Campaign for Cash: Crowdfunding Tips for Writers

Gigi Rosenberg

More than 50 percent of all campaigns launched with Kickstarter fail. The numbers are even more discouraging when you look solely at publishing projects on Kickstarter: Two-thirds fail to meet the funding goal, which means the writer doesn’t keep any of the money raised. Projects fail for many reasons, including setting the goal too high, failing to send compelling updates, failing to offer perks that motivate donations, setting backer levels too high, and, probably the biggest reason, not having a big enough community of fans to draw from. 

How can you make sure your crowdfunding campaign is successful? Here are ten tips:

1. Fund somebody else’s project first. Take a tour of projects on Kickstarter or Indiegogo and find a few that are interesting to you. Make a donation and watch what happens. Do you receive updates that feel relevant and interesting? Nothing helps you more than experiencing firsthand what it feels like to be a backer. 

“Back at least half a dozen campaigns yourself,” says Shanna Germain, who raised $32,700, four times her goal, from 613 backers by crowdfunding the publication of Geek Love: An Anthology of Full Frontal Nerdity on Kickstarter. “This does double duty, in that it shows you as a supporter of crowdfunding—on the Kickstarter site, other people can see how many other projects you’ve backed—and it gives you an insider’s view into important things like updates: How often does the project creator send updates? Are they interesting or annoying? That kind of thing.”

2. Be realistic with your goal. Pick a goal that’s reasonable: not so high that you’re unlikely to attain it, but high enough that you instill faith in your backers that you have enough funds to accomplish your project.  

“I based my goal on my estimated cost of editing and printing three hundred hardcovers,” says Jack Cheng, whose Kickstarter campaign raised $23,810—more than double his goal—from 961 backers to self-publish his first book, These Days: A Novel. “I chose that amount because I was confident I could get at least halfway there through support of friends alone.” 

3. Count your fans. If there’s one thing you need in order to be a successful crowdfunder, it’s a crowd—enough people whom you know and who know you and trust you. If you’re connected via social media with hundreds, if not thousands, of fans, you’ll greatly improve your chances of success. But be realistic about the size of your fan base.

“Kickstarter is a difficult place to make your name or raise money for your first book if you’re an unknown writer,” says Germain, coauthor with Monte Cook of the e-book Kicking It: Successful Crowdfunding (Stone Box Press, 2012). “If you don’t already know how to build a fan base, it’s a really difficult skill to learn in the middle of a campaign.”

4. Lose your shame. To be a successful crowdfunder you have to overcome your embarrassment about asking friends, family members, colleagues, and everyone else you know for money. Applying for a grant proposal is a lot “cleaner,” but it’s also slower, and the odds are against you: There are often many more qualified candidates than grant money to go around. 

Yet even for confident extroverts, asking for money takes its toll. “It was more taxing than I expected when I had to bug everyone who’s ever made the mistake of e-mailing me even once, for a few bucks,” says G. Xavier Robillard, who raised $10,025 from 140 backers to fund the publication of his second novel, Deadfellas: Monsters vs. the Mob, last fall.

Tapping your friends, your family, and your Facebook community will make the difference between a successful and a failed campaign. Your desire to fund your project must trump any potential embarrassment. 

5. Get personal. “At the beginning of the campaign I sent out an e-mail to everyone I knew, in one enormous barrage, and it was hugely unsuccessful,” says Robillard. “Later I went back and crafted hundreds of personal e-mail appeals to friends, family, colleagues, and anyone I’d ever met, and the response was massive.”

6. Plan ahead. You need to plan your campaign at least a month before your launch date. During prelaunch, you should write your promotional copy, make a video, and figure out backer levels and corresponding perks for different levels of contributions. By doing these things you’ll be getting a jump start on publicity. “Treat this prelaunch like your prepublication campaign,” advises Robillard. “Talk to bloggers, local news reporters, podcasters, and anyone you might hook into your project.” Get people excited about what you’re doing.

7. Offer enticing perks. If you’re crowdfunding the publication of a book, it can be hard to think of exciting perks to lure your backers. This is where researching successful campaigns on the Kickstarter site can be very useful. It’s especially motivating if backers receive something unique, designed exclusively for donors to this campaign. If the book is illustrated, consider offering limited-edition prints of artwork, or a limited-edition copy of the book that features illustrations not in the regular edition. 

8. Set a microgoal. If this is your first time crowdfunding, Germain and Cook suggest setting a small goal, such as five hundred dollars. At that level, you’re likely to succeed, as long as you can dream up a project or a portion of a project where a microgoal makes sense. This approach “puts you in a much better position to launch crowdfunding campaign number two, with a more ambitious goal,” Germain and Cook write, “but now you have the benefit of having experience under your belt and a small number of satisfied backers who can vouch for you.”