a social conscience,’ is the most-funded novel on Unbound, raising 132 percent of its goal.
- Magpies: Sara Lando raised $30,566 on Indiegogo for this beautifully rendered graphic novel about love and loss.
- Abomination: After Earth screenwriter Gary Whitta used Inkshares to sell 9,198 copies of his historical fantasy set in England during the reign of Alfred the Great.
- Wollstonecraft: This adventure story by Jordan Stratford, about the adolescent versions of real-life feminist heroes Ada Lovelace and Mary Shelley, raised $91,751 on Kickstarter.
Consider Hybrid Crowdfunding Options
You don’t necessarily have to choose between traditional publishing and going it alone. Hybrid publishers are filling a gap for authors who are happy to self-promote but don’t want to handle the production and distribution process. Filip Syta’s novel The Show is a dark satire about the seedy underbelly of a huge tech company. Instead of using a crowdfunding platform, he turned to Inkshares, a publisher that uses crowdfunding to pay for the books it publishes. Authors upload projects to the site for sixty days, during which time at least 750 people have to preorder a copy. For copies sold beyond this initial amount, authors receive 50 percent of paperback and 70 percent of e-book sales. Kingsnorth’s publisher, Unbound, works in a similar way but doesn’t disclose how many books an author needs to presell and only reveals what percentage of the goal has been reached.
Although you don’t earn any money up front, you also don’t have to go into your own pockets. And because Inkshares and Unbound function as publishers, they are able to get books into stores like Barnes & Noble and to be considered for review by major publications. Syta sold 1,001 preorders and says that knowing people were waiting to read his book spurred him to keep writing.
As well as posting about The Show on Facebook and Twitter, and writing guest posts for blogs, Syta connected with potential readers in real life, a tactic he recommends to other authors. “Go to events that have something to do with the subject of your book or where there’s a crowd you think would be interested. Define your audience and where they are, and then go to those places.” Once you’re there, emphasize what people will get from the book rather than why you want them to buy it. For The Show, that pitch would be something like: “It’s a book to help people realize it’s never too late to follow their dreams.” Syta thinks that hybrid crowdfunding will become increasingly common. “There’s a lot of talent out there, but to score a traditional publisher is time-consuming and extremely difficult. [Novels published through crowdfunding go] straight to the reader without asking an agent or someone at a publishing house for permission.”
Jane Friedman says that working with a hybrid crowdfunding publisher is ideal for authors who enjoy collaboration, but that they should be realistic about how much their book will benefit. “Just because you work with one of these companies doesn’t automatically mean you’re going to see more sales or a better marketing campaign; a lot of the responsibility is still on your shoulders.”
Whichever crowdfunding site you choose, making your publication dreams a reality will depend on your plan of attack, some loyal followers, and an indefatigable spirit. And your first crowdfunded novel doesn’t have to be a one-off. “We’ve seen a bunch of repeat creators,” says Maris Kreizman. “As long as you have fans who want to be a part of it, you can have unlimited success.”
Top Tips for Crowdfunding Success
- Read the crowdfunding bible(s). The Kickstarter Creator Handbook (com/help/handbook) and the Indiegogo help section (support.indiegogo.com/hc/en-us) will guide you through every step of a campaign.
- Time your campaign wisely. Avoid the holidays—people are too preoccupied (and broke) to donate. You can usually choose how long your project runs, but Wharton researchers recommend thirty days for best results.
- Be tax smart. Any profit you make above the cost of making and shipping your book is treated as income by the IRS, so keep detailed records and start and finish your campaign in the same tax year to avoid complications. (Consult an accountant to be on the safe side.)
- Be available. Most crowdfunding sites allow potential backers to ask you questions. Answer as promptly as possible, so they’re confident in your ability to deliver.
- Don’t stretch out. When a project funds quickly, some creators add “stretch goals,” extra rewards for additional funding targets. This can incentivize donors, but usually involves more work for creators, so remember they’re not compulsory.
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