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Using Kickstarter to Fund Self-Publishing Projects

| Posted in Tips and Tricks |

20

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!).

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Comments (20)

I think there may be a drawback to using crowd funding for a book you intend to publish on Amazon. The very people you rely on to give you the initial boost to propel your novel to visibility on the Amazon charts – your fans – will not buy your book, as they will be getting it direct. And for most of us, Amazon is the most important outlet.

Possibly, though if we’re talking something like 50 or 100 people, it’s kind of insignificant as far as sales rankings and such go on Amazon. You could add $100 to what you need for your project and buy a Kindle Nation Daily sponsorship if you want to sell a bunch of books in a short period of time to try and get into a Top 100 list.

There’s a similar site, http://www.indiegogo.com/ , that offers the option to set a campaign so that the pledged money will be transferred even if the goal isn’t met. I’m not sure how the etiquette is with promised incentives then.

Its main advantage over kickstarter.com is that you don’t have to live in the USA to raise money.

Thanks for the link, Anke! The KickStarter FAQ does say that they’re working to open things up to other countries, too, so maybe they’ll be an option for international folks soon.

They’ve been saying that for the past few years already. I wouldn’t take too much stock in that. For non-US people, just go Indiegogo.

Nice article btw, Lindsay. I’m particularly interested in how you plan to use Kickstarter to fund your podiobooks.

I’ll be keeping an eye on your Kickstarter project when you start it ;)

You mentioned Audible! Are you indeed planning on selling the completed audiobook on Audible? I ask because I don’t have an mp3 player but I do have a Kindle–so Audible is how I listen to audiobooks and I’m willing to buy an audio version! Willing–and excited!

I wish it were an option, Laura, but it doesn’t look like it can happen for anyone who’s opted to give away her book for free as a podcast. :(

More info at Audible and ACX’s message to indie authors – F*#@ off!

I am hoping to do up a little “store” on my own site, though, where folks can buy the ebooks and audios directly from me if they want. (I’d make a little more per sales that way.)

Thanks for listening!

Oh wow. I had no idea Audible/ACX were such…sticks in the mud. But now that makes sense about who is represented there and who isn’t. Yikes!

I think the store is a good idea! Especially for the audiobooks, since Audible isn’t playing fair.

Can’t you sideload audio files to your Kindle? Quick search suggests that it might be as simple as hooking the Kindle up to your computer with an USB cable, and copying the files into the “Music” folder on the Kindle, but I’m not sure if there are differences between models.

I would think so, Anke. I believe we’ll be doing mp3s for the completed audiobook files, so it should work just like music.

Heck yeah you can sideload audio to the Kindle. I do it all the time!

You can, but you don’t get to choose what music plays when you press “on”. Music plays in the order you upload it to your Kindle and you have no idea what’s on your “playlist” unless it’s connected to your computer, so you’ll have to skip through your playlist blindly to get to the audiobook. Then if you need to pause, you can pause, but if you need to back up a few seconds if you missed what was said…well, that’s impossible.

So–it’s doable, but it’s a hassle. What I would suggest is taking any music you have off your kindle first so the only “Music file” you have is the audiobook.

Still, an mp3 player would be a better way to listen to the audiobook, if you have one, because in general you have greater control over selection, fast-forwarding and backing up.

Tim Pratt’s use of Kickstarter to fund his continuation of his Marla Mason series after the publisher dropped him is a great example of what one can do with this sort of funding. He’s written two books and is currently writing a third in the series. His blog mentioned that he ended up getting a better “advance” with Kickstarter than he did from his publisher, IIRC…

Thanks for the mention of Tim Pratt. I looked him up over there to see what he offered. :) That’s cool about the “advance!”

Nice article! I’ve been mulling over the prospect of trying Kickstarter for a while, though it hasn’t gone past the mulling stage. I am very interested in producing a podio book / audio book, but the ROI is sort of stumping me right now. I don’t think there’s a great way for indie authors to make money on audio books right now. I keep hoping Amazon will eventually let indie authors sell their audio works through Audible. I’ve also looked around for audio book producers who have connections with Audible, the thought being that I could hire this company to produce the audio, then distribute it through Audible. I haven’t found one yet, unfortunately.

Good luck with your endeavor! I will be good for a donation if/when you get the Kickstarter campaign going!

Thanks, Camille! I just filled out an application over there, so we’ll see how it goes.

Yeah, the audiobooks cost $X,XXX if you hire professional voice talent and editing, and it’s hard to justify the expense when you’re putting the end product out for free. If you were selling the audios through Audible, that might be a little better, but I like the idea of just having stuff out there for free, so people who wouldn’t otherwise pay for the book get a chance to try it.

I’m seeing some inspiring KickStarter success stories, so we’ll see how it goes. I’m already mulling over cool goodies to offer. ;)

Please let us know when you’re up on Kickstarter! I am SO there!

I look forward to your Kickstarter project, Lindsay! I’ve had my eye on KS for some time, so it’ll be interesting to see how it works for you. As usual, you’ll be a trailblazer ;)

Sharon Lee and Stan Miller did something similar on their own website when Meisha Merlin, the small publisher they were contracted with, went under. They published an online serial – every $25 donation bought another chapter of the serial. They also pledged that if they hit received enough total donations (I forget what the goal was) everyone who pledged $25 or more would get a free signed copy of the serial, even if they had to put it together themselves. They ended up getting so many donations that Baen picked them up, and as part of the deal the publisher gave them enough copies of the book to send to all the $25 and over donors. Readers are definitely willing to support authors they like.

[...] you happened to read my post last week on Using KickStarter to Fund Self-Publishing Projects, you might remember that I was toying with the idea of running a campaign myself, one to help fund [...]

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