Crowdfunding and Kickstarter for Authors – A First Time Children’s Book Author’s Experience
2024 is the year even more authors experiment with direct sales to readers and in this post we’ll explore just one of the direct options – crowdfunding.
With more books being produced than ever before, less media outlets to cover them, brimming shelves and the continued dire earnings outlook for many trying to make a living from publishing – another way authors are experimenting with direct sales is via the crowdfunding site, Kickstarter.
NOTE: This does not mean you need to! Sometimes us authors try to do ALL the things and it becomes overwhelming and we burn out. Even though I wrote extensively about crowdfunding in Look-It’s Your Book!, I’ve put Kickstarter on the back burner for many years because I just wasn’t ready and didn’t think I had the right book – that might be the same for you, but it’s still good to know your options.
Because I’m planning to run a Kickstarter for my next book, I’ve been soaking up lots of information from Orna Ross from ALLi, Russel Nohelty and of course, studying how Brandon Sanderson ran a hugely successful Kickstarter campaign that generated US$41,754,153 from 185,341 backers!
Brandon is of course a writer with a huge number of books and fans, but every author needs to start somewhere so I also looked a bit closer to home and connected with Australian children’s book author James Nicholson. Here he generously shares his first ever experience using Kickstarter so other authors can benefit too.
- Book: I’m Glad I’m Me (a picture book aimed at children 4-12 years old)
- Author: James Nicholson
- Illustrator: Andrew McIntosh
- Previous publishing experience: Three unpublished manuscripts plus a keen lyricist from his band days with a love of putting silly things into songs and rhymes.
- Kickstarter results: $7416 from 101 backers ($6500 goal)
I have a degree in Entertainment Business and a strong entrepreneurial streak and as I was putting so much time, effort and money into creating a publishable book I thought why do all that to hand most of my rights over to someone (a traditional publisher) who is going to expect the lion’s share of the revenue and still ask me to help market the book?’
Why Did You Put Your Book Project on Kickstarter?
I thought Kickstarter would be a great way of announcing my book launch, generating interest and presales and hopefully helping me to recoup a chunk of my initial investment in the book. At the time of the Kickstarter, I had already finished the book effectively. It was fully polished, illustrated and formatted for print and ebook. All of the associated expenses were paid out of pocket. Without going into too much detail, the total spend on getting the book ready to publish was around the $9.5k mark. Those covered illustrations, an editor, a handful of ISBN’s through Thorpe Bowker and a few other sundry expenses.
How did you market the Kickstarter campaign?
Full disclosure, I don’t feel like I marketed it effectively to achieve the results I was probably capable of. I had a lot of the elements of the campaign and marketing channels considered and planned. Just not thoroughly enough.
- Four Week Campaign: I ran a four-week campaign, which is the shortest timeframe they allow. I did this as Kickstarter themselves encourage it and say that the shorter campaigns have a much higher success rate. I’d say this is because it helps you to create a sense of urgency and forces campaigners to remain really active across that period.
- Realistic Goal: I set my goal at $7500 and explained that the funds were to help cover illustrations and fulfilment of orders.
- Copywriting: I knew the Kickstarter campaign page had to be really sharp. So I felt I did a decent job there. All the information about my book was there. I put my copywriting skills to work telling the story and explained how my book is worth supporting and brings a really important message to young readers.
- Posters: I made a swathe of posters that I’d designed in Canva. They had clips of the art and characters from the book. There was compelling copy explaining the value of the book and a call to action for support, including a QR code that took you to my page. I spoke to the manager at my son’s daycare centre and the principal at the local primary school. Both were willing and excited to support the book launch. I had posters all around the school and in prime spots in the lobby of the daycare.
- Social Media: On social media, I did regular reels with excerpts from the book voiced over with me reading the book. I also regularly posted art from the book and posted progress updates/reminders of my campaign.
- Facebook & Instagram Ads: I also ran a few ads on Facebook and Instagram but kept the spend pretty low and I don’t think they were all that effective. They got plenty of impressions but not many interactions.
What are your top 5 lessons learned from running the Kickstarter?
1. Have a plan! The most exhaustively detailed plan you’re capable of creating!
It will feel like overpreparing but you really do not want to be creating campaign collateral on the fly. The time goes by quite fast and it can feel mentally exhausting at times, so you really don’t want to add more stress by trying to whip up video clips of you reading from your book or telling people about your campaign. I can say this from experience. I went in way less prepared than I could have been and spent a lot of my campaign playing catch up. Kickstarter has extensive resources to help you be as prepared as possible. They’re all based on knowing how their site works and having seen thousands of success stories. Also, they only benefit from you succeeding so they want you to hit your goal. So, heed their advice.
2. Actually know how to implement your plan.
This goes hand in hand with lesson 1 but is worth singling out. You’re probably looking at a few different channels and means of promoting your Kickstarter campaign. It is so important that you are able to confidently and effectively use those channels. My person to person marketing was great (albeit not as effective as I’d have liked), I’m happy to approach people and have great interpersonal skills. On the other hand, I’m a massive technophobe. I only partially understood how social media worked and how to use it effectively. Luckily for me I have a wonderful friend who noticed this and cared enough to help me out. He truly lit a fire under my butt and kicked my online efforts into gear. I’d get phone calls from him at odd hours of the day and cop the verbal equivalent of a slap over the head for not implementing his advice fast enough. It was just what I needed! So yeah, know what you’re doing before you do it otherwise all that planning just goes to waste really quickly. That, or find someone who can advise you.
3. You need to put yourself out there and it will be uncomfortable for most people.
I’m a pretty confident and outgoing person so I had no problem putting myself out there, telling people all about my wonderful book project and asking for support. I am however modest and self-aware, which is where the discomfort crept in. I became very self-conscious about pretty much living in peoples Instagram and Facebook feeds asking people to part with their hard earned dollars for my book. For the entire campaign you need to remain pretty active and stay in peoples’ faces. I often lamented to my wife that I was starting to feel like a used car salesman and was getting sick of my own voice online. You just have to ride it out, focus on your goal and remember how important it is to you.
4. Don’t Underestimate people’s generosity and eagerness to see you succeed
I had really modest expectations of people and I even created my rewards around that. I knew some people might want to be more generous but most people just want to show their love and support and/or may not have a stack of spare cash to throw at friends, which I understand and can relate to. I created $25, $50 and $75 level rewards with increasing added value. On top of that I gave people the option of additional products to add to their order, in case they wanted more of something or just wanted to show more support. When I looked at the final breakdown of what people actually bought I was absolutely floored and humbled by the generosity of people. I had orders of $100 where someone had just bought one book and then donated the difference. I had people who I didn’t even know buying multiple copies and rounding it up. And, of course I had close friends and family add some very generous sums just to show their love.
5. Do NOT overestimate people’s engagement with your campaign
I won’t lie, when I launched my campaign there was a decent part of me that expected everyone to be as excited for me as I was. I had seen other, similar campaigns hit and exceed their targets within a few days. I naively thought this would be a walk in the park. Sure, your closest family and friends will be excited and you’ll get a number of those wonderful people leaping at the opportunity to support you. But you know they won’t be enough and that you need to appeal to as many folks as possible.
You’ll watch the support coming in and you’ll see names you knew you could count on. But then plenty, you’ll be surprised, take ages or end up needing a nudge. The truth is, we’re all inundated with products and information all vying for our attention. None of us are immune. So you have to expect that people absolutely do want to support you but also know, your book launch, while exciting, is not their highest priority.
Just because you have posters up or a social media ads up for your project, that doesn’t mean they’re going to notice them every time, be in a position or the right headspace to act on the spot or remember to act on it later. It may be front and centre of your life for those few weeks, but everyone else is out there living their busy lives.
Put yourself in their shoes for a moment. Think of all the billboards, commercials, social media ads etc… that you just walk/read/scroll past because they all seem to blend into one and don’t speak to you. Your little campaign is competing with all those things.
The silver lining is, as lesson 4 says, also don’t underestimate people wanting to see you succeed. In the final week, I engaged a lot of people directly and they were aware but just had not had the time. They appreciated being reached out to and most acted swiftly.
What was the most popular Kickstarter reward?
All of my pledge rewards involved receiving a copy of the book, and naturally the cheapest pledge appealed to the widest amount of people. At just $25 for a signed Ltd edition of the book plus two digital posters, it was a low barrier to entry for those who wanted to support. What I was pleasantly surprised by was that a lot of those pledges actually also chose add-ons like additional copies of the book, the ebook version and the colouring sheets.
Tell us about how you actually produced the book
I had always set out with the intention to be exclusively POD and ebook. I did, however, want to do a limited edition run of my book that just looked and felt a little more special for those who supported the launch. For the Kickstarter campaign I had the book made at 10.5” x 10.5” instead of Amazon and Ingrams max 8.5” square. Also I made the inside pages red, which looked so cool.
I was very intentional about keeping the printing in Australia to support Aussie business. I went with Fast Proof Press, who were great and really looked after me. I had to go with soft covers to keep costs down but they turned out brilliant, so I was happy.
I wanted to avoid wasting money and being stuck with an excessive amount of books to move. So, I lined everything up with the printers and once I knew what the final tally of books I’d need to order, I went ahead. This allowed me to promise books would be delivered by a certain date and allowed me to order the exact amount I’d need. I also did order about 140 extra to sell here and there and to send to reviewers.
Other than that, I’m trying to keep all overheads down by using print on demand (POD) and ebook. So far I’m set up with Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Ingram Spark. This means, between these companies, I’m available pretty much anywhere and can even be ordered in bookstores.
Have you fulfilled the campaign yet? Tell us about that.
Yes I have. Man, that was a slog haha! It was at this point I was glad to have only had 101 pledges.
What are you planning next for the book?
With it up on Amazon, I’m now just working on getting people to buy it on Amazon and leaving a review. I have an early goal of 20 reviews, which I’m told is a bit of a sweet spot that helps to improve first impressions. It’s really about trying to build an audience and some credibility as an author.
I’m not actually too focused on trying to generate high sales or make my money back right now. I’m more about building up a foundation of credibility and catalogue, which also seem to go hand in hand somewhat.
There’s the saying ‘more books sell more books’. Given that I had two more close to ready, I’ll be focusing on getting at least one of those out in 2024.
I may try my hand at Amazon ads eventually. Ideally I’d like to really get my head around these before my next books come out. Having more books will give me a better return on ad spend, when people, hopefully, see my other books and buy those at the same time.
Link to the original Kickstarter campaign for ‘I’m Glad I’m Me’
Here’s the link to the original Kickstarter campaign where 101 backers pledged AU$ 7,496 for James Nicholson and his book ‘I’m Glad I’m Me’.
You can follow James on Instagram.
THANKS FOR SHARING YOUR EXPERIENCE AS AN AUTHOR ON KICKSTARTER JAMES!
About Anna’s Kickstarter
This year I will be running my first Kickstarter campaign. It’s for my upcoming book ‘Built-In Book Marketing’ which is all about how you can add marketing elements into your manuscript before you even press print. The idea is to take the dread out of book marketing, to help your book’s visibility and shareability and so that your book launch is much easier and more holistic. You can get an alert when the campaign launches here.