2017 was the year I finally figured out how to get my first book written. For someone that has never written a book, and no expectations of making anything on it, I really needed help in kicking my ass to see it through. For me, I needed accountability. I needed to feel like I HAD to write this book so that I could stick through the daily grind of writing everyday even though that was not my full time job. Book crowdfunding was my answer.
In January of 2017, I launched a pre-sale campaign of my book MIRRORS on a platform called Publishizer. My goals with a pre-sale campaign were primarily focused on selling enough copies to build a level of accountability for myself. If I had a few hundred folks buying something I hadn’t even created yet, I felt that would put me over the top in sticking with it. In addition, my secondary goal was to hopefully attract an actual publisher to potentially help with all of the intricacies of book publishing and to increase sales and distribution. I ended up selling 253 copies of my book before I had even put word to paper which was a huge win for me. It ended up being one of the most funded fiction books on the platform at the time. I was thrilled. I had more people interested in my book than I could possibly imagine, and a handful of publishers who expressed interest.
I learned a tremendous amount during this process, and if you are an author or aspiring author interested in potentially using book crowdfunding as an avenue for your book, I’ve compiled the following list of strategies that were instrumental in my success. Keep in mind that mine was a fiction book, so that is a little different in terms of execution vs. non-fiction books. While most if not all of the strategies below pertain to both, fiction books are a much tougher sell as you don’t have the luxury of appealing to business organization, conferences, etc.
- Your book needs to done or close to being done. You’re probably asking yourself…But Jason, you said above that you launched a pre-sale campaign before you even put words to paper. Yep, and I learned the hard way that this was a big miss…primarily around attracting publishers. Now, for me, my #1 reason for book crowdfunding was the accountability factor, so to a certain extent, this scenario worked for me. But if attracting a publisher ranks higher for you, having your book done is critical. Even if you pre-sell hundreds of copies, publishers will only have mild interest in your pitch. They won’t seriously enter discussions with you until your first draft is done. For me that meant having to reach back out to these publishers 6 months after the pre-sale campaign which ultimately effected my ability to work with a publisher.
- You need a kick ass campaign page. There are a couple different options for book crowdfunding. As I mentioned above, I ultimately went with Publishizer, but there are other options such as Unbound, Inkshares, and more traditional crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo. While the latter may drive more traffic to your campaigns, I highly recommend going with a platform that specializes in books as they will have tools, services and features that are more aligned with the needs of authors. Once you select which platform you will use, you need to have some elements that make a great campaign page. This will include a number of the following items:
- A nicely designed book cover
- A video for your book (often referred to as a book trailer, check out mine)
- A synopsis of your book as well as an outline and a sample chapter or two
- Who you are, and what your plans are for marketing/distributing the book
- Unique giveaways/book packages (see below)
- Buy a custom domain name for your book to use to point to your campaign page (which can eventually be used for your future book website landing page or Amazon.com page)
- You need to have unique giveaways/offerings for your book packages. Here’s the reality when it comes to book crowdfunding…you won’t hit your numbers on onesies and twosies book orders. You’re going to need a couple heavy hitters come through for you. Pair those book packages with creative giveaways. Things that are unique to you. What else do you do for a living that you might be able to pair up with your books? For example, I created a package that included doing a free website for someone in exchange for buying 50 books. Another angle I used that resulted in another 30 books being sold in one shot was donating a portion of the proceeds to a local charity. Get creative and find some other things to offer. You’ll need it.
- You need to have an existing network of people. People that don’t already know you will factor very little in your overall book crowdfunding sales, especially when it comes to fiction. You need to compile every single person you’ve ever known on any level and be prepared to reach out to them about your book campaign. It can be difficult, but you’ll be surprised how many people will respond favorably. Many of those that ended up buying my book were people I never thought would.
- Social media may be easier, but email/messaging is king. Social media probably factored into less than 10% of my book sales. The majority were easily individual emails and/or Facebook messages directly to people, 1:1. It’s a time suck, but it is by far the #1 most effective method. You’ve got to take the time to connect with people directly and authentically. Added bonus for me was being able to re-connect with people I hadn’t communicated with in a long time.
- You’re going to have to feel a bit annoying. Another realization? Many people will initially tell you they are interested and will buy…but won’t. You’ve gotta ring that bell again. And sometimes again. It’s not fun, but what I realized was, people are just busy. You’ve got to catch them at the right time. And sometimes that means being a pest. If you want to hit those numbers, there’s no other way.
- You’re going to need help. I’m not going to lie. A big part of my book crowdfunding success was because I’m a professional marketer, so that clearly aligns to a lot of the things you need to do for something like this to be a success. But there were plenty of other areas that I personally needed help with to make this a reality.
- Design/Video – If you don’t have the creative chops or a lot of money up front to work with, consider a site like Fiverr. I use them all the time for little odd jobs here and there. You’d be surprised at how inexpensive it can be to get some things designed, or help on video work. Also use inexpensive photo sites like Shutterstock for photos to use for your book or video. Need inspiration for that book cover? Do a google search for images that relate to your book, and find ones from independent photographers. I found a photographer out of Norway who had an image I ultimately used for my book cover and paid him a more than reasonable amount to do so.
- Street team. Chances are you have a handful of people in your network that you are either close to and/or are avid readers. Engage these folks to be your street team. Offer them some freebies and perks to help get the word out, be advocates on your behalf.
- Some budget. When you run a book crowdfunding campaign, you usually have a limited amount of time to hit your numbers. Even though your manual and organic efforts are the most important element, you’re going to need some quick help when it comes to expanding your reach. Assuming you have some existing social channels in play to work with, you’ll want to throw a couple dollars at some paid social advertising to amplify your content. I would recommend Facebook Advertising if you have an author page to work with as it’s the most affordable and easily targeted method.
It was an incredible learning experience for me and ultimately it led to my book getting made and out into the world. While I ultimately didn’t land a publishing deal (which is very difficult to do for a first time fiction writer), based on my goals, that was OK. I’ve written and published a book and that’s a life bucket list item for me. Whether I write another book (and ultimately book crowdfund again) remains to be seen, but I hope my lessons above can help others avoid some of the pitfalls I made, and make things a bit easier in doing so for yourself.
Oh, and if you’re so inclined, I would be thrilled if you considered ordering my book MIRRORS! I still dream seeing it on the big screen so the more readers the better! Regardless, I hope this was helpful, and if you are an aspiring author and have any questions, feel free to reach out.