Taking on a new project—whether you’re starting a business or publishing—can be very exciting. But these endeavors take more than just passion: unfortunately, it also takes cash.
So how do you get the money to get your project up and running? You might have savings to pitch in, but what if there’s another way?
Crowdfunding is an exciting way to finance your next project with low risk and tons of reward. Here’s how!
What Is Crowdfunding?
Crowdfunding is a way to pay for a venture—a business, a creative project, sometimes even a nonprofit, a personal bill, or a trip—by getting a bunch of small contributions from a bunch of regular people.
There’s a few kinds of crowdfunding: equity, credit, and project backing.
Equity crowdfunding, which was given a boost by the Jumpstart Our Business Startups (JOBS) Act in 2012, involves trading a part of your business for money from an investor. Basically, it’s a small-scale version of the kind of venture capital and equity investment you hear about in Silicon Valley.
Credit crowdfunding consists of tiny loans made by normal people to other normal people. Microloans like this were made popular by platforms like Kiva, which lets people offer small loans to budding entrepreneurs in underdeveloped countries or economies, and by LendingClub.com, which lets people choose business pitches and offer small loans at reasonable interest to ideas they like. At a time when lots of small businesses struggle to get credit, it’s a good way for average people to make a little back on interest while backing cool ideas, and for small businesses to get the money they need to succeed.
Project backing crowdfunding is the kind we’ll mostly be talking about here, because it’s what writers use the most. As opposed to trading part of a business venture for investment money or taking on a small loan from someone, project backing funding involves getting money from people in exchange for access to a project or product. It’s got more of a defined scope than the other forms, and the only thing you have to pay back is in the form of fulfilling any rewards you’ve offered in exchange for backing dollars.
Most project backing crowdfunding does involve offering rewards—these can range in scope from offering a written thank-you to people who pledge $1 to your project all the way up to, say, a private concert or a film cameo for someone pledging hundreds or thousands.
Project crowdfunding is awesome for writers because the rewards are pretty straightforward: you offer people access to your book in exchange for money! Not much different from selling the book, right? The major difference is that you can offer bundles of extra rewards, and you’ll typically get paid before the book is actually produced.
That brings us to our next big question…
Let’s look at the example of crowdfunding to write a book. Crowdfunding gets you paid before the book even exists.
For a self-published author, this is huge! The costs of producing a professional-quality book have gone down a lot in the last few years, but it’s still not cheap. You need to hire an editor, a cover designer, possibly a text designer, maybe some marketing help…it adds up.
Normally, you’d have to pay out of pocket for all this, then recoup your money through sales. If you successfully crowdfund, you’ve got an up-front payment that you can use for all those production costs!
Crowdfunding also has some other benefits. It can help you get more exposure for your work, as your backers spread the word and tell their friends about the project. It can also help you build up your author email list, as you can include the option for backers to sign up to your newsletter.
You may also be able to boost sales of your other books by offering them as additional rewards through your campaign or by cross-linking them in your backer updates.
It can even let you test-drive some new ideas and angles for your writing by seeing if people are interested enough to back the project.
Best Crowdfunding Sites
The right crowdfunding platform for you depends on what you want to get out of your crowdfunding campaign, how much control you want to retain over your project, what fees you’re willing to pay, and more.
Here’s a breakdown of some of the most popular crowdfunding platforms, as well as a few book-specific platforms you might want to check out.
The 800-pound gorilla of crowdfunding is, of course, Kickstarter. More than $1 billion has been pledged to various projects on this platform, which has been around since 2009.
Kickstarter accepts all kinds of creative and technology projects, from films and music to innovative printers and VR goggles. You can’t create a campaign for a nonprofit venture and you can’t fund your lifestyle—so no asking for money for medical bills or a trip to Europe.
It’s all-or-nothing funding: if you make your goal, you get all the money you raise (minus the Kickstarter fee and payment processing), but if you don’t make your goal, you get nothing at all.
Kickstarter has some of the lowest fees of the major platforms, but you have to be prepared in case your project doesn’t make its goal—you’ll get nothing for all the work you put in.
To create a project, you just sign up and create an account, then fill out the very intuitive forms for describing your project, uploading images and video, setting rewards, and specifying project details. The Kickstarter team will then review your project to determine if it meets their requirements—and not all projects will be approved.
Typically, though, you’ll get an email in a few days telling you that your project is live and you can start promoting to backers.
Once your project deadline arrives, one of two things will happen: you’ll have met your goal or you’ll have fallen short. If you fell short, nothing happens…you get no money and have nothing to follow up on. If you made your goal, though, you’ll get money transferred to you from Kickstarter via Amazon Payments.
You’ll also have the opportunity to put together backer surveys that ask your supporters for relevant information, like their email or street address, so that you can send them their rewards when they’re ready. When backers finish filling out their surveys, you can download handy spreadsheets—which are also great for entering into your email newsletter provider, assuming the backers opted in for your mailing list (you did ask them to join in your survey, right?).
Kickstarter charges a flat 5% fee, plus Amazon Payments charges 3–5% to handle credit card processing.
If your project isn’t successful, you aren’t charged anything.
Kickstarter has opened up to project creators in countries other than the US, although there are still some restrictions there. You can create a project if you live in the US, the UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Denmark, Ireland, Norway, Sweden, Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Austria, Belgium, Switzerland, or Luxembourg.
Backers can live anywhere in the world—keep this in mind when offering physical rewards, as you have to make sure you ask for enough extra in international shipping to cover your costs!
IndieGoGo is probably Kickstarter’s biggest competition. Many people think it was created to address some of the gaps left by Kickstarter, mostly in the areas of raising money for charity or for personal causes, but in reality, it’s been around for a year longer (since 2008). It does fill in those gaps, though, and also offers the opportunity to receive any money pledged to your project even if you don’t meet your overall goal.
Much like Kickstarter, IndieGoGo is super-easy to get started on. Just sign up to start a campaign—most authors will go with the main IndieGoGo site, although if you’re working on a book with a social cause or for a nonprofit, you might be eligible for the 0% fee Generosity platform.
Follow the steps to create your campaign and upload your images and video, then launch! IndieGoGo staff do not approve each campaign, like on Kickstarter, so there’s no delay.
Unlike Kickstarter, IndieGoGo has an option called Flexible Funding. If you don’t meet your full project goal, by choosing this option, you’ll still get whatever money was pledged when the deadline passes. It’s kind of comforting to know that you’ll still be getting some funding for your book even if it doesn’t take off and gain traction among backers.
After your project closes, you’ll follow steps similar to those of Kickstarter—getting money, surveying your backers for their information, sending out rewards (called “perks” on IndieGoGo). However, you also have the option to use one of IndieGoGo’s partners to help you with fulfillment, and you can join the Marketplace, where products that were funded on IndieGoGo are sold much like on Amazon or Etsy marketplaces.
IndieGoGo is highly focused on offering support for entrepreneurs before, during, and even after their launch, so this could be a great option for someone looking to build their reach but who needs some help getting started.
Whether you choose Flexible Funding or go for all-or-nothing, IndieGoGo charges 5% as a fee, plus 3% and 30 cents per transaction for processing credit cards.
If you don’t live in the United States and need IndieGoGo to wire funds to your international bank account, there will be a $25 one-time charge for that.
IndieGoGo supports project creators in more than 200 countries around the world. It also offers payment processing through a variety of providers, including PayPal and Stripe, making it very convenient for backers to participate and for creators to get paid.
Another popular option is GoFundMe, founded in 2010. It promotes itself as the world’s largest social fundraising platform, picking up where IndieGoGo leaves off in allowing charities and individuals to raise money for just about anything.
While Kickstarter and IndieGoGo focus largely on project-based crowdfunding, with project creators offering rewards and incentives in return for pledges from backers, GoFundMe concentrates more on donations—money given with no expectation of getting anything but satisfaction in return.
This means that most GoFundMe campaigns revolve around getting people to donate towards some cause or another, whether it’s saving animals from a kill shelter or helping pay for medical bills—or even for, say, a new laptop for a financially strapped author.
GoFundMe doesn’t have deadline requirements or require you to set a goal. Instead, you can allow your campaign to run until you choose to stop it. There’s also no all-or-nothing component; anything that someone pledges to your campaign, you get to keep.
Just sign up, follow along the detailed setup guide, and you’re ready to start collecting donations.
During your campaign, you can withdraw money at any time, just by making a request, and you’ll either have it transferred to a bank account or sent to you by check if you’re in the US.
GoFundMe helps you promote your campaign by connecting to Facebook, Twitter, and email providers. It also offers a detailed campaign dashboard to help you post updates and send thank-you notes to donors.
When you’ve raised the amount of money you want—or any amount along the way—you can request a bank transfer, send out thank you notes from your dashboard, and export the addresses or emails of your supporters.
There’s no rewards offered as part of the platform, so there’s nothing to follow up on…although you could always offer digital or print copies of your book to supporters as a thank-you and send them using the information the platform requests from backers.
GoFundMe charges a 5% fee and also deducts a 3% payment processing fee from all pledges.
There’s no charge to withdraw money from your campaign if you connect a bank account.
Anyone in the US, the UK, Canada, Australia, or the EU can start a GoFundMe campaign. Backers can come from anywhere around the world.
There are lots of other general crowdfunding sites out there, with a variety of focuses. Many specialize in helping nonprofit groups and social causes raise money for their operations and to help promote social change, so they’re less useful to project-oriented authors. Others focus on equity and loan-based crowdfunding, which could be great if you’re looking to start a business that happens to include a book as one of its offerings, but which won’t be as useful for just financially supporting your book’s production.
Writing-Focused Crowdfunding Options
In addition to general crowdfunding platforms, there are also websites devoted only to raising funds for books. They generally act as a cross between a publisher and a crowdfunder, allowing site users to pre-order books based on proposals. Popular books get published through their system.
If you’re a little nervous about producing your book entirely by yourself, Inkshares might be the ideal option for you.
Much like a traditional publisher, Inkshares handles the design, editing, and production of your book on your behalf. It also distributes copies through a network of vendors including Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple, and indie shops. Authors receive royalties of 35% of net profits (meaning whatever’s left after production costs and vendor discounts).
Crowdfunding comes in when determining which books to publish. Authors create an elevator pitch for their book, describing it in basically the length of a tweet, and can upload a sample chapter for readers. Readers decide whether to pre-order a book based on your sample. If it gets 250 backers, Inkshares will publish the book!
Along the way, you can get live feedback from readers while you develop the draft of your book. Inkshares is a great way to get a community of involved beta readers engaged with your work, as well as getting the services of a team of book professionals to handle publication for you if you pass the 250-order threshold.
A British company based in London, Unbound works by having authors pitch their book to the Unbound editorial board. If your concept passes muster, you can create a project page and start reaching out to potential backers.
As part of the acceptance process, the Unbound team estimates what it will cost to produce your book, including editorial, design, and production costs. That’s the campaign target that your Unbound project will have to meet through pre-orders by site users.
If you meet that goal, Unbound finishes up production and releases your book, including sending copies to your pre-order backers. Your book also becomes available for sale directly through the Unbound site and distributed through a partnership with Penguin Random House.
In practice, Unbound is less a crowdfunding site and more a really transparent publisher—you can’t just post any project to look for backers, you have to submit as though to a traditional publisher. The company staff handles your editorial, cover design, production, and so on and will help you market the book once it gets fully funded. Your acceptance contract will detail the exact amount you need to pre-sell in order to be successful, as well as the terms of your ongoing deal with Unbound after a successful campaign.
Unbound accepts submissions from authors around the globe, but it most frequently works with UK authors.
How to Start a Crowdfunding Campaign
Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s start your crowdfunding campaign!
Description and Setup
The first thing that needs to be done when creating your crowdfunding campaign, no matter what platform you’re on, is to write a catchy description.
Most crowdfunding platforms give you space for a title for your campaign. It’s best to keep this descriptive, like “Publish Raccoons In Space: A Romantic Science Fantasy.” You’ll have other places in the campaign setup to put the tagline or elevator pitch, as well as a longer back-cover-type description.
The clearer and more transparent you are about why you’re looking for funding, the more likely you are to get it!
Most crowdfunding platforms allow you to upload an image to represent your campaign. If you’ve already settled on a cover for your book or a logo for your business, this is the ideal place to use it!
Otherwise, head on over to Pixabay or another free CC0 (that is, legally shareable) stock image site and pick out an image or two that represents your theme.
You can do this in a simple image editor that comes with your computer, or use an online graphic design app like Canva.
Set Goals and Options
Once you’ve set up your description and image, you’ll need to set specifications for your campaign. This might seem simple, but you can optimize your chances of success if you put a little thought into it!
Some platforms, like GoFundMe, don’t require you to set an end date for your campaign, but most, like Kickstarter and IndieGoGo, do.
You’ll want to pick a timeframe that isn’t too long or too short—just Goldilocks right. Typically, 30 days gives you plenty of time to market your campaign to your email list, Facebook groups, and other supporters.
It also gives you enough time to gain momentum and potentially end up appearing on “popular campaigns” lists on your platform’s website.
Any shorter and you may not be able to get the exposure you need to meet your goal; any longer, and you lose the sense of urgency and immediacy—your potential backers might forget about the project or put off funding it until it’s too late.
Setting your funding goal can be tricky. It’s really tempting to go for broke here, asking for enough money to let you quit your day job and write full time. But statistics show that asking for the least amount of money you need to successfully produce your book is the best tactic.
As of April 2017, only 35.8% of Kickstarter projects were successfully funded. Kickstarter itself reports that most successful campaigns ask for less than $10,000. Over on IndieGoGo, where you have the option of Flexible Funding, receiving all the funds pledged even if you don’t meet your overall goal, setting a doable goal is less critical—but it still feels good to reach your mark!
Set a low bar for success for yourself. Higher funding percentages will encourage more people to pile on to your project, increasing your total funding. Plus, if you go over your goal, you get to keep all the extra money—and it increases your chances of being featured at the top of your platform’s search function!
That’s right—“overfunded” campaigns shoot to the top of many sites’ search algorithms, because they’ve proven to be popular. If you set your goal at $575, quickly pass it, and keep right on truckin’ to $1,000 and beyond, you’ll start gaining visibility on the site and attracting still more funding. Sweet!
That brings us to the topic of stretch goals. Word of mouth is an incredibly potent marketing tool, and people like to promote projects they’re excited about. They also like to get more stuff for their money. Stretch goals are a way to encourage your existing backers to share your project to their own network, upping your results.
Stretch goals come in a couple of varieties. The most effective adds some add extra rewards to existing tiers or for all backers.
For instance, if your original goal is $1,000, you might set a stretch goal of $1,500 on your project, saying that if you make that much, you’ll write an original short story that you’ll send to every backer for free, in addition to all their other rewards.
Set Tiers and Rewards
Rewards are another area where it pays to be cautious and realistic. Rewards (or perks, depending on what platform you’re using) are gifts that you send your backers in exchange for their donation. They can be big or small, digital or physical, and just as crazy as you want.
Typical reward tiers for book projects include:
- $1: Thank-you shout-out on my website
- $5: Digital copy of the book and a website shout-out
- $10: Digital copy of the book and a thank-you shout-out on the acknowledgments page
- $25: Print and digital copies of the book, along with an acknowledgment
- $50: Print and digital copies, acknowledgment, a tie-in short story (in digital format), and a poster of the book’s cover
- $75: Print and digital copies, acknowledgment, story, cover poster, and a tee shirt of the book’s cover
- $100: All the earlier rewards, plus a cameo in the book as a background extra
- $500: All the earlier rewards, plus you get to appear as a minor character that you create with the author
Of course, you can get way more creative with rewards. The easiest ones to offer are exclusive short stories that tie in to your book—these are particularly great because you can often make them exclusive for only a certain period of time, like six months, which allows you to collect them and create a new ebook later, or offer them to newsletter subscribers etc. after the exclusivity period.
Some authors have used bookmarks, hats, shot glasses, mugs, custom-printed USB sticks, special hardcover editions, special personalized autographed editions, and more as rewards. The sky’s the limit!
Reaching Your Goals
Now that you’ve set your goals, you need to focus on how to reach them!
According to Kickstarter, campaigns that include a video are 65% more likely to be funded. So get that smartphone or webcam fired up!
Crowdfunding videos can take a few forms. Consider doing a quick Q&A session to talk about your project and your goals.
When your campaign is up and running, it’s important to keep your backers up to date. Crowdfunding is a more personal experience than just buying a book off Amazon, and backers like to feel they’re involved in the process. If you’re still writing the book, consider sending out backer updates with exclusive teasers or excerpts.
Working on getting the cover design? Share sketches! Interact with your backers whenever possible, engaging them along the way. You’ll encourage them to spread the word to friends and to become lifelong fans of your work.
After you successfully fund your project, keep the updates coming—most crowdfunding platforms let you reach out to backers after the campaign closes, sending out exclusive updates on how the rewards are coming along, when you have a sequel in the works, and so on.
Make sure to spread the word about your campaign. You can’t rely on only your crowdfunding platform’s users to reach your goal.
Instead, you should be marketing your campaign just like you plan to market your product or company after its official launch. Look at this as a training period for your overall marketing campaign—you can test out different outreach methods, Facebook posts, email blasts, and more.
Embed a progress widget on your website sidebar or add it to a tab on Facebook to keep your followers posted on your progress and subtly encourage them to chip in.
Keep It Up
Don’t let the relationships you’ve worked so hard to build slip away! Include a note in each rewards package thanking your backer—if you’ve got tons of backers, generate the note on the computer, but be sure to sign it by hand. In the note, ask readers to leave a review of the book on Amazon and Goodreads, which will help you convert the momentum from these early supporters into social proof to help you climb the Amazon rankings and earn more sales there.
Include little freebies that your new fans can give to others, like buttons or bookmarks. People love to share things they enjoy, and many backers are eager to promote authors—all you have to do is give them a way to do so.
Encourage your backers to share pictures of their rewards packages on social media, maybe with a photo contest and hashtag tied to a giveaway of another of your books or some other reward, like an upgrade to additional rewards.
Welcome all your new subscribers on your email newsletter and social media. Don’t inundate people with email blasts and updates all the time, but do make sure to send out regular updates during the fulfillment process and beyond, both via the crowdfunding platform and your own outreach methods, to make sure that your backers stay engaged for the long term.
And perhaps most importantly, start planning your next crowdfunding campaign!
If you think of crowdfunding as a way to fund your project’s production, engage with potential clients, and manage pre-orders, it makes a lot of sense as part of a sustainable career.
- Set reasonable goals and deadlines for your crowdfunding campaign; don’t get so ambitious that you set yourself up for a struggle.
- Have fun with creative rewards, but remember that you’ll have to fulfill them—don’t go overboard or you’ll spend more time producing rewards than writing!
- Focus your promotion efforts on the first and last week of your campaign.
- Keep backers updated throughout—not just during the campaign, but afterwards as well.
- Bring backers into the fold by getting their permission to subscribe them to your email newsletter for future updates.
- Add personal touches wherever possible. Half the fun of crowdfunding for backers is feeling like you’re personally contributing to a project’s success.
Have you tried crowdfunding? Let us know about your experience in the comments!
For more on building a sustainable author career, read on: