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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

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].

Re: oh good heavens

It's easier to start with an audience and present a project to them. But it's possible to launch a project and build an audience for it. You just have to account for audience building in your business model when you plan the project. So you might use a social website such as Web Fiction Guide to promote it, or come up with an advertising plan, etc. Good content will attract attention.

Re: oh good heavens

Agreed. No one had any idea who I was when I started. I had a handful of readers from my fanfic days, but I don't think any of them followed me over to original work.

Wow!

I did not know that about you. It makes your success all the more exciting!

*ponder* I started out with a nice, lively audience before I did the Poetry Fishbowl, but my audience has grown a lot since then. It wasn't huge at the time, and most of them probably weren't buying anything I'd written.

Re: Wow!

Oh yeah, I'm nobody! I'm just a dumpy little housewife with a web server and 30 years of nonfiction experience. I haven't told any of my nonfiction readers about what I do or what my pen name is.

I think I started out with something like ten readers, but I rapidly built from there. Some of them are still with me, including the guy who gave me $10 to meet my first bonus chapter challenge.

Re: oh good heavens

Hmm... That hasn't been my personal experience (or maybe my content just isn't what others want to read -- I haven't been able to attract beta readers, let alone a paying audience). It's obvious others are successful at it, though.

Re: oh good heavens

Have you advertised? That's how I got an audience. As for betas, there are many writing communities where you can find writing partners and beta readers. Come take a look at WebLit.Us, which is a community I started for writers of online serials, novels, short stories, essays, memoir and poetry--any non-blog/journalistic writing on the web. We help each other with all this kind of stuff.

Edit: EVERYONE is welcome at WebLit.Us. We do a lot of discussion on crowdfunding etc.

Edited at 2010-07-19 11:46 pm (UTC)

Re: oh good heavens

Thanks for the link. I'll check it out. No, I haven't advertised, beyond putting up a website (http://mmjustus.com). I do have a "professional" blog (as opposed to my LJ, which is personal) -- http://mmjustus.blogspot.com.

I've just begun to try (and be frustrated by) Twitter -- mostly because there seem to be some technical issues on their end. I can't even get logged in ATM [wry g]. I have put out a message to their help desk, though, so hopefully that'll get resolved soon.

Other, than that, though, no, I haven't really advertised. My loop of contacts is pretty much a closed circle at this point. It does seem rather odd to advertise unless I've got content already out there, but that seems to be something of a catch-22 situation, and I'm not sure how to deal with that.

Re: oh good heavens

There are various possibilities:

1) You may not have found the right project yet. I've seen some people do one or two before something really catches on. Me, the first thing (the Poetry Fishbowl) did great but I've had only minor results from subsequent attempts in other areas. This can be handled by trying different types of project.

2) You may not have found the right audience yet. Different people like different things and that can take time to build connections. That's a networking issue.

3) Your skill may not be far enough along yet to sustain a fanbase. That one is solved by practice.

Re: oh good heavens

I suspect my issue is mainly #2.

Networking has always baffled me.

Re: oh good heavens

This is networking. :)In the paraphrased words of Maude from "Harold and Maude," now go out and network some more.

Edited at 2010-07-20 01:20 am (UTC)

Re: oh good heavens

One of my alltime favorite movies [g].

Let me rephrase. Networking that actually results in jobs/contracts/other forms of pay baffles me [g]. Networking with friends I do just fine...

Try this...

There are some networking tips in this post about boosting your audience:
http://community.livejournal.com/crowdfunding/102299.html

Re: Try this...

Thanks!