In 2009, Rob Gard left a high profile communications career in L.A. and moved to a small island off the coast of Scotland to work in a distillery. From that experience emerged his memoir/travelogue Distilling Rob: Manly Lies and Whiskey Truths. To fund publication or, as he puts it, “bridge the gap between imagination and implementation,” Gard launched a campaign on Kickstarter, a crowd-funding platform for the creative arts.
Within 24 hours, Gard had exceeded his $2900 fundraising goal. Since October 22, he’s raised $5125. If he reaches his “Second Stretch” goal of $6000 by November 21, the final day of his campaign, he plans to host two release events, in L.A. and Wisconsin, with an invitation extended to every campaign backer.
Today, with publishing houses reluctant to take a chance on new talent, frustrated authors increasingly turn to self-publishing. Unlike their traditionally published colleagues, who typically receive an advance on future royalties, self-publishers earn nothing until several months after publication. To make ends meet, many authors work a full-time job. Still, publishing a book is expensive, with necessary services such as editing, formatting and design easily running into the hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars.
With Kickstarter’s crowd-funding platform, authors like Gard—or publishers like Yael Goldstein Love and Jennifer 8. Lee, founders of the innovative new literary studio Plympton Press—can fund their project without going broke or borrowing money from investors. Artists and entrepreneurs maintain creative, managerial, and financial control of their project, and the financing comes with no strings attached, as both Kickstarter guidelines and current law forbid sharing profits with backers.
Since the company launched in April 2009, 3 million Kickstarter users have donated over $400 million dollars and funded over 30,000 creative projects. According to a company spokesperson, the Kickstarter mission is to “bring audiences and artists closer together.” For a small pledge, in some cases as little as $1, patrons can connect with creators and play a vital role in bringing a creative project into the world. A growing community of patrons is waiting in the wings to back the next exciting new project, he says.
To be eligible for funding, a project must fall into one of Kickstarter’s 13 creative categories, its creator must have a clear goal, and the project must eventually be completed, producing a tangible experience or product such as a film or book. Before initiating their Kickstarter campaigns, Gard had drafted his memoir and Love and Lee had set up their company. Having a clear goal for a finite project gives creators a better chance of succeeding and, for patrons, alleviates the worry of donating to a project that may not be completed.
While it’s a great tool, “the funding platform is not a vehicle that will drive your story to success,” Gard points out. Indeed, only about 4 in 10 projects are funded. Kickstarter is an all or nothing proposition; to receive funding, creators must reach 100% of their goal; if a drive falls even one penny short, the creator gets nothing. While the rule may seem draconian, the company sees it as an advantage: first, it reduces risk by ensuring that creators receive enough money to actually finish their project. Second, it motivates creators and enthusiastic backers to spread the word. And, the company says, it works. Of projects that have reached 20% of their goal, 82% have been successfully funded; at 60% of goal, success rises to 98%.
To entice backers, creators offer rewards for pledges. The best rewards pull patrons into the creative process. Rewards like a dinner with the creator excite people and make them feel they have a role in the creative process. For a $10 pledge, Gard offers donors a digital download of his book plus inclusion in his list of backers. For a $25 pledge, donors receive an autographed paperback plus the listing and digital download. For $215 dollars, Gard offers a 3-hour whisky cooking class for the donor and a friend, two personalized copies of Distilling Rob, plus two Glencairn glasses. And rewards increase from there.
According to the Kickstarter spokesperson, selling yourself is the hardest part of the Kickstarter process. “To excite donors, you have to show passion in your appeal,” Love says. Plympton Press founders Love and Lee believe serialized fiction fits the lifestyle of today’s busy readers. Love compares serials to TV programs—“addictions”—like Homeland, where viewers tune in weekly for their one-hour fix. This information, along with details about the company founders, their vision, and their team, appears on their Kickstarter fundraising page and presents a compelling case for support. Love and Lee also posted a video—their passion the X factor that, according to the spokesperson, sets successful campaigns apart from the rest.
Lee and Love planned well and worked hard—and their efforts paid off. By the end of their drive, they’d raised over $56,000, 188% of their goal, money they intend to put toward advances for authors.
While publishing is among the smaller Kickstarter categories—the category includes art books, children’s books, fiction, journalism, nonfiction, periodicals, and poetry—its successes are growing. Twig the Fairy Storybook has raised $26,934, over 180% of its goal, with 4 days remaining in the drive. The Monster Alphabet Book, a children’s picture book, surpassed the $25,000 mark, raising 5000% of its funding goal, Seth Godin raised more than $287,000 for his new book The Icarus Deception: Why Make Art?, and Wollstonecraft, a “Snicketesque girl-power adventure featuring Ada Lovelace and Mary Shelley at 11 and 14 in 1826 London,” received $91,000, 2000% of its goal. The Order of the Stick Reprint, a project to reprint out of stock Order of the Stick comic books, hit 2017% of its goal, for an astounding $1,254,120.
Other successfully funded publishing projects include a book tour and several short story projects. Greg Stolze, author of “Two Things She Does with Her Body” and “Regret, With Math,” received over $300 for each short story—more than many authors earn from traditional publishers for literary short stories.
With Kickstarter, authors like Gard, and entrepreneurs like Love and Lee—or Amy Edelman, who recently launched a fundraising project for Rabble, an aggregated book review site—have the freedom to publish their book or pursue exciting projects without having to worry about where the money will come from. That’s good news for authors and entrepreneurs, good news for readers, who benefit from the creativity and innovation offered by these talented artists, and good news for donors who can participate in funding for the arts on, as the company spokesperson puts it, “a human scale,” affordable to everyone.
Doors are opening. Oh, and that sound you hear? It’s the collective whoosh of dreams coming true.
Note: For advice on setting up a successful Kickstarter campaign, see Gard’s post “How to Fund Your Book Using Kickstarter.”
Terri Giuliano is a contributing writer for IndieReader and Her Circle eZine. She’s written news and feature articles for numerous publications, including the Boston Globe and the Huffington Post. She lives on the East Coast and teaches at Boston College. Her debut novel, In Leah’s Wake, was a Kindle bestseller for more than 6 months. For information, please visit her website: www.tglong.com. Or connect via her Blog, Facebook, or Pinterest. OR tweet @tglong