You may have heard I recently ran a successful Kickstarter campaign. As I compile the backer rewards while simultaneously putting together a Thanksgiving menu, allow me to reflect on 10 things I learned about authorship from my Kickstarter experience:
1) Asking for money is hard. I’ve worked in the non-profit sector for most of my career, specifically in the arts. I’ve done every kind of gig there is to be found in the arts world, except for one: development. In non-profits, development simply means asking people and corporations for money. I see development as akin to sales in the corporate world: some people are very, very good at separating people from their money. Those who are best at it are the ones who believe 100% in what they’re doing/selling. They get people to feel good about what they’re supporting/buying. The only way I was able to get on Twitter and Facebook every day with a virtual tin can was by believing that Hungry Ghost is a good book, a fun book, a book that will get people to think. If I didn’t believe that, I’d have been riddled with guilt and that would have shown through. Bottom line: asking for money is hard, but if you believe in the value you’re offering, it becomes much easier.
2) Giving people an opportunity to support in a simple way is essential. Since I started down this path as a independent author a staggering amount of people asked what they could do to help. The easy answer is to buy my books, but that’s not enough for some. Many people don’t read or don’t read fiction, and plenty more want to support me with more than a $12 paperback. Some of these people have offered skills or opportunities, like free graphic design, copy editing, retweets and facebook shares, a couch to sleep on when I’m rolling through town, or pitching their student groups to have me teach a workshop at their university. But for every person who wants to support me in kind through work or trades or spreading the word, there are 10 more who don’t think they have anything to offer. This is where money comes in. As an indie author I have to shell out every cent that goes into the creation of my book. If I want to pay my support team, I have to raise that money myself. Even before I ran a Kickstarter, people in my community asked how they could donate to me. I have literally had people- even near strangers- shove money into my hand and stop me if I tried to protest. It’s a small way of thanking me for the work I’m doing.
3) Transparency is key. I stated right up front that I was raising money to pay my editor and graphic designer. $1000 to each of them. Bam. The remaining earnings are going right back into the book: paying for printing, shipping, merch, set-up fees, etc. Right now it looks like the budget is hovering somewhere around $6000 all said. The remaining $1000 that I raised will go towards the push goals: recording the audiobooks and compiling the Tales of the Pack fanfic story collection. As soon as I get hard numbers outside of the designer & editor fees, I’ll post them so everyone can see where exactly their money is going. It’s true that many of my backers probably don’t care exactly where the money goes, but I believe that crowd-funding works on trust. It’s important to me that my backers trust that I’m using their money responsibly. Plus, the added bonus is that newbies and authors can look under the hood to see exactly how much a project like this costs.
4) Detractors are shockingly few. I was afraid of doing a Kickstarter because I was raised to be a self-sufficient, independent woman. My parents, both self-made people and first generation college grads, let me get a job when I was 15 and taught me the value and pride in hard work. In some ways crowd-funding feels at odds with these values. After all, I could just get a corporate job and earn the money that way, right? I was afraid that by being transparent with my needs in creating Hungry Ghost, I’d attract trolls who were going to shame me for not working hard enough or accuse my request as petty or greedy. The truth is, the biggest troll was inside my own head. While it’s possible there were people in my community grumbling behind my back about these things, the great majority were enthusiastic and thrilled. As with anything, fuck the haters and focus on the people who appreciate you and your goals.
5) Spamming works. I hate to say it, but it does. Every time I sent a tweet or an email blast, I got more backers. Even in my panicky days when I tweeted 12 times in a row about my project. Actually, especially those days when I tweeted like crazy. The internet is a noisy place.
6) Kickstarter helped me reach new fans. The culture of Kickstarter is brand new. Instead of buying, reading, and reviewing a book, all in quasi-isolation, Kickstarter allows fans to have direct contact with me and engage in the process of creating a book. Content creators promoted my Kickstarter to their readers and I got a whole bunch of new fans to learn about me. Werewolf fans, lesbian fiction fans, fantasy fans, writers, geeks, feminists, lgbtq activists, and many more, found me through their individual channels, often on the recommendation of bloggers they trust. Roughly 40% of my supporters are people I don’t know in real life. That’s 60 people who found me and my work because of Kickstarter. (Not to mention, I gained 650 new twitter followers during the Kickstarter period.)
7) Those who you expect to give, won’t. Those you expect not to give, will.
8) Swag matters. Not gonna lie. Lots of the people who backed my book just wanted the t-shirt.
9) Kickstarter isn’t charity. I knew it to be true going in, but it takes on a whole new meaning when I’m fulfilling orders and shipping out books and t-shirts. These backers were truly pre-ordering merch. It’s damn hard for an indie artist like me to order a gross of silk-screened t-shirts (from other indie artists in the loft across from mine) and order 200 books from the printer. That shit’s expensive. But, having cash in hand means I can do just that without freaking out about my credit score. Everybody wins.
10) This is the future. The influence of Amazon notwithstanding, Kickstarter is playing a big role in the new economy. Gone are the days of patrons and publishing behemoths. We are realizing the power of a plugged in, turned on community of enthusiastic artists and fans. We are remembering that art is something created for people, not for demographics and marketing departments. Similar to why I self-published in the first place, my books don’t need to appeal to the lowest common denominator to be successful. My voice doesn’t have to pander to support my life. I can reach fans by speaking directly to them with my own words and asking for their support. I don’t have to prove anything to Broadway or Wall Street to be an author who makes a difference. Likewise, fans don’t have to be capital investors to invest capital in work they want to see. This is new, it’s challenging, and it’s beautiful.