Sign up to the newsletter

A Beginner's Guide to Crowdfunding

Crowdfunding appears to be a relative newcomer to the book world but it has gained significant momentum in a short space of time and has proven to be a successful, and lucrative, publishing option for established writers and debut authors alike. However, crowdfunding remains an alien concept to lots of people so I am here to offer a guide to what it is and how it works.

WHAT IS CROWDFUNDING?

Put simply, it is where an author, or publisher, raises the money upfront to publish a book.

The traditional model is that a publisher spends thousands of pounds to make a book and then hopes to sell enough copies to readers to make that money back. With crowdfunding you find the readers, and get their financial backing, before you incur all of those costs.

ISN'T THAT A BIT DODGY?

Not at all. It is actually a model with a fine pedigree. Samuel Johnson used it to fund the writing and production of his famous dictionary. Dickens also benefited from people pledging for his work before it appeared. More recently, the music world has turned to crowdfunding and many of us will have seen artists and bands we like turning to fans to get new albums off the ground. And, with the rise of Kickstarter, everything from movies to butter knives are getting crowdfunded these days. It may still seem a bit new and modern to us conservative book folk but it has been around for ages.  

HOW DOES IT WORK?

The are several variations on the theme but essentially crowdfunding a book goes like this:

1. You work out how much it will cost to produce your book. That becomes your budget and crowdfunding target.

2. You record a promotional video about your book.

3. This then forms part of a web page that also features a selection of rewards that supporters can pledge money for, usually starting with a copy of the book but which can include loads of exciting extras.

4. You get the message out there about your project by emailing friends and acquaintances, shouting on social media and getting your contacts to help spread the word.

5. If you get enough pledges and hit your target then you are able to produce your book.

6. The book gets made and sent to readers.

WHERE CAN I GO TO CROWDFUND MY BOOK?

The most famous site is Kickstarter, which has a very high profile and a wide range of projects on offer. Also well known is Indiegogo. Both platforms have a good track record of crowdfunding books and pretty much anyone can set up a project on their sites.

However, if you choose to crowdfund a book on a site like this it is totally down to you to get the book made and distributed to supporters. You need to have budgeted correctly and have the funds you need to cover editing, typesetting, cover design, printing and distribution, as well as the costs of delivering the various additional rewards. And you need to handle any queries from supporters while all of this is going on. It it perhaps best viewed as a form of self-publishing where the crowd helps you fund production. It can be hugely successful when it works well with authors making much more money than they would ever have done from a traditional publishing deal. But it is hard work.

Another option is to go with a publisher that uses crowdfunding as part of its business model. That way you don't have to do the bulk of the work yourself. I am associate editor at Unbound, the world's first crowdfunding publisher. We are like many publishers in that we have a submissions and acquisitions process and we only put books on the site that we love and think are worthy of publishing. However, unlike most other publishers, we then use the crowd to fund our books. Every project has a funding target and when that target is hit, the book gets made.

At this point we do all the work. We get the book edited, designed, printed and sent to supporters. We also produce an edition that goes to traditional bookshops, Amazon and the like. Our books have been longlisted for, shortlisted for and won many literary awards and have been international bestsellers. So we must be doing something right.

TELL ME MORE ABOUT THESE REWARDS YOU MENTIONED EARLIER

So, when you buy a book in a bookshop you pretty much just get a copy of the book. Sometimes you might get a signed edition but that's about the extent of what's available to you. Crowdfunded books usually enable readers to pledge for lots of interesting and exciting extras. This can be all manner of things such as dinner or a night down the pub with the author, tickets to the book launch, a writing workshop, personalised items, a cake baked by the author, having your name included as a character in the book – the list is potentially endless.

They are often a lot of fun but also offer the reader something they simply can't get unless they help to crowdfund.

And, usually, all supporters of a project get their name in the back of the book.

OK, YOU'VE TALKED IT UP SO FAR, WHAT ARE THE DOWNSIDES?

It is bloody hard work. You may think you've got lots of contacts and friends with spare cash but are you really ready to email each of them individually asking them to cough up in advance for your book? And if they don't respond first time round, do you have the determination to bother them a second, third or fourth time? 

Crowdfunding a book is like managing a major marketing campaign. It can be a full-time job for many weeks and months, and it can be pretty disheartening when it doesn't work. If you are three weeks in and have only raised 10% of your target, how would you cope?

It is also a model that can be hard to repeat. OK, so you have successfully rounded up enough money from your friends and social media to fund a book but how many of those people will dip back into their pockets for your next book, or the one after that?

Also, although it is not a hard and fast rule, non-fiction books tend to do better than novels. And debut novels are the hardest of all to get funded. I guess with a non-fiction title you are selling the book on the concept and/or subject. If you are interested in an obscure record label from the 1970s then you are fairly likely to support a book about it, but paying £20 for a novel when you have only seen a small sample on the website is much more of an ask.

OK, I THINK I GET IT AND I MIGHT BE UP FOR THIS. WHAT SHOULD I DO NEXT?

Do your research. Check out current projects on Kickstarter, Indiegogo and Unbound. See what sort of books are doing well, and not so well. Find out what extras are being offered and how many people are actually pledging for them. Explore the market and see if it really is for you and, if so, which platform is best suited to your book.

If you are convinced that Unbound is the place to go then, as an exclusive opportunity for readers of this blog, you can submit your book to me direct at scott@unbound.com. But be warned, if I don't think you've done your research and/or your book isn't suitable, I will definitely tell you.

Scott Pack is associate editor at Unbound, the world's first crowdfunding publisher, and editor-at-large for Eye & Lightning Books. He tweets as @meandmybigmouth.