Is there a market for your book idea?

Maybe you a great idea and a market to sell to, but you don’t have funding to make your dream happen?

If those are obstacles for you, crowdfunding could be a great solution.

Platforms such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo are grounded in solid marketing psychology fundamentals like Urgency, Scarcity, and Popularity (Social Proof). Many authors have successfully funded and published their books with the help of crowdfunding campaigns.

To teach us about crowdfunding, I interviewed Chris Fox. He’s written several popular books, including Write to Market and How to Write 5000 Words Per Hour (Affiliate Links).

What is crowdfunding?

Thomas Umstattd, Jr.: What is crowdfunding?

Chris Fox: Crowdfunding uses the internet to tell everyone in the world, “I want to make this cool thing, but I don’t have the resources to do that. If you guys pledge a bit of your resources, we can make this cool thing together.” You give them ownership and a reward. Authors usually give a copy of the book. If your product and your pitch are good enough, people will rally to fund your idea. 

Thomas: It’s like passing the offering plate at church. Some contribute a little, some donate a lot, and some people don’t give anything. But everyone benefits from the generosity of the crowd.

Chris, you have a Kickstarter campaign currently in progress. It’s for a role-playing game based on your book. Why did you put it on Kickstarter?

Chris: I figured Kickstarter would be the best way to raise awareness about my product—the game. I funded the development of the game with income from my fiction book sales. I used the Kickstarter funds for the artwork budget needed for building the game for the next 12 months. I knew there’d be a lot of people excited about the novels, and I was gambling that they would be as excited about the role-playing game and fund it through Kickstarter.

Who funds Kickstarter campaigns?

Thomas: The first step of crowdfunding is building a crowd. How did you assemble a crowd before you started this campaign?

Chris: I did very little traditional prep work for a Kickstarter. Normally, you would raise awareness for three to four months by guesting on podcasts, writing blog posts, and creating free content around your product or campaign.

For example, if you wanted to crowdfund your audiobook, you might create an audio sample and run a Facebook ad for it. If people listen and like it, they may be interested in your Kickstarter campaign when it finally goes live.

Most crowdfunding sites allow you to set up a page long before it goes live so people can see you’re going to start raising funds on a certain date.

I recommend building that awareness as soon as possible. I have been a fiction author for a while, and I have built a crowd of readers. I asked that crowd of readers to help fund the game through Kickstarter.

Thomas: You’ve been hyping this game for a while. Last year, in your Magitech Chronicles audiobooks, you talked about the role-playing game you were developing. You’ve built anticipation organically through your other content. Were you doing that consciously, or did that just kind of happen by accident?

Chris: I think my enthusiasm for it was a happy accident. I wanted people to know because I was so excited about it. I’d been running sessions of the game for several years. I always knew I would finish it, but I didn’t realize it would take so long to get that much artwork.

Thomas: You’re giving away the game for free, and people can go to your website to get the rules for the game. So why would somebody back this project if they can get the game itself without spending any money?

Chris: The beautiful thing about gamers is that they all want a physical copy of the book. Even huge technophiles who read ebooks still want to purchase a physical version of the book. Some wanted an autographed copy. Others wanted to have their name in a novel or have a short story written about a character they had imagined. There are lots of things you can offer.

If fans are in love with a universe, they want to deepen their connection with that universe. Take Star Wars as an example. If there was a Kickstarter campaign for Star Wars where backers would get their own lightsaber, lots of people would pay a whole bunch of money to fund that.  

How can I get people to back my campaign?

Thomas: Savvy authors take advantage of scarcity and ubiquity. You have an ebook that can sell an unlimited number of copies. But you also have rare, expensive versions of the book, whether it’s a signed paperback, hardback, or even a signed and numbered limited-edition. Those are artifacts, so to speak, that you’re working into your crowdfunding campaigns.

You have “cheap” levels of funding. You also have expensive levels that are limited, rare, and scarce. Walk us through those funding and reward levels.

Chris: I didn’t expect these pledge levels to have so many backers for this amount of money in exchange for what I was offering, but I wanted to try anyway.

What kind of rewards can I offer my backers?

Here are the current funding levels of my Kickstarter campaign.

  • $5-$25 backers can receive various digital versions of the book (OR THE GAME?) at different funding levels.
  • $50 Softcover Copy of the RPG
  • $70 Collector’s Edition Softcover
  • $80 Hardcover Copy of the book RPG
  • $100 Collector’s Edition Hardcover, featuring special cover and dedication page with backers’ names.
  • $150 Signed Quickstart Guide
  • $180 Signed Hardcover Special Edition, featuring a personal message to you from Chris.
  • $400 You can add a character to the official novel.
  • $600 Work with Chris to plot a scene featuring your character, which will appear in one of the chapter intros of the book.
  • $1250 Attend a game and spend 8 hours with Chris gaming and snacking in a snazzy hotel.
  • $5000 Receive 1 of 3 licenses to the Magitech Chronicles RPG

Thomas: The signed hardcover for $180 makes the book valuable and creates urgency. People get very excited about such a rare value. And that’s why, at the time of this interview, there is only one left. That’s nearly $1800 toward your goal.

Chris: I’ll be able to make quite a bit of artwork those funds. 

 Thomas: The scenes and characters you’re creating with your backers aren’t additional work for you, because you are going to write them anyway. Your backers feel a sense of ownership now because you’re writing about them and their character. 

This is very reproducible. If you’re writing Romance or Fantasy, you could auction off the privilege to name the characters in your book.

People may be willing to spend money to have a character named after them. I’ve seen this done in crowdfunding campaigns quite a bit. People love to be immortalized, especially by an author that they love and respect.

Chris: At the $400 level, I’m also doing a Skype call to discuss what we’re creating for that specific backer. One of them is a 16-year-old whose dad bought this for him. The kid is super excited because he loves the Magitech Chronicles. As a creator, it’s tremendous fun to work with my super fans. It feels like a real privilege. 

Thomas: You were smart to limit these levels because at each level, there is some risk to you. If you’re planning to do a Skype call and a hundred people back the project at that level, you’d be locked into one 100 Skype calls. That’s a lot of time. It’s limited to just six people, so it’s manageable, especially at $600 per person.

Chris: Exactly. I’ve got scarcity, since there’s only going to be a few of them, and I have a manageable workload.

What amounts will people pay on Kickstarter?

Thomas: There are two funding levels above $600, which some authors might find surprising. But there is a rule of thumb in crowdfunding that says different people want to back at different price points.

A certain kind of person wants to back at a high price point. I experienced this with my book. My highest funding level was $1500, but my most generous backer gave $2500. He overpaid $1000 on purpose because he wanted my campaign to succeed. We had friends in common, but I had never met this person. His $2500 was the difference between success and failure in the campaign.

 Tell us about your highest levels.

Chris: At my $1250 funding level, I’ve invited backers to attend a game that I’m running here in Napa. I’m paying for the hotel for one night. These backers and I will hang out and run the game that I’m creating.

Interestingly, my most expensive level was the very first pledged. For $5,000, I offered a license to the RPG when the RPG is finished. If somebody has a series of novels or a successful IP and they want to skin that IP over a role-playing game, we can help them with that process. Somebody bought it on the first day.

Thomas: It makes sense because you’re not just taking some pre-existing RPG engine and skinning it. You’re rebuilding a brand-new engine from scratch. That’s unusual. Many authors who do RPG have found one system or another that works for them, and that is great. It allows you to start having your game be an RPG right away. But one of the advantages of creating it from scratch is that you can license it.

Chris: It’s tremendously difficult unless you’re hugely into statistical analysis, sociology, psychology, economics, and a whole bunch of other disciplines. It may be beyond the scope of what most people want to do. But if you’re somebody you grew up playing Dungeons Dragons, and you love Role-Playing Games, and you also happen to be a writer, it’s a great idea to make your own game.

Thomas: Authors who aren’t writing RPG Game Lit can still create high-level rewards to offer their backers.

For the higher funding levels, many authors will offer to speak at your event.

I listed general speaking themes surrounding the topic of my book and offered to speak for $1500. It turned out the backer at that level never ended up having me speak. He just wanted to support what I was doing. It’s an easy reward to offer, especially if you’re writing nonfiction, and you want to do more speaking gigs. You can sell speaking gigs through your Kickstarter campaign.

You can also sell your books through your campaign. For $500 backers, you could bundle all your books signed. That’s one way to cross-promote your other products if you wanted to.

Chris: That’s a great idea. I’m totally adding that level by the end of the day.

Thomas: It doesn’t cost much to give away those books because you have them in stock. You could also sweeten the deal for the other levels by adding signed copies of your other books.

Chris, the original goal for the campaign was to raise $6000. Thanks to your $5000 backer, you were mostly funded within two or three hours. But other people were also excited to fund the project, and now you’re up to $15,000.

What if I don’t meet my Kickstarter goal?

In a Kickstarter campaign, it’s all or nothing. There’s a huge incentive to meet your funding goal because if you have a $6000 goal and you only raise $5000, none of the people who pledged will pay one dollar. None of their credit cards will be charged, and you’ll receive no money.

On the one hand, it’s great because it makes failure very inexpensive.

What is a stretch goal in Kickstarter?

How do you continue motivating people to back your campaign and spread the word after you hit your goal?

Chris: Many Kickstarter campaigns create stretch goals to continue to motivate backers and spread the word. Stretch goals are unofficial on most platforms so far as I can tell. It’s telling your backers that if you hit a particular financial milestone, we’ll do something extra beyond what we’ve already promised in the Kickstarter.

In my campaign, we’re giving our backers this base game, and they can play the Magitech Chronicles. Our first stretch goal was to hit $15,000, which we just did this morning. When we hit $15,000, we promised to create a line of five miniatures figures they can use when playing the game with.

With role-playing games, miniatures are optional. If you play role-playing games, some people use them, and some people don’t. When you play in groups, you usually use them. Since we got more money than we were expecting, we can now offer those miniatures because we hit the stretch goal. As the funds climb higher and higher, we’re willing to do a bunch of different things at various levels up to $40,000 if our fans help us hit those goals.

Thomas: The purpose of a stretch goal is to keep people motivated to back the campaign and spread the word about it. But the key to stretch goals is to do the math ahead of time and make sure what you’re offering is feasible on a cost per unit basis. Do your homework while you’re researching the campaign so your stretch goal bonuses don’t bankrupt you. It’s financially risky to manufacture and ship a product.

Chris: The miniatures are actually a digital reward, so we won’t have manufacturing or shipping costs. I’m giving backers the digital files so that they can print the miniatures on their own 3-D printers. If backers don’t have a 3-D printer, we point them to a company called Hero Forge that will print the miniatures.

It was because of the risk involved in manufacturing and creating that we made all our rewards digital. All of them. The only exception was that we put some of the material in the main book because they wanted a hard copy of it. It will slightly raise printing costs because the book will be bigger, but if they hit our $25,000, $30,000 and $35,000 goals, we will add the content we’re creating for them directly into the book. So, they’ll get the digital copy and a hard copy of it.

What rewards can I offer for stretch goals?

Thomas: A great stretch goal, especially for authors, is to offer your audiobook production as a stretch goal. If it costs $10,000 to fund the cover design and editing of your book and you meet that goal. Set a stretch goal of creating an audiobook.

Do your research to find an audiobook narrator, if the narrator costs $3,000. Then set a +5,000 stretch goal to make room for unanticipated expenses. Then you tell your backers, “When we hit that extra $5,000, then everyone gets an audiobook.” In doing so, you upgrade the backing levels that everyone else has funded. It works well with digital rewards because there’s no per-unit cost.

Another digital reward for a stretch goal might be a bonus chapter. This works better for nonfiction. If you’ve outlined ten chapters for your book, but there is one more topic you could cover, write it as a bonus chapter.

You could also cover that topic in a special webinar only for your backers if you hit a certain funding goal.

These are nice because they don’t cost you much, but they provide value to everyone.

Before you start a campaign, know this one thing.

 What did you learn the hard way as a crowdfunding creator?

Chris: The first thing you must be clear about is the shipping. Make sure you understand how that works. You’re going to get a lot of questions about shipping if you don’t spell it out. People all over the world are seeing this. I’m in the United States, and I have a somewhat U.S. centric view of the world as a result. 

This is a world-wide campaign, so you must consider your backers in Asia, Africa, and Australia. Make your campaign easy for them to support.

Thomas: When you’re calculating the shipping, you must account for customs. It’s easy to overlook because we’re not used to dealing with customs.  

Australia has an incredibly high duty on books shipped into the country. Many companies will use print on demand services in Australia to avoid customs and printing. For example, Amazon KDP print has printers in Australia, so they’ll send digital files into the country for free and print the books locally, so they don’t have to pay that duty.

Some countries have high tariffs and trade burdens, but some countries have low trade burdens, but you must budget for those expenses.

For example, if it’s $10 to ship to Australia, and potentially an additional $5 in tariffs you didn’t plan for, and you have 100 backers, suddenly you have $500 in unanticipated costs you weren’t aware of.

How do you advertise a Kickstarter campaign?

Do you have any regrets or anything you wish you’d done differently?  

Chris: I don’t have any regrets. I think I approach Kickstarter differently than most people because I have the luxury of already having a large following. I didn’t do a bunch of podcasts or spend a lot of extra time creating things. I just sat down and made the best Kickstarter page that I could, and I made the best role-playing game that I could.

I knew that if I presented it to the right audience, it would work.

My most successful ads right now are on Reddit. Facebook ads are working okay, too. But people are buying the $20 backing level on Kickstarter through an ad that costs the same as it would to advertise my $4.99 book. I’m getting a much higher return.

Where can I learn about running ads?

Thomas: I highly recommend Chris’ course Ads for Authors (Affiliate Link) on running ads. It’s the only third-party course that Novel Marketing patrons get a discount on. In that course, you also talk about Facebook and Reddit ads. Reddit ads are not for everyone, but they work for you because you’re targeting the kinds of people who are on Reddit boards. Gamers and nerdy dudes are on Reddit quite a bit.

For authors writing Sweet Romance, Reddit is not going to be the right place to advertise. But walk us through your Facebook and Reddit ads. What is your strategy?

Chris: Ads for the Kickstarter campaign are straightforward and more approachable than selling a book. Since I also sell books on these platforms through ads, I’ve found that people approach a sales transaction differently than they approach somebody asking for help.

The tone is different when the ad asks, “Do you want to buy my book?” For the Kickstarter campaign, the ad says, “I’m making a role-playing game. Want to help me do that?”

Gamers are more interested in contributing to the creation of a game than in buying a book. The first phase of my advertising has been a request to help us fund the game. Now that we’re funded, and we hit the first stretch goal, I’m thanking them for meeting those funding goals, and I’m asking if they’ll help us hit the rest of the stretch goals?

Backers are already getting the game and digital rewards, but I believe people continue to spread the word and back the campaign because if they push, they’re going to get more stuff. Hitting the stretch goals increases the value of what they get in return.

How does Kickstarter create urgency?

Thomas: These ads are more effective because of the built-in urgency of Kickstarter. There’s a deadline. As we speak, there are only 21 days left, and then Kickstarter locks the page. It collects money from everyone who’s pledged, and they can never back the campaign ever again. 

People familiar with Kickstarter know that, and they know they must decide before the deadline passes.

On the other hand, if I’m considering buying a book, I can put it off because I can always buy it on Amazon tomorrow. Even if you’re running a sale on your book and readers don’t buy before the deal expires, they can always wait for your next discount deal. Kickstarter is the third-party that brings down the hammer and says, “There will be no second chance. Back this campaign now or forfeit your rewards forever.”

Chris: I suspect people respond strongly to that in the last 48 hours of the Kickstarter.

Thomas: Yes, that’s very common. Your typical Kickstarter campaign has, what the crowdfunding community calls, the Golden Gate Arches. Chris’s campaign stats will have a slightly different shape because it has funded so quickly.

But the typical campaign will have a lot of backers funding all at once at the beginning. That’s the first arch of the figurative Golden Gate Bridge.

Then you’ll get another flood of backers right before you hit your funding goal. People love to be the person who pledged the amount that hit the goal. You’ll get a flurry of activity when you’re just about to hit the goal. That’s the middle arch of the Golden Gate Bridge.

In the last 48 hours, you have a final surge of backers, which makes the third arch in your statistical graph. It’s not uncommon for the funding raised in the last 48 hours to equal 50% or more of your total raised to that point.

There’s a great service called Kicktraq, which is an analytics page for Kickstarter, and it pulls the data from your page. It’s free and gives neat graphs. It uses simple machine learning to project what goal you’re going to hit based on what you’ve brought in so far. That service was the reason I chose to use Kickstarter over Indiegogo. It has such great charts.

Chris: I calculated it by hand because I love the numbers, and I’m a student of data science. But I wish I’d known about that tool ahead of time.

Thomas: As a backer of a campaign, you can also use Kicktraq to view the campaign’s funding progress.  

What advice do you have for authors considering a Kickstarter campaign?

What other advice do you have for somebody who’s thinking about putting their campaign on Kickstarter?

Chris: Be honest and genuine when you tell them what you’re trying to do. They want to help you since they already love your stuff. If you’re writing novels, they love your universe, and they want to see it succeed and flourish. Give them multiple options to participate in creating the product. And as soon as possible, set up a community where those people can talk about the project.

Thomas:  The power of community is most effective when your people are talking to each other, not just talking to you. When the author has to be in every conversation for the conversation to happen, it’s not a real community. You have the beginnings of a community because they’re talking. But when your fans start talking to each other, it becomes a self-perpetuating flywheel that can power your career success.

Tips for a Successful Campaign

I want to point out a couple of things you did very well.

You have great graphics. Many people want to put their book on Kickstarter in order to fund their cover because they can’t afford a cover designer. That’s a mistake. You need at least one strong set of visuals for your campaign. Ideally more.

One reason children’s books do well on Kickstarter is that they have so many graphics and illustrations to present to backers. You can share two or three pictures from your illustrator that you paid for before your campaign started. Then you tell your people, “We’d love to create more illustrations like this.” With great graphics, you can visually tell the story of your campaign.

Chris:  I agree. It is necessary if you want to stand out. There are tons of role-playing games available on Kickstarter, so if you’re going to stand out, you must have top-notch artwork and a stellar value proposition.

I wouldn’t use Kickstarter to get the first chunk of money for a project. I would find another way to get the initial funding so I could afford a great cover design put the whole proposition together. After that, I’d think about Kickstarter.

Thomas: Kickstarter’s rules actually require you to do that. You’re required to have a “prototype” so people can’t claim they’re going to build a space elevator and ask for funding. But what constitutes a “prototype” on Kickstarter is purposefully vague.

An author needs at least an outline of your chapters. But I don’t think that that’s enough because the more you share, the closer you are to being finished, the more developed your idea, the better people can visualize your finished product. A clear vision of your finished product will excite your backers and prompt them to fund your project.  

Chris: The one exception to needing a cover before you start a campaign might be the author who has a long-running series and a fan base for that series.

If you’re releasing book seven, you may be able to get away with no cover if you tell readers it’s the next book in the series they love. But your campaign will do better if it has great artwork.

Thomas: I love the idea of Kickstarting book six of a series because you can use the first five books in your series as rewards for your backers. You could offer signed copies or a special signed hardback that’s only available to Kickstarter backers. It’s easy to do a print-on-demand paperback to create an exclusive edition with something special or unique.

You can announce that you’re only printing 200 copies of your Kickstarter Special Edition. Suddenly, people who have already paid for the ebook version might be willing to spend $25 for the Special Edition paper version because they want that unique element.

To inexpensively add value to your rewards, you can list all your backers in the book. Two or three extra pages hold a lot of names.

In my campaign, the $25-level backers received the digital and print versions of the book with their names listed in the book. That was popular, and it only cost me $4 on KDP plus a little shipping. The remaining money on hand could be spent on editing.

What are some other fun and valuable rewards I can give to my backers?

Chris: Motivating them on a regular basis is good. I sent out an update with pictures every two to three days of the work I’m doing on the games. People see the project is moving forward, and that seems to be working well to convert people who have been on the fence.

Kickstarter allows you to see the number of followers you have and how many of those have converted and pledged. Every time I send an update, I can see conversions taking place. People who were on the fence about backing finally pull the trigger and support the project.

Thomas: You want to have built your email list ahead of time. You said you didn’t do a lot of work before your campaign in terms of guesting on podcasts and such, but you’ve spent years building an email list.  

Chris: Yes. In that sense, I’ve prepped for six years. I’ve got an unfair head start because I have a successful fiction following.

Thomas: The more people you have on your email list, the easier these funding campaigns become. 

One Tip for Pitching Your Campaign

Another element you did well was the video. You recorded it with your webcam in your office just like all your other videos. But in the video for your campaign, you compared your product to your closest competitors and a lot of other role-playing games. It gives people a good sense of how yours is different and similar to games they already like.

Many people are terrified of doing that. They’re scared to delineate their similarities to other authors, but it’s so helpful for your readers. It’s a way to quickly describe what you’re creating by comparing it to something they’re already familiar with. 

How many takes did you do to put your video together?

Chris: Actually, that was the first take. I just sat down and recorded it. I’m passionate about the project, and I record these videos all the time. In this instance, I just approached it as if I was sitting face-to-face with myself and had to convince myself to buy this role-playing game. What would I want to know? What would interest me in a project like this?

With role-playing games, it’s not just an investment for you. It’s entertainment for five or six other people who will spend hundreds of hours of their time playing the game. To invest, you’ll need some assurance that it will be worth your time and their time. When I crafted the video, I wanted to assure backers that it would be a worthy investment.

Thomas: For people who aren’t familiar with them, role-playing games are an interactive story where a group of people tell a story together. Occasionally they’ll roll dice to help move the story along. In some ways, it’s like dad creating a story for his children at night. The children have a voice in how the story goes.

Role-playing games require a lot of creative work because you have to create your character at the beginning before the game starts. You must answer questions about your character, and you have to create his whole backstory. For authors, it’s fun, but it also can take a long time.

Chris: There is a lot of overhead, and it’s daunting to convince a group of people to try to pick one of these up. You need someone who’s willing to read the equivalent of a college textbook, understand how all the systems work, and then teach a group of people to play that game. And that’s a big ask.

Thomas: Do you have any final tips or encouragement?

Chris: Keep writing.

Thomas: And keep building that email list. Chris did a lot of things right with this campaign, but a large part of his success was due to six years of building his email list and building trust in relationships with his readers. He’s worked on the game during that time, and he’s talked about it in his books. He’s done the groundwork of building a crowd who’s aware of his work. When you have that, the funding becomes easy.

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