Posted in Tips and Tricks | Posted on 13-02-2012|
Thanks to the e-reader revolution, there are a lot of perks to self-publishing these days, but one of the downsides is that you’re on your own for funding some of the basic necessities, such as cover art, editing (this alone can be $1,000 and up for a novel-length manuscript), and formatting. Once you start making money, and have reserves from previous sales to draw upon, it gets easier, but lots of independent authors struggle to come up with the initial funds.
I’ve run into some authors who have used a site called KickStarter to help with start-up costs. I’m looking into it myself right now, not for books, but as a way to pay for my podiobook-creation costs.
As I’ve mentioned before, I pay the folks at Darkfire Productions to handle the narration and editing, because I they do a much more professional job than I could ever manage on my own. As you can guess, hiring voice talent to narrate a whole book isn’t inexpensive, and the podiobooks get published for free, so it’s a little different from paying $1,000-$1,500 for making an ebook that you’re going to sell. I’m fortunate to have enough awesome readers now that I generally make that back within a couple of weeks of releasing a new novel.
With the audiobooks, I paid for the first two out of pocket (the first chapters of Dark Currents will be online soon for those who are wondering!), but when I sat back and did the math, I realized I’d be in the $10,000 ballpark on expenses if I did the whole six-book series. That’s what I’d like to do, but I’ve been mulling over whether I get enough “return on my investment” with the podiobooks to justify the expense.
Because they get published on Podiobooks.com and iTunes for free, the only way I make money is if people end up enjoying the stories enough to buy the books. This has happened, as I wrote about in an article on “Can Publishing a Podiobook Help You Sell More Books?” but I’m certain I’m a long ways from breaking even overall on the audiobook-creation expenses. I have been thinking about selling the finished podiobook to folks who may be interested in having the complete audio (Audible-style) in one file without the story being broken up by chapter with repetitive intros and outros, but I’m also thinking of giving KickStarter a try to fund the costs of producing the third audiobook.
What is KickStarter?
KickStarter is a “crowd-sourcing” site, where you can post projects that need funding to get off the ground. Basically, you’re looking for donations from people, but you get to make it worth their while by offering gifts to those who pledge (i.e. copies of the finished project). You can have different levels of gifts for those who donate different amounts. People won’t be charged unless you meet your goal, so you better make your goodies appealing, so more folks will sign up.
What should you give away to entice people to pledge?
You can probably think of numerous ways you could reward these early investors, but here are some thoughts.
If you’re putting together your first novel, and you intend to offer ebook and paperback versions, you might have a goal of $1,500 or $2,000 to cover the costs of editing, cover art design, and formatting for ebooks and paperbacks. You might get this by offering a copy of the finished ebook to those who donated $5 or $10 and a signed paperback to those who pay $20 or more. (If you do physical products, you’ll need to figure the costs of ordering and shipping those into your funding goal.)
In my case, since I’m interested in creating the third audiobook in my series, I might offer the completed audio file for the third book at the lowest pledge level (people would get this before the chapters started going up on Podiobooks), files of all three audiobooks at the next level, and something like signed CDs with the first three ebooks and audiobooks on them at the highest level. I’d poll my readers/listeners to get an idea of what they were interested in before setting up a campaign, and I’d suggest you do the same. What people want and what you think they want aren’t always the same! Maybe I’d find out that some people would donate if they could get signed copies of the paperbacks instead.
Who does KickStarter work for?
Though I’m just now looking into this for myself, I’ve been aware of KickStarter for a year or more, and I’ve watched a lot of authors put together campaigns. Honestly, most of them have failed to reach their funding goals. If the goal isn’t reached, that means that none of the “pledgers” will be charged, so you don’t get any money at all for your project.
Why do people fail? They don’t have a big enough readership to support them beforehand. You can’t count on random people browsing the KickStarter site, thinking your project looks cool, and pledging money. In fact, I’d be shocked if that happened very often. You need to have a fan-base built up that wants to support you and wants to see your books in print (or, in my case, audio).
Do you need a huge fan base? Not necessarily. If you do have a huge fan base, you can be like this guy who has $22,000 pledged right now (his initial goal was $3,000 to cover the cost of turning some of his comics into ebooks!), but most of us aren’t going to get that kind of love. That’s okay, since most of us are just looking to cover our expenses, not get rich off of people’s pledges. And that can definitely happen, even for a new author.
Last year, I interviewed Miranda MeiLin, an indie fantasy author who successfully funded her first ebook and paperback using KickStarter. You can read the whole interview if you’re interested, but here’s a quote related to her KickStarter success:
Forty-eight people bought pre-sale packages to the tune of $2500. That paid for my editor, artist and typographer, and then the purchase and shipping of the paperback for those that bought the print package. The $50 presale bought them an autographed paperback, the finished formatted ebook and a thank-you in the acknowledgments, but the real attraction was that they got the raw manuscript as soon as my editor and I decided it was done (the $25 package was everything but the paperback). I finished on August 31st, 2010 at 9:30 pm; the raw manuscript was in their hands 24 hours later.
Kickstarter worked for Miranda because she was able to build up a readership beforehand. She did it by publishing her early stories as part of web serial that people could read for free. You can, see, too that she didn’t need a huge number of supporters (only 48) to make her goal.
I think I’ll be able to get some support, too, since I have quite a few readers who follow me via Twitter, Facebook, my blog, my newsletter, etc. I think that’s key with KickStarter — having an audience already established, people who are going to be excited by the items you’re giving away in return for their pledged money. I have more readers than I have listeners of the podiobooks, so I don’t know if it’ll work as well as a book-related campaign might, but we shall see.
So, what if you’re just starting out and don’t have a readership?
My advice would be to serialize some of your work on the web or give away free short stories in ebook form on Smashwords, Amazon, B&N, etc. to start building a readership before you launch a Kickstarter campaign. If you do ebooks, make sure to include an afterword, letting folks know where to find you online (and maybe even suggesting that they sign up for your newsletter!).