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Crowdfunding For Participation, Profit, And Payment: The Publishing For Profit Podcast With Orna Ross And Joanna Penn

Crowdfunding for Participation, Profit, and Payment: The Publishing for Profit Podcast with Orna Ross and Joanna Penn

Drawing insights from their own recent Kickstarters, Orna Ross and Joanna Penn explore both fiction and nonfiction crowdfunding and discuss their upcoming campaigns, with a particular focus on reader participation, making a profit, and getting paid. Whether you're a seasoned author or just starting out, this episode will provide you with actionable tips and inspiration to launch your own successful crowdfunding campaign.

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Listen to the Podcast: Crowdfunding for Profit

On the Publishing for Profit podcast: drawing insights from their own recent Kickstarters, Orna Ross and @thecreativepenn explore both fiction and nonfiction crowdfunding. Share on X

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About the Hosts

Joanna Penn writes nonfiction for authors and is an award-nominated, New York Times and USA Today bestselling thriller author as J.F.Penn. She’s also an award-winning podcaster, creative entrepreneur, and international professional speaker.

Orna Ross launched the Alliance of Independent Authors at the London Book Fair in 2012. Her work for ALLi has seen her named as one of The Bookseller’s “100 top people in publishing”. She also publishes poetry, fiction, and nonfiction and is greatly excited by the democratizing, empowering potential of author-publishing. For more information about Orna, visit her website.

Read the Transcripts to the Podcast: Crowdfunding for Profit

Joanna Penn: Welcome to the Alliance of Independent Authors' Publishing for Profit podcast with me Joanna Penn and Orna Ross. Hi Orna.

Orna Ross: Hi, Joanna, and hello, everyone.

Joanna Penn: Hello, and we are back. It's our quarterly experience, and today we are talking about crowdfunding for participation, profit, and payment, which is our exciting topic, which we will get to.

But first up, as ever, we are authors first. Orna, give us a bit of an update on what you've been up to.

Orna Ross: Just on the author side, I am approaching, we're in countdown, essentially, to my Kickstarter campaign, which I've been prepping for the last ages. So, I was just saying to you before I came on, I was going to do everything all in advance, but here I am in last minute lounge again. It seems to be the way I do things. Ornaross.com/morethanamuse.

I started off with the idea of doing a crowdfunder for my upcoming first book in a series, because I've been working on the series for a very long time. Anyway, it grew and now it has turned into a crowdfunder to have a statue of the protagonist, one of the main protagonists of the book, who is based on a real-life person, Maud Gonne, and it's growing and growing into something quite different. It's all very exciting, and I have no idea what's going to happen, because it's quite different to doing just, I say just, a book. Crowdfunder is challenging in itself. This is, as I say, turning into something quite different and it's more challenging. So, we'll see how we go. That's happening.

I suppose influencer marketing is really important for me for this particular project as well, more than anything else I've done in a very long time, and when I say that, I don't just mean you know, paying a social media person who has a big following to do a post. That's one form of influencer marketing, but also, I'm reaching out to historians, feminists who have an interest in this person, Maud Gonne, and in WB Yeats, literary influencers, librarians, different kinds of people, both within the niche that I'm targeting book wise, but more broadly as well, and then also approaching mainstream media for the first time in a very long time. So, that's been really interesting.

As if all that wasn't enough, I am also doing a new solo podcast, the Go Creative podcast. Loads of tech difficulties setting up there because, I'm not sure how you organize your Patreon for your podcast, but I had to move from Libsyn to ACAST to make it work for me. So, that was a whole load of tech kind of stuff but that's in progress now and soon we'll be up and running. So, I'll be able to do Patreon episodes then. So, we'll go to that.

Joanna Penn: Yeah, lots happening. I guess the reason why we wanted to do this topic today for everyone on crowdfunding is you are starting, as this goes out, your latest campaign, and I've just finished my latest campaign.

So, I'm in finishing energy and fulfilment for Spear of Destiny, which is book 13 in my Arkane series. So, it just shows you, with you doing a statue and a first book in a series, and me doing a book 13, you can really do a lot of different things with crowdfunding, which we'll come back to.

So, I'm in that fulfilment mode. It was funny, I wrote a short story for a stretch goal, I didn't meet that stretch goal, so I've published that short story. It's called De-extinction of the Nephilim. So, it's a techno thriller/religious archaeological thriller.

So, if people know what the Nephilim are, sort of angels, giants, beings from the Bible, and de-extinction technology. So, I had a load of fun with that. I just felt, you know how it is because you're in this now, and you're in the sort of doing all this different stuff for marketing, you just feel like you need to do something creative. So, I wrote that story and I actually love it, I think it's really fun. So, that just went out today.

I've also, in terms of podcasting, and I've got a couple of interesting copyright things for people. First of all, I decided to do a new podcast logo. I had my face on it before, but because I've been podcasting for like 15 years, I decided I didn't want my face on it anymore. It's now a logo podcast, but also at the same time, I did a new theme tune, and the reason why, and I thought I'd mentioned this for people, when I originally started podcasting in 2009, I used a creative commons piece of music and I credited the artist and everything, and I donated to the artist at the time, but then his site got bought and then that site got bought. So, this is like the third buying of the company. It was made into a for-profit company, and so the piece of music that I got for Creative Commons was now getting a copyright usage notice every single week on YouTube with a threat to take my account down because I was in breach of copyright.

Every week I had to defend this, every week they let it go, but because it's all automatic.

So, I was just like, I cannot deal with this anymore. So, I changed theme tune after many years, and a lot of people were very upset, and then they got over it.

Orna Ross: People really hate change.

Joanna Penn: I know, but it was so funny and then eventually people like, oh, it just sounds like your old one. Okay, fair enough.

So, that was a really interesting copyright thing that happened to me, and this happens a lot, how many authors get published by, generally, a small publisher that gets bought by another publisher. Was it Writers Digest a few years back, got bought?

Orna Ross: Yeah, it happens all the time. As soon as a small indie publisher is successful, it gets bought. That's just the way it happens.

Joanna Penn: Yeah, it gets bought. Bookature here in the UK.

Orna Ross: Yeah, contracts completely change then. You've signed one contract with somebody you know, possibly, and then next thing you've got a completely different contract with somebody you don't know at all.

Joanna Penn: Yeah, so I wanted to mention it. So, what I've done now, the new one I bought on Envato, which is a marketplace, or Audio Jungle is their audio one, and I bought it for a 10 million streams license, and I'm just about at 10 million streams for the podcast now. So, I thought, I'm just going to invest in a license for another 10 million, but this is really important for people. You yourself, obviously, you have a number of different podcasts that you contribute to, and we do have to remember the copyright for music.

Also, another thing that happened on copyright, because this is the advanced podcast, is that I've been planning to do a photo book on gothic cathedrals as my next Kickstarter, but what I discovered is permissions. These are not using other people's photos, these are using my own photos of private places, and cathedrals here in the UK are private places.

I just, I don't like this at all. This changed the energy for me to asking permission. This isn't our show today, but I was like, indie authors, we don't tend to ask permission to publish things. So, this really changed it for me, but I also wanted to mention this for people because I didn't know this. I didn't know that if I have my own photos of these places that I couldn't publish and make money from them. You can use them on social media, but you can't use them in merchandise or photo books unless you get permissions.

I know you'd heard of this, but a lot of people haven't. A lot of Indies might be thinking about this, right? This is something important.

Orna Ross: Absolutely, and especially now when we're thinking more about premium editions and photo books and things like that, super important. Similarly, quoting people in your books, quoting other books that are in copyright. There is fair use, but you have to be really careful about it.

If in doubt, seek permission.

Joanna Penn: Yeah, so I thought I'd mention that because I thought I knew quite a lot about this, but these are two situations that have happened to me recently and I just thought I'd talk to people about it.

Okay, so shall we move into our topic for today?

Orna Ross: Yes, which is crowdfunding for participation, profit and payment.

Joanna Penn: Yeah, indeed.

As an overview of what crowdfunding is, crowdfunding is basically just a way of raising money through a collective effort, through a large number of people. Hopefully a large number, at least some people. For authors, if you're doing books, it's a bit like a pre-order in that your book is going to go out there eventually anyway, unless you're doing it specifically for, say, a graphic novel or something. So, for authors and creators, you get some money and then backers receive a reward, which is a product like a book, or a service, or it's a contribution to something like a statue, in return for their pledge. It is not begging. Very important, it is not begging. It is a way of raising money for an excellent product, service, or other things.

Orna, what are the benefits of crowdfunding for indie authors?

Orna Ross: There are lots and the more time goes on and the more I observe people doing this, the more benefits I'm seeing and the more I think every author should think about crowdfunding, unless you're really against it.

First of all, you get pre-sales, you get revenue for the book early on, which can then be used to fund the production and the promotion of the book. So, a lot of indie authors are now thinking of their crowdfunding campaign as the equivalent of your traditional publishing advance.

It's sort of proof of concept, it puts it out there. It demonstrates that readers are interested, that there is a demand for the book.

In the course of doing the campaign as well, and the feedback that you get, you can learn a lot about the marketing and the positioning of the book. I often think of it as it really forces you to do the marketing thinking that you should always do, but that can be difficult to do in a vacuum before a book comes out, and this really concentrates the marketing mind.

It builds the audience and engagement and helps authors to think, this is the participation aspect of the theme today, helping you to, you know, your most dedicated followers and fans can come in, a community can be built. build around the book, you get to interact directly with your readers, giving them updates about what's happening. They get a sense of connection and involvement with the book at the earliest stage. So, that can really warm up that reader bond and their sense of loyalty to you as a writer.

Depending on how you set the campaign up, it can mean media attention. It definitely means more buzz and visibility than if you just do a straight launch, the straight, typical sort of indie digital launch, and it reduces your financial risk.

Authors also use crowdfunders to test and see, is there interest in the market, and sometimes if it doesn't fund, that's also a good thing because you haven't gone off and done something that would have been a financial drain for you.

Knowing that you've got readers interested in advance is really worthwhile.

Joanna Penn: Yes, and Spear of Destiny is my third Kickstarter now that I've done in the last 18 months. The first one was Pilgrimage, which was a travel memoir. The second one was Writing the Shadow, which was a craft book and psychology book for writers, and this one.

So, I think another benefit is, we're so encouraged as indies to write in series, to write to a specific audience, and I feel like another benefit is that you can really jump around.

Now, I know you set up two different names, but I've kept one name and one profile on Kickstarter, and it's interesting because these three campaigns, three different target markets, three different books, some people have backed them all, my wonderful super fans.

I wanted to share this, because I think this is the profit podcast. I made £74,761, which is around $95,000 across those three projects. So, that's almost six figures U.S. dollars in terms of direct sales. I wanted to also point out that I only paid around £200 for Facebook ads. That's the only paid marketing I did for those campaigns.

So, the other real benefit is that you can make a good chunk of money directly with your readers and fans without paying an absolute ton for advertising, which is what has become part and parcel of what you mentioned, the kind of normal digital launch.

So, that is another benefit too, although I would add, obviously, I've been building my audience for many years, and email marketing, content marketing, all of that.

So, that is really another benefit. It's just a very different experience.

I did want to ask you because you did crowdfunding before, and there are different platforms. So, why did you choose Kickstarter this time?

Orna Ross: I think Kickstarter does a great job for writers in particular. It has a publishing wing, a dedicated publishing person, Oriana, who is really fantastic. You can send your campaign to her before it's ready to go out and she'll give you feedback on it, and I just think Kickstarter has done a really good job on the publishing side, and really wants to grow that and is investing in it. I think that's one of the reasons.

I also really love their non-profit, and I love their mission, which is to support things to be created that wouldn't otherwise be created. I have found it when I'm talking to other people about crowdfunding, for the book before and statue this time, that when I explain Kickstarter's own mission something clicks in their head, because a lot of people think it's, what is the one that people?

Joanna Penn: GoFundMe.

Orna Ross: GoFundMe, exactly.

A lot of people think in terms of it's, help me, I haven't got any money kind of thing, and it's not that at all. It's very much about providing really great things that you wouldn't do otherwise and putting more great creative things into the world.

So, that's why I chose Kickstarter, but there are other platforms and other ways to do it, and Kickstarter is by no means the only one.

I do now a “Kickstart With Me”, an hour call each month with a group of people who are doing Kickstarters, authors mostly, who are doing Kickstarters, and they use a variety of different platforms for different reasons. So, it's like anything, you need to look and see what you want from a platform, and they all operate in slightly different ways.

Joanna Penn: So, let's get into the specific tips and lessons learned.

Number one, participation, bringing readers, patrons and fans closer to you. You mentioned the ‘Kickstart With Me' there, but this is something I think a lot about in this era of digital abundance.

You and I have been friends since the beginning of the digital revolution in publishing, and as indie authors we stand on the back of all that, and there are amazing, positive reasons for that, but one of the difficulties is standing out.

Let's be frank, it is much harder to do a Kickstarter than it is to upload an eBook on Amazon. It really is, there's no hiding that. But the flip side of that, it is easier to stand out by doing something remarkable. If you do something like a Kickstarter with some amazing physical products, beautiful physical products, expensive items, a statue for goodness sake, that is not something you can upload in five minutes onto Amazon.

Now, we're not at all saying that there's anything wrong with a launch of uploading an eBook onto Amazon, but we have to admit in an era of digital abundance, we need to stand out as authors who want to make a business and a living, and even though we are also both pro AI in many ways, we need to double down on being human. We need to bring our readers, patrons and fans closer to us. Because again, it's only going to get easier and easier to do digital only. products. So, this is something I think a lot about.

I also love, love, love that we can make beautiful books and products.

This latest one, Spear of Destiny, it has custom end papers. It has silver foiling. It has the ribbon. It has photos in there. It has all kinds of cool things that I could not do with the normal print on demand process. You can also do merch and all of this and lots of different things. So, tell us, what are your thoughts on that?

Orna Ross: Yeah, I was just jumping in there to 100% agree. I love the creating a beautiful book kind of thing, which is amazing, and it lasts. You've got this thing and I'm really looking forward to that part of it.

I'm doing the book exclusively, that will be it, that beautiful version will just be for the Kickstarter supporters, nobody else. It's an exclusive edition, which will stand completely different and apart from the general launch of the paperback, which will come later. So, I love that, and I love what goes on, on the crowdfunding platforms.

I did a blog post about why every reader should take a look at Kickstarter, because there's just such interesting things happening. I love going over there, seeing what people are doing, all the lovely physical products, films as well, Courses, consulting events, it's so colourful, it's so creative. It's so fantastic there that I really enjoy it.

One of the reasons I split in two is because I think of everything, I have two different accounts on Kickstarter. One is nonfiction, self-publishing, that whole world, and then the other part is just the literary things that really appeal to me. I like keeping those two things separate, but both of them are fantastically creative and interesting places to be.

So, it's really great for readers, and I think we should be encouraging our readers to sign up over there so that they understand, particularly those, and I'm finding this with this particular campaign that I'm doing at the moment, my previous campaign was a non-fiction campaign directed to authors for planning. The planners and the authors were very clued in about Kickstarter. A lot of them were already on Kickstarter themselves. A lot of them had already done campaigns themselves. They knew far more about Kickstarter than I did when I was doing that first campaign.

This time, a lot of the conversations I'm having are, this is Kickstarter and it's a thing, and here's how you need to sign up, and here's what you get and here's what's going on.

So, I think if you are considering crowdfunding, that's an important thing to think about. Some people don't even know what it is. Some readers, who would be really interested, need to be brought along with you.

Joanna Penn: Yes, the education of your own audience and all of ours, because of course, the more we do this, the easier it's going to be. Remember more than a decade ago when the Kindle first came out and people were like, I would never read an eBook, I would never read on my phone. I would never do that, and I remember when my mum got a Kindle and I was like, right, now it's mainstream, and that was eight or nine years after eBooks started.

Again, the education part is really important and into some practical tips, yes, you have to do a video. I know it's hard and it takes me like a whole day to do a two-minute video, but I would say batch your videos and plan them.

The other thing is model. Everything that you need to do on Kickstarter, you can model other people. What we mean by this is go look at my campaigns, look at Orna's, look at people who make a lot more money than us on Kickstarter, and people in your genre, and get ideas for what your story page, which is your sales page, looks like.

Also watch the videos. Russell Nohelty will be completely fine with this, I've told him, when I did my first campaign, I watched one of Russell's, and Russell is incredibly experienced with this. I literally watched his video over and over again, and I wrote down second by second what he did in his video, and then I turned that into my own video, and that's now what I do. That's my template, and you can do that. There's nothing wrong with modelling in that way.

But the point is again, you're connecting as a person to other people, and even if you're not someone who wants to watch videos, a lot of people do, and Kickstarter themselves say that campaigns with videos do better than those without videos. Some people just do graphics and things, but then what I also do as part of recording that video is I record an extra introduction, and that is, what is Kickstarter, why is it good for you? That is what I use in my email to my readers.

I've done that for every campaign, and then I add on the other bit of the video about the actual campaign. So, doing this education is so important, as Orna said, you have to teach people about it.

Orna Ross: Absolutely.

Then I would say, set up your pre-launch page as soon as you've decided you're going to do it. There's a lot of debate about whether you should or you shouldn't and the optimal time to set a pre-launch page, and if people sign up too soon, they'll forget they've done it. I think all of that is way overthinking. The longer it's there, the more you can drive people to it, the more you can get people to sign up to it.

Important thing, URLs is worth talking about, both in terms of the pre-launch page, having your own URL so that it's easy to say on podcasts. So, we'll use yours here, jfpenn.com/destiny, or I said earlier on, ornaross.com/morethanamuse, those kinds of links.

It also means that later on, if people find that link out and about in the world, you can redirect it to the book or somewhere else on your own website at that point when the campaign is over.

Also, be careful when you're creating your URL on Kickstarter itself, if you're using Kickstarter, because it can be very easy to set up a long, cumbersome link that doesn't work. If you just take time to set up a URL that's short and easy to say, and easy to read, it's worth paying attention to that.

Joanna Penn: Just on the pre-launch page, so people who sign up for that pre-launch will get emailed when the campaign goes live, and that's why it's a good idea to drive people to that as early as possible. What we should say is, we'll come back to this in the payment section, but if it's your first time, you need to actually be approved to set up that pre-launch page.

So, if it's your first one, you need quite a lot of information around what the product is, your business information, so they can do the KYC, the “Know Your Customer”, and all that kind of thing.

I found on this third campaign that I didn't need to put so much into the story page before I got approved for that pre-launch page.

So, again, things do get easier the more you do, as with everything.

But let's come to the marketing time. So, this is in the participation section. Part of participation is bringing readers, patrons and fans closer, and marketing is an important part of that.

I think, as you said earlier, it's a sort of time to focus a launch, and through podcast interviews, email marketing, social media, and I am someone who prepares in advance, and I also find it very hard to sustain my energy in a launch. So, I do it different to you.

We probably do exactly the same amount of work, but I do mine much earlier and you do yours during the campaign. Whereas, I found, actually, like De-extinction of the Nephilim and everything, I was working on in the campaign because I'd done so much beforehand. But it's really about just try and reframe marketing in general as bringing people closer to you.

And the story page, oh, I guess we haven't really mentioned it much, but the story page, you have information about you, why this is important, obviously, all the products and things, but remember it's about benefits, not features. It's about the emotional side, and this is why watching people's videos and really getting an idea of why this matters is important, I think.

Orna Ross: Yeah, and there are some things that you can only do by being organized in advance. Like it is a good idea to have some podcast interviews or mainstream press going out during the actual campaign, and if you only start to try and set that up at the end, or just as the campaign approaches, it's too late.

So, yes, definitely do it as Joanna does it, not as Orna does it.

Joanna Penn: Or a combination of both is good.

Orna Ross: Perhaps.

Joanna Penn: So, you also mentioned before that you're doing more buzzy things, traditional media, influencers, talk a bit more about that in terms of this participation.

Orna Ross: So, I put a lot of time into thinking about who's already interested, because this is a historical campaign about a real person, who is interested in this person called Maud Gonne, and why would they want to support a Kickstarter? Why would they want to see a statue of her in Dublin? And also, why would they want to read a book about her? That's very much a part of it.

We've also commissioned two beautiful drawings, a sort of artist's impression, not of the final statue as it will be, but just to inspire the campaign really and to give people a visual sense of what's possible or what could happen, and just a sense of it being Maud.

Up to now we've been using an AI impression, but from tomorrow we'll have these actual lovely drawings which will then be part of the campaign and auctioned off during the campaign.

So yeah, drawing up lists of feminist historians, people who are interested in Irish history generally, because she was a Republican activist, and going online, doing loads of research with an assistant, a publishing assistant, we've drawn up these lists of people who would be interested, and then just saying, hi, here's what we're doing, what do you think?

Do you remember chain emails, sending people an email and saying, do this, as in sign up for the form on my website, also the notification on Kickstarter, and just asking them to do that and then to pass it on and ask other people to do it.

So, very much a grassroots, reaching out to people campaign, and we have a whole, we're calling it an un-committee of readers and writers, artists and historians, who are all going to help to try and make this happen, because there is some resistance and there are very few female statues in Dublin, like in most cities.

I've had it said flatly to me, Maud Gonne is not getting a statue in Dublin and she's certainly not getting the street you want her to get.

Joanna Penn: Oh, they're up against you, I just don't think they're going to win.

Orna Ross: I hope you're right. We're pretty determined. So, pulling in a really great bunch of people. We met and we had our un-committee meeting online. We did some readings. Emma, the artist, talked about the drawing. So, it's mixing this, sort of, creative and campaign thing together in a way that I'm really enjoying, and that I feel is very effective and really good.

Joanna Penn: Yeah, I think that's fascinating. So, communication in general is critical, both at pre-launch as you're trying to get people to come and see it, during the campaign, and it will feel like you're over communicating. It definitely feels that way. In fact, I don't think I did enough email marketing this time. I really only sent a couple of emails.

Monica Leonel, who's another expert in this area, talks about emailing a lot more than that.

Then obviously, once you finish the campaign, you need to do the fulfilment. So, that's the phase I'm in now, and you're putting up updates so that people know when they're going to get what they paid for. This is so important, and Kickstarter backers know that it can take a while. So, it doesn't need to be immediately, but I have this thing around finishing energy that I don't feel like I've done my job until I'm happy that everyone has their stuff. So, I'm desperate to fulfil as soon as I finish the campaign.

Another tip I think is really important is sharing a preview of your campaign with your patrons, if you have them, your arc list, maybe, or just other author friends, as you will pick up issues and improvements.

I did this again, so in my third campaign, you'd think I'd learned a bit by now, and my patrons encouraged me to add more images, which was really a valuable piece of feedback, to add other tiers, which actually made me money, and we're going to come back to the tiers in a minute, but that preview is so important because you may not pick up things, or you might not even know what else might help the campaign.

Orna Ross: Yeah, absolutely. That's one of the things we do on the “Kickstart With Me”, is we have a hot seat each time and we share people's preview pages and the wisdom of the group kind of thing, and it really does help. There are things you don't see, especially if it's your first time out. I would say, it's a must to share it, and if you don't have an art list or patrons yet, then share it with friends who maybe have done things like that before.

As I said, Oriana very generously has said, if she gets a preview page in time, and you don't do it last minute, she will actually take a look and give feedback from her perspective.

Joanna Penn: So, yes, you will pick up new readers and fans who buy on Kickstarter. Definitely there is an ecosystem there. There's an algorithm as much as there is on other platforms, and people will discover you for the first time. So, make sure you include backer levels that might appeal to both your current fans and also new people who discover you, and that's another reason to spend time on that story page so that people really feel they're participating with you, the person, because they might not be people who know who you are. So, I think that's important, but don't assume that you can get away with nothing.

You need to drive some new people to Kickstarter as well, and you had a thought about encouraging other platforms as well.

Orna Ross: Yeah, I've seen some authors doing this. I did a little bit myself. So, I did the crowdfunder before Christmas for the planners, author planners, monthly and quarterly planners, and then some of those people, I encouraged some of those to come over across to Patreon, where I do a monthly planning workshop, and we do other things like have an accountability page where you set your intentions at the beginning of the week and log your accomplishments at the end of the week, that kind of thing.

I've seen other authors who have used their initial crowdfunding campaign to then lead people across to Substack as well. So, what it's doing, it's back to what we said there at the beginning, these are real readers, these are real readers who are willing to invest money.

You've got that proof of payment and that proof of willingness to pay, which you don't have, say, when you give away a free book or when you ask people to sign up on your email list because you're giving them a reader magnet, a proportion of that list is always going to be people who will never buy anything from you, whereas here you've got people who already like what you do and have already invested in you. So, it's worth thinking about how you can bring them across to your other paid platforms.

Joanna Penn: Let's get into profit. So, it is really important to design and plan your campaign to make a profit. I feel like again, the sort of indie author thing has been to put up an eBook on Amazon and not necessarily plan for profit because we're all pricing so low. Even with print on demand, we're so used to making less money that I think this is a mindset shift.

But first of all, I would say, do include digital rewards that have no shipping costs. So, eBook, it might be online webinar, consulting, printable assets at home. I saw Sarah Rosette, who does cozy mystery, 1920s mystery, did some incredible things with printable games and bookmarks and letters, and all of this kind of thing, with one of her campaigns.

So, if you have those things that are digital rewards with no shipping, you can be sure of a profit. I'll come back on audiobooks, but that's the sort of first thing.

Then also you need to price the levels so you make money. Again, we are so used to, oh if you buy a book at WHSmith’s here in the UK, it's like less than £5 for a paperback, so I must price my books that low, but that's not what we're doing here. You don't need to price at cost, make sure you add a profit margin that makes this whole thing worthwhile, and people are happy to pay for a great product.

Now, obviously that's important, it has to be a great product that people want, but I wanted to share that my average order value, the AOV, across my three campaigns is between £40 and £45. So, that's between maybe $55 and $70 per person. So, that's incredible, really, and that's part of what makes this a really good idea.

Kickstarter backers really want to support you. Yes, they want lovely things, but they also want to support creators, and this is where I was going to ask you, Orna, you've mentioned the statue several times, but what are the other levels you're doing in order that other people who want to get the book, for example, can also back?

Orna Ross: Oh yeah, because this campaign isn't about putting together a statue. It's just about creating a campaign that will eventually do that. So, it's very much around other rewards. So, there's a basic eBook, obviously. There's the exclusive, lovely print edition with the ribbon and the sprayed edges, and all of that. There are the prints that Emma, her two original drawings will be part of it, and they'll be priced higher and there'll be signed prints at one level and just straight prints at another level. Then we have some events going on as well. Yeah, lots of different levels.

I think it's really important on a Kickstarter to have a balance of rewards and tiers offered. Back to the digital thing that you were saying, there was a time on Kickstarter, I think, where it was all about print and physical products, but I know some authors now who've done just pure digital with no print at all and no actual physical merchandise at all.

I'm not saying you should do that, but definitely when it comes to add-ons and stretch goals and stuff like that, thinking in terms of digital products makes total sense. Building in plenty of digital around the physical product is a good idea.

Joanna Penn: Yeah, and I should add, what we are doing, like Spirit of Destiny is on pre-order on Amazon and Kobo and Apple and all the usual places for September. So, people will be able to get this content and people will be able to get your book as well in other formats, but it's almost that the Kickstarter backers get it early, three months early in my case, as well as the exclusive edition.

Same as you, this edition is only a Kickstarter edition. I did a special cover. That cover won't be available on the other one and all this.

So, it's not that this is only Kickstarter, although of course some people do it that way, but this is almost the first wave of the publication, but I did want to just mention on the audiobook, because some people do a Kickstarter just for an audiobook to raise money for the narrator, and I've seen a lot of people fail to get funded for that, because again, you have to think about it from the reader point of view and how many people will get the audio book.

If you already have a massive audience for audio, then maybe, but what I found is, for me, my audio sells less. So, I decided to do it as an investment anyway. I was going to pay for the audiobook, and I got my narrator to do that. In fact, I'm still waiting for my human narrator to get that, but I don't expect to get the audio costs necessarily back from the campaign. It's more that this is book 13 and I want this for the longer term. It will go partly towards that, but for my other two campaigns, I did the audiobooks as self-narrated. So, I made money on those from day one, but I just wanted to mention that because, of course, audiobooks can be expensive to do.

Any thoughts on audio, Orna?

Orna Ross: I think you've summed it up really well. I think it is important, and it's different. Audiobooks are different. They're a different format in and of themselves. Having an existing audience is a prerequisite. Having an existing audience that is already buying audio from you, or at a minimum that you have a podcast and people are listening to you, and that your campaign is related in some way to that podcast, I would say is a prerequisite for audio.

Joanna Penn: I guess we should also say, another “problem” with audio is that people are like, Oh, but why can't I just get it on Audible, which is still the predominant one, or on Spotify, and this is a Kickstarter so you get it on the BookFunnel app, and BookFunnel just in the last couple of weeks, their audiobook program is out of beta.

So, anyone can now use BookFunnel to deliver audiobooks as well as eBooks. So, that does deal with the distribution. You can actually use Spotify as well. Brandon Sanderson did that for his last campaign, but you can't use Audible to do your fulfilment of a Kickstarter, that's not how that platform works.

In terms of the print, who are you using for print?

Orna Ross: Book Vault.

Joanna Penn: So, we both use Book Vault, but you can also buy books off Ingram, obviously, and ship them direct to people. You can do other places; you don't have to use Book Vault. We love it.

Orna Ross: Yeah, but depending on how many you sell, that's the other thing, you don't have to necessarily make that decision in advance, but you do need to do your pricing in advance.

So, you'll need to try out if you're going to, for example, use POD, depending on the number of people you get, it might be worth your while to do a consignment print for the number that you've sold. So, there are lots of different ways to do the fulfilment, but the most important thing is you need to get a prototype done, and cost it, and also weigh it and find out how much it's going to cost to ship, and how much it's going to cost to ship to different areas and parts of the world.

Some people restrict the amount of shipping that they'll do, they'll only ship locally, they won't ship around the world, but if you are going to, then you need to factor that in because costs for shipping can be hugely, well, they're just a really important part of the campaign. You need to factor them in, and if there are any other things that you are doing, like in our case, we'll be doing these prints and drawings, how much are they going to cost to print, and how much they're going to cost to get done up. Doing all of that budgeting in advance is really important in terms of making your decisions.

Joanna Penn: Yes. Also make sure you do have some high levels. So, if you're just doing a book, you can be like, oh, I've only got an eBook paperback, maybe a hardback, and that's it, but having a much higher level can really help. It makes the other levels look better.

I got this feedback from friends who basically said, no, you need to do an everything bundle, which includes all the books, all the backlist, a webinar, everything.

One reader told me that and I was like, okay, I didn't expect that. Also, I did my hand edited manuscript, which was my first pass edit for £750, which is $900. I did not think that would sell, but it sold within the first 24 hours, and I actually just couriered that today to the person who bought it.

Sometimes we just don't know what people want from us, and I really didn't know what to put at that high level, but I went with that.

Orna Ross: Fantastic. Authors really need a talking to here, because very often, we're so inundated with the discount mentality, the £1.99 eBook and all of that, and publishing has always priced authorship too low.

£7.99 paperbacks, £8.99 paperbacks, this kind of mentality where we don't realize how much we have been dipped in that, and this is not the mentality to bring to a crowdfunder. There are people who are going to want to spend more money, for various reasons of their own, and for perhaps things they've been watching you do over the years or whatever, and it gives them an opportunity to do that.

So, definitely find something that you can sell that has a significant cost. Ideally, a four-figure cost if you can come up with something, and if they don't buy it, they don't buy it, fine, but do give people the opportunity to spend a decent amount of money.

Joanna Penn: Yeah, absolutely.

I guess the other thing is the add-ons. This is really important. If you have a bigger backlist, then you can do bundles. I mean, yes, there's a bit of a discount with the bundles, but with this campaign, I added on the 12 paperbacks plus a short story, which I got done in a little chapbook format, as an add on. I also added on my other series, and different formats and all of that kind of thing.

The add-ons, say someone buys the signed hardback, quite a lot of people also bought the entire backlist in paperback, and if you don't offer that to people, they won't have a chance to get it. It's still a good deal for me and a good deal for them because it's cheaper than them buying it individually online, for example.

Are you thinking about bundles and add-ons?

Orna Ross: Yes, definitely. All digital though, I don't want to get into postal.

Then with Kickstarter, you have this bit of an anomaly that, if you've got a physical product, then you can have a challenge with the add-ons, and so that's something that I need to consider.

I made a mistake with my first Kickstarter in terms of the stretch goals and the add-ons, I got carried away with myself.

Joanna Penn: I remember.

Orna Ross: It was fine, but it wasn't ideal, so I'm being much more careful this time to keep it in the right place.

Back to that idea of crowdfunding for profit because again, I've had authors who've actually asked me, is it okay for me to add-on some money so that I get paid, or should I just keep it to the expenses, covering my expenses?

This idea that we don't deserve to be paid ourselves for all the work we put into writing the book in the first place and all the work that we're putting in to, because we talk about, okay, it's not costing us money for digital ads, perhaps, the way a more traditional indie campaign would, but it is costing us a lot of time and it is costing us a lot of effort, and absolutely we deserve to be paid. So, profit has to be built in, and this is where the add-ons can really boost the bottom line.

Joanna Penn: Yes, absolutely. So, don't assume people won't buy it. Assume people will, but also set realistic funding goals.

One of the reasons people fail to fund is that they put things too high. Now, I mentioned graphic novels before. Years ago, someone said to me, oh, we should do a graphic novel campaign for one of your books, but it needs to make £30k. If it doesn't make £30k, then we're not doing it, and I was like, I'm just not ready to do that. So, we didn't go ahead with that project, but in that case the funding has to happen before the creation, whereas what most of us are doing at the moment, is we do the book anyway. So, we've already paid for editing, cover design and all that, but I still get very nervous with the funding goal.

So, for this one, I did put it at £1,000. Again, this was book 13 in a series. It's not necessarily the most attractive thing to new people, and I've been training my fiction readers for more than a decade to just buy it on the usual stores. So, it was a very different thing.

But of course, it did make it, and I was really thrilled, but put that first funding goal low, and make sure you cover anything you have to, but that's why I said about don't do it for an audiobook as your first one and all of that kind of thing.

Orna, do you know what you're setting yours at?

Orna Ross: We haven't got the final figure, but it'll probably be somewhere between £3.5 and £5k. Basically we're going to cover everybody's expenses, and once expenses are fully covered, then anything else. I am hoping that we will make more than that, but yeah, we'll set it there.

If it was a book, I'd probably set it low. If it was just the novel, I would be setting it lower because, like you say, all the other work has gone in anyway and that book will have a long life, but I would just be pitching it around the cost of pulling together the special edition.

But yeah, because the statute is involved and because the artist is involved as well, the expenses are higher.

Joanna Penn: Yeah, absolutely.

Then just, I guess it's the last thing, we mentioned international shipping, super, super important to decide. Do not put will ship everywhere for a fiver. I remember, Orna, didn't I message you, and you'd put shipping everywhere or something, and I was like, oh, I think you need to sort out your shipping.

Orna Ross: I nearly had a heart attack. It all happened in the moment, and if you hadn't emailed me that morning, it really would have had an impact on my profit because I had made another silly error.

Joanna Penn: But this is the thing you learn by having other people help you along the way, as always with our career.

But yes, you definitely need to do some work on the shipping, but make it easier on yourself. This time I really only did shipping for my major markets. So, US, UK, Canada, Australia, and the European Union. I didn't do rest of world for the hardback. Although, I did say in the campaign, if you're in another country, please just message me and I can add it on, but nobody did. So, I thought that was quite interesting.

The last thing I wanted to say is around tracking links. If you are going to do paid ads, or even if you're just going to email a list, if you have a Patreon, if you're going to do paid ads, you can set up different tracking links for the campaign. I set up loads this time, about 15 of them. So, I used a different tracking link on X, a different one on Instagram, a different one to my different email lists. You can also set up a Meta pixel if you are doing paid ads. As I said, I spent a couple of hundred, but mainly to just boost the thing to my own audience, I wasn't doing traffic ads or anything like that.

But the reason why these links are good is that you can actually see the result of things. So, my Patreon link bought in more revenue than the paid Facebook ads, for example, and that's not surprising because my patrons are super fans, but it's good to know and it can help you if you are doing paid ads.

Orna Ross: Fantastic. Shall we talk about payment now?

Joanna Penn: Yes, payment. So, what are the basics around payment?

Orna Ross: First of all, you need a bank account, and this was one that I had to think about here for this particular campaign, because again, with the statue element of it, should we be setting up a separate bank account for that. In the end, just decided for this part of the campaign, which is about really funding a campaign to go on into the future, that I'd just stick with my own and it would be money in and money out kind of thing, but I had to clear the tax implications with my accountant and everything.

Anyway, for most people, that's not going to be relevant, but a bank account, obviously, your company details will have to be there, and the sooner you can tick that box, the better with Kickstarter because they need to do the check on your bank account.

Do a budget, and I'm not great at budgeting, it's difficult for me, budgeting is more challenging for some people than others, and I always find it hard, but it's really essential to have, what's your bare minimum to cover your costs and expenses, so what's the funding goal, remember that you will have fees to pay Kickstarter at the end of it, payment processing fees as well, well as the cost of creating the products, whatever it is that you're going to be offering, the production costs, there will be fulfilment costs and miscellaneous things that you haven't thought about. So, definitely do a budget and get a clear idea of what you need to do to be in profit.

Joanna Penn: Yes, this tax and legal obligations are really interesting. Kickstarter, say, they send out emails about it, they are not dealing with the tax for you, and this is a big difference. If you sell on Amazon, Kobo, Apple, whatever, they deal with the tax for you. But with Kickstarter, with selling direct through WooCommerce, Shopify and all that, you are doing it yourself, and I have seen many authors forget this or just not realize that they need to do this.

So, you download a spreadsheet of all your backers, and you can see the payment country, and what I do is I send a roundup to my accountant with what I think the sales tax should be in the EU Digital VAT, which is on eBooks and audiobooks. In the UK, we have a 20% sales tax, which is VAT, which is on workbooks for non-fiction people. It's on audiobooks for everyone. If you do events and your backers UK and you're in the UK, it needs to also have VAT.

So, it will depend on your jurisdiction and also the jurisdiction of the backer.

So, for example, EU Digital VAT, many people don't want to sell to people in the EU because it is dependent on where the buyer is, not even where you are. So, wherever you are in the world, you should pay that. I know many people don't. You also need to account for income tax, obviously, just your normal tax. So, put that aside because you do get a lump sum payment, and that is part of the amazing thing is that, if you do well, you get a nice wad of cash in your bank account, but then of course, that cash is not just yours to do what you like with. You have to pay all of the stuff you need to pay, buy the books and all of that.

So, just on that, in terms of cashflow, be very careful with timings in terms of when you have to pay. So, I like to close my campaign mid-month so that I get the money in the next month, and then I order the books at a time when I know I'm going to have the money to pay for the books.

So, keep that in your plan in terms of when things happen, when you get the money, when you have to pay for things.

Orna Ross: Good advice, and I'm slightly worried that when we begin to talk about all these things, everybody goes, ah, that just sounds like too much, I can't handle it, I can't do it.

The thing is, it's like everything else in Indie land, it is learning by doing, and there is a lot to learn at the beginning, and it is easy to make mistakes, and that's how we learn loads of things as we go. But it really is worth it, having to deal with the tax and things, and all the rest of it. It's a very small part of what is a hugely enriching and creative experience, and also a much bigger payday than we will get almost any other way, I think, for most authors.

It also brings your readers closer, as we've been talking about, and you're creating something really special, unique, and beautiful to put out into the world. It also bolsters our independence in a big way. So, while yes, there is a lot to learn, and especially the first time, it's really hard. Second time out, it's so much easier. Third time is easier again. There's so much value in it that it's well worth doing despite the big extra learning that you have to do.

Joanna Penn: Just one final tip is really thinking about how long you want that campaign to be, and trying to really be honest about your energy because you can do a 60 day campaign on Kickstarter, and some people do that because they want to have that longer time for marketing, but I've done 15-days with mine so far, and that's about enough, as in, I am done. I do not want to talk about the project anymore after that time.

As I said, I like to do as much as possible beforehand so that I can just engage during the campaign, and Orna likes to do more in the campaign, but I just couldn't sustain it for any longer than that.

It differs by who you are and what kind of project you're doing, but I certainly feel like, yes, there's a lot to learn but again, as Orna said, it is so worth it and I finished a couple of weeks ago, I'm in fulfilment, and I'm already thinking about my next one. Oh, what beautiful things can I do next time, and create more beautiful books in the world. That's what we love, isn't it?

Orna Ross: Absolutely, and it's definitely more exciting. Yes, it's nerve wracking, but that's a sign of the creative excitement of it all.

It definitely reinvigorated my publishing, and I've got ideas and thoughts for way down the line in terms of what I'd like to do. All sorts of different things that wouldn't be possible any other way. So, I really encourage everybody to give it a go if it feels at all attractive.

Joanna Penn: Yeah, absolutely. We are done. This has been a longer episode than usual. We hope you have found it useful. Any last thoughts, Orna?

Orna Ross: Just to say that the Indie Author Magazine, the Alliance of Independent Authors' member magazine, will be having a crowdfunding special in the next edition, which will be out in about four weeks’ time.

Joanna Penn: Fantastic. All right, I guess we should just say happy writing and happy publishing. Bye, bye.

Author: Howard Lovy

Howard Lovy is an author, book editor, and journalist. He is also the Content and Communications Manager for the Alliance of Independent Authors, where he hosts and produces podcasts and keeps the blog updated. You can find more of his work at https://howardlovy.com/


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