Orna Ross, Director of the Alliance of Independent Authors, explains her crowdfunding project and why authors who publish their own books need to get comfortable with asking for financial and other kinds of support from readers. For ALLi's guide to crowdfunding for authors go here.
UPDATE: This post was written mid campaign. The campaign fully funded and the book was launched at the Yeats summer school 2015, to an appreciative audience. 500 people are now the proud possessors of a signed limited edition.
“Crowdfunding disgusts me,” said an author friend recently, when I told her I was considering doing a funded project. “To me. it's organized begging.”
I do understand the mindset of those who are wary of crowdfunding. Before I embarked on my own project, I was a little suspicious too but I dearly wanted to create a book that was too expensive / out there to risk upfront investment: a premium hardback, with fine paper, binding and gold embossing, in which my own novel would be paired with some very esoteric short stories, first publishing more than a century ago.
My idea was to create a special edition book to celebrate 150th birth centenary of the great Irish poet, WB Yeats: a reproduction of his book of short stories, but as he'd originally intended them to be produced, before his publisher made him remove two of the stories for being too “unothodox”.
And in the book to include my own novel about what was going on in the life of the poet, and his great muse the revolutionary Maud Goon, while he was writing the stories. In other words to give the stories, and the story behind the stories–and all in replica of his 1897 first edition.
This meant special paper, special binding, intricate gilt impressed cover and other lovely details that were beyond the budget of an indie author.
Crowdfunding for Authors: The Art of Dreaming
I decided that for this specialist project, I would ask for support from readers and Yeats fans in advance. If enough people were interested, the book would be made. If not, I'd forego the dream.
What I didn't expect was to find that the crowdfunding experience, in itself, would be so rewarding, so thought-provoking and so good for me, as an author who publishes her own work, forcing me to up my marketing game.
It allowed me to think much bigger than the ebooks and print-on-demand that I usually publish. It has made me think deeply about the gifts of writing and reading, the power dynamics of giving and receiving.
Crowdfunding for Authors: The Art of Asking
My first lesson was how it felt to make myself vulnerable by asking readers for help.
In our culture, giving is generally viewed as honorable and praiseworthy, while taking is a bit suspect. For some people (like my author friend, asking is even worse.
But giving and receiving are like breathing in and out. Both are needed to keep creative flow (and money exchange) moving freely.
It would be ridiculous to label inhalation “better” or “worse” than exhalation.
Nobody has explained better than Amanda Palmer how asking for help, and allowing another person to give to us, makes us feel vulnerable. In that vulnerability is the creative and human connection, she explains in The Art of Asking, where she shares with open, almost brutal, honesty how her life has been a willed unfolding of trust in the process of opening up. Of learning to be vulnerable.
Palmer, a musician, flings herself off stages and into the crowd and trusts that they won’t drop her. She tours the world asking Twitter for somewhere to crash for the night, showing up alone at people’s homes in the middle of the night.
“Couch surfing and crowd surfing are basically the same thing,” she says in her monumentally popular Ted Talk.
Crowdfunding: The Art of Offering
Traditional book publishing and selling operates through fixed pricing. Crowdfunding is part of a new wave of payments that are more flexible, that allows readers to pay what they feel the book is worth to them.
A crowdfunding project is a different kind of ask. You're not just asking for money, which is an everyday transaction. Neither are you asking for a donation (so no, it's not begging). You are asking for support in return for your work. It's an exchange.
Like breathing in and out, both giving and receiving are needed to keep creative flow (and money exchange) moving freely. It would be ridiculous to label inhalation “better” or “worse” than exhalation but in our culture, giving is generally viewed as honorable and praiseworthy, while taking is a bit suspect.
You are offering rewards. In the offer, you give people an opportunity to become involved with your project, to get close to you and your books and products, and your creative enterprise.
Lots of readers experience this not as a solicitation or supplication but as an opportunity.
There are tangible benefits for the reader that they value.
Crowdfunding for Authors: The Art of Receiving
Half way through my crowdfunding project, I can already say it's brought me so much. It's similar to the generous and creative author-to-author exchanges we witness daily in ALLi but with crowdfunding, it's author-to-reader and reader-to-author exchange.
Both share the same empowering sense of support, camaraderie and understanding that makes indie publishing a joy for authors.
Even if my project doesn't meet its target, I'm expanding myself and my author business in so many ways through this crowdfunding project — making new friends and learning all sorts of new things about Yeats and about his readers. His first two books were crowdfunded by subscriptions drummed up mostly by his dad and his mentor, John O'Leary)
Most important is what I'm learning about my own readers, as they draw closer, and yes, about myself as a publisher.
I've realised that the act of crowdfunding itself is a creative connection, just as much as the book it will hopefully help to produce.
Crowdfunding for Authors: The Art of Book Marketing
My other realization is a practical one. The time-limited nature of crowdfunding campaigns creates a sense of urgency, encouraging potential backers to act. This is a powerful marketing tool, and the public nature of the campaign concentrates the mind.
Organizing a crowdfunding campaign for a book ensures that you engage in necessary advance marketing for your book. It makes you do the things you should do, that many of us don't and compels us to be proactive in our promotion efforts well in advance.
- Building an Advance Readership: Crowdfunding requires an author to reach out to potential readers and supporters, which in turn necessitates building a social media presence, email lists, and other forms of outreach in advance, so that when the time comes to launch, you don't fall flat.
- Creating a Marketing Plan: To successfully launch a crowdfunding campaign, you'll have to come up with a solid marketing plan that includes identifying the target readers, crafting the book's message and appeal, determining the best channels for promotion, and connecting with other authors and influencers in the genre or topic field.
- Engaging with the Community: Crowdfunding is not just about raising funds; it's also about building a community around the book. You need to engage with your readers, respond to queries, and keep them excited about the book's progress. This level of engagement is a critical part of marketing that can be easy to neglect without that public launch deadline looming.
- Developing Promotional Materials: For a campaign to succeed, you need to create compelling promotional materials like book covers, sample chapters, video pitches, and other marketing collateral. These materials can be used for broader marketing purposes beyond the crowdfunding campaign.
- Setting Goals and Rewards: Crowdfunding involves setting financial goals and offering rewards to backers. This process forces you to think creatively about how to package and sell your book, and what readers are likely to find valuable within your book, and around your book.
- Gathering Feedback: Crowdfunding provides an opportunity to gather feedback from potential readers. This feedback can be invaluable for refining the book's content and marketing strategy going forward.
Throughout the crowdfunding process, you must acquire and hone various marketing skills. These skills are transferable and can be used for future books.
No, Crowdfunding Is Not Begging
Crowdfunding has evolved significantly and is now widely recognized as a legitimate and effective way to fund various projects, including books. It's not just a tool for those who can't secure traditional funding; it's also used by established authors and creators to maintain creative control and build direct relationships with their readers.
This is a shift away from traditional, publisher-controlled marketing and funding methods and retailer publishing on Amazon, Kobo
Crowdfunding is essentially a platform for pre-selling the book and generating buzz before its official release. Rather than being begging, or a sign of desperation, it's a proactive marketing and sales strategy. For many authors, especially independents, crowdfunding is a way to build a sustainable business model, that allows them to fund their work while also gauging reader interest and growing their author platform.
While some authors may view crowdfunding as a form of begging, many others see it as a viable, empowering, and increasingly mainstream method of funding and marketing their work. The perception largely depends on how one views the changing dynamics of the publishing industry and the evolving roles of authors and readers in the book creation process.
If you'd like to support my campaign to resuscitate the forgotten stories of WB Yeats and make them available in a very special edition, you'll find details over on Pubslush (an ALLi Partner and crowdfunding platform for literary projects).