6. Go on social media: Blow your own tuba but don’t be a one-person band. Support your campaign by using your social media accounts to spread the word about your crowdfunding project and drive people to the campaign page.
This is another tip that I didn’t take full advantage of during my own campaign. Although I now have an author website, a Facebook page, and a Goodreads account, these all came after my crowdfunding ended. I had no social media presence during the campaign. Quite the opposite: For various reasons, I had been a dedicated Facebook loather for almost a decade. When I signed a contract with a publisher who doesn’t provide marketing, I knew that I would have to become more active online to promote my book. However, I was so focused on the short-term goals—ensuring that my publication costs were funded and getting the book to the editing and design stages—that I failed to look to the long-term goal of marketing. I was going to have to set up a Facebook page and an author website at some point, and I wish that I had done so before the campaign. Not all of my current Facebook friends are people to whom I’d promoted my campaign. So I can’t help but wonder how many more people I might have reached and how many more pledges I might have secured had I made my mark on social media earlier.
Another advantage of being on social media is that it helps willing supporters promote your campaign. Even if you’re a newbie to social media, chances are that you have several friends and family members with a large social media following. Enlist their help by asking them to post, tweet, and share. Several of my supporters did so, some without being asked. But I would have made their promotion so much easier by having been on, for example, Facebook and posting messages myself. Supporters would then have been able to simply share with one click, as opposed to typing new messages themselves.
Finally, if you’re on social media, you can engage with the people who read posts or tweets related to your campaign, by thanking your supporters, responding to comments or tweets, and liking people’s responses. This engagement shows you to be a live person rather than a paper cut-out named “my friend, the faceless author who is not online.” Generally, people will respond better to those whose profiles they can see and interact with. If interested parties can click on your profile and be taken to your author website, where they can read more about you as a writer, so much the better. All this information whets people’s appetites for your book, and maybe some of those diners will order a copy to satisfy their cravings.
7. Get extra funding from generous donors: Find angels who don’t fear to tread. Angel investors are people who are willing to spend money on a cause for the love of the cause—or of the person promoting it. Due diligence is involved, but because angels often have a personal relationship with the fundee, they are usually more willing to part with their money than are venture capitalists. In the context of crowdfunding, I’m using the word more specifically to refer to supporters who are willing to pledge money without receiving anything in return. This is where the no-reward pledge, discussed in part one, is essential.
Because my campaign was premised on selling advanced copies, I assumed that I would raise all the money through book sales. However, for a couple of reasons, that didn’t happen. First, several people on whom I’d been counting for donations didn’t come through. Second, many people who bought copies purchased the paperback, which was half the price of the hardcover, so I was earning less money than I expected. I wouldn’t have come close to reaching my goal without the help of a few winged saviours who swooped down and blessed the money pot with large-denomination bills. I wasn’t expecting to have to rely on this heavenly support. But if you’re planning a campaign, consider sounding out people to whom you’re close and who might be able and willing to be your angels, depending on how the campaign goes.
And depending on the content and specificity of your book, you may also wish to approach organizations with which you’re connected. For example, say you’re writing a historical novel about Chinese railway workers in late-nineteenth-century British Columbia. Perhaps you know someone at a Chinese-Canadian historical society or friendship association that might be interested in donating money to help disseminate your story to a wider audience. Organizations will probably respond more favourably if you’re able to offer them something in return, such as an invitation to your book launch, a thank-you on the acknowledgements page, or cross-promotion of their work. I wouldn’t advise approaching organizations with whom you don’t have an existing relationship. People may not react well to a sponsorship request from someone they’ve never heard of. Then again, if you’re an assertive personality with strong selling skills, you may be comfortable with this approach. So much the better for you.
As with a guardian angel, you hope you don’t have to rely too much on angel investors. But if you do need their help, you’ll sure be glad that they’re around.
8. Manage your emotions, part one: Tune out the elevator music. One of the most surprising and unsettling developments of my crowdfunding campaign was how emotional the journey was.
Hope. Fear. Despair. Joy. Anticipation. Uncertainty. Excitement. Anger. Anxiety. Disappointment. Elation. I felt every emotion throughout my campaign. The experience wasn’t the clichéd roller coaster. With a roller coaster, you can see what’s coming, and the ups and downs are always extreme. Rather, my journey was more like riding an elevator with one button. When I entered the elevator and pressed the button to check my fundraising progress, I never knew where the elevator would take me. Would I shoot up several floors (“Yay! Three hundred dollars more in donations!”) or plunge down several (“Ugh! It’s been five days and still no new pledges!”)? Would I bump up one floor (“Another paperback sold!”) or drop down one (“Nothing new. Oh, well. I had two new donations yesterday.”)?
Even the most equable person will be buffeted by waves of emotion during a campaign. Crowdfunding is a high-stakes proposition. You spend years crafting a manuscript, you find a publisher or decide to self-publish (probably after many rejections), and you bravely share your story (or at least a chapter or two of it) with the world. Now, you must wait weeks to see whether the public expresses enough interest in your manuscript to make publication viable. You don’t have to be a highly sensitive person to find this situation nerve-wracking.
That’s why maintaining some life–crowdfunding balance is critical. Yes, spending time on the campaign is important. Every night, I completed or initiated one piece of promotion, always asking myself the same questions: “Who can I tell about my campaign who hasn’t heard about it yet? Who can I follow up with who hasn’t donated? Where and how else can I promote it?” But when spending time on your campaign, be sure that you’re actually working productively on it, not morosely navel-gazing about it. Checking your campaign’s progress every hour is like constantly looking in the mirror to see whether your acne medication is working: Checking isn’t going to make the medicine work faster, and if you don’t detect any change from your previous scrutiny, you’ll feel depressed. I looked at my campaign page a maximum of four times a day and sometimes not at all on weekends.
Take breaks and recharge in environments that soothe and relax you (for me, this environment is yoga class). This self-management is essential for your health, both mental and physical, but also benefits your campaign. Feeling too confident or too despairing can result in you giving up on promoting the campaign, causing you to think, “Why bother?” for opposing reasons.
9. Manage your emotions, part two: Tune out the jeers and tune in to the cheers. The harsh truth is that not everyone in your life will be supportive of your publishing endeavours.
But, you might argue, surely this isn’t unique to the crowdfunding process. No, but any lack of support is made clear during that process. After all, someone could claim that she bought a copy of your book after publication, and you don’t have any practical way of proving otherwise. During the crowdfunding, however, you can see who has purchased a copy. On PubLaunch, for example, a list of supporters appeared on a public page of my campaign. However, Iguana and I also had access to a private page, which listed the names of the supporters (including those who had chosen to be listed anonymously on the public page), their email addresses, the rewards packages they purchased, the amount they spent, and the date and time of their purchases. So at the end, I knew who had not ponied up. Some people had excellent reasons for not having supported my campaign. But not everyone did.
I had two friends, both of whom I’d known for over a decade, who fell into the latter category. During the campaign, one told me that while she would try to purchase a copy of my book, she couldn’t make any promises. After all, it was “a busy time of year” so she might not be able to set aside the time it took to buy the book online. (This after I had spent over an hour travelling to her birthday party.) The other bought the book under protest, after having phoned me to warn that the crowdfunding sounded “dangerous on many levels” and that “no one [she] talked to thinks this is a good idea.” When my campaign succeeded and her doubts were proven wrong, she stopped speaking to me. Not surprisingly, both of these relationships had been rotting for quite some time. But the news of my book publication and crowdfunding campaign painfully exposed the depths of the disease at a time when I was already vulnerable and under stress.
I don’t think it’s ever possible to be emotionally prepared for such betrayals. The best you can do is handle these attacks by connecting with kind, level-headed supporters who can talk you through the rough patches. One of the best pieces of advice I received from such a person was this: “People are going to be jealous of you. Don’t even give it air time.” That encouraged me to keep my eyes focused on my goal, not on the hecklers jeering from the sidelines as I sprinted past. The cheers of the people who’d encouraged me throughout the publication process helped propel me forward to that goal.
10. Keep supporters in the loop after your campaign ends: Silence is cheap. Regardless of your campaign’s outcome, share the result and next steps with all your supporters. If your campaign failed to meet its target and you’ll be refunding the money that was donated, let supporters know when they can expect reimbursement. If your campaign succeeded in meaning its target or if it failed but you’ll be financing the shortfall yourself, let supporters know the next step in your book’s publication process (e.g., “The book will be moving on to the editing and cover design stage.”).
Many of my supporters came from one of several groups: family, friends, fellow worshippers at my church, and fellow members of two professional associations to which I belong. I crafted slightly different emails for each group and sent them off immediately after my campaign concluded. A few supporters didn’t fall into any of the above categories, so I contacted those people separately. I also enlisted the aid of some supporters in updating others who were mutual friends. In all instances, I made sure that my deep thanks were prominently conveyed in the communication.
As an alternative to email, social media is an excellent way of informing multiple groups of people about your campaign’s progress. Be sure to reach out individually to people who are not on social media, too. If that means sending a postcard to your technologically challenged great-uncle in rural Manitoba, do so. He supported you, and he deserves to know where his money is going.
Not long before my campaign started, I was asked to support another crowdfunding campaign. I happily did so and received a couple of updates about the campaign’s progress. Then, silence descended. The person running the campaign didn’t keep in touch about whether the fundraising had succeeded. In fact, in her initial communication, she hadn’t indicated a deadline, so I didn’t even know how long the campaign was running. Only once I joined Facebook several months later did I receive a message from this person inviting me to like a page she had created for her cause. It turns out that the campaign had succeeded, but had I not joined Facebook, I probably wouldn’t have known. And in those preceding months, I was left wondering where my money had gone. This situation puzzled and irked me. Don’t risk annoying your early supporters, many of whom are probably your family members or close friends. Take time away from celebrating or moping to write those emails and mail those postcards.
If your book publication is going ahead, keep communicating after you’ve relayed your campaign’s result. Sharing milestones with your supporters—revealing the book’s front cover, showing off your glamorous new author photo, and announcing the publication date—is fun and rewarding. Your supporters will get almost as much joy by reading about your book’s journey as you will by sharing that journey.
Having read this far, you might be thinking, “Why bother crowdfunding? It sounds risky, stressful, and difficult.” For many people, crowdfunding is all three. However, it offers two important benefits.
First, crowdfunding saves you a lot of money. Funding a book’s publication costs solo requires a huge outlay of money, more than many people can afford. Combined with covering the marketing expenses, paying publication costs means that the likelihood of you recouping your investment in your book, let alone turning a profit, is miniscule. Unloading the burden of a huge chunk of the expenses gives you a much better shot at profiting financially from your book. And why shouldn’t you make money on your book? Without your hard work and dedication, none of the other partners—the publisher, the printer, the distributor—would earn money. Surely, you’re entitled to your share.
Second, crowdfunding operates as a dry run for your marketing. If you can’t sell your book to family and friends, how are you going to sell it to strangers—people who have no emotional investment in supporting you? Crowdfunding enables you to gauge your promotional skills. You might find that, like me, you could make better use of social media. Maybe the information you presented about your book could be more compelling: a snappier synopsis or a more enticing excerpt. At the end of a successful campaign, you’ll find that you want to adjust your promotional strategy, even if only a little. If your campaign failed, you have much to ponder and assess before you embark on trying to market your book to a wider audience. Marketing is a trial-and-error process. Crowdfunding is a great trial (in many ways!) during which you can learn from your errors and successes before your book is published.
The crowdfunding world offers no guarantees. Ultimately, if your book doesn’t appeal to people, your campaign is unlikely to succeed. But learning from the experiences of other fundees, both successful and not, will give you a better shot at that elusive success. It’s like having a bigger boat: It won’t rid the ocean of sharks ready to drag you down, but it will increase the likelihood that you’ll reach land safely.
To see an example of a successful crowdfunding campaign, visit my PubLaunch page at http://www.publaunch.com/campaigns/history-hilary-hambrushina.
An earlier version of this article appeared on the blog Hooked to Books.
© Marnie Lamb
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.