While self-publishing is an increasingly popular (and effective) way for authors to get their books out into the world, it can be a difficult process. Indie authors in particular face two unique challenges:
● Bankrolling the book’s production, and
● Selling copies without the backing of a marketing and sales department.
These points are intrinsically tied to each other. Without a guarantee of how many copies they can expect to sell, the idea of putting money upfront into editing, designing, and promoting a book can seem incredibly daunting.
Thankfully, many authors have found a solution to both problems in the form of crowdfunding. In this post, we’ll offer six tips, hacks, and strategies that can help authors launch a crowdfunding campaign that will secure funding and kickstart (zing!) their sales.
1. Choose the right crowdfunding platform
When most people think about crowdfunding, two names likely come to mind: Kickstarter and IndieGoGo — both of which are popular with indie authors.
The thing to remember about Kickstarter is that unless you hit your funding goal by the campaign deadline, you will not receive any of the money pledged. Luckily, this isn’t an issue with IndieGoGo. You can also continue to use IndieGoGo after your campaign deadline to take pre-orders of your book, which is a great bonus tool.
Then there are crowdfunded publishers to consider. Unbound is a great example: you can pitch your book to their team, and if it’s accepted, you can start raising funds on their site. Unbound has had a number of award-winning titles pass through their door (most notably The Good Immigrant) so having their imprimatur on your campaign should lend it some legitimacy. On top of that, they have a crack editorial and design team.
The downside to reputable crowdfunded publishers is that they are rather picky – so in most cases, you’ll be looking at taking the Kickstarter/IndieGoGo approach, which is just fine for a beginner! Here are a couple more tips for launching a successful campaign.
2. Aim for the RIGHT amount
Ask for too much money, and you’ll struggle to hit your goal. But go too low, and you risk running out of money and failing to deliver on your book — which can irreparably damage your reputation with donors.
So figure out your exact production budget — this will mostly be taken up by editorial and design costs. How much you’ll need to allocate for each service will depend on a number of factors, including word count, genre, and whether you intend to go digital-only with your distribution.
If you’re still struggling to pick a number, remember that you can always exceed your goal with a crowdfunding campaign, so err on the side of a lower number where possible.
3. Invest in a book cover first
Here are two cliches that are ostensibly true, and one that is complete rubbish:
● You have to speculate to accumulate.
● First impressions last.
● Don’t judge a book by its cover.
Readers, in fact, judge books by their covers all the time. And when you’re launching your campaign, a prospective cover design will be the focal point of your brand: folks will struggle to remember a title, but will instantly recognise and recall a cover.
Your campaign page, your campaign video, and any email you send out should display your book cover front and centre — imprinting itself in your audience’s minds, which will lead to that moment when they finally pony up and pledge to your campaign.
Many authors choose to tinker with Photoshop and create their own concept cover, but if ever there was something to splurge on, it would be a professionally designed cover. It doesn’t have to cost more than a couple hundred pounds (or dollars or crowns), and once you have it, that design will more than earn its keep.
4. Get early donations from people you know
Most successful crowdfunding campaigns rely on donations from friends and family. Make a list of people who will support your cause and split them up into two groups: those you can convince to pre-order a copy of your book (and pledge £10-£20) and those who will likely pledge more (think £100-200).
For the second group, consider organising a pre-launch party. It could be at your home, an event venue, or even a pub. Perhaps centre the event around a cover-reveal and let people know what perks they would receive for being a premium-level donor. For example, if you’re writing a novel, you might name a character after them! If you’re writing non-fiction, you can mention them in the acknowledgments (at the very least).
Other ideas for upper-level pledges include:
● A pre-release copy of your book
● Tote bags, badges, and other merchandise
● Allowing donors to choose story locations or write lines of dialogue
● Invitations to a VIP launch party when your book is officially published
Just don’t go overboard — make sure your rewards seem valuable while remaining low-cost.
5. Don’t fully launch before reaching 40% of your goal
This is something that crowdfunding consultant Bethany Carlson describes as The Bandwagon Effect: people are much more likely to join your cause if they believe it will succeed. It’s irrational, but it’s also been proven true: this is why many people vote for the political party they think will win.
The key ingredient in Carlson’s crowdfunding “special sauce” is the need to secure at least 40% of your target amount before you launch to the public. This puts a lot of pressure on your soft-launch period, but that hard work will pay off in your campaign’s home stretch.
6. Video, video, video
In most cases, people will pledge to support you, not your book. One of your greatest keys to crowdfunding success lies in your call-to-action video — which is why they’re all but mandatory. It gives you a chance to speak directly to readers and pledgers and sell them: not only on the contents of the book itself, but on the value of supporting you as an emerging talent.
So put on a clean jumper, find a quiet area, pick an interesting backdrop, and shoot a video that will get your audience excited: about you, your book, and the rewards in their future if they support your campaign.
Finally, remember that these six tips are just the start. If you’re really committed to making your campaign work, you should use all the tools at your disposal. Build a mailing list, partner with other authors, and teach yourself about Facebook advertising — anything to publicise yourself to as wide an audience as possible.
Martin Cavannagh is a writer for Reedsy, the world's largest marketplace of professional editors, book designers and ghostwriters. He also curates a series of online courses (including one on crowdfunding for authors).