Should you investigate how to crowdfund your book?

Are you working on a book and wondering how to pay for an editor, cover arr, and maybe even printing costs? Have you thought about crowdfunding? Setting up a crowdfunding campaign on a site like Kickstarter or Indiegogo is a realistic way to raise the cash you need to get your project off the ground. But first, you need to do some planning...Two years ago, before I started my own publishing company, I crowdfunded a very niche nonfiction book about a cave in north Alabama. Many people who don’t enjoy exploring caves asked how I could actually write an entire book about a cave, much less 300 pages! Well, the cave has a fascinating history and the story of how a bunch of guys from Huntsville, Alabama discovered and explored the 15-mile-long cave is similar to stories about people who figure out how to climb and explore remote mountains. When I decided to write a book about the cave, I knew I wanted it to be a really nice printed book, and I also knew I wanted to self-publish. The problem was money.

When I started getting quotes for all the help I would need to create a quality book–a professional editor, a cover designer, and a printer–the costs added up to around $4,500. That was way out of my price range for covering the costs myself. However, a few months earlier, I’d discovered a new fantasy author at a science fiction convention and bought a copy of her book. I’m always interested in publishing companies, especially small ones, and I really liked the name of this one: Silence in the Library Publishing. I checked out their webpage and discovered they were running a Kickstarter campaign for an upcoming book. The campaign had blown past its initial goal and was well over $10,000.

I was actually pretty shocked. I had no idea people would contribute to book projects on Kickstarter. An idea started to form. I could set up a Kickstarter campaign for my book project. Could I really raise the money I needed?

I actually wasn’t very familiar with Kickstarter when I first started poking around on their webpage to investigate book projects. I noticed than some campaigns were wildly successful while others maybe only raised $100. Others raised a modest amount of money and reached the project’s goal. I started to wonder what made a crowdfunding campaign successful. Marketing and advertising were obviously critical. Just posting a book campaign on Kickstarter would not be enough to gain backers.

I did more research and discovered crowdfunding was becoming a pretty big thing, and there are lots of different models out there for raising funding. Kickstarter requires projects to meet the project goal or you don’t get any money. If your goal is $5,000 but you only raise $4,750, you’re out of luck. However, other sites let you keep everything you raise. If your goal is $5,000 and you raise $100, you get $100 (well, minus fees you owe the crowdfunding web page). That sounded like a good bet for me and I decided to set up a project on Indiegogo. I was fairly certain I could raise at least enough to cover printing. If I didn’t raise the full amount–well, maybe I could dip into savings to hire an editor.

I decided to crowdfund my book with a goal of $5,000. This is what I did:

  • I spent some time researching and planning out the whole process. I outlined my timeline and what I needed to do along the way to get the word out about the book and the campaign.
  • Four months before I launched my campaign, I started talking about my book on Facebook and Twitter. I talked about it A LOT.  I posted about my progress on the book. I posted photos I’d uncovered during my research, along with a little story about the photo and a mention of my upcoming book (this was really popular and many people shared the photos, thus helping get to the word out to a much wider audience). I posted random short stories I’d uncovered during my research that would interest people.
  • I set up my campaign page early, came up with perks I thought people would like, and created a simple video (even though I had zero video experience) using Microsoft Movie Maker and still images I used in the book.
  • Two weeks before launching the campaign, I told everyone about it. I told everyone how much editing, design, and printing would cost that that there probably wouldn’t be a book at all if I couldn’t raise the money to cover costs. I shared the different perks people could get. I talked about when the book would be ready. I talked about the campaign A LOT for two weeks until I pressed the button to make the project go live.
  • The day I launched, I had a whole series of blog posts, social media posts, and web pages ready to go to promote the campaign. I told everyone about it and asked for their support. On my first day, I raised $1,000 (in all fairness, one of my best friends pledged $500 on that first day, so really I raised $500–still not too shabby!).
  • Over the two months the campaign was active, I posted updates, more photos from the book, the cover design I was going to use, and more stories from the book. I kept the book front and center for people on my social media feeds.

I reached my goal. I will admit I slacked off a bit raising money after I reached my $5,000 goal because I knew I had enough to cover production costs and I wasn’t sure what else I could do with additional funding.

What I learned from this project is that crowdfunding can be very successful, but is reliant on some key factors:

  • You must have an author platform, or social network of people who are potentially interested in your book
  • You must thoroughly plan a crowdfunding campaign
  • You must do a LOT of marketing way before you launch, as well as market during your campaign

Should you investigate crowdfunding your book? I think it’s definitely worth it. It can help you pay for essential services like editing, cover design, and marketing. If you’re really ambitious, it can cover printing costs and creating an audio book. But whatever you do, don’t just decide one day to launch a Kickstarter page, post it, and expect fans to find you. That won’t happen.

Stay tuned over the next couple of weeks for more posts about the different aspects of planning and executing a crowdfunding campaign, for both fiction and nonfiction books.