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The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Crowdfunding Your Novel With Kickstarter

An Interview with Fantasy Romance Author, Marilyn Barr

A few months ago, I came across an article stating that fantasy novelist Brandon Sanderson’s Kickstarter project broke records and has currently raised over $41.7 million dollars. Since I am a devoted Sanderson fan, I decided to investigate just what this Kickstarter is and discovered it is a way that fans crowdfund projects.

At about this same time, I saw a social media post from author Marilyn Barr, seeking backers for her Kickstarter. Although I lean toward traditional publishing for my projects, I am a fan of Marilyn’s storytelling and thought it would be fun to invest in her endeavor. I made a small donation, then cheered her on. I enjoyed her email updates and fell in love with her covers.

Receiving my early copy of the first book in Marilyn’s three-part series about pirates and vampires and seeing my name listed as a backer was extremely rewarding. After all, what’s better than supporting a fellow artist?

I gobbled up the first installment of Walk the Walk, and I am currently enjoying the second book, Walk The Deck. I was immediately drawn into Marilyn’s fantasy world and reminded of my Anne Rice obsession days. I can honestly say that Walk The Plank is my favorite read so far this year. I contacted Marilyn as soon as I finished reading her book and asked her if she would share her Kickstarter experience with me.

Our interview follows:

Nicki: How would you describe Kickstarter to someone who has never heard of it?

Marilyn: Kickstarter and Indiegogo are crowdfunding websites for creatives. From the outside, they look like GoFundMe but with tangible rewards for the donors. When I created mine, I thought of it as a pre-order opportunity for my first self-published book series. The writer/artist/small business owner creates a landing page for their project, and those who wish to receive their project pledge different tiers of donations. My reward tiers were eBooks only, eBooks plus one paperback, all eBooks & paperbacks, all books plus a Zoom release day party, and name a character within the series.

Currently, my husband and I have backed sixty-seven different Kickstarter campaigns. From tarot cards to clocks, organic lotions to board games, and novels to picture books, Kickstarter campaigns are as unique as the artist’s personalities. I highly recommend that someone thinking about launching a Kickstarter back at least a dozen other projects first. One of the popular misconceptions is that you run your campaign, collect your funding, and then deliver your project—and that’s it. There are many different styles of providing status reports, assigning funding level rewards, and maintaining a delivery schedule, but you must pick one. By backing other Kickstarters, you will have models of these reports and receive some really cool stuff.

Nicki: What was the catalyst that made you decide to use Kickstarter?

Marilyn: My husband started reading indie books a decade before me through Kickstarter. His favorite authors opted to only sell their books via Kickstarter, in-person conventions, and on their personal websites. He has followed these authors for years and has backed multiple projects for each. When I mentioned my dream to have a self-published series on Kindle Unlimited, he showed me how his favorite authors sold their self-published books. While I wasn’t ready to spurn all book retailers, I wanted to give myself the best start into self-publishing.

Nicki: What is the first step to getting started on Kickstarter?

Marilyn: Let’s assume you’ve backed at least a dozen other Kickstarters, finished writing your book(s), and talked to everyone you know about the project you are about to launch. The next step is to write your Kickstarter story, purchase your book covers, and either make or purchase your book trailer. You may be thinking: “How am I going to afford this without the Kickstarter funds?”

I challenge you to flip your thinking into “How am I going to attract Kickstarter funding without attention-catching items?” I made Kickstarter-specific graphics and thought I would buy my covers later. While my project was fully-funded at the last minute, I could have made the job much easier by launching professional graphics on day one. The Kickstarter instructions state that your first day is the day you will receive the highest number of donations. I found this to be my experience and was grateful to have a first-day sale where I could give my closest circle lower prices for donating right away.

The only exception to this I have found is when you record yourself asking for the money. The more personal you are willing to be, the more emotional the ties you create, and the easier it will be to reach fully funded.

Nicki: How did you find your sponsors?

Marilyn: Your sponsors will be your family, real-life friends, closest social media followers, and who they choose to tell. It is about connection, so the stronger the connection to your followers, the more likely they are to donate. Liking each other’s posts is not enough, so I focused on recruiting my newsletter followers. I found that 10% of them were converted to backers (This is considered high for a first-time Kickstarter, according to Facebook forums).

The day I decided to launch a Kickstarter is the day I should have started shopping for donors, not the actual launch day. This is a special type of marketing that is the core of Brandon Sanderson’s success (as described above by Nicki). The Kickstarter instructions state clearly that the largest portion of your donors are people you interact with daily and have an emotional interest in your project. Brandon wrote his book in public and gave personal status updates (much like the post-Kickstarter funding ones) to his core donors. I only talked to my closest friends about my jump to hybrid publishing while I should have been selling to anyone who would listen.

While people like my husband and I cruise Kickstarter for projects to back based on the product alone, we are a small fraction of Kickstarter’s donors. What attracts us to sponsor a project of an unknown artist is their product descriptions. I can’t stress enough the importance of graphics. If you write fantasy or science fiction, character art would be a great investment for your Kickstarter.

Nicki: How did your Kickstarter experience compare to the other forms of publishing you have used?

Marilyn: One big difference that no one mentioned to me was the conundrum of ARC teams and Kickstarters. Can you give out ARCs to your close fans but ask other close fans to pay for advanced eBooks? If your ARC readers sign up for the Kickstarter, they are not obligated to leave a review. Many people don’t realize they can leave a review with a book retailer if they purchased the book through Kickstarter. You have now eliminated your friends, family, and most active social media followers from your ARC teams. If you don’t have a large following and struggle to get book reviews, Kickstarter will compound this problem.

A second piece to this problem deals with pre-order statistics and rankings. Because the books are sold outside of traditional book retailers, they are not reflected in #1 new release or bestseller ranking calculations. The book will not look successful or attract new readers through the book retailer websites. The author becomes more dependent on ads to boost their listing placement–ultimately costing more money.

Kickstarter vs. Self-publishing

Anyone self-publishing will tell you that the most difficult parts are adhering to timelines and budgets. Having a Kickstarter meant I promised my closest family and friends books by a specific date. Instructions give this sage advice, “under-promise and over-deliver,” which didn’t hit home until I was fully funded. At the last minute, my husband added a month to my final delivery date (claiming he didn’t want to clean up my meltdown). With this extra time, I gave myself five months to push my three manuscripts through the publication process (editing, book jacket design, and formatting) and design bonus gifts like bookmarks, stickers, and book boxes.

I loved the structure of monthly backer’s reports and delivery schedules because I didn’t have to force my deadlines. I worked harder than ever because I simply didn’t want to let my favorite people down. My eBooks are being delivered before the release date, and my paperbacks will be mailed five weeks before the promised date.

Kickstarter vs. Traditional Publishing

As part of the small press query process, I am required to have the book written, a concise synopsis, and a general idea of possible cover art. I’m not required to invest any money. The rest of the process is handled by the company. I don’t start marketing the book until all the components are assembled into a complete package, and the books are available for pre-order.

Selling through Kickstarter is the opposite of my experience in traditional book publishing (small press). The author isn’t required to purchase their book covers or book trailers before launch, but the most successful campaigns do. I had experience using Book Brush and Canva to make eye-catching graphics with book quotes which helped immensely. However, had I not had this experience, I would have hired a graphic designer or an artist to make character art. Launching a Kickstarter isn’t about making money but making your initial monetary investment grow. Also, with all the marketing and updates, there is little time to guide your books through the revision, editing, and cover design process. With inflexible deadlines, I highly recommend the books be nearly finished with these post-writing pieces when the Kickstarter launches.

Nicki: Was Kickstarter a positive experience overall? Would you do it again?

Marilyn: Overall, Kickstarter isn’t for me. I felt uncomfortable asking for donations even though I was offering a product in return. To be successful, you must start pushing your campaign before it launches and keep pushing to different in-person and social media outlets. The Kickstarter instructions have many different avenues to secure funding, but half of them are outside my comfort zone. I’m not in the public eye enough to make those natural connections needed to convert acquaintances to backers, nor do I have the salesman personality to pull it off. For example, a high school teacher launching a Kickstarter for a young adult book series would have the ideal situation. The same goes for a museum curator writing historical fiction or a daycare specialist writing picture books.

Having one successful Kickstarter, I statistically have an above-average probability of unknown donors and a fully-funded second campaign. However, I would rather sell my pre-orders the old-fashioned way and be competitive for bestseller banners. As my following and popularity grow, I may change my stance, but for now, name recognition is more important than profits.

Nicki: What advice would you give to someone who would like to publish a book using Kickstarter?

Marilyn: There are many courses on how to run a Kickstarter, and they all agree to start your marketing months (sometimes a year) before launch. It requires more marketing than a traditional book release. To be successful, you must be willing to ask for money, face-to-face, from your everyday acquaintances. Your book(s) should be written before you start your Kickstarter because there isn’t time to do both at once. I also recommend purchasing your book covers and trailers (even if the campaign is the reimbursement of these expenses.) The money won’t appear if you can’t attract your buyers, even though 90% of them will come from your everyday interactions.

Nicki: Do mythical angel donors exist?

Marilyn: Yes, they exist. Angel donors are sponsors who sweep in on the last day of the project and donate a large sum so that it is fully funded. They are often anonymous and don’t ask for the product within Kickstarter. I was fortunate enough to have two such donors who asked for eBooks but pledged more than any of my reward tiers. However, my angel donors weren’t strangers, as in the myth. I found out one is a family member, and the other is a social media follower who has supported me from the beginning of my career. However, even this longshot type of funding comes down to my personal interactions.

From Walk The Deck:

With wild hair and her fluttering dress trailing across the sky, Magda swings from the top of our ship to the deck of The Amelia. The arc sends her over the heads of the firing squad like an avenging angel. She lands on tiptoes and steps daintily in my direction. Prancing feet at odds with the panic written on her face bring my wife to my side.

About Marilyn:

Marilyn Barr currently resides in the wilds of Kentucky with her husband, son, and rescue cats. She has a diverse background containing experiences as a child prodigy turned medical school reject, published microbiologist, special education/inclusion science teacher, homeschool mother of a savant, certified spiritual & energy healer, and advocate for the autistic community. This puts her in the position to bring tales containing heroes who are regular people with different ability levels and body types in a light where they are powerful, lovable, and appreciated.

When engaging with the real world, she is collecting characters, empty coffee cups, and unused homeschool curricula. She is a sucker (haha) for cheesy horror movies, Italian food, punk music, black cats, bad puns, and all things witchy. For the latest Strawberry news and witchy tips, join her newsletter at www.marilynbarr.coms

Marilyn can be found at:

Twitter @author_barr

Facebook @MarilynBarrAuthor

Goodreads @Marilyn_Barr

Instagram @Marilyn_Barr_Author

BookBub @marilynbarr


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