Nathan Bransford, Author

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

How to Use Kickstarter to Fund a Self-Published Book

It's Day 3 of Author Monetization week! First we looked at making money from books, then from an author's web presence.

I've known author and podcaster Mur Lafferty around the Internet for several years. She's the editor of Escape Pod, the host of I Should Be Writing, and the author of The Afterlife Series. You can find her projects at

Mur has taken an innovative approach to using grassroots funding for her new self-publishing project, and she was gracious enough to guest blog about her experience. Take it away, Mur!

First, a little backstory. I've been podcasting my fiction for a while now, a sort of serialized audio self-publishing tool. Back in 2006 I started a little series I called Heaven about two friends who die, are dissatisfied with their afterlife, and then go wandering. The episodic tales spanned five seasons, ending in 2010. Many listeners asked for me to bring it to print, but I felt confident in it enough to try to shop it to publishers. I was wrong. After exhausting all outlets for publication, I decided to bring it to ebook and do a sort of limited edition self published hardcover (a la Cory Doctorow). I didn't want to do a crap job myself, so I decided to hire someone. The Afterlife series is five novella-length books, so doing it right was going to cost me. Then, I heard about Kickstarter.

Kickstarter is a patronage site where you can post information about your creative project and ask for people to fund you within a fixed time period. People pledge money, and if you meet your goal, they pay. If you don't meet your goal, then they lose no money (and you have to find another way to support your creative endeavors.)

I wanted to tell you about my Kickstarter experience: First, I checked around for advice. Neil Gaiman had posted something about Kickstarter and so I followed that link. There are a lot of key factors listed there, but to me, there seemed to be three keys to a successful Kickstarter campaign:

Set a realistic goal, not too high, not too low: So I took in my costs: $1600 for the ebook conversion, but I had to remember there would be costs for Kickstarter (They get 5% if you're successful) and the cost of the rewards (more about that later.) I also needed some software to transcribe Book 3, because I've lost that manuscript and have only the audio file. Lastly, I had to remember postage for reward fulfillment. OK, so I figured I'd shoot for $2000, counting on the fact that I could probably make more than that because of my established audience who wanted the books, in case my math was wrong. (In retrospect, this was likely too low! Your goal is very important, and you need to remember all the details.)

Offer good rewards: People who pledge need incentives, they're not just supporting your awesomeness. So you need to set levels of pledging, and offer different rewards for different levels. For me, I offered to put everyone who pledged in the book, then at $5 they could get a signed postcard from me with a book cover on the other side, and then on up I offered the ebooks for free, a custom thumb drive with the ebooks AND the audio books, and then higher up, the limited edition hardcovers. The whole set of hardcovers, plus the thumb drive, I priced at a $164 pledge. I figured I'd throw in a crazy "brass ring" level at $1,000, saying whoever got that would get me to write the sixth story in the series (as well as all the other goodies.)

Use video to promote: Kickstarter pages have a spot for video in the center of the page; it's more prominent than the area to write about your project. Now this was the weird one. Writing is not a visual activity (prose, not comic books, I mean) and I wasn't an animator, so a hot book trailer was out of the question. But I've heard that video is key to projecting your image, so I got my camera and filmed me talking about the project, its history, the plot of the books, and the incentives. I threw in some art for the book covers (My ebook designer was already at work) and some blurbs I'd gotten from listeners and other authors.

So I had my video, I had my rewards set out, I had my kickstarter page. It was Friday, March 11. I was impatient, but my husband suggested I sleep on it, look over the project in the morning, and then launch it. So at 8:00 am on Saturday, I launched it. Then I put it on Twitter, my two blogs, and Facebook.

I was fully funded by 10:00am. By bedtime I had $5,000.

I was a bit shocked. OK, utterly flabbergasted. Someone had even grabbed the brass ring, a longtime listener of mine, which was vital to pushing it so high so fast. I had people grabbing up the full set of books and several shooting for the $44 pledge to get the copy of the first book.

So then I texted my ebook designer, who was at SXSW, and told him what was going on. He wrote back that we would chat when he got back about how to make the project even more awesome. So now we're talking illustrations, better covers, marketing for the ebook, and he's going to be doing the work for the hardcover book layouts.

Naturally, as the days went on, it slowed down. I tried not to give Twitter "Mur Fatigue" and hawk my campaign too much. I did an update for the campaign, explaining why you'd want to pledge since I was already funded (in short, Kickstarter is the only way to get the hardcovers, and pledges will make the ebooks and the eventual softcovers even cooler). On March 20 I did bang the drums a little on Twitter to push the project over $10,000. Some days I have no pledges, some days I'll be surprised by three people wanting the whole set.

We're halfway through the campaign now, and I'm trying to gather the lessons I've learned so far:
  1. Don't expect this kind of success for every project. I read somewhere (sorry, source lost) that about 40% of projects are successful on Kickstarter. As I said, this is my most loved work of all the stuff I've released in the past 5 years. There was a built in audience for it. If I launched a new project today, I don't know how many of my listeners would go for an unknown project. So even though my eyes are glazed over by the sheer surreality of having my project be 562% funded as of March 24, I have to know I can't expect this rate of success for every project.
  2. People can, and do, withdraw pledges. I had someone pledge at the $300 level (wow! yay!) and a day later, remove it (...poo). I have no idea how to factor this reality into your planning, but be aware it could happen.
  3. People want 1 book, 2 books, or 5 books. I have almost no pledges for the 3 and 4 book offers. If you're thinking of pushing a series, consider that most people are either a little in, or all in. 
  4. Your fans/followers are your key to success. I had people retweet my news, put it on facebook, and blog about it, bringing new people to check out my work because of it. If you don't think you have fans, don't discount any social media following; still promote like mad. You never know who will pick up your project and promote it (there was one project that, on its last day, was promoted by Neil Gaiman on Twitter. Dude was looking for $8500, and he was at only $6000 with hours left. Gaiman's tweet pushed him easily to over $10,000.)
  5. It doesn't stop when you're fully funded. As I understand it, you wait for the whole period of funding (April 11 for me), then the money takes about a week to go from Amazon Payments to you. Then you need to keep in touch with your backers to get their addresses and any personalization info you require -- Kickstarter provides an excellent tool for that, allowing you to contact people who have pledged at different reward tiers. This way I can ask the people who pledged $200 questions that are moot to people who pledged $9. Then you must fulfill. I don't think Kickstarter has a tool for punishing people who don't fulfill, but they do hint that you could be in for some legal badness from your backers.
    For me, fulfillment means having the illustrators get to work, having the ebook designer finalize the covers and conversions, do the hardcover designs, and order the books. I'm frankly terrified at the actual physical act of fulfillment, but I have local friends who have volunteered to help me ship books.

And then I can't forget to actually launch the ebooks, the real reason I'm doing all of this!

To say I'm glad I used Kickstarter is like saying puppies are kinda cute. This monstrous success is giving me hopes in my future of self-ebook publishing, and I will use it again.

Kickstarter is a fantastic took for anyone doing creative stuff. I've backed journal makers, comic book artists, dice makers, and an iPhone app. People use it for film, movies, music, handmade instruments, and more. The site has a fantastic FAQ, and I'm available for questions if anyone wishes to discuss further. And if you want to support my Kickstarter project, well, that's cool too. :)


Metafrantic said...

I'd like to point out that Amazon will also get 5% for dealing with all the payments. When figuring out where to set your goal, you have to tally all your expenses and then add 10% (divide by 0.9). It's the safest way to make sure you don't forget something.

Otherwise - it really helps to have an established following, but really, Kickstarter is great because word of mouth often can do the job for you. It's an amazing tool!

Mira said...

Wow, Nathan. Thank you so much for asking Mur to share her story. I had no idea there were places like this. Wow.

Mur, your story is inspiring. Thank you for generously sharing this information with us! This is very exciting and impressive. And I love your line about the puppies. :)

Nathan, where is that paypal button??

Julie Hedlund said...

Nathan, it's like you live inside my mind or something (I didn't mean that to come off as creepy as it sounds, btw).

Just yesterday I was thinking about kickstarter as a way to create an app out of a PB I've written. I decided a while back that the ms probably wasn't high concept enough to attract a traditional publishing deal. However, it has features that would (IMHO) potentially make a good iPhone/iPad app.

It is exciting to be a creative person in an age where there are so many options for your work to "live" and reach people. Thank you for stoking the fires with your thoughtful posts.

Mercy Loomis said...

Great post Mur, and I loved the interview with Nathan over at I Should Be Writing. Cross-promotion for the win! Pay attention people ;)

Kickstarter looks like a great tool, but it seems like something where it definitely helps to already have a decent social media presence. So, for people wanting to know how/why to get on the social media bandwagon, consider:

Step 1: start writing
Step 2: get networking
Step 3: finish writing
Step 4: use your network to get your Kickstarter campaign going so you can publish your writing in a professional manner
(Hopefully followed by Step 5: Profit)

Richard Gibson said...

I'm curious as to whether revenue like this would be taxable? Or is it a bunch of individual small gifts? I count the (trivial) revenue I get from my web site's paypal donate button as income since I consider it part of my business, but I don't know if I really have to.

Cathy Yardley said...

Fascinating! I had no idea stuff like this existed.

M.A.Leslie said...

The internet never stops amazing me. You can really do anything.

A. S. Peterson said...

I took a similar approach, though not with Kickstarter.

By offering pre-sales of my novels I was able to raise roughly $6000 for each book for the (offset) printing. It took a couple of months to raise the money for the first book, but only a week or two for the second.

It's a good feeling to know that when the semi-truck rolls up with a pallet-load of fresh new books that they are 100% paid for, and the 1000 or so that haven't sold yet are free and clear profit that you can put toward the rent and the next printing.

Julia B said...

Kickstarter is brilliant - if you're in the US.

I unearthed it a few years back now and at the time the site said they were planning to go international. In fact, it was the exact same wording in the FAQ that is still there now.

I'm not holding my breath! ^_^

MaryZ said...

My good friend Polly Law published her book by raising Kickstarter funds. For those who love obscure words, "The Word Project" stars her bricolage illustrations:

Matthew MacNish said...

Wow. I'd never even considered the possibility of such a thing. Very cool.

It would never work for me, but that doesn't make it any less awesome.

Thank Mur, and Nathan!

seekerval said...

Holy Helpful Hannahs, Bat-Mur!

Fantastic success story. Congratulations. Thanks for sharing your experience.

Nathan, great choice for a guest post!

Heidi said...

Great story, Mur, and congrats on your momentum!
I love the idea of podcasting your stories, I'll have to check that out.
I'd never heard of Kickstarter. I have Google Affiliate and adsense and never made one penny from either, so I pulled the ads. My blog looks much better without them.
- Thanks for the info and good luck!
PS love the image of the guitar guy, Nathan! You always have a great image to illustrate your article.

Anonymous said...

I'm not singling out Mur Lafferty here. I'm speaking in general terms. Obviously Mur has a good reputation that people know and trust. But I would like to mention a few things about the general concept of kickstarter.

On all levels, it absolutely astounds me that people would take their hard earned money and give it away to help fund a project and a person they know virtually nothing about. It astounds me even more someone would have the nerve to ask for it.

I saw one "aspiring" singer/actor/wannabe-rich-and-famous type on facebook last year run a campaign with a goal of making 20k in order to make a CD. I followed it for weeks, watching in amazement as trusting people pledged so he could meet his goal. And he did meet the goal. But I haven't seen the CD yet and he's disappeared from facebook. I'm sure there will be ramifications. But I also think whoever donated money to him got just what they deserved and learned a good lesson.

I'd like to know whatever happened to get a job, work hard, and save your own money instead of asking for handouts. I think I'd rather scrub floors on my hands and knees than beg anyone in public for money. And I'd rather donate money to a worthy charity than hand it out to anyone hocking a book, a song, or an acting career.

Anonymous said...

Anon 8:47:

Artistic sponsorship is a time-honored tradition.

D.G. Hudson said...

Very interesting stats! You still need some marketing skills, which Mur has indicated and assessment of your audience.

I can see the value of Kickstarter for a series of novellas, and I'm assuming this is YA material that Mur is writing just from a quick look at her site. YA is hot right now, and that doesn't hurt either.

Good luck to Mur who seems to be on her way in the self-pubbed world (and who knows after that?).

For me, I'll think about it. It's always good to know the options out there. It's like anything else, you have to make your own choices.

I'll keep the post for reference.

Remus Shepherd said...

I've seen these kickstarter book projects, and I just have one question:

Why do you need $1600 for an ebook conversion? Isn't that done in about 5 minutes by a doc-to-epub utility program?

Seriously. I can see needing $500 for a copy editor, and maybe a couple hundred for cover art or technical help with formatting. But if you're paying some company $1600 just to convert file formats for you, you -- and your readers -- are being ripped off.

Sierra McConnell said...

...except for the fact that for an unknown, fresh baby author it won't do a lick of good. No one wants to take a chance on someone they have never read or heard from before.

Which, of course, the reply to that would be 'that's why you need web presence'. But if you spend all your time attempting to build the web presence, trying to find people to buy into you before you write the book, how are you ever going to find the time to write the book in the first place, between working a full time job, taking care of a family, and trying to care for yourself?

In short, it's called impossibility, unless you are disabled\unemployed and have all the time in the world to write, are independantly wealthy, or have magic powers.

No, I'm not a cynic. I'm a realist.

Georganna Hancock M.S. said...

Discovering Kickstarter was a fab way to start this day and I thank you for bringing Lafferty's story to your readers.

I would hope that you stress that this plan is not for beginners, the unpublished or those who self-published and have material languishing online.

This warning seems obvious to experienced insiders, but the desperately hopeful will see what they want to see and miss the catch that they must already have a large audience/following to make it work.

Liana said...

very cool. I just backed a kickstarter project for a favorite musician of mine. It seems like a handy website

D.G. Hudson said...

@ Anon 8:47 - I agree with some of your points as well about how easily some people will donate their money to a personal cause. But, the Impressionists could have used something like this to help fund their art (before it was accepted as art).

I wouldn't donate to a stranger (via the web), but I would donate to an author friend. I did like the fact that Mur offered incentives.

There will always be con artists trying to rip off the unsuspecting. One must always have 'eyes wide open' in the web world.

Pen and Ink said...

I've never thought about self publishing before, but I am beginning to think about it. Pen and Ink will be self publishing a book very soon. We will keep readers informed of the progress

Anonymous said...

"Artistic sponsorship is a time-honored tradition."

Mary Higgins Clark was widowed young, had small kids, worked full time commuting from NJ to NY and wrote her novels between four and six every morning. It took time and hard work, not entitlement.

Good old fashioned hard work is also a time honored tradition :)

Anonymous said...

Anon 9:21:

Imagine what Mary Higgins Clark could have accomplished with sponsorship.

Sponsorship allows the artist to put their energy into creation rather than survival.

salima said...

Congratulations Mur! And thanks for this super informative post Nathan! I believe Cheryl Klein used Kickstarter for her book "Second Sight" too. What a great new way to help readers feel totally involved with a project. I love the community-oriented nature of this.:)

Gregory K. said...

I also love Kickstarter (and indiegogo and the others like it). I think there are a ton of ways to utilize the site, particularly if you think of it as a collaboration between you and your fans. There are lots of ways to offer value and gain value beyond a book or app (though those rock, too). I've just launched my own project designed to enable me to give away school visits for free (yet get paid!), for example. Building relationships via your presence is they key, I think.

Writeous said...

I love this post, and had never heard of this service before. I have been self-publishing for about 15 years; and it hasn't always been easy.

You are welcome to share information on my blog,

Anonymous said...

"Imagine what Mary Higgins Clark could have accomplished with sponsorship."


Marilyn Peake said...

It seems to me that we're seeing the dawn of a golden age in self-publishing. It’s awesome that Mur was able to raise so much money through Kickstarter because it means that enough people believed in his self-published work to donate money to his next project. Exciting times! Congratulations, Mur!

bellsbookspace said...

This is a great post Nathan, special thanks to Mur for providing all the links :) And thanks to everyone else for the additional comments, this is the stuff that makes being an artist in these bright times exciting! We have the power people, grab it by the balls and run!
*Also I must point out that you are channelling my need for info and responding via this blog in a bizarre twilight zone kind of way. Or perhaps I spend too much time on your blog. Chicken or egg, which came first?

Jay said...

A band I'm friends with is almost done with a Kickstarter campaign to fund their new album, and reached their goal in three days. Pretty amazing site.

Mr. D said...

Like I said yesterday: We all have to make money to pay the bills. But, hey, that's what the day job is for!

Sally Hepworth said...

Interesting. Thanks for the post.

JM Leotti said...

I participated in funding a project for an artist I didn't even know existed until I saw a recommendation from a friend on Facebook. I loved the artist's work and decided I'd be happy to throw a few bucks his way. My "incentive" arrived in beautiful condition, and I'm very happy I helped this artist achieve his goal.

How did I decide? Definitely from the Youtube trailer. Kickstarter is correct in advising that this tool is essential. It sold me!

Best of luck Mur! I'm going to check out your project now! :)

Thanks Nathan for a great series!

kea said...

Nathan, of all the blogs I read, yours is the most informative and helpful to writers. Please don't stop blogging!

Ryan S. Fortney said...

Yeah, I'd just like to re-iterate a statement. This does no good for you if you have no following.

I'm an indie author. I just released my 1st book via Smashwords and am now in between writing four short stories and a 2nd novel.

All the while I'm on Facebook, my blog, Twitter, and other countless websites "marketing" myself.

Sometimes my eyes get sore. Other times I just play a little EVE online.

And then there's the day job that I work, in order to pay the bills.

I noticed that someone up higher mentioned that doing something like this, without any following, would be impossible. I know that, at least for me, it hasn't been entirely impossible, yet.

Although I don't have kids or a spouse.

It definitely takes a certain state of mind though.

About Kickstarter. I went to these people about six months ago before I was even ready to publish PaxCorpus -- they denied my project in less than an hour.

Might I also mention that everything I've done so far has only cost a few hundred dollars.

Rachel Giesel said...

Thanks for the great post Nathan and Mur! This is an amazing site that I had never heard of before this post. Convinced me so much, I created my own project. Thanks again and good luck/congrats! (;


The Traveling Block... said...

This is a great article. Thank you., I'd appreciate some feedback on my rough draft kicksarter video. any comments / critiques would be great:


Caffeinated Writer said...

So what do you do if your Kickstarter project funding peaks at about 30% of funding? Any ideas on where to find new eyes?


mare said...

Useful info, great story, but the writer oversimplifies it. It's rare that after posting on fb, twitter, and your blog, you can go to bed and have your funding in 24 hrs, unless you already 1) are established, 2) have a huge following.

Chicago writers conference is KSing right now, and even with FB, twitter, etc., it's still chugging along.

Rick Chesler said...

Maybe this is a dead thread, but for you lurkers: I liked this concept enough to try it myself with my new suspense novel, BLOOD HARBOR:

I love how interactive it is with readers and fans--much better than a blog or website.

Rick Chesler said...

[I apologize if this is duplicate post--wasn't logged in at first and then I logged in but my post window was blank]...Anyway, I really think this is an interesting concept, so much so that I decided to try it myself with my brand new suspense novel, BLOOD HARBOR. As of this writing there are 13 days remaining in my campaign:

It's been a terrific experience thus far, the level of interaction with readers and fans has been highly engaging, much more so than with blogs, websites or social media. It's also a good way to gauge potential interest in a new project.

Brian Parker said...

Get your copy of my debut fantasy novel, Crow in the Hollow, now available for pre-order through Kickstarter! Check out the exclusive rewards available for backers for limited time. I would appreciate your support, and I hope you enjoy this well crafted tale.

Brian Parker said...

Get your copy of my debut fantasy novel, Crow in the Hollow, now available for pre-order through Kickstarter! Check out the exclusive rewards available for backers for limited time. I would appreciate your support, and I hope you enjoy this well crafted tale.

Megan Elmendorf said...

Thank you so much for tracking through your process with Kickstarter. Your story is invigorating for me to get up off my figurative, or literal, bum and get cracking. I've been looking into Kickstarter recently for my own work and you've confirmed my "leanings" in that general direction.

Read Dixon said...

I think Kickstarter is a fantastic idea. But I think raising Kickstarter money to publish through a vanity press like Author Solutions is lunacy.

Yakir said...

Hi there Nathan!

Thank you so much for posting this. I am trying to look into Kickstarter to get funding for my book that I am almost done writing after years of just writing stories and thinking stories but never actually doing anything with them until last June when I said to myself why not just come up with a world and write short stories for it? I did and now I have 257 pages and I am almost done. I need the backing for editorial services. I want to self publish it on Amazon and was looking into Kickstarter and thinking just like you how cool it would be to set up a reward that would be a hardcover copy.

This story really helps a lot you have no idea - very inspiring indeed.

If you wish to take a look at my blog(rather new to all this stuff and so is the blog :) ) you can find it here:

I have several pages for some projects that I worked on and then I use posts for posting short stories.

Again! Thank you very much for sharing your insights and for a wonderful article such as this.

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