Don’t bother – you’ll just waste your time. Never gonna happen. Your book isn’t good enough. Go find some other way to publication and stop reading this.
Good – you’ve passed the first test. As well as self-doubt, there will be people you’ll meet and articles you’ll read that will convince you this is a Bad Idea. Well guess what? Promising to go to the Moon within the 1960s was probably a Bad Idea. A vacuum cleaner without a bag? Don’t be silly. A personal mode of transport without four legs? Never catch on. You want it? Then go for it. F**k the doubters – it’s your dream.
Crowdfunding your book is not for the faint-hearted. There’s a lot to think about and do if you want to succeed. This post uses my experience of a long, hard, but ultimately successful campaign with book crowdfunding site Britain’s Next Bestseller (BNBS). I had to get 250 pre-orders to obtain a publishing deal; fail, and I would have got nothing. Read on to see if it’s for you…
So what do you need to crowdfund your book?
A book. Well, duh! But is it the sort of book you can get 250 people to buy without any reviews? Is it too niche? “Britney Spears Zombie Clone Games 2” may well appeal to a ready-and-waiting audience, but “Telegraph Poles in 20th Century Cornwall” might have a limited appeal. Also, is it actually any good? Don’t be blinkered – seek opinion from people who will be honest with you. If you get doubters, It doesn’t mean your book shouldn’t be published, but maybe crowdfunding isn’t the avenue for you.
Sample chapters. You’re asking people to take a leap of faith in buying something that may not be the finished article yet. They’ll want to see what kind of writing it is, so decide on and polish the sample chapters. Proof read them. Get others to proof read them. Make sure they’re the most interesting ones and won’t confuse the reader. If it’s comedy, use a chapter with gags you know others have liked. If it’s a horror, show something horrific. If it’s a thriller, pose the question. Get them hooked, leave them wanting more. Anything boring, confusing, with flowery descriptions or poor grammar is bound to get people reaching for the back button. My very first line of dialogue was:
which did wonders to capture initial attention. (As a friend put it: “If in doubt, start with a nob gag!”)
A bio. People will want to know about you, your story, how you got here, what else you’ve done, why you’ve written the book. Look at others’ bios to see the style. Again, make it interesting, even if you think you aren’t!
A video trailer. You can go for something simple or something sophisticated, but make sure it sells your book. If you don’t have the skills, there are plenty of people you can hire for just a few quid who’ll put together something professional for you. (Mine’s here if you want to see what I cobbled together via iMovie on an iPad and a lot of work.)
A cover. Dont be fooled – people will instantly judge the book from its cover. Like it or not, if you have a bad cover there will be some people who won’t even look at what the book is about. On the flip side, if you have a great cover, you will attract some people purely on the basis that it looks good. Your cover will go everywhere – it’s your main gateway to your book. You’ll use it in Facebook posts, tweets, newspaper articles, emails and all promotional material. Don’t skimp on it. Don’t make it look like a crappy “I found some free images on the Internet, done a Photoshop merge and added a title in a big font” cover that you see some self published books have. Again, unless you have very good design skills, get someone else to do one for you. I’ve seen many awful covers out there and many good-looking but boring ones. Ask other authors who did their cover (I was lucky to have a cousin who’s a graphic designer). Be different. Be professional.
An author photo. There’s a good article here about author photos. I’ve also read that it’s good to use the same photo everywhere, for consistency in recognition. Choose your photo carefully and if you’re having problems then there’s always black and white and Photoshop to help you out. I chose one done in a pre-wedding shoot by a professional photographer, and despite my friends’ comments on me appearing to be Mr C&A Man in it, it was probably the best I could hope for, given the raw materials.
Potential supporters. Are you Mr Connected or Billy No Mates? Ultimately, crowdfunding is a numbers game. The more people you know, the more people you can reach, the more potential supporters you’ll have. If you’re a hermit who’s never worked and hasn’t talked to your family for years, you’ll have a harder job than someone who runs a keep fit class every Wednesday, is learning Spanish every Tuesday, has had 20 jobs and a family rivalling the Waltons. (However, you may have more spare time than her!) Make a spreadsheet of all the people you know who you could contact. Rank them in probability, from a definite buyer (you hope) to a long shot. You may be surprised how many people you know. Doing this exercise will at least give you an idea of the size of task that you face. Not got a big list? Don’t be daunted – if you do well with getting the message out, there’ll be plenty of randoms and connections from others that will get you there. Trust me – I had nowhere near 250 people and was amazed at the amount of extra people that I managed to connect to who ordered my book.
A good reputation. It doesn’t matter how many contacts you have if none of them are likely to buy your book. If you happen to be a complete and utter bastard, then people who know you probably won’t help. If on the other hand you are Mr Nice Guy, then I’m sure people will naturally be inclined to help.
A Plan. You wouldn’t climb Everest by just waking up one day, going to the mountaineering shop and picking up a thick coat, a couple of Sherpas and 5 bars of Kendal Mint Cake would you? No, and just like crowdfunding, you need a plan first.
The start. Don’t choose a start date that is too near – you may need time to do all of the above items, plus prepare some groundwork so that everyone is primed ready to order from day 1.
The end. The end of your campaign is likely to be the busiest. Don’t plan it so that the last week is the one little Timmy is performing nightly on stage in The Gruffalo and needs you there for every performance. Don’t let it coincide with a holiday or busy event – you need to prepare for what could be an intensive final furlong.
The length. Don’t make it too short – give yourself enough time to get the orders. Mine was 14 weeks and it soon flew by.
And simply don’t do a campaign when you’re about to do something major such as getting married, having a baby or going ahead with a gender reassignment – you’ll have enough on your plate. I became a dad for the first time last year just when I wanted to submit, but had to wait until I had the energy for something more complicated than breathing.
If you think uploading a rushed chapter or two, a few lines for a bio, a video trailer with one screen saying “Buy my book – it’s brill!” and a single generic email to everyone you know will cut it, then you’re mistaken. You need to work at it, and working at it means spending time.
Sure, someone will prove me wrong and upload a semi-constructed, goblin wizard erotic story with nothing but a dancing ogre in his underpants for a video, post it to an appropriate forum and watch the orders go through the roof, but that will be the exception. For the rest of us, it’ll take time and constant effort over several months.
(Note: If I’ve just described your book above, please send me the link to it.)
Is it really worth it?
If all this has put you off and you now think you’d rather self publish, I’d say don’t be so hasty. If it’s your dream to be published by someone else, then isn’t it worth the effort? How many hours have you spent writing the damn thing? How does anyone achieve great things without putting in a load of effort along the way? I see crowdfunding in the way I did it via BNBS to be a halfway house between traditional publishing and self publishing.
You’ll push yourself, learn so much and even have fun. Despite the number of hoops you have to jump through and the time it takes to do, it’s one hell of a ride. The thrill of seeing those orders come in the realisation that you’re going to make it is one of the best feelings you may ever have.
If it seems right for you, try it. It may just be the best thing you ever do…
Andrew Males successfully crowdfunded his first novel, 26 Miles to the Moon, which as a result is now available to pre-order on Amazon.co.uk here.