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Chibi-meilin

meilin_miranda in crowdfunding

How to crowdfund your product release

Update: I edited the title. To clarify, I am talking about crowdfunding the PRODUCTION of a creative product when I talk about the pre-sale I did. It paid for the production costs of my book--the editor and graphic artists. The money I will pay myself comes from further sales of the book, and from donations past, present and future that have totalled at least twice the pre-sale over the last two years. See my comment below for more.

I did it. I crowdfunded a novel. I'm hesitant to say, "So can you," for two reasons:
 
1. You have to have something people want. This depends entirely on you. I can't tell you how to write an awesome book or make awesome art, for instance. You have to be good, you have to have something that people can look at and say, "I want it. I want more of it." Understand: I don't think I'm "all that," but apparently there is an audience for what I do, and they want more of it.

Mass marketability is not the issue. It's finding the group that wants your stuff. Not everyone has something people want. Maybe it's not proofread well enough. Maybe it's still a little derivative. Maybe the style and grammar are shaky. (I'm speaking in writing terms because that's what I know, by the way. Feel free to insert your discipline's terms here.) Maybe it's just not very good--yet. And that's the operative word. You can get better. Focus on your craft first.

But you already know that.

2. You have to take a professional stance. If this is a hobby, don't bother. You don't have to work at it full time, but it has to be more than something you fool around with on weekends, something you do to while away the hours. You have to want it. You have to be willing to commit time, thought, soul and yes, money.
 
Let's say you've got something you know will connect with an audience--remember, it doesn't matter if it's not "everyone," just as long as it's a big enough chunk of "someones." I crowdfunded the novel based on an audience at its height of 2,000 people. And you're willing to take yourself and your work seriously. Don't confuse taking yourself seriously with a swelled head. You can know exactly how good (or bad) your work is, how far you have to go to make it awesome, and still take your work seriously.

OK, then, now what?

Be willing to market yourself and your work. Yep, YOURSELF. The big key to crowdfunding, I think, is the artist's willingness to put himself out there, to say this is who I am, this is what I'm about, in a way that defines him in the minds of the audience in a specific way. In other words: Branding. You have to be willing to work on your brand.

Marketing can include everything from paid advertising to including a brief reference to your work in every signature file you have, from forums to email. The scope of marketing is far too big for me to put in a little LJ post, and I'm learning as I go along; I only have so much to pass on to all y'all. :)

Branding, at the very least, includes having your own domain and a professional-looking website. In my case, I have it easy: I'm a professional web developer, so starting and developing a website was simple. (I do it for other web fiction writers over at DigitalNovelists.com, as well as for people on their own domains like Karen Wehrstein.) I also got a logo. I have a client who's a graphic artist; I trade him design now and again in exchange for hosting his website.

Commit to, and respect, your audience. If you do something online like a serial or comic, hit your marks--make your updates when you say you will--or tell your readers as soon as possible as many ways as possible that you're going to miss your deadline and why. I've watched a fairly well-known web writer lose more than half of her audience because she didn't tell people she was going to miss an update, and didn't say why--not once but repeatedly. Luckily for her, she'd already developed a huge audience, and still has one larger than mine, even at half of what it was. Most of us do not have that luxury.

Respecting your audience also means paying attention to detail. We forget things like what color a character's eyes are. They remember. Boy, do they ever. :) Another way to commit to your audience is to let them see who you are. I blog about all kinds of things besides writing--my hapless perfume addiction, for example. Don't be afraid to show yourself. Respond to comments. Encourage readers to talk amongst themselves.

Give your audience free stuff. You don't have to give them everything, but you have to give them something, and something good, for free. What has come to be called the Wall Street Journal method puts out all the popular stuff, the stuff most people want, for free, and puts the specialized stuff behind the paywall: niche stuff, news about markets that doesn't appeal to the mass of readers but appeals very much to a certain class of readers. It works for them. Other people put out samples of their work and put the rest behind the paywall. Personally I don't think that's enough, but if it works for them, that's awesome.

I gave the audience ALL my stuff for free--300,000 words, approximately, of what's come to be known as the Crappy First Draft. (I named it that.) The finished book is going to be available for free in installments spread out over a year. You have to pay to read the Crappy First Draft. ( I tell them they must pay for my shame.) One would think that's backwards, but so far, 20 people are paying me $5 a month for access to the CFD and some other incidental content behind the paywall.

Advertising can be expensive, and it can also be the key to bringing in an audience. I spent about $100-200 getting my site launched. It paid off. ;) Project Wonderful is what I used. I bought a few ads on sites likely to have the kinds of readers I wanted, and monitored the hell outta those ads. I aim for less than four cents a click. I have PW ad boxes on my own sites now, and while I could draw on those funds for unimportant stuff like groceries, I keep it instead as an advertising fund of my own; what I make goes straight back in to pay for ads. I'm building a little war chest for the book launch right now.

Once you've got readers, tell them what you need to make things work, and then ask for it. Just ask for it. They might actually give it to you. As an "I wanna pony"-type joke, I asked for a Kindle on my Amazon wish list. One of my readers bought it for me. o_O (Incidentally, I love it.)

Set targets. For instance, it became clear that the serial was really a set of novels, and that I needed some professional help. I asked for the money to hire an editor. I needed $1,000. I had $500 saved up, and I asked the readers for the other $500. I came up with a "coffee mug and tote bag" package, just like in public broadcasting. For $50, they will get: the finished manuscript the minute it's done; an autographed copy of the book; the ebook version; and a thank-you in the acknowledgments. I thought it'd take a few months to raise it, or that it wouldn't come at all.

The $500 was in my hands in 48 hours.

When I then closed the pre-sale, a bunch of people yelled at me to let them pay the other $500, so I did. :) That was in hand in a week. Then I got yelled at some more, so I left the pre-sale open. Over the next year and a half or so, I raised another $1500. And there's what I needed to put the book out professionally.

Reading all this back, I feel like I'm not answering the question. It's not a bullet-pointy kind of thing. I'm still figuring out myself how this happened--I didn't set out to do this, and I'm as amazed as anyone, maybe more so.

If I had to bullet-point it, it'd go something like:
  • Be professional
  • Invest in branding
  • Respect your work
  • Respect yourself
  • Be vulnerable
  • Respect your audience
  • Give them good stuff for free
  • Ask for what you need

In "The Artist's Way, a book I recommend highly, Julia Cameron says that the artists we have all heard of may not be our most talented; they're  our most audacious. So why not be audacious?

"Who do you think you are?" I hear that question in my head all the time. "How self-centered, how egotistical--how dare you just ask for what you need? How dare you think you're good enough to just ask for what you need? Who do you think you are?" Well, I thought I was someone who needed money to put a book out. So I asked for it, expecting nothing. And it came.

Who do you think you are?

Don't be afraid to ask.

Comments

First of all: congratulations on your achievement! This is excellent news!

Second... I think a lot of people reading this are going to be thinking, wow, she made $2500! Thinking of that as profit... but it's revenue. You paid $1000 for the editor. I think you said you paid also for the cover art and the layout. You're also going to be paying for the copies you promised to your sponsors and the postage to get it to them... I'm guessing it'll will probably be somewhere between $200 and $400.

When all that was done, was there any money left for you? I hope you paid yourself!


(I make this comment not to diminish your achievement, because it is a significant one and you should be proud. But part of what we're doing here is giving people a realistic idea of keeping yourself afloat as a crowdfunded artist, and part of that is being realistic about expenses.)
I'm sorry I didn't make this clear (I thought I had):

In this piece, I'm talking STRICTLY about getting something like a book out. You want to make a movie? Or put out a CD? You can do that, and then once it's out there you'll have to KEEP working and marketing to sell it, to support yourself.

But FIRST, you have to get it out there, don't you? You don't have to go in the hole just to get your work out there in the first place. That's my point. You can crowdfund your "product launch," to borrow a marketing term.

My book hasn't even come out yet. When it comes out, I will be selling more copies--I hope. I'm pretty sure I will, but one never knows, do one?

As for paying myself, I have earned at least $5,000 in donations over the last two years on the Crappy First Draft, NOT counting the pre-sale. Most of that went to me, and most of what comes after the pre-sale will go to me.
Cool! I hope my question didn't offend. I think a lot of people who dive into trying to make money off their talents aren't necessarily used to understanding paying themselves versus paying for services needed to produce and market themselves; some might not even realize that you have to sometimes pay for things at all! So pointing out that you successfully crowdfunded the physical productization of your novel (as opposed to the online serialization of it), with all its associated costs, is important news for all of us, especially if we understand exactly what you accomplished... which is tremendous. You got your fans to pay directly for the services usually rendered (invisibly!) by the publishing industry. That means that editors, artists and layout people also got to buy groceries thanks to your efforts and the generosity of your fans... something not everyone believed was possible.

Just re-iterating: I think you did something amazing. I just want people to understand the intricacies of it, so they know what they're getting into/should be trying to achieve. :)
Not offended at all, and if I can drag "Spots" along with me I totally will. Because it is awesome. Call on me any time if you think I can help. I'm a fan.

I've gotten many, many offers for free editing, free book block design (from the guy I'm paying to do it, a friend), free artwork. The problem with free is, you don't get as much choice in who you really want to edit/design/etc, and you get, for lack of a better word, the dregs of the person's time. It's free, so understandably it's at the bottom of their work stack. You get better work in a better time frame when you pay.

And the more important thing is: You deserve to be paid. So do the other people helping you achieve your dream. Your editor, your graphics team, your web team if you have one, they deserve to be paid! I'm afraid I've lectured more than one aspiring crowdfunder on paying vs soliciting freebies. (It's a hot spot with me.)

To successfully crowdfund, you gotta hustle, really hustle. Some people point to that as reason for self-pub/indie people to go back to the traditional way. "The publisher/record company/whoever will do all that for you, and you can spend that time creating." The new reality for most of us is, no, they won't. The artist is expected to hustle more than ever before.

So if we're going to have to do all this work anyway, why not do it for ourselves?
Spots will definitely hit hard copy when it's done, no fears there. Sadly, books hitting print is usually when they stop making money for me, an issue I'm trying to figure out how to solve.

Yes...

I'm really excited that someone got $1000 for editing this crowdfunded novel. People are saying that the shifting paradigms of publishing are going to kill editing as a profession; I don't believe that. I think there will be more of a market for freelance editing. This is a really nice piece of evidence for that.

Thoughts

This is wonderful! Thank you for writing it.

>> To clarity, I am talking about crowdfunding the PRODUCTION of a creative product when I talk about the pre-sale I did. <<

You might find it helpful to edit the title of this post, to distinguish it from other stuff in the memories like "How to Start a Crowdfunding Project." Maybe "How to Crowdfund Production Costs" or "How to Crowdfund a Presale" would give people a more precise idea of what you're discussing here. I want us to build up a good array of articles on different aspects of crowdfunding. This is a terrific contribution to that. We just need to make sure stuff is clearly labeled.

Re: Thoughts

Did so. Thanks. :)

Re: Thoughts

Yay! I've added this to the community's Memories.

If you ever feel like writing up other crowdfunding tips, please do so. A lot of what we have so far are my posts, and your approach is very different.

Re: Thoughts

By the way, is it possible to get some link love?
Thank you so much for this. It amazes (and intimidates [wry g]) me. I am putting it in my LJ's memories. I hope I can come up with the chutzpah to use it someday.

oh good heavens

Don't be intimidated! Be brave, be bold. I'm just this girl.

What's the worst thing that can happen? No one will take your keyboard away for trying.

Re: oh good heavens

I've been having this same discussion elsewhere. It's not a matter of just being brave or bold, trust me.

Thanks!

Re: oh good heavens

I hope you work it through. Good luck!

Re: oh good heavens

Thanks!

Basically, it's a matter of needing a crowd that wants to read one's work before one can crowdfund [g].