Guidelines for Crowdfunding a Book

September 9, 2015

Last year Canadian poet and spoken word artist Shane Koyczan aimed to raise $15,000 on Kickstarter to fund his next poetry book. He ended up raising over $90,000. When it works, as it did for him, crowdfunding is a great way to cover the costs of editing, design, website development, and other costs associated with self-publishing. Koyczan’s story is unusual though: according to Kickstarter’s own statistics, only about 30 percent of publishing projects succeed in their crowdfunding goals. These are some guidelines to ensure you’re one of the 30 percent:

  • You need an existing network of supporters. You need an extensive network of personal and professional supporters whom you can mobilize at the beginning of the campaign to back your project and create word-of-mouth buzz. These might be colleagues, former and current clients, readers of your current work, socifile000890717941al media followers, workshop attendees, etc. Without connections, it’s unlikely that your campaign will gain momentum. Koyczan had a very large network of supporters, based on his years of writing and publishing activities, plus an Olympic appearance, which explains why he had such astonishing success with his crowdfunding campaign.
  • Niche and issues-based books are most likely to succeed. Most authors’ networks won’t be large enough to fund their project completely. You need to reach beyond people you already know personally. Books about niche subjects and issues that concern specific communities (e.g. health books, environmental books) have the greatest potential to pique the interest of potential funders who don’t know you personally. When we wrote this post, some of the books on the Indiegogo list of most-funded writing campaigns included a children’s pop-up Quran, a book about yoga injuries, and a guide to sensual restraint. Each of them targeted a clear audience.

Alexandra Caulfield from Caulfield White Creative Industries, a company that offers crowdfunding campaign management services, says: “Beautifully poignant novels with deeply developed characters are wonderful, and people will enjoy reading them, but they are difficult to get people excited about sight unseen.” (Unless, of course, they are written by authors who already have a large following.)

  • Keep your goal realistic. Ayah Norris, director of film and creative for crowdfunding platform Indiegogo, says one of the biggest mistakes authors make is setting too high of a goal. “You want to make sure you have at least the first 30 percent committed before you launch from your inner circle, so you can start with a strong momentum,” she says. The first 48 hours of a campaign is critical, because if people see that you got off to a successful start, they’re more likely to join in and donate.
  • Choose your crowdfunding platform carefully. There are book-specific crowdfunding platforms, such as Pubslush and Publishizer, but we don’t generally recommend them to our non-fiction clients. The positive thing about them is that you may attract avid readers from outside of your networks who are active on those particular sites. But many of our clients write about subjects that aren’t expressly directed at a bookish audience: they’re about issues, business, and politics. Those platforms also don’t have the name recognition of some of the larger platforms, so people may be less willing to conduct financial transactions on them.

Caulfield explains some of the other downsides to these platforms: “Fewer people use book-specific crowdfunding platforms than use more all-purpose platforms, so as a writer you would have less incidental traffic. Also, Pubslush and Publishizer require users to sign up in order to donate. While it seems trivial, this extra step can discourage some people from donating….Many people are already registered users of these sites [Kickstarter, Indigogo, etc.] and won’t want to endure the extra hassle of signing up ‘just to support their friend/family member.’”

  • Have a detailed outreach plan. A crowdfunding campaign is like a book marketing campaign: it requires a lot of energy, thought, and creativity. You need to have a clear sense of who your audience is and how to engage them. We know professional marketers who failed in their crowdfunding campaigns because they didn’t have the time and energy to commit to drumming up support, so don’t underestimate how much time you may need to put into this. We suggest you mobilize your community by telling people well in advance. Communicate clearly and directly about how and when people can contribute. Give them tweets they can retweet, for example; emails they can forward; messaging they can use to help you get the word out. Make sure you send messages the day before and day of the campaign’s commencement to ensure it’s top of mind.
  • Be creative with your rewards. A lot of your backers will support you because of the idea itself, but others will be enticed by your rewards. The most obvious rewards include: an ebook when it’s available or a print copy when it’s available (make sure you factor in shipping costs). For larger contributions, you could offer a signed copy of the book, a phone call with you, dinner with you, a tour of your city, a one-hour consultation (if you have a particular area of expertise), or even an appearance in your book. You may want to avoid offering advertising in your book, because depending on how you will ultimately publish it, some distributors won’t accept books with ads in them.
  • Tell a great story. Besides the perks you might offer to funders, one of the reasons people contribute is out of passion for the subject or a sense of pride in participating. To appeal to those sensibilities, ensure you convey the story behind the book – allow people to feel that they’re getting a sneak peek into the process and contributing to something bigger. Be sure to add lots of visual interest to your campaign page: videos in particular help to generate interest.

Does all of that sound manageable? Then you might be an excellent candidate for crowdfunding.

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