11 Oct Tips for Crowdfunding a Book
This is our current obsession: a children’s book that we’ve written about a little girl called Phoebe who organizes a surprise wedding for her mummies. We are working with the fabulously talented Cara King of Caratoons, who is bringing all of our characters – Mummy, Mumma, Phoebe and Biscuit the cat – to sweet and beautiful life.
The curtains have closed on Captain Honey’s first crowdfunding campaign, and it’s been a tough and rewarding process. A bit like a mountain climb, there were moments in the middle when we swore we’d never do this again. But, now we are safely back on terra firma, we think ‘That was fun. When’s the next one?’
We successfully raised $7557 (against a target of $5000) as a contribution to the publication of our upcoming book, ‘Mummy and Mumma Get Married’. The book is topical and as part of our campaign, we offered supporters the opportunity to donate a copy to a primary school of their choice. This provided an extra dimension to the campaign allowing supporters to ‘feel good’ about backing us and it gave us an inspirational message that went beyond ‘Donate to help us make our book – please!’.
There were some wonderful moments during the campaign: a pledge from an old school friend unheard of for 30 years, a $150-dollar contribution for just one book, and a stranger who tipped in the outstanding amount to reach the target “just to make this book happen”. And there were the many friends and family who contributed – every donation gave us a lift on this shamelessly public of endeavours.
As a writer, or any kind of artist, you constantly put yourself out there. ‘Look at me, look what I’ve written, created, made’. It’s cringe-worthy at times. I’m sure I wouldn’t be the first person to note a kind of schizophrenia in the modus operandi of today’s creators. For every ‘look at me’, there’s a ‘go away, leave me alone!’ But there’s none of that allowed in a publicity campaign (which is what crowdfunding is). It’s a relentless march of ‘look at me’.
But we are not just writers or creative types, we’re publishers too and that means we need to toughen up and embrace the commercial opportunities to make our books succeed, and that’s what crowdfunding is about.
To put it bluntly, crowdfunding is a means of collecting pre-orders for your book, which offsets the risk of investing in a print run. For traditionally printed books, the print run is often the biggest expense. Although it varies hugely according to the book specifications and number of copies to be printed, an illustrated book is generally north of $5000 in print costs alone.
This raises the interesting question of what target to set for your crowdfunding campaign. We set a target of $5000, hoping to cover print costs and accepting that we’d need to cover the costs of creation (paying the illustrator and editor) and our own time. We also needed to factor in the considerable cost of mailing books to supporters, as well as the platform and channel fees for payment. We deliberately set our target on the low side.
This is crowdfunding and to be successful, you need a crowd. Friends and family are great, but chances are they are not your crowd – and there is only so much you can ask of them. We didn’t have our crowd established prior to launch. Aware of this shortcoming, we chose to press ahead anyway, due to the timely nature of the book.
To an extent, it’s a numbers game, and planning your strategy requires a bit of back-of-the-envelope mathematics. I’d heard to expect a 10% conversion rate from friends and family. That was our experience exactly. We had 201 supporters, of which 65 (of our 650 Facebook friends) were friends and family.
Thanks to some great publicity like this, this and this, we were able to make fleeting appearances in front of our crowd and that resulted in 136 further pledges. These pledges, from people in the community who we didn’t know, were really exciting. It was great to know that our book and the mission to get it into primary schools resonated with our crowd.
Compared to other projects I’d viewed in preparation, we had quite a large number of supporters, but our rewards were low value, the most popular being $15, $20 and $30 rewards. You need the numbers in terms of supporters to make those dollars stack up to a sizeable sum of money.
Here are a few of the many learning for us about crowdfunding for books:
- Set a realistic target – but ask for what you really need.
- Build your audience first, before you launch your campaign.
- Plan your publicity well in advance, and be aware of lead times.
- Make sure you have enough rewards of a decent $ value.
- Be gentle on your friends and family – you can only expect so much of them*.
*disclaimer: with apologies to our own friends and family because we may not have followed this advice!