Crowdfunding: 10 Tips to Make It Work for You, Part One

Marnie Lamb

Crowdfunding is becoming an increasingly popular way for people to realize their goals, both personal and professional. Crowdfunding refers to raising money for a cause through soliciting donations from a large group of people, often via the Internet. Although I had a hazy idea of the general principles behind crowdfunding, I never imagined that I would launch a campaign, much less one to raise money to get a book published. I first heard of crowdfunding for book publication six years ago during one of my courses in the Publishing Program at Toronto’s Ryerson University. I recall thinking, “Whoa. That’s a bit too new and radical for me.”

Then, last year, Iguana Books, a hybrid publisher based in Toronto, accepted my young adult novel, The History of Hilary Hambrushina, for publication. Iguana uses a newer publishing model. Iguana publishes only books that meet its editorial standards. To ensure that it doesn’t lose money on its books, Iguana asks authors to either pay the publication costs up front or raise the money through selling advanced copies via crowdfunding. At first, I was going to pay the money myself and be done with it, but Greg Ioannou, Iguana’s president, convinced me to try crowdfunding, saying that a YA novel would be a good candidate for a successful campaign. Buoyed by his enthusiasm, I agreed to take the plunge. The amount needed to cover publication costs was C$4315.

On Shark Tank, you hear about people launching a Kickstarter or GoFundMe campaign that exceeds its goal within the first few hours. Listening to these glorious tales, you might easily be trapped into thinking, “All I need to do is set up my campaign, push the start button, and wait for the money to gush in, right?

Wrong. So wrong.

These wonder campaigns are rarer than a sunny day in a Vancouver winter. According to Kickstarter (https://www.kickstarter.com/help/stats), 64% of crowdfunding campaigns fail, and 14% never earn a nickel. My informal observations about PubLaunch, a site affiliated with Iguana Books and which raises money for book-related endeavours only, show similar results. I count at least eight other campaigns that started in the months during or surrounding mine; only one was successful in meeting its goal. The amounts raised in the others ranged from 0% to 25% of the target.

So why was my campaign a sunny day in a season full of grey skies? I was an unlikely candidate to run a fruitful campaign. I’d had little experience fundraising. Before this campaign, the most I’d ever had to raise was C$150 for a charity walk. I’m also a proud introvert who generally disdains self-promotion as tacky, narcissistic, or desperate. I didn’t have an author website, I wasn’t on any social media platforms, and the only reason I had a website for my freelance editing business was that I needed to engage in some self-promotion to pay my bills.

Iguana provided me with their crowdfunding guide, which offers basic information about setting up a PubLaunch page and tips on helping a campaign succeed. However, I don’t credit my success only to having followed the guide. Rather, intuition, forethought, observations about previous PubLaunch campaigns, adjustments along the way, and a little luck were the keys. Here are the top ten pieces of advice I’d offer anyone considering using crowdfunding for book publication.

 1. Choose the dates of your campaign carefully: Don’t be the fool who rushes in. Once you’ve decided to test the crowdfunding waters, you may be tempted to plunge in immediately and start sharing your dream with the world. However, carefully choosing your campaign’s timing is more likely to set you up for success.

First, consider the when: What are the start and end dates and time of year? My PubLaunch contact advised that in her experience, Tuesday and Wednesday are the best launch days; hence, I chose the former for my kickoff. I’m not suggesting that other days will result in a failed campaign or that a magic formula exists to find the best day of the week. But try to avoid days on which many people will be busy, such as holidays or the first Saturday of the school summer break.

The same applies to the time of year. During the holiday season in December, people are distracted and busy. In January, they’re poorer after their holiday purchases and may not be willing to dish out more dollars. The exception may be a campaign for a fitness or health book. Then, you can tap into people’s New Year’s resolutions to exercise or eat better. Also, consider your own schedule. It’s unwise to launch a campaign the day before you leave for a long weekend canoeing expedition in the backwoods of Algonquin Park. You need to be available throughout your campaign, especially at the start and end, to answer potential supporters’ questions.

Next, consider the how: How many weeks will the campaign be? Some PubLaunch campaigns were only three weeks, but the idea of raising over C$4000 in such a short time made me nervous. Iguana and I agreed on six weeks. Part of the impetus for the extra weeks was that my campaign began on August 2, and I wanted to leave enough time to catch potential supporters who would be returning from vacation in September. If you thrive under tight deadlines, a shorter campaign may suit you. If not, I’d suggest a minimum six-to-eight-week run time. Moreover, consider your circle of potential supporters. If your kith and kin are procrastinators, you may need a longer campaign to nail down all their pledges.

Try to choose dates that best set you up for success, while recognizing that your choices offer no guarantees. These choices should include giving yourself enough lead time (ideally at least a couple of months) to promote the campaign to family and friends, who can in turn promote it to their circle.

 2. Choose and price your rewards wisely: Good things come in small packages, but better things come in big packages. On PubLaunch, rewards are packages of goods that supporters purchase to help fund a book’s publication. Rewards form the building blocks of a campaign, so taking time to fine-tune them is essential.

The first reward you’ll want to offer is a copy of your book. Offer each edition as a separate package, and consider combining editions and selling them at a discount (e.g., “Save $5 when you purchase the ebook and paperback together”). Iguana encourages authors to give their rewards fun names; I named mine after the characters in my book. Think, too, about including a more expensive reward for a limited-edition item. I offered a hardcover of my book, which was available only during the campaign. The cachet of exclusivity appeals to people, and you’re giving supporters real value by enabling them to purchase something special.

Rewards don’t have to be only books. An invitation to your book launch, a shout-out in the acknowledgements section, or an appearance at a book club meeting are all good rewards. Do you have a special talent such as quilting or sculpting? Work that into a package. Some PubLaunch campaigns offered a piece of unique artwork, handcrafted by the author, the ultimate example of a limited-edition item.

Pricing is a crucial part of reward preparation. Don’t gouge your supporters by charging unfairly high prices, but do charge enough. After all, the cheaper the rewards, the more supporters you’ll need for a successful campaign. According to Iguana, the paperback of my book would have a list price of around C$20. My reward package The Mom comprised a signed paperback and a bookmark featuring the cover art. I felt that C$25 for a copy that included two extras (the personalized signature and bookmark) was fair. However, C$40 would not have been. But avoid overly cheap rewards. A couple of PubLaunch campaigns offered a thank-you email in exchange for C$1. Providing such cheap options is tantamount to saving up for a cross-country trip one nickel at a time. The Mom was the most inexpensive reward I offered; I didn’t offer the cheaper ebook edition, because I knew I’d have to find more supporters if I did. If you’re concerned that your lowest price might drive away more frugal customers, you can also offer a no-reward pledge, in which supporters simply donate any amount of money without receiving anything. I did this and earned a big chunk of money from it (see tip number seven, coming in part two).

If you’re including non-book rewards, don’t assume that your publisher will produce the materials or cover the cost. I made this mistake about my bookmarks and was dismayed to learn that I would have to design, print, and pay for them. Luckily, a couple of kind souls helped out, and my work and costs were minimal. But be sure you charge enough to offset your own costs.

 3. Offer packages of multiple books: Two for the price of one is better than one for the price of one. Make ordering multiple copies of your book as easy as possible for your supporters. This is part of choosing rewards wisely, but it’s so important that it bears setting off as a separate point.

I learned the importance of such packages quickly. On the first day of my campaign, one of my supporters phoned me and inquired about ordering multiple copies. When I explained that PubLaunch isn’t set up to order multiples of the same package, he responded, “so if I want to order five paperbacks, I have to go through the process five times?” Realizing the impracticality of this set-up, I consulted with the publisher and came up with a solution: separate rewards for purchasing two hardcovers or two paperbacks. To these rewards I gave the same name as the rewards for one copy, except with “plus.” So while the Mom (C$25) was one copy of the paperback, the Mom Plus (C$50) was two.

Several of my supporters wanted to buy a copy for themselves and another for someone else. If the ordering process had been too cumbersome, I’m sure that some of those supporters would have given up on the second copy, costing me sales. I also realized that two $25 books are worth more than one $50 book. The second book offers a chance for a new reader to not only discover the book but also potentially tell others about it, possibly creating more sales. Multiples are another area ripe for discounts. Although I didn’t choose that route, you may wish to do so to encourage supporters to buy more books (e.g., “Save $5 when you buy two copies of the paperback”). Interestingly, the other successful PubLaunch campaign also made use of the multiples technique.

 4. Set your goal slightly higher than what you need: Do overextend yourself. I offer this advice cautiously, as it’s both a remedy and a poison. I didn’t actually do this on my campaign, but in hindsight, I wish I had set the bar a little higher to help cover my marketing costs.

Setting a loftier goal is a remedy in that exceeding your goal gives you a little boost in covering other book-related expenses. If you’re being published by a company that asks you to crowdfund, chances are that the publisher will be doing little or no marketing of your book (or they might provide marketing, but only for an additional fee). That promotion and its cost will fall to you. I was blessed to exceed my initial goal by almost C$500 extra, and the excess funds, given to me by the publisher, went right back into the book in the form of marketing. Some marketing endeavours will be in US$, therefore costing more in C$, another reason that raising a little extra dough may be helpful. (I’ll discuss marketing more in an upcoming article.) If you’re an assertive go-getter who feels confident about your chances of reaching your goal, think about resetting your target to net a modest amount extra, say 5% to 10% of the publication costs.

For a different personality, though, this new goal might be a poison. Publication costs are expensive, and raising enough money to cover them is already a steep hill to climb without adjusting the gradient. If you’re at all uncertain about crowdfunding or concerned about meeting your goal, stick with the original target. As I’ll discuss in part two, crowdfunding is an emotional journey, and you may not wish to invite the added stress of a higher goal.

 5. Promote your campaign early and often: Understand that if you build it, they won’t come—unless you tell them about it, draw them a map, or even strap them into a car and drive them to “it.” As Bethany Joy Carlson advises (https://janefriedman.com/crowdfunding-for-writers/), “The success of your campaign and the marketing of your book in general hinge on your willingness to embrace the role of your book’s number-one cheerleader.” Expecting your campaign to market itself is the biggest mistake you can make.

Expecting your publisher to market your campaign isn’t wise, either. While Iguana did promote my campaign by sending out a few tweets and posting a few messages on Facebook, this publicity garnered maybe two supporters. (I say maybe because both of the supporters are fellow members of a professional association to which I belong and to which I had been promoting my campaign. So I don’t know whether their support resulted from my publicity or from Iguana’s.) Definitely ask your publisher to promote your campaign—you need all the weapons in your arsenal to ensure success—but recognize that you are ultimately responsible for driving supporters to your page.

Tell everyone you know about your campaign. Family and friends, yes, but also colleagues, fellow members of any professional groups, members of your place of worship or any clubs to which you belong, neighbours, friends of friends, your accountant, your hairdresser, and your dental hygienist. Not everyone will donate, but no one will donate if he or she isn’t aware of the campaign. To build buzz, tell people about the campaign weeks before it begins and again as soon as it starts. Don’t stop promoting after your first contact. Halfway through the campaign, follow up with people who haven’t donated. I had to ask certain people three times before they donated, but persistence paid off and those pledges came through.

In your initial email or conversation after the campaign starts, make donating easy by explaining what crowdfunding is and how it works; providing instructions for donating, the link to your crowdfunding page, and the deadline for pledges; and inviting questions. Be sure to indicate the currency: Are your rewards and goal in C$, US$, etc.? Let supporters know how long they can expect to wait before receiving their rewards. People who aren’t familiar with the publication process may expect a book two weeks after your campaign ends! Even a ballpark estimate helps. If the publication date changes (as mine did), you can update supporters later with the new details.

Self-promotion does not come naturally for many people. If you fall into this category, you’ll need to be willing to be uncomfortable, at least at first. But I found that the more I spoke about my passion for my book and its story, the more I embraced the role of cheerleader and the more authentic my cheerleading became. I think that being more of an introvert and less of a self-promoter can actually be an advantage when you do have to promote yourself and your causes because it makes your marketing weightier. Your family, friends, and acquaintances know that you’re not someone who’s always hawking his or her wares. So if you’re promoting your crowdfunding project, it must be close to your heart. That will likely convince more people to listen to and ultimately support you.

© Marnie Lamb

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Author Bio:  Marnie Lamb is a Gemini incarnate: half writer and half editor. She earned a master’s degree in creative writing from the University of Windsor. Her short stories have appeared in Journey Prize Stories 25 and various Canadian literary journals, including filling Station, The Nashwaak Review, and The Dalhousie Review. Her first novel, a YA book named The History of Hilary Hambrushina, was published by Iguana Books this past spring. She pursues her other love, editing, as the owner of Ewe Editorial Services, which offers copy editing, indexing, permissions and photo research, and proofreading services to educational, scholarly, and trade publishers. When she is not writing or editing, she can be found cooking recipes with eggplant or scouting out fashions—preferably ones with polka-dots—at Toronto’s One of a Kind Show.