By Rebecca Joines Schinsky and Jeff O’Neal, editors of Book Riot
Last summer, we ran a Kickstarter campaign to fund the writing, editing, printing, and distribution of Start Here: Read Your Way Into 25 Amazing Authors. We met our campaign goal of $25,000 dollars and completed and delivered the books several months later. The process was both more fulfilling and more complicated than we imagined.
Here’s what we learned that might help others looking to use Kickstarter to fund a book.
Getting to Even
When you are setting your Kickstarter goal, think about where you want to be with your project by the time you’ve completed and shipped it. Do you just want to subsidize your project, so the money goes toward the project, but doesn’t cover it completely? Do you want to break even and then use subsequent sales to make some money? Or do you want to be well into the black with Kickstarter money alone?
For Start Here, we used Kickstarter to get to even (not counting the time of salaried employees of Book Riot, which was considerable) with the project’s expenses. We thought this was a good middle ground, and our pre-funding campaign budget then told us exactly what our Kickstarter goal should be. Now, the money we have coming in from Start Here is profit, which not only helps us keep Book Riot up and running, but takes pressure off trying to squeeze money out of the project and divert attention from the other things we are doing.
You’re Going to Pay Yourself Last
Since the big wad of cash from your Kickstarter campaign goes right to you to do with what you will, you are going to be the last person paid. This means that keeping your expenses low throughout your project will leave you with more by the end. Your instinct will be to offer a bunch of swag, hire a bunch of designers to make things look great, and in general defer the real costs of these promises because you are so anxious about just meeting your funding goal. But if it turns out that the commitments you’ve made to ensure you get to your funding goal exceed what you’ve got, then you have a whole new raft of concerns.
A campaign that meets a funding goal that is considerably less than the project’s expenses is not the victory it seems.
To Print or Not to Print
You are going to be fighting competing forces with this decision. On one hand, digital-only is considerably less expensive to fulfill for each backer, both in terms of hard costs (design, printing, shipping) and soft costs (getting mailing addresses, figuring out shipping costs, spending time setting up a fulfillment process).
On the other hand, readers still love print books, and backers of your project are likely to give you more money if a print edition exists. As a self-published author or group, you are also going to find that trying to sell print books to people beyond Kickstarter is a real pain.
We did a limited run of print, guaranteeing a print copy only for people who backed the project. This offers a small incentive for backers to give during the campaign (and at a higher level), rather than wait for the book to be finished. If there is demand after the fact, you can always go back to print more.
Think Soldiers, Not Generals
As you plan the publicity and promotional efforts around your Kickstarter campaign, don’t get too caught up in trying to attract Big Name Famous People 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 a Big Name Famous Person 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 Start Here, 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. Don’t undervalue that.
In the traditional publishing model, much is made of publication day and book sales within the first several weeks thereafter. But when you’re crowdfunding a book, your most avid supporters are going to get the book through your campaign. They’ll have given you their money and received your book before its “official” publication date.
You will be excited about the book’s pub date, but it will be old news for your biggest fans. Remember this, and moderate your expectations about pub day/launch week sales. Don’t expect to sell more copies in the first week--or, hell, the first month--than you sold during the campaign.
Cash isn’t the only thing that a Kickstarter campaign gets you. You get a list of people who are excited about you and what you do. They’ve said “I will give you money and my contact info to make this cool thing.” For people who want to make things, it doesn’t get any better than that. Communicating openly and honestly with your backers while you are working on the project and after you’ve finished it can earn you long-term fans who are likely to support you beyond whatever it is you are working on at the moment.
Be a Good Kickstarter Citizen
A good rule for life on the internet (and life in general) is to spend 80% of your time giving, 10% asking, and the last 10% saying thank you. Get involved in the Kickstarter publishing community and back some cool projects well before your own campaign launches. Direct your followers to projects you like and support (we do this on social media and in semi-regular “Bookish Kickstarters You Should Back” posts at Book Riot).
Pay attention to what works, and learn from others’ successes and mistakes. You’re more likely to get positive responses to your requests for support when you’ve established yourself as someone who is willing to support others’ projects too. Also, there’s just a ton of really interesting stuff being done with publishing Kickstarters, and you don’t want to miss out.
Get Proof of Concept
Prose is a relatively tough sell on Kickstarter, as it is difficult to render, sketch, or otherwise prototype. (Unsurprisingly, illustrated books and designed objects tend to do much better). And fiction is even more difficult than non-fiction. For fiction, a sample is tough to beat, and for non-fiction a clear outline of what you are doing, how you are going to do it, and why a reader might care about helping you make it happen are crucial. Give your project description personality and passion; at the start of Kickstarter campaign that’s what’s going to get your momentum going. Readers have to like you and your project, and they have to trust that you are going to do a good job.
Social Media Matters, and Not Just Yours
Like it or not, most of the traffic to your Kickstarter page is going to come from social media, and not just YOUR social media. We drove some traffic to our page from posts on Book Riot, and a handful of backers discovered us when the project was featured in Kickstarter’s staff picks, but the vast majority came from Facebook and Twitter.
Maximize your exposure and reach beyond your established audience by giving your fans incentive to share your project on their social networks. During Book Riot’s Kickstarter, we ran a series of giveaways in which people who shared the project on Facebook or Twitter and tagged Book Riot were entered to win assorted bookish goodies. We got the benefit of their social reach and an opportunity to hook new readers, and they got a shot at winning something cool for very little effort.
Talk About It Just Past What’s Comfortable
You’re going to talk yourself blue in the face about your Kickstarter. You’re going to get really tired of talking about it. (It’s been six months since ours finished, and I STILL don’t want to talk about it.) And then you’re going to have to keep right on talking about it. Thirty days--the standard length of a Kickstarter campaign--is a long time, and you’ll have to talk about it on every single one of those thirty days. More than once a day. You’re going to feel like you’re repeating yourself because you *are* repeating yourself. But that’s what you have to do if you want to reach as much of your audience as possible.
Bottom line: if you think you’re talking about your project too much, you’re almost talking about it enough.