Visitor M.C.A. Horgath graciously shared her Kickstarter lesson:
Many authors are using Kickstarter and other crowdfunding platforms to connect with fans and fund their work. But how can you tell if Kickstarter’s for you?
You need a project. A nebulous “pay three months of my expenses while I write something” notion is not a project: at the end of the campaign you need to have a deliverable for your backers, something you’re all excited about. So have a clear goal in mind: you want to write a specific novella. You want to produce an audiobook edition. You want to get one of your out-of-print editions back online. You want to publish an anthology.
You need time. Preparation for a Kickstarter requires scheduling, accounting, planning prizes and pricing them, recording a video, writing your marketing materials, planning publicity and asking your test audience for feedback. Running the actual campaign will take at least half an hour a day of writing updates, keeping up with publicity requests and managing your prize production. And then if your Kickstarter succeeds you’ll be spending time fulfilling your backers’ prizes. Make sure you’re ready to commit that much time for the next 20-40 days of your campaign, and enough time afterwards to do what you’ve promised. Remember to plan for unexpected success: fulfilling prizes for 50 backers might not take long, but what if 1000 show up?
You need a fanbase. Statistics show that most Kickstarters attract 10% of their browsers from Kickstarter’s site. All the other backers are going to come from your efforts, and your fans’. If you don’t have a broad or energetic fanbase, keep your goals reasonable, and remember that 90% of that money is going to come from your marketing efforts.
If any visitors have their own Kickstarter thoughts or stories to share or can point to accounts written by other indie authors about Kickstarter, feel free to share them in the comments to this post or send them to PG via the Contact link on TPV.
For decades publishing has been a stagnated industry, relying on fifty- and sixty-year-old methods to sell books. Most of the practices within the industry are also at least fifty or sixty years old. Sure, the industry has made some modifications to accommodate innovation, like the ebook, but those are minor tweaks.
Those tweaks do not take into account the actual changes in the world. What traditional book publishers could do for writers in the mid-twentieth century was vast and impressive. What traditional book publishers can do for writers now is pretty minimal, and getting more so, thanks to the damn virus.
If you’ll notice, most of the repeat New York Times bestsellers (even at the small numbers that it takes to hit the list) have been around for at least ten years. And that includes Brandon Sanderson.
Sanderson provoked this mini-series of blog posts when he launched a Kickstarter this month, and it flew past a million dollars within a day. This is important for a variety of reasons, a handful of which I explored in the previous post.
The real reason this large Kickstarter is important is that, if we writers do this right, the Kickstarter is the game changer that the industry needs.
I’ve long had the sense that the publishing industry is moving at lightspeed—away from traditional publishers. If there’s an innovation, it comes from the indie (self) publishing side.
. . . .
The opening line of this very silly sales pitch from a promotion company is this:
Nowadays, some traditional publishers won’t even consider signing an author who has less than 10,000 email subscribers. Even indie authors see a big jump in sales after they build an email subscriber base…
Even indie authors? Even indie authors? This technique for building sales came from indie authors. They’ve refined the email marketing list long past what this particular article proposes. The things it espouses were hot in the mid-teens, and aren’t effective now.
Except, maybe, to get a traditional publishing deal, which pays increasingly less money for scooping up most of the copyright. That copyright detail will become important in the third and final installment of this miniseries.
Traditional publishing is floundering. Its overhead is top-heavy, it’s still locked in expensive production contracts, it’s also paying New York rents, which, as of January of this year, had the second highest rental prices in the nation (only San Francisco cost more).
I’m sure a round of layoffs is coming in traditional publishing which follows the last-hired-first-fired method of getting rid of people. Which means that the innovators—the young people—will disappear.
And now this.
Brandon’s Kickstarter should send waves of fear through traditional publishing for a variety of reasons.
1…The monetary size of the Kickstarter. As of this writing, the Kickstarter has earned well over 5 million dollars. It will cost money to fulfill the Kickstarter, not just for the items promised, shipping, and the salary of the staffers who will handle fulfillment (or the cost of a fulfillment service).
But for the sake of argument, let’s say that this Kickstarter finishes at 8 million dollars (which is what Dean is estimating, based on the way the Kickstarter is going in the middle here). Let’s use super huge fulfillment expenses and say that it will cost half of the earnings to produce and ship the rewards. (It will cost significantly less, but go with me here.)
That still means this Kickstarter will clear 4 million dollars.
In today’s market, no publisher can pay 4 million dollars for a book advance. Even if some publisher did manage to cough up that kind of money, Brandon wouldn’t get it all at once. He’d get it, probably in 5 (or more) installments—signing, turn-in, copy-edit, page proof, hardcover publication and paperback publication.
The most would be on signing—maybe a million right there or maybe not because again, I can’t see a publisher shelling out that kind of cash in 2020. The rest would be split in payments under $500,000, with at least 15% taken for the agent.
All in all, it would take three years to get the four million dollars for the book—if the publisher moved at lightspeed. Even then Brandon wouldn’t get the full 4 million. He would get 3.4 million, with $600,000 (minimum) going to his agent.
With this Kickstarter, he’ll get the full 4 million sometime in August. (This assumes that Kickstarter’s 5% fee is in the 4 million I set aside for expenses.)
Here’s the kicker though: This Kickstarter is for a single license—a leather-bound hardcover with beautiful interior art. Not for paperback rights or standard hardcover rights or ebook rights. Not for audio or anything that you might find in a standard traditional contract.
Just one little slice of the copyright.
In other words, the fans on Kickstarter are paying for just one version of a book many of them might have already read. There are still other licenses out there that could be monetized should an author (not Brandon) want to do this.
So if Brandon can clear 4 million on one slice of the copyright pie, think what would happen if he decided to Kickstart his next hardcover novel. Then Kickstart the paperback. And Kickstart the audio book.
Not all of them would earn 4 million, but that doesn’t matter. If he makes $500,000 on each of those Kickstarters, he would add another 1.5 million to his Kickstarter total (9.5 million) and since we’re saying it would cost half to fulfill, that’s another $750,000 up front, not counting the money that would come in from the ebook (which I haven’t listed here) or the sales to the general public.
Instead of 3.4 million over three years on a book, he’d clear 4.75 million in about a year (or less).
2….The backer size of the Kickstarter. As of this writing, over 19,000 people have backed Brandon’s Kickstarter. This is a tiny percentage of his fan base—and that’s a good thing.
Not everyone who reads books goes to Kickstarter. Not everyone who reads Brandon’s books buys them. (They’re also in libraries and other such places). I couldn’t quickly find the sales figures for Brandon’s solo books. (We can’t count the Wheel of Time books he completed for Robert Jordan.) But I do know that Brandon’s sales are in the millions of copies.
With that measure, 19,000 backers is a mere drop in the potential bucket.
Imagine if Brandon self-published all of his books, not just a handful of them. His fan base is not going to diminish. It is going to grow or at least remain the same.
Kickstarter, the Brooklyn-based crowdfunding site, has long tried to stand apart from Silicon Valley, seeking to portray itself as a socially responsible enterprise that cares more about improving the world than putting money in wealthy shareholders’ pockets.
Then came the union drive.
Earlier this year, a group of Kickstarter employees publicly pressed to form a union, calling for a larger say in the company’s operations. They were spurred to action after controversy over a Kickstarter campaign for a satirical comic book filled with images of people punching Nazis.
Kickstarter pushed back against the union, and as the effort dragged on, two of the organizers were dismissed last month in what they say was retaliation.
Kickstarter maintains it is not anti-labor, and has repeatedly said the firings had nothing to do with the union drive. It said the two workers were let go because of performance issues unrelated to their union organizing.
. . . .
But the firings provoked an outcry from political progressives that echoed across social media and stoked an emotional response from hundreds of the same creators who had been foundational to the site’s success, as well as high-profile supporters like the author Neil Gaiman, the cartoonist Matt Bors and the actor David Cross.
“People should partner with companies that align with their values,” said Nathan J. Robinson, editor of Current Affairs, a left-wing magazine that launched after a Kickstarter campaign in 2015. “When a company is union-busting, there is a very good reason not to give them a percentage of your money.”
Mr. Robinson has been an outspoken voice against Kickstarter. His magazine was in the middle of a second Kickstarter campaign when the controversy erupted, causing his pro-union donors to consider rescinding their contributions.
. . . .
“I have felt extremely conflicted, and at times deeply hypocritical,” said Steve O’Gorman, 33, a game developer from England raising money for an independent video game about unionization.
“The money from the Kickstarter is make-or-break,” he added.
. . . .
Labor organizers and tech industry observers are watching carefully: Will the workers be among the first white-collar employees at a major tech company to unionize?
. . . .
From the time the unionization effort became public in March, it was contentious within the company. Days after organizers announced their intent to unionize, three nonmanagerial employees sent an email to the entire staff voicing dissent. Organizers say that a majority of eligible employees now support unionization.
. . . .
In its charter, Kickstarter seemed to encode progressive values into the company’s DNA, promising to engage with larger social issues, including workplace inequality.
The Kickstarter organizers, who are working with the Office and Professional Employees International Union, said they want to ensure the company maintains that commitment.
“A lot of Silicon Valley places will tell you, ‘Oh, we’re changing the world,’” said Taylor Moore, the other organizer fired in September. “At Kickstarter, you can see the people’s lives you’re changing, the people who are helping change the culture.”
The organizers have called for greater transparency in decision making, diversity and pay equity. They have also demanded stronger protections for employees who disagree with management or who file complaints.
. . . .
“The union framework is inherently adversarial,” [Kickstarter President Aziz] Hasan wrote. “That dynamic doesn’t reflect who we are as a company, how we interact, how we make decisions, or where we need to go.”