Kickstarter lab for writers: setting your goal

laboratory blogOne of the most crucial decisions you’ll have to make is how high to set your goal. Too much, and people won’t bother backing your project because they’ll think it has no chance. Too little, and you may lose momentum—although you may also pick up momentum when people see that your project has already overshot its goal. When in doubt, err on the side of a small goal.


Do You Need Kickstarter?

Thing is, very few novelists use Kickstarter. Maybe it’s because about 70% of publishing projects fail Kickstarter’s stats, but I think one important factor is that many self-publishers simply don’t need crowdfunding to begin with. However, even if you decide you don’t NEED to crowdfund, you might find that you still WANT to, because it offers some big advantages that you might not find anywhere else.


The Costs of Publishing

Anyone who knows anything about the contemporary publishing industry can see that self-published authors are now earning a MUCH higher percentage of sales than those published through traditional means. Different camps of writers bicker about whether it’s even worth working for a big publisher, and some writers approach this topic with the kind of fanatical belligerence not seen since the religious wars of the middle ages. The bottom line remains: with more big-name authors leaving traditional publishing houses every year or never working for them in the first place, indie publishing has moved from the dustbin of the publishing world into an exciting frontier of literature.

The technology that drove this change now allows a person to publish a book for very little money. For my last book, THE NON-ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE, I went from a finished Word document to a printed book in hand in about a month and for just under $1,000. My biggest expense was editing, but my money also bought printer set-up, ISBN fees, and publisher’s proofs. This is still on the cheap side because I did the layout and cover design myself (using the logo image created by Christopher Madden and a whole lot of time teaching myself Photoshop—more on image design in a future post.)

mad science apocalypse cover

Post-Production Costs

After you’ve got the book the way you want it, expect to pay wholesale costs for each copy. If you do print-on-demand, which most new authors do, it might be $6 per paperback copy depending on the number of pages. An offset print run is much cheaper per copy—maybe $2.50 per book—but you may have to order hundreds or even thousands at a time.

Don’t forget postage to each customer, because the mail is not an economy of scale (more backers = more postage costs with no rate cut for multiple packages).

Even considering those costs, most people have enough in their bank account to get their book out there without going to the hassle or risk of crowdfunding. But don’t give up on the idea yet!


Why Crowdfund?

Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and other crowdfunding sites still offer many advantages, even if you’re a novelist who doesn’t need the cash infusion to get started. Here are three of them:

  • Direct(er) Sales. A retailer typically keeps 50% to 60% of sales (still better than traditional publishers, who take 85% to 90%). Even eBooks distributors keep 30% or more. Kickstarter, by contrast, keeps less than 10%! You will have a hard time finding such wide distribution for such a small cut.
  • The “Kickstarter Push.” Although you should plan on using social media to provide hefty air support for your Kickstarter campaign, crowdfunding does provide a cache of its own. Anyone searching the site might stumble across your project and give it a try. And if you get selected as a “Kickstarter Staff Pick” then your project is featured on the front page and you’re golden!
  • An Exciting Event. Nothing gets people excited like a limited-time offer. Give your friends, family, and fans something to rally around and some reason for them to hype your work to others.


Publish First, Crowdfund Second

You’re going to have a much easier time getting funded if you already have at least one book on the market. If you do, you’ll not only have fans to help you, but you’ll also have proven that you’re a writer who can deliver.

Think about how many people say they’re going to write a book but never manage to finish. Think of how many finish a book and it turns out to be a poorly written “practice novel” (whether they think of it that way or not). Even with the best of intentions, there’s no way to prove to your backers that you’re worth reading unless you can point to a book you’ve already published.

If you’re determined to launch your first novel on Kickstarter or another crowdfunding site, at the very least you should have the manuscript complete and ready to go. Many people can draft a novel in a month (especially November—that’s a shout-out to all the daring NaNoWriMo participants out there!) but it can still take longer to revise than to draft, not to mention to perfect the cover art, the layout, and all that jazz.

If you are determined to crowdfund your very first novel, you should seriously consider setting your goal very low, perhaps a few hundred dollars at most. Remember that Kickstarter is an all-or-nothing platform, so if it doesn’t fund you get nothing! You might also consider Indiegogo or another site that allows partial funding.


Start Later, Not Sooner

My best advice for planning your first Kickstarter is not to think about how SOON you can launch your project, but how LATE. The more time you can spend building up to the launch with social media, production planning, and quality control, the more successful your project will be.

Your Kickstarter may only last 30 days, but the groundwork beforehand is what determines success.

About Sechin Tower

Sechin Tower is a teacher, game developer, and author of MAD SCIENCE INSTITUTE, a novel of creatures, calamities, and college matriculation. He lives in Seattle, Washington.
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