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Roundtable: Collaboration Through Crowdfunding

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complied by Alexa Schlosser, Managing Editor, IBPA Independent magazine —

Why did you decide to use a crowdfunding platform to publish your book? Why did you choose the particular platform you chose?
Betsy Miller

Betsy Miller

Betsy Miller (BM): My friends and I self-funded Thinking Ink Press. I went out of pocket for the illustrations for The Parents’ Guide to Perthes and a block of ISBNs, and other press members covered the costs of business incorporation, pay taxes, and so on. We knew that there was a demand for The Parents’ Guide to Perthes—parents kept asking me when they could buy it. We had several parent reviewers and another MD, who was also a specialist, review the book before publication. So we knew the content was strong and accessible to readers.

Based on the demand and budgetary considerations, I decided to try a crowdfunding event. The online groups that wanted the book were small, but some people felt very strongly about it; they were emotionally invested. Also, some people who were not affected by Perthes liked the idea of helping to contribute to a making it possible to create this resource for families trying to cope with a rare disease. One friend from my writing group told members of her church about the book, and several contributed to this project.

A. Jarrell Hayes (AJH): I chose Patreon because of its monthly donation feature. Most of the other crowdfunding platforms I reviewed only had one-time or one-project plans. Being able to set a monthly reward for my supporters also challenges me to create content on a regular basis; my lowest level reward for all patrons is a monthly PDF with original art and literature that is exclusive to Patreon supporters. This provides extra motivation for me to actively use my creativity.

Kathy Strahs (KS): I viewed it as both a financial and a marketing tool. Not only could I recoup the costs I’d already incurred (The 8×8 Cookbook was ready to go to print at the time of my Kickstarter campaign), but having a fundraising goal with a limited time to achieve it gave my friends, family, and followers even more reason to rally around the project and help me spread the word. My most popular reward was a copy of the book—as a result, on the day The 8×8 Cookbook was officially published, nearly 700 copies were already in the hands of my campaign backers.

Where do you see crowdfunding fitting in the world of book publishing? Do you think it’s growing? Is it for everyone?

BM: I think crowdfunding is a good fit for a project where the author is connected to an online community and that community: a) wants the book, b) trusts the credibility of the author or publisher to follow through and publish the book, and c) is a large enough group for their contributions to cover the basic costs of publishing. I believe it helps if the cover is done, the book is already written, and has gone through at least one pass at editing. You want to be sure that you can deliver the finished product in a reasonable time frame after the crowdfunding event ends. You need to be really sure that you can handle fulfilling the contributor rewards and that you won’t lose money for each reward.

It’s not for everyone, and it’s not for every kind of project. You need to plan the event and run the numbers to figure out what the net is for each kind of reward, including the shipping. Not to mention how much time you can allocate for that task. If you’re just starting out as an author or publisher and you’re thinking about crowdfunding, bounce the project idea off your online friends and fans first. Find out if people are connecting to the book idea; you need those connections before you start to crowdfund, and these relationships can take time to develop. I crowdfunded my third book, and the fact that I had two published books with positive reviews helped my credibility.

I have another book coming out soon—a children’s picture book Hip, Hop, Hooray for Brooklynn Bunny—that I co-authored with Jill Harold, who approached me with the idea for this book. Thinking Ink wasn’t planning to publish picture books, but Jill convinced me over time to take on this project. We didn’t have enough money to cover the cost of the art—only some initial character sketches. We looked into crowdfunding the book but decided against it because to really show people what the book would be like, we’d want the book to be close to finished. We needed to fundraise before we had the art, so we ran a T-shirt booster event in partnership with a nonprofit to coincide with a parent event that Jill set up. The T-shirt sales went very well, and we raised enough money to cover the cost of the art.

A. Jarrell Hayes

AJH: I’ve supported a handful of book publishing crowdfunding projects on various platforms. From that small sampling, I’ve noticed that the most successful ones already have a large network of support to call upon, or have previous connections or name recognition from other projects, like a popular blog.

Crowdfunding a book project is not for everyone, especially writers without the connections or name recognition. I’m unsure if it’s growing or not; I’ve noticed more writers using crowdfunding in recent years, but that could be because I’m more aware and attuned to author crowdfunding campaigns since I have one.

KS: It’s the number one question that any publisher seeks to answer before greenlighting a project—will it sell? If you can successfully crowdfund a book—or any product, really—it’s the ultimate proof of concept. It demonstrates that 1) there’s a market for the book, and 2) you have the ability to reach that market.

Crowdfunding isn’t for everyone, but it’s likely an untapped opportunity for many authors, particularly those with a notable following. A successful campaign requires months of preparation, a compelling story that’s communicated very effectively, well-thought-out rewards for backers, and the ability to get the word out to as many members of your target audience as possible. It’s important to note that with some platforms (like Kickstarter), if you don’t reach your funding target, you don’t receive any of the pledged contributions, so setting an achievable target is also key.

What was your process for creating the page? What information did you include?

BM: I followed the instructions from Pubslush to complete the info that they asked for and I contacted them with questions when I got stumped. The Parents’ Guide to Perthes has two authors, and their platform was mainly set up for individual authors. So I had to get creative about that, and they were helpful about solving the issue. We included the book cover, the book description, the first chapter, the table of contents, and author bios; we did not have a video. Thank goodness they didn’t require one! I don’t know if I could have coped with trying to make a video.

AJH: I woke up one day and decided to create a Patreon. I read a few articles on how to create one, and then viewed some writers who had gotten a lot of support. Then I jumped in, still with no idea what I was doing. I added biographical information about myself and links to my work. A few weeks after that, I added posts with samples of my writing and information on my already free e-books.

Kathy Strahs

KS: I sought advice from several friends who had run successful Kickstarter campaigns and incorporated many of their recommendations. The most important component was a compelling video that would not only interest potential backers in The 8×8 Cookbook itself, but also earn their trust as the project’s creator. It was well worth it to hire a talented videographer to help me convey my story.

Beyond the video, I filled my page with lots of graphics and other information to give potential backers a solid introduction to The 8×8 Cookbook and my qualifications to see the project through: sample photos and layouts from the book, information about my recipe-testing process, details about the campaign rewards, my personal background, and my production team.

Here is the link to my Kickstarter page: 8x8cookbook.com/kickstarter.

What was your goal, and how long did it take to raise it?

BM: My crowdfunding goal was as small as I could make it because if we hadn’t met it, all contributions would have been canceled. I think the goal was around $500—just enough to pay for the e-book formatting and to get the book into distribution. I’m a technical writer and I have a background in print reproduction and graphic design, so I did the desktop publishing for the print edition book interior myself, which saved money. The e-book formatting was more complex than a novel because there are a lot of illustrations in the book with captions and some callouts. It only took a couple weeks to reach the goal; I was so excited when it happened. The contributions had been creeping upward and then this one lady—this fabulous lady—contributed $200, and she didn’t even want a book. She just wanted that book to exist for the people who needed it.

AJH: One of the goals listed on my Patreon page is for me to quit my job and focus on writing. That goal is set at $4,000 per month in contributions. I think that goal will be reached by October 2018.

KS: It was a 30-day campaign—my goal was $20,000.

What kind of perks did backers receive?

BM: I kept it very simple. The backers could buy books in e-book format, print format, or both; they could donate books; or they could contribute and opt out of a reward. So basically, this was like getting preorders with the payments coming in before the e-book was created so that I could pay the e-book company for their work.

AJH: The first perk is access to exclusive art and literature PDFs that I post on Patreon each month—that’s at the $1 level. The other perks are: choice of previously published chapbook and a copy of each chapbook published during time as contributor ($5); choice of previously published paperback and a copy of each paperback published during time as contributor ($15); or all of the above rewards, plus guaranteed copy of limited-edition paperbacks and listed in the acknowledgement page of the book as a supporter ($25).

KS: The most popular perks were copies of the book. My campaign ran in October, so I encouraged multi-book bundles of autographed books for holiday gifts. My 7-year-old daughter designed a really cute “How to Make Mac ‘n Cheese” T-shirt for kids, which I also bundled with books.

What kind of perks did backers receive?

The 8X8 Cookbook had a fundraising goal of @20,000.

BM: Read up on crowdfunding so that you know what you’re getting into before you jump in. Start a dialogue with the communities where you believe your contributors will come from, and be realistic about the cost and effort involved in fulfilling rewards. I’m actually glad that The Parents’ Guide to Perthes was a small campaign because we were able to handle fulfilling the books in a timely manner. For our T-shirt booster fundraiser, the T-shirt company fulfilled the orders through booster.com on a page that we set up with them. We were very happy with the results, and it was a relief for us not to have to process transactions or ship the shirts.

AJH: Before going live, make sure the people in your network know what you’re doing and get them to commit to supporting it. That way, in your first few days, or first week, people will see that your project is getting some support, and they should support it, too. It’s important to be patient with Patreon. It might take a while for donations to trickle in, but you’re in it for the long haul. Make sure what you’re creating is something you’ll create even if not fully funded by the crowdfund.

KS: My best advice is to talk to as many people as you can who have run a campaign. Read as many articles as you can. It can be a very daunting process, and each campaign is unique, but there is a lot of information out there that can help you avoid certain pitfalls and be successful.

Alexa Schlosser is the managing editor of IBPA Independent magazine. For the past five years, she has worked with various trade and not-for-profit organizations, developing content for both print and digital publications.

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