10 October 2016 | 4 Comments
I recently had the opportunity to speak on a panel of Kickstarter creators at a meeting of the St. Louis Louis Publishers Association (books, not games). In preparation for the event, I looked at my backer history to research other book projects, and I found a host of unique ideas that apply specifically to books.
I believe that books are one of the most difficult types of media to crowdfund. I think this is because of the rise of self-publishing and print-on-demand. Anyone can write a book and either have it printed or made available digitally if they want–the need for funds is much lower than most other categories.
However, there are other reasons than funding to run a crowdfunding campaign (gauge demand, build community, improve the product, generate excitement, etc). So here are some ways to increase your chances of success on Kickstarter as an author:
- Have an established audience (The Leader’s Guide by Eric Ries [$588,903 raised from 9,677 backers]): When Eric launched his project, he had spent years cultivating an audience through his first book, social media, speaking, consulting, etc. This is particularly important for an author, because moreso than any other type of content (except maybe music), people who love your writing want more of it. As a result of the value Eric offered to his fanbase before the campaign, over 1300 backers showed up on the first day.
- Have beautiful cover art (Beneath a Burning Sky by Jonathon Burgess [$2,691 raised from 98 backers]): On Kickstarter, books are judged by their covers. Most books are 99% text, but it’s often something visual that first draws us in, particularly online. Cover art is worth the up-front investment so you have something to use for your main project image. Without this, I probably never would have backed this book.
- Design collector’s editions (any project from Chris Morey): On almost every one of Morey’s campaigns, he offers a really beautiful hardcover collector’s edition of the book. Kickstarter is fantastic for beautiful, expensive rewards, because they can’t be produced at scale (especially since they usually have a niche audience). Many backers might prefer the digital version of your book, but it’s wise to appeal to collectors.
- Create gift appeal (My First Science Textbook by John Coveyou [$103,461 raised from 2,236 backers]): I back 99% of things on Kickstarter because I want them for myself. But when I saw John’s project, which teaches chemistry in a way that even little kids can understand, I instantly thought, “I need to get this for my niece.” Creating gift appeal isn’t easy–John does it through lots of photos of kids reading the book and sample pages–but this is key to keep in mind if the people buying the product are not the target audience for the product (i.e., little kids). John has a follow-up book on Kickstarter now.
- Make it a collection (Gamut Magazine by Richard Thomas [$55,303 raised from 802 backers]): If your book has one author, the social media reach stems from one person. But if your book is a collection of works from dozens of authors, you greatly expand your reach. Richard tapped into this concept for his literary magazine project.
- Appeal to a niche audience (reAPPEARANCES by Susan Hacker Stang [$16,700 raised from 101 backers]): Targeting a very specific audience can sometimes significantly increase your chances of funding, as it lets you focus your time and advertising on the people who are most likely to support your project. That’s exactly what Susan did for her photography book.
- Limit your rewards (The Icarus Deception by Seth Godin [$287,342 raised from 4,242 backers]): With rewards ranging from $4 to $1,150, every pledge level on Godin’s campaign was limited. I’m usually not a fan of artificial limitations, but I think this is a powerful tool to create urgency and scarcity for book projects.
- Write it in real time (Robin Writes a Book by Robin Sloan [$13,942 raised from 570 backers]): Dating back to 2009, this was the first Kickstarter campaign I backed. The most brilliant aspect of it was that Robin wrote the book in real time–that is, he wrote the entire book from start to finish during the campaign. I can’t speak for other backers, but this made me feel like I was part of something bigger than myself, something special and topical and immediate.
- Have an effective book trailer: I actually struggled to find a great example of this (other than previous projects on this list). Of course, having an effective, polished project video is important for any campaign, but I think it’s a particularly powerful tool to draw audiences into the world of your book. Lots of published authors and publishing companies now use book trailers.
- Proofread your project page: Possibly more than any other type of campaign, having typos or incoherent text on a book project page can be a killer. When people see a published book on the shelf, they assume that it’s been edited and proofread–that’s a major function of publishers. So potential backers have doubts about the quality of the proofreading when they see a self-published book. You can address those doubts up front by having a beautifully crafted, typo-free project page.
Also, I’ve been asked a few times why I didn’t put my crowdfunding book on Kickstarter. The primary reason is that I really wanted to extend my reach well behind my audience, and I thought that working with a traditional publisher would be the best way to do that.
If you’d like to share any strategies specific to books that you’ve seen crowdfunders implement, I’d love to hear about them in the comments!
- Kickstarter Lesson #77: The 10 Reasons I’ll Back a Kickstarter Project
- My First Kickstarter Campaign: The Untold Story
- This update from John Coveyou about ISBNs, legal text, and more