Indie publishing a book can be expensive because you, the author, are also the publisher.
As the publisher, you pay for all the book-related expenses. You will foot the bill for a professional edit and cover design, neither of which are cheap.
But he who pays the piper also calls the tunes. Paying to publish the book yourself also has many benefits.
But what if you don’t have the money to indie publish?
I recommend crowdfunding. Crowdfunding uses sites like Kickstarter or Indiegogo to collect preorder sales from your future readers to fund the development of your book.
Raising funds from your fans builds anticipation for your project. It also allows you to test the market before you invest your time and money. You’ll get good information about whether your book will attract readers and whether people are willing to pay for your book.
Crowdfunding is also a great way to see if your book concept will resonate with your readers. If it doesn’t, you can adapt your book so that it resonates better.
And if you can’t raise the money through your campaign, you don’t have to publish the book.
But what about your second time around? Does Kickstarter work for the second book in a series? If you kickstarted the first book, would it be easier or harder for the second book?
Indie published authors of both fiction and nonfiction have had tremendous success with crowdfunding,
On the other hand, if you traditionally publish your book, crowdfunding likely won’t work for you. Occasionally, traditionally published authors can crowdfund their books first, but in general, crowdfunding your book will make it harder to get a publishing contract.
To prove just how successful crowdfunding can be, I talked with Jonathan Shuerger, who ran a Kickstarter for his first novel, Shades of Black I: In Darkness Cast, which funded for 350% of the goal.
How did your first Kickstarter campaign go?
Thomas Umstattd, Jr.: Tell us about your Kickstarter campaign for your first novel.
Jonathan Shuerger: A long time ago, when I was a wee lad, just starting out in my author journey, I took your Crowdfunding for Authors course. It gave me a lot of ideas about where to start, how to handle the process, how to approach it, and the correct mindset to have as I engaged my audience.
I was starting with nothing. I had 70 newsletter subscribers and 500 Facebook friends. So I was looking at a conversion of about 45 people. I asked Thomas what I should do.
I thought it would take about a week to set up a Kickstarter campaign, and then I’d tell everybody about it, and it would be a success. But Thomas told me not to do that. He told me I needed to wait and work on the campaign and develop my audience.
He said, “You’re going to be developing the well that you draw all this water out of.”
So, I spent time working on everything I needed to develop. I spent two weeks personally messaging all 500 of my Facebook friends, asking them to go to my Kickstarter preview page and to critique the page.
I didn’t ask them to back my campaign, which means I didn’t ask them for money. I asked them for their advice. People love giving counsel. Some people offered good feedback, and some offered meaningless feedback, but I got people to visit the Kickstarter campaign page for my novel.
Thomas: In the fundraising world, they say, “If you want money, ask for advice. If you want advice, ask for money.” When you ask for advice, people get excited. They want to contribute to your project financially. If you ask for money, people often tell you everything you’re doing wrong, which is also helpful because then you can fix it.
Jonathan: That’s so true.
I had so many people visiting my Kickstarter page that when I launched the campaign, we wound up funding the project on day one. That was a surprise to me. I didn’t expect that, but I had all these people who were excited about this project they had contributed to, and they felt connected to it.
Over the course of the campaign, we wound up funding 350%. The additional funding allowed me to include several illustrations in the book. I also wrote several short stories related to the book and created the audiobook with the additional funding.
Thomas: The audiobook, illustrations, and short stories were your “stretch goals.” In your Kickstarter campaign, your goal was to fund the creation of your novel, and if your project was 100% funded, you could and would create your novel.
But beyond that, you had other financial goals. If your fundraising went beyond 100%, you would “unlock” your illustrations stretch goal. When your campaign backers see that donating more to your project will unlock the audiobook, your audiobook listeners will be glad to crowdfund that stretch goal.
Many authors think audiobook production is too expensive, but it’s a good stretch goal because you can give it away for free to all your backers, and it motivates them to go and get their friends to back your book.
And what better way to motivate readers to spread the word about your book than rewarding them with something valuable like an audiobook. By the same token, sending that audiobook to your backers doesn’t cost you anything. Creating an audiobook is a one-time cost. Whether you give it away to ten people or 1,000 people, it will cost you the same. You don’t have to ship them a box of CDs or cassettes like they did in days of old.
Jonathan: The audiobook was the $7,000 stretch goal. I wasn’t sure if we were going to hit it, but right at the end, I got that last burst of backers who wanted to donate before the campaign closed. That spike pushed us over that finish line and allowed me to create the audiobook.
Thomas: That $7,000 covered the audiobook production, the editing, and the book cover design. You were profitable before your book even came out.
Jonathan: Yes, and I had 107 backers.
The initial goal for the campaign was to raise $2,000, which covered some of the editing costs. I had planned to pay for everything else myself because I thought $2,000 was ambitious.
When we reached $ 7,000, it funded the book cover, three more interior illustrations, the audiobook, and a professional edit. Most of my startup costs for the book were covered through Kickstarter.
Thomas: That takes a lot of the pressure off the launch. You still did a launch, promoted the book, and sold it. But since you’d already funded your book, all the sales from your ebook were profit.
Raising $7,000 from 107 backers means you raised around $65 per backer.
The magic of crowdfunding is that it allows your super fans to give you more money.
When you only put your ebook on Amazon, your biggest fan gives you the same $5.00 as a stranger who buys your book. Neither the author nor the superfan is rewarded, and you both miss out on a special opportunity.
What rewards did you offer your backers?
Thomas: What rewards did you create to get people excited and reward your superfans?
Jonathan: A Kickstarter campaign requires a celebratory mindset. It’s for your superfans, and it’s their opportunity to get special stuff they can’t get when they buy the book on Amazon.
I offered a signed and number special edition of the book. This particular edition will never be published again, and the Kickstarter campaign is the only opportunity to get it.
I also allowed people to purchase pledges where they could help create a character for my next book. A backer could be in my next Shades of Black book. People snapped those up.
- For $250, a backer could be a grunt character in my fictional army.
- For $500, a backer could help me create a villain in the next Shades of Black book.
- For $1,000, a backer could create a major character who would play a major role in my next book.
It was a wildly successful campaign. People were snatching them up. I had no extra costs for offering the rewards because I was already going to create those characters anyway. The different reward levels allowed people to create the characters for me.
Thomas: It also got those backers excited about your book because they were invested. They’ll probably want to buy copies for their friends so they can say, “Look! This character was named after me!” They have more incentive to tell people about your book, and they’re going to enjoy your book more.
This strategy has a lot of potential, even if you’re not writing epic fantasy.
If you’re writing romance, you can offer to name your fictional town after one of your backers. Maybe your story will take place in “Jamietown.” Jamie was a Kickstarter backer who paid extra, so you would name the town after her. You can do fun things like that.
The strategy meets a core need for people. People want to be remembered after their time, and they want to have a legacy. Sometimes they do that by building monuments to themselves in the cemetery. But other times, they do it by backing a Kickstarted book and making themselves a fictional character.
Imagine that you backed the Kickstarter for Homer’s Iliad, and Homer said, “If you back my campaign, I’ll name one of the dead Trojans after you.” Let’s say a guy named Troy bought the biggest pledge, and 3,000 years later, we’re still talking about him.
The patronage concept isn’t new. It grew out of the Renaissance when a wealthy person would support an artist, and the artist would honor their patrons by painting them into a scene or writing them into stories.
Crowdfunding is the concept of patronage democratized. You’re not asking a single person for a large sum. You’re asking for a couple of hundred dollars from a group of friends. Your friend may have been happy to give you $200 anyway, but when you write them into the story, they’re getting a meaningful reward in return.
Jonathan: I viewed it as a reverse Shark Tank. Instead of asking a billionaire investor for the money to start a business, I went to the customers and asked for investment capital to start the project. My future readers (or customers) had the opportunity to be involved from the start and received many unique benefits.
Thomas: Crowdfunding fixes your cash flow problem too. You receive their money first and give them the book later. That means you don’t have to go into debt to publish a book. It’s never a good idea to take on debt to publish. On the other hand, allowing people to preorder your book is a great idea.
What happened after you raised 350% of your goal?
Jonathan: I printed the books and mailed them to all my backers. Then I started gathering their feedback and getting reviews. I did a softer launch on Amazon for the full general release.
Thomas: That is one of the downsides of a Kickstarter. Your superfans receive a copy of your book directly from you rather than buying it from Amazon. Therefore, when they leave a review, it doesn’t show as a verified purchase. With regard to reviews, you’re at a disadvantage right out of the gate unless you can convince your superfans to buy your book again from Amazon so they can leave a verified review.
Jonathan: Several of them did just that. If you can write well and people enjoy your book, they’ll buy it for other people. A college friend of mine bought the book for her two brothers who were in the military, and she was able to leave a verified review on Amazon. Then her brothers left reviews on Amazon, and it dovetailed from there.
I was glad I could follow up with the backers who actually enjoyed the book because of the story and not simply because they were offering support for friendship’s sake.
When they read the book and liked it, they would often ask, “When is the next one coming out?”
Now that I know which backers really loved the book, my parameters have changed. I have a different audience going into this second release. The entire battlefield has changed.
Thomas: If you’re writing a series, you need to realize that whether you launch a book on Kickstarter or Amazon, a lot of your friends will buy your book because they like you. But they will not buy your second book unless the first book grabbed their attention wowed them.
A friend of mine wrote a book, and it was awful. I didn’t tell him so because he’s a friend of mine, and he didn’t ask for my professional opinion. But it was not a story. It was an outline with lots of telling and no showing. I would not buy his second book under any circumstance.
Some authors have a relatively strong initial book launch because they have a large circle of friends. They’re able to spread the word, and lots of people buy the book. But if those people don’t finish reading the book, the second book is dead, and the author won’t even know it because their friends aren’t telling them.
One sure sign of a bad book is that people who promised to leave you reviews never end up writing one. Sometimes they don’t leave you a review because they can’t be honest without hurting your feelings. The only safe path for that person is to not leave a review.
Craft is important. A Kickstarter campaign won’t fix a weak story.
You find out how good your first book was when you try to crowdfund your second book. You return to those backers and say, “You backed book one. Do you want to back book two on Kickstarter?”
How did you approach the Kickstarter campaign for your second book?
I approached the second campaign differently. When you’re new, people give you a lot of leeway. How many times have you gone to Chick-fil-A where the poor schmuck behind the counter says, “It’s my first day.” You probably give them the extra time to find the giant button that says “chicken sandwich” because he’s new.
Well, I’m not new anymore. Even though we know that writing one book does not make you an expert, readers do not give you the leeway they give to new authors.
I knew that was going to happen. I knew that the investment capital from my friends on the first book was not necessarily going to translate to that level of support on the second one.
The second time around had to be a professional pitch. I was pitching the book based on my craft and my professionalism in delivering the first product.
First, I changed the front and back matter of the book to include a link to the preview page for my second Kickstarter campaign. When people finished the first book, they could see that the sequel was coming.
Then I ran a bunch of free promos to draw people from the Amazon ecosystem. I put my first book into Kindle unlimited so people could borrow it from the Kindle Lending Library. Then I offered the book for free using my Kindle Select free days.
That generated a lot of interest and got people into my sales funnel. If they got to the end of the book, in the digital version, they’d see a link to the Kickstarter campaign where they could get all kinds of extra benefits and goodies.
Readers were amped up because I had a good cliffhanger, and they wanted to be a part of this second one.
Thomas: Your first Kickstarter campaign is more like a Go Fund Me campaign. Go Fund Me is crowdfunding without rewards, so if your dog needs surgery, you can start a Go Fund Me campaign where people can donate to help with your dog’s surgery.
Your first Kickstarter has the same feel because people will donate even though they have no intention of buying or reading your book. They help because they’re your friend.
But your second Kickstarter campaign is purely a preorder mechanism. You’ll have different backers. Some of your first backers will support the second book, but your goal is to get fresh readers into your story-world so that they fall in love with your story and characters.
Readers are always pestering authors about when the next book is coming out. When you include an opportunity to back the Kickstarter at the end of your book, you’re asking them to put their money where their mouth is.
You can ask them to back your project for $10.00, which is a lot for an ebook. They could wait and get the ebook for less. And yet, people who really like your work are willing to spend more. If backing the campaign means they’ll get the book plus extras, they’re willing to invest.
Jonathan: I’m taking a slow-grow approach with the second campaign.
My second Kickstarter launched on November 1, and it funded on the first day again, which was a total surprise to me. It provided a lot of social proof, and it meant people were waiting and ready to buy.
My funding goal for the second campaign was $2,000 again, but this time I removed the pledge level where my friends could support me simply because of our friendship. The second time around, I wanted backers who liked my book and wanted to support it based on the merits of the book.
And they did support it. One backer bought the $1,000 pledge on the first day, which was a huge boost.
In my first Kickstarter, no one bought the $1,000 pledge until day 17 of 30. In my second Kickstarter, somebody was so interested in the series, and they wanted so much to be a part of it that they took the $1,000 pledge on the first day.
The campaign was 100% funded on the first day, and I only had 11 backers. I raised $2,000 from 11 people.
Kickstarter campaigns typically get a big burst of backers at launch, which may or may not completely fund the project. You funded in that first burst, but it takes a while for other campaigns to fund.
Most campaigns get a second burst of backing around the 80% mark because many people want their contribution to be the final dollar that completely funds the campaign. It makes them feel like their contribution made all the difference.
In the last 72 hours, when time is running out, you tend to get another burst of backers. If you graphed it out, it would look like the Golden Gate Bridge. You have a spike at the beginning, a spike in the middle, and then a final spike at the end.
How did you use signed and numbered copies?
One of your most popular funding levels in the first campaign was the $100 level which gave the backer a signed and numbered copy for your book.
You limited that reward to 100 copies, which is important for several reasons.
First, you don’t want to be stuck signing thousands of books. That could break your hand.
Secondly, the more books you offer, the less special it is.
In your first campaign, you didn’t sign, sell, or print all 100 copies. You don’t have any leftover books sitting on your bookshelf.
For your second campaign, if your backers don’t buy pledges for all 100 copies, I’d recommend that you still print 75-100 books that you can sign and number. You’re still keeping the promise that you’ll never print more than 100 books in that edition, but you still have some signed and numbered copies in your possession that you can give away as gifts. If you happen to make it big and your books increase in value, it would be nice to have a few on hand to sell.
How did you come up with rewards for your second Kickstarter?
Jonathan: I had more to offer this time around because I have a previous book out.
I offered my traditional softback. But I also had the hardback, which I only offer during the Kickstarter campaigns. All the hardbacks are signed.
I also offered a set of books. If a new backer came to my second campaign and they hadn’t backed the first one, they could still get a hardback of the first book in a set. The hardback won’t be numbered, but it will be signed. I offered a hardcover set of both books so a backer could catch up on the series.
They could also get all the benefits, like the short stories that come with the Kickstarter edition of the novel. For instance, all the stretch-goal short stories that they unlock are included in the Kickstarter edition of the novel. The general release edition doesn’t have those short stories in there. I sell those separately for $3.00 each, so people love having them for free in the back of their Kickstarter edition.
The sets allow backers to feel like they’ve been a part of the whole thing. They don’t have to go buy the other novel separately. They can get the special edition as well.
Thomas: That can scale if you use the same strategy for your next book. People can buy the trilogy.
The most famous Kickstarter campaign was run by Brandon Sanderson. He republished his ten-year-old Way of Kings book as a beautiful, fancy hardback, which he sold for $250 each. That campaign earned him $6 million. Most of those backers had already read that book. I listened to the audiobook, but I also backed his campaign for $250, not because I planned to read that hardback, but because I wanted an artifact of the life-changing experience that book offered the first time I listened to it. I wanted it as a beautiful artifact for my bookshelf and as something special to leave to my children.
Books make great heirlooms. My grandmother passed away earlier this year, and when we went through her belongings, I received some of her books. If you’ve ever watched any of my videos, you’ll see books behind me, and those are from my grandmother’s library. They are treasures.
If your book is beautiful, and Sanderson’s books definitely were, it could become an heirloom. Hardback books look great on a bookshelf, and they look great behind you on a Zoom call.
Hardback books are in demand partly because there’s just something unsatisfying about an ebook. You get the story in an ebook, but you don’t get the evidence that you own it. It doesn’t sit on a visible shelf that your friends can see in your office.
On Tik TOK and Instagram, the book influencers and bookstagramers are into beautiful hardbacks that look good on camera. They love beautiful bookshelves. They may have originally read the ebook, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want a beautiful bookshelf version of the book.
You can also write in a physical book. My friend and I used to write notes for each other in the margins, and then we’d exchange books. We got to share our reading experiences with each other that way.
You can’t do that with an ebook.
It’s important to note that we’re not talking about KDP’s print-on-demand hardback program. Those aren’t truly hardbacks. Physically are hard, but it’s the same softback cover. There’s no dust jacket. There’s no gold lettering.
We are talking about printing your hardback through offset printing. If you’re not doing a crowdfunding campaign, it can be very expensive and risky to print a large number of real hardbacks.
Your core fans know they have one chance to buy hardbacks, and if they want any of your previous books in hardback, they must order them during your campaign. It’s a good strategy because you know exactly how many books you need to print, and you’ve already pre-sold them. Preorders remove all your risks.
At the same time, you can still provide that high-quality hardback.
What mistakes did you make in the first campaign that you want to avoid?
Jonathan: I started with a much smaller newsletter subscriber list. You don’t know what you don’t know. I was just starting out with people that I had privately messaged to ask if they wanted to join my newsletter list.
I was really blessed, honestly, that I funded as well as I did because I was pulling from a very small pool of people.
Thomas: Since then, you’ve been following the Novel Marketing methodology for list growth using short stories. You’ve been giving away those short stories to subscribers through tools like Booksweeps and StoryOrigin, and other tools that help authors grow their email lists.
Jonathan: Yes, and now I have around 1,200 subscribers.
Thomas: So you’ve grown your list by 1,000%.
Maybe 1200 doesn’t sound like much to some people, but that’s a fantastic growth rate. It’s a lot easier to add your second thousand subscribers than it is to get your first thousand. Once you learn to send better and more interesting emails, people start to forward them to their friends.
Jonathan: That first 1,000 is a lot of heavy lifting. One benefit of Kickstarter is that when people give you their money, you also get their email addresses. If they’re giving you money, they probably also want to get your interesting emails.
What advice do you have for an author trying to decide whether a crowdfunding campaign is worth the effort?
Jonathan: You have to decide how much risk you’re willing to incur. You can do a launch on your own with Amazon, in bookstores, at libraries, or at homeschool conventions, but you have to weigh your risks against your benefits.
I had an almost non-existent audience when I started, so it did not make sense to offset print 1,000 books and then pitch people to buy those. All the risk was on me. That would not have been good.
Thomas: That’s a career killer because your wife won’t want you to keep writing books. If you lost $5,000 publishing your last book, she definitely wouldn’t want you to do it again.
If you’re retired and semi-wealthy, maybe dropping $5,000 and losing it on a book isn’t financially devastating. But you’ll eventually lose family support, and you might even lose your own enthusiasm for writing.
It takes a long time to become profitable. Publishing is not a get-rich-quick industry. If you’re taking our Five-Year Plan course and working hard to stay focused, you could be profitable after five years. But for most authors, it will take ten or more years of diligent work before they start making a living.
Jonathan: There’s so little risk on Kickstarter. If you don’t reach your funding goal, the project doesn’t move forward. There is no cost to you beyond what you spent to promote the project.
If my goal is to raise $2,000 and I get one $80 pledge from my mom, I don’t reach my goal, and I get zero dollars. In fact, my mom’s card will never be charged because I didn’t meet the goal.
Thomas: The only cost is to your pride.
That’s one reason people are afraid to try crowdfunding. Book sales numbers are pretty opaque. If you’re not in the industry, you probably don’t know how to look up a sales rank. Typically, readers don’t know what sales rankings mean in actual numbers. If they’re looking at Amazon, it’s hard for them to tell if a book is successful or not.
On Kickstarter, it’s easy to tell if a book is successful or not. People can see if you reached your goal or not. They can also see if you exceeded your goal.
If you want to learn more about Crowdfunding, listen to the following episodes:
- The Creative Funding Show
- Kickstarter Tips and Tricks with Chris Fox
- How to Crowdfund Your Next Book
- Christian Publishing Show: How to Crowdfund a Novel on Kickstarter.
You can learn more about Jonathan Shuerger and his books by visiting his website and his Kickstarter page. You can adapt the rewards to fit your book.
Learn how to use crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo to raise money for your book before your book comes out. This course has helped many authors successfully crowdfund their books and achieve the publishing dreams they didn’t think they could afford.
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