Crowdfunding: The Indie Advance

There are a lot of great things about being an indie writer, but one of the advantages of a publishing deal is money up front. Another is that you don’t have to pay anything to get published. Editing, covers, proofing, formatting – it’s all taken care of. But now, through crowdfunding, indie writers are covering their costs in advance and generating extra interest in their work.

You may have heard of Kickstarter – the main crowdfunding site. If not, you should check it out; it’s really cool.

The way it works is simple. Artists propose projects – movies, comics, novels, and documentaries – and seek financial support to produce them. In return, the funders receive rewards based on their level of contribution (from a copy of the book or movie to magazine subscriptions, special editions, unique artwork, or an invitation to the premiere).

Crowdfunding allows artists to receive financial backing for their projects without sacrificing their rights or royalties and enables them to work without commercial interference.

Writers have used websites like Kickstarter to cover editing costs, pay for hardcover print runs, commission cover art, release limited editions, and create audiobooks.

Rather than a begging bowl being passed around, the rewards can be quite tantalizing, representing a bargain for those pledging. While some projects are unsuccessful in hitting their targets (and those who pledged are never charged), the slickest presentations with the most creative rewards are often oversubscribed, sometimes hugely.

And it’s not just for newer writers or those without significant audiences, just recently Neil Gaiman and musician Amanda Palmer raised more than $130,000 (despite only seeking $20,000) to fund and record a five-show tour (much of that in just 48 hours).

I was considering a crowdfunding project for some time, hoping Kickstarter would change their US-only policy. Then, last month, I got an email from a friend in a band, inviting me to participate in crowdfunding their album release through a new Irish site called Fundit.

Their project was successful – raising $4,000 – and they’re having the launch party for the album next week (to which funders are invited).

This got me thinking about a project of my own: funding the publication of a novel I’m releasing in December, generating advance interest, and coming up with some fun rewards to entice pledges.

My project went live today, and you can see it here. To add an element of drama to proceedings, if I don’t get pledges equaling or exceeding my target within 28 days, I get nothing. That might be my favorite bit.

I love the whole concept of crowdfunding; it could be a really cool way for writers to substitute the advance. Think about it. You are essentially taking pre-orders for your book and using that money to pay for its production.

For indie writers who would love a special piece of commissioned art to make their epic fantasy stand out from the crowd, or a great copy-editor, or to fund a Spanish translation, or to convert a story into a graphic novel, crowdfunding could be the answer.

Aside from generating advance sales and interest in your project, you will be creating a level of engagement with your readers, building an audience through involving them in the very act of creation.

And best of all? You don’t have to fork over any rights or royalties in return.

From analyzing the best projects on Kickstarter and talking to writers who have been successful with it, the presentation and the rewards are crucial. The presentation is what will sell the idea to people and the rewards need to be enticing enough for them to pledge. You need to ensure you are adding value.

This is where you can get really creative. I’ve seen bands promising private gigs for fans, authors inviting readers to a book launch, artists offering original drawings, and filmmakers giving executive producer slots to those who have always dreamed of seeing their name in lights.

This could be fun and I might pull it off. If I do, my book will break even before I release it. Then every sale I make is profit.

Of course, I could fall short. That’s also possible. But I’ve got nothing to lose; if the project doesn’t get funded, all I will have is a little egg on my face. And anyway, I’ve been waiting for an opportunity to test my patented face-egg remover.

If you want to check out my project over the next four weeks to see how I’m doing, then keep an eye on this page. My progress will be represented graphically – by a handy bar – showing the total value of the pledges received beside the time I have left, which will tick inexorably downward.

I will, of course, report back on the whole thing. Egg or no egg.

7 replies
  1. avatar
    David Gaughran says:

    If anyone wants to read more about how to run an effective crowdfunding campaign, I recommend the following resources:

    1. A guest post from an indie author who ran a successful campaign: http://catherineryanhoward.com/2011/07/18/guest-post-how-belinda-kroll-used-kickstarter-to-fund-her-book/

    2. An excellent podcast from Mur Lafferty on her project which was oversubscribed and common mistakes people make: http://isbw.murlafferty.com/2011/07/isbw-212-kickstarter-lessonsdaniel-h-wilson-interview/

    3. Top tips for Kickstarter projects: http://www.gmsarligames.com/2011/05/18/15-steps-for-a-successful-kickstarter-project/

    Dave

    P.S. #2 also has a superb, intelligent interview with Daniel H. Wilson, author of Robopocalypse which is worth the listen alone.

    Reply
  2. avatar
    Scott Nicholson says:

    Good post as usual, David. Tobias Buckell and Tim Pratt are two writers I’ve seen recently who have effectively used Kickstarter, offering interesting pledge incentives. It’s a great model.

    I still see nothing wrong with actually doing the work first and then hoping for fair compensation, since that is the way much of the real world works, but if it helps supporters feel like a part of the project, that’s wonderful. For the record, an “advance” is not really an advantage at all in traditional publishing unless you are already a well-established star or a new bonus baby. Most advances are broken into thirds (upon signing, delivery of manuscript, and publication). Therefore, self-pub writers will probably earn the equivalent of their advance before any of their advance would have arrived, anyway, and since advance payments are notoriously late, the portion of the advance paid after publication might not arrive for maybe 15 months after you finish the book and turn it in. The advance is not even a real advantage for traditional publishing anymore because the advance is still slower than getting monthly payments beginning in 31 to 60 days.

    Reply
    • avatar
      David Gaughran says:

      Scott,

      Good point. There was a lot I could have said about advances there, but I didn’t want to get off track. I’ve quite strong feelings about them, but I have to admit they are a lure for many writers. By the way (you’ll like this), I’ve heard of advances being split into five payments in some cases, with the final check coming one year after the publication of the paperback. Kind of stretching the definition of “advance” there.

      Dave

      Reply
  3. avatar
    Ryan Chin says:

    Nice man. I like that your “Goal” is reasonable. It irks me a little when I see people asking for way too much and in an egotistical way. Thanks for all the helpful articles. It gives all us Indies the boost and confidence that we need.
    Cheers

    Reply

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