Crowdfunding Tips for Authors: What Rewards Should You Offer?

We’ve taken a look at some different crowdfunding platforms. These platforms may each work a little differently, but one thing they have in common is that you offer rewards to your campaign backers. So let’s take a look at options that I’ve been able to use effectively during past campaigns. 

Over this series, we’re looking at:

Read up on the Rules for your Platform

First thing’s first. Make sure you know the rules for your particular platform. Generally, if you produce the reward yourself, most things are fair game. “Producing yourself” doesn’t mean that you can’t use another company to print books, for instance. But you can’t offer something like, say, a mass-produced item that hasn’t been altered in any way by you, the creator.

Also, you can’t offer booze, firearms, or pornography (even if you make it yourself <wink, wink>). You also can’t offer things like raffle tickets that offer an opportunity to win a prize but don’t guarantee a reward. Crowdfunding campaigns are different than stores, but you do have to be able to offer a specific reward in return for a pledge.

That still leaves a LOT of possibilities. So, let your mind run wild when you are thinking about what you could offer in addition to your book. (I’ve also got some ideas below.)

Variety is Key

The most important takeaway from this whole series: Don’t ONLY offer the book itself as the reward. (And no, two different formats for your book don’t count as different rewards.)

Over and over again, I see campaigns flounder and fail because the only thing the writer offers is the finished product, and often for the same price they would sell it for after it is published. Though I can understand the logic of using the campaign like a pre-order system (and it can work out that way), it isn’t usually enough to bring in the backers you need. If you already have a large following, or are aiming for a very small goal such as just the cover art, you may be able to get away with this approach, but variety really is the spice of both life and crowdfunding campaigns.

Instead, try to come up with special rewards that only YOU could personally offer. Though it may seem counterintuitive when seeking funding for a publishing project, you will get more backers if you don’t only offer written rewards. An additional short story set in your world is great, but it won’t help you get the attention of people who are on the fence about your book to begin with. For instance, my mother isn’t a fan of fantasy, but she does like the color blue. If you offer something pretty and blue, she might back your campaign whether or not she ever reads a word you wrote.

It is totally fine to offer one-off rewards. You don’t have to be able to distribute 20 of something. A one-of-a-kind thing or experience is totally fair game. Just be careful that you don’t have to so many reward tiers that people can’t find what they want. We’ll talk about tiers in the next post.

Create Rewards for Every Budget

Keep in mind that if you offer your book at a pledge tier that’s the same price you will eventually offer it for wide release, you will still need to pay fees to the platform or setup fees for printing orders. So you may not end up that much better off. In addition, you’ll have to take care of all the packaging and shipping yourself, so you will actually have to charge people more for getting a printed book through your campaign in order to make ends meet. This can be a deterrent for some.

Another downside of only offering your printed book as the reward for backers is that it can be too expensive. Right now especially, money is tight for a lot of people. More than likely, you’d need to offer a novel at no less than $12, plus $7 shipping through USPS, so that is almost $20 to support your campaign. I usually include a very low-cost tier, maybe even as little as $1, to act as a sort of “tip jar.” That way, if someone wants to see you succeed but can’t afford your other rewards, they can still show their support.

The average pledge on a Kickstarter campaign is $25, but that doesn’t mean the average backer pledges that amount. It means that the pledges average out to $25. Offering higher tiers can help you reach that average even if the vast majority of your backers choose something low.

Here’s a list to get your brainstorming started.

  • Print backer’s name on a thank you page or dedication
  • Offer signed copies at a higher price than just the book
  • Name a minor character after a backer
  • Offer personalized thank you videos, poems, songs, etc.
  • Make audio an audio recording of sample from your book, or record the whole thing and offer it as a separate reward.
  • Create artwork of one of your characters or locations. You don’t have to be a great artist to create something. Art is totally subjective, and it is all about what you can contribute that is unique to you. Plus, many of your backers will probably be people you know, who might choose that option for the sake of nostalgia.
  • Create ANY kind of artwork or craft. I got the biggest boosts to my first campaign when I offered some of my paper engineering pieces. That’s right, what you offer doesn’t even have to tie directly to your story. It just needs to be made by you. Not only did it give me a high tier to offer, it made my whole campaign more visually appealing and fun. If you can sew, sketch, or create any kind of craft, it’s a strong candidate for a reward. Even if there is only one, you can still offer it. Just keep in mind that you can’t put an image in the reward tiers themselves, so you’ll need to put it in the “story” section of your campaign. 
  • Create other merchandise – mugs, bookmarks, postcards, magnets, etc. If you have a logo or quote with a wide appeal, consider putting it on a physical object or two. Obviously, you aren’t producing the merch yourself, but if it has your logo or something to do with your project, it counts as being “made by the creator” and fits in the rules. In the past, I’ve had mugs and pins made, and they are usually a big hit. I always order more than I need for the campaign so I can sell them later, too, which also drives down the unit price and makes it more economical to create on your end. Plus, you can also usually order a sample before you commit to a large order. That way, you can use the sample in pictures for your campaign. And whether or not you make your goal, you will still have an awesome keepsake for yourself.
  • Create a certificate that makes them an “official” something-or-other in your world. For instance, a Steampunk campaign I contributed to allowed me to choose the name of my own fictional dirigible. Then, they sent out a fancy certificate that I could hang on my wall declaring me the captain.
  • Have you published other things in the past or have extra short stories lying around? The more I publish, the more things I have to offer to backers. In my current campaign, basically my entire catalog of books is available in a high tier. At a lower level, a PDF of an additional story can be a great extra reward. This does not count as “publishing” in the traditional sense because you will only be sharing it with a small group of people, so there is no reason you can’t also submit it to be published somewhere else in the future as well.
  • Give people a chance to have some say in the direction you take. When I created my Steam Tour projects, one important aspect was to get feedback from the backers. I was going on trips to different Steampunk events and Victorian-era locales to create a travel guide. So, I offered backers-only surveys about which things they wanted me to make sure to include to give them the greatest value. If you don’t want people to touch your content, you can still give them opportunities to vote for their favorite cover option, help you choose a name for a character, object, or place, or decide on a sticky plot point. People LOVE to be asked for their opinions, so give them a chance.
  • If getting you to events in order to sell your book in person is part of your budget, think about things you could bring back from the event or location. For instance, when I went to New Orleans to report on the Edwardian Ball, I offered prints of photos from the event, as well as a grab bag of NOLA souvenirs to my upper-tier backers.
  • Got a website? Offer advertising space and sponsored posts. In the past, I’ve offered an ad banner on my site for a $50 pledge.
  • Is there some new skill you have been itching to pick up? This could be a good excuse to give it a try! Graphic design is a very transferable skill, and you could learn how to do it and then offer ad or meme creation as a reward. Adobe Spark is a free online platform for video editing that you could master.

Getting By with a Little Help From my Friends

A crowdfunding campaign is also a great time to ally yourself with other creators. For one of my campaigns, I got together editor friend of mine. She is looking for credits as much as she is money, so we came to an agreement where she is getting less than industry rates for the opportunity to have her name on both books, and she gets to order copies at a lower rate. This means she’s free to sell her them and keep the profits herself. Everyone wins.  

Your author friends may be interested in offering their books in limited quantities as additional rewards for your campaign, especially if you already start out by talking about how to return the favor at some point in the future. Artist Nathan Lueth, who did three of the illustrations for Fairy Tales Punk’d, approached me during his last campaign and asked if I would be willing to provide a few sample chapters as a reward for his backers. This time around, he’s giving me comic pages for the same kind of thing. 

I was also lucky enough to have people in my author network who are adept at sound recording and editing. This meant that we were able to offer an audio book option as a reward during my last campaign. Once again, this is a person who is hungry to get themselves into the game and willing to help out the campaign with their expertise in order to add to their portfolio. Plus, an audio book is an AWESOME reward to offer because as a digital reward, there is no additional shipping. He approached me and offered to do the work when we were talking about the campaign. 

But please, PLEASE do not approach someone you don’t know and ask them to work for free. The ideal situation is to pay everyone for their time and effort, and you should assume that is going to be the case unless you come to some special agreement. In all cases for me, the other person offered to do the work for a lower fee or for free because they thought the project was cool and/or they would gain experience. So don’t be shy about telling people what you are planning to do. They might surprise you with their offers of aid. Just make sure you are also on the lookout to help out other people when you can.

The rewards you want to offer will also be a big factor in setting your budget. Rewards come with their own costs, plus you’ll need to ship them out if they aren’t digital. So in my next post, we’ll be taking a look at how to decide the worth of your reward tiers based on your budgeting needs and the psychology of crowdfunding.

Missed an earlier post in the series? Go to Part 1, Part 2 or Part 3.

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