creating a profitable crowdfunding campaign

You’ve written an amazing book—now, how are you going to get it into the hands of readers and start bringing in writing income?

Crowdfunding is a fantastic way to launch your next book with a bang—you can essentially use it as a pre-order platform and leverage the popularity of sites like Kickstarter and IndieGoGo to reach new readers, turning them into avid fans.

In the first part of our Crowdfunding for Authors series, we talked about the what, why, and how: what is crowdfunding, why you should do it, and where you can create a campaign.

Now let’s go over how to create and manage your 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. As a writer, this shouldn’t be too hard! In fact, you may have already done the tough part: crafting a book jacket description, tagline, and elevator pitch.

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.

In the main description area, the best approach when crowdfunding a book is to include both the summary or back cover teaser text and the reasons why you’re going for crowdfunding. Do you want to make a more direct connection with your readers? Offer behind-the-scenes glimpses of your process? Fund tie-in short stories? Get enough funding to create a special hardcover edition?

The clearer and more transparent you are about why you’re looking for direct reader funding, the more likely you are to get it!

This is also a good place to describe why you’ve chosen to self-publish and to bring your audience in as part of your author journey.

Most crowdfunding platforms allow you to upload an image to represent your campaign. If you’ve already settled on a cover for your book, 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, then add your book title and name to create a simple graphic. You can do this in a simple image editor that comes with your computer, or use an online graphic design app like Canva.

Setting 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!

Timeframe

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.

Amount

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!

Ideally, you should set your goal as only a little bit more than what you need to bring your book to market, plus some pay for your time and effort. Figuring out that amount involves knowing how much it will cost to publish your book. Once you’ve added up the expenses of hiring an editor, a cover designer, a layout artist, and maybe marketing help, add in the cost of printing the book (if you plan to have a print edition) or creating an audiobook. That gives you the overall cost you’ll need to hit.

You should also add in some cushion for paying yourself—your time and talent are important and you should be compensated!

When setting your goal, be sure to figure in how much it will cost you to fulfill any rewards you plan to offer. We’ll get into that shortly.

Low Bars, High Results

Need another reason to set a reasonable goal that’s slightly on the low side, rather than shooting for $20k?

Human nature!

People like to pick winners. Kickstarter data shows that most backers tend to pile onto a project after it’s already 30% funded. So for the best chances of success, you should choose a goal that you’re pretty sure you can get 30% funded through friends and family alone. Once you hit that magic threshold, people outside your core fan base will start seeing your project as a potential winner and want to join in.

So 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!

Stretch Goals

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.

You can also add stretch rewards to only certain tiers. Let’s say that you’re doing a $1,500 stretch goal; to encourage people to pledge more, you might offer to throw in a copy of another one of your books to anyone who backs the project for $50 or more, assuming you reach that $1,500 total benchmark.

See how these techniques can encourage both larger pledges and more pledges? Especially if you offer several stretch goals, at least one of which gives every single backer an upgrade or bonus reward. That’s because your current backers will want access to that special bonus, so they’ll either increase their own pledge to help get it or tell their friends to back your project so that they can both get the bonus.

Either way, it’s good news for your bottom line!

Setting 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!

Go Easy on Yourself

But go easy on yourself when setting your tiers and rewards. Remember, you have to actually fulfill all those promises! Crowdfunding platforms don’t take kindly to project creators who don’t deliver the rewards they promised, and who don’t deliver them within a reasonable timeframe. Now, this can be up to six months or more, but backers do get impatient—as far as they’re concerned, they paid you for the rewards listed in that tier, and they want their stuff!

Plus, your backers are likely your fans, and you want to keep your fans happy! And the sooner you can send them your book, the sooner you’ll get reviews flowing on Amazon and Goodreads, helping boost sales through more traditional venues.

So it’s probably not the best idea to offer to bake a batch of cookies for everyone who pledges $2 or more to your project. Set your rewards as things that you can actually reasonably fulfill for a relatively low cost. Make them things that can be mass-produced, rather than individually handcrafted in a process that takes 10 hours each (handcrafting rewards is fine as long as you can do it efficiently).

Most importantly, keep your tier levels and rewards costs aligned. If you can’t get a print copy of your book made for less than $10, don’t offer the print book as a reward for any tier $10 or lower! A good rule of thumb is to add at least 25% to the actual production cost of fulfilling the rewards for a tier.

This should include the average per-book cost of editing, design, and layout. The easiest way to figure that out is to add up the total cost of producing your book (that is, the cost to hire your editor, designer, and layout artist) and divide it by 100 copies of the book. That might seem like a low number, but many crowdfunding projects get 100 backers or less, so this is a good way to make sure that you cover all your costs.

reaching your crowdfunding goal

Reaching Your Goals

Now that you’ve set your goals, you need to focus on how to reach them!

Video

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. Frequently, authors do a quick Q&A session about the book or just talk about their writing process and the topic of the book.

If you’re funding a nonfiction book, consider producing your video like you would a tutorial or course offering—focus on offering some tips and tricks of value to potential backers, making the pitch for why they absolutely need your book!

Fiction authors also have some creative options when it comes to videos. Consider producing a short book trailer, narrating the teaser summary over a photo montage or text overlay along with some Creative Commons music.

Samples

If you’ve already written at least part of your book, consider adding a sample to your campaign page. Nothing sells a book like a teaser from the actual text itself—readers can experience your style and get hooked on your characters, or get a taste of the kind of benefit you’re offering in your nonfiction.

Updates

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.

Outreach

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 book 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.

 

If you’ve set reasonable goals and a realistic timeline, you’re well on your way to success crowdfunding your book!

But creating a sustainable author career doesn’t stop at funding one book. You can also use crowdfunding tools to help you build and maintain your fanbase—more on that in Part 3 of our crowdfunding series!

Crowdfunding Series:

Part 1: What, Why, and Where
Part 3: Building on Your Momentum

For more on building a sustainable author career, read on:

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