DIY: Crowdfunding 101
How to use Kickstarter and other services to fund your book
While crowdfunding isn’t for every author, it can be an essential tool for the right project.Without an advance or the support of a publisher’s art, publicity, and marketing departments, securing funding to publish and publicize a book can be an uphill battle. Because of this, many enterprising indie authors have turned to crowdfunding platforms -- which pair artists and projects with donors -- to support their publishing efforts. Crowdfunding can be a fun and creative way to raise money to support a new book.
There are book-specific crowdfunding sites well worth checking out such as Pubslush, which calls itself a "global book club with a cause" and Authr.com. Though these have a smaller audience, the advantage is that funders are specifically looking to support publishing projects. The two largest and most popular sites, however, are the more established Kickstarter and Indiegogo.
[Note: as of March 2021 Pubslush and Authr's services are no longer available]
Kickstarter is the most popular crowdfunding platform. Via Kickstarter’s user-friendly interface, an author creates a profile for her proposed book that includes a short description, how much she wants to raise, and what exactly she plans to do with the funds. This can cover everything from printing and shipping costs, layout and design fees, ISBN registration, photography expenses, the hiring of an illustrator, or editing and proofreading expenditures. Authors can upload images and post a personal video to add interest to their listing. The site offers helpful tips for creating the best page possible to showcase your idea. Authors should follows these guidelines to ensure that their pages are as engaging as possible.
If the project is fully funded by Kickstarter’s deadline (30 days is the recommended length of time for a project) the author receives the money minus the company’s 5% fee, as well as a 3 to 5% processing fee that goes to Amazon Payments. Contributors can receive rewards from the author based on their level of funding. Authors should think of creative rewards to offer potential funders -- such as a Skype chat for a book club, a bookmark, or signed copies of the finished book.To begin, authors should check out the Kickstarter guidelines and note that the self-help genre (including business, health, and relationship advice) is not eligible as a Kickstarter project. Authors must also be a U.S. resident with a Social Security Number, U.S. bank account, and credit or debit card, and they must be 18 or older.
Ariane Roberts is using Kickstarter to fund her illustrated children’s book Jamie Loves Her Natural Hair. Her advice to authors is: “plan, plan, and plan!”
“Before you even start your campaign, have your contact list ready to notify everyone about your project once it has launched,” says Roberts. “Make sure you are building a list of contacts that you feel will be genuinely interested in sharing your project with their audience.”
Kate Agnew, who is hoping to fund her Donuts: A Photo Book project through Kickstarter, says her desire to have total ownership over her project led her to the crowdfunding site. She advises potential authors to do their research before setting up their campaign, citing the two to five day waiting period before the project goes live as an example of something for which authors need to plan.
Both Agnew and Roberts cite getting word out about their campaigns to be the hardest challenge. Roberts cautions, “You may need to do some foot work by getting out and speaking to people or groups that could potentially become supporters of your project.”
Crowdfunding also gives an author a sense of how popular her book might be. “It is kind of like testing the water before jumping in, which made it a good fit for me,” Agnew says. “While safe in some ways, I'm still putting myself out there -- still taking the risk. That's what writing is all about.”
Indiegogo is a popular crowdfunding site that’s available to anyone in the world with a bank account, making it an option for authors based outside the U.S. Unlike Kickstarter, Indiegogo allows users to keep the funds they raise even if they don’t make their funding goal with a program called Flexible Funding. The site takes a fee which is 4% of the money raised if an author’s funding goal is met or 9% if it’s not met. Authors are also charged 3% for credit card processing, plus a $25 wire fee for campaigns outside the U.S.
Indiegogo also offers something called the Gogofactor, which measures the activity of an author’s campaign with an algorithm, rewarding active authors with newsletter or blog mentions and better search rankings.
Linnie von Sky successfully crowdfunded her first children’s book Our Canadian Love Story with Indiegogo and is following that success with another campaign for an anti-bullying children's book.
"Running a campaign is a full time job," von Sky says. Most funders are people in her extended social circles, but she notes that, given the broad appeal of the anti-bullying message of her second project, she was able to attract funding from people she doesn't know. She says the key to making a campaign successful is to be be fully engaged on all social platforms. "Defending your idea and its place in the crowded crowdfunding universe is an excruciatingly exhausting effort," von Sky says.
While crowdfunding isn’t for every author, it can be an essential tool for the right project -- if an author is willing to work hard to promote her book.
Jennifer McCartney is a freelance writer, editor, and author of the novel Afloat. Follow her at @jennemem.