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How Kickstarter Can Pave the Way For a Publishing Deal

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by James Aquilone, Joe Mynhardt, and Lindy Ryan

The story of Classic Monsters Unleashed told from the perspective of the author and two of his publishing partners.


  • Author James Aquilone discusses why he decided to use a crowdfunding campaign to create his anthology of short stories and shares five reasons others should consider it.
  • Publisher Joe Mynhardt explains why he decided to work with James Aquilone and why crowdfunding was so intriguing to him.
  • Publisher Lindy Ryan shares how the campaign helped her company meet new authors and creatives and expand their professional network.

Author Perspective: James Aquilone

James Aquilone

Last year, I had an idea for anthology: What if I paired the top writers in the horror genre with the greatest monsters in history? I’d add amazing artwork, which would spawn posters and T-shirts and stickers. It was an ambitious project—and not many publishers would take on such an ambitious (read: expensive) project from a first-time editor. New York Times bestselling authors cost money. High-quality art costs even more. Plus, I was told anthologies don’t sell too well. It seemed the book would never get off the ground. Enter Kickstarter.

A few years back, I had crowdfunded my first novel, Dead Jack and the Pandemonium Device, and I knew I wanted to return to the platform. So, when I approached Crystal Lake Publishing with the idea for Classic Monsters Unleashed, an anthology of short stories featuring Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, The Invisible Man, and many other famous creatures, I made a Kickstarter campaign part of the proposal. The book had so much going for it and included so many “extras” that it was perfectly suited for crowdfunding and carried minimal risk—plus, who (at least in the horror genre) can say no to classic monsters?

Thousands of creative projects have been funded on the platform since its launch in 2009, and traditional and self-published literary projects have been among the most successful.

Brandon Sanderson raised a record-breaking $6.8 million in the summer of 2020 for what he called “an online book release party” for the 10th anniversary edition of his book The Way of Kings. Earlier this year, Grim Oak Press raised more than $222,000 for a special anniversary edition of Terry Brooks’ The Scions of Shannara . It’s not just special editions, either. Also this year, Michael J. Sullivan raised $169,727 for his fantasy novel Nolyn, the first book in his series The Rise and Fall.

Classic Monsters Unleashed shattered Kickstarter records, raising more than $57,000 in April and becoming the highest-funded and most-backed horror fiction anthology in Kickstarter history on the strength of such contributors as Joe Lansdale, F. Paul Wilson, Jonathan Maberry, Seanan McGuire, Lisa Morton, Linda Addison, and Ramsey Campbell. The book will also contain art by the legendary Frank Frazetta and UK-based horror artist Mister Sam Shearon. It was a smashing success, but the money was only part of it.

During the 31-day campaign for Classic Monsters Unleashed, not only was I able to raise all the money needed to pay for the book, but I landed three publishing deals in addition to the initial deal with Crystal Lake Publishing. Independent Legions came on board to translate the anthology into Italian. Soon after, Black Spot Books joined to help expand our distribution into bookstores and libraries, and at the end of the campaign, we signed with Blackstone Publishing to produce the audiobook. Not bad for a book that’s still in development! But, and perhaps even more importantly, I gathered almost 1,000 backers, many of whom migrated to a now-extremely active Facebook group as well as a dedicated subscriber newsletter.

Reasons to Go the Crowdfunding Route

  • It’s great for marketing. Kickstarter is a powerhouse of a marketing tool—a promotional festival starring your book. Brandon Sanderson put it perfectly when he called it “an online book release party.” And as Terry Brooks wrote on his campaign page, “Kickstarter is fun. Backers enjoy watching stretch goals being met, add-ons added, and so forth. It brings a sense of community that I’ve always enjoyed from my readers.”
  • It creates a community. One of the most powerful aspects of Kickstarter is the community it creates around a project, as Brooks mentioned. Backers feel a sense of ownership—that it’s through their efforts that a project is successful and grows. In contrast, you buy a book online or at an independent bookstore, and that’s usually where the transaction ends, especially on larger, multi-author projects. Kickstarter backers are true fans who will follow you from project to project.
  • It forces you to consider add-ons. Kickstarter is perfectly suited for merchandise. In fact, to guarantee the project’s success, you’ll need rewards or addons in addition to your book. Through the Classic Monsters Unleashed campaign, we sold hundreds of T-shirts, prints, posters, and artwork.
  • It allows you to communicate with your readers. Communication doesn’t end with the Kickstarter campaign, either. Through Kickstarter, you can message backers and post blog updates long after your campaign ends. The campaign page stays up forever, and you can point it to your website or Amazon page. You shouldn’t see the campaign as the end but the beginning of your book’s journey.
  • It offers scalability. You can start small with your publishing project, gauge the interest through your campaign, and let your campaign drive the size of it. If it’s popular, the project grows, perhaps into something you never would have imagined. Conversely, your project may not be as popular as you had hoped, and it’s better to know that before you sink a lot of money into it.

We could have done a traditional book launch for Classic Monsters Unleashed, and we would have most likely done well, but we’d have missed out on so many of the benefits crowdfunding offers. We never could have offered all the merchandise or created such a robust fan base in such a short time, especially since we had no book to show.

We were also able to offer a ton of exclusives. Our backers will receive Kickstarter-only versions of our e-books, paperbacks, and hardcovers, while our trade versions, which hit stores on July 12, 2022, will have some exciting new twists and content.

With all the success of Classic Monsters Unleashed, Crystal Lake Publishing and Black Spot Books have decided to do a series of Unleashed anthologies powered by Kickstarter. So, crowdfunding helped us not only to launch a book, but an entire series. Who can say no to that?

Publisher Perspective: Joe Mynhardt, Crystal Lake Publishing

Joe Mynhardt

When I was first approached by James, I was immediately gripped by the monster theme, but reminded myself that Crystal Lake was taking a break from anthologies. It was 2020, and we were in the midst of so many uncertainties, it just didn’t seem like the right time for such a huge investment. Even if I did believe in the potential, as a publisher you still need to invest a huge sum of time and money long before you see any returns—time and money that’s required to run a small press that releases around 20 titles annually.

What intrigued me about the crowdfunding facet was the sense of community among the fans—the opportunity to reach new fans and project our brand, while also changing the minds of authors who never really considered doing Kickstarter projects.

However, what caught my eye even more than the Kickstarter aspect of James’ proposal was his passion for the genre. He did a great job of presenting what he had in mind for the final product—a great skill required by any good anthology editor. I’ve also worked with enough editors and authors to know who I’d most likely get along with during an arduous fundraising campaign. Crowdfunding campaigns can be pretty exhausting. Most days you’ll end up spending more time corresponding with the team than you’d spend with your family. But, luckily, I share James’s passion, and being a full-time publisher means we don’t shy away from hard work, so we hit the ground running the very first day.

In the end, we’ll end up with an amazing project we can all be proud of, while paying authors almost double what we normally invest in anthologies—and this doesn’t even take into account all the artists involved. Readers will also be beyond happy, since the combination of anticipation and receiving a quality product with perks and merchandise is an amazing feeling.

The project has also given Crystal Lake Publishing a nice boost in the sense of authors putting us on their dream list of publishers. One of my main objectives is to make our press appealing to authors, editors, and agents. Among many submission queries, I’ve also received pitches from editors who want to compile an anthology. I’ve even made a few professional acquaintances.

A lot of possibilities have grown from this project, and I’m excited to investigate each and every one of them.

Publisher Perspective: Lindy Ryan, Black Spot Books

Lindy Ryan

As an avid book nerd, horror lover, and small press publisher, I’ll be the first to admit I have a special place in my heart for both anthologies and ambitious projects. We’ve produced two award-winning seasonal horror anthologies at Black Spot Books to date (A Midnight Clear in 2019 and Dead of Winter in 2021) and will launch the inaugural installment in our annual women-in-horror poetry showcase (Under Her Skin, April 2022) next year, and so when I was approached about joining editor James Aquilone and Crystal Lake Publishing to support the print trade release of Classic Monsters Unleashed, my response was a quick—and resounding—yes. Then came the second question, “What are we doing again?”

Of course, looking at the specs for the project, what publisher wouldn’t be enticed by the incredible list of contributors and artists already committed to reimagining some of the most quintessential horror monsters ever dreamed up? The amazing success of the Kickstarter campaign—a tool I’d frankly never spent much time thinking about—only emphasized what James, Joe, and I already knew to be true: Classic Monsters Unleashed was destined to be something special.

The contributors of the Classic Monsters Unleashed anthology.

Producing an anthology is an arduous, expensive, and time-consuming task at best. Bring in an outside editor; a handful of publishers with different models and processes; and all the nuts and bolts that go with production, promotion, distribution, and so on, and the task of delivering such an ambitious project to market seems overwhelming, perhaps even cataclysmic. However, as a team of passionate, committed folks who pride ourselves on being adaptable and innovative (and even living a little dangerously), we at Black Spot Books were up for the challenge. We joined in lockstep with James and Crystal Lake and got to work.

The Kickstarter campaign behind us, Classic Monsters Unleashed still has a way to go before it hits bookshelves. However, as one of the publishers invested in the project, Black Spot Books has already enjoyed a nice bump in our footprint as we move away from a broader speculative fiction bend and into a more specialized horror market. We’ve met brilliant new authors and creatives and expanded our professional network, too.

Looking forward, we are excited to continue on with the Unleashed series, and bring more ambitious, innovative new horror projects to readers.

James Aquilone is is a writer and editor from Staten Island, New York. His Dead Jack novels have been optioned for TV and film. He’s also the managing editor of Weird Tales magazine. For more info, visit jamesaquilone.com.

Joe Mynhardt is a Bram Stoker Award-winning South African publisher, editor, and mentor. A former primary school teacher, Mynhardt is now the owner and CEO of Crystal Lake Publishing, which he founded in August 2012. You can read more about Joe and Crystal Lake Publishing at crystallakepub.com.

Lindy Ryan is award-winning author, editor, professor, IBPA board member, and a 2020 Publishers Weekly Star Watch Honoree. She is the founder and president of Black Spot Books, an imprint of multimedia corporation Vesuvian Media Group. Learn more at vesuvianmedia.com and connect with Black Spot Books on social media at @BlackSpotBooks, and with Ryan on Twitter

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