How One Little Idea Turned into $70,000 for Books

My how-to guide Crowdfunding for Authors is coming out in October. It’s based on three years of experience at The Artist’s Partner, working with authors who have used Kickstarter and Indiegogo to finance their publishing projects. Since 2013 these authors have raised $73,972 for novels, memoirs, children’s books, and more. And it all grew from one little idea five years ago.

author mosaic

Read more about these crowdfunded authors below.

It began when BACCA decided to periodically incorporate the “biz” of writing into our critique meetings. At our first such “biz” discussion, I floated the idea of teaching an eBook publishing class. I received an enthusiastic response, and some useful suggestions. I submitted a proposal, and was teaching my first “eBook DIY” class at WriterHouse in the spring of 2012.

It was in a subsequent class that author Stefan Bechtel (Roar of the Heavens, Mr. Hornaday’s War) was a student. He was then writing the memoir of retired action bowler Bob Perry. Bob is a quintessential New Jersey hustler, so in retrospect it’s no surprise that he and Stefan were the first to suggest that maybe this “Kickstarter thing” could be used to fund their book. They hired me to orchestrate the campaign, and in September of 2013 we raised $6,945 for what was then titled Bowling for the Mob. By the following April it had been picked up by Rodale Press for a sizable contract, national distribution, and a makeover that included the title change to Redemption Alley.

By the fall of the next year I was guiding four crowdfunding campaigns simultaneously. I was onto something! It’s been a steep learning curve, with many mistakes and victories along the way. Crowdfunding books is hard – only 29.5% make it. That makes me all the more proud of my authors’ success rate of 97%. Here are what I’ve observed are the top five reasons for their impressive levels of success:

  1. Great cover design purchased prior to the campaign. People judge a book by its cover – even on Kickstarter.
  2. Firm commitments of 40% of their fundraising target locked down prior to campaign launch. Only 29% of books succeed – but 97% of books that cross the 40%-funded threshold succeed.
  3. Email and social media lists right-sized to cover the additional 60%. There’s too much math involved to explain “right-sized” here in this post, but suffice to say: these authors had, or developed, good connections with their prospective readers during the 3-12 months prior to their campaigns.
  4. Photos of their faces. Many (introverted) writers hate this, but people respond to faces. It’s called Facebook.
  5. Commitment to the process. Crowdfunding is a marathon, not a sprint. These authors put in the training, and then ran their best race.

crowdfunding for authors draft coverI’m thrilled to be publishing the guidebook that helped these authors to crowdfund their books, because you can crowdfund your book, too. Crowdfunding for Authors is itself available for preorder on Indiegogo, and will be released on Amazon in October.

Bethany Joy Carlson

Here are the amazing authors who have raised over $70,000 with The Artist’s Partner since 2013!

Organized as follows: Author / Platform – Title (availability).

Zack Bonnie / Indiegogo – Dead, Insane, or In Jail: Overwritten (Coming fall 2016)
Marc Boston / Kickstarter – The Girl Who Carried Too Much Stuff (Amazon)
Ramgiri Braun / Indiegogo – HeartSourcing (Amazon)
Lizzy Duncan, B. Cunningham, G. Jackson / Kickstarter – Camila’s Lemonade Stand (Amazon)
Jenny Edmondson / Kickstarter – GroomsDay (Amazon)
Mary Buford Hitz / Kickstarter – Riding to Camille (Audible)
Peter Kalifornsky and Katherine McNamara / Indiegogo– From the First Beginning, When the Animals Were Talking (iTunes)
Priya Mahadevan / Kickstarter – Princesses Only Wear Putta-Puttas (Amazon)
Belinda Miller / Did not fund – published anyway! – Above the Stars (Amazon)
Carolyn O’Neal / Kickstarter – Kingsley (Amazon)
Bob Perry and Stefan Bechtel / Kickstarter – Redemption Alley (Amazon)

 

Publishing: Where Art joins Business

by Carolyn O’Neal

UPDATE:  Celebrate Earth Day with KINGSLEY!  

 

Enter for the chance to win a copy, shipped to your doorstep, for FREE.

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https://www.goodreads.com/giveaway/show/182002-kingsley

 

 

 

Writing a novel is a long, meandering journey, more akin to kayaking  unexplored waterways than jetting to a known destination. Carolyn Kayaking Writing KINGSLEY took years.

Plot and character.

Revising and editing.

Critiquing chapters with my writing groups and sifting through their suggestions.

 

A thoroughly enjoyable adventure from start to finish.

That was writing.

Publishing is a very different adventure.

Publishing is where art and business join …  and I knew I needed help.

Let me back up a bit.  It was clear from the first time I met Bethany Carlson that she was a rare talent.  Not only did she have the rich imagination of an author but she also had a practical head for business.  I remember one writing group meeting several years ago in which I prophetically told her she should go into publishing.  That’s why I take partial credit for the success of her company, The Artist’s Partner.

The Artist’s Partner is a coach for artists becoming entrepreneurs. We provide crowdfunding consulting, and have helped artists raise over $90,000 for their creative projects through Kickstarter and Indiegogo.

We work with arts companies and non-profits, authors, musicians, filmmakers, theater production companies, crafts persons, and other artists who seek to raise funds to professionally produce and distribute their own work.

 

One of her first Kickstarter campaigns was for  Bob Perry’s biography Bowling for the Mob.  Not only was his Kickstarter campaign a stunning success –  complete with a professionally produced video to entice backers – but his book, now renamed Redemption Alley, How I Lived To Bowl Another Frame – was  picked up by Rodale Books!

I had seen Bethany’s work ethic and her insightfulness.  I had seen her honesty, her deep patience, and her eternal optimism.  These were the qualities I needed if I intended to go from private writer to public author.  When I felt ready to publish KINGSLEY, I contacted Bethany.

Bethany Joy Carlson

Bethany Joy Carlson

First thing she did was establish a clear timeline.

Bethany guided me through how to launch a successful Kickstarter campaign.  We discussed the intense prep work needed, then blocked out the time  for editing and cover design, and then we set a target date for proofing the final drafts, distributing the books to my Kickstarter backers, and finally, publication.

As I began prepping for the campaign, Bethany set up a meeting with local director Michael Duni to shoot my promotional video.

My Kickstarter campaign ran one month, raised over $5000, and presold close to 100 copies.  Even more important, the campaign spread the word and built excitement.

KINGSLEY was coming!

Bethany put me in contact with Graphic Artist Mayapriya  Long of Bookwrights  to discuss the cover.  Honestly, that may have been the best part of the entire process.  Here are a few of the iterations…

Cover design

 

 

 

 

KINGSLEY is available on Amazon.com

Final cover for KINGSLEY. Now available on Amazon.com

She contacted copy editor Betsy Ballenger for the final review and then, KINGSLEY hit the presses!

The launch party for KINGSLEY was held on November 8, 2015 at Over the Moon Bookstore.Over THe moon Logo

It was a huge success and a wonderful experience!  Here are some fun photos from the launch:

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Getting Your Book (Cover) On 21st Century TV

How do you get from only an idea for a book cover, to one that was recently requested for use on the set of Grace and Frankie, a popular new Netflix TV series?

This happened to Sue Mangum and me for our book, Braver Than You Believe: True Stories of Losing Love and Finding Self, which just celebrated its 2nd birthday. We found that like good writing, creating an attention-getting cover is a process that unfolds over time. It helped that Sue knew the artist she wanted to work with: artist Amy Michelle, based in Atlanta. She also knew she wanted an image of a heart being sewn up.

Here’s the first try, from early April, 2013: painting by Amy MichelleSue and I were both excited about the potential, but we felt the last word in the title, “Believe” was too separate, making the title look at first glance like “Braver Than You.” Sue requested a change, and by the end of May, we were pleased as pink lemonade with this: painting by Amy Michelle, May 2013In the meantime, I was taking an eBook DIY class with Bethany Carlson of The Artist’s Partner I learned about the importance of bold colors, readable fonts, and having a cover pop out even as a thumbnail-sized image. For a class assignment, I mocked something up, and chose the red, white, and grey colors from Amy Michelle’s work. Those colors echo the themes of grief and romance from our book.

If we had offered a teaser free e-download, we could have used this…
cover draft by C E Cameron…but we decided to just go forward and publish the book on Aug. 10, 2013.

The last step for the official cover was deciding about the font for the subtitle and author names. Sue and I emailed back and forth, and considered several options including the infamous Comic Sans, which some design enthusiasts actually want to ban.

We eventually decided on Calibri, a font that is now Microsoft Word’s default for new documents. Why? Because it works. Combined with the emotive, hand-lettering of our book’s main title, the Calibri choice was simple, modern, and professional.

Here’s the final cover…

final cover, copyright Sue Mangum and C E Cameron

…And here’s where the work paid off: A month ago, I received a request through our self-publisher (Amazon’s CreateSpace), from Act One Script Clearance. Script clearance is necessary whenever a production team creates a set, using books, posters, or other products that are copyrighted. Act One staff were seeking books that looked like plausible reading for the characters played by Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda on Grace and Frankie. In the show, these women are left by their husbands, when the husbands decide they are gay and fall in love with each other.

When I asked how they found our book, I learned that the production team searched Amazon for books their characters might be reading during a time of great turmoil. And while I’m sure our book’s title was key in the search, an attractive cover didn’t hurt. In fact, the cover was the main copyrighted work requested for use in the show. The production team sought permission to show it throughout the season, on bookshelves or coffee tables. It is now a part of this season’s permanent set.

Hollywood, here we come!

Claire Cameron is an educational psychologist at the University at Buffalo (SUNY), and aspiring science writer. Her dream is to write about human development, health, and science in a way that everyone will want to read.

Kickstarter For Writers

Most Kickstarter publishing category campaigns fail to raise even a fifth of their funding goals. Data nerds like me may want to visit kickstarter.com/help/stats for the full post-mortem. Suffice to say: raising money to publish your book is really hard.

Failure Rate

But it’s not impossible. I have produced successful Kickstarter campaigns for writers, ranging from a gritty New Jersey mob memoir with a ten-pin twist, to a gleefully adorable children’s picture book introducing entrepreneurship. Their successes were not a coincidence. Despite their very different audiences, their paths to success were nearly the same.

Bowling For The Mob  Camila's Lemonade Stand

I’m looking forward to teaching an afternoon workshop at WriterHouse on February 16, 2014, to walk through these case studies and what we can learn from them. For now, I’m happy to share three of the ten essentials for Kickstarter success for writers.

  1. Tap into your extrovert and PROMOTE. This is conjecture, but perhaps the reason book campaigns fail disproportionately is because writers tend to be introverts. We want that loophole whereby our work will be found without us having to tell anyone about it. Nope. The Kickstarter campaign is excellent sales boot camp. For both Bowling For The Mob and Camila’s Lemonade Stand, we had a month of promotion prior to the campaign before launch. The goal was to make sure everyone relevant heard about the campaign at least 10 times during the 30 days before launch, through the 30 days up to close.
  2. Map out the money in advance. The occasional Kickstarter campaign goes viral, even books. However, all 125,000 campaigns in the history of Kickstarter have not. In all likelihood, yours will not. So you need to know both exactly how much money you need to produce your book, and exactly where that money is going to come from. After learning the nail-biting hard way on Bowling For The Mob, for Camila’s Lemonade Stand we went through a detailed Kickstarter Estimator process before the campaign launch. This was like a wedding guest list, but with the added columns of how much money the invitees were likely to pledge, and for what kind of reward. Then we applied the 65% rule – because not everyone we invited to the campaign was going to show up (they didn’t).  So let’s say we need to raise $6,500 to produce a book. We sit down and tally up all of our friends, colleagues, family, and fans, and what they’re likely to pledge. That comes to $10,000. We multiply by 65%, get $6,500, and voila, this is a campaign that has a chance to succeed. If, on the other hand, we need $20,000 to produce the book, and then we tally up our likely pledges and that comes to $5,000, well… we don’t even need to bother with the 65% rule. This campaign is almost certainly going to fail. 65 Rule
  3. Shoot a decent, short video. Kickstarter makes a big deal about having a video – any video. People want to see and hear from you. Good light and good sound go a long ways towards making a homemade video watchable. For Bowling For The Mob we had Bob sit directly under a skylight and used a microphone and an iPhone propped on a soda cup; For the Camila’s Lemonade Stand video we used a bright floor lamp with the shade removed behind the camera and a Samsung Galaxy phone with a tripod and microphone. Neither of these videos will win any awards, but they are watchable, informative, and they are SHORT. Don’t underestimate how brief attention spans are. Keep it under 3 minutes.

No Oscars. Successfully funded.

These 3 are the tip of the iceberg. At the seminar we’ll be covering how to tap into the extrovert and promote, how to map out the money in advance, and how to shoot a decent, short video. We’ll also be covering how to pick rewards and at what pledge levels, the (somewhat complicated) mechanics of setting up the necessary accounts for payment processing, some (hilarious!) case studies of what not to do, how to stay within key Kickstarter guidelines so that your project gets approved, what to do when you hit the mid-campaign slump, among other essential elements to success.

kickstarter for writers

If you only take away one idea from this post, it would be “if you build it, they will come” does not apply to Kickstarter. Some lucky folks are salespeople by nature. The rest of us need to practice the steps to master them. And it’s easier to do it with a team.

This creepy crap only works in 80’s Costner movies

If you’ve read this whole post thinking, “what the heck is Kickstarter?!?”, you’re not alone. For Bowling For The Mob, the campaign was the first Kickstarter experience for the writers and a majority of the people who pledged. It’s a fundraising platform for artistic projects which, since 2009, has raised nearly a billion dollars. The best way to learn more is to wander around on Kickstarter.com. Enjoy!

If you’re considering Kickstarter to fund your book, it’s hard – but possible. No hocus pocus required.

Please consider yourself invited to the Kickstarter for Writers seminar at WriterHouse on 2/2/14.

Please visit the successful campaigns for Bowling For The Mob and Camila’s Lemonade Stand.

And, please feel free to stop by The Artist’s Partner for more information on the services I provide – like Kickstarter campaign production – to artists who want to keep a bigger share of the profits by producing and distributing their work.

Bethany Joy Carlson is a co-founder of BACCA Literary, a WriterHouse board member, and founder of The Artist’s Partner.

Don’t worry. You can’t pitch worse than 90’s Farley movies