The Internet is changing the rules of publishing. Gone are the days of submitting manuscripts to agents and publishers via mail, then waiting for months on end in dwindling hopes that someone would give your work just enough time and attention to see how brilliant it actually is. Now you can get on the Internet and have your pick of preferred publishers: Amazon KDP, Barnes and Noble Press, PublishDrive, and Rakuten Kobo, just to name a few. Oh, and you can also publish your book on Kickstarter. But it’s a little bit different from the rest.
Well… maybe it’s a lot different.
Publishing your book on Kickstarter is no walk in the park. You need to know a few things before even considering going that route. Now, I can tell you those things, but that’s part of our Kickstarter project, so you’ll need to back us to get…
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But first, how does Kickstarter work?
Kickstarter is a crowdfunding website where people can submit proposals for things we’d like funding for, like products, startup companies, or books. Other people come in, and if they’re interested, they can pledge money to your cause. It’s a great way to fund projects that you otherwise wouldn’t have the resources to get off the ground.
Now, we’ll need to talk about how you start. You first need to submit a project proposal to the site. You’ll need to answer a few questions, like what kind of project you’re planning to launch and where you’re located. The second one is kind of important because, as of the time of writing, Kickstarter only accepts project proposals from the following countries: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Singapore, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States. They are expanding, so don’t lose hope if you don’t live in one of these places. The site also has eligibility requirements that you need to pass.
Once that’s out of the way, you can submit your project, and Kickstarter will review it prior to approval. They may also send you suggested changes and improvements before letting you move forward if they think your project could use a bit more touch-up.
Once you are approved, you can put up a project page. You can get it all nice and pretty, and then you can set a launch date. Try to get the word out as much as possible, and once your page is up, potential backers can come in and pledge money to your project. It’s a very straightforward process, which I think is one of the reasons why the website is so successful.
Next question: is Kickstarter even a good option for authors?
It depends. Crowdfunding is great, but you have to understand that you still have to keep the ball rolling. You’ll still be a self-published author and you’ll still need to do the legwork, especially if you offer your book in print. Kickstarter just gives you a chance to get your vision funded.
That being said, the biggest Kickstarter project right now was headed by an author.
The most successful Kickstarter project ever is for (four) books
It all started on March 2, 2022. There I was, minding my own business when a YouTube notification popped up on my phone.
“It’s Time to Come Clean,” the title said. It was from Brandon Sanderson’s channel. The guy’s known for writing a lot of books in a short span of time (he released seven books between 2020 and 2021.)
“He’s finally going to admit he’s a robot,” I said to myself as I clicked on the video.
I have been lying to you, Brandon started the video without preamble, and it’s time for me to admit the truth. Then he proceeded to tell everyone that he wrote four extra novels — on top of his packed release schedule — during the lockdown. And he would make all the books available on Kickstarter over the course of 2023.
The first thing that came to my mind after watching the video was that I was right: that was a 16-minute-long admission of him being a robot. I mean, four extra full-length novels over the course of two years, all while he was releasing several entries to his multiple book series? That is just insane. (Second thing that I thought of was that the world was unfair for Martin and Rothfuss fans.)
Anyway, the initial goal for this campaign was $1,000,000 and the funding period went from March to April 1. That was a pretty modest goal, and I was sure that my fellow fans would manage to reach it within a month. He previously launched a Kickstarter for a leather-bound edition of one of his books and it did pretty well ($6.7 million on a $250,000 goal.)
The lowest pledge tier for this new campaign was $40. I paid for that tier, promised myself that I wouldn’t even look at my credit card for the next two weeks, and forgot all about it.
Three days later, Brandon’s Kickstarter project was making headlines. It took 35 minutes to reach the $1 million goal, and it was sitting at a little over $21 million 72 hours later. The previous record for the highest-funded Kickstarter project was $20.3 million for the Pebble smartwatch. Brandon’s project already broke through that, and it still had twenty-seven more days to go.
Not only that, the entire project’s success was itself an anomaly. If you check Kickstarter’s most successful campaigns, you’ll see that most of them are for tech gadgets, tabletop games, and animation projects. There are only two campaigns that had something to do with publishing within the top 25 — and they’re both from Brandon Sanderson.
Is Kickstarter the way for you?
So, what does this story tell us, aside from the fact that I’m a huge Sanderson fan?
Well, this shows us that publishing projects on Kickstarter can succeed under the right circumstances. Authors with established fan bases have a good chance of getting funded. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t bother with it if you’re a new writer. Our website has a few guides on how to help you with marketing and publicity.
Now if you’re still interested in publishing your book on Kickstarter, here are the advantages and disadvantages that you need to know.
Pros of publishing your book on Kickstarter
Putting up campaigns is free
Kickstarter has no entry or subscription fees. Anyone can submit project proposals and set their own goals. You only get charged once your project is funded. The bill comes to 5% of the total funded amount, as well as an additional 3-5% processing fee for users from the United States.
Access to an active audience pool
As of February 2023, the website boasts 21.7 million backers and more than half a million funded projects. There are a lot of people looking through the proposals here, and having an eye-catching campaign might get you a lot of traction.
You keep the rights to everything
Kickstarter doesn’t keep any more slice of the pie. Their cut ends at the 8-10% fee they take once your project is funded. You can still publish your work through other means, if you want. Just be mindful of keeping promises to your backers. You’re gonna get a lot of hate mail if you tell them that your book will be exclusively launched on the site and then offer it on Amazon at the same time.
Cons of publishing your book on Kickstarter
It’s all or nothing
Let’s say you put up a campaign to publish your book with a funding goal of $1 million for 30 days. Once the month ends, you only have $750,000 in pledges. The good news is, people are interested. Hurray! The bad news is you keep nothing. Kickstarter only process campaigns that reach their target funding. Any less than your funding goal, even by just $1, and you’ll have to start all over. The site will then refund the money to the backers at no cost to you or anyone.
It takes a lot of work
Setting up a Kickstarter campaign for your book is not a one-man job. I mean, you could do it alone, but you have my sincere assurances that you will be frazzled by the end of it. You’ll need to take care of things like outside marketing and PR, monitoring competing campaigns, and fulfilling backer products and rewards. Having a team behind you will be a great help, but if you’re on your own then you should take a good long while to think about the implications of doing this solo.
There are other expenses
I’ve mentioned earlier that Kickstarter takes 8-10% of the funded amount, and that’s it. The website doesn’t have any hidden fees or anything. But you need to consider the costs of delivering your promises to your backers and if your funding goal is enough to cover everything. There’s this story of a guy who lost his house trying to fulfill his SUCCESSFUL Kickstarter campaign. It’s a series of unfortunate events and miscalculations; may it serve as a warning to those who follow.
I highly suggest that you take careful consideration of these things. It’s a short list, but fumbling one factor can have devastating effects on your campaign.
But say you read it and you’re still interested. Now you need to know what to do in order to succeed on the website, and it all starts with this:
Your Kickstarter Project page
The project page is where you’ll showcase your proposed product (in this case, your book) and all other information that someone could possibly want to know about your project. Think of this as your Amazon listing. You need to optimize it if you want potential backers to notice you.
Title (and Subtitle)
Just like with anything else, the title is prime real estate when it comes to attracting your audience. Your project title is not the same as your book title, though, but it’s advisable that you put it up there. You also need to come up with an attractive subtitle that briefly describes what your project is all about. You can have up to 60 characters for titles and 135 for subtitles. I suggest you maximize them, but you can also use it to tease your audience. (Note: I wouldn’t recommend trying the latter if you’re still trying to establish an audience.)
Examples of titles and subtitles are:
ATOMIKA: GOD IS RED OMNIBUS by Sal Abbinanti and Andrew Dabb – The complete series plus rare pinups by Bradstreet, Colan, Cooke, Fabry, Romita Sr., Ross, Sienkiewicz, Turner, and more!
Sludge: People-Powered Journalism to Follow the Oil Money – A 100% reader-funded investigative journalism project exposing fossil fuel lobbying and efforts to kill the Green New Deal.
Surprise! Four Secret Novels by Brandon Sanderson – A Year of Sanderson: Enjoy books and swag boxes throughout 2023!
Media (covers, images, videos)
Kickstarter has what it calls a “project image,” which will be displayed right on top of your project or campaign page, right beside your title. No pressure, but this is the photo that will define your campaign. You need it to make a good first impression, communicate what your project is about, pique the potential backer’s interest, and set your project apart. Kickstarter has a guide for making your project image stand out.
You’re also not limited to just images. You can upload GIFS and videos as long as they’re related to your project. It’s also common to have an author introduction video, so get on that. Arrange them in the most appealing way you can while following the theme of your book project. Or make it the exact opposite of your book. Imagine a horror book with a colorful Kickstarter project page. Now that’s something that would turn heads.
Describing our books is something we writers should excel at. Otherwise, how will we convince other people to spend their precious time reading our work?
Going about this on Kickstarter is a little bit different. It’s more about telling a story than selling a product. Authors and project leaders tend to let their personalities shine through their campaign pages. The most successful Kickstarters out there have this down to a T, and I suggest you take a look at them and see what works for you.
Kickstarter allows up to 60 days of campaign period for projects. Most projects, however, go for about 30 days or less. This makes sense when you consider that longer campaigns tend to experience sharp drops in interest and pledges as time goes on. The biggest Kickstarter project right now got $20 million in the first three days and ended up with $40 million when the month was over. Momentum is key here, so make sure you figure out the sweet spot for your campaign.
Choosing to shorten your campaign periods also has the added benefit of creating a sense of urgency and exclusivity for potential backers. Say you launch your book on Kickstarter, collecting pledges for 30 days, and you tell readers that this is a one-time thing and you won’t sell any more copies afterward. If your book is good and previous PR and marketing have done its job, you are potentially looking at a runaway success of a campaign. But this example is only to make a point. Most people put up a period between launching a book on Kickstarter and selling it everywhere else, maybe a year or two, so that they aren’t limiting themselves in terms of sales.
Remember earlier that I mentioned the guy who lost money trying to fulfill his successful Kickstarter campaign. He got about $70,000 in funding, but his total expenses ballooned up to $120,000. You don’t want to end up like him, do you? Good, because I wouldn’t want that either. Figuring out your funding goal is that important. Setting it too low can result in a financial nightmare in the vein of the previous story. Setting it too high risks not getting funded. You need the find a comfortable middle ground here.
Rewards for Backers
Incentivizing your potential supporters is becoming a common trend for websites like Patreon and other content platforms. Kickstarter has these in the form of tier rewards.
This works by indicating an amount to pledge and matching it with a corresponding reward to convince people to give you their money. For example, you can set up a tier reward system like this:
- Pledge $10 or more and get the book’s hardcover and ebook editions
- Pledge $40 or more and get a signed hardcover and an ebook
- Pledge $60 or more and get a signed hardcover, ebook, and a limited-edition poster of the cover
- Pledge $100 or more and get a signed hardcover, ebook, limited-edition poster, and a personal high-five (depending on your location)
Seems easy enough, right? That’s because it is, and that’s the beauty of it. Pledges are not limited to the levels you set, as well. Aside from tier rewards, backers can also opt to pledge any amount without rewards. This makes sure that everyone interested in supporting your project will have a chance to do so, regardless of their current financial capability.
Kickstarter is just another way authors can get published. It has its advantages, but you need to be prudent in making your choices. Consider your resources and options before diving into crowdfunding.