Authors: Turn to Kickstarter to Launch Your Book

kickstarterIn Renaissance times and during other eras it was common for artists, sculptors and other creative people to recruit patrons and sponsors to fund their works so they could create masterpieces without worrying about such trivial matters as making a living.

Today it also is important for creative people, such as writers, to recruit sponsors and patrons – not to help make a living but to promote their latest book in need of a boost to climb up the best-selling lists.

To take the greatest advantage of the technology of the 21st Century a tool some authors are turning to is Kickstarter (www.kickstarter.com). Kickstarter is a virtual place where authors, musicians, app developers, inventors and others go to recruit people to support their creative project.

Based in New York City’s Lower East Side, Kickstarter is a for-profit company that exists to support creative projects (for a 5% fee against the funds collected) because they believe creative projects make for a better world. Since starting in 2009, five million people have pledged $826 million to fund 50,000 creative projects.

Project creators joining Kickstarter set a funding goal and deadline and if people like your project, they donate money to support it.  An author can use the money for publishing or distribution costs, to upgrade a better distributor, or to pay for the costs of the book promoter hired to give your book the push it needs.

One great thing an author can do is to give a free digital copy of his/her book to anyone making a contribution. This is a great way to promote your book by getting it into the hands of committed readers interested in your writings.

Kickstarter has an all-or-nothing policy that states you must reach your goal before receiving any money. But don’t let that be a concern because even if you don’t receive a penny you have the opportunity of placing your book into the hands of a few dozen or few hundred more readers and that’s a good thing.

While many authors have benefited from Kickstarter, a lot of the campaigns flat out failed, especially when the creative person tried to run their own campaign without first researching what works or without professional assistance.

As a book publicist I have been involved on both sides of a Kickstarter campaign and have seen firsthand how authors have used the platform to attain the funds needed to publish and promote a book. In one case one of my author clients funded a campaign to launch his book into outer space on a balloon. I kid you not! I have not had a single author share with me that the efforts put into Kickstarter were not worth their time. In fact, all of them gained from enrolling in Kickstarter in some form or another.

Author Andrew Peterson of Nashville, TN, used Kickstarter to recruit almost 1,300 supporters who pledged some $72,000 to support his book The Warden and the Wolf King, the fourth and final volume of the award winning Wingfeather Saga. The minimum bid for each supporter was $1.

When Peterson filed his project with Kickstarter his goal was to raise $14,000 to issue his latest book as a high-quality paperback and to deliver an early pre-release digital copy in time for Christmas sales. The author also promised supporters if he exceeded the goal of $14,000 he would add more illustrations to the book, if he exceeded $25,000 the book would be published in hardback, and if he exceeded $35,000 an audiobook version would be made available. All goals were met and exceeded.

In a video presentation Peterson explained where he was at in writing his book and what his hopes were before introducing the illustrator who would be used if $14,000-plus were raised. Peterson told listeners he always wanted to publish hardback but could not afford to and added that he would personally narrate an audio-version.

Author Harry Connolly of Seattle recruited almost 760 sponsors who have pledged more than $35,000 in the campaign for his book The Great Way, an epic fantasy trilogy about a supernatural invasion which  destroys an empire.

Connolly offered free sample chapters from the beginning of his book to anyone who makes a pledge and then offers a free copy of his trilogy to anyone pledging $30 or more if the 850 backer level is reached. He also promises free cover art for all three books to anyone pledging $12 or more if the 925 baker level is reached. And if the 1,000 backers or more level is reached anyone pledging $12 or more will receive an e-book copy, an upcoming short story collection Connolly will be releasing.

Supporters are told that the money raised in the campaign will be used to pay for the cover art, book illustrations, copy editing and typesetting costs, etc. “That will make the difference between a book created by a guy whose only real skill is telling stories and a book that has clearly been prepared by a team of professionals,” explains Connolly.

In his video on Kickstarter, Connolly tells readers that the first draft of the entire trilogy is written and that after he does a revision he will turn his writings over to an editor and designer. He explains his goal is to connect to a larger audience with The Great Way. He presents a plot summary of each book in the trilogy, explains that the trilogy started as a homeschool project with his son, what readers his book is intended for, and shares his writing standards. After explaining what the money raised will be used for, Connolly then explains what the reward levels are for different pledges.

“The real challenge here is the timing because 350,000 words is a lot to revise and it’s not something that can be rushed,” says Connolly. “I’ve selected a generous delivery date with the expectation that I will deliver early, but this work takes time.”

Liza F. Carter of Concord, MA, author of a photo book on Mongolia entitled Moving with the
Seasons: Portrait of a Mongolian Family
, (www.MovingwiththeSeasons.com ) relied on both creativity and practicality in conducting a successful campaign on Kickstarter.

Because you can only collect money if you reach your goal, Carter began with a modest goal of $7,000 which she reached in just two days. She then added a “stretch goal” of $12,000 and raised $14,739 before adding a second stretch goal of $18,000, explaining that the extra funds raised would allow her to conduct a travelling photo exhibit.

Before posting her Kickstarter project, Carter studied the projects of others and learned from them. Every Kickstarter campaign that’s ever been done is still up on the website so there’s ample opportunity to learn from the good and the bad, from the mistakes and successes of others. In addition to the promotional video, her project page contained an informative map of Mongolia and stunning photographs of the people of Mongolia.

Part of that initial research involved viewing the promotional videos of others so she could create an effective, promotional video. Carter found that many were merely talking heads and were very boring because they were too long and lacked promotional elements. She designed her video to be only three minutes long and to include scenes from Mongolia rather than shots of herself.  Of the 2,237 people who clicked on her video, 17.2 per cent viewed it to the end.  Carter stressed that it is important to place your pitch in the first 10 seconds of the video to be successful.

Carter learned from Kickstarter that the average contribution is $20-$25 so one offer she made for pledges of $25 or more was a postcard from Mongolia with stamps from different parts of that country and 35 people accepted that offer. For larger pledges she offered 8×10 limited edition signed prints from her book as well as signed copies of her book.

Liza began her campaign by creating a Facebook page on the campaign with a link to Kickstarter, and then shared that page with friends. Facebook turned out to be an important part of her campaign as 37 percent of the money raised was from Facebook. Another 16 percent of the pledges were generated by Kickstarter from people she did not know, mainly because her project was a “staff pick” the entire time she was on Kickstarter.

“I sent a personal email right away thanking people for the donation,” says Carter. “It makes the people feel good and connected to the project. I am sure it helped maintain the momentum and spread to others who knew those people.” Some 15 percent of donors gave money without expecting anything in return and those donors she thanked personally on Facebook as well as by email.

Peterson, Connolly and Carter conducted successful Kickstarter campaigns because they:

  • Explained the reasons they were seeking the money
  • Came up with fun, unique and compelling offers to the funders for the cash they pledged
  • Understood the importance of a good video pitch
  • Promoted the program outside of Kickstarter with a solid public relations campaign

A very imaginative approach was taken by Celeste Headlee of Washington, D.C., who started a Kickstarter campaign to raise $92,000 to launch a National Public Radio show called Middle Ground. Celeste said that she turned to Kickstarter for support in her efforts to “launch a brand new public radio show focused on the states in between California and the eastern seaboard, ignoring the coasts. We hope to tell the stories that are largely ignored by the major networks while they focus on New York City, DC and LA.”

For various pledge levels, Headlee offers a CD of the pilot programs, a Middle Ground t-shirt, an outgoing voice mail greeting recorded by Celeste, webinars on how to conduct interviews, producer credits on the show’s website, on air mentions, a basket of foods from middle America, dinner with Celeste, or a personal visit by Celeste to your school, business or organization for a pledge of $10,000 or more.

Authors besides Headlee who have used very creative approaches in their Kickstarter campaigns include Gary W. Allison of Clarkston, MI, author of Bone Cay: Crime Thriller Book Project, who promised anyone who pledges $500 or more that he would name a character in his book after the donor. What a great way to raise $500 without any monetary costs to the author!

Author David Bergantino of Los Angeles promised anyone who pledged $400 or more that he would name a character in his book after the donor plus place a photograph of the donor on the cover of his book Afraid to Love.

Seth Godin of New York City, author of The Icarus Deception: Why Make Art, offered to interview anyone who pledges $1,150 or more and write a paragraph about them in all editions of his book.

Other ideas to attract pledges are for authors to offer:

  • Digital copies of your entire works if you have written three or more books
  • Autographed, limited edition copies
  • Free editing and critique of a donor’s draft writing
  • A free review of a donor’s published book
  • Your illustrator to draw an image of the donor to place in your book
  • An in-person meeting with the author for a formal English tea
  • Mention of the donor’s business with a testimonial given by a character in the book
  • A gourmet meal prepared by the author of a cookbook at the donor’s home
  • A free hot air balloon ride for two with this article’s author, Scott Lorenz to any Michigan resident donating $1,500 or more one to one of his clients

This is meant as a sampling of creative ideas authors can use to entice pledges from supporters. When one of my clients agrees to a Kickstarter campaign we will look at what offers should be made for a successful campaign, what pitches should be used, how to come up with an appealing video, and how to promote the campaign outside of Kickstarter.

Bottom Line: If you are an author who wants to be on the edge of the latest promotional tools then check out how Kickstarter can launch your book and its promotion.

Book publicist Scott Lorenz is President of Westwind Communications, a public relations and marketing firm that has a special knack for working with authors to help them get all the publicity they deserve and more. Lorenz works with bestselling authors and self-published authors promoting all types of books, whether it’s their first book or their 15th book. He’s handled publicity for books by CEOs, CIA Officers, Navy SEALS, Homemakers, Fitness Gurus, Doctors, Lawyers and Adventurers. His clients have been featured by Good Morning America, FOX & Friends, CNN, ABC News, New York Times, Nightline, TIME, PBS, LA Times, USA Today, Washington Post, Woman’s World, & Howard Stern to name a few. Learn more about Westwind Communications’ book marketing approach at http://www.book-marketing-expert.com  or contact Lorenz at scottlorenz@westwindcos.com or by phone at 734-667-2090. Follow Lorenz on Twitter @aBookPublicist Check his blog at: http://www.The-Book-Publicist.com