Sunday, 20 October 2013


When I first began getting published thirty years ago, being an author was easy. You wrote your book, submitted it to a publisher and when it was published, you sat back and waited for the book’s publicist to work her magic. Sometimes your publisher paid for advertisements in magazines or took you the author on an all-expenses-paid book tour. You didn’t even have to write the blurb for your book! More recently authors have needed to become heavily involved in book promotion and even more recently traditional publishers are asking authors to help subsidise publication and/or pre-sell copies of their books. With the advent of social media, self-publishing via the use of crowd-funding is becoming more and more popular through crowd-funding sites such as Kickstarter, Pozible, Indiegogo, Zoshpit, and more. (As of 2012 there were over 450 crowd-funding platforms.)

Crowd-funding – sometimes known as crowd-sourcing – has been around since Shakespeare’s day when investors made it possible to stage his plays. Crowd-funding investors have helped make other projects viable, such as the Statue of Liberty or the Adopt-A-Classroom program to mention but a few. Basically how it works is lots of small investors (or several bigger ones) contribute to a nominated project by pledging x amount of money, for which they get y amount of 'perks' which, depending on value, range anywhere from a simple 'thank you' to copies of the work, merchandise, all kinds of things. Many thousands of people, including authors, have raised money towards their projects that way. Not only does it raise money, it also guarantees sales, readership, audience, and is a great promotion and publicity tool.

Motivation for consumer (“investor”) participation stems from the feeling of being at least partly responsible for the success of others’ initiatives (desire for patronage), striving to be a part of a communal social initiative (desire for social participation), and seeking a payoff from monetary contributions (desire for investment). There are, however, questions about the legality of taking money from "investors" without offering any of the security demanded by conventional investment schemes. Sites such as SellaBand hold funds in an escrow account as a failsafe. If the nominated target isn't reached, all funds are returned to contributors. In contrast, some sites such as ArtistShare allow projects to keep all the funds raised.

How you manage to excite investors depends on numerous factors, especially how clever you are in manipulating social media and talking up your project. It helps, too, if you have a writing reputation, a media profile and/or a wide range of contacts. Such was the case with Marcus Westbury, whom I heard speak at this year’s Ubud Writers’ Festival. Recently Westbury launched a crowd-funding project for a book he’s written; he gave himself six months to raise the requisite monies required to publish, but found to his amazement that his popularity as a broadcaster, media maker and festival director resulted in him reaching his goal only four weeks into his campaign. Another successful crowd-funding campaigner is Australian author Sophie Masson, who, with two artist friends, David Allan and Fiona McDonald, recently managed to self-publish a picture book. Sophie has a wide range of friends and writing colleagues and is well-known through her work as a journalist, print author and board member of the Australian Society of Authors. On the other hand, I know of a young woman who has been struggling to crowd-fund a board game she has devised but in the end has decided not to proceed with her project.

Interestingly, in 2012, crowd-funding websites helped companies and individuals raise $2.66 billion (from which $1.6 billion was raised in North America.) ‘Pozible’ is the biggest crowd-funding platform in Australia. Since its launch in 2010, it has already supported over 1,300 creative projects, raising over $2.5 million dollars in funding. The types of projects that are funded vary: it might be $60 for a university assignment pitch or $30,000 for a feature film.

Not every crowd-funding site is the same. With Kickstarter, the most famous of the sites, you need a US bank account so that is difficult for those outside of America who don’t have a US tax number.  Then there are different types of crowd-funding models, the 'fixed' or 'all or nothing' model, which sites such as Pozible and Zoshpit (for musos) work on, where you must reach your nominated funding target to be paid anything at all. (People who contribute to such projects get their money refunded if the target isn't met and the project doesn't get up); and 'flexible' funding, which Indiegogo functions on (though it also has a 'fixed funding' option if you want.)

Flexible funding means you get to keep the money raised, even if you don't reach your target, with a small commission taken out by your chosen crowd-funding site, of course—the commission is slightly higher if you don't reach your target than if you do.

Before you decide on your crowd-funding site, you need to work out how much capital you want to raise and the time frame for raising it. This means a budget for such things as editing, designing, illustrating, publicity and printing costs, depending on what it is exactly you want the money for. Then you sign up with your chosen site (it’s free to do so) at which stage you plan your campaign pitch. This consists of a written pitch introducing your project to your prospective financial backers and what exactly you're seeking support for (see above), as well as images and a pitch video. You don't need a pitch video, but all the evidence is that campaigns work better where there is one.

Some people have very elaborate clips, but you can do it simply and cheaply: using images from the book, a simple video-clip creating program (Windows Movie-Maker), a little bit of text introducing us and the book, and some music. The images speak for themselves!

You need to devise the list of the 'perks' to offer contributors, which is directly related to the amount they fund you for. For instance, a $25 contribution might give you a $25 perk of a signed copy of the book, posted (basically a pre-order for the book), while a $50 perk might consist of a signed copy of the book plus a signed limited-edition print of one of the illustrations; and so it goes on. English poet Salena Godden at the Ubud festival said that for a $300 pledge on her next crowd-funded book, she will take the contributor ‘for a night on the piss in London’ with her.  

In the crowd-funding process, you also need to decide on the length of your campaign. It might run from 30 to 60 days but Indiegogo recommends 45 days as being the optimum length. You also have to decide on such 'housekeeping' details as how your contributors might pay, such as credit card and/or Paypal, and enter all that information, for the benefit of Indiegogo or whatever crowd-funding site you decide to use (it is they act as the broker, collecting funds, and they who will deposit the funds into your nominated bank account, minus commission, at the end of the campaign.)

And then you take a deep breath, hit the Submit button, and your campaign goes live!

Helpful websites:

How to crowd-fund your film

Thirteen crowd-funding websites

Information about crowd-funding

Article on crowd-funding in Australia


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