This is an exciting time to be an author! There are more ways than ever to get your work into the hands of eager fans—and to build a stable career and full-time income from your writing.
You can sign with a traditional publisher, do it yourself, get help from a professional author services firm, or combine techniques to create the perfect individualized solution.
But creating a book takes cash—you’ll either pay up front for services if you’re self-publishing, or sign your rights over to a publishing company and accept a reduced percentage of sales in exchange for their services.
So how do you get the money to produce your book? 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…
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. If you’ve ever wondered if there’s actually a market for a vampire-mermaid Edwardian romance, this is a way to find out!
If you’re not sure you’re ready to take on project management in addition to writing, which self-publishing requires, then certain crowdfunding options can help there, too. Book-specific crowdfunding platforms will often gauge interest in a book concept by seeing how many people sign up to back it, then offer publishing contracts to the most popular. This is a possible way to split the difference between wanting full control over your work, as in self-publishing, and getting the support of a professional publishing team without navigating the challenges of trying to find an agent and all that…and to get to keep more of your profits in the end.
Top Crowdfunding Options
Although most of us have heard about Kickstarter—heck, “kickstarting” something is a verb now—this platform might not be the best option for your book. There are several good general crowdfunding platforms out there, as well as a few that are designed specifically for creative types or even book funding.
Which is right for you depends on what you want to get out of your crowdfunding campaign, how much control you want to retain over your book, 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 Sites
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.
All of these are great ways to get your book in front of potential readers, get the funding you’ll need to create a professional-quality publication, and build momentum for your author marketing efforts.
Next in our series, we’ll talk about how to set effective goals for your crowdfunding campaign and how to create reward tiers that’ll attract readers. In Part 3, we’ll go over what to do once your campaign meets its goal and how to keep growing from there.
For more on building your author career, check out these articles:
- 8 Ways to Increase Your Income for Writers and Authors
- 5 Writing Skills to Increase Your Income
- Starting a Writing Business: How to Structure Your Professional Author Career