What Is Crowdfunding?

Most people think money when they see the word crowdfunding, and that makes sense—funding is the second half of the portmanteau. But crowdfunding is much more valuable than just the funds raised.

First, crowdfunding centralizes and organizes your fan base. This is the crowd part of crowdfunding. Unlike when selling your book through brick-and-mortar or online bookstores, where buyer information is hidden from the author, you get all the contact information of everyone who preorders your book on your crowdfunding page.

If you have read even one marketing book, you know the power of having an email list of people that have bought in—in this case, literally—to your product. Instead of hoping your Facebook post appears in your reader’s feed, or paying to advertise in a periodical that may or may not be of interest to your reader, you can email your fans directly, and for free, to let them know about events and offers. You won’t have to hope that the people who care most about your messages will receive them—you will know.

This is important because later when your book is actually published, sales are driven by rankings, and rankings are driven by algorithms. And algorithms are driven by volume and speed of reader activity. With your fans’ contact information, you can ask them to synchronize their watches to your book’s official publication date, and to go online all together to rate and review your book (and buy additional copies as gifts for family and friends). This kind of “clumped” activity is what has the potential to boost your book’s rankings in the algorithm and create visibility for potentially greater sales numbers.

Second, crowdfunding is book marketing boot camp and publication day training. Unless you are a natural-born hustler (and most authors are not), selling your book is hard. The only thing that makes it easier is practice, and crowdfunding is great practice. If you can sell your book before it exists, you can sell it once it does.

More literally, however, crowdfunding:

  • facilitates raising money for your book,
  • through a custom webpage,
  • where you can pre-sell your book for a set amount of time and a target dollar amount,
  • through a pitch video, words, and images.

Let’s look at each aspect more closely.

Facilitates raising money: Whether you are an established author looking to subsidize your next book tour or a debut self-published author readying to pay your first freelance editor, you don’t have to dip into savings now and hope book sales will recoup your costs later. Through crowdfunding, you have the money in advance. Crowdfunding works as an online shopping cart that allows visitors to pay you via credit card now and receive your book when it comes out later.

Through a custom webpage: Crowdfunding platforms, like Kickstarter and Indiegogo, host online templates that allow you to customize the content (and to a limited extent, the look and layout) of a dedicated webpage to sell your book. You don’t need to know any code to make one. If you can post to Facebook or publish a blog on WordPress, you have enough technical savvy to set up your campaign. If you are “computer illiterate,” though, you will need help with this.

For a set amount of time: Unlike other online stores, crowdfunding campaigns don’t offer visitors the option to buy something indefinitely. Campaigns run until a predetermined deadline, set by you. Most data suggests that a campaign of about four weeks, within a single calendar month, during the spring or fall, has the greatest chance of success.

For a target dollar amount: Also unlike other online stores, crowdfunding campaigns prominently feature a meter that shows visitors how much money you have raised, and how close you are to the fundraising goal you have set. This means that visitors to your campaign are not asking themselves “Is this a book I’d enjoy at a price that’s acceptable?” but “Is this book a winner?” Managing this meter so that it sways visitors in your favor, rather than against you, is your number-one task.

Through a pitch video, words, and image:. For many authors, this is where the crowdfunding process breaks down. Your book does not sell itself, and words alone are not enough to reach your prospective readers. You will need a draft book cover and other compelling visuals, and you almost certainly will need help creating them.

What Crowdfunding is Not?

Crowdfunding is not easy money. The vast majority (over 90 percent) of successfully crowdfunded authors raise up to $20,000. Compared with the multimillion-dollar campaigns that periodically make news, this doesn’t sound overly ambitious. And it’s not—if you’re willing to work as hard on your campaign as you did on your manuscript.

Crowdfunding is not fast money. Successful crowdfunding campaigns require three to six months or more of preparation. On average, preparation takes 100–200 work hours, the campaign takes 40–80 work hours, and fulfillment after the campaign is another 20–40. That’s up to an average of 10 hours a week for around eight months. In theory, you could launch a crowdfunding campaign tomorrow. But to run a successful campaign, you need time.

Crowdfunding is not free money. Crowdfunding does not sell concepts. It sells products. Crowdfunding will work for you when you have a book ready to sell. If you have an idea for a novel, that is not enough to get people to enter their credit card information on the internet for you. If they put down their money, they will expect a book in return—and they will want to know exactly what to expect in the mail, and when.

What Makes Crowdfunding Uniquely Difficult For Writers?

Writers fail at crowdfunding more frequently than other creatives. The statistics vary somewhat over time, but whereas around 38 percent of campaigns succeed, only about 29 percent of publishing projects fund. Crowdfunding may be more difficult for authors than for other artists because it requires four skills that most writers do not regularly practice. Your crowdfunding campaign is a great opportunity for acquiring and improving the following skills.

Brevity. You may think it’s impossible to respectfully boil your book down to a tweet. But if you can’t sell your book in 140 characters or less, you can’t sell it. Successful crowdfunding relies on the use of hooks—in your video, your tagline, your description, your emails, and your social media promotion. Hooks get recycled on your webpage, your book’s cover copy, and everywhere else prospective readers go to discover your book. Coming up with a good tweet that sells your book is hard work, and it takes time. You can expect to rewrite your hook scores of times before you settle on the one you use for your campaign.

Some authors find this process distasteful, but that is counterproductive. If you want readers to actually find your book in the information-age fog, you need a bright light. The shorter and better your hook is, the clearer the path from your readers to your book. An ethical hook is not a trick to dupe people who will hate your book into buying it. A good hook is a beacon that helps your fans find your book amidst the chaos.

Visual design. There are exceptions, but the greater a person’s facility with words, the poorer their skills at graphic design—and the bigger their blind spot to how amateur their attempts at creating visuals are.  Your writing does not sell your book. Your cover sells your book. Packaging counts. If your crowdfunding campaign has a boring pitch video followed by screens and screens of text, it will not raise the money you want for your book. Which brings us to the next skill writers should practice:

Collaboration. Often, writing is a solitary exercise. But producing and selling a book is a team enterprise. If there is one area where it behooves an author to spend money up front, it is to get a professional cover design. This gives you a key visual, as well as color palette, font(s), and visual tone that become your brand. Your designer is a team member you will want a good relationship with early on. This is excellent practice for people like your editor, publicist, videographer, photographer, and others with whom you will be working to sell your book.

Self-promotion. Writers typically fall on the more introverted end of the spectrum. This makes selling hard. But it’s not fair to expect prospective readers to be more enthusiastic about your book than you are, or to somehow clairvoyantly intuit that it is for sale. Sometimes you have to fake it till you make it. The success of your campaign and the marketing of your book in general hinge on your willingness to embrace the role of your book’s number-one cheerleader.

Crowdfund with Plans, Not Dreams

The challenges are real—but they are not insurmountable. Over thirty thousand authors have collectively raised over $100 million for their books. Some can attribute this to luck, but most can attribute this to a combination of the following factors: they have prepared a solid communication plan before launch, paid for professional book cover design, and embraced their role as chief marketing officer of their book. They have organized and expanded their base of reader email addresses, social media contacts, and in-person meetings and events. Most importantly, they’ve taken the time to do it right and gotten the support to be consistent when the going gets tough. Adopt these practices, and crowdfunding can work for your book.

Special thanks to Jane Friedman for this fantastic excerpt from her Blog.  Jane Friedman has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in business strategy for authors and publishers. She’s the co-founder of The Hot Sheet, the essential industry newsletter for authors, and has previously worked for F+W Media and the Virginia Quarterly Review.