In 2017, I began writing Tales from South America, a collection of stories about the local people, realities, and legends from my solo motorcycle adventure through South America. Having built an audience using blogging and social media, I funded the book with a successful IndieGoGo campaign. In this article, I’ll share my tips for financing a self-published book and running a successful crowdfunding campaign.
In 2016-2018, I published two travel and adventure motorcycle books in Lithuania with traditional publishers. From my experience in traditional publishing, I learned a lot about the steps that go into creating a book. When I decided to self-publish Tales from South America, I decided to crowdfund it to make the project as successful as possible.
Crowdfunding is a good option for self-published writers. IndieGoGo doubles as a pre-sales platform, so a successful crowdfunding campaign also markets your book. I found that it’s easier to ask people for money when I could offer them a future product instead of just asking for a favor. Since I had a well-defined budget and timeline, I could confidently guarantee the book to my backers. To make the book a reality, all I needed was a great editor, a designer, and a printing house.
My IndiegoGo campaign ended up being 112% funded. I raised $7,692, more than enough to cover the publishing costs. I donated most of the extra cash (5%) to struggling families I met in South America.
Crowdfunding on Indiegogo gave me the opportunity to make and publish my dream book, and I also learned heaps about online marketing, the importance of true fans, and social media. In this article, I’ll share my learnings with other people hoping to finance a book, side project, or entrepreneurial venture.
Before the Campaign
Draft a Budget
Every crowdfunder should have a clear, reachable goal and know exactly where the money will go and why. The first thing I did was draft a budget for my campaign finance goal. After getting quotes from editors, designers, and printing houses, I estimated that I needed roughly $6,500 to cover everything:
- Printing and shipping: $3500. I estimated that this would be my biggest expense, depending on the volume of copies sold. Tales from South America was going to be a paperback focused on the storytelling, not images, and sold less than 300 copies, so I chose a traditional printing house in Europe. People publishing a large hardback with lots of images or illustrations — like a big photography book, for example — or who expect to publish a lot of copies should consider printing in China to save costs. Alternatively, you can keep costs low by publishing only an e-book, but I wanted my readers to have a physical product instead of just a digital copy.
- Research and editing of the book: $2000. People often assume they can skip this step, but the reality is that everyone needs an editor, no matter how good their writing is. Double-checking facts, quotes, footnotes – all of this is important for credibility. Finally, a great editor can really clean up and pull your text together without erasing your voice. I got quotes from different editors in the US and Europe to estimate the expense. You can quite easily find editors on Upwork or Fivver who will work for less, but the quality may not be as high.
- Platform fees: $650-$700. To avoid for last minute panic, make sure to account for the amount that IndieGoGo or your crowdfunding platform take out.
Once you have your goal, explain it clearly in the campaign description. Be honest, transparent, and realistic – people are more likely to support projects they think will succeed.
Choose a platform
I then had to pick a crowdfunding platform. From my research, Kickstarter and IndieGoGo seemed like the biggest and most promising. I was leaning towards Kickstarter because there are fewer publishing projects (so less competition), and the platform itself is bigger and better known.
However, because of my nationality, I chose IndieGoGo instead — Lithuanians aren‘t eligible for Kickstarter, sadly.
Develop a media plan
Have a clear marketing and social media plan before you launch. There‘s nothing worse than chasing magazine editors last minute, begging for a mention, or trying to come up with interesting social posts when you’re campaign is underway. Plan your updates and content ahead of time.
Focus on a few platforms where your engagement is best, and ignore the rest. For me, Facebook brought the most backers, so I focused heavily on my Facebook posts, shares, and communication. I pretty much ignored Instagram because it only brought me a few backers, whereas Facebook brought in the majority. If your engagement is best on one or two platforms, direct all your attention to them and don‘t waste your time chasing the few backers on less-effective platforms.
Prepare your campaign images and other visuals beforehand. Your campaign images need to instantly tell people what your campaign is about. Abstract, generic imagery, while useful for some projects (perhaps art books), will not tell a story and therefore are less likely to attract people to your campaign. Be creative and original – but try to be specific, too.
Don’t experiment with images too much during the campaign; instead, create a look that‘s consistent, that tells the story of your book, and that has a hook to get people interested, and then stick with it. If you (like me) don’t have a strong visual design sense, consider hiring a designer to help you create and refine your photos and graphics. You can also use digital templates like Kapwing to make and edit your formats.
Set Up Your Rewards
Create cool, unique perks or rewards for your campaign, but don‘t go overboard. Statistically, for a book, people will pre-order for $25-$35 (or $35-$65 if it’s an exquisite, beautifully-illustrated book, or a high-quality coffee table book).
For books, crowdfunders often offer a signed copy at a higher price and a digital copy at a lower price. You can offer quirky rewards, for example:
- Including a backer’s quote or “forward” in the book
- Let them name one of the characters
- Give them access to “sneak peaks”
Generally, you don’t want to give people too many choices because they might end up not choosing anything at all. Your IndieGoGo page shouldn’t contain more than 6-8 perks or rewards.
Study the platform’s algorithm/recommendations
You want strangers to discover your project on the crowdfunding platform, so make sure to learn about what facets are important for discovery. For example, I made a huge mistake by not using IndieGoGo‘s own share buttons. I shared the campaign by copying the URL and pasting it in my emails and social media, but that means IndieGoGo didn’t track the shares, and I didn’t get as much of a boost for the traction I got. Such a simple thing, but this oversight probably cost me quite a few boosts and backers. Ultimately, only 6% of all my backing came through the IndieGoGo emails or discovery page.
Make sure you research your chosen crowdfunding platform very carefully to avoid rookie mistakes like this! Crowdcrux is a great resource – I picked up a lot of very useful tips from this blog and podcast, such as advice on IndieGoGo‘s algorithm.
Build your Tribe
Unless your idea is so provocative that it will spread like wildfire all on its own, you will need to carefully prep for your Indiegogo campaign. I prepared for three months before the launch, and I could have used more time. Ideally, you want to start preparing and researching 4-6 months in advance.
That‘s because whatever your project is – a novel, a photography book, a recipe book or a children‘s story – you will need to build a fanbase and create a buzz. And unless you have a large budget for public relations firms, building hype take time and consistent effort. I was already somewhat known in the adventure motorcyclist and travel writing circles, so I had a small existing fan base. I knew that I needed to build around the core fanbase, expand it.
Self-publishers should start building their fan base through content marketing, email newsletters, and social media well before starting their crowdfunding campaign.
Find your first backers
IndieGoGo advises getting your first backers (people pledging 25-30% of your goal) to commit within the first 48 hours. Getting 100 backers in 48 hours shows IndieGoGo‘s algorithm that your campaign has potential, which in turn means it promotes your project through features and ranking algorithm. 100 true fans not only will support your book as soon as the project is launched, but they will also help you by sharing and getting their friends to support you.
Takeaway: Make sure that when you launch your Indiegogo campaign , at least a hundred people will back the book immediately.
During The Campaign
For me, the 45 days of the campaign felt like full-time work. Crowdfunders have to post updates, reach out to people personally (A LOT!), follow up, create engaging social media posts, write and reply to emails, and generally be on their toes while the campaign is underway. Although I prepared as best as I could, I still learned a ton of new things every single day. Here are a few takeaways:
Invest in Facebook, not PR
Over 70% of my backers came from Facebook, raising over 42% of the total amount. A lot of them backed the book because they had been following my Facebook posts about South America. Short, intriguing stories I posted before and throughout the campaign also converted well: snippets from the book, stories about the local people, curious facts or legends, blog posts about life on the road, spotlights on extraordinary people I met during the journey, updates on my progress writing the book. In other words, give people a taste, a teaser of what’s to come to really hook them. Make them wonder what’s going to happen next and show off your literary voice.
In retrospect, I should have spent more time asking people to share the campaign on Facebook and less time hunting down media contacts. About six or seven different media outlets and blogs mentioned the campaign, but this yielded very few results: less than 10 backers in total.
The only exception was ADV Rider, a platform where I post both as a blogger and as a journalist. Because ADV Rider readers and forum members already knew me and my work from my previous articles there, ADV Rider’s endorsement brought me 29 backers. It wasn‘t just a one-off; I already had a following there. Again, this just proves that you need your true fans.
Leverage your community
The most important lesson was that backers supported my project because they felt personally connected to me. Only about 15-20% of backers were complete strangers, but only 15% were close friends or family. The majority were people whom I have interacted with one way or another: either through my blog, social media, my work, or face to face at events. The 70% of the backers were true fans who have enjoyed my previous work and wanted this book to succeed. My campaign got 112% funded because of them, not because of one-off media shout outs or blog mentions.
Email each and every single person on your Facebook friends list, your IG contacts, your email list, your newsletter list: message everyone you know. Ideally, send thoughtful, personalized messages instead of a generic or spammy ask. Intrigue, inspire, interest people, instead of harassing them for money. What’s in it for them? How will they benefit from your project? How will their lives change after reading your book?
Halfway through the campaign, I realized that, for my project, media coverage wasn‘t going to be much help. I didn‘t prepare well enough to reach the mainstream press, and the adventure motorcycle niche just weren‘t big enough.
Because I realized this from my IndieGoGo referral metrics, I immediately stopped chasing media outlets and focused on my fans and Facebook instead, and it paid off. It may turn out to be the exact opposite for you – whatever happens, just react quickly and adjust accordingly.
Right now, my book is finished and is currently being formatted for printing and the e-version, to be sent to the printing house in a week. After the book is printed, I will personally sign and ship it to my backers, meeting my March deadline. I feel really excited and proud that I managed to get everything done in time, and I can‘t wait for the first feedback!
However, although the campaign is over, the life of the book only just begins. After the campaign, I used IndieGoGo‘s InDemand service where your project can stay live for another 6 months and people can still back it. That‘s pretty much a version of pre-sales, and it added about $400 to my overall funding goal. Admittedly, I could have used InDemand much better, but I was extremely busy working on the book, so I simply had no time to spare for further marketing. Consider getting help or partnering up with someone for the “Afterlife” of your project post-campaign: during this time, you can still pre-sell a significant amount of copies.
Note: If you’re interested in “Tales of South America,” you can still order it on IndieGoGo! Support another Indie creator, writer, and entrepreneur and learn more about the wonderful people of South America.
Once the backers get their copies, either printed, e-version, or both, I am planning to release the book on Amazon, Kindle and other platforms. I am very mindful about the price – it cannot be lower than the IndieGoGo perks for at least half a year so my backers don‘t feel cheated. I am hoping to enlist their help in getting the first Amazon and Goodreads reviews out.
I‘m happy with how my campaign went, and I am eternally grateful to all my backers who helped make Tales from South America a reality. It‘s been an amazing experience and a steep learning curve, and I know I will be doing this again for my next book!