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At the recent Kingdom Writer’s Conference, Shelley Hitz interviewed me about crowdfunding. Normally, I conduct the interviews I share with you, but this time, I was the interviewee.
Shelley’s conference attendees wanted to know how to avoid the high financial risks of self-publishing their books and how to publish on a budget without compromising quality.
Some folks would have you believe that hybrid publishing is the way to go, but I do not recommend it.
What if, instead of spending thousands of dollars to publish, you could raise thousands to create your book, effectively covering your costs before you sell a single book?
Many indie authors are discovering they can raise money to create a high-quality, professionally edited and designed book through crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo.
How does crowdfunding work for books?
Shelley Hitz: How does crowdfunding work for books?
Thomas Umstattd, Jr.: Traditional publishers function as venture capitalists for authors. They provide the funds to pay for all the expenses of creating a book, such as editing, cover design, and typesetting.
Indie publishers must provide the capital themselves, which creates a cash flow problem. If your book is successful in the future, you’ll have the money in the future to pay for it. But you need the money, now, before you publish your book.
How to Solve the Cash Flow Problem in Indie Publishing
There are two ways to handle that cash flow crunch.
Take on Debt
You can take out a loan and use your future book sales to pay it off.
But if your book doesn’t sell, if there is no demand for your book, you’re on the hook to pay back your loan without the help of book-sale income.
Crowdfunding allows you to pre-sell your book to your super fans. You get the book-sale money before you complete your book. You receive the money now for a book you don’t have to deliver until later.
It solves the cash flow problem without a loan hanging over your head. You’ll have the money to pay your editor, designer, and printer. You’ll also have the data that tells you X number of people who backed your campaign are willing to pay for your book.
Your friends and family might say your book is a great idea, but will they support your project by donating $100 to your book-publishing endeavor? Actions speak louder than words.
Crowdfunding allows your fans to go beyond simply backing your campaign for the amount it would cost to buy your book.
You can create higher reward tiers for your funding campaign and stretch goals. A stretch goal is a reward level beyond your funding goal. For example, you can tell your crowd, “If we fund this project $1000 beyond our goal, I’ll produce an audiobook.”
If you set your campaign up correctly, you may be surprised by how much people will give to your project. It allows your super fans to back your book at a super amount. You don’t have to settle for the same $5 from every backer.
Shelley: You’ll know from the beginning whether your book will hit your target audiences’ pain points or interests because they’ve already pledged their money to buy your book.
What rewards motivate readers to back a campaign on Kickstarter?
Thomas: The basic reward is the book itself.
When I set up a campaign, I offer the ebook as a reward for anyone who backs the campaign for $10.00. For $25, backers get the ebook and the paperback. We’ll often create a stretch goal for the audiobook.
What do you use for the higher levels?
Recognition is a great reward for supporters who back you at higher levels. For example, a person who backs your campaign for $100 would get the ebook and the paperback, and they would have their name included in your book’s backmatter.
Sponsoring the arts isn’t a new concept.
The Medici family backed artists in the 1500s. They couldn’t paint the Mona Lisa, but they could have their name attached to it as the sponsor of the commissioned painting. That’s part of the reason we still remember the Medici.
Many people want to be immortalized, and having your name listed in a book that could go viral is a big motivation to sponsor the work.
Higher tier backers would love a signed copy of your book, and since the lower tier rewards aren’t signed, this may be the motivation your super fans need to support you at higher levels.
Signed and Numbered Hardback
We borrow this technique from the art world.
An original painting is often worth $1 million. On the other end of the spectrum, an art book, which includes a picture of the painting, is $20.
To provide a middle price point for art lovers, artists created signed and numbered prints. It’s a print of the original signed by the painter, and he or she agrees to only sign a fixed number of prints.
If only 50 such prints existed, each signed print would be more collectible and valuable.
Super readers love this concept, and they’ll often back your book at triple-digit amounts if they know they’ll get a signed and numbered limited-edition book.
Sometimes little things can motivate readers to go above and beyond.
How do people find my Kickstarter campaign?
Shelley: How do authors spread the word about their campaign so people can support it?
Thomas: The secret to crowdfunding is to already have a crowd. I call it “Digging your well before you’re thirsty.”
You can’t expect Kickstarter to bring you strangers who want to give your money for a book they haven’t heard of by an author they’ve never heard of.
You have to build your own crowd. I talk about how to build your crowd on my Novel Marketing Podcast every week.
To get your crowd to back your project, you must have a history of being generous. It’s a principle from the book of Esther in the Bible.
Queen Esther needed to make a big ask of King Xerxes. She needs to ask him to go back on his word and violate the law of the Medes and Persians, which was legally impossible. The laws of the Medes and Persians couldn’t be vetoed or revoked, but her life depends on that law being revoked or overwritten.
To soften the ask, she prepared a banquet for him. At the end of the banquet, she invited him to another banquet. He knew she was sweetening him because she was going to ask for something, so he promised her up to half his kingdom before he knew what she wanted (Esther 5:3).
Similarly, if you plan to ask your readers to back your campaign, you need to make a banquet for them. Bless them so that they have a sense of gratitude and reciprocity. When it’s time to ask, you’ve already been so generous that they can’t wait to support you.
It’s a powerful principle.
One of the easiest ways for a novelist to throw a banquet for their readers is to write short stories. Set the stories in your story world and feature characters from your main book.
Nonfiction writers can create blogs, podcasts, guides, tip sheets, or checklists.
One indication that readers love your banquet is that they join your email list. The bigger your email list grows, the easier your crowdfunding campaign will be.
What makes crowdfunding so effective?
Shelley: Why is crowdfunding helpful and effective?
Thomas: Crowdfunding employs a powerful marketing psychology strategy.
Kickstarter is all or nothing. You set a goal for your campaign, and if you do not meet that fundraising goal during your campaign window, you get zero dollars. No one is charged.
That creates a sense of urgency. There’s a clock ticking down on every Kickstarter page.
Creating a sense of urgency to buy your book is challenging for authors. Why should I buy your book today when I could buy your book tomorrow? Why should I read it today when I could read it tomorrow?
Authors constantly fight to get readers to “act right now.” Before you judge readers, remember you do the same thing yourself. Do you write better with a deadline or without one?
The total of your funding goal is a big number. If your goal is to raise $5,000, that number will be in huge font at the top of your campaign page.
That huge $5,000 number makes a $50 backing level seem quite small because it’s anchored to that bigger number.
The funding is also transparent. You get to see how many other people have backed the campaign. Seeing a high number of backers makes more people want to back a campaign.
It’s the same reasoning people use at an amusement park. They want to ride the rollercoaster with the longest line because the long line makes them believe it is the best. It’s counterintuitive. You’d think everyone would get in the shortest line so they don’t have to wait, but that’s not how people think.
You want your backers to see that you’re 80% funded and only need a few more backers to reach 100% of your goal. They will round up their friends and say, “Back this campaign. It’s almost funded.” Campaigns that reach 60% of their funding goal typically go on to fund 100%.
Shelley: That powerful social proof motivates your backers to become advocates for your book.
Can you tell us about someone who’s had success funding their book on Kickstarter?
Thomas: The short, snarky answer is Brandon Sanderson. He recently broke the all-time Kickstarter record by raising $40 million for his books. The most successful Kickstarter campaign of all time, in all categories, is a book. He beat all the technology products.
A more down-to-earth example is my friend Mary DeMuth.
She wrote a book on recovering from sexual abuse before the #metoo movement was well-known. She brought her proposal to her publisher, and they said, “We don’t think anybody wants this book.” So she went to her other traditional publisher, and they turned her down too.
She knew there was an audience for her book, and it was her audience. She’d already written a memoir about her journey to recovery and had a big email list of readers. She decided she wouldn’t let the big publishers kill the book she knew people needed and wanted.
We worked together to launch a crowdfunding campaign, and she set a goal to raise $10,000. She wanted to use the same kind of professionals who had worked on her traditionally published books so she could maintain the same high standard of quality.
She told her audience about her idea, book, and campaign, and they raised $25,000 for her.
With the additional funding, she was able to fund an audiobook. She was also able to use offset printing rather than print on demand. She had thousands and thousands of copies, which allowed her to donate them to women’s shelters and use them in promotional activities.
The best part is that the book now exists! Kickstarter kept the traditional publishers from shutting her down. I love that story. Today, people would say, “Obviously, the world needs this book,” but at the time, Mary was a voice crying in the wilderness saying, “People need help, and there’s no good book to help them, but I have written one!”
Shelley: I just got chills. Think about how many people were helped by that book.
What are the steps to starting a Kickstarter campaign?
Thomas: You will need some money to start. You’ll have to pay for a book cover design before you begin your campaign. Kickstarter can fund many of your expenses, but you must have a cover design to begin with. It’s almost impossible to fundraise for a book without a cover.
Get a Professional Book Cover Design
If you can’t afford $200-$500 for a book cover design, you don’t need to write a book. You need to get a job. Writing a book is not a good source of short-term income, and it’s not a good source of reliable income if you’re just getting started.
Once you’ve written 20 books, everything changes. But that first book requires you to have another source of income. The best job for a new author is to work as a virtual assistant for another author. You’ll be making money and gaining experience in publishing.
Kickstarter is not a cure for all financial challenges. But for people who have been faithfully growing a crowd, Kickstarter is one way to leverage your past work for bigger things.
Back Other Campaigns
Research shows a strong correlation between the number of campaigns you have backed yourself and how successful your campaign is.
This current Kickstarter campaign for a graphic novel series called Irredeemable is a great example to learn from. It features a robust publishing history, a variety of reward levels at which fans can back the project, and professionally designed, eye-catching graphics.
Some people believe backing other campaigns is like reaping and sowing. The more you “sow,” the more you will “reap” in fundraising. But I think it has more to do with what you learn from backing other people’s campaigns.
Look through Kickstarter’s campaigns and back books, movies, and board games. The board game people on Kickstarter are the most sophisticated. They use a lot of cool techniques, and they started the stretch goals.
Back a dozen different campaigns and observe how the process works. After that, you’ll be educated on how Kickstarter works.
When you create your campaign, your profile will show how many campaigns you’ve backed. Your backers will be confident in your ability to run a campaign if there’s evidence that you’ve backed a bunch yourself.
Kickstarter requires you to back at least one campaign before you create your own, but if you do the minimum, backers will suppose you don’t know what you’re doing. It makes sophisticated backers nervous.
Create Your Kickstarter Page
Record a video about your book. Kickstarter doesn’t require it, but if you want to succeed, you must record a video.
Spend a few minutes explaining why your book needs to exist and why you need help bringing it to fruition. Tell your story, hit those two whys, and then build the page.
Get a Preview Link
Your campaign isn’t live yet, but you’ll have a link you can send to people. They can follow it and leave comments.
Send that link to every friend you’ve ever had and ask them for feedback.
One fundraising adage says, “If you ask for money, you’ll get advice. If you ask for advice, you’ll get money.” Some people you ask for feedback will fund your campaign, but others will give you useful feedback.
Kickstarter has been around for at least ten years, which means many people have experience with it. They’ll point out things you could improve, explain, or fix.
Implement Feedback and Polish the Page
After you’ve received feedback, polish the page by implementing the feedback and fixing typos.
Launch Your Campaign
By that time, you’ll likely have some people following your campaign, and then you can launch it.
Shelley: If someone still needs a little extra help setting up a Kickstarter campaign, where can they get more information?
Where can authors get more help on crowdfunding?
Thomas: I have a course called the Ultimate Crowdfunding Course
Mary DeMuth was one of the first Christian authors to run a successful crowdfunding campaign. She suggested that we put together a course on crowdfunding, so we recorded a step-by-step video course on how to start a Kickstarter campaign.
- You’ll learn how to
- Grow your crowd
- Get 100% of your funding
- Fund beyond 100%
- Manage stretch goals
- Avoid expensive mistakes
If you’re not sure what you’re doing, some pitfalls can cost you a lot of money. Knowing what they are will save you time, heartache, and money.
Many authors have completed this course, and they’ve sent me a copy of the book they funded. I love receiving those books.
Please send me a copy if you complete the course and crowdfund your book.
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