Crowdfunding A Novel – Turning A Profit Before You Publish

Regular readers will know that I always stress the importance of a professional package.

This means only publishing your best work and having a great cover, neat formatting, proper editing, and an enticing blurb.

Some of that stuff you can do on your own, some (usually covers and editing) you have to pay for. And good work doesn’t come cheap.

I also try and remind people that we aren’t just competing against other self-publishers, but against the very best books from traditional publishers.

When you take this professional approach, it’s important to recoup your costs as quickly as possible. Then every sale after that is pure profit.

One of the competitive advantages that publishers have is the ability to take advance orders on Amazon. Not only can they make significant sales before the book is even released, they can also generate that all-important buzz.

What if I told you there was a way for indie authors to do something similar? What if I told you there was a way you could turn a profit on your book before you released it?

Below, I have copied a guest column I wrote for IndieReader earlier in the week. If you have already read that, scroll down to the end for additional resources, an update on my own project, and some exciting news about an indie author tearing up the charts.

I must get some bad news out of the way first. I’m sorry to say that, for a variety of unavoidable reasons, the release of A Storm Hits Valparaíso had to be pushed back to late December. On the plus side, this is now firm, and will definitely be coming out then. My sincere apologies to anyone that was looking forward to it.

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This article originally appeared on IndieReader.com on October 24, 2011.

There are a lot of great things about being an indie writer, but one of the advantages of a publishing deal is money up front. Another is that you don’t have to pay anything to get published. Editing, covers, proofing, formatting – it’s all taken care of. But now, through crowdfunding, indie writers are covering their costs in advance and generating extra interest in their work.

You may have heard of Kickstarter – the main crowdfunding site. If not, you should check it out; it’s really cool.

The way it works is simple. Artists propose projects – movies, comics, novels, and documentaries – and seek financial support to produce them. In return, the funders receive rewards based on their level of contribution (from a copy of the book or movie to magazine subscriptions, special editions, unique artwork, or an invitation to the premiere).

Crowdfunding allows artists to receive financial backing for their projects without sacrificing their rights or royalties and enables them to work without commercial interference.

Writers have used websites like Kickstarter to cover editing costs, pay for hardcover print runs, commission cover art, release limited editions, and create audiobooks.

Rather than a begging bowl being passed around, the rewards can be quite tantalizing, representing a bargain for those pledging. While some projects are unsuccessful in hitting their targets (and those who pledged are never charged), the slickest presentations with the most creative rewards are often oversubscribed, sometimes hugely.

And it’s not just for newer writers or those without significant audiences, just recently Neil Gaiman and musician Amanda Palmer raised more than $130,000 (despite only seeking $20,000) to fund and record a five-show tour (much of that in just 48 hours).

I was considering a crowdfunding project for some time, hoping Kickstarter would change their US-only policy. Then, last month, I got an email from a friend in a band, inviting me to participate in crowdfunding their album release through a new Irish site called Fundit.

Their project was successful – raising $4,000 – and they’re having the launch party for the album next week (to which funders are invited).

This got me thinking about a project of my own: funding the publication of a novel I’m releasing in December, generating advance interest, and coming up with some fun rewards to entice pledges.

My project went live today, and you can see it here. To add an element of drama to proceedings, if I don’t get pledges equaling or exceeding my target within 28 days, I get nothing. That might be my favorite bit.

I love the whole concept of crowdfunding; it could be a really cool way for writers to substitute the advance. Think about it. You are essentially taking pre-orders for your book and using that money to pay for its production.

For indie writers who would love a special piece of commissioned art to make their epic fantasy stand out from the crowd, or a great copy-editor, or to fund a Spanish translation, or to convert a story into a graphic novel, crowdfunding could be the answer.

Aside from generating advance sales and interest in your project, you will be creating a level of engagement with your readers, building an audience through involving them in the very act of creation.

And best of all? You don’t have to fork over any rights or royalties in return.

From analyzing the best projects on Kickstarter and talking to writers who have been successful with it, the presentation and the rewards are crucial. The presentation is what will sell the idea to people and the rewards need to be enticing enough for them to pledge. You need to ensure you are adding value.

This is where you can get really creative. I’ve seen bands promising private gigs for fans, authors inviting readers to a book launch, artists offering original drawings, and filmmakers giving executive producer slots to those who have always dreamed of seeing their name in lights.

This could be fun and I might pull it off. If I do, my book will break even before I release it. Then every sale I make is profit.

Of course, I could fall short. That’s also possible. But I’ve got nothing to lose; if the project doesn’t get funded, all I will have is a little egg on my face. And anyway, I’ve been waiting for an opportunity to test my patented face-egg remover.

If you want to check out my project over the next four weeks to see how I’m doing, then keep an eye on this page. My progress will be represented graphically – by a handy bar – showing the total value of the pledges received beside the time I have left, which will tick inexorably downward.

I will, of course, report back on the whole thing. Egg or no egg.

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I wrote that post just as I launched my own project, unsure how it would go. As you can see from my project page on Fundit, it has started very well. I’ve taken in 650 Euro (over US$900) and I have three weeks left to hit my target of 1,500 Euro (around US$2,000).

I’m pretty confident I will do that (and very grateful to everyone who has contributed), although I’m also aware of the pattern of these crowdfunding projects. They tend to attract a lot of pledges at the start, then it tapers off in the middle, before there is a rush at the end to try and cross the finish line (because if you don’t hit your target, you get nothing).

Fundit doesn’t have all the bells and whistles (yet) of the more established Kickstarter operation, but the team running the site provide an excellent service – quick, knowledgeable, and helpful. While submitting projects is restricted to Irish artists, importantly for me, they accept pledges from anyone with a credit card.

If you are interested in participating in this experiment, pop on over to my project page where you can read all about it. For the click-lazy, I’ll give you a quick run-down.

I’m seeking 1,500 Euro (approx. $2,000) which will cover editing costs for A Storm Hits Valparaíso, typesetting the print version, and maybe a little promo if I get more than that.

The various pledges start at 5 Euro (the minimum), which will get you a copy of the e-book in all major formats (including PDF) two days in advance of its official release. Rewards for higher pledges include e-book bundles, a personal thank you in the acknowledgements, paperback editions shipped to your door, and even the excitement of having a character in one of my upcoming short stories named after you (or a friend whom you wish to immortalize).

If you want to check out my project or see how I’m doing, then go here. Don’t forget those enticing rewards; I mean, who doesn’t want to star in a story where I could have you: chased by a pack of wild dogs; forced into two-day bender in Zihuatanejo at gunpoint; chloroformed, gagged, and bundled into the back of 1977 Triumph Spitfire; or, perhaps most exciting of all, wistfully gazing into the mirror, regretting your life as a failed hand model.

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If anyone wants to read more about how to run an effective crowdfunding campaign, I recommend the following resources:

1. A guest post from an indie author who ran a successful campaign.

2. An excellent podcast from Mur Lafferty on her project which was way oversubscribed. She also talks about the common mistakes people make and how to avoid them. This podcast also has a superb, intelligent interview with Daniel H. Wilson, author of Robopocalypse, which is worth the listen alone.

3. This site has some really top tips for Kickstarter projects. It’s nominally about game design projects, but a lot of this advice is transferable.

4. Kickstarter is restricted to those in the US, and Fundit is for Irish artists only. However, IndieGoGo is open to anyone across the world.

If you have any more crowdfunding resources, or if you would like to share your own experiences, have at it in the comments.

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Before I go, I would just like to give a shout out to regular blog reader and rising indie star Shéa MacLeod. She self-published her first novel Kissed By Darkness at the very end of June this year. And in the time it has taken me to get completely bogged down in the “final pass” on my own book, she has released two more.

Her productivity is bearing fruit. This month she sold well over 3,000 e-books (not at 99c either), and the last time I checked the lead title in her series it was at #666 (spooky) in the overall Kindle store – a phenomenal performance in the space of four months.

Keep your eye on Shéa, she’s only getting started.

David Gaughran

Born in Ireland, he now lives in a little fishing village in Portugal, although this hasn’t increased the time spent outside. He writes novels under another name, has helped thousands of authors build a readership with his books, blogs, workshops, and courses, and has created marketing campaigns for some of the biggest self-publishers on the planet. Friend to all dogs.