The idea of book crowdfunding is not a new one – book subscription services have been around for years, allowing authors and their publishers to inspect the size of the market for their particular book projects. Many crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo have opened up even more possibilities for writers and artists to gather enough backing and fund their publishing ventures. Similarly for the readers, crowdfunding is a great way to find new and fresh projects and, in some cases, get personal rewards for the given support.
We have chatted to ‘backees’ of three successful literary projects on Kickstarter about the reasons behind their decision to crowdfund, their experiences with it, and the potential of using mainstream publishers in the future.
A writer from London, Cara Compass self-published a novella Doctor Parsons a couple of years ago, funding the book’s printing and cover costs with pre-orders. The idea of crowdfunding stayed at the back of Cara’s mind and led to Keep Going – a novel about a teenager’s chase with time to finish her bucket list before the start of an apocalypse. The project exceeded the initial goal of £1,200 and attracted 131 backers to fund £2,206. To find more about Cara click here.
Why did you choose crowdfunding and not the traditional publishing route?
I realised that the desirable differences between traditional and self-publishing were superficial, and I only wanted them because of my own hang-ups on what would make me look good. I wanted, and still do, to find my books in libraries and major shops, but I find it way more important to keep a close rapport with my readers and be able to act on what they say is best for them.
Do you think book crowdfunding works for all genres?
Yes, just to varying degrees. And it can depend on the sort of book as much as on the creator. I need to acknowledge that a portion of my sales came from my friends, where it’s less about the content and more about owning their friend’s work. Maybe that wouldn’t be so evident if I wasn’t the one behind the backers’ report. Art books tend to draw in the largest crowd, while books that fulfil a real niche – like, the must have book on a certain fandom – also do very well.
Any opinions on people describing book crowdfunding as ‘too much work’ or ‘not as prestigious’?
I genuinely feel lucky to have taken on this level of work, as I’ve never felt so close to – or even fully aware of – the people I have backing me. I still kind of feel that people with publishing deals are ‘better’ writers, but I think I’ll get out of that. Maybe it’s not as prestigious. Maybe it doesn’t matter. If I can have 150 people band together £2000 and come out the other side with professional editing, artwork, formatting and printing, I guess prestige isn’t something I need. Maybe this experience will lead me to a traditional publisher, but I’d be happy to do this again. If it ain’t broke, why fix it?
What has been your own and your readers’ overall crowdfunding experience?
A good book has always been able to wholly immerse me in a way film and TV can’t. I longed to give people that experience myself and I’m deeply touched that anyone gives their time and thoughts to my words. I’ve been super lucky to be surrounded by enthusiasm on the whole thing, and I’ve had a few people tell me that this has made them go back to their long-ago shelved stories.
New Mexico’s Dreaming Robot Press is a small middle grade and YA sci-fi and fantasy press who has used crowdfunding for all of their titles. Now, for the third year in a row, Dreaming Robot Press is funding their science fiction anthology – Young Explorer’s Adventure Guide 2018. The title has received 254 pledges worth $6,749, successfully hitting their target of $6,000. For more information visit dreamingrobotpress.com.
Was the idea of crowdfunding something you had in mind setting up Dreaming Robot Press?
No, we hadn’t thought of it in the beginning. However, I’d seen a few campaigns for other small press titles, and realized this could be an interesting path to take.
What are the advantages crowdfunding for a publishing house such as Dreaming Robot Press?
Because many people browse Kickstarter or other crowdfunding sites looking for unusual projects, crowdfunding allows us to reach readers who may not know us or our authors at all. Over the course of the campaign and fulfilment, we have the chance to build more personal relationships with the backers. Backers have sent in questions for authors, voted on possible covers, and attended online launch parties. All of this could have been done without using a crowdfunding platform, but we feel the sense of ownership in the project helps create a stronger community.
From a purely practical point of view, crowdfunding works as pre-orders for a book, and can help pay off print runs faster.
What are your views on people describing book crowdfunding as ‘too much work’ or ‘not as prestigious’?
Crowdfunding is quite a bit of work, without a doubt. However, it’s a fantastic way for a small press to get attention outside of the normal readership.
Would you ever consider publishing a title without the help of crowdfunders?
We’ve always used crowdfunding for our titles, and we think it works well for us and our authors. However, if something else came along that allowed for the same level of connection between readers and the titles, we’d certainly investigate it.
Portland based motion graphic designer Karen Hansen was working on a watercolour painting when her husband pointed out that the image looks like a children’s book illustration. This was the very beginning of The Little Guy and the Creature – a children’s book about two introverted forest creatures and the friendship they develop, accompanied by full-page watercolour illustrations. The book collected $4,645 through Kickstarter, easily achieving the set goal of $4,000. For more information about Karen visit her website.
Why did you choose crowdfunding and not going through the traditional publishing route?
I looked into traditional publishing and working with an agent. When I was reading about the submission process, a lot of publishers wanted what’s called an ‘exclusive submission’ and said it could take 6-8 weeks to get a response, if anything. I started doing the math, and realized it could take years to actually publish it if I went that route. My young friends who wanted a copy would be too old for the book by then! I felt really demoralized.
One publisher’s website said that once they’ve accepted your book, your work doesn’t end there and you are still expected to market and sell it yourself. I thought if I’m doing that, what value is the publisher actually adding?! If I self-publish, I’ll do all the work, maintain all the creative control, and if there is magically any profit at the end, I’ll keep all of that as well. And it will be ready by the end of the year!
I would consider working with a publisher in the future if they could help me with all the hard parts like marketing, selling, and distributing. I love writing and making the art, so it would be great if I could focus on that all the time. I think in an ideal world working with a publisher allows creatives to do that. Though I would much rather be pursued by a publishing house that thought I was a good fit than go through the gruelling rejection system that is currently in place.
Have you noticed any persistent opinions or reactions to the idea of crowdfunded publishing?
When I first decided to Kickstarter the book, my biggest fear was that no one would pay attention or care. I was amazed and humbled by the response I was met with, and have received nothing but encouragement and enthusiasm from my friends, family, and community. The persistent opinion and reaction has been: ‘good for you, awesome, go for it, we believe in you!’ I am incredibly lucky to be surrounded by such a wonderful, supportive network of people!
I am definitely aware of the ‘stigma’ in the abstract, but in practice I have yet to encounter it.
What are your opinion on people describing book crowdfunding as ‘too much work’ or ‘not as prestigious’?
It is a TON of work, but it’s all direct to the people who are actually buying your book, so it is incredibly rewarding and worthwhile. Alternatively, you could spend that time and effort submitting your book to agents and publishers. I think each author needs to decide where the biggest payoff lies for themselves.
I can see how self-publishing might be regarded as ‘not as prestigious’ because the author didn’t jump through all the hoops of getting approval by a publisher, and there are probably a lot lower-quality self-published books on the market. But my end goal was to make a book that I love deeply and to share it with others in the hopes that they connect with it as well, and for me crowdfunding seemed like the fastest, easiest way to do that.
What are your future plans related to creating, writing and crowdfunding?
Right now, I am finishing up the Kickstarter process: getting the books printed and all the rewards delivered to their new homes.
I’ve actually started work on my next book, which is shaping up to be a bit longer and might fall into the category of ‘children’s novel’ though it will certainly be filled with lots of art as well. I can’t wait to finish the Kickstarter/marketing/fulfilment phase so I can focus my free time solely on the writing and art side of things again!
I think I will also take this process one step at a time – I’ll see what the book ends up being and see what makes sense going forward, whether it’s publishing it digitally, Kickstartering it or working with a publisher.