Kickstarter, the king of crowdfunding, has become a useful way to put out a physical book without risking lots of personal funding without knowing if anyone will commit to buying. This can be incredibly useful when you have something special to offer, but aren’t likely to get a publisher to accept it as more than a niche market. Sure, print on demand does work, but that also takes money. So we turn to a venue where we can explain what we plan, show some sort of early product and promise some reward for your decision to back our attempt to create this book. The simplest ones are little more than just getting enough people to say they will buy a copy before printing. Others get far fancier. I am going to give some basic information on how to build your campaign and what to be prepared for.
What makes a good Kickstarter?
If you have some sort of a platform with lots of people watching, that is your absolute best resource. Many authors with strong followings are almost assured of success just by mentioning it on their platforms. I will assume for a moment that you aren’t a famous author yet, so can’t rely on this as heavily. Okay, well that brings a lot of it down to how well you design things.
Kickstarter is all or nothing, which adds a sense of urgency and drive. That is both a rough situation and a boon depending on how well things are done. They often suggest keeping the time down to 30 days, as this again adds a sense of movement and urgency. If you have a quality video, you are twice as likely to make your goal, so this is somewhere to focus a fair bit of attention. Try to make it look professional and be clear and to the point. Low quality or vague videos are a death knell for your Kickstarter. Remember to mention all the details since the video won’t always be seen just on the Kickstarter page!
Be aware of the bulk of successful campaigns. By a wide margin, the successful campaigns sit between 1 and 10 thousand dollars. Under that and it is often ignored as petty. More and it becomes exponentially more difficult to make the funds happen. You don’t have to break down every aspect of how the money will be spent, but explaining in general terms will help people understand what it is their money is going to be doing and will improve the chances of support. Also remember that fees will be taken out of the total and you will be spending money on rewards as well. More on this later.
Rewards are vital. It is recommended that you have 5 to 7 reward options at varying levels initially and then add more as the campaign goes on. The most common pledge is 25 dollars and the most productive is 100 dollars. Whatever the reward is, remember that it has to feel like a value for the money. If someone is pledging thirty dollars to your cause, a thank you note isn’t going to cut it and won’t draw in many supporters. Also bear in mind that you may be sending hundreds of a given reward out to any number of countries. Make sure to note shipping as an extra cost for out of the country and to include the cost of shipping into the value of the rewards within the country.
Once you have it all figured out, be aware that Amazon Payments takes up to 7 days to link into your Kickstarter. You will need to allow time for that prior to beginning the campaign. You’ll need to get through the approval process, but I am starting to notice that is growing more lax lately. More on that at the end. Once the campaign is going, you can do a number of updates and even add new rewards. You can add new goals for going above the target total and can send out free rewards to every single person who donates via email. Even if the campaign fails, some campaigns find a new outlet for funding through people who pledged to the failed Kickstarter.
So what does it all come out to? First, you need to take out 8.3 percent for the fees associated with the campaign in general. Two weeks later, you will receive whatever is left after the fees. Taxes won’t be pulled out automatically, so you will need to set those aside as well. What you have after that gets further pared down by about 25 percent for fulfillment of the rewards you were offering. Depending on your tax rates, this may bring it down to as little as half the original amount. If you are smart, you will find a way to work most of your rewards into the campaign itself. In the case of books, having a copy of the book is often a common reward. Multiples at higher rates, signature copies for slightly more than the regular copies, etc. This way fulfillment costs are already part of what you are earning the funds for in the first place.
Indigogo is another option. They take much larger fee out, but unlike Kickstarter, they let you keep whatever was pledged even if it falls short of the original goal. This can be a nice boon if you fall just shy of your target pledges. Bear in mind your pledge goal has to be higher with Indigogo to make the same amount. It has pros and cons.
Selfstarter is another crowdfunding option that might work for you if you have a good platform already in place. To the best of my knowledge, there are no fees of any sort. Instead, it is an open source software for creating a crowdfund campaign. The biggest negative to this is the loss of potential traffic. Kickstarter, for example, can add as much as 25 percent more pledges from people who happen across it on their site. Again, it has pros and cons.
Potato Salad. You heard me. Potato Salad. I don’t have words to describe this situation. On one hand, there are lessons from the potato salad Kickstarter that we can take and make our own. Ten dollars as a starting goal is small. A reachable and obvious goal means people feel less timid about helping to fund it. Alright. Small reward jumps. Again, less risk and lots of ways to offer just a little. Too many campaigns jump from 1 to 20 and so on. Small steps can equal big rewards. Humor sells. Can’t deny it. That’s why half of the commercials on the TV make you laugh, but say nothing of value about the product they sell.
On the negative side, we might learn to think before offering a reward. Shipping one bite of viable potato salad across the country or world may cost more than the 5 dollar reward level can pay for. Something to be thinking about. While I write this, the funds now sit at $43,000 with 23 days left to go (I swear it was at 71,000 earlier. Maybe it was my memory or a glitch). That is a year or two of wages for some people. Viral marketing is obviously huge. The down side is that many people who look for serious items to back have mentioned that they feel far less willing to even go on Kickstarter after seeing how this sort of silly item can be funded while more worthy causes go unfunded. Crowdfunding is still going through growing pains. Don’t expect it to be a magic bullet. That said, it might still be something that can help get your book out there to more people who would otherwise never have found it.