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Selling Books Before They Are Books

Iceland, Defrosted

A case study of crowd-funding by a new author. Includes descriptions of eating key lime pie whilst semi-dressed.

I never really thought about crowd-funding. It had taken me the best part of six years to write what would become Iceland, Defrosted, and now that the time was here, I had the naive idea that I would just send it to a publisher, and that would be it. The publisher would immediately board a train to my house, a suitcase in hand, containing an undisclosed amount of cash.

It almost never happens this way, I realise that now. Not just the train and suitcase fantasy, but the whole scenario of an unknown author with a niche book receiving a publishing contract and an advance. The publishing world was in disarray, and I had written the polar opposite to 50 Shades of Grey. There is no sex in my book. None. I do have a magnificent sleep at one point though, on the Snæfellsnes peninsular, to the sound of Arctic foxes yapping outside.

I digress. I needed an alternative. Self-publishing beckoned, but I didn't have the funds to self-publish to the high standards that I wanted. I had ploughed six years of my life into this book, as well as my heart and soul, and a few credit cards. Icelanders had bent over backwards to help. This couldn't be a rushed, half-hearted attempt, but demanded proper editing, design and everything a published book would have.

The solution was crowd-funding. I don't know how it came about, exactly. I had crowd-funded releases by a couple of music acts, and I had a decent following on social media. I toyed with various sites - even an Icelandic one - but Kickstarter sat best with me. It had the widest reach, and at the time, had just launched in the UK. It has reasonable fees, and the creator doesn't get a penny unless the funding total is met. This would be a true test for Iceland, Defrosted. Either it would gather enough interest and momentum of its own to raise the funding required, or it would be destined to remain on the shelf (or USB stick?) forever. I was essentially asking people to buy a book before it was published, so that it could be published.

I spent days preparing my project. This required lots of sitting around in my pyjamas, eating Key Lime Pie and writing/re-writing my page. I wanted to give the best possible description of Iceland, Defrosted, the best possible reasons to invest in it and me, and the best possible chance for it to succeed. I filmed a video involving a (toy) Puffin exploring Reykjavík to draw people in (Kickstarter recommend this- the video, not the Puffin). After much deliberation, and some more pie, I pressed the launch button.

Rewards. Rewards are what Kickstarter call the different levels that people can choose, and receive if and when the project reaches its funding target. I chose a paperback version, and ebook version, a combination of both and then money-can't-buy additions such as tickets to the launch party, signed photographs and backers' names in the book itself.

The work then really started. I had to work my Icelandic woollen socks off to promote my project. I drew up a plan, so that I knew what I would be doing on a daily basis, and so that one particular means of promotion, for example Facebook, wouldn't get overused. I emailed all my contacts. I pulled in favours, and owed new ones. I tweeted night and day, and Facebook'd on the other days. I told family and friends and asked them to tell their family and friends. I needed to go viral.

Sleep and normal life gave way to checking Kickstarter on a near hourly basis. Amazingly, the funds came flooding in. I met my original funding target within a remarkable, overwhelming six days. I didn't stop there. I kept on going. Iceland, Defrosted had proved its worth, and I had a duty to make sure it had the best start in life.

I tweaked the rewards. I stepped it up a gear. It was Christmas and New Year during my 30 days of funding, and I played on this. No tweets on Christmas Day though. I had some slices of luck - my Icelandic pals got me mentioned in the Icelandic press, my fortnightly column with Iceland Review online stretched to become my manifesto, and kind Icelanders tweeted their hearts out. Icelandic musicians such as Lay Low and Eliza Newman told their fans about me and even the mayor of Reykjavík, Jón Gnarr, gave me a shout out. By the end of my 30 days, an amazing 122 backers from all over the world (as far away from Iceland and the UK as you can get, such as Australia and Brazil) had backed Iceland, Defrosted. Not just 100% of funding but a staggering 179%. Iceland, Defrosted was going to be a book after all.

The rest is another story. I used the extra funding to hire an amazing editor (Lucy Ridout, who worked on Rough Guides) and the services of a bespoke, professional publishers (SilverWood). None of this would have been possible without the 122 kind souls who supported me on Kickstarter. I thanked them profusely, and then I had some more Key Lime Pie to celebrate.

Edward Hancox lives in the United Kingdom with his wife and a small, noisy child but spends as much time as he can in Iceland. Music – especially contemporary Icelandic music – is his other passion. He writes about both subjects for various magazines and websites, including Iceland Review, Atlantica, and the Reykjavík Grapevine, and on his blog, His first book, Iceland, Defrosted, was launched globally in July 2013 and is available in ebook and paperback formats. It is the story of one man's obsession with a small, half-frozen island in the North Atlantic.