Crowdfunding is becoming more and more popular amongst people working in the arts—writers, musicians, artists, film-makers—as a way of raising money for projects. Rather than going to official funding bodies for money, artists worldwide are appealing directly to audiences and readers through crowdfunding sites such as Kickstarter, Pozible, Indiegogo, and more. Some campaigns produce extraordinary results: one prominent example recently was the Veronica Mars movie, propelled by its creators, which raised more than $5million on Kickstarter, more than twice its target—a result guaranteed by tens of thousands of fans, who, annoyed by the fact the cult TV series had been canned by the networks before it was properly completed, were thrilled by the idea of the movie. Excellent people power!
In its essence, crowdfunding is not a new concept, especially in literature: the subscription model of past centuries, where investors clubbed together to publish books, is basically similar. You could say in fact that it is thanks to crowdfunding that Shakespeare’s plays occupy their central place in our culture for the First Folio was ‘crowdfunded’ by his friends and associates, not long after his death, because they did not want to see his plays(which till then had been circulating only in pirate editions)to die with him.
Modern crowdfunding has been greatly facilitated by the fact of the internet, of course, which makes it very easy for a wide circle of people to contribute to projects they believe in. Basically how it works is lots of small investors(or several bigger ones) contribute to your nominated project by pledging x amount of money, for which they get y amount of ‘perks’ which depending on value range anywhere from a simple ‘thank you’ to copies of the work, merchandise, all kinds of things. Many thousands of people have raised money towards their projects that way. Not only does it raise money, though: it also guarantees you sales, readership, audience, and is a great promotion and publicity tool.
In the past, I’ve contributed to several crowdfunding campaigns, for such diverse projects as a musical, a novel, and a photography project amongst the street kids of Tbilisi(Georgia, Caucasus). But earlier this year, I was on the other side of the fence, running my own Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign, for a project dear to my heart and those of two artist friends, David Allan and Fiona McDonald. Together, we’ve embarked on an exciting adventure—the creation of our own small picture-book publishing house, Christmas Press (motto: ‘picture books to cherish every day’), with the launch title being Two Trickster Tales from Russia, out in late September. The campaign was towards printing costs for the book, which comprises two lively, traditional Russian folk-tales(Masha and the Bear; and The Rooster with the Golden Crest) retold by me, illustrated by David in beautiful classic Russian-influenced style, and elegantly designed by Fiona and David.
Christmas Press initially began because we were frustrated by the fact that one of the stories from the book, Masha and the Bear, which David and I had pitched as a picture-book project to several mainstream(and independent) publishers had been very much praised but regretfully declined as not being commercial enough to fit publishing lists focussed on bigger print runs and school sales. But we were sure that such a classic-feel book would indeed have a market, especially a gift market—people buying it for children and grandchildren, and nostalgic readers as well—and as short run printing is very reasonably priced these days in Australia, we decided to take a gamble and go ahead and publish it ourselves, with another related traditional Russian story added. (Both the texts, by the way, have appeared individually in children’s magazines, so I knew they had success with readers themselves.) But another reason for initiating Christmas Press was more general. In our opinion there is a niche that isn’t being filled at the moment by any Australian publisher: retellings of traditional stories from all over the world, beautifully and classically illustrated, for the whole family to share. Instead of bemoaning that fact, why not be proactive and see if we could fill that niche ourselves?
Crowdfunding our launch title seemed a natural extension of our own small-scale, grassroots approach—going straight to the readers.
We researched the process extensively before launching into it, because not every crowdfunding site is the same. Early on, we dismissed the idea of Kickstarter, the most famous of the sites, because you need a US bank account for that and we’re in Australia; and then it was a question of deciding between two different types of crowdfunding model, the ‘fixed’ or ‘all or nothing’ model, which sites such as Pozible and Zoshpit (for musicians)work on, where you must reach your nominated funding target to be paid anything at all–people who contribute to such projects get their money refunded if the target isn’t met and the project doesn’t get up–; and ‘flexible’ funding, which Indiegogo functions on(though it also has a ‘fixed funding’ option if you want.) Flexible funding means you get to keep the money raised, even if you don’t reach your target, with a commission taken out by Indiegogo of course—the commission is higher if you don’t reach your target than if you do, but still reasonable. We chose the Indiegogo flexible funding model because a/we had committed to our project going ahead, regardless, had already started work on it and negotiated with the printer and b/we felt that having contributors from the start who would not have to wear the disappointment of the project not going ahead, was a much better look for a brand new small publisher! What we felt was that even if we didn’t reach our target, the funds raised would help very much to defray the costs, and the goodwill and excitement generated too would be very valuable indeed. Which proved very much to be the case.
Once we’d decided on the site, we signed up–it’s free to do so—and started planning our campaign pitch. This consists of a written pitch introducing your project and what exactly ou’re seeking support for (in our case, printing and associated costs),as well as images and a pitch video. You don’t have to have pitch video, but all the evidence is that campaigns work better where there is one. Some people have very elaborate clips, but we chose to do it simply and cheaply: using images from the book, a simple video-clip creating program(Windows Movie-Maker), a little bit of text introducing us and the book, and some music(originally written by my son for one of my own book trailers). The images spoke for themselves!
Then came the devising of the list of the ‘perks’ to offer contributors, which is directly related to the amount they fund you for. For instance, with ours, a $25 contribution was basically a pre-order for the book, being a signed copy of the book, posted anywhere in Australia, whilst a $50 perk included a signed copy of the book plus a signed limited-edition print of one of the illustrations; and so it went on, through different perks, right to a $1,000 biggie with all kinds of things offered—books, prints, merchandise, and a beautiful matrioshka ‘nesting’ doll, hand-painted by David, featuring characters from the stories. (We didn’t really expect anyone to take that one up—and so it proved to be!)With a picture-book, of course, the possibilities for perks are endless; not so obvious with a novel! Then we had to decide on the length of our campaign—these can run from 30-60 days but Indiegogo recommends 45 days as being the optimum length. We took their advice.
We made sure all our social media sites were up and running: there’s a Christmas Press Facebook page,https://www.facebook.com/ChristmasPress, ably run by Christmas Press editor and publicist, Beatriz Alvarez (who also doubles as Fiona’s daughter!), a Christmas Press Twitter account, https://twitter.com/ChristmasPress and of course a website: http://christmaspresspicturebooks.com/
We also had to decide on such ‘housekeeping’ details as how contributors might pay, such as credit card and/or Paypal, and enter all that information, for the benefit of Indiegogo (it is they act as the broker, collecting funds, and they who will deposit the funds into your nominated bank account, minus commission, at the end of the campaign.)
And then we took a deep breath, hit the Submit button, and the campaign went live!
It was quite a rollercoaster ride, watching the campaign as it wound on through the 45 days. In the end, with nearly 50 generous backers, we made 65 percent of our target, which was great(we were in fact in the top ten most popular literary projects on Indiegogo at the time!). It meant not only that our printing costs were reduced by that amount, but also that we got invaluable exposure through social media and word of mouth. The nicest thing of all, however was the warmth and excitement expressed to us by our wonderful contributors, who ranged from family and friends to fellow authors, illustrators and other people in the book industry. And we learned quite a few things along the way for any future crowdfunding campaigns:
- If you have money committed already towards your project, and you are running a flexible campaign, set your target slightly lower than what you’ll need.
- Provide frequent updates but don’t remind people too often of the campaign—eg, keep Facebook ‘likers’ interested by providing personal glimpses into the progress of the book.
- Go for a short-term Facebook ad to increase your exposure there—a short sharp, carefully targetted one over say a month works well.
- Don’t expect Facebook ‘likes’ or Twitter follows however to match actual interest in the crowdfunding! Most successful approaches were through personal emails, personal Facebook messages or onward references by people who had already contributed: roughly two-thirds of the contributors were people one of us at least knew in some way, with a third being people we did not know at all.
- Follow up with people who have expressed interest in contributing but by the last third of the campaign, haven’t done so—a little embarrassing, but can be done discreetly.
- Have an alternative way for people who are keen to contribute but don’t want to go through the crowdfunding site or are wary of using their credit cards online (we have a business check account).
- Don’t stress too much!
If any reader’s been involved in a crowdfunding campaign, whether as initiator or contributor, I’d love to hear about it in comments. And even if you haven’t, what are your thoughts on it?