Modern writers live in interesting times – and we don’t mean that in the Chinese curse kind of way.
The internet is turning the publishing industry on its head, giving writers more choice and more control over their careers. For example, writers can now publish and market their books electronically, completely bypassing publishing houses if they so choose. And then there is crowdfunding, another online phenomenon that is starting to attract writers’ attention.
Crowdfunding is exactly what it says on the box: Members of the public pledge money to finance projects that they believe are worthwhile. The projects can be for the greater good, like the ONE Campaign, or they can be commercial. Crowdfunding platforms are springing up left, right and centre; some, like Kickstarter and Indiegogo, support all sorts of projects, and some, like Unbound and Pubslush, are industry-specific.
Crowdfunding has several advantages for writers, who can use it for a number of reasons.
- It can raise money for research.
You might need to (legitimately) travel to properly research your book, especially if it takes place in a different country. You may need to visit historical sites, or interview people in far flung places. The crowd can help you get where you need to go to make your book (fiction or non-fiction) as accurate as possible.
- It can raise money for self-publishing purposes.
Self-publishing is not cheap. You have to pay for the service itself, and you have to pay for ancillary services, like editing, proofreading, and design. You also have to fund all the marketing yourself. The crowd can give you the initial capital investment you need to launch your career.
- It can raise money for professional services.
For example, if you want to hire a freelance editor to give your book the once-over before you start sending it off to publishers and agents. Or, if you need to hire someone to create a website so you can market yourself and sell your book online.
- It can tide you over the last push.
Perhaps the only way you can finish your book is to take one or two months off work (or even quit your job) so that you can give it your full attention. Crowdfunding can give you the financial breathing room necessary to do it.
All of this is great, after all what writer doesn’t want to get paid to write? But, it’s not as easy as it sounds.
For starters, you still have to win people to your side. You have to convince them that your book is worth their hard-earned money. So, instead of selling your idea to publishers, you’re selling it to the internet-using public. The thing about the internet-using public is that it’s unpredictable – and it’s fickle. There is no telling what people will like, and there is no telling how long they will like it for.
One of the curious things about crowdfunding is that you may find support comes in waves. Keith Kahn-Harris knows all about this. In August 2012, he wrote about his experience using Unbound to try and get his book published. He started with a bang, and then stalled. Despite his best self-promotional efforts, he found that it was impossible to gain any kind of momentum.
According to Kahn-Harris, writers have to overcome three major challenges to make crowdfunding work.
1) Uncertainty: We’ve already mentioned this; there is just no telling what will work. Not only is it almost impossible to tell which ideas will sell, but it’s also impossible to tell which marketing methods will convert into pledges. For example, Kahn-Harris found that sometimes Twitter blasts worked, and sometimes they didn’t. Sometimes email lists worked, and sometimes they didn’t. Sometimes friends will help you, and sometimes they won’t.
2) Conversions: A lot of people may express interest in your project, but when push comes to shove their hands don’t dip into their wallets. This circles back into the uncertainty challenge.
3) High-level pledges: While you appreciate any pledge that comes your way, what you really want are high-value pledges from bold investors. The more people who invest a grand or more in your project the better. But where to find them? Once again, we end up at uncertainty.
Is all the uncertainty worth it?
The publishing industry is full of uncertainty. It’s an industry that is pretty much based on the gambling principle. It may work, but it may not. Gambling on crowdfunding is not very different to gambling on publishing houses. They both require persistence, patience, determination, and thick skin. The only real difference is that you play a more active role in crowdfunding. There is no posting a manuscript and hoping for the best. You have to actively canvass pledges and be aggressive in your attempts to win people to your cause.
So, is it worth it? Yes, if you get it right. It can even be worth it if the gamble doesn’t pay off, because you don’t really have anything to lose, and the lessons learnt can be invaluable going forward.
Quick and dirty tips
As we’ve established, nothing in publishing is certain, but here are some tips help you come to grips with crowdfunding:
Different platforms offer different services. They have different criteria, and their terms and conditions vary. Research your options. Do you want to use an all-purpose platform like Kickstarter, or do you want to use a publishing-specific platform like Unbound? Find out as much as you can about all of services out there. Don’t base your decision on what you can read on the websites. Email the companies for more information, do a search for reviews online, and try contact people who have used the service directly for more details on their experience.
- Offer compelling incentives.
One of the key principles of crowdfunding is that people get something in return for their contribution. You need to figure out what you’re willing to give. Stephanie Chandler calls this defining your donation levels. For example, donations of $5 or less could earn your heartfelt thanks, donations of $15 – $24 could earn an ebook version once the publishing process is complete, and donations of $100 – $150 could earn a couple of signed print copies of the cook, donations of $500 could earn a personal mention in the acknowledgements, and so on. You can add things like invitations to the book launch, goodie bags, and anything else you think will open people’s wallets.
- Have a marketing strategy.
Decide how you’re going to drum up support and draw attention to your project before you approach the platform with your idea. If you already have a seeding plan and have a good idea of your audience, then half your battle is won.
Take a look at other publishing projects on the platform. What are the authors doing to get attention? Are they successful? There is no shame in copying what works. Learn how to use social media effectively and don’t be afraid to exploit your contacts – within reason.
- Be creative when making your pitch.
Give lots of details using evocative language (which shouldn’t be a problem, you are a writer, after all). Tell people what inspired your book, why it’s important to you, and what you hope to achieve with it. Outline the risks and challenges. Create a video to help sell it. Leverage every tool the platform offers to appeal to your audience’s hearts.
Don’t assume that because the ball is rolling it will continue to roll. Remember Kahn-Harris’s experience. You will have to work tirelessly to meet your goal.
Written by Sandy Cosser
Image credit: Kuma Tai, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Flickr