Have you been thinking about using Kickstarter to fund writing a book? Wondering what the crowdfunding process is like?
You're in luck. I'm running a Kickstarter to fund a book and I'll be writing a weekly diary to document what I'm doing and how I’m doing it.
The book in question is Economics of Digital Comics. It’s really the third edition of what started out as Economics of Web Comics. That had two editions back in 2005 and 2007. I published both editions myself and the second edition has sold about 1500 copies and has been taught at the Savannah College of Art & Design. However, the book is more than a little out of date. An entire category of digital comics didn’t exist when I wrote the last update. And I’m still selling 5+ copies/month for this out of date book.
I’ve started working on an update three or four times, but I’ve always been distracted by a new consulting project or a relocation; with digital, if you put it down for 6 months you have to go back through everything you’ve written and see how much needs to be re-updated. Clearly, I just need to carve out some time and finish it off once and for all.
So Why Kickstarter?
People do Kickstarter for a lot of different reasons.
- They need to buy some materials/software/hardware to do a project and they don’t have the initial capital.
- They need a minimum print/production run to make the math work on the pricing. (Especially true for people who do color printing, like graphic novels.)
- They’re going to have labor costs.
These are the normal reasons you do a Kickstarter, but not all of those are applicable to writing a book. Oh, you might need some software or to pay a cover artist, but writing a book is an activity that’s time intensive. Your own labor is the biggest factor in its production and modern POD (Print On Demand) technology means you don’t necessarily need to be dropping a small fortune on an initial print run, especially if you’re working in black and white.
When I started contemplating a Kickstarter, I did it for two reasons:
#1: I know a number of people who’ve been able to get what amounts to 1,000–3,000 pre-orders for their book/graphic novel using Kickstarter and my subject matter was in the same general area.
#2: Pre-orders mean that you’re getting paid up front by your readers. I’ve done a lot of work with POD, which is great for keeping your startup costs down. But one of the downsides with my method—printing via Lightning Source, a large POD company run by Ingram, one of the biggest book distributors—is you end up waiting 3-4 months to get paid for your print sales. Kickstarter is a lot like getting an advance from a publisher, except the advance comes from your readers. From a certain viewpoint, it is a very pure transaction. It’s a lot easier for me to drop everything and spend needed time focusing on the book if I have orders and payment in hand. I look at it as the readers and I making a commitment to each other.
It’s a bad idea to make decisions like this in a vacuum, so I asked several people I knew if they thought this was a viable thing to do. Some people who had successfully run their own projects and a few people who were active in the general technology and social media scene. The consensus was that this was the sort of project that did get crowdfunding support and I should consider it.
At this point I started laying out the pros and cons
- I get a functional advance and initial orders.
- Sometimes crowdfunding campaigns take on a life of their own and you end up with many more readers than you would have gotten with a normal release, though that’s far from a guaranteed outcome.
- Kickstarter sometimes functions as pre-publication publicity if you get some buzz going on the campaign.
- I’m reasonably well known in comics journalism circles, so I should be able to get some publicity in that sphere for the launch.
- There’s some value in saying you ran a successful Kickstarter all the way through.
- Crowdfunding campaigns are a very labor intensive process. I’m not getting much else done if I do one and I just added a month to my time commitment with the campaign and perhaps an extra 2-4 weeks for fulfillment, depending on how many copies I need to ship, how quickly they get printed, etc., etc. It might triple the time I’m going to spend finishing the book and it’s not going to replace post-publication marketing.
- Normally, if you’re doing a crowdfunding campaign, you want to route it through your social media, so you want to have several thousand followers on social media. A lot of people swear by Twitter as their primary promotional vehicle. I’ve never gone for volume on my social media and I’m not a heavy Twitter user. I should still be able to get my message out with more traditional PR methods, but I’m pretty much the opposite of the typical profile and I’ll have to do this bass-ackwards from conventional wisdom.
- While I know I can get this in front of a comics audience, I’m not sure that crowdfunding is a particularly good vehicle for the educational market or the tech business market, which are my secondary markets. It could be, but it might not be a direct line.
- While this is fundable, is a business book about digital comics something that’s realistically going to blow up? Doesn’t seem like the general audience will jump on this.
- I absolutely, positively have to have the book finished and shipped by December. If you have not deducted your printing and shipping costs by the end of the year, you’re going to pay taxes on the whole thing now and then pay for printing and shipping later. That is a spectacularly bad thing.
- If the project doesn’t meet its funding goal, not only have I done a month’s hard labor for zero return, I also could look quite the fool for trying to crowdfund such a niche product.
Weighing all this, I was slightly leaning towards taking a flier on crowdfunding, but I wasn’t 100% sold.
That’s when I asked my editor over at Publishers Weekly what she thought of the idea. If you don’t recognize my byline, I cover the comics industry, particularly where it intersects with digital publishing, for PW. That includes articles on the larger Kickstarter comics projects. I got back an enthusiastic yes from my editor. I then asked if this was something I should theoretically write about and, well… here I am.
Crowdfunding is not something you should jump into lightly. That’s how I arrived at the decision to try my hand at it. In the next few weeks, I’ll walk you through how I’m doing this and what I was thinking when I did it. (As I write, this, I haven’t hit the launch button yet. It’s entirely possible I’ve made a horrible error in judgment.)
Next week, we’ll talk about pricing out my book costs and figuring out what to do for the rewards.
By the time you’re reading this, the campaign should be up and running—go have a look.
[Todd Allen has spent more than 15 years around digital publishing and comics. He’s covered the business side of comics for Publishers Weekly, Chicago Tribune and Comic Book Resources. As a contributing editor to comicsbeat.com he’s been nominated for an Eisner Award and named to TIME magazine’s 25 Best Blogs of 2012 list.]