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Summary:

Last fall, Book Riot successfully funded a Kickstarter campaign to publish a book. But it was grueling and not very financially rewarding. Here’s what you need to keep in mind if you decide to publish via Kickstarter.

kickstarter

So, you want to Kickstart a book? In August 2012, our company Book Riot  successfully funded a $25,000 Kickstarter campaign for “Start Here: Read Your Way Into 25 Amazing Authors,” a survey of works from a wide range of genres, from classics to contemporary fiction to comics (you can buy it here!). It was a learning experience, and one that Book Riot will certainly repeat.

That said, lest anyone think crowdsourcing is the path to instant publishing fame, dust off your business, promotion, and logistics skills and read on for our experience. The bottom line is that you better prepare to get scrappy.

Step 1: The Business

One of the primary advantages of Kickstarter is that it provides a platform to test the viability of a project with nominal upfront cost – the marketer in me loves this. But more than testing viability, Kickstarter also gives you the freedom to offer intangible rewards that aren’t easily monetized through traditional or self-published avenues. However, it all costs. And unlike a traditionally published project, there is no imprint with deep pockets to cover cost overruns: it all falls on you. So, budget.

To start, determine your rewards. Will you just distribute an ebook? What about a printed edition? Decide what they will cost in dollars and assign a value to your effort (don’t forget your effort!). We chose to do both print and digital to provide additional reward tiers and got a quote from Book Baby for both (we aren’t affiliated with them, and other companies offer similar services). Their digital conversion services were $249, and they agreed to print and fulfill 500 paperback copies for just under $6,000. (Having recently experienced a USPS station in Brooklyn, I’m glad we paid them to send the paperbacks to our backers.)

Kickstarter emphasizes keeping the rewards to the product, and we included a couple of “related” rewards. In retrospect, they didn’t add much value, and they ate margin. The extra rewards sound fancy, but backers aren’t backing the project for the fancy rewards. They are backing the project for the project.

Our project took the form of an anthology, so we had chapters written by multiple people. This required attorneys’ fees to secure the legal rights to what they submitted to the tune of nearly $1,500. And then we paid the people who weren’t employees of Book Riot to write the chapters for another $2,550.

Add to that cover design, video production, promotion, advertising, giveaways and launch party, plus Kickstarter and Amazon’s 9 percent take — and we had only $2,500 left from our $25,ooo Kickstarter campaign to cover the cost of our time. Had we more accurately estimated the amount of time required for the project, we would have set our funding goal higher so we could have paid ourselves more than minimum wage to work on it.

Step 2: The Promotion

You must embrace your inner newsie, and not just repeat “Extra! Extra!” to your friends and family but to ALL the internet. You’ve got to have a plan to reach the largest audience possible. We started plugging in dates and deliverables for promotion on Book Riot and began briefing our biggest fans weeks in advance. We ran contests, promoted it and advertised it through social channels, contacted friendlies with engaged social followings, and asked influencers to write chapters. You have to remind your community about the project every day, and the reminding needs to be creative.

How you promote a project will vary according to your offering, but as you plan, note this: think soldiers, not generals. Don’t get too caught up in trying to attract @BigNameFamousPerson to contribute to the project or share it with their followers. If someone with a million followers tweets about what you’re doing, you won’t get much out of it unless their followers have a reason to care about your project *beyond* the fact that @BigNameFamousPerson tweeted it.

Most of your support (and most of your financial backing) is going to come from your existing fans. Of the 947 people who backed our project, a couple were big names, but the vast majority were Book Riot readers who were already actively participating in our community. They’re the people who help us keep the lights on in the day-to-day, and they’re the most invested in our continued success. Never undervalue that.

Step 3: The Logistics

For 2012, Kickstarter reported that only 29.5% of publishing projects were successful. If you make it to Step 3, drink a celebratory beer, and bid farewell to the longest 30 days in recent memory. Then get ready for the heavy lifting. There is a reason logistics is a multi-billion dollar business. It’s freakin’ hard work.

But let’s not forget the fun part. You did this so you could do what you love – write. So go write.

Now remember that reward someone offered in-kind? How are you going to get it to the backer? Recall all those personalized book recommendations you promised to give? When are you going to have time for that? And all those backers. They are records in spreadsheets now. And you need to move product from both physical and virtual warehouses to each one. You need a plan. (Hear a recurring theme?)

It might sound obvious, but apparently it’s not: create a spreadsheet with all the reward levels and list the tasks required to reach fulfillment readiness for each level. Then, start completing the tasks. Delegate if you can. Outsource where possible.

In the spirit of full disclosure, we were late in delivering our project to backers. A hurricane in Brooklyn that preceded the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays compounded small delays. In our project, we stated an October delivery. The book actually shipped on December 27th. When we do this again, we’ll determine the date we believe we can deliver the project and add three months. Rule to live by: If you are going to be late, communicate.

Epilogue

In addition to fulfillment, we opted to make Start Here available for purchase as an ebook on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo and iBookstore. This adds a layer of complexity to the fulfillment process. And you’ll want to market it. Which requires a plan (and we don’t have room to go into it here).

Should you try a publishing Kickstarter? For people without an established following, the odds are against you being able to set a goal that lets you exit the experience cash-positive. If this is a concern, I suggest you spend time growing your audience before trying to Kickstart a book. More ominously, most projects were attempting to raise smaller sums than Book Riot, and the failure rate is still a daunting 70 percent. If you do decide to try a publishing Kickstarter, I suggest making a commitment to run three Kickstarters so that you can turn your prior learning into higher margins on successive projects.

Clinton Kabler is COO of Riot New Media Group which operatesBookRiot.com, BookRiot.tv and the soon to launch FoodRiot.com. Follow him on Twitter @clintonk.

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  1. Reblogged this on Natalie Elizabeth Beech and commented:
    Given that I am considering a kickstarter campaign,This has given me a bunch to think about.

  2. missgiraffeneck Saturday, March 16, 2013

    Reblogged this on From Nostalgia, With Love and commented:
    I’ve been considering crowd-sourcing any forthcoming books, and this is a really interesting view. I’m not very far with the publishing process, but I know I would have forgotten at least one of the steps/plans/actions mentioned. For anyone considering funding with Kickstarter this is a really good reference.

  3. Kelly McClymer Sunday, March 17, 2013

    Great information — especially keeping the spreadsheet on rewards from the getgo.

    Your project isn’t the typical book project, though, since it involves so many others. I know several individual authors who have run successful novel Kickstart packages. They didn’t have your overhead or legal expenses. The Kickstarter was primarily meant to fund the upfront costs of the project, with the author income a small part of that.

    Your experience shows that a group project is definitely more complicated (and expensive). Thank you for sharing.

    1. Kelly,

      I agree. In either case, though, the Kickstarter gives you an asset which you can make available for sale. We’ve marketed well, and the income from that asset has made the entire experience cash positive. We are also looking at possibly dropping the paper book for the next one. It was a $25 reward. The COS + fulfillment for each paper copy was $11.80. Add to that the production effort, and the margin ended up less than the ebook. Thanks for bringing that up.

  4. If Book Riot came believes they came up short on their funding, its because they didn’t plan for all of the costs when they developed their kickstarter campaign. Don’t blame kickstarter for poor planning on their part.

  5. They should have said that there are other sites where you can raise finance not just Kickstarter and many sites to get your ‘book/ebook production’ done.

    One of the down sides of Kickstarter is that you only get funds if you hit your target. So, if you were pitching for $25,000 and you had $24,500 pledged you would get nothing.

    Other sites allow you keep whatever you raise, sites like Sponsume (UK based).

    We ran two campaigns, neither was successful though we had several thousand visit our projects.

    The main positive we got from it was to see that 80% of the traffic which arrived on our project pages came from Twitter. Very little came from Facebook.

    So, anyone thinking of using social media for advertising it would seem there is only one place to go.

    Not affiliated to anyone.
    __________

    1. Ron,

      I disagree that “all-or-nothing” is a downside of Kickstarter. It requires that project sponsors consider the business and is a built in social contract that prevents a project from justifying cut corners proportionately to its funding shortfall.

      In regards to pledges, I went back and reviewed ours. 18% of pledged dollars came from Twitter. 17% of pledged dollars came from Facebook. However, knowing where your audience primarily plays is key – obviously, yours plays on Twitter. I recommend you try everything in the first week of a project and see what source is performing best, then optimize your efforts to that source.

  6. The success rate for crowdfunding projects in publishing needs to be compared to the success rate for non-crowdfunding projects in publishing. Guess what folks, most publishing projects fail! Yes, it’s hard work!

    In the long term, though I think that crowdfunded publishing projects will do better on sites that build capabilities adapted to publishing. I know of three: Pubslush which focuses on new authors, Unbound which has a more conventional editorial setup, and the site I work on, Unglue.it which focuses on Creative Commons licensed work.

    1. Gluejar,

      Your prediction may be correct. However, someone looking to successfully crowdsource today must make a business decision – choose one of the lesser known services and likely raise less money or go with a more well-known service like Kickstarter or Indiegogo and have the potential to raise more money. Abandonment (industry term for failure to complete the transaction) comes when there is friction in the check-out process. New account creation is one of the top forms of friction. The pragmatic choice is to go with a better known service where more people are likely to have an account thus minimizing the friction of account creation. Furthermore, we chose Kickstarter because it uses Amazon Payments – all Amazon accounts have “Payments”. Indiegogo uses PayPal. In North America, there are far more people with Amazon accounts than with PayPal accounts, so the pragmatic choice (again) is to choose the method that minimizes friction and increases conversion.

      This isn’t to say that I am opposed to Pubslush, Unbound or Unglue.it, but a business minded individual wanting to self-publish a book would be wise to choose pragmatism over preference. That being said, if the audience of the book is known to be vehemently opposed to Amazon, then making a different choice may make sense. It did not for our project.

  7. Gauntlet Press Wednesday, March 27, 2013

    I was unfamiliar with the Kickstarter program until recently (and don’t get me started on Instagram — I have no idea how it differs from what is already out there and really don’t care to find out). Kickstarter was successful is raising (at the moment) 3 million dollars to fund a Veronica Mars movie. This is far different than an unknown author or editor attempting to raise money for a novel or anthology (of mid-list and/or new authors). Veronica Mars has a fervent built-in fan base that relatively unknown authors/editors can’t approach. There has been such a demand for a Veronica Mars movie (or return to television) that raising money was relatively simple. The same would apply if Joss Whedon decided upon a Kickstarter campaign for a second Firefly movie. But these are exceptions to the norm. It’s a fact we have to live with.

    1. Gauntlet Press,

      If you are unfamiliar with Instagram, Kickstarter is not the place for you to raise money. As stated in the article, I would not recommend attempting a Kickstarter to an unknown author or editor. You need to have a social following that can amplify your voice and spread the word. Building that fan base requires hard work – see Jenny Lawson aka The Bloggess or David Abrams (author of FOBBIT) – they’ve done excellent jobs of building an audience by blogging, then writing the book.

      Cheers,

      Clint

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