When you launch a book, your biggest fan pays the same price as the person who doesn’t know your writing but finds your book cover interesting. Unfortunately, that launch method keeps your staunchest supporters from supporting your book more.
A few years ago, Brandon Sanderson told his publisher, “I want to make a $200 version of my book for my biggest fans.” They laughed him out of the room and gave back the rights so he could do it himself. And he did. He presented to his fans a collector’s edition of his book on Kickstarter and raised $6,000,000.
At that time, it was the most successful publishing Kickstarter campaign to date. He showed the world that putting a book on Kickstarter and selling it at multiple price points could be very effective. Then he proved it beyond doubt when, a couple of years later, he raised $40 million on Kickstarter, selling high-quality versions of his book, as well as ebooks and audiobooks.
But many people still don’t know what Kickstarter is or how useful it is for launching a book. Kickstarter helps indie authors solve their biggest challenge: cash flow.
Most indies don’t have the money they need to launch their books. To count on uncertain future sales to cover a book launch is a huge gamble. You’ll make money when you sell your book, but future money is not the same as present money, and Kickstarter solves that problem.
What is Kickstarter, and how can you use it to help launch your book?
I interviewed Karyne Norton, who is smack dab in the middle of her Kickstarter campaign for her epic fantasy novel Blood of the Stars, which is doing well.
Why did you decide to do a Kickstarter campaign?
Thomas: What made you want to do a Kickstarter campaign rather than going straight to Amazon?
I also met CJ Milacci in the Book Launch Blueprint course, and together, we started researching Kickstarter.
We found two books on the topic, read those together, and made a plan. I let her be the guinea pig and do it first. Ever since then, we’ve been working back and forth together.
Thomas: Having author friends before you become a bestselling author is the key to success. You and CJ were both unpublished authors, and now you’re both successful Kickstarters. You both have campaigns that have been funded, and now you have a growing relationship that started while you were both unknown.
Becoming famous actually makes it harder and more complicated to make author friends. So, make your author friends early in your career before you become well-known.
Karyne: I’ve enjoyed working with CJ. We write in different genres to different target audiences, but we can still help each other.
Initially, I thought I wanted to work with an author who wrote like me, but you don’t need that. You just need someone who’s strong where you’re weak and can push you a little more than you might push yourself.
Thomas: If the other author is too similar, it’s easy to become envious. If you’re fighting for the exact same reader, it’s also possible to become jealous. Envy and jealousy are toxic for everyone, but especially authors.
You can still be friends with someone who writes for your exact same audience, but it is psychologically and morally more complicated to work together.
What did you notice about CJ’s campaign that you wanted to emulate or do differently?
Karyne: I wanted to do many of the same things because we researched and planned it together. However, I wanted to plan mine out further in advance so I could set up a pre-launch page where people could follow my campaign before it launched.
I set that up in March, so I’ve been encouraging people to follow the campaign for the last six months. I had nothing on my campaign page except a picture and a one-sentence summary, but people could click to follow. If they follow my campaign, they’ll get an email reminding them to check out the completed page when it launches.
By the time my campaign launched, I had almost 200 followers, which is unusual for a debut author. Published authors get high numbers like that, but for an unpublished author like me, it was critical to having a good launch right out of the gates.
Thomas: Inviting people to follow your campaign via your pre-launch page also forces them to create a Kickstarter account, which gets the biggest point of friction out of the way. Most people don’t use a password manager, so setting up another account is a burden. It takes time to convince someone to get a Kickstarter account.
I think all indie authors need a Kickstarter account so they can start backing books. If you pledge even one dollar, you’ll learn how it’s done. Even if you don’t run a Kickstarter campaign yourself, it’s important to know your way around Kickstarter and learn how the process works.
Karyne’s campaign for Blood of the Stars is one of the best-executed campaigns I’ve seen. She paid attention to the details and did it well.
This pre-launch strategy is a better strategy for most authors than the strategy I used for the Novel Marketing Conference Kickstarter campaign.
The Novel Marketing Conference has limited seats, so I wanted to give patrons and students of my courses early access to the Kickstarter, which meant I couldn’t do a big pre-launch campaign. If I had, anybody on Kickstarter could have backed it and purchased tickets.
I wanted my patrons and students to get first dibs on tickets, so I did the opposite of your approach, which is called the soft launch. In a soft launch, you don’t tell many people about the campaign immediately. You tell your best supporters and then tell a wider audience later.
The advantage of the soft launch is that you’re not sending anybody to a page with zero backers when you announce it. You’ve already told your core folks about it.
The downside is that you don’t get that surge of attention like the 200 followers you had.
How long did it take to hit your funding goal?
Karyne: It took me just under an hour.
Thomas: That’s great. You had a successful campaign within an hour, which probably relieved some pressure. That’s another difference between your campaign and mine.
The Novel Marketing Conference has lots of real expenses up front, so I had to set the funding goal much higher. As I’m recording this, the campaign is not yet fully funded.
The conference may not even happen, but I have a strange peace about it. If it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen. The main thing I want to avoid is losing a ton of money on the conference.
But when you know you’re going to launch the book regardless of whether you fund, it makes sense to have a lower funding goal and to try to fund it quickly.
Karyne: Yes. I see two main strategies.
One strategy is to set the goal around $500, which is what I did so that I could fund quickly. That way, people know they’ll get the book.
On the other hand, if you’re creating a deluxe special edition, where you have to do a print run of 500 books and need to sell at least 300, you’ll need to set your funding goal around $10,000. Typically, only authors with a large audience of superfans who want the fancy books will start that high.
As a debut author, I knew I should use the smaller funding goal strategy.
Thomas: That’s the right strategy for you because you had no books published. People are pledging support for a book they have not read from an author they’ve never heard of. Maybe they’ve read one of your reader magnets, but this is your first book to sell.
How did you build that audience of 200 people ahead of time?
Thomas: How did you get 200 people to want to pay for your book before they had a chance to read it?
Karyne: I was aiming for backer numbers with this Kickstarter instead of a dollar amount. That’s unusual even among people selling books on Kickstarter. As a debut author, I want to bring in readership versus money. Eventually, I want the money to come, but I want to build fans right now. So, I set a goal of reaching 250 backers with this campaign, and I’m almost there.
I set my pricing slightly lower than other authors, and I’m not offering swag or tuckerization, which is where people can pay to name a character. I wanted to make sure that people who backed the book actually wanted to read the book.
I went with Kickstarter and drew out this campaign over a long time because I knew I wanted to start publishing when my youngest child started kindergarten in the fall of 2023. I’m a planner, so I started working backward from that date.
I set smaller goals to get there. One goal was to start my newsletter list a year before publishing. Six months before my date, I sent out my reader magnet, and three months prior, I started my podcast. Each goal was meant to build that readership long before the Kickstarter campaign started.
Thomas: Dig your well before you’re thirsty. Many authors make the mistake of putting themselves in a frantic rush, and you did the opposite, partly because you waited for kindergarten to start.
You set a date deep into the future, but you didn’t twiddle your thumbs. You made the most of that time and built an email list.
How big was your email list when you launched your campaign?
Karyne: I had 3,400 subscribers.
Thomas: So that’s a 5%-10% percent conversion rate. We don’t know your exact conversion rate yet because your most effective email will be the one with the title “Last Chance” that you’ll send a week from now.
You had a good-sized email list when you launched your campaign. It’s a very achievable number for somebody following the Novel Marketing method I teach. My courses teach you how to build a list of thousands with a reader magnet and a little effort beyond telling a few friends.
You said your rewards were less expensive, but that’s only true for someone unfamiliar with Kickstarter. You’ve currently raised $8,523 from 224 backers, which comes to $38 per backer.
That’s less than the typical Kickstarter campaign, which is probably closer to $50 per backer. But it’s still way more than you’d be making per reader if your book was on Amazon. Indie authors typically make $3.00-$7.00 per reader. Traditionally published authors make $0.80 per reader.
By doing this on Kickstarter, you’re making a lot more money per reader. Your most popular reward is your $40 level, which comes with a beautiful hardback. The way you present it on the screen is pretty, and your graphics make it look like something worth buying.
So, how did you make such a pretty book?
Karyne: I hired a cover designer because there was no way I was going to do that myself. I used Canva to make the graphics. I searched Canva for free mock-ups for books. If I wanted to pay for graphic mock-ups, I’d probably use Placeit, which has hundreds of beautiful options.
Thomas: These mock-ups take your cover and place it inside an image of an iPad or an iPhone with little earbuds coming out. They can even wrap your book cover image around a hardback, allowing people to visualize what they’re buying.
Mock-up images aren’t an option for the first Novel Marketing Conference. People wonder what it will look like, but we haven’t done it before, which is part of the reason this initial conference is so cheap.
This year, I will have photographers taking pictures of the small groups and presentations. Even though the presentations won’t be recorded, we’ll record B rolls throughout the conference. We’ll be shooting videos to use in the future to show people what the conference looks like. It’s a challenge because this conference won’t look exactly like other writers conferences.
Plus, it’s hard to make writers conferences look fun. People sitting and listening to a lecture does not make for an attractive photo. Even though our sessions will be interactive and fun, we haven’t done it yet, so we don’t have those photos.
However, when you’re launching a Kickstarter campaign for a book, it’s easy to use the book cover and another image on your campaign page, but you did more than that.
I’d encourage authors to check out your Kickstarter campaign for Blood of the Stars. It’s well done. You’ve done a great job telling the story visually.
You have a graphic featuring the tropes so that people looking for books get a sense of what’s inside. You want them to know what to expect because if they’re not going to like the book, you want to help them know they shouldn’t buy it.
Karyne: In my video, I used a different strategy.
Typically, you’ll see two types of videos on Kickstarter.
One type has the author telling people about the book; the other is more like a book trailer, where there’s very little face time for the author.
I didn’t want the face time, but I also didn’t have the skills to make a book trailer. So, I recorded myself as if I was doing a face time video, but then I put graphics over the video and walked viewers through three reasons not to read my book and then three reasons to read it. My goal was to turn away the people who wouldn’t like it because that’s not who I want backing my Kickstarter.
Thomas: I thought that was a clever way of structuring it. I liked your video and found it very Broca-shocking. I’ve watched many Kickstarter videos, and yours felt very different, yet it didn’t have a fancy production design.
What did you use to make the video?
Karyne: I used iMovie and Canva.
Thomas: You made the graphics on Canva and dropped them on top of an iMovie video. Mac owners already own iMovie on their devices.
Did you memorize the script or use a teleprompter?
Karyne: I tried memorizing it because I wasn’t planning on putting graphics there, but I am an introvert. I got very nervous, and it didn’t go well. I read off the screen, which looked terrible, so I put the graphics over my face.
Thomas: It is difficult to discipline yourself to look into the camera because you want to look at your script or video. Covering your face with graphics allows you to hide video cuts.
What do you offer backers at your various reward levels?
Karyne: My reward levels build on one another.
Taste-Tester Level = $2
This first level includes my reader magnet in ebook and audiobook formats.
For my podcast, my brother and I record stories, and he recorded my reader magnet titled The Light that Takes. Being able to offer both formats made me feel comfortable offering it for $2.00. People can see what I’m like without committing to a full book.
Early Ebooks for Everyone = $10
This level added the ebook version of Blood of the Stars to the two reader magnet formats.
Paperbacks as Promised = $25
Every level builds on the level before, and this level added the paperback book to the previous rewards. It makes the higher price point (compared to Amazon) feel like less of a hit because they’re getting both the ebook and the paperback.
Plus, they get the ebook early, whereas they’ll have to wait for the paperback to be printed. This level allows people to read the book early in ebook format.
Thomas: I love that about Kickstarter because bundling doesn’t cost you anything extra. The variable cost is just the paper book. But by including the ebook, reader magnet, and audiobook for the reader magnet, it feels like people are getting a lot for their money. They’re getting all that plus early access, making $25 feel cheap.
Hefty Hardcovers = $40
Karyne: The $40 level is my most popular level, and adding it was a last-minute decision that stressed me out.
Hardcovers really sell on Kickstarter, especially if you offer a deluxe edition that collectors can get excited about. My hardcover wasn’t going to be anything special, but I had a stretch goal planned to offer a pretty hardcover underneath a dust jacket. But I only wanted to do that if we reached a certain level of funding.
I started looking at other book campaigns out there and decided fairly last minute that I needed to offer the hardcover from the start, not as a stretch goal. I needed a more expensive, beautiful option that attracts people interested in the fancy hardcovers. In the photos on my Kickstarter page, you’ll see the dust jacket, which looks just like the paperback, but underneath it, there is a fancier design.
Thomas: It’s more complicated to print because you can’t get this fancy hardback through KDP. How are you printing the fancy foil-stamped cover?
Karyne: I’m planning to do it through Ingram Spark.
Give one, Get one! = $50
Karyne: I wanted to have a couple of higher levels so that people didn’t feel like they were choosing the most expensive thing when I directed them to the hardcover.
This $50 level comes with two paperbacks instead of one. I presented it as an opportunity to give a friend a gift or donate a copy to your local library.
Easy Gift Giving or Book Club Bonus = $150
The final and most expensive reward level includes six paperbacks and a bonus Q & A session with me for a book club. Someone might choose to give the six books as gifts. No one has gone for that level yet, and I’m not surprised. I’m okay with that. I just wanted to have a higher tier to make the hardcover tier not look so high.
Thomas: You’ve employed the marketing principle of anchoring. If you want your price to look like a bargain, anchor it to a higher price. This is why the grocery store places the $100 bottle of wine on the endcap of the aisle. They don’t intend to sell the $100 bottle because people buy $100 wine at a wine store.
That $100 bottle of wine makes the $30 bottles look cheaper. If $30 wine is your most expensive bottle, people will buy a $20 bottle. But when the $100 bottle is an option, that $30 wine suddenly starts to sell.
It’s okay to offer reward levels that no one backs as long as those levels still work for you financially if somebody does opt to back at those levels. Occasionally, somebody who really believes in you wants to back at those highest levels.
Just make sure you structure that reward in such a way that it doesn’t bankrupt you.
What have you been doing to keep people excited since the campaign went live?
Karyne: I started creating stretch-goal polls.
When you set up a Kickstarter campaign, you set a funding goal. If you set a low goal of $500, you’ll probably make your goal, but you don’t want people to start ignoring your campaign because it’s funded. You don’t want people to think, “Oh, she’s funded. We’re good. We don’t need to help her. We’ll wait for it to come out in retailers.”
You want to encourage people to help you raise more. You set that higher goal in your head, and then you create “stretch goals.” A stretch goal is that next-step funding goal that helps you reach the final goal in your head. Stretch goals are a breadcrumb trail from that low funding goal to the ceiling amount you truly want to reach.
Everyone offers stretch goals of some sort, but I created polls for my stretch goals. For each stretch goal, I offered two options, and I send people to my website to vote. The option in the lead at the time we funded that stretch goal is the one everyone gets.
Thomas: I love that. I’m going to use that if we do stretch goals for the Novel Marketing Conference. I love the idea of voting because it does several things. One, it gets people more engaged. Two, it helps you select stretch goals that resonate with your audience. You might offer something you think they’ll like, but they might not care about it. Voting allows them to tell you what they value.
It only takes one demotivating stretch goal for people to let off the gas when it comes to helping you promote your Kickstarter.
The other cool thing about Kickstarter is that if you have good stretch goals, the people who’ve backed you are motivated to spread the word and share your campaign with their friends.
It allows your backers to become your advocates.
Karyne: My stretch goal polls have had surprisingly good engagement. I’ve had over 100 votes for each of the last two polls, and people are messaging me when the results come in. They’re either excited about the winner or ask if I will put the loser in the next stretch goal.
I offered stickers as an option in two stretch goal polls, but no one wanted those, and that was a great way for me to see that backers didn’t want stickers.
Thomas: Plus, it saved you the cost of printing stickers, only to discover that people don’t want them.
Karyne: I’ve also personally thanked every backer to keep people engaged. That’s considered best practice, but most people don’t do it, so it stands out to the backers. I get a lot of responses thanking me or telling me why they backed me.
I’ve gotten several emails from people who said they’d read the sample chapters and are excited to read the rest of the story. So that’s also been super encouraging for me to hear that people aren’t randomly buying it because they think it looks pretty. They’ve actually read the sample chapters and are excited about the book.
Thomas: Your sample chapters are available to everyone. One of your headings in your campaign is “Sample Chapters,” and it links to a BookFunnel page where they can load the sample chapters straight onto their ereader.
This is a good practice for all authors, but it’s particularly good for debut authors. It helps put people at ease. And gratitude is powerful. It changes the nature of what’s happening.
In some ways, Kickstarter is a preorder platform, but it’s more than that because people feel like they’re contributing to helping the book exist.
When I Kickstarted my book, I featured the names of many backers in my book’s credits. My book is a little controversial, so I didn’t require people to list their names, but people felt a sense of ownership.
Will you list backers in your book?
Karyne: Yes, that’s in the lowest ebook level because it doesn’t cost me anything, and it’s fun for a lot of people.
Thomas: Backers get to be immortalized in a book, and it doesn’t cost you anything extra.
What would you do differently now that you’re a grizzled veteran?
Karyne: Oddly enough, I might do a shorter campaign next time. I was glad I did 22 days for this first one. Running your first campaign for 22 to 30 days is good because there is such a huge learning curve for running a Kickstarter.
I kind of regret doing it for my first book because, on top of learning Kickstarter, I was learning how to get a book printed and formatted. There’s a lot to learn at once, but it’s still worth it.
Next time, I would probably do a 17-day campaign because this middle week we’re in right now is super slow.
They call it the dead zone, and while that’s fine, there’s an awkwardness that makes it drag. Getting rid of that middle week would make the whole thing feel more energized.
Thomas: Your second book will be easier in some ways. It’ll be easier because you can sell a two-book series. Some people backing your next campaign won’t have backed the first one, and your Kickstarter campaign will likely be the only way for people to get the collectible hardback.
It will also be easier because you’ll have done this before. On the flip side, your friends and family, who are backing you because they love you, probably won’t back your next campaign because they already helped you. You’re up and running. The next campaign lives or dies based on your readers.
For the Novel Marketing Conference, I didn’t do a short campaign.
One of the main ways I spread the word about the conference is through my Novel Marketing podcast, and people don’t listen to podcast episodes right away. I wanted a longer window so that if somebody is two weeks behind on the podcast, they will still hear about it in time to back the campaign.
Your primary way of spreading the word about your campaign is through email. No one will read an email you sent three weeks ago. They’ll either read it immediately and act on it or they won’t. For that reason, a shorter campaign makes more sense from an email perspective.
You always have something to announce in an email.
- The campaign is live!
- We funded!
- We have a stretch goal!
- We reached the stretch goal!
- Vote on the next stretch goal!
If things are proceeding at a rapid clip, there are a lot of fun emails to send. A shorter campaign makes sense, especially if you have a lot of people who followed it on Kickstarter ahead of time. They probably already decided whether they’re going to back it or not.
More time won’t bring in more backers. It just adds more psychological stress.
One of the downsides of Kickstarter is that you can check the campaign every few hours to see if any new backers have come in. That’s distracting. Your productivity takes a hit during a Kickstarter campaign.
I’m using Kickstarter to see if people want the Novel Marketing Conference to exist. Since it’s not funded yet, I’m still wondering if it will happen.
Many people have been glad about the conference, but they haven’t backed it yet.
I need to know if people want me to do it for them or if they want me to do it for other people.
You’re using Kickstarter as a preorder tool. If your campaign had failed to fund, you would have found a way to make the book happen. Probably not the hardback, maybe not the audiobook, but you would have done the paperback. I am using Kickstarter to find out if people want the conference.
So far, you’ve had over 200 people say, “I want to give this book a shot,” even though there are no reviews on Kickstarter.
Karyne: Well, I do have three endorsements. I have two critique partners who are already published, and I got endorsements from them as well as my editor, who is a New York Times bestseller. Endorsements can be valuable and lend credibility to debut authors.
Thomas: Karyne’s Kickstarter campaign for Blood of the Stars ends on September 26, 2023, but the campaign will forever be on Kickstarter if you want to see how she structured it and told her story visually.
What tips and encouragement do you have for indie authors considering running a Kickstarter campaign for their book?
Karyne: Find a buddy who will do it with you. Don’t do it alone.
Do your research. I see a lot of people saying, “I’m thinking of doing this next month,” because they see other people’s success. But it’s a lot of work and takes time to build a readership. You need to view it as a way to build a readership rather than a way to make money.
Allow yourself the time to do it well.
Our Kickstarter campaign ends on October 6, 2023. When the campaign is over, that link will take you to a webpage with more info about the conference
One bonus for the conference that I haven’t mentioned yet is the food!
If we’re going to host an event in Austin, we must enjoy the local food. Austin has one of the most vibrant food scenes in the country due to our “Keep Austin Weird” slogan. That slogan is all about supporting local businesses.
Local Austin restaurants have been known to put big national chains out of business or at least put pressure on them. Sometimes, the Austin chains will go national.
For breakfast, we’ll have breakfast tacos. If you’ve never had an Austin-style breakfast taco, you may get ruined for all other breakfasts. Consider yourself warned.
On the first day, we’ll have Mighty Fine Burgers, which won the Malcolm Baldrige Award for quality. We studied this award in college. It’s like the Nobel Prize for business. Only two companies in Austin have ever won the award, and the other is a hospital.
For Saturday’s lunch, there’s no other option than Rudy’s Barbecue. Their barbecue is so tender you can eat it with a flimsy plastic fork. You know it’s real Texas barbecue when it melts in your mouth, and you don’t need a metal knife or a metal fork.
If you have dietary restrictions, we will do our best to accommodate you. Rudy’s Barbecue is amazing, but not if you’re a vegan. If you’re gluten-free, dairy-free, or vegan, we’ll do our best to accommodate you, but it may be different from the meals I just mentioned.
For dinner, you’ll be out on the town with a chance to choose from one of Austin’s many unbelievable restaurants. People come to Austin just for the restaurants. You’ll get to carpool with some of your author friends and enjoy Austin’s finest food.
Heather Blanchard came to her sister’s house to recover from a broken engagement. But her sister betrays her, leaving her reeling in pain. Fourteen tequila shots later, Heather flees down a dark road, where she catches a ride with a man she shouldn’t trust. And becomes a target of both the FBI and a Detroit drug gang.
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