The original version of this article appeared on Our Write Side in 2017, but that website no longer exists. This version has been broken into small, easy to digest parts and updated with info from my most recent campaigns and the platforms in general as of Sept 2020 and in regards to Covid-19.
Deciding to publish your own work is big step, but the cost of putting out a book by oneself can be enough to derail even the most stalwart of self-pub dreamers. Thankfully, somewhere between paying it all out of pocket and finding one of the Big 5 to foot the bill, there are some options for raising funds for indie writers.
The concept of crowdfunding is simple: Get a bunch of people together to give a little (or hopefully a lot!) to help you see your project through. Unfortunately, the reality can become much more complicated. But never fear! I’ve been there, done that a few times already, and I’ve learned a lot along the way. (I’ve got a campaign active right now, in fact, if you want to check it out.)
Over a series of posts, I’ll be sharing info about:
- Picking the right crowdfunding platform for to fit your schedule and funding needs
- Looking at who is really going to contribute to your campaign and why
- The types of rewards that work and don’t work
- Tips for creating a reasonable budget to help you be a better goal-setter
- Figuring out the timeline and schedule for your campaign
Choosing the Right Crowdfunding Platform
When crowdfunding first emerged, Kickstarter was the only option I knew of. Others have arisen in the meantime, and each one does things a little differently. It is important to look at your options and consider what type of campaign would fit your life.
For instance, platforms like Kickstarter and IndieGoGo are going to be a good option for someone who wants to run just one campaign for a short time in order to accomplish a specific goal. GoFundMe is also a crowdfunding platform, but it is oriented toward raising funds for things like surgery or other personal financial issues, not projects. So, you will more than likely be choosing between Kickstarter and IndieGoGo for publishing projects.
Getting the first 500 copies of your book printed, for instance, could be a one-shot campaign. You could also ask for funding to attend a writing seminar or agent event in order to boost your career. After the campaign is over, you must fulfill the rewards you promise, but after that you are off the hook to add any more updates to your backers unless you want to.
One very important difference is the Kickstarter is an all-or-nothing model, where IndieGoGo doesn’t have to reach it’s goal within the time set in order for you to keep the money. This has never kept me away from using Kickstarter, partially because I have had very small budgets (no more than $2500) and because I think the all-or-nothing model makes sense. If you can’t do a project right, then it shouldn’t be done. But I can totally also see the appeal of holding on to every dollar that comes your way, even if it might mean producing a pared down version of your project. The risk there though is that you are still obligated to fulfill the rewards you promise, which means paying the difference out of pocket.
I am the most familiar with Kickstarter, personally, and I keep coming back to it. The fee structure has changed a little over the years though, and they now take between 8%-10% cut between their set up fee and credit card processing fees.
As of 2019, Kickstarter has had roughly 17 million people contribute to around 500k projects. Over 5 million users have contributed to more than one. (Source) (Personally, I’ve back 46 so far.) That’s a very big pool of potential backers! One source I found says 36% of campaigns are successful, but Kickstarter itself reports 51% right now. 2020 has seen a dip in project creation, but has actually seen a slight increase in percentage of projects funded. Kickstarter itself has started several initiatives specifically to offer relief because of Covid-19. (Source) By contrast, IndieGoGo’s funding rate is closer to 18%. (Source) That rate doesn’t sound as inspiring, but keep in mind that you get to keep any funds you raise whether or not you technically reach 100% funding.
However, Kickstarter’s popularity can also make it hard to be heard over the rabble. Smaller platforms will have less competition, but also fewer potential backers. Only you know how much time and energy you have to commit to crowdfunding and finding support, so choose the option that fits with your personal goals and availability.
There is also a new player called Unbound. This is a crowdfunding platform for books that may not even be fully written yet. They are based in the UK, so their main focus is UK authors, but they say they will consider books from other places as well. The idea is that you pitch a book idea to the Unbound team, then they decide if you get to move forward. They accept both fiction and non-fiction, but are sometimes closed to certain types of submissions. They have their own guidelines for writing a good pitch and honing in on your target audience, so it is a bit more restrictive than other platforms. However, it also targets potential readers, so it is a more focused approach.
The Long Haul
Patreon, on the other hand, has a very different model. The idea behind this platform is for your fans to give small amounts on an on-going basis in exchange for a stream of extra content and looks “behind the scenes.” This requires a much larger commitment from you over a longer period of time. The other option on that platform is to be paid every time you produce a thing. This is great for musicians, and could potentially work on a per-chapter basis. This still means you would need to be producing (plus editing) a regular stream of content in order to get paid. As of the time of this blog post, there were over 10,000 Patreon pages in the “writing” category that had at least one patron, and around 180,000 pages overall with at least one patron. (Stats are updated daily here.)
If you are a writer who does not yet have a blog, this could actually be a great chance for you start using Patreon to practice. Posts can be made to the public or just your backers, and it could help get you in the habit of posting material regularly. For writers who already blog regularly, adding the burden of generating even MORE content could prove to be too much for the time you have available. On the other hand, it can also be a great way to test out new material on a smaller number of people before you release it out into the world.
In my next post, we’ll take a look at the people who are likely to contribute to your crowdfunding campaign and how to reach them. Until then, stay splendid, my friend!