Updated: 1/2/2021

Crowdfunding has been called the no money, no problem solution in self-publishing. Back in the day, aspiring authors would charge all their publishing expenses on credit cards or even withdraw money from their retirement accounts in order to make their dreams come true. Sadly, those authors watched their life savings depleted by expensive vanity publishers and unscrupulous con artists. However, a lot has changed as cheaper businesses sprouted up during the digital revolution. Just a few years ago, a book cover might have cost you thousands of dollars, but today, you can create one for a buck on Canva.  

Though self-publishing is becoming less expensive and a lot easier, it isn’t free. You still have to pay for a book cover, hire an editor, as well as pay for marketing. So how do you pay for all this when you’re broke? 

Well, since we indies (independent authors) are running a business, we can raise capital like a normal business. Yes, with the help of the internet, we can finance our businesses through crowdfunding campaigns and straight-up ask people to back our projects. There are several online sites that authors can use to fund their self-publishing projects such as; Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and Patreon just to name a few.

No, This Isn’t Begging

In a popular Ted Talk, performance artist Amanda Palmer encouraged artists to “ask without shame.” Amanda by the way held the previous record on Kickstarter for raising the most money for a music project with over one million dollars in donations. The money she raised not only went to fund the project but also allowed her and her band to give away their work free of charge. In an age where most artists discourage torrents and file sharing Amanda and her band actually encourage it. This is blatantly counterintuitive to most corporate business models in which freebies are used only as a short-term marketing ploy. However, Amanda’s strategy is more long-term, using digital music as a promotional tool, rather than a moneymaking venture. As the industry argues over .99¢ songs, Amanda and her band have successfully cut out the middle man and are setting up their next tour.

I can hear you already, that’s nice Rachel, but how are authors doing on Kickstarter?  I’m so glad you asked, in 2020, fantasy and sci-fi author Brandon Sanderson, successfully raised $5 million on Kickstarter for a publishing project. Although he had an established career and a large fan base, he was the first author to raise millions for a fiction book. And there are others within the industry crowdfunding their projects as well such as publishing companies and comic book writers. Heck, even Sesame Street did a campaign in the summer of 2019, for an enhanced digital book.  So if Big Bird can ask for donations, you can too!          

 

How Does This Work?

First, you decided how much you’ll need, and once you figure that out, you’ll need to decide which platform you’ll want to use. Kickstarter is the most established and popular site for artists. However, Indiegogo is also a good site to run a campaign. The big difference between the two is if you don’t raise the full amount for your crowdfunding campaign, Kickstarter will withhold the funds because it’s an all or nothing deal. On the other hand, Indiegogo will give you whatever amount you raised which makes it a little more enticing even if their site is a bit smaller. 

Patreon is another crowdfunding site that is subscription-based so people can donate to your project every month. This is good for those authors who have a blog or podcast that requires funding and don’t want to advertise, here, readers or listeners can support the project. Patreon is also good for those authors who have a book they’d like to share online as they write it. If you’d like to learn more about the various crowdfunding sites here are some links:

Here are a few basic tips on how to run a successful campaign:

  • Plan well in advance.  
  • Keep your fundraising goals small in the beginning.
  • Successful campaigns are funded by tiny increments, so set the pledges to smaller amounts like $1 or $5.
  • It’s not usual for authors to offer books but don’t forget to offer swag for smaller donations like signed bookmarks, stickers, or pens. You can create those things at places like; VistaPrint, Zazzle, and CafePress.      
  • Campaigns with videos explaining your project and enthusiasm seem to do better than those without them.
  • Have a compelling blurb explaining your project with a call to action.
  • Promote your project on social media because most projects are funded by family and friends but don’t forget to reach out to podcasts, vlogs, and the blogosphere. I talk about that in length here and here.
  • Fund other projects in popular niches like movies, gaming, or music to get visibility on the site as well as establish some good karma.
  • Promote your campaign to your mailing list and in your blog posts.
  • Do guest posts on popular blogs and include a link to your campaign in the byline.

Beware of Fees & Taxes 

What a lot of indie authors get wrong, is the amount of money they’ll need to cover all of their expenses. For example, most crowdfunding sites take a 2-9% cut of all money raised. However, the fees don’t end there, some banks and middlemen like in the case of Kickstarter (through Amazon Payment), take another 3-5% for credit card processing fees. 

Another thing to consider are the shipping costs because you’ll need to ship your gifts or swag to those who supported your campaign. Ca-ching!   

As if that weren’t enough, authors can’t forget the taxman because not properly including all income sources can easily trigger an audit. In fact, Kickstarter addresses this in a Tax Guide on their website. That means you are going to have to carefully do the math and possibly raise your monetary goals to accommodate these additional expenses.

Crowdfunding can be a viable path for the author who already knows how to promote a book since the steps are so similar, but even then, there are no guarantees of a successful crowdfunding project. Nonetheless, you should be aware of the alternative ways to pay for your self-publishing expenses, that don’t include raiding your retirement account.