Fund your self-publishing efforts through Kickstarter

Guest Post by David David Katzman

So you want to self-publish but can’t afford it? No matter what method you choose to publish, you will incur expenses. To ensure the quality of your book, you might hire an editor, a proofreader, a cover designer, and/or a book designer. It adds up. Having a service produce an ebook for you, in all formats, is another potential expense. If you choose the print-on-demand route, you may have some set-up fees plus ordering copies to sell directly costs an arm and a leg. Even if you only sell through Amazon, the profit margin per book, let’s be honest, is quite low. If you want to do a digital or offset print-run of several 100 or even 1000 copies, then you’ll need quite a bit of money up front in addition to your editing and design costs. And that can feel risky … what if you don’t sell them?

Regardless of what costs you incur, for the enterprising writer there is a way to fund a publishing venture. With other people’s money. Numerous crowdsourcing websites exist, but Kickstarter is the most well known, has the largest following, and is well designed to boot. So how does it work? Kickstarter is a curated site for individuals or small groups that have a creative (or technological) project for which they wish to raise funds. You pitch your project to them through an online application, and if you are approved, they give you a page to promote your project to the world. On this page, you are encouraged to create a video about yourself and your project, post a written overview, and then—essential!—list creative rewards in exchange for donations. The idea is to offer tiered rewards (bigger rewards for greater donations) so that anyone can pledge to their comfort level. Kickstarter manages all the payments and sends you the money via Amazon.

The easiest way to understand how Kickstarter works is to take a look at my own Kickstarter page here: Over the course of one month, I managed to garner 128 supporters and raised $4600 to fund a 1000 copy offset print run on high-quality 100% recycled paper of my 384 page second novel. I was even able to pay for my cover design and some miscellaneous costs.

Can anyone and everyone succeed on Kickstarter? Definitely not. Many projects don’t achieve their goal. Kickstarter only pays out (and only charges contributors) if you reach your funding goal. So choose a goal that you feel is within the realm of possibility, or you’ll receive nothing. My actual printing cost was around $3600 including shipping, but I set my goal at $3000 because I didn’t want to push my luck. In the end, I overshot my goal, which is much better than falling short.

What are some of the factors that will help you achieve a successful Kickstarter project? First, I would caution you that “Publishing” is not the most wildly popular category on Kickstarter. In other words, books aren’t the easiest sell. Why? Because they require a bit more investment from the audience. Imagine if you had a 3-minute video to try to convince someone to fund Ulysses. Think you could do it? Musicians and bands can perform in their videos or provide links to download sample tracks that will immediately resonate. Artists can show their work, and viewers will instinctively decide whether they love it or not. Reading on the other hand … providing excerpts from your actual work … isn’t a quick hit. Great books are often best appreciated as a whole. So I don’t want you to think it’s easy. Your project will have a greater chance of success if you have a truly creative hook. How is it different and unique? What makes it special? The more unique and original it is, the more likely it is to gain supporters.

Once you feel you have a good hook to drawn in your viewers, the next step is to consider your social network. They will be vital to spreading the word. Do you have a fan base already? Do you have a reasonably big Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and/or Goodreads network who <i>actually</i> read your posts (be honest with yourself, what percentage of your virtual friends follow you)? Do you have real-world friends who will support you? You can’t count on them to donate necessarily, but they will be vital to spreading the word about your project. Think viral. Get the word out as broadly as you can. I have a modest following, but it was enough. The more the better. I have about 300 “friends” on Goodreads and 49 “followers.” Next to nothing on Facebook and I’m not on Twitter. A random group on Google+. I also emailed all my real world friends and acquaintances. In fact, a good technique is to email them three times. Once at the launch (check out my video, please share it with your friends), once in the middle (please help me keep the momentum going, I’ve raised $X so far, etc.) and once at the end (about to close, last chance for rewards). Every individual’s experience will be different, but out of my contributors roughly 1/3 were people that I know personally. About 1/6 were friends of friends. The remaining 50% were individuals who browse Kickstarter looking for artistic projects that inspire them. Without both friends and strangers, I wouldn’t have made my goal.

Be judicious about whom you invite to donate. I ended up leaving out my entire family. Perhaps you will be comfortable involving them, but I was not. Your call.

If you feel you have an interesting project, a decent support network, and reasonable goals, then you’ll have a good chance to succeed. What follows are a few tips that will help you further. Please feel free to contact me through my website if you would like more advice. I’m happy to help.

  • The quality of your video is important. Be authentic and honest; let the viewer get to know your personality. They might support you if they believe in you as much as in your project. Hire a real videographer to shoot and edit it. Make it cinematic, like a book promotional video. Keep your video as short as you can. Most videos are less than 2 minutes although I broke the rule and mine was 5 minutes … but I kept it entertaining, which makes a big difference.
  • Craft your rewards and reward tiers thoughtfully. They should demonstrate effort on your part. For example, I agreed to write every single contributor a personalized “stream-of-consciousness email” based on either their name or any phrase they suggest. This reward was on top of receiving my new book or both of my novels.
  • Create a compelling still image (JPEG) that will be visible before the video plays. This single image will draw site surfers to play your video.
  • Review other projects headlines and mini-descriptions to find what strikes you as the most compelling messages and then carefully plan your use of the available word count.
  • Add photos and additional videos as updates to keep your supporters engaged and sharing your project.

David David Katzman is the author of A Greater Monster, a psychedelic fairytale featuring 65 pages of illustrations, links to two complementary online experiences, and elements of graphic design and visual text poetry. His first novel, Death by Zamboni is also an experimental work best described as an absurdist satire. He has a Master’s Degree in English Literature from University of Wisconsin-Madison and resides in Chicago. You can reach him through his website at or at


Posted on February 10, 2012, in Publicity & Writing, Writing & Publishing. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Thanks for the tips. I like Kickstarter as it allows an author to post a description of his work, and request money from donors to pay for it. Set a deadline for the acceptance of funds. Moreover, you can search for other grants. Look through writer's groups, forums and online. Tailor your application to individual grant providers. Follow the instructions carefully when applying and submit your application by the deadline.

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