If you’re looking to self-publish your book—whether it be a children’s book, a novel, or even a craft book—you might be struggling with the decision of how to pay for printing your first order of books. It’s not easy to predict the demand for an unpublished work, so it can be hard to rationalize taking the risk of paying for your first book order on your own. When I decided to self-publish my children’s book and have it printed in an eco-friendly manner, I had no idea what the response for it would be. There weren’t a lot of green children’s books on the market to compare to, so I decided to take advantage of Kickstarter’s ability to simultaneously gauge interest while advertising and raising funds for my book. Creating a Kickstarter campaign required a decent bit of work, but it was well worth it to eliminate the risk of having a basement full of books and and empty savings account. If you’re willing to put in the effort to build and market a campaign, I highly recommend using Kickstarter to fund your book.
My Kickstarter campaign for Falafel’s Garden was fully funded in under 4 days. It was listed as the #1 publishing project on Kicktraq for a day and was named ‘Kickstarter Publishing Project of the Week’ by Adweek. While my campaign was successful, in hindsight, I recognize that there were a few things I could have done to increase funding and potentially hit my stretch goals. In this list of steps for crowdfunding your book on Kickstarter, I’ve included advice on what to do (and not to do) to ensure a successful campaign.
Research Other Campaigns
It can be a bit intimidating scrolling through the content of successful campaigns on Kickstarter, but keep in mind that it’s not necessary to have prior experience with design or copywriting to build a campaign. Just checking out other projects (both successful and failed) will teach you a lot about how to tell your story and sell your product. Bookmark the pages of campaigns you find impressive as you go along and refer to them while drafting your own campaign.
Reading about Kickstarter campaigns, while undoubtedly helpful, will only teach you so much. Actually backing other campaigns before launching your own is the best way to learn how Kickstarter really works. Every campaign is unique, and there are an infinite number of ways creators use to attract and engage with backers. I suggest finding a few campaigns that resonate with you and backing them. Follow the creators/brands on social media, and sign up for their newsletters. Pay close attention to what they say in their Kickstarter updates, what content they mail out in their newsletters, and what they post on social media. This will help you gain the best insight on how to interact with backers and how to market your campaign.
It’s also not a bad idea to back other campaigns while yours is running. The support I received from other Kickstarter creators was invaluable. We were able to ask each other questions, bounce ideas off one another, and provide each other with emotional support.
On a side note, you may have a number of creators from live campaigns ask you to “cross-back” or “cross-promote” their campaigns. This behavior was something I learned about a few days into launching my campaign. I started receiving messages from creators who wanted me to pledge at least a dollar to their campaign to improve their Kickstarter rankings in return for them doing the same for mine. Some of them also asked me to share their campaigns. I chose to back a few campaigns and share them on social media because I truly was interested in their products and their creators were incredibly supportive of my campaign. But I wouldn’t recommend focusing on “cross-backing” or “cross-promoting” to boost your campaign. Most of the creators who contacted me actually asked me to promote their campaign in the Kickstarter updates I sent out to backers. I personally feel that your Kickstarter updates should focus only on aspects of your campaign. Kickstarter sends a lot of emails to backers in addition to your updates, so bombarding your backers with advertisements for other campaigns can be obnoxious. You don’t want backers to unsubscribe from your updates and miss out on vital information regarding your campaign.
Put Effort into Your Video
Let me preface this section by saying DO NOT forgo making a video for your campaign. Kickstarter projects have a much higher chance of being funded if they have a video (50% vs. 30%). If you’re worried about breaking the bank, it’s important to know that it’s not necessary to pay big bucks for a great video. If you have the budget to pay for a professional video, then by all means go for it. But you can still create an effective video even with a small budget so long as you pay attention to three vital aspects.
While creating a viral video would be ideal, it’s not really in the cards for all of us. If you keep the following things in mind while writing your script, your video will at least maintain your viewers’ interest throughout the video:
- Keep it short.
- Let your personality shine.
- Show enthusiasm for your book.
- Let people know why your book is special (niche topic, minority protagonist, extraordinary illustration process, interesting inspiration for your story, special cause the book will support, eco-friendly printing, etc.)
- Explain how Kickstarter works in the video.
- Provide a call to action.
My husband and I shot my video next to a window with my Nikon camera (we shot in 1080p using 24 frames-per-second), a tripod, and a piece of foam board. It’s possible to shoot a decent video even with an iPhone as long as you have good lighting. You don’t need to drop loads of cash on fancy lighting equipment. Natural lighting with a reflector (or, in my case, a piece of foam board) will work fine. You can’t see it in the video, but I have a white piece of foam bard sitting next to me in my chair reflecting light from the window onto the other side of my face.
Sound is an important aspect that a lot of people tend to ignore. You want to keep extraneous noise to a minimum so people aren’t struggling to make out what you’re saying. Turn off your air conditioning while filming, don’t film during high traffic times if you live close to the street, and put pets in another room. If your camera has difficulty picking up your voice, you can simultaneously record audio with a voice recording app on a second cell phone held closer to your body then combine the audio and video after shooting. When your video is finished, take the time to create subtitles to increase your audience (you can do this on Kickstarter after uploading your video if your video editing software doesn’t have that capability).
Design a Captivating Kickstarter Page
Use intriguing images or gifs on your campaign page to encourage readers to continue scrolling. You’ll want to have visuals throughout your campaign page to keep readers’ eyes moving down. If you’re publishing something other than a picture book, having graphics for every section may not be as important; but you don’t want to completely neglect having visuals. If nothing else, at least make sure you have clean images of the rewards you’re offering.
Set Your Goal Low, But Not Too Low
It’s imperative that you don’t set your goal too high. You never know what conditions may affect your campaign, so it’s a good idea to play it safe. I launched the same day as some of the best children’s book campaigns I had seen in months and ended up with a lot more competition than I expected. Thankfully, I had chosen to set my goal as low as I possible, which helped me meet my funding goal despite the competition. But in all actuality, I set it a little too low. I had read on a number of blogs that people will be more likely to back your campaign after it is fully funded, but I experienced just the opposite. My campaign was fully funded in less than 4 days. After that, the pledges slowed down dramatically. I noticed this trend with a few other children’s book campaigns that were live during mine, but I don’t think that necessarily means publishing projects are doomed once they hit their initial funding goal. I do think it means it is that much more important to have stretch goals that are appealing and to utilize as many marketing strategies as you can.
Choose Rewards Wisely
Kickstarter backers typically back campaigns for the exclusive rewards they won’t be able to get outside of Kickstarter, so be sure to put a lot of thought into what you want to offer along with your book. If you only offer your book as a reward, people will probably wait until it’s available somewhere else, like Amazon.
It’s important to have a few tiers for people who want to support your campaign but don’t have a lot of disposable income. $25 tiers are the most popular, but having rewards for $1-10 are important as well. This allows everyone who’s interested in your campaign the opportunity to show their support. The number of backers you have plays a big role in how Kickstarter’s algorithm views the success of your campaign. So if you don’t have low-dollar reward tiers, you can potentially stifle the success of your campaign.
When planning inexpensive reward tiers, consider how difficut it would be to fulfill the reward tier if only 1 person backs that tier. What about 1,000? If you make a handwritten postcard a $2 tier, you’re not going to want to fulfill that for 1,000 backers. And if you go through the trouble of making a downloadable activity book, you’re going to feel like you wasted a lot of time if only one person backs that tier. I recommend going through the rewards of campaigns comparable to yours and looking at the number of backers for each reward. A lot of rewards may sound appealing; but when you look at the actual number of backers for that reward, you may find that there are only a handful.
Create Irresistible Stretch Goals
Aside from continuously marketing your campaign, stretch goals are what will encourage more people to back your campaign (or current backers to upgrade their reward selections) after your campaign meets it’s first funding goal. Looking back, I don’t think I optimized my stretch goals. I only had two stretch goals, one of which was to fund a project for a local non-profit. There were two problems with that stretch goal: 1- It benefitted a local organization instead of a national or global organization. I’m not really sure why I expected people around the world to be interested in that stretch goal. If people are going to buy products to support a cause, they’re probably going to choose to support an organization that’s important to them or that impacts their community in some way. 2- The stretch goal did not benefit backers in any way other than potentially feeling good about contributing to the project. I really should have included something in that stretch goal that gave backers something tangible in addition to funding the non-profit project. I highly recommend checking out the stretch goals of other campaigns to help you select stretch goals for your own that will be successful.
Schedule Your Campaign at an Optimal Time
Your campaign will end the same time of day as when you launch your campaign. You’ll want to launch your campaign at a time that is convenient for you, but you don’t want to launch in the middle of the night when few people are awake. You’ll need social media fans to be able to engage in the posts you make in the final hours of your campaign and for newsletter subscribers to be able to act on any last-minute email blasts. It’s also good idea to avoid launching or ending your campaign during a major holiday or sporting event.
30-day campaigns have the highest success rate, though Kickstarter has recently rolled out some new campaign initiatives such as their “All in 1” week-long or “1-Night Only” one-time event campaigns. These types of campaigns have proven that a 30-day campaign is not required to be successful, but the key is getting a campaign posted that meets that campaign initiative’s criteria while Kickstarter is still promoting that style of campaign.
There are slow seasons to Kickstarter—campaigns launched November through February have the lowest chance of being funded—but, again, Kickstarter has recently encouraged new variations of the traditional campaign that have shown it is possible to have a successful campaign in the dead of winter. Their “Make 100” campaigns during January of this year averaged a 70% success rate (compared to the standard 36%) and funded at nearly 700% of their goals.
Kickstarter has been giving less than a few weeks’ notice for rolling out new campaign initiatives, which doesn’t give creators a long time to build a campaign based on the new requirements. Unless you’re nimble, I recommend sticking to a 30-day campaign launched between March and October.
Show Backers You Care
Self-published book projects, particularly children’s book projects, are abundant on Kickstarter, and it’s easy to see why a lot of them fail. Some people think you can slap a campaign together in a couple of hours and people will just throw money at it because it’s on Kickstarter. This is not the case. You need to put as much effort into your campaign as you do your book. If people see minimum effort in your campaign, they’ll expect that you put a similar amount of effort into your book. This means planning your campaign story like you would a manuscript, proofreading, and making sure your passion for what you are trying to sell is evident. I saw one campaign where the creator advertised having written the book in half an hour the night before. They had no visuals, poor grammar, and obviously did not get funded.
When people start backing your campaign, send them a personal message thanking them. This may require a bit of your time, but the relationships you build with your backers can be invaluable. Messaging with my backers was one of the most rewarding parts of running my campaign. I made a lot of interesting connections, received precious feedback on my campaign and rewards, and gained social media followers who are now some of my biggest cheerleaders. You’ll also want to post regular updates during and after the campaign to let your backers know you haven’t forgotten about them. Not opening and maintaining a line of communication with your backers is a big mistake you don’t want to make.
Finally, make sure that you fulfill your orders to the standard you set and in a timely manner. If, for any reason, you can’t fulfill your orders by your estimated delivery date or in the way that you promised, make sure to communicate with your backers and keep them informed of how you are remedying the situation.
Plan How to Ship Your Rewards Early On
You can find an endless number of blogs that encourage physically packaging every possible reward combination and calculating the cost for shipping domestically and abroad. I’m not going to tell you any different. It’s essential to get a good estimate on your shipping costs then overestimate that amount by at least 10%. Don’t forget to take into consideration things like cost of boxes, packing tape, packing paper, shipping labels, etc. And if you’ll need to use a fulfillment service (I did not), be sure to include that cost in your estimate as well.
What gets most Kickstarter creators is international shipping. It’s an elusive creature that most people would prefer not deal with until absolutely necessary (which in most cases, is when it’s time to print shipping labels). The shipping costs will inevitably be higher for international shipping, so it’s crucial to not just ballpark a number when estimating those costs. I offered free domestic shipping for some of my rewards, but I knew that free international shipping was out of the question. The cost to ship one of my books internationally was $22.50 (plus about $0.85 for the packing materials). The cost to ship a book with other rewards was much higher.
You should be aware if there are any restrictions on shipping any of your rewards internationally. I offered basil seeds for one of my rewards, but there are restrictions on shipping seeds to certain countries. I decided the best way to avoid packages getting held up in customs was to only offer basil seeds for domestic backers.
It’s also a good idea to do some research on import duties and taxes your international customers might have to pay for rewards. You’ll have to indicate what you are shipping when filling out customs declaration forms. You don’t want to be dishonest about what you are shipping, but the wording you choose to describe your products can make a big difference in additional fees your backers may have to pay. For example, I once shipped a handmade plush order to the UK and marked it as “handmade toys.” When my customer was charged 20% in VAT, she was understandably upset. After some research, I learned that art made by one artist is only taxed up to 5%. Fortunately she was able to submit a form to reclassify the item as “art made by one artist,” and they refunded her money. While you may not be shipping handmade art with your rewards, you should be able to mark your books as “educational items/books.” Most books are taxed at 0% in the UK.
On a side note, do not, under any circumstances, mark your Kickstarter rewards as a ‘gift’ on the customs declaration form. While this will guarantee that your backers will not have to pay import duties or taxes, it’s illegal and can result in you being fined.
Pursue All Marketing Avenues
Marketing is one of my least favorite things to do, but it’s a necessary part of selling a product. In order to get your Kickstarter campaign off the ground, you’ll need to start actively marketing it weeks, if not months, before your launch date.
I started getting the word out about my book nearly four months before launching by blogging about the process of writing and illustrating my book. In addition to advertising the campaign through my blog, I included information about it on my homepage and made links for free downloadable coloring pages of characters from my book.
Blogs and News Outlets
Contacting bloggers is another step you’ll want to take well in advance of launching your campaign. You’ll want to begin contacting bloggers weeks, if not months, before launching your campaign. (For news outlets, you’ll want to wait until right before or after you launch your campaign.) Research blogs that focus on topics related to your book, follow those bloggers on social media, and show genuine interest in their posts prior to contacting them. If you can establish a relationship with bloggers, or at least let them see that you’re engaged in their posts, they will be much more likely to respond to you than if you just contact them out of the blue.
If there is a way for you to allow bloggers to experience your product in person, do it. A lot of bloggers like to do their own photography. So if you have a physical item to send them, whether it be a dummy of the book or one of the other rewards for your campaign, try to give them something worth photographing. At the bare minimum, try to have a PDF of the book to share. I was still working on the illustrations when I launched my campaign and learned the hard way that few people want to blog about a book they haven’t seen. I reached out to dozens of bloggers well before launching but only heard back from a few. By the time I realized my blunder, the campaign was almost over.
When you first reach out to bloggers or news outlets, you don’t want to write them more than a few sentences. Having a brief introduction, a description of your book and campaign, and a link will greatly improve the chances of people reading through all of your email. For the link, set up a page on your website that includes a press release and quality images of your book, rewards, or creative process. You can also include a Q&A with questions you’ve written and answered about the book and campaign for potential bloggers/journalists to pick and choose from for their blog/article.
If you don’t have profiles for Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, you will want to set those up and begin garnering followers now. Make ample photos/graphics/videos for sharing on your social media pages before and during your campaign. While I made sure to post on social media at least once a day during the campaign, I shot myself in the foot by not planning enough engaging posts ahead of time. My Kickstarter video was the most viewed and shared post, and it would have been wise for me to make more than one video to share during the campaign.
Take advantage of simple ways to engage, like Facebook or Instagram Live, and do a Q&A to answer questions about your book or campaign. You can also host a Facebook Event Launch Party for your campaign and plan online activities during the event to keep attendees engaged.
Collecting newsletter subscribers is something that you’ll want to do as far in advance of your campaign as possible. Newsletter subscribers will likely be your most loyal fans, so it’s imperative that you start collecting emails as soon as you can and keep subscribers in the loop leading up to and during your campaign.
Host a reading of your book at schools or local businesses during the campaign. (Note that large bookstore chains like Barnes and Noble will not allow you to do a reading until they can order your book through their distributor.) You can also hold a launch party for your campaign at a local establishment that includes a reading of your book. You can attract people to the event with refreshments, prizes, and fun activities related to your book’s theme.
Find creative ways to advertise your book that don’t require your presence. In addition to offering coloring pages on my website, I spoke with the owners of local kid-friendly establishments and asked permission to leave printed stacks of coloring pages along with cups of crayons with my information. I bought crayons on “back to school sale” for $0.25 a box, and I bought “design your own” tumbler mugs at a local craft store to hold inserts advertising the book and Kickstarter campaign. A year has passed since the campaign, and I still have local businesses who contact me for additional coloring pages.
Don’t Rely on Family and Friends for All of Your Funding
While the bulk of your funding potentially could come from family and friends, it’s imperative not to rely on them solely. You will likely be surprised by some of your friends and family who do not back your campaign. It’s important to be prepared for this and to not take it personally. If you plan to use social media to advertise your campaign to friends and non-immediate family members, keep in mind platforms like Facebook have become a dumping ground for pleas for money. People are constantly inundated with requests to support someone’s GoFundMe or buy products from their friends who have been sucked into pyramid schemes. Most people get on social media to decompress, so don’t be offended if your friends are immune to these types of posts and keep scrolling. If there’s someone you’re really counting on to back your campaign, send them a message or give them a call (if you still do that type of thing). Personally contacting someone, as opposed to including them in the audience for one of your Facebook posts, is a much more effective approach. But try to recognize that it’s a lot of pressure to expect your friends and family to bear the brunt of funding your campaign. If you don’t think your campaign will make it without the support of your friends and family, wait to launch your campaign when you’ve done your due diligence with marketing.
Set a Realistic Timeline for When to Launch
Pretty much all of the missteps I took with my campaign could have been avoided if I had allowed myself more time to work on the campaign. I started writing my book in May, and I launched my Kickstarter campaign 5 months later. I should have given myself a few additional months, but I didn’t want to wait until the spring (after Kickstarter’s slow season) to launch. I launched my campaign in October, the last month before Kickstarter funding slows down. I knew this wasn’t the most ideal timeframe, but I was too impatient to wait. While everything turned out fine in the end, I caused myself a lot of unnecessary stress by making an unrealistic timetable for writing, illustrating, and self-publishing my book in addition to building and marketing my Kickstarter campaign. I’m typically a bit of a perfectionist, but there were a lot of things I had to just let go as they were because I didn’t have time to keep working on them. I could have planned better stretch goals, produced better graphics for my campaign page, made more images and videos for marketing, and found more bloggers to blog about my campaign if I had waited until the next year to launch. I also could have avoided the nightmare of handling the printing of my book while simultaneously running my campaign. When setting your launch date, try setting realistic deadlines and providing yourself plenty of cushion time.
If you’re looking for more advice about running a Kickstarter campaign, I highly recommend Stonemaier Games blog. I found answers to almost all of my questions about running a campaign either on their blog or in the Kickstarter FAQ.