PUBLISHED NOVEMBER 2015
by Shannon Okey, Publisher, Cooperative Press
Why crowdfund your next publishing project? Perhaps the answer seems obvious: “Because I need the money!”
Yes, of course. But let’s backtrack a little and examine the role of crowdfunding both in general and as it relates specifically to publishing. Many independent publishers view crowdfunding as nothing but a source of money when it can be so much more.
Crowdfunding gives creators the opportunity to design a campaign that offers everyone the chance to purchase what is essentially a share in the project being promoted. Rules and guidelines vary from site to site. Kickstarter, for example, uses an all-or-nothing structure—either you reach your funding goal and collect all the money, or you don’t and you get nothing (money pledged is not collected).
The average campaign on Kickstarter raises about $5,000, but almost 60 percent of campaigns fail to go through. Other sites, such as Indiegogo, have flexible funding options, and Indiegogo allows a much broader range of project types than Kickstarter. Campaigns at its site average $3,700 raised with a failure rate of 80 percent on average. Each crowdfunding site takes 5 to 9 percent of the money raised as a fee before the project creator sees one penny.
Product-related campaigns such as those for books typically give customers the opportunity to order the product long before it has been produced, and campaigns for books typically also offer tiered rewards based on the book’s topic and/or author. Tiers can range from a $5-donation level (“I just want to support this project”) to a $500-donation level limited to only one or two donors (“Have the author come to dinner at your house and talk about the book”).
Since my company publishes knitting books, many of our authors have offered copies of additional patterns, project bags, yarn kits, or other items designed to appeal to our specific audience. One author even offered the chance to name the patterns in her book.
Designing a crowdfunding campaign, therefore, is about much more than “I need this money to produce my book.” Here’s a Q&A list to help you get the most from your campaign.
- Do you need to produce a video about the project? Most sites require one.
- What text needs to be written for the site? Study similar successful campaigns and then write your text and proof it multiple times before you paste it in. Make your story and project compelling.
- What incentives can you offer for different reward tiers? Are there sufficient incentives for various donation levels? You don’t want too many on either the upper end or the lower end, and you do want several that are attractive in the middle range.
- What promotion will you do for the campaign? If you choose a 30-day campaign length, be prepared to design promotions not only for every single day during that month but also for a few weeks before the campaign starts.
- Do you have a realistic idea of when your book will be ready to ship to customers, and is the date firm enough that you can communicate it in your initial campaign posting? People are more likely to donate when they feel you know what you are doing and are responsible.
- Do you know your actual production costs, and are you ready to budget for cost overruns plus the costs of fulfilling the terms of your crowdfunding campaign? Remember, you’ll have to ship all those preordered books, and the crowdfunding website will be taking money off the top. Also remember that you will have to pay taxes on the cash you receive as a result of the campaign. Ask your accountant about any possible effects on your business tax payments.
The most difficult—and the most vital—task on this list is #4. Crowdfunding studies have found that momentum is essential. You can’t just post your campaign and be done with it.
Do your research first and find out where you can promote the campaign (for example, we know there are multiple knitting-related groups on Facebook). Are you missing social media opportunities with friends or family who have more followers than you do? One of our authors had a book link retweeted by Neil Gaiman, and we watched happily as sales and mentions spiked. I’m frequently asked to retweet pattern sales or other promotions by my authors because my personal Twitter account has more followers than they have, and I’m happy to do it. Who do you know who might have similar reach in your target market?
The more people donate early on, the better your chances of making your funding goal. Early donations help spread the word. Crowdfunding sites typically prompt donors to share links about the campaign with their social media contacts, increasing the likelihood that you will succeed with your goal.
Similarly, you should encourage your existing customers, social media fans, and even your personal friends to share links to your campaign. Note that there are websites designed to help further social reach, such as headtalker.com.
Make a media schedule that reminds you to do something different by way of promotion every day. I wouldn’t post a link to all the online knitting groups on the same day, for instance; I’d spread them out over my schedule. In addition, I wouldn’t just tweet or post on Facebook once a day; I’d mix it up.
As the campaign progresses, send updates to your donors, letting them know about your success. People like to see things they enjoy succeed, and getting good news will increase the chance that they’ll continue to share the campaign with their followers, too.
All of this (and more, I’m sure, that’s specific to your particular niche) is critical for designing a crowdfunding campaign that will succeed.
Once you’ve gotten the money and started on the project, continue to keep your donors up to date on book happenings. Behind-the-scenes production may be old hat to you but fascinating to them. Share “backstage” photos from photo shoots, messages from book contributors, excerpts, and other interesting tidbits. If your book is available for preorder somewhere, make sure donors are armed with the link and can help continue to spread the word.
When your book is published, be effusive and public about thanking your backers—do a blog post; shout it out on social media; make sure they know you appreciate their contributions. They’ll be that much more likely to champion your book.
Ask them to be among the first to provide reviews on Goodreads, make a special “badge” image they can post on social media saying they helped bring your book to life—anything to get the word out and continue to spread information about the book. It doesn’t cost you anything to ask for those reviews, and it’s only a few minutes of work for your graphic designer to make that digital “badge,” but the payoff can be priceless when it comes to cultivating an ongoing relationship with your crowdfunding backers.
If you do a second book project using crowdfunding, you’ll want to reach out to those backers first, so make sure they are well taken care of. And whether or not you use crowdfunding again, carefully cultivated crowdfunding supporters are likely to be eager—and supportive—readers of your next book.
In other words, crowdfunding is about much more than just funding a project. It’s an audience development tactic that savvy indie publishers can use to their advantage.
Shannon Okey, the publisher at Cooperative Press, recently joined the IBPA board. She has presented on niche publishing at South By Southwest and O’Reilly’s TOC publishing conference, and she appears online as @knitgrrl. To learn more: cooperativepress.com.