Crowd Control: Crowdfunding Tips for Authors and Publishers

Right now, it seems everyone is raising money for something. Maybe you’ve already received a few emails this week from friends and family members asking for support. And maybe you’re fed up with very distant acquaintances asking you to give money to develop some technology you don’t understand, or create peanut butter you may not like, or produce an illustrated children’s book you’ll never read.

If you’re unfamiliar with crowdfunding, it goes like this: you have an idea for a project, you post it on a platform and people (backers) give money to it in exchange for perks and rewards. There is a veritable cavalcade of crowdfunding sites on the internet, from the groundbreakers like Kickstarter and Indiegogo to new players catering specifically to writers like Pubslush and Authr. And more are coming. Just check out this list.

For writers, crowdfunding offers another interesting way to circumvent the traditional publishing route. Once, you wrote a book, got an agent to pitch it to a publisher, and if the publisher wanted it, you got an advance, and then sold books to earn back that advance. Now, there are plenty of ways for an author to detour off that well-worn (and increasingly restricted) path, with Lulu, CreateSpace, Smashwords, ebooks and the like. Crowdfunding is the latest disruption to traditional publishing, and even publishers (especially small, independent publishers) can benefit from it.

But the wisdom of the crowd doesn’t always prevail. While crowdfunding sites are champions of the creative endeavour, running a successful campaign has a lot more to do with promotion, marketing and networking than with the merit or artistic worth of the project in some cases. If you’re an author looking to launch a crowdfunding campaign, you should have an explicit understanding of the work that will be required. But let’s face it: publishing is pretty much all about marketing these days, so why should crowdfunding be any different?

What’s the money for?

An author’s first choice is deciding why the money is needed and what it will be used for. Unless you’re an established author, it will be difficult to raise money for an unwritten book. That is, you have an idea and want to write a book, but need to finance the writing. Unbound works in this fashion, combining crowdfunding and publishing for new work, but they are selective of the projects they push (and they seem to have a preference for the already famous). An unknown writer looking to “Fund my YA fantasy novel writing endeavour” on Pozible will have little chance of raising the funds.

For self-publishing authors, crowdfunding offers more potential for publishing finished books. The money raised can go towards editing, proofreading, cover design, layout, marketing, PR and printing. The author can offer perks including signed copies of the published book, advanced ebooks, exclusive reading events, or other interesting benefits. Plus, putting money towards editing, proofreading and design will make the book much more polished and professional (and this is where a lot of self-published books fall short).

A successful crowdfunding campaign can help the author reach new readers and build momentum towards publication and release. Backers can also help drive the book’s promotion, because they have been part of the project. Through crowdfunding, a solitary author allows the publishing of his or her book to be turned into a collaborative project. When done right, this is a very good thing.

Far from the publishing crowd

Small publishers can enjoy the same kinds of benefits that crowdfunding offers to self-publishers. Getting the public to fund a new work can take away the financial constraints of publishing while building an audience and momentum for the coming book.

One interesting avenue for publishers (and writers) to explore is to crowdfund a cross-media project. This can include combining writing with another art form in order to separate the project from the crowd and utilise cross-media promotions. This is what we (Rippple Books) did with our first foray into crowdfunding: a film-book project together with the director Marc Bethke. The book is a collection of short stories by Royce Leville, whose debut novel A Little Leg Work won an independent publishing award in 2012.

MikelisOur initial reasons for looking into crowdfunding were to try something different ahead of the publication of The Book of Names. When Marc approached us, wanting to adapt one of Royce’s stories into a short film screenplay, we saw a unique opportunity to put the two projects together. This was our campaign page.

A venture to publish a new book became an ambitious cross-media endeavour, and we manage to reach the US$15,000 goal we set. But here’s the rub: we raised the majority of the money from people within our own networks. This is true of most crowdfunding projects. For every potato salad bonanza, there are thousands of projects that never get close to reaching their targets, and many others that stumble along funded by people in the close circle of the crowdfunder.

To seed or not to seed

Raising money from the crowd can have a lot of positive benefits, but self-publishing authors and small publishers should know this: don’t enter into a crowdfunding campaign lightly. Be prepared, be organised, make a budget, take your time, and have the time to give the project the required amount of work. Choose your crowdfunding platform and the amount you want to raise wisely, and be very clear about what you want to achieve. And don’t be shy about marketing and networking. If you want to crowdfund, you’ve got to get your crowd involved.

This post was written by Cam Jefferys. An award-winning author in his own right, Cam also runs Rippple Books, a small publisher that works with authors who offer unusual perspectives and who challenge the established structures. The three Ps stand for “producer to public publishing.” Rippple likes to connect books with readers, and to have readers share the books around. That’s why every publication has a Travel Page at the front, so readers can document where the book travels.

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