Is Crowdfunding a Book Right for You? A Radically Transparent Crowdfunding Case Study for Authors

There are many models for publishing a book in today's indie environment. Some authors (like me) choose to be entirely independent, but others choose to work with partnership publishers or options like crowdfunding.  

It's important to note that there is no ‘right' way to publish, it's up to you – but you need to know all the pros and cons, as well as any costs involved before you choose your path. 

In today's article, James Haight talks about his choice to crowdfund a novel and the tools he used to get there. 

When I decided to crowdfund my first novel I had no idea what to expect and no one else seemed to either. In fact, it was nearly impossible to find real data from actual crowdfunding campaigns.

Thankfully, I came out ok on the other side. Not only did my campaign raise enough money to offset costs, but my book also got picked up by a publishing house. For an unknown author such as myself, it was a dream come true.

Now that I’ve undergone the experience, my goal is to help other authors be successful in their crowdfunding endeavors as well. By being transparent about my own campaign, I hope to help authors set expectations and strategize to be successful in theirs.

What Crowdfunding Platforms Should You Choose?

Choosing the right platform can be a daunting task. There are the traditional crowdfunding giants like Kickstarter and Indiegogo, which provide (theoretical) access to massive audiences, but there are also specialized platforms such as Inkshares and Unbound that double as a publishing house as well.

Ultimately, I decided to choose a platform called Publishizer which acts as a virtual agent between you and publishers. I chose Publishizer because my primary goal was to be picked up by a publisher and I believed that they offered me the best chance to achieve that goal.

[Note from Joanna: Just to be clear, this article is James's opinion and experience and I'm not personally advocating crowdfunding or any of the platforms for your book. Please make sure you evaluate the pros and cons for your situation.]

How Much Time and Effort Does Crowdfunding Take?

I dedicated approximately TWO MONTHS to my crowdfunding campaign. I spent the first month preparing for my campaign (before it launched) and the next month running it.

As you will see below in the sales data, crowdfunding is won or lost BEFORE your campaign goes live. That means that your work and preparation are highly frontloaded.

In the first month, I spent anywhere between 1-5 hours per day preparing my campaign for launch.

This included areas such as building an author website, creating a pitch video, developing a synopsis, and planning a launch party. Although I didn’t keep track exactly, I likely spent ~80-100 total hours in the first month preparing for my campaign.

The good news is that managing the campaign is much easier after you launch. I found this phase to be more about execution and maintenance than about building anything new.

While the campaign was ongoing I spent approximately 1-2 hours per day with occasional spikes and lulls. This phase entailed more operational tasks such as clever updates on social media and sending out emails. I estimate spending approximately ~40-50 hours total on the campaign during the second month.

How Many Books Can Expect to Sell?

By the end of my campaign, my novel sold 334 copies and grossed $6,475 in total sales. The day by day sales totals are shown in the chart below.

Daily Total Sales Throughout Crowdfunding Campaign:

Crowdfunding is all about momentum, and the name of the game is to get as many backers as possible on the very first day.

Like a snowball rolling downhill, initial sales build future sales. An effective launch day is critical to a successful campaign. Nearly $2,000 of the $6,475 total dollars I raised came within 24 hours of opening the campaign. This sales chart is proof that the success of a crowdfunding campaign is determined before it ever launches.

(Note: Day 2 was my official launch day, but some of my more ambitious fans found out that the book was available a few hours before midnight the day before).

Please Note: Your Genre is Important for Expectation Setting

I was ecstatic about these results. At the time, my novel became the most funded “literary fiction” novel ever on Publishizer. This is important because a book’s genre can have an enormous impact on sales potential.

While success is wholly dependent on the individual author, a book’s genre can generate significant tailwinds or headwinds.

It doesn’t take more than a quick search through the Kickstarter archives to see that the most funded book projects fall into the fantasy, science fiction, or non-fiction (especially business) genres.

Conversely, other genres such as literary fiction, historical fiction etc… make up a disproportionate number of failed or abandoned campaigns.

Authors should understand that their book’s genre will impact their total addressable market. Thus, they should set expectations for success accordingly. While entrepreneurs crowdfunding their latest business book may reasonably expect to raise $15,000 +, most fiction authors (that don’t have an established audience) should expect $10,000 to be an upper bound of success.

How Much Cash Can You Keep?

Crowdfunding evangelists seldom mention the fees associated with running a campaign. While I didn’t have to pay any money out of my own pocket, my crowdfunding platform did take a hefty 30% cut from my total sales.

These types of fees are typical.

Authors can get lower fees by shopping around between the platforms (the bigger the platform the lower the fees), but authors must plan to give up a sizable chunk of their funds.

To me, it was a small price to pay to achieve my dream of offsetting costs and getting picked up by a publisher. However, authors that are only interested in self-publishing might benefit from hunting for a smaller fee percentage.

The below chart details how the number of books I sold eventually translated into the money I could keep.

Is Crowdfunding Right for You?

Crowdfunding is difficult and time-consuming, but it can offer substantial rewards to those who persevere. For me, crowdfunding helped accomplish a lifelong dream. But for others, it may be an expensive and time-consuming path to self-publishing.

I personally believe that crowdfunding is a great avenue for authors who are serious about selling their book, getting a publisher, and building an audience. However, I would recommend this path only to authors that are willing to invest focused attention for at least two months.

[Note from Joanna: Crowdfunding also works best if you have readers or a market ready for your book. If you have no email list and no platform, it will be very hard to get any traction with crowdfunding.]

For those that are willing to put in the work, crowdfunding presents a chance to short-circuit the traditional publishing process and to build an audience that you never had.

I hope that sharing my experience will help you decide if crowdfunding is right for you! If you decide to go down the crowdfunding route then please join us at The Book Crowdfunding Academy. Together we are building a community to help guide fellow authors to crowdfunding success.

Have you ever considered crowdfunding to pay for the editing and cover design etc. of your book? Please leave your thoughts below and join the conversation.

James Haight is currently awaiting the launch of his debut novel Jack & Coke and spends his time helping other authors navigate the crowdfunding landscape at The Book Crowdfunding Academy.

He is also the author of the eBook Funded: The Exact, Steps, Strategies, and Tools to Crowdfund Your Book, which outlines exactly what an author needs to do to successfully crowdfund their book.

Joanna Penn:

View Comments (9)

  • I'm all for crowdfunding, and have watched several friends use Kickstarter very successfully. I wouldn't do that myself, because the fulfillment looks like a pain. I do use Patreon, though, which is a very different form of crowdfunding.

    But I'd never heard of Publishizer before this piece, and went to check it out. Imagine my surprise that the cover page was filled with mainstream publisher logos. So basically, it circumvents either directly going to traditional publishers, or doing so via an agent. I really don't understand why. It seems like much more work than just writing and submitting a proposal directly to some of the houses listed ––especially the smaller or midrange publishers I see listed, who always take direct proposal submissions–– or submitting to an agent if that's the way you want to go.

    Then I looked at their FAQ and was dismayed to see them using terms that authors who choose to independently publish use. But in this case, they were using them to describe royalty-issuing publishers.

    A traditional publisher is neither "independent" or "hybrid."

    I am an author who is both traditionally published (with books sold to both a massive and a mid-range press, as well as in traditionally published anthologies).
    Like many authors, I am also an independent publisher (indie). Meaning, I have my own imprint and publish my own books.

    That makes me a "hybrid" author: I use both traditional and independent publishing to get my work out into the world.

    The word Publishizer is looking for instead of "independent" publisher is "small press".

    The word Publishizer is looking for instead of "hybrid" publisher is "scam" aka "vanity press."
    In their words: "Hybrid publishers offer partnerships with authors looking to reach a wider readership and build their audience. They do not pay advances, and normally charge authors an upfront cost, or require a minimum order of books. Expect royalties between 30-70%, and the highest level of service, speed, and creative flexibility."

    Really? These publishers *charge* authors, after taking their crowdfunding labor, and then pay them a royalty percentage? Why would any author agree to this when they can actually indie publish and hire out for an editor and cover designer? If an author doesn't want to find people themselves, there are services (such as Lucky Bat) whom they can hire to do all the work *who will never take more than a flat fee in exchange for labor.*

    I haven't looked through the rolls of all the publishers listed on their site ––which includes both of my publishers, BTW, so yes, there are many legit houses there –– but wonder if some of the notorious scam sites aren't also listed.

    TL;DR: as a "crowdfunding" site, I found Publishizer to be quite confusing as to their aim and I'm not sure why anyone would use it. What exactly are you crowdfunding if not to publish your own book? A traditional publisher is supposed to shoulder all costs. That's what we pay them 80% of our income for.

    - Thorn

  • (Correction on my royalties comment at the end there. Traditional publishers taking 80% for their labor was a typo. I meant 90%. And of course, sometimes it's even less than that. )

  • I don't get whats in it for the reader - generally crowdfunding gets you something unique , all they get here is an extremely expensive book - it works out at an average $19 per sale.

    I'm also not seeing a long term plan here - is that 6 grand and change all he'll ever get for the book, or did James also get an advance and royalties from the trad publisher deal.

    Personally I see crowdfunding as great for things that cant be funded any other way, but for books surely going indie and publishing via ebooks and create space makes more sense (or just pitching agents if you want a trad deal)

  • So when you started this, did you already have your novel fully written? From what I have read, if you have a complete book that you've done some of your own editing on, that's the time to submit to agents, and they will find your publisher. I ask because I currently have several partially written books or shorter stories that want to be fleshed out into novels, but I kinda need to pay rent and buy groceries.
    Would crowdfunding work to fund writing a book and having a professional edit it before sending to agents and then publishing? It's a longer gap between the payment and the readers getting to read the actual book.
    But if you have the thing written and want a traditional publisher, why would you need to crowdfund it? Unless you're looking for that to be capital while you write the next book?

    • I have the same questions here. I feel this article raises more questions than answers for the average author...

    • I don't think you should crowdfund for editing a book IMHO. It should only be done for special projects - hardbacks or graphic novels or one-off awesome products. If you want to submit to a publisher, then you wouldn't be crowdfunding as they pay you.

  • I have a self published novel on Amazon.
    Due to charging an affordable price, I make practically nothing on sales, so I have decided to try crowdfunding the cost of getting a large batch printed at a regular bookprinters.
    Unfortunately, the above suggestion of simply getting an agent or publisher is not always realistic.
    Three years of trying to acquire an agent has led to me going down this route.
    I fully accept that my book may not be good enough, but while I recognize how difficult it is for family and friends to give honest critiques, I have also received very positive reviews from anonymous readers.
    I once listened to an agent being interviewed and they admitted that occasionally, in order to reduce backlog, they delete hundreds of submissions without even opening them. I take reassurance from the fact that my manuscript might have been rejected without being read, rather than not being good enough.
    This is not a complaint, its just the way things are out there and I want to point out the unfortunate reality. I wish Rachel the best of luck, but (and I hate to use the word "but") be aware that finding an agent or publish is far from straightforward. Best wishes. Liam

    • This is a guest post by James Haight, and his comments, not mine. I have never used Publishizer myself so can't comment. Always review terms and conditions at any service to see if they are right for you.

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