Financing your Book: Reflections from a Happy Crowdfunder

For years, I clung to the notion that if I were to ever get published, I wanted someone else to do the publishing part for me. During those years, I rode a roller coaster of other people’s whims and changing fortunes, while a book that readers seemed to really enjoy–even love–languished.

On Thursday afternoon, I launched a Kickstarter campaign to officially begin my indie-pubbing journey.

By lunchtime on Friday (the very next day), I was fully funded! I’m not sure if that’s an entirely common result, but I have to say I’m feeling pretty thrilled and wanted to begin sharing my first reflections on the journey.

(Note: You can view or share the campaign and even back the project AND get the ebook for just five bucks at: http://kck.st/1cdiMab.)

In this series of posts, I’ll be offering you an inside look at all my indie-publishing research and activities, including:

  • choosing an editor
  • getting a cover designed
  • formatting the book and posting it to various sites (both ebooks and print)
  • making and executing a book marketing plan
  • doing blog tours
  • seeking reviews
  • submitting to contests
  • …and everything else I encounter on the way

Basically, I want to take you along on the whole ride from start to finish, with the hope you’ll be able to learn something of value. I’m certainly not an expert, but I think that fact could actually make these posts even more useful, since I’ll be learning as we go–making all the messy mistakes I possibly can in order to help you steer around them on your journey. And when there’s a success, we can certainly learn from that as well!

So let’s begin with one of the first choices I had to make: financing. (Note: obviously there were a heck of a lot of choices and steps before this one in getting the book written and revised and agented and submitted, but for the purpose of this series we’re starting at the moment you decide to publish independently. Check out Delve Writing for help on all the prior stuff.)

There are a variety of choices the indie-pubber can make when it comes to finance, chief among them: crowdfunding, micropublishing, or self-funding.

Crowdfunding

I’m guessing you know about Kickstarter and maybe Indiegogo as well. These are the behemoths in the crowdfunding industry, which–if you don’t know–allows creators to raise money for their projects from numerous small contributions. The sites take a cut (between 4% and 9%) with another 3% going to financial processing fees, while you keep the rest.

Kickstarter is slightly more limiting than Indiegogo in the types of projects you can present. It also (unlike Indiegogo) functions solely on an all-or-nothing model in which you receive funding only if you raise all the money you’re seeking. On top of that, it charges a slightly higher fee (5% vs. 4% for fully funded projects). You might be wondering why–given all that–I chose Kickstarter.

Kickstarter vs. Indiegogo

I’ve backed a handful of people and projects on both platforms, but I chose Kickstarter because:

  • I wanted the complete clarity of the all-or-nothing model. If I couldn’t raise $1,600, I probably shouldn’t be publishing the book. Also, I didn’t want to make my friends pay a single cent unless I could prove I was truly worth their faith and the project could succeed. While Indiegogo does encourage users to go all-or-nothing, I think it’s a bit muddier since project creators can accept less than total funding (while surrendering a bigger chunk–9% vs. 4%–of their funding in fees)
  • Indiegogo’s popularity and audience are surging, but Kickstarter still has a bigger base. While it’s easy to get lost in the crowd (in either place), it’s also nice to have access to more potential backers. As of this writing (a day-and-a-half in), 2 complete strangers have found and funded my project. While they’ve contributed a mere $11, those are two new readers I might never have reached otherwise.
  • Kickstarter has a much higher success rate: ~44% vs. ~10% for Indiegogo. There are tons of reasons for this that shouldn’t eliminate Indiegogo from consideration, but it still struck me as a factor. (Here is a great article about the reasons why Kickstarter is outperforming Indiegogo.)
  • Finally, I learned from a friend who’s used both platforms that Indiegogo was a bit slower to disperse funds. This isn’t really a reason to choose one over the other, but it still helped push me in the direction I was already leaning.

Addendum:

While writing this post, I discovered another crowdfunding platform Pubslush, that’s solely focused on books. I like what I’ve seen there and if I hadn’t already Kickstarted, there’s a chance I might have considered going with them instead. I certainly plan to back some of their projects and see how their process works. So…writers and readers…join me in checking them out when you can and let me know in the comments what you discover.

All of that said, with 112% of my funding goal met after 27 hours, I’m pretty happy I chose Kickstarter.

Micropublishing

“Micropublishing” is still a bit up-for-grabs as a term (not to mention as a business model).

The gist, as I understand it, is this: talented editors and others with marketing or publishing know-how are taking advantage of all of the increasingly available self-publishing tools to partner with authors they really love to get their books into the world.

This can take a variety of forms, but usually involves the micro-publisher doing most or all of the things publishers usually do (editing, formatting, cover design, etc.) and publishing on a smaller scale in partnership with the author.

Courtney Literary and RedBridge Press are two examples in this category and more are springing up all over the place. I was actually initially going to publish with Courtney Literary, but given my role at Delve Writing, I wanted to be able to personally experience every stage of the journey so I could share each one in this blog.

Still, if you can find a good and reputable partner (look at the books they’ve helped publish, carefully read the terms to understand the relationship and ensure it’s fair, etc.) then I think micropublishing is a fantastic approach. Particularly if you consider yourself more of a writer than a marketer or designer.

An important note: since many of the micropublishers make all of the upfront investment in their authors in exchange for shared earnings on the back end, they are in many ways similar to traditional publishers. You still have to submit your work and wait for approval or rejection.

What makes them stand out is that they’re often much more personal and willing to take risks on new authors (on the positive end), but they lack the built-in distribution network and clout of the biggies. Still, I’m a huge fan of this model and believe strongly that it could play a major role in the evolution of publishing.

Now, let’s turn to the third big option for financing your indie-pubbing project and close out this post with the reasons why I don’t think anyone should ever, ever choose this option.

Debt Financing (i.e. “Break Out Your Credit Cards or Clean Out Your Savings Account”)

Let’s start with some of the very enticing reasons why you might want to go this route:

  1. No risk of embarrassment if you fail (which ~60-80% of all crowdfunders do)
  2. No work creating a crowdfunding campaign
  3. No risk of rejection from a publisher (massive or micro)
  4. No cost associated with distributing a big pile of rewards if you succeed
  5. No discomfort from asking your friends and family for money (except perhaps for your spouse or partner who would sign off on the investment)

Sounds great, right? Who wouldn’t want to add a little red ink to the ledger to save all that work, cost, and discomfort?

Indeed, as I found myself obsessively checking my Kickstarter Dashboard every four or five seconds the first day and hoping my friends weren’t feeling annoyed or pressured, while at the same time swooning with joy every time one of them offered even a single dollar’s worth of support, and also plunging into existential misery wondering why some others weren’t offering even a single dollar–do they dislike me? did I totally blow the video? oh my god, it sucks! it’s way too long and boring and ridiculous! why did I have to dance at the end? does everyone hate me now? should I move to Australia and resign myself to a career selling Vegemite by the roadside?--I began to feel like this option seemed downright peachy!

The truth is, though, the above reasons are all terrible. Instead, here’s why you should:

#1: Embrace the risk of failure and relish the learning opportunities it presents

If you’re uncomfortable with risk, you might want to consider another career path. Great writing requires risk. You have to share whatever deep and often uncomfortable truths are stirring about in your soul if you want to inspire or touch your readers in any kind of significant way. I think that’s true even when you’re writing the most fanciful genre fiction. If you can’t push past your fears of failure, exposure, and embarrassment, your writing will likely be tepid and flat.

Publishing (even when you’re picked up by a major publisher) also requires a great deal of exposure to failure.  Since most books–considerably more than 60%–don’t sell well (or at all), it’s important to recognize you’re entering a brutally competitive business and prepare yourself accordingly.

Therefore, consider a crowdfunding campaign or search for a micropublishing partner to be an opportunity to exercise your capacity to endure risk and potential failure. And if you can’t succeed with your campaign or micropubber quest, perhaps you should re-evaluate whether this is really the project you want to launch to the world.

At the very least, you’ll want to go back to the beginning and figure out better ways to pitch and market your book. Over the course of this month, I plan to test and refine a lot of the marketing messages I’ll be using to spread the word about my book when I actually publish it. And what a fantastic opportunity that is!

One thing I’ve already learned is that my video could be better. Kickstarter lets you see what percentage of people actually finish watching your pitch through to the end and I’m presently hovering between 40 and 45%. Not awful perhaps (I mean, maybe people just got all the info they needed in the first 30 seconds), but it definitely indicates room for improvement. Specifically, this tells me 4 minutes is too long and/or I need to bring a much higher level of quality to future productions.

While I suspected that was true to begin with, I was also in a time crunch and needed to get something out…which brings us to Point #2.

#2: Celebrate the opportunity to do extra work even when (or especially when) you’re not very good at it

If you’re looking to dodge work, you should also probably avoid the writing career.

That said, I think it’s acceptable to put most of your effort into writing the absolute best book you possibly can. For all the other stuff, simply do your best with what time you have and learn from every mistake you’re bound to make.

Perfect is the enemy of the good and unless you’ve spent your life as a book marketer, you won’t be very good at it right out of the gate. You will get better with practice, though. So…practice early, before your mistakes (or lost opportunities) can more directly impact the sales of your book.

And learn from everything–just as I’m trying to do with my video.

In my case, I thought about what I’d do for the video for a few weeks, read some blogs on Kickstarter and other places, and watched a bunch of other videos on the site (some intimidatingly great, others not so much). I then spent a couple days trying and failing with different things until I finally landed on simply telling the story as best I could in a single take (abandoning the script I’d written). Finally, I did some very basic editing in iMovie–inserting a couple quick clips of me being silly to break up the monotony of the monologue, and adding a few silly free sound effects. And voila, I was done. (That said, my next videos will hopefully be better.)

While that whole process was not awesome, I loved having the opportunity (or rather the necessity) to gain some real world experience doing something that will help me connect with readers before my book actually goes into the world.

And again, you have to start somewhere and you’ll never be as good at the start as you hope to be in the future. That’s why it’s a great thing to be forced to practice.

Lastly, the good news is that every bit of work you do to raise awareness about your book before you launch is worthy and important work. It’s absolutely vital to build at least a little bit of buzz before you go live.

Indeed, I might even recommend that people with books coming out from major or micropublishers consider running a crowdfunding campaign to raise money for their own marketing plan. (Of course, if you are one of those lucky people, you might want to make sure you make your rewards extra generous so as not to stimulate ill-will from your less well provisioned fellows.)

#3: Relish rejection

I don’t love rejection. I hate it, actually. But I also recognize its value.

It toughens the skin for all the negative reviews that will surely come your way (if you’re ever truly successful, anyway), and it indicates when your project might not be as perfect as you’d like.

My book got me an agent about 6 years ago, but it didn’t get me a publisher. The rejections were incredibly kind and several very generously included both praise and reasons why publishers couldn’t quite get on board. And the fact is, they were right the book. It had some biggish flaws, particularly in the end.

Specifically, I was trying to get my main character to achieve a level of insight I myself hadn’t gained yet. It took me a few more years (including three in divinity school) to catch up to where I wanted my main character to be by the end of the book. If the publishers hadn’t rejected “bigger”, I think it and my career would have been the lesser for it.

#4: Get as many of your books into as many hands as possible as early as possible

While it will be costly and time-consuming for me to send out books and fulfill the other promised rewards when my campaign is complete, that’s exactly the kind of cost and time I want to spend.

How great to have readers lining up before your project goes live to the world! And how great to reward the friends and family members who took a chance on you!

There’s really nothing but upside here.

#5: Asking for help is sometimes one of the more generous things you can do

This is perhaps the hardest thing for me. I hate asking for help. I hate imposing on other people. I also get annoyed by people who are always (always!) asking for things and never offering much in return.

That said, if you’re the type of person who enjoys helping others and does so regularly, but who’s reluctant to ever show weakness by seeking support, I would argue that one of the best things you can do is sincerely and humbly reach out when you really and truly need other people.

We exist in a web of mutuality and it’s as important to be able to receive graciously as to give generously.

I mean, think of the pleasure you get from helping someone who really needs and values your support. When you’re ready (and only when you’re really ready), it can be a wonderful thing to offer people the same chance to help you.

I was going to go into more details about how much to raise in a crowdfunding campaign and what strategies to employ to reach your goal, but this post has gone on long enough. So please check back for the next posts in this series. And please let me know your thoughts or questions in the comments below.

Cheers and good luck to you all!

14 thoughts on “Financing your Book: Reflections from a Happy Crowdfunder

  1. Kudos to you, Aaron. As someone about to potentially step into the shallows of this arena – er, assuming arenas hold water – this kind of information and indirect encouragement is beyond invaluable.
    Two thumbs up. And if I was mildly deformed, I’d use as many as three!

    • LOL, Nige. I appreciate the thumbs and hope the series of posts to come will help you along the way. I plan to share as much info as I can–warts, missteps, landmines, thumb deformations, and all!

  2. Aaron, you are the MAN! Congratulations and bravo for thinking outside the box! Never thought of crowdfunding! It is a different world; used to be one just wrote, now one “has” to be a writer, video producer, choreographer, and financier. And what a splendid job you seem to be doing! :-] Lots of prep work, I must say, so don’t know that I would do it. But…creating covers does cost money, so maybe I’ll take a look there…are those crowd donations considered “final” in that you do not have to pay the funders’ money back? They’re purely donations? Impressed. Cool reimagining of the author process!

    • Hey Frank,

      The way crowdfunding works is that you offer a series of rewards: typically copies of your book + some other things you think up (feel free to check out my Kickstarter page for examples). If/when your project is fully funded, you get all of the donations minus some fees for Kickstarter and Amazon Payments. You then get to put that funding to use and when your project is done, you send out rewards (so factor those into your budget).

      That said, the great part about sending out the rewards is you’re getting to get more of your books into circulation for the people who are probably more likely to read them soon and hopefully even write reviews for you. And perhaps the best thing is that you get to pay back the people who believed in you with something of real value.

      • Pretty cool, Aaron, thanks!

        I had visited Kickstarter, but years ago, and forgot about all that. Anyway, wish you the best! Looking forward to your future posts!

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