Crowdfunding continues to be a viable way to get independent projects funded, whether for literary journals, publishers, or individuals. Kickstarter alone has helped artists produce numerous projects in the book world, including anthologies on underrepresented communities and creators such as Habibi: A Muslim Love Story Anthology and Deer Woman: An Anthology.
At the 2018 AWP in Tampa, Kickstarter’s publishing unit was represented in the Bookfair where they displayed some of the titles by exhibitors that had successful campaigns. Representatives for the company included Glory Edim, who previously worked for Kickstarter and is the founder of Well-Read Black Girl. She used Kickstarter to fund the inaugural Well-Read Black Girl festival in New York City last fall.
When speaking to interested parties about whether crowdfunding was a good way to go, Edim mentioned having 3 things in place:
1. Look at your membership.
If you have newsletter subscribers, active readers and/or social media followers, this is considered your “membership,” which translates to anyone you can connect with during a campaign. How many people can you reach whether online or via direct newsletters? Edim emphasized newsletter reach, as that gets into people’s inboxes.
Individuals who do not have newsletters may rely more on their online presence (if any) and the help of friends to spread the word on a campaign, especially if it’s community-based.
2. Crunch the numbers.
If you have 1,000-member audience for your newsletter, check your marketing automation method (aka newsletter service) to see how many have viewed/engaged with your mailing(s). If it’s relatively high on average, say 50% or more, this may be the group that donates and shares your campaign. If lower, consider how or if they will be aware of the campaign.
Based on these numbers, decide what a realistic campaign is. You can start small, asking for $1,000, which is reasonable for those with a small following for a very targeted project to fund. Is your aim to pay contributors for a literary magazine? Or do you want to produce a full book/journal? Would the goal be to have an event in relation to your publication? Be specific in your details and also what you can get, rather than aiming too high too soon.
3. Think about overall community strategy.
Who are your friends and acquaintances? Do you feel they will equate to reliable donations?
Digital literary journal Electric Literature used Kickstarter to fund a literary-related card game called Papercuts. Electric Literature has 250,000 followers on Facebook and Twitter, with several thousand subscribers to the literary journal via their website. In the end, Electric Literature received almost three times their initial goal, by targeting the audience they’ve built over time.
Edim suggested 30 days for a campaign to encourage urgency to fund a project in a specific amount of time. Going longer than this, she and others with Kickstarter mentioned, could drag for those planning the campaign. You’ll have to keep sending reminders and producing content, and followers may put off donating if they think they have more time to contribute. Also make sure to have a weekly strategy to keep people updated on where the campaign is and where it needs to be—as well as provide new information so that each update isn’t repetitive.
However, Red Hen Press used a longer Kickstarter campaign for poet Judy Grahn’s book, Hanging On Our Own Bodies, about 45 days. They received over $6,000, higher than their $5,000 goal. Talina Rumaya, Red Hen Press’s development associate, offered the following tips.
- Know the project itself.
- Use the author bio to help describe who they are and what the project will do that others haven’t. “Generally, you want to get the public to feel like they’re helping support something important,” she said.
- Consider what your perks/gifts are and the financial cost of fulfilling those orders along with the project costs.
Like anything, Rumaya said, promotion and outreach is important. By reaching out to the LGBTQ community, of which Grahn is a part, Red Hen was able to generate additional word-of-mouth. Additionally, they focused on creating broadside graphics on their social media pages for easy sharing of book content.
The takeaway is to be realistic and targeted. This way your campaign isn’t about what you didn’t do, but more about what you did that worked and how you can use that to expand future campaigns.
Jennifer Baker is a publishing professional, creator/host of the Minorities in Publishing podcast, social media director and writing instructor for Sackett Street Writers’ Workshop, and she formerly served as panels organizer & social media manager for the nonprofit We Need Diverse Books. In 2017, she was awarded a NYSCA/NYFA Fellowship & Queens Council on the Arts New Work Grant for Nonfiction Literature. Jennifer is a contributing editor to Electric Literature and the editor of the forthcoming short story anthology Everyday People: The Color of Life with Atria Books. Her website is jennifernbaker.com.