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Mastering The Crowdfunding Success Mindset, With Nick Kotar And Russell Nohelty: Self-Publishing Conference Highlight

Mastering the Crowdfunding Success Mindset, with Nick Kotar and Russell Nohelty: Self-Publishing Conference Highlight

In this empowering session, ALLi member Nick Kotar, who recently ran his first successful crowdfunder, interviews USA Today bestselling author and ALLi’s crowdfunding advisor Russell Nohelty, about the world of crowdfunding and its growing role in the success of indie authors.

This session will explore how adopting the right mindset is necessary to drive successful crowdfunding campaigns and create a thriving author business built around the crowd-funding model. Essential strategies, practical tips, and real-life success stories will fill you with the confidence and mindset you need to succeed and excel.

This is a post from SelfPubCon (The Self-Publishing Advice Conference), an online author event, run free twice-yearly, in association with the Alliance of Independent Authors.

Find more author advice, tips and tools at our Self-publishing Author Advice Center, with a huge archive of nearly 2,000 blog posts, and a handy search box to find key info on the topic you need.

And, if you haven’t already, we invite you to join our organization and become a self-publishing ally. You can do that at allianceindependentauthors.org.

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Explore how adopting the right mindset is necessary to drive successful #crowdfunding campaigns with @russellnohelty and @KotarNicholas. Share on X

About the Hosts

Best-Selling Fantasy Author Russell Nohelty is a USA Today bestselling fantasy author who has written dozens of novels and graphic novels including The Godsverse Chronicles, The Obsidian Spindle Saga, and Ichabod Jones: Monster Hunter. He is the publisher of Wannabe Press, co-host of the Kickstart Your Book Sales podcast, cofounder of the Writer MBA training academy, and cofounder of The Future of Publishing Mastermind. He also co-created the Author Ecosystem archetype system to help authors thrive. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife and dogs.

Epic Fantasy Author Nicholas Kotar is an author of epic fantasy inspired by Russian fairy tales, a writing instructor and speaker, a freelance translator from Russian to English, the resident conductor of a men’s choir at a Russian monastery in the middle of cow country, and a Grammy-nominated vocalist. His only regret in life is that he wasn’t born in 19th century St. Petersburg, but he's doing everything he possibly can to remedy that error. If anyone knows where he can find a blue police box that’s bigger on the inside, please let him know.

Read the Transcripts: Crowdfunding Success

Nicholas Kotar: Hello and welcome to Mastering a Crowdfunding Mindset here from the Self-Publishing Advice Conference run by the wonderful Alliance of Independent Authors.

My name is Nicholas Kotar. I write fantasy inspired by Russian fairy tales, and with me today is Russell Nohelty, who is ALLi's resident expert on Kickstarters.

Hello, Russell. Can you introduce yourself to the lovely people here, please?

Russell Nohelty: Sure. I'm a USA today, bestselling author of fantasy, and I run a company with Monica Leonel, my business partner, called Writer MBA. We have products like the author ecosystem, which helps you get in the right mindset to take advantage of direct sales. We have products like the Kickstarter accelerator, direct sales accelerator. I have a podcast called Kickstart Your Book Sales, and a whole bunch of stuff.

Basically, each of us, I believe we calculated at least a million dollars, that we've raised in our businesses through publishing and other course efforts in our careers. We've helped thousands of authors build their, especially crowdfunding campaigns recently. We've raised over 1.2 million dollars for people in our group through Kickstarter and other crowdfunding efforts, and I personally have raised almost 500,000 through a little over 30 crowdfunding campaigns.

Nicholas Kotar: Wow, 30 crowdfunders. I have three. So, I'm here as the person to learn and you're the one to teach us all. So, I'm very excited to have you here and to talk about this. It's a, I think, a very relevant topic right now.

We all know that publishing is going through a totally wild transitional period. Nobody really knows what's going on. Last year's insane antitrust lawsuit opened up so many cans of worms and a lot of authors, especially the ones coming in, or just starting, or who started in the last five years or so, really have no idea what to do. There's so much information, so little practical and specific knowledge.

So, I'm glad we're going to be talking about crowdfunding because it really is a wonderful option and opportunity for authors to kickstart their business and also to keep it going at various scales.

Just for the audience, just so you all know, my experience with Kickstarter is not as extensive as Russell's here, but in the last few months, I did help out a certain YouTube personality become author run a Kickstarter campaign that ended up actually getting the attention of a Kickstarter publishing, and we got an email from the director of Kickstarter publishing. So, I had a little insider look at how this thing works from the inside, and I can tell you, it's really exciting.

But before we get into that kind of more advanced stuff, since this conference is all about setting the right mindset for publishing in the indie space, what do you think is the best way for all authors, beginners or advanced authors, to think about crowdfunding in general, but Kickstarter in particular?

Russell Nohelty: Sure. So, I think the thing that is really important to think about when you think about Kickstarter is that it's part of your direct sales environment, and really, there are two types of authors.

There's the KU author, who is going to only be in Kindle Unlimited. Basically, their careers go up and down based on the whims of the Kindle Unlimited community, and then there are wide authors.

This is not to say, we have many KU authors who use Kickstarter as well, as the first step in their publishing journey. But in general, when somebody is doing crowdfunding, they're at least wide curious.

And wide means you're on Amazon, but not in KU, their Kindle Unlimited program, and then you're on as many platforms as possible.

And previously, the wide conversation was very much geared towards the five major retailers, and I was in the back kind of saying, but like, why really is every retailer? And Monica was like, and also fiction apps and like also all these other things.

So, I think the most important part of thinking about Kickstarter is really that it's part of this environment of your ecosystem that you're trying to build out.

And the biggest problem that people have is they go, cool, I'm going to use Kickstarter, and then they're like, I kickstarted, and then they're like, I guess I'm going to KU now.

Whether you have an amazing experience or a terrible experience on Kickstarter, it's only one piece of the journey, and when you start looking at all of these retailers, and you start talking to all of these authors who are on multiple retailers, you start seeing that everyone works differently.

The beauty of this whole world that we live in, and I think it's just as chaotic as any time in indie publishing has ever been, but the advantage is that for a thousand years, however long there's been published books, until about somewhere between World War I and World War II, you could really only legitimately consider being an author, if you were part of the leisure class, like if you didn't need to. Then from about, I usually say after World War II, but like sometime between World War I and World War II, you could be an author, you could legitimately as like Joe Schmo, if you had the talent, but you had to move to LA, New York, London, Paris, Moscow, one of the big hubs of publishing. You couldn't live in Cincinnati and be a successful author, for the most part, unless you were already successful, and you moved there after you were successful.

Then Kindle came out and it was like, oh, you could be anywhere in the world and as long as you were on Kindle, in their Kindle Unlimited program, you had a shot at being successful.

So, just the fact that we went from only a very small number of aristocrats being able to use publishing, to a world where anyone that agreed to be in KU could be a successful publisher is a huge jump. But what's happened since probably 2017, 2018 is Kindle Unlimited broke, it just is broken, and it breaks more over time. Even really successful authors are realizing that it breaks, and they don't want to be beholden to another human being or another entity to control their destiny, and they're starting to become more and more curious about being on multiple platforms.

I give all of that history for a very good reason. Before 2017, you could rely on either one platform or sending your book to a publisher and the process of you being a writer was, I won't say easy, it's never been easy, but once you handed in that book, maybe you went on a book tour and then you worked on your next book. Or you uploaded your thing to Kindle limited and whatever the modus operandi of the time, whether it was slamming forth a bunch of Amazon and Facebook ads to click to get to the top, whether it was book stacking, whatever it was, there was a way to be a successful author.

It was like, you could do it with, I won't say no effort, no time and energy, but with much less time or energy than it takes to do any of this other stuff, you could be a successful author.

The caveat to that is, only if you wrote books that were good for the Kindle algorithm or a publisher, could you be successful.

What crowdfunding and why being wide in general or being aggressively wide, which is what Monica and I call it, allows you to do is kind of write whatever weird books you want or whatever weird formats you want and find an audience.

For instance, if you write horror, there's not an audience really on Kindle for horror, but there's a huge audience on Kickstarter and at conventions, in movies, in audio dramas. There are all of these places where you can find your people, but the flip side of that is you have to be a business.

Not that you weren't a business when you were on KU, but a business has to think about the customer experience that they control. They have to go out and find marketing opportunities.

Like my local bookstore goes to farmer's markets and conventions and they run advertising, and they have book clubs in their store, and they have all of this stuff, and it's exhausting.

It's exhausting, but the advantage is you have much more control over what you write, who you write it for, and what kinds of stuff, the actions that you take, than you ever have before.

But there is a flip side to those things, and that was a very long way to say that you have to make the switch from ease and no control to medium to hard, to impossible, but all control.

We have to go from creating a subscription business for Amazon or for publishers to a world where we own the flywheel, we own the funnel, and that is very hard to start, but once you get to the other side of that, you have almost complete control, as long as you can please the audience that's reading your books.

Nicholas Kotar: I mean, there's a ton in there, and I'd love to unpack all of it, including the history. I'm going to skip the history. I'm going to force myself to skip the history, because I could talk about the history endlessly with you, but I wanted to highlight one thing that you said that I think not enough people talk about, and that's that our perceptions, most people's perceptions, of the successful author fit into that very strange historical time period, which is a total unicorn, and that's, in that total tiny little unicorn time period, you could be an author who could do nothing but write and you would be fine. In terms of having a financially stable situation that was.

I want to just underline and make sure people understand that has never been the case throughout all of human literary history ever. So, effectively until about 2018, as you mentioned, we hit a weird inflection point where it was like the twilight of legacy publishing, when things were still hanging on for some people to an absolutely magical model that doesn't exist anymore and never will probably, or not for a long time, and the golden years of a brand new type of technology that worked very well for a certain kind of author, an entrepreneurial type, who is an early adopter, which is not obviously for everybody.

So, necessarily out of that strange little bubble of time where you have the end of one thing and the glorious beginning of another, you have a bunch of advice that comes out of it that starts to mandate how you must do things as an indie author, and a lot of that has been now proven to be false, right?

As you said, because a lot of that is, is Kindle Unlimited specific, or as Orna would talk about it, the volume publishing model.

We're no longer in a place where the volume publishing model or the Kindle specific model is going to magically give you unlimited supplies of money.

We are now entering back into a state where the writer has to think about financial realities as he or she would have throughout human history, except for this tiny little moment.

So, here's my question for you, because this is a more frequent question that I get from people who are considering Kickstarter than you might think. You might think it's a beginner question, but some advanced authors have asked this.

That being the case, how then is Kickstarter in particular, not GoFundMe, not an ask for everybody's charity?

Russell Nohelty: Sure. First, Kickstarter is product specific. You must have a physical, a good. It doesn't have to be a physical good.

It could be a ticket to a play or a virtual conference, but there has to be a creative project on Kickstarter, and they are pretty specific. Some do skate by. I don't know how they skate by. Most of them then are caught and taken down afterwards, but you must be putting out a creative product in order to use Kickstarter.

Nicholas Kotar: In other words, you're not focusing on the needs of the person doing the thing, but on the thing itself.

Russell Nohelty: Yes. With GoFundMe, I mean, the classic example is someone died and you're paying for the funeral cost. You're not getting anything for that money that you donate.

On Kickstarter, you have rewards.

Let's say five dollars, you get an e book. Someone pledges five dollars, and in return, they expect that e book. It is the exact same as if you pre ordered on Amazon an e book, and then when it came out, you would be delivered an e book.

And can somebody pledge at $5 and give you $500?

Sure. I mean, I have had people, not at that great a level, but I have had people who just give me bonus support and they don't want anything out of it, and that's a lovely part of Kickstarter, but it is not the expectation.

The way that Kickstarter works, and the reason that it works, is because it works on the principles of entrepreneurship that every other non-creative industry has had to deal with forever.

So, one of the things that you said about that small window is absolutely, I mean, it's all absolutely true. But the other thing is, it worked for Stephen King. It didn't work for Joe Pond. It didn't work for Jane Queen. It worked for Stephen King, and you would have these success stories that would laud everyone else.

You can't judge Your entrepreneurial journey on Amazon success, but that is what happened in the publishing industry and in the KU, and it still happens, it's happening with Colleen Hoover right now.

She is still lauded as like everybody can have success on TikTok because Colleen Hoover is having it, and Colleen Hoover deserves every piece of success that she's gotten, but there are a million other authors who will never make it work because publishing is a winner take all network effects game. When you are at the very top you, you get so much more of the attention than even the 10th place person. This is why movies, and all of these industries are so competitive, because they know if you're 100, you are doing a million times worse than the person at one, and every tick you can get up there.

What you get with Kickstarter is the ability to flip that paradigm, where instead of needing a million people reading your book to make a million dollars, you need, I don't know, four Kickstarter campaigns at a hundred thousand dollars plus online sales at your web shop of $25,000 a month.

It's not easy, but there are just so many successful entrepreneurs that run businesses making $2,000, it's like $3,000 a day, and selling 10 or 20 products.

Now, authors can't do that necessarily because they're selling like a thousand-dollar course or something. So, it's a little bit easier for them to do that and make that scale work.

But Kickstarter works by basically taking the landing page model and expanding on it for creatives, and we know that it works because publishing is not a unicorn. Not only has it worked in every other industry, not only have mailing lists worked in every industry, even people having physical mailing lists, like the way they would send physical goods at, since at least the 50s, but now you're seeing film industry work more that way, the music industry, and these are industries that are just ahead of publishing.

They've become more sophisticated because more people want to make music, and it's easier to make music than it is to write a book. So, they've had to move to these other models that are much more similar.

We just see, Monica and I look at this all of the time, and we see what is happening with direct sales advertising right now, and we have worked, Monica used to be a corporate marketing person, I've worked in many industries, I used to work in communications, we just see, oh, they're three years behind, they're five years behind. This is the strategy that this industry used.

And I used to say this 10 years ago when people would say, oh no, this will never work in creativity. I'm like now music was at the forefront of this, and then movies were like two or three years behind it, and now publishing is two or three years behind that, but it's all the same curve. It's all moving in the same direction, and I don't think that people can keep their head in the sand now.

Nicholas Kotar: Absolutely not, no.

I think that what you're saying makes a lot of sense and it should be encouraging to people, even if the practical reality of it is that you have to learn a lot more things to do, which of course is one of the big problems that we have as indie authors.

But before we get to the practical aspect of the how, I want to throw one thing at you, and that's that I was actually surprised in a conversation with a self-proclaimed author guru, who's not somebody who I would say is a flash in the pan, this is somebody who writes and publishes well, suggested to me in a coaching call that Kickstarter for authors is reaching a saturation, and that I should start looking at other options because there's going to come a point very soon where there are too many people using Kickstarter, and it's simply going to reach a point where it's no longer useful except for that, again, 1% that's able to do it so much better than everybody else.

What would be your answer to a person who says that?

Russell Nohelty: I would say there's about 10 fiction campaigns that are live on Kickstarter right now. I mean, I don't know, is ten a saturation point? There's the same three to five hundred publishing projects that are live at any one time.

Comics has been a mature platform with a hundred to three hundred projects that are live at any one time, and it saved independent comics ten years ago.

Which is the other reason that I would say the independent publishing community in comics is as similar to books as anything can be. it Is a sequential story, told in order, with words and actions that is bound in a stapled or book type object. The only difference is that one is prose, and one has visuals, and… Kickstarter has been able to support the independent comics community, granted there is some saturation, but I still just raised $8,000 on a single-issue comic two months ago for a kid's book.

It's not that saturated either, and people go back there, people are still raising $100,000, $200,000, $1,000,000. Boom raises $1,000,000 on a campaign sometimes.

And there are dozens of horrors or dozens of every genre, and then I look at fiction category or the non-fiction category, and there's three non-fiction projects. There's two fantasy projects and ten total fiction projects.

The problem, not to get on a high horse, is people do not deliver good books. That is the problem with publishing right now. Almost every book that I get from somebody that I back on Kickstarter is not well put together.

Some are, and those ones that are so expensive that people are going to come once and then not come again.

In comics, we have price points that we generally all follow. Sometimes someone goes above it, and it works, and then sometimes it moves the needle from up a little bit.

But we generally use the same printers. We usually use roughly the same formatting. We use a single distributor pretty much for all of the boxes that we ship in. We are not worried about putting a book box together that has 500 things, like sprayed edges and book boxes are the thing that everyone cares about, but what they actually don't care about is delivering a good book that people will open and say, wow, what a great book, I want to come back to the platform and to the author. Yes, and to the author, and it's a huge, wasted opportunity.

Because in comics, there are people that deliver, that have a very small campaign, and they deliver a really great book, and it builds, and builds, and it literally doesn't happen in publishing.

The reason it doesn't happen in publishing, with few exceptions, is because people do not put out good books, and it is infuriating to me that people say the industry is getting saturated when the truth is people are overcharging for garbage books. That is what's happening. Put out better books and people will gladly come to Kickstarter to find the book.

I know. A month ago, I put out a duology. It raised $6,000 in two weeks. Isn't that a huge amount of money? No. But it had no spray edges, it had no hard cover option, it had no pins or book boxes or anything, that by the way, increased revenue really well, but are crap for profit, so you're actually doing more work to make less money.

It's also stopping people from using the platform because now they think they need to do sprayed edges, and sprayed edges just my hobby horse now, or they need to get 20 AI images inside of a book, or they need to print full colour, or they need to do something that's not just deliver a book people want to read. When they open the book, they go wow. When they flip through the book, they're like, this is worth the amount that I spent on it.

We have lost that in publishing, in such a short amount of time that it is wild to me that that someone would say that it was over saturation, when the thing is clearly, well, everyone's charging $85 for a book. How many times can a person come and spend $85 on a book?

In comics, part of what we drill into every new creator is Kickstarter is a renewable resource, but you have to be a good curator of the ecosystem. You have to be a positive experience to the ecosystem, and what authors are very bad at is treating Kickstarter like an ecosystem, and that it's a thing that can be renewed.

Instead, they generally look at it as a way to extract as much value as they can and then leave, and then never talk about Kickstarter again until they need it again.

I don't know, would you come back to a platform a bunch of times if that was what the overarching strategy of most people were, extract as much value as possible and then leave you disappointed when you get a book?

Nicholas Kotar: No, and it's a great question. The point is that all of what you're saying, and this does confirm what I've seen both from my own campaigns and from ones that I've supported recently. This really confirms, not that we're at a saturation point, but that we're in the wild west, that this is the early beginnings, and that if even comics are a little bit further ahead and they figured out things like a standard fulfilment machine and standard sizes. These are signs of a more mature product, right?

So, we're not anywhere near even being mature, much less saturated, but what I really wanted to focus on the idea that, Kickstarter itself is an ecosystem that can help you because we, as indie authors, have stopped thinking of the retailers as helpmeets.

We see them as adversaries that we have to outsmart, outthink, outmoney, but Kickstarter is surprisingly, the kind of ecosystem that actually does help, and if you can get certain levels of, not that difficult to achieve, of technical proficiency, the right kind of image, a good sales page, actually a product that people want, Kickstarter itself kicks in.

You talk to anybody who's had successful campaigns, the amount of traffic to Kickstarter sends to your campaign can be quite significant.

In some cases, it can be 75 percent of what you make, if not more, but I wanted to underline the fact that so many of us have just automatically come to see the retailers as enemies, that this is a mindset shift. So, how do we then prepare ourselves to better take advantage of Kickstarter's own inbuilt advantages for authors?

Russell Nohelty: The overarching mindset shift, I think, that is important for Kickstarter specifically, is the difference between catalogue sales and direct sales.

So, catalogue sales would be okay, I'm old, but somebody out there has to remember the Kmart catalogue, or JCPenney, or Home Depot. I don't know, did they have one? I remember the Sears catalogue; you literally open it up.

So, Amazon is catalogue sales. They are the distributor. Their job is to find everything that looks exactly the same, that they know will reach the most people and service their most audience and they can make the most money on.

So, it incentivizes you to be the same because you have to be the same, because Amazon is searching for people who are the easy yes, they're searching for people that just read an urban fantasy romance, and they want a book that feels like that.

But you know what? This is one of the funniest things that it doesn't make any logical sense if you actually break it down or spend any amount of thought on it. It's the idea that people only read one genre. It is insane to believe that. Not one human that anyone has ever met, I've met two in my whole life.

One said, I will do anything Batman, and one of my best friends said, I will only read romance novels from the 18th and 19th century, because it's a finite number. They are the only two humans I have ever met who are like, nope, and she has different tastes in movies and in TV. She watches different things; she just doesn't read widely.

But no human has the taste where they're like, my thing is 700 urban fantasies with a strong female heroine.

Is such a pervasive thing, and it's comical, but it's because in a catalogue, when you look for a blue cardigan, and you go to the page, all you want to see is 20 blue cardigans that you can pick from, and if you look at the back, you're like, oh, Bobby really only does blue cardigans.

We know it's wrong, because how many times have we laughed when you went to the Home Depot site and bought a squeegee, I don't know, and then suddenly all you see are squeegee things.

You're like, how many times, brother, do you think I need to buy a squeegee? One time.

But, to them, they're like, oh, dude bought a squeegee, he must need 50 squeegees. And, some people probably do need 50 squeegees, and that influences the thing that they're seeing.

Your job when you're in a catalogue is to make the most homogenous piece. I almost said bland, but that's not accurate. The most homogenous piece of content that looks like all of the other popular things.

Usually JCPenney will be like, hey bro, we need a purple cardigan. They have a thing of what they need, and in the same way you can look at the top 100 and be like, these are the things that Amazon needs.

They want a shifter, but it's a dragon shifter, and also, they're in love with a mermaid, or whatever's hot that month, and you can pick apart.

But Humans don't work that way. I don't know why I have to make this claim to people, but under the least amount of scrutiny, this breaks down.

And on Kickstarter, the thing that I always see is they're like, oh, there's only three romance novels, so I can't cross {inaudible}. And I'm like, Dude, there's four romance RPGs, there's 20 romance games, there's three romance movies. Even just thinking about romance in general, there's 30 other projects, you just have to open your scope, and it's so hard for people to think about the fact that they are the curators of taste for their audience, and what your audience really wants is things you think are cool.

Some people only want to read romance, and maybe that is true, but I would contend that they were in a season where they want that kind of romance, not a life where they want that kind of romance.

On Kickstarter, you can be a lot broader.

I cross promote with all sorts of different genres, and all sorts of different things. The key is that I like it.

I think that I know my audience enough to know they will like it. A lot of them, no, but if three of them like it, that's potentially $100 or $300 to another campaign.

In the same way, if three people from that campaign like it, that's a lot of money. It might be $10, I don't know, but it could be hundreds of dollars, and I have so many stories about backer swaps or cross promotions, that with 20 new backers I made like $100, $500, $200, whatever, and that's the kind of stuff that happens when you're thinking about direct, that you can't do with catalogue, because in a catalogue everything is the same price and most of that money goes to the catalogue and you're making your money on the fact that you can make it quick, you can make it cheap, and that it looks and feels like everything else that's a blue cardigan.

Nicholas Kotar: Then the point about catalogue sales in a digital setting is that they're all going towards subscription models for very small niches, and each one of those subscriptions is getting cheaper and cheaper.

Joanna Penn has repeatedly made the point that eventually it's going to get to effectively zero, which it almost is in, considering the number of books that the average KU reader actually reads, the amount they spend on a single book is like zero.

So, that being the case, you don't want the catalogue thing, you want direct thing because that means you can charge a higher price for a better, more beautiful, more crafted, more personal product.

So, that leads us, I think, into looking at Kickstarter and how it can be helpful in the different publishing models that ALLi talks about.

I think that would be a useful segue here, because you've talked about, I think, two Uses of Kickstarter one is a sort of generalized pre order mechanism for all things, and the other one is for extremely premium products, and the second one is probably more appropriate for a craft publishing mindset, where somebody is putting a lot of effort and a lot of attention into creating beautiful objects.

Hopefully they're not the ones that you're talking about that only guilt the edges and provide an ugly otherwise product, but there are some out there that make genuinely beautiful products.

Russell Nohelty: I should say that I have a ton of friends who make beautiful books that fall into that mould.

However, outside of people I know, so definitely not you, there are a lot of people who send disappointing books to their readers, and no amount of gussying up is going to make a bad reading experience suddenly become a good reading experience.

Nicholas Kotar: So, that being the case, let's look at these three models.

Besides the sort of pre order mechanism for everything or the super highly exclusive premium product, practically, what other uses are there for Kickstarter within those three publishing journeys that ALLi talks about?

Russell Nohelty: Sure. So, I like to give three very basic campaigns that anyone can run with almost no prep time and almost no effort.

Another piece of this new model of book boxes and gilded edges, which increase revenue, but I'm not sure increase profit, and probably don't increase profit, is that suddenly you're like, now I need 20 illustrations and vellum inserts, and all of this stuff. I'm like, no.

If you're Katie Roberts, your audience is going to come for vellum inserts. They're going to play that game with you. They're they'll buy six books at $200.

If you're Brandon Sanderson, they're going to buy four books at $60 each. {Inaudible), but a new author or a younger author looks at it and thinks wow, that's a lot, that's so much just to get in the game, and what is so frustrating about all of this is Kickstarter is supposed to let more people into the game. It's supposed to make it more egalitarian, so more people can succeed, and what I see is a lot of people who think they have to do all of these things to succeed, and it prevents them from actually doing it.

Three campaigns that you could start tomorrow. You could launch it literally tomorrow, assuming you had these.

One, is an anniversary book. An anniversary book is something like Mal Cooper just did with her series. A lot of them are three years, five years, ten years after the book comes out, you want to recover it, you want to re interior format it. Maybe now you know it's successful and you want to do some inserts, because there's nothing wrong with doing those inserts then, but really you have the book done. All you want to do is celebrate the anniversary, and the hardest part of writing and editing the book is over.

Three things you probably need are a cover, and a new interior, and a new proofread. Why? Because no book has ever been proofread enough. Just none.

I don't know if you read the Brandon Sanderson Kickstarter books, but he lists like 50, just proof-readers, not even beta readers that do his books, and I'm like, bro, there's still five errors that I found in this book.

Just because I like to do it, I do a new proofread, you don't have to. You can hire or buy vellum or something and do the interior. Get someone to do a nice cover for you and then launch the campaign. Just push it out there and maybe offer a pin or a print, or one nice thing, but all you are doing, I'm going to say this again, all you are doing with your first campaign is testing what the audience you have is like for Kickstarter. That is your only goal for a first campaign. Can I convert people in my audience to Kickstarter?

Maybe the answer is yes, maybe it's no. But if you need $5,000 to make the book work, you've now destroyed the entire reason why you're doing a Kickstarter, which is the first part of your direct sales journey, usually. So, one is an anniversary book.

Two is, I call it a second chance book. This is a book that was much loved, but not much loved by enough people. So, people love it, you know there's an audience for it, but you hit the launch market wrong, you just didn't spend enough time on it, you didn't hit the tropes, but it's a really cool, weird book. You know that people will buy it if you put it out again. Same exact thing.

I've done this before, where I just put out a book and I'm like, we put out this book a couple years ago, I think it deserves another look. I did this with an audio drama I did a couple years ago that had a really good response after I put it out there. I put a hardcover special edition of this book out. It's called The Void Calls Us Home, and my audience loved it. I think it raised like $4500 or $4,600.

But I didn't have to make the book again. I did make the audio drama because I wanted to make an audio drama, and it was a horror book, so I thought it would do well.

Or an audio book, you want to do an audio book campaign, and you can wrap it in a special edition or any of these other things. Don't make an audio book that's an audio book, just tell people it's a special edition book with an audio book, and then funnel the profits that you don't need to hire an editor for into the audio book. Those are two.

The third is, assuming you have a little bit of an audience, they probably have been telling you about some kind of merch that they really want. Pins, or bookmarks, or character designs, or an art book, or a world, I don't know, some other. This is your chance to say, Cool, you've said you want this, prove it with your money and I'll make it.

If I don't make this goal, I don't really care. I don't want this, you want it, so prove it, and then I'll make it.

I'll tell you; I did this with my book, Ichabod Jones Monster Hunter. People told me for years they wanted more, and eventually I was like, Okay, give me $16,000, and I will make three more volumes.

Sure enough, we raised $16,700 and I did three more volumes, and each of them raised $20,000 when they came out, but the first one was just like a fifth issue and then a reprint of the first volume.

So, you can do all sorts of things to make this a low barrier to entry, and if you're doing your first book and you're like, that's great, what do I do the first time?

Launch the first one on Kickstarter. Just launch it there and be like, I'm going to build good habits at the beginning, because I know eventually I want to cater to a KU audience.

I feel the need to also say, KU is only for eBooks, and I can't tell you how many times I have this conversation and it's, I'm in KU. Cool. So, your eBooks are there, do you have audio books? Are you exclusive to Kindle in audio books? They're like, no, I don't actually have audio books. I'm like, cool. If you do your audio books, take the 25 percent deal, not the 40 percent exclusivity deal, and then you can do whatever you want with audio books.

You can do print books on all platforms. You can make an RPG. All that you can't do, is for the 90 days it's in KU, before you renew it, you can't have it on other platforms, and that is of all of the billion formats that exist, it is one.

Those are my three low-barrier to entry ones.

Nicholas Kotar: Okay. That's really useful because I think too many people, when they think and look at Kickstarter, they think, okay, I need to have a minimum of 5,000. I need to have this for something very special.

And it's going to be so much work, because you have to find a designer, you have to make sure that you get all the images, you have to write the sales page and it's copywriting. Gosh, I can't stand copywriting and really, I mean, do I really have to?

No, it's not that hard. Put it out, see if you have an audience. That's really useful and really helpful.

Russell Nohelty: Also test your messaging.

In our direct sales accelerator course, we have a module that's, if you have a Kickstarter, here's how to take that Kickstarter copy and make it a landing page. Is it a take that landing page and put it in a web store, and pretty much 95 percent of it is done once the Kickstarter is done, because you've tested the messaging.

You've said, Oh, what's the price point? This price point got 30 backers, and this one got two. So, this is probably the right price point, I'm not going to do the other stuff.

Nicholas Kotar: And what you're aiming at here, what you're suggesting is that this isn't a process that's iterative.

So, you put in a lot of work in the first one, and then a lot of the rest of it is just rinse and repeat. All you're going to be changing is the specifics of what it is you're asking, but the general structure of the campaign, the general messaging style, is probably going to be pretty similar.

All the work is going to be done on the first campaign and the rest of it, it's not going to be that hard.

Russell Nohelty: I mean, I literally copy and paste from one campaign in the series to the next and I change little bits, but 90 percent of it is the same, because by the time I got done with that first campaign, I had changed all the problems with it to make it good for that campaign. Then by the time I've iterated throughout to the end of the last campaign that I did, so it's a good sounding board at the beginning to do it.

It's so wild because again, not to go back to comics, but I don't know why people don't consider comics people independent authors in the way that they consider book people to be independent authors, but again comics are books and we just put out the book.

We're like, look, the book is out. Do you want the book?

I do think you should do a different cover for Kickstarter, but some people are doing 40 covers and whatever, but let's see, this book is nothing special.

I printed it at Mixum, and it's black and white, and I didn't do a super fancy thing. It's slightly better printing than the one that I have available on Ingram, but not by that much. There's not 50 additional pages.

People appreciate the hand care of getting a package from an author, and that is enough to justify it.

Now, if you had a book. I have seen people try to do a book they've had out for five years, and I'm just going to put the same book on there, they'll never know.

They probably won't know once, but once they get it, they'll know, and then they won't do it again, and the biggest difference between comics and novels is that comics people know they have to get people back to the platform to use Kickstarter again, because there are no comics retailers.

There's webtoon, which is a whole different model. There's Kickstarter and there's conventions, and so we have to make Kickstarter work, but we do that by taking care in the actual product that we make.

Not in making this product a sprayed edge. I have nothing against sprayed edges, it's just the latest thing. If you want sprayed edges, fine, but so many people think that you can't just put out the book and make it a book.

I can tell you, these two books that I released two months ago, they are literally just paperbacks. There were no pins or anything. They were just two books. That's it. They were two paperback books. I have a shelf full of these books.

This one was a special edition hardcover I'm never printing again, but the interior is the same.

It's just book after book. People want a book that looks good and reads well, and they want it delivered by an author, and there is value in just that exchange, but mostly the value is in seeing who in your audience wants this thing. And if it's four people, you're like, oh man maybe this is not the right time, or maybe I need to spend the next year building up some more chops in the direct sales game. If it's 400 people, maybe you're like, I need to go change my whole publishing model tomorrow because I can make more money on Kickstarter than I can here.

Maybe you'll hate it. Maybe you'll love it.

But I know what will happen on the other side of that door because I've seen hundreds of them go, but I don't know what will happen to you because it is dependent on your audience and your comfort level with doing the work that you need to do.

Nicholas Kotar: Yeah, that's really good. There's a lot of really good information there, Russell.

We're almost out of time, but I did want to at least touch on the connection between Kickstarter and direct sales. Let me give it to you as a hypothetical.

It seems to me that it's clear that the direct-to-consumer approach, which is exemplified by direct sales, is where we need to go because it's the best way you can have control of the data.

Russell Nohelty: And the way every other industry has worked since the dawn of time.

Nicholas Kotar: A point you've made in your recent webinar, which I recommend, with Monica, very good one.

So just going straight, headfirst into the direct sales game, or just the regular sales game, might be difficult if you don't have an audience primed to shop from your own store.

So, am I correct in thinking that this is a way of warming up your audience to the eventuality of getting them to buy from you, because Kickstarter has like we said an ecosystem that can fill in the gaps of your audience by providing its own?

Russell Nohelty: So, here's the thing that I would say with any platform.

So, I'm doing this with Substack now. I've done it with Kickstarter. The goal for me is to really find the people that are on the platform and already bought into the system that exists.

So, with Substack, that's a subscription-based system where they're paying five to ten dollars a month for access to a publication.

With Kickstarter, it's paying a premium to get access to an author and a nice package that they get from them and helping support the author. So, what happens when you're doing a blog on your website, or you're doing direct sales, you're doing a landing page, is like you only get the traffic. Patreon also, like things like that, you only get the traffic you drive. If you have no traffic, that's not great. It's not a great bargain for you, unless you're going to spend a lot to build that traffic.

Kickstarter has several ways they recommend other books.

So, if you have a good book, which is why design is so important.

So, for instance, when you go to a certain publication, you have a project of the day, then on the right side it will have three recommendations for you. You could be one of those recommendations as long as you're doing the work to seed some amount of stuff.

Nicholas Kotar: And you don't have to pay for it.

Russell Nohelty: Yes. At the bottom of every page, there are three recommendations as well. When you back a project, there are recommendations. When they send an email, there's recommendations. So, the more work you can do to bring a seed of an audience, and then work with other people that already have that audience, you are then constructing an ecosystem of people who are bought into Kickstarter.

Will they buy from amazon, no, they probably won't. I am terrible at amazon. I don't even have my fiction books on amazon because it's useless, but The KU people are probably bought into KU, and it's probably not because they specifically love Amazon.

It's because they have a finite amount of money, and they know $10 is a pretty good use of it, even though they can pretty much get any book they ever want on a library app for free. They still make that bet and that's the bet that they make.

So, if you want to build a KU audience, you need to find all the big KU authors and do cross promotions and do KDP daily or whatever those things are that will juice that algorithm and get you those people.

So, we call this direct sales light, because direct sales on your own web store, or on your landing page, or whatever, has no algorithm. There's no algorithmic advantage. You have to just drive traffic there and then retarget traffic and make all of those games to optimize.

But on Kickstarter, on Etsy, there's retailers that combine algorithm with direct sales, and of those, Kickstarter, I think, is probably the best for books, specifically, because games is a very strong category on Kickstarter, and one of their big things is RPGs, and I don't know if you've ever seen an RPG, but it is bound in a book and has pages that tell a sequential story in the same way that a book does.

One of the other most popular categories is comics, which for the same reason, is a book as well.

So, there's already two huge audiences of people that may not all want a book, but probably some of them do.

The Kickstarter recommendation engine can help you build a direct sales audience, but in doing that, that is why to come all the way back full circle. You have to consider this part of your ecosystem or your environment, because it's not enough to build a direct sales ecosystem on just Kickstarter, because you can only run so many Kickstarters a year.

When you have that Kickstarter, you can download the customer data and upload it into Facebook as a custom audience. Then you can use that to build something to go to your sales page, and then that sales page can retarget your stuff, and then you could use those people to go to conventions and have them help build you up at conventions. All of these things work in concert, but so many people run headlong into that first Kickstarter campaign or first experience with direct sales and are like, Oh, now what? Or no, I'm out.

Kickstarter is a terrible way to have it as the only direct sales thing that you do. The only value you would get is recouping your production costs, which isn't nothing, but the real value comes from your like, hey, I own the customer data for this.

What would happen if I also owned the payment data, and I did it on my own store? Or I use the company that had a Stripe integration or something like that? Or I even used backer kit so I could have some of that payment data as well?

So, I honestly don't even remember where I started this, but that's where I'm ending it.

Nicholas Kotar: You came around right around full circle, so it's perfect. In fact, a lot of this information is cyclical, and it's been very useful.

But it's only a small taste of it, So Russell, why don't you tell people where they can get the fuller version of everything that you told us today?

Russell Nohelty: Sure, so the easiest way is to go to my SubStack, which is authorstack.substack.com, or The Author Stack.

From there, you can find our archetyping system which is at authorecosystem.com and take our quiz.

Then the big one is we have a conference called The Future of Publishing Mastermind in February in New Orleans. Next February 26th to 29th, and we are still accepting applications.

But the Author Stack is probably the best way to just find all this information in one place.

Nicholas Kotar: Fantastic. Thanks, Russell.

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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