The Art of Crowdfunding: Self-Publishing in the Information Age

by Ben Apatoff

Sometimes those of us who remember pre-internet mankind are dazed by the impact the social media era has had on the publishing world, flooding the already ultra-competitive business more options than ever before and leveling the playing field by making publishing ventures more accessible. It’s easier to publish but therefore harder to stand out, and authors are now graced with a slew of options for their work. With self-publishing companies like Kickstarter, Inkshares, Vook, Authorhouse and Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing all reshaping the landscape, publishing may be as daunting and as enticing as it’s ever been.

Launched in 2009 by a team of three designers, Kickstarter has quickly become a significant force in the arts world, funding endeavors as diverse as theatre, publishing, dance and video games, although it’s primarily utilized by musicians and filmmakers. Rather than have funders invest in their project of interest, Kickstarter allows funders to “back” a project with a pledged donation that will only be fulfilled if the project reaches its fundraising goal (with a 5% fundraising fee) by its deadline. Since its inception, Kickstarter’s web site claims to have funded over 60,000 creative projects with pledges from more than five million donors.

“Kickstarter’s a place where people come together to make new things — like books, movies, restaurants, board games, and innovative technology,” says Maris Kreizman, Kickstarter’s publishing specialist. “Our mission is to help people bring creative projects to life. Kickstarter is a global community of millions of people from nearly every country on the planet who are shaping the world into what we want it to be rather than accepting it for what it is, and who are looking to be inspired by the most imaginative, colorful, and innovative ideas.

Kickstarter’s recent successes include Linda Liukas children’s book Hello Ruby, which set its fundraising goal at $10,000, and ended up raising more than $380,000 from more than 9,000 people, and Michael Malice’s Dear Reader: The Unauthorized Autobiography of Kim Jong Il, which earned the author a spot on IC-SPAN2's Book TV. Kreizman notes that both authors, in addition to joining Kickstarter, worked hard to market and publicize their works.

“There are so many positives to self-publishing, but most successful self-published authors know that you can’t do it alone,” adds Kreizman. “Find a great copy editor, or at the very least, ask a few trusted friends to read and look for typos. Hire a jacket designer if your Photoshop skills aren’t quite at professional level. Also, make sure you (or someone who will help you) can target a specific audience, and aim your promotions at that particular group.”

Over all, Kreizman believes it is more viable to self-publish a book now than it was 20 years ago, noting, “The digital space has opened up lots of new doors for writers who want to publish books and stories and shorter form content online. There are also a number of great services available for writers who want to produce physical copies of their work. And yes, I should mention that, as more and more writers find success in the self-publish space, the easier it will be for others to do the same…For a writer with a truly entrepreneurial frame of mind, self-publishing can be incredibly empowering. The writer-as-publisher gets more artistic control and a better percentage of royalties, and she has no barriers of entry. That said, writers who self-publish should understand that publishing a book requires an incredible amount of work. After you’ve slaved away to actually write the thing, then the real work begins.”

At Inkshares, a recently-launched publishing house, authors don’t self-publish but pull readers in through crowdfunding. A children’s book called The Cat’s Pajamas by Big Fish author Daniel Wallace, released in November, was the company’s first crowdfunding success. And perhaps most notably, Inkshares distinguishes itself by taking an especially involved role in the publishing process.

Marketing Manager Angela Melamud describes Inkshares as a “crowdfundedpublisher”, and notes, “Unlike other crowdfunding platforms, Inkshares doesn’t just help you raise funds to produce your book, we also assist authors in the role of a traditional publisher, bringing decades of experience from places like FSG, Picador, Houghton Mifflin and more. We work with authors to design their books, we collaborate on marketing strategies and we work with our distributor Ingram to ensure that their books get into bookstores and, more importantly, into readers’ hands.”

Melamud is quick to note the perks of crowdfunding, stating “With crowdfunding, writers are able to rely on their readers to have their books published, rather than appealing to the sensibilities of book publishers. Beyond that, traditional publishing is a gamble where publishers hope that books will sell. With the Inkshares model, the demand has already been proven — we’ve got the backers to prove it.” She also notes that Inkshares offers a bigger cut to its authors (50% royalties, 70% for eBooks) than traditional print publishers (typically around 15%).

But despite its advantages, Melamud warns that potential authors should not view crowdfunding as an easy way out. “The authors we’ve had the privilege to work with are dedicated and excited about their projects, and are incredibly involved in not only the editorial process but also the design, production and marketing of their book,” says Melamud. “Crowdfunding offers authors the opportunity to be more involved in the life of their book, and it’s one that they should take.”

Melamud continues, “Even the best writers need editorial guidance, marketing support, production know-how, and distribution knowledge. And because self-publishing is so easy, everyone is doing it. Serious authors find themselves spending their own money on promotion to distinguish their book from the others that are out there.”

The rise of crowdfunding and self-publishing may not guarantee wider audiences or even make life easier for most writers, but it’s hard to not get excited about wider options for authors and new forces in the art-making process. By breaking through the publishing barriers, Kickstarter, Inkshares and their ilk are reinventing the production world, something for any serious reader to reckon with.

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