Pre-Publication Book Marketing Activities
Post-Publication Book Marketing Activities
With this post adding to your marketing arsenal, you'll have a lot of weapons for you to attack and execute your own book marketing plan.
KICKSTARTER FOR NOVELISTS
by Rick Chesler
Thanks once again to Mr. Tony Eldridge for having me as a guest on his fantastic authors’ blog. It's good to be back! I'm here to discuss my latest book project, something very different from anything I've tried before, not so much writing-wise (a thriller is not all that different from a techno-thriller, after all), but in terms of how to bring the book to the reading public. I'm working on a suspense thriller called BLOOD HARBOR. The book isn't done yet, but it's well underway and as I'm sure more than a few writers can attest to, the question of "What the heck am I going to do with this thing when it's finished?" crossed my mind more than once. Today more than ever there are a plethora of options in addition to the big 6 NYC houses: small press, self-publish to kindle, self publish with print books and kindle, serialize on my website, a combination thereof (e.g. sell the print rights to a small press but retain the ebook rights)? But even these options are pretty well travelled these days, and so when something new comes along that seems viable I pay attention.
Enter Kickstarter.com, billed as a "funding platform for creative projects." A novel is a creative project, right? And hey, I'm writing a novel! So just what is this Kickstarter? Technically, it's known as a "crowd-funding" site that utilizes a "provision-point mechanism." All that means is that multiple parties (people, businesses, whatever) can fund or "back" a given project and that the project has to reach a minimum dollar amount of funding within a pre-specified period of time in order to receive the money raised. So picture people surfing a website for ideas to fund, they come across one that looks good and say, "That would be great if that guy can really do that, I'm in with $50!" If the project is trying to raise $5,000 in 30 days but only $4,000 is raised at the end of that time, that project will not be funded. They get zilch, and the backers, whose money was held in escrow by Amazon Payments from the time they "pledged" to back that project (you knew that wily Amazon would find a way to get involved in this somehow, right?), are not billed.
So, if a project is successful, it's clear what the creators get: money to achieve their goal. But what's in it for the backers? Rewards, as they are known in Kickstarter parlance; whatever was indicated the backers would receive in the tiered pledge system common to the site. With novels, it might work something like this:
Pledging $5 gets you a copy of the (as yet unpublished and in some cases, even unwritten) e-book. This is effectively the same as pre-ordering the book. Pony up $15 and you get your name in the acknowledgements section of the book as an early supporter. $25 results in you getting a paperback signed by the author and mailed to your door, and so on and so forth. Typically the higher rewards are all-inclusive of those below them. High dollar amounts sometimes come with unique and customized rewards. For example, contribute $100 to my campaign for BLOOD HARBOR, and in addition to receiving signed copies of the paperback and hardcover editions ($25 and $75 rewards, respectively) you'll also see yourself as a character in the novel (based on your name and physical description you provide me). So it's a flexible and interactive platform that really is limited only by your imagination.
Launched in 2009, Kickstarter has long been the domain of indie film and music endeavors, which continue to dominate the site to this day both in terms of sheer number of projects and total dollars raised. But books, including novels and particularly graphic novels, have begun to carve out a strong niche on the site as authors with some kind of following began to see the appeal of funding the business aspects of their publication. Basically all of the things a publisher would (or at least might) do were they to secure a publishing deal—buying ISBNs, commissioning cover art, paying editing fees, handling interior layout, formatting different e-book and print editions, creating a book trailer, producing an audiobook, perhaps buying advertising space, mailing promotional review copies, etc. etc. etc.—all of these things now have the potential to be funded (and therefore controlled) directly by the writer, provided they can run a successful Kickstarter campaign.
So how to do that? Kickstarter recommends that campaign duration be "30 days or less," and that although campaigns of up to 60 days are allowed, the success rate for those are significantly lower than those less than 30 days. I set my own campaign length at only 23 days, figuring that if I can’t raise $3,000 in 23 days, it's doubtful I'd be able to raise it in 30 days either, so why drag it out? It takes a lot of time and energy to run a Kickstarter campaign, after all (letting people know it's there, following up with prospective backers, providing updates to backers as the campaign progresses, etc. So, like a cheetah, I prefer a short and fast burst over a long haul to get my kill.
What are some of the pros and cons to Kickstarter? Why doesn’t every writer use it? While I'm definitely no expert, still in the midst of my first campaign as I write this, I can tell you already that this is not for everyone. It takes do-it-yourself publicity and guerrilla marketing to new heights. Not only are you self-publishing, but you're crowd-sourcing the funding to self-publish. But let's look at some pros and cons.
First the pros: aside from the obvious benefit of raising funds to get your book project off the ground, there are other more intangible benefits to a Kickstarter campaign. I’ve been surprised at how engaged I feel with my readership and cadre of social network friends, fans and followers as they interact with me during the campaign. It's really made me aware of how effective the far corners of my networks are, or in some cases, are not. Kickstarter has a nice feature where they indicate in painfully clear pie charts just what sources are delivering your angel backers to your campaign when they make their pledges, and many people will contact me to let me know they just made a pledge after they saw my tweet or heard about it on a blog, etc. It also really lights a fire under my writerly self to get that book done! There's nothing like knowing readers are waiting for your novel to motivate a writer to finish that manuscript, and because you are required to give a date of delivery for backer rewards, you even have a deadline. Also, the entire campaign itself can be thought of as an early publicity drive for the yet-to-be-published novel. It can't hurt to have all those people knowing about the book early on, even if they don't make a pledge. It's a way of gauging enthusiasm for the novel. Finally, you retain all rights to your work, and you have no advance against earnings to "earn out" after it's published.
Now for some cons. Kickstarter is not a sure thing. Many projects do not reach their funding goals, and as I said above, those projects receive no money at all per Kickstarter terms even though they raised some funds. Some writers may find it demoralizing to finish writing a book knowing that it wasn't funded. Ask yourself before you start what you will do should your campaign fail. If you really want the campaign to succeed, be ready to be "on," promotion-wise, for the entire length of the campaign. Early on in my campaign, I found myself sitting down at night to write my novel. Then I thought, What am I doing? Instead of writing the book I should be writing a blog post, or tweeting or doing something to spread the word about the campaign! Because if the campaign isn't successful, I'll have written more pages on a book that wasn't funded. Wouldn't it be better to get the book funded and then write it? So that kind of thing can be at play. In some cases I've seen projects where the book is already written, so that wouldn't be an issue. Finally, if your campaign is successful, you must pay taxes on the funds raised, and since you will have expenses associated with raising the money, you'll want to keep good records of what you're spending on everything, such as rewards, so that you can make the appropriate write-offs come tax time.
Tips and Pitfalls
- The target dollar amount cannot be changed once the campaign is launched. However, projects that raise more than the target amount do keep that extra money. You can revise funding upward, too, say by offering to "unlock" a new level of reward, but beware: if this new target isn’t reached, you get nothing. Example: a project has an initial funding goal of $2,000 and a duration of 30 days. Ten days into the campaign, the $2,000 is reached, and the creators are confident they have a great new reward to unlock, so they raise the goal to $3,500. After 30 days only $3,300 has been raised. The campaign has failed, and no funds are received.
- The campaign end date cannot be changed once the campaign is launched. In other words, no, you can't push back the date if it looks like you're not going to raise enough by your chosen date.
- You are permitted to run a new campaign for a previously failed project.
- Foreign (non-U.S.) residents are able to back projects, but projects can only be created using a U.S. bank account.
- You may want to have a provision that extra shipping charges for rewards to foreign countries may apply.
- Collaborate: it's better to work as a team than alone when it comes to promoting a Kickstarter project. For example, suppose you know that if your book project is funded, you’ll be paying a certain amount of those funds to a cover artist. Why not approach the artist first and let him or her know that you intend to have them do the cover should the book be funded? More likely than not, you'll have someone else willing to help promote the project, and will hopefully develop some kind of marketing synergy as the campaign unfolds.
- Test the waters to see how your proposed campaign might be received before you actually launch by doing a "soft launch." Kickstarter allows you to Preview your campaign to see how it will look before pulling the trigger to take it live. Take advantage of this. Post the preview link on your blogs, website and social networks a few days before going live to collect feedback and make adjustments if necessary, as well as to build buzz.
- Choose your funding goal wisely, Remember, the idea is to get a project funded-- to kick-start it into existence, not to make a hefty profit. That will come later after your book is published. Explain to your backers in detail where the money raised will be going.
- Back at least one other project. It'll help you to experience the process from the other side, and in your profile it lists that you're backing other projects which makes you look like an active, engaging member of the Kickstarter community. Which hopefully you are!
- Project video: videos are strongly encouraged by Kickstarter as a way of introducing yourself and representing the project. If you don’t upload a video your "project image" will be used in place of a video. This latter is what I'm using, since I truly feel that the book cover image represents the project better than a video of me saying the same things already written out in the campaign could. But a great, genuine video will definitely help, and scary stats like "Projects with videos are 54% more likely to be funded than those without" abound.
- You're not allowed to sell the actual rights to the novel. For example, Allowed: $100 gets you a signed hardcover of my novel. Not allowed: $10,000 gets you 50% of worldwide rights to my novel in perpetuity. Capiche?
- Register for a Kickstarter account (free)
- Have to apply and be accepted, they don’t take every project offered for inclusion on Kickstarter
- Have to fill out a W9 (tax form) beforehand
- Have to have an Amazon Payments business account; it's free, but it means registering for a new account if you don't have one already, and linking a bank account, although some of your information carries over from a standard Amazon account
- Must be able to patiently explain how Kickstarter works over and over to new potential backers as they come along and inquire
Other Crowd-Funding Platforms
Kickstarter is the dominant one out there today, but they're not the only one. I'm not going to go into details on the competitors, but also possibly worth a look are Indiegogo.com (projects keep all funds raised even if they fall short of their goal, and non-U.S. parties are allowed to create projects) and the brand new unglue.it.
So that is pretty much everything I've learned about Kickstarter and crowd-funding so far. If you enjoyed this post or would like a good suspense novel, please consider backing my own campaign, which ends on 5/28/12! I'm also happy to answer your questions in the comments section of this blog.
Thanks and happy reading!
Tony Eldridge is the author of The Samson Effect, an action/adventure novel that Clive Cussler calls a "first rate thriller brimming with intrigue and adventure." He is also the author of the Twitter marketing book, Conducting Effective Twitter Contests. His new novel, The Lottery Ticket, was just recently released on Kindle.