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A guide to crowdfunding campaigns for aspiring authors

A guide to crowdfunding campaigns for aspiring authors

By Claudia Besant |

whitefox: helping brands, thought leaders and writers create beautiful bespoke books

What is crowdfunding?

Let’s start with the fundamental question: what actually is crowdfunding? Crowdfunding is essentially a campaign whereby a business or individual aims to raise funds for a project through donations or pledges from a large collection of people. Campaigns will most likely offer rewards and perks to their supporters; for book projects this might be a discounted price, a signed copy of the book, an invite to the launch, exclusive content or anything else the author wishes to imagine.

As self-publishing becomes more popular, crowdfunding can provide indie authors with a way of producing a high-quality book while avoiding a lot of the financial risk. If the campaign is a success and the author hits their goal, they will then have the funding to hire experienced professionals who are able to project manage, edit, design, print, and distribute their book, without breaking the bank in the process.

Types of crowdfunding

A variety of different crowdfunding models exist, with the type of project determining which campaign is most suitable. For example, equity-based crowdfunding involves people pledging money in return for shares in the project or business. Debt or credit crowdfunding consists of taking small loans from people that the individual or business promises to repay within a certain time period. Donation-based crowdfunding relies on charity and supporters who will not ask for anything in return for their contribution. 

Project backing or reward-based crowdfunding is when people pledge money in exchange for access to a project or product, as well as bundles of special rewards that correspond to the amount individuals have donated. This type of crowdfunding often works best for writers as, essentially, it is selling your book before it has been produced, allowing people to invest in your idea and see it come to life. If you’re looking to self-publish a unique, giftable, high-end book on a limited budget, then reward-based crowdfunding will help you cover the costs in order to do just that.

Who does crowdfunding work best for?

Anyone can crowdfund; if you have an idea for a project you truly believe in, there’s really nothing stopping you. However, there is a lot of competition, especially in the book world, so it’s worth making sure you are in the best position possible before you launch your campaign. Authors with existing platforms and a sizable audience have a better chance of success because they already have a space to promote their campaign and access to those who are inherently interested in them and their work. A built-in audience may consist of dedicated social media followers, loyal podcast listeners, enthusiastic newsletter subscribers, or avid blog readers. For example, whitefox author James Hoffmann already had an engaged audience of blog readers before creating his crowdfunding campaign for the exclusive coffee-table book The Best of Jimseven. Wherever and whoever your audience is, they will be the vital foundation on which you build your campaign.

It’s important that you establish a clear proposition as to why the audience needs your book that can be laid out in the pledge. It helps to give your project a unique twist or angle so it stands out against other campaigns and piques the interest of potential backers. If your project sits nicely within a niche you will have a better chance of attracting an audience that can be easily targeted and located. whitefox author David Hargreaves and researcher Margaret-Louise O’Keeffe’s As We Were was an extremely unique book concept with a concise target audience: people interested in World War One with the budget to purchase a four-book boxed set retailing at £100. A philanthropic angle, where a percentage of book sales are donated to a charitable cause, is also a great initiative to help inspire support for your project while reassuring backers that their money is going towards something worthwhile and meaningful, not just back into your pocket.

Plan & prepare your crowdfunding campaign

Allocating a good amount of time to research and plan for your campaign will be the key to its success. You’ll need a minimum of two months before your launch date to properly prepare your campaign and ensure you achieve your project’s funding goal. To determine this goal, make sure you consider all the necessary costs it will take to run the campaign and produce and distribute the final edition of your book, such as editorial, design, packaging, printing, shipping, and the list goes on. However, be sure to set your crowdfunding target lower than your total goal, with the intention of overfunding, as backers are more likely to contribute to a campaign that’s close to or has surpassed its goal. Crowdfunding is all about momentum; people like being a part of the projects that hit their goals and succeed.

Time is also an important factor when planning a campaign. Running a campaign for too long will result in people losing interest, too short and you may not raise the funds needed to make your book project a reality. Just over two months should be the perfect length for your campaign, giving you time to pique people’s interest in your project while also creating a sense of urgency and excitement. Backers will often contribute mostly at the start or in the final moments of your campaign, so it’s vital to keep things steady in-between these stages. Keep it short and sweet.

Consider your crowd, those who will support you and your book before and after its publication. Who are they? Where are they in the world? What are their interests? In what ways can you connect with them? It’s important to have a clear idea of your target audience for your book; the more precisely you define your crowd, the more likely you are to reach and engage them. Look at your existing audience and put yourself in their shoes: why do they follow you? What kind of content do they expect from you? How can you engage them further? What extra rewards can you offer them to show your gratitude for their support of your book project? There’s a lot of crowdfunding campaign elements to figure out before your launch, but the time and effort you put into these months of planning and preparation will, literally, pay off.

Crowdfunding third-party platforms vs private fundraising

Successfully crowdfunding your self-published book project will grant you the opportunity to professionally prepare and produce your book, rather than having to settle for lesser-quality but more budget-friendly options, or even abandon the project entirely. It’s essential then that you choose the best crowdfunding route for your project and you as a writer; spend some time comparing the necessary details, fees, and restrictions of the different third-party platforms or planning your pursuit to privately fundraise through your existing network and contacts.

Indiegogo is a popular third-party platform option for many writers looking to eradicate the various obstacles on the path to funding their book project. From campaign strategists to marketplace support, Indiegogo can provide you with the resources needed to turn your book idea into the real deal. Flexible funding allows creators the chance to keep whatever they earn during the campaign, even if they didn’t hit their goal. However, be aware that you’ll need to anticipate any problems that can arise from this option as backers might be less likely to contribute if there’s an inherent risk in the project not succeeding. You’ll also need to ensure you can still deliver on any rewards you’ve promised to supporters if things don’t go to plan.

Another well-known crowdfunding platform is Kickstarter, where people pledge money on the projects they want to see happen. Unlike Indiegogo, Kickstarter uses an ‘all-or-nothing’ model that will require you to meet your goal before receiving any money, so it’s worth being certain you’ve set a realistic funding target. You’ll also need to factor in the platform fees when setting your goal, for instance Kickstarter takes five percent from successful campaigns, plus another three to five percent for payment processing. However, if you decide to raise money on GoFundMe, each and every donation is yours to keep without supporters expecting to receive anything in return. This is because campaigns featured on the platform will often be raising money for charitable causes, such as an educational book project that will be free to those who need it, or whose profits will go towards a specific charity while raising awareness about an issue. However, if this isn’t the case for your book, other crowdfunding platforms will most likely be a better fit.

Patreon is a platform that goes beyond crowdfunding, allowing writers to earn continuous funding directly from their audience. Instead of creating a campaign to fund a single publishing project, fans will subscribe to creators for their regular content, paying a monthly rate as opposed to a one-off donation. There’s no deadline or specific target to achieve on Patreon, removing the sense of urgency that other crowdfunding platforms require. If you’re an established author who regularly produces unique content, Patreon is the perfect platform. There’s also nothing to stop you using Patreon alongside alternative platforms like Kickstarter or Indiegogo to run a more specific, singular publishing campaign and build buzz around your next book.

However, you may not need the help of a third-party platform at all. If you already have a large existing network or platforms with a substantial loyal following, there’s no reason you can’t utilize these to raise the funds needed for your book project privately. Whether you reach out via email, social media, or your blog, you’ll still require an air-tight plan of action on the best ways to approach people and ask for their support. Start with those closest to you who may not need a lot of convincing, then cast your net a bit wider. Although it’s quick and easy, don’t be tempted to send out just a big batch of brief, general emails requesting donations. People are far more likely to reject or simply ignore such an impersonal approach and might assume lots of others in the batch will donate so they don’t need to bother. Instead, tell people your story, what this project means to you and why your contacts or followers will be interested in it. Keep it honest, light, less like an advert and more of a genuine, heartfelt message to potential supporters.

Bring your crowdfunding campaign to life

Once you’ve chosen a route and planned your campaign, it’s time to set-up your campaign. First impressions are vital, so make sure to do everything you can to convert those who come across your page into invested backers. Your book idea, however bizarre and niche, needs to be introduced clearly and coherently on your page. Give your project an intriguing title and description that will make potential contributors want to find out more, but also help them to understand what exactly you hope to achieve. All the key information needs to go at the start of your project page or email pledge, with more detailed descriptions and project backstory featuring further down. A colourful, high-res and eye-catching central campaign image that captures people’s curiosity is also really important, but be careful with the design; you don’t want to make it too busy or distracting, something simple and stylish should be enough. Compelling visuals in a range of formats, such as photos, videos, and GIFs, can also be used throughout your campaign page to help tell your story and truly showcase your vision for the book.

However revolutionary or brilliant your book idea is, the heart of your crowdfunding will be you. People want to connect with your story and discover why they should invest in a book they’ve never read or heard anything about before. Copywriting is a lot harder than many might assume; you need to be able to create a captivating story to market your book while communicating and appealing directly to your audience in a way that is relatable, sincere, and accurate. Writers shouldn’t focus solely on the money aspect of crowdfunding, but instead on the opportunity to build a strong community of loyal readers who will support you long after your campaign has ended. This is an indicator of true success.

If done right, a pitch video can be a really powerful crowdfunding tool. Although you’ll obviously need to explain the concept of your book, try not to spend the whole video gushing about how amazing it will be if people pledge. Instead, address what you can provide to your audience. This is what will turn a viewer into a backer. If your book is fiction, then creating excitement around the plot and characters, as well as the involvement contributors can have in the journey of making it, will be a great way of enticing people to back your project. For non-fiction, especially self-help and business books, you’ll need to stress the transformation aspect your book will provide. For example, the successful The Zen Habits Book campaign highlighted the many habits the book will help readers to change, including eating healthily, improving relationships, and dealing with frustrations and stress, among many others.

Ultimately, a great pitch video should feature information about yourself that will create a personal and emotional connection with your audience, as well as any testimonials from experts, well-known faces or community members that will help people understand the impact of your project. You’ll also need to stress your funding goal and deadline, why people should contribute now, and what they will get in return for doing so, such as a special edition copy or an invite to the book launch. In terms of production, high-quality sound and visuals are extremely important and can make the massive difference between someone watching your video until the very end and deciding to donate, or switching it off a few seconds in. And lastly, keep your pitch video short. It doesn’t matter how entertaining or well-made your video is, people’s attention only spans so far. Aim for the two-to-three minute mark, making sure you condense your campaign down to the most important and interesting elements that will make people want to back not only your book project, but you, too.

Rewards, perks & bonuses for your book backers

Rewards for your backers can come in just about any imaginable shape or size. It’s a chance to not only to showcase your creativity and engage with your audience, but to provide them with something in return for their support that goes beyond the promise to produce your book. The way rewards and perks are offered may differ depending on the platform you choose to launch your crowdfunding campaign. On a platform like Kickstarter, you have the opportunity to tier your rewards at different prices, whereas on Patreon there are multiple levels of subscriptions that will determine what monthly bonuses and perks fans receive. Whatever you decide, make sure to start small; a long list of various rewards will most likely overwhelm first-time backers. It’s best to build excitement and generate momentum by adding new perks during the project’s early days or presenting a limited supply of rewards with special early-bird pricing.

At the end of the day, you will know better than anyone what your community wants. This could be anything from access to exclusive online content, a special signed edition, unique merchandise like bookmarks, tote bags, and posters, or a one-to-one chat with the author. Whatever you imagine, make the perks personal and keep them in tone with your book. Ensure you offer a range of rewards with fair pricing and that there is something worthwhile at every level, even the very lowest. You’ll also need to consider estimated delivery for each tier and the shipping costs for multiple locations. Make sure to factor in these costs and let your backers know where you’ll ship to and when they can expect to receive their rewards.

On Patreon, you’ll need to provide regular bonus content to all levels of subscribers. The content needs to complement your book and may include exclusive short stories or essays that build on your book topic or story, access to deleted chapters or scenes that didn’t make it to publication, and sneak peeks at new book covers, blurbs, or even excerpts of upcoming titles. You could also involve readers by asking them to name a character or place, and show your appreciation of your most loyal patrons by adding them to the Acknowledgements section of your book. But bonus content doesn’t necessarily need to be written, you could start a podcast delving deeper into the topic of your book, or share writing tips on your author YouTube channel, or start a ‘booktube’ with shorter clips made exclusively for your subscribers, or maybe participate in a live Q&A with questions from patrons. There are so many options and ideas to explore, so have fun and show your audience how much their support means to you.

Promote! Garner support, engage communities, & sell your book project

Pressing the launch button is by no means the end of your campaign, in fact, it’s just the start. Spend some time after your campaign goes live being a brilliant host and connecting with your audience. Keep your supporters up-to-date on the production process and how their pledges have made a difference to your self-publishing journey alongside photos and videos of your progress. It’s also a good idea to have a few surprises lined up, such as giveaways or special snippets from the book, to sustain people’s interest and boost momentum after the initial excitement around your project has died down. Ask yourself, what is it that will grab people’s attention? How is your book project different from all the others out there? Why should people back you? Focus on what makes your project unique and just go with it. But be prepared because it won’t be easy. Running a crowdfunding campaign will take a lot of time and effort; you’re essentially pre-selling your book to readers, so you need to be actively marketing and building a community of supporters that want to see your project come to life.

A top priority once you’ve launched your campaign is making sure people know about it. Do absolutely everything you can to raise as much awareness about your project as possible. Start with promotion on platforms where you already have an existing following; whether this is your blog, website, social media channels, or newsletter, make sure you’re shouting about your campaign as you never know who’ll be listening. However, you don’t want to keep repeating yourself with the same information and call to action, you’ve got to keep your audience engaged with your content. Break down your project into small stories that you can tell to your audience throughout your campaign, such as the origin of your book idea, challenges you’ve had to overcome, your creative process and vision for future work. Highlight important campaign milestones, share articles your project has featured in, post vivid images or illustrations that may appear in the book, guest on other creator’s blogs or podcasts, and participate in literary events. There’s really no limit to what you can do to get word out about your campaign, so make sure you’re open to every opportunity that comes your way.

As you may have guessed by this point, crowdfunding takes a lot of time and dedication. But if your book idea is one you truly believe in, then it will all be worth it once you succeed in making your vision a reality. Capture people’s imaginations with your creativity and passion, tell your story and make people care about your project. Not only will you then have the funding to create and produce your book, you’ll also have the support from a community of readers grown throughout your campaign who will back you, your book and any other future endeavours you embark on. Reaching your project’s funding target is a huge achievement, but establishing a strong, genuine and everlasting connection with your audience is the ultimate goal, and undeniably priceless.

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Crowdfunding

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