This has been on my list of blogpost subjects for months and as I've recently been asked about it again, I think now is the time!
Here comes a list of some of the things I learned from my experience of running a Kickstarter campaign for a book.
I ran a really successful Kickstarter campaign in 2020, hitting my goal in just a couple of days. There were many lessons learned along the way. There is already an internet's worth of information about making promo videos and social media post scheduling etc out there, so I won't repeat that here. These thoughts are purely what I learned from my own experience.
Here are the most pressing tips for anyone who is desperate to launch their campaign and cannot stomach reading the rest of my longwinded post:
1) GOAL SETTING STRATEGY
My strategy for my campaign was to set my goal as low as I possibly could in order to make the project viable. There is always a temptation to add all sort of expenses to your funding goal to pay yourself for time, skills, coffees, etc. This is a personal choice. The reason I didn't do this is that I had watched another campaign fail badly when the creator, full of optimism, set an astronomically high goal and then didn't even get to 10%. I didn't want this to happen to me. I knew I didn't have the mental strength to endure putting myself out there creatively, with such a personal project, and then not getting backed.
HOWEVER, despite hitting my funding goal with ease, I did make a small loss on the project overall. I am the one to blame and you can learn from my mistakes:
2) GET YOUR COSTINGS RIGHT. I miscalculated my shipping feels, just rounding to estimates without really considering the implications of getting it wrong. Being £2-4 off on hundreds of shipments can very well mean the difference between breaking even (my goal) and making a loss (my reality). Don't cry for me. It was my own mistake, and fortunately, because my campaign hit its funding goal by over 200%, the loss I took was manageable. I never set out to make a profit from my campaign, and because I know I'm not great with numbers I always assume things will be a little bit off and I allowed for that, but all of this could have been avoided if I had been more patient and careful. I would actually have walked away with some pocket money for my troubles and a coffee or two:)
Specific things to look out for:
- shipping costs to different regions.
- shipping costs for people who order multiple copies. I ended up having to split up some of the bigger packages into two small ones in order to stay within the shipping thresholds.
- tax, if you are printing in a different country and VAT becomes an issue.
- Kickstarter fees. They are very open about these, but please note that there is also a money handling fee that might bite you in the butt at the end of the journey if you don't budget for it.
- Cost your actual production (how many copies, what paper, what size, inks etc) in ballparks. You'll get the actual figures once you know how much money you've raised but then you have to decide carefully how many to actually print. The economy of scale means it's generally cheaper to make more of anything. You can always sell extra copies to non-backers in the future, but do you have space to store excess copies?
- Double-check every additional cost element of your design. We had planned to have a spot UV gloss effect to highlight certain elements of the cover design. At the last possible second the printer said, for technical reasons relating to our specific design, this couldn't work. We let it go, and were refunded the cost of spot UV.
3) SELF PROMOTION is necessary. Accept it or don't bother with this at all. You'll gather more from what's written below.
Those are my top tips. The rest of this post is for anyone who has the patience/curiosity.
DO YOUR RESEARCH
There are several different ways to crowdfund/offer pre-sales for book projects. I had a really thorough look at Unbound, Publishizer, and Kickstarter. In the end, I went with Kickstarter because their fees/process made the most sense to me, and they allowed me to move at my own pace. The other two involve an element of dealing with publishers that would have added unpredictable amounts of time to the process. As I had already been grappling with whether or not to release the book for years, and also had an indie publisher wanting to work with me, Kickstarter was the way forward. Of course, you don't need any publisher at all if you are happy to be your own publisher.
I had toyed with the idea of making my book a fundraising thing for a charity I like, but you aren't allowed to raise money for charity on Kickstarter. There are other platforms for that. After some soul searching I admitted to myself that I would have been hiding behind the charitable aspect because I didn't think my project alone was worth it. I am not anti-charity; I do support multiple charities in other ways. In this case, however, I had to overcome these feelings for my own creative journey. I decided to be brave, keep things simple and to believe in my project enough to believe that people would back it even if I wasn't giving a percentage of the proceeds away.
I would NEVER have embarked on an indie book project unless I knew the text I was about to put out into the world was of as high quality as I could possibly get it. I do believe in myself creatively, but I am also aware of the fact that I am dyslexic and lack that eye for detail that is needed for professional standards of writing. I need to get all my published work thoroughly edited and proofread. A huge percentage of writers need this; it is nothing to be ashamed of, and even then, a typo or two can and usually will happen. I have spotted typos in a bible! (I'm weirdly good at spotting them in other people's text but am completely blind to them in my own until after I hit post/send/publish).
Do not skimp on quality control. Pay for a professional editor and proofreader (and read carefully their amendments so you don't lose your own voice from the text).
It is so annoying to spot a mistake in a printed book, but it is what it is. If you have honestly tried your very best, just let it go. If you have an e-book, you can fix it instantly.
This relates to the above. It's about knowing where your skills end and it's time to enlist someone who is best suited to whatever tasks you do not extend to. All power to the person who has professional standard abilities in every single area of book production: writing, editing, proofreading, graphic design, illustration possibly, logistics, packaging, customer care, accounting, marketing and promotion, project management etc. There are so many different hats to wear on a project like this, so be honest with yourself and know which areas you will need help with. I needed most help with excellent graphic design (thank you, I love you always, Pam) and self-promotion.
I had no idea how mentally and emotionally taxing it would be to run a campaign and put out my work. I was waking all through the nights in cold sweats and questioning why on earth I had put myself in this pickle. I was worrying about every possible thing. Half of this is probably down to the fact the specific book I put out was a starkly personal memoir. I was grappling with the worries about offending people, what others would make of my interpretation of our shared experience, and then just making myself so very known to anyone in the whole wide world who chooses to read it.
I'm told from multiple, reliable sources that having a book published is usually rather hellish in its own special way, regardless of whether you go the indie route or are with one of the big-name publishers. It's part of the deal when you put your work out.
But that aside, the crowdfunding campaign is also mentally and emotionally taxing. I was checking my phone constantly for the duration of the campaign (I think mine was a month). I am generally social media wary, and self-promotion averse, so I really had to step outside of my comfort zone. You have to believe in yourself, or at the very least represent yourself as someone who believes in themselves:) This means you need to dig deep and be brave. How did I do this? I had a partner who was experienced in crowdfunding and social media promotion who nagged me and nudged me every time I was tempted to skip a scheduled post. (I hated updating my mailing list weekly because I didn't want to bother anyone, but honestly, every time I sent those Mailchimp updates, the pledges came in.) I also wrote morning pages like my life depended on them. (Google Julia Cameron morning pages)
My final word on this issue would be to NOT shut your ears to your worries. Often when I woke in the night it was because I had suddenly remembered something important and I still had time to fix it. Worry that leads to appropriate action is a good thing. I stopped waking in the night when the campaign is all done and dusted.
I was really surprised at the different people who showed up for my campaign. Old friends, teachers, people I hardly knew, people I really didn't know at all. In so many deeply profound ways, the project brought a lot of life experiences full circle for me. I won't go into that here as it's more of a counselling session topic. There will be a temptation to wonder why certain people didn't back you or didn't repost etc I made a point of letting that shit go before it even happened. It's not healthy to dwell on this stuff. People have every right not to back my project. They might be going through a hard time financially; they might take issue with the idea of a creative person asking for financial help to bring their project to fruition; they might have other stuff going on in their lives that means your project does not the centre of their universe; they might hate your work. That is all allowed. I am allowed to make whatever I want to make, and you are allowed to subscribe or unsubscribe without judgement. Namaste.
Because it was a project spanning both an MFA and a PhD in creative writing, my book had the benefit of being read by the eyes of an unusually large number of readers that I have the utmost respect for. Thanks to this I was, on some level of my brain, satisfied that I had made a decent, solid project. The readers I respected for literary reasons gave it a thumbs up, so I was lucky to proceed without too much fear of being judged as a bad writer. Same sentiment as the inspirational quote: Those who matter don't mind, and those who mind don't matter.
Also, I was also not willing to go down in history as one of those memoirists who blasts apart her entire network of family and friends by publishing her story, so I had my loved ones read it. It would be a challenge to write a memoir that offends no one at all, and you cannot and must not write by committee. BUT I did have a list of the people I absolutely refused to do harm to in my work, and I checked with every single one of them. The vast majority gave their blessing. A couple were discreetly disguised or removed entirely.
Here is something I would never have learned had it not been for this experience with my book, it was a small problem that I allowed one night of lost sleep to, but eventually had to let go. In my book, I wrote about going to Hang Fook Camp with my cousin. I said it was on the site where the Walled City used to be. I thought this because I was a kid who wasn't paying attention/didn't remember which MTR station she had travelled to. Hang Fook Camp was indeed the premises of St. Stephens Society, who had previously worked in the Walled City. But actually, the new premises was not on the old site, they had been moved to Shatin (I believe). As a teenager I had logged the relevant bits of information as: St. Stephens, formally of Walled City, now called Hang Fook Camp. I was a tiny bit right, but a lot wrong. But because I was writing from my lived experience and my lived experience logged insufficient information, there is a factual error in my memoir. Honestly, I really beat myself up for a couple of days. I felt so dumb. It a mistake of little consequence, but I am an academic and my Dad was a historian and I am so annoyed with myself. I have now forgiven myself though. It's testament to the fact I was writing from my own unreliable narrative. I have fixed it in the ebook and paperback, but the hardbacks can't be changed and I have to live with that. This is a mistake that a fact-checking reader could have caught before the book when to print.
Sheesh. This is a lot. I'm stopping there. Thanks for reading and feel free to ask any questions you have here so that others can benefit!
The final, final word I'd like to add, just in case any of my backers are reading this is, THANK YOU TO MY BACKERS. You made a potentially torturous and intolerable experience very tolerable. In fact, you helped make a dream come true. Running a crowdfunded felt an awful lot like I was stripped totally naked, vulnerable, and exposed for all the world to judge. My backers came rushing to my aid with a big fluffy towel to cover me up and restore some dignity! THANK YOU.