Hope For the Little Guy: How Crowdfunding Helps Out the New Author

For me the biggest dream, the biggest accomplishment, would be to become a published author, a novelist. I’d always imagined – hoped – it would happen like it did for J.K. Rowling, which is to say that I’d be picked up by a publisher and become an author in the traditional way. For a long time I believed this was the only way to publish a book, and up until recently I still believed this was the only viable way to become a real writer (nor am I the only one to feel inclined towards traditional publishing for certain reasons). Then the world of self-publishing was introduced to me, along with it questions about what that might involve and whether it could be viable for wannabe writers. There are many different ways of self-publishing, one of which has been kicking off in recent years based on crowdfunding. I was quite intrigued by the crowdfunding model of publishing, mostly because I could actually see myself using it (opposed to other self-publishing methods I’ve read about). Crowdfunded publishing is appealing to authors because it gives them a way to get their content out without being controlled by the gatekeepers of traditional publishing, and provides funds to do so in ways other forms of self-publishing cannot. In a world where crowdfunded publishing has grown into the norm, it is the wannabe writer who benefits the most. They have a greater chance at becoming successful writers this way than they do with the system as it sits today.

Crowdfunding essentially works like this: you propose your project, set up an amount goal for how much you would like to raise, then start marketing like crazy. If people are interested in your campaign, they can pledge you money. If you reach your goal in the allotted amount of time then your campaign was a success and you can then move on with your project, following through on whatever promises you made to those who pledged you money, and then it’s happy endings all around (obviously I’m leaving a lot out, but you get the picture).

Crowdfunded publishing follows the same process but I will be talking specifically about two different veins an author can use, depending on what they wish to achieve. One way is to use a fundraising platform, such as Publishizer, that will help authors to raise funds to later publish their book. There are many different fundraising platforms to choose from, but regardless of which platform they choose, it will be up to them, once their campaign has succeeded, to find the services they need to publish their book using the money they’ve raised. Another option authors can choose is to use a platform that helps to raise money in the same way but will then go on to publish the successful books themselves, such as Inkshares. Regardless of which vein out of these two an author chooses, the possibilities opened by crowdfunded publishing bring a whole set of new dynamics to the creative process and industry, largely due to the interactivity between author and reader that can be very beneficial, especially to the first-time author.

For authors, new or old, crowdfunding is a great chance to test whether or not their story is marketable – in other words, do people actually want to read their story? An editor of a publishing company may love their story, but when it comes time to actually sell the book, the general populace may not agree that it is worth buying. Crowdfunding bypasses the middleman and gets information straight from an audience; it will indicate more directly whether there is any interest in the story and how significant that interest is. Authors can more easily gauge their stories like this – what do they keep and what do they change? Is this a viable story option, or should they scrap it and try again with something else? (A painful realisation, but better to find out before completion than after.) New/wannabe authors have no previous books to go off of; they have no sense of market for potential books nor an audience to market to, both of which are potential black marks for traditional publishers simply because it makes it harder to sell if there’s no pre-established audience. Crowdfunding a book idea or story segments allows new authors to test the waters in a way that wouldn’t be financially smart for traditional publishers – why should they risk losing money on some no-name author? The biggest thing at risk when crowdfunding a book is the authors’ feelings, because if they don’t end up reaching their goal, the donors aren’t charged and so no one loses money (this may vary by site, but overall there is not a great financial risk being taken, other than the occasional fee from the site, and even then fees usually only apply when the project succeeds). Crowdfunding gives new authors the chance to find a market without really risking anyone’s financial status.

Of course, seeing whether or not their story is marketable depends on the author’s ability to market in the first place. This is where crowdfunding may let down the more introverted author. Authors who know how to market themselves and their books are more likely to be successful at crowdfunding for their books than an author too shy to ask people for money, so were this model to become the standard model, those authors who can market may take off and get all the attention, leaving those less capable without a chance. Crowdfunding is often (but not necessarily) most successful when the author either already has an established platform (blogs, social media accounts with many followers, etc.) or is capable of getting one up and running successfully. Crowdfunding can be a great tool for an author, but they must work for it to work. However, these days many publishers appear to be marketing books less than they used to, especially for lesser-known authors, so authors need to be marketing for themselves no matter how they choose to publish. Sorry introverts. The benefit of crowdfunding, especially to the new author who loses out on marketing from a traditional publisher, is that it’s an additional way to reach people and gain a readership, and is possibly more effective than traditional self-marketing (tweeting and Facebook posts can only do so much) because it brings the reader into direct relation with the product.

Direct relation to the product, or interactivity between the author and reader, is one of the most beneficial outcomes of crowdfunded publishing, and could be what makes this model so beneficial to authors (new or experienced) and possibly even to publishing as a whole. I should specify that this is interactivity while the book is still in the process of being written. That there is interactivity at all is amazing on its own – traditional publishing, even different kinds of self-publishing, usually will not have any audience interaction until after the book is out; in traditional publishing this is mostly due to its process restricting the possibility for this, while self-publishing at its most basic mimics this process (the process is as it is done presently – there could be a future where the generic publishing formula includes audience interaction throughout its stages, but in that case, why not make crowdfunding the norm since it already does this?). The crowdfunding model of publishing allows for ongoing interactivity during the writing process and reader feedback in ways that have not been built into other, more traditional methods of publishing. Readers really have a chance to become involved with the book, not only by funding it (and therefore indicating that yes, they want it) but by becoming even more directly involved by author invitation to suggest ideas for it. Many of the crowdfunding platforms also provide the option for “extras”, where depending on how much a person pledges they can receive extra stuff such as a one-on-one meet with the author. This is a good way for the author to get people to pledge more than the basic amount, and presents fun bonuses for the audience that may otherwise not have been made available to them. With the possibility, inevitability even, of the author-reader interaction that is provided by crowdfunding, a viable model could come from this where a book is written and commissioned based entirely on what the audience wants. While this hasn’t happened yet (not noticeably at least), readers who want to know more about the writing process or the chance to get involved in the creative process will have much better luck turning to crowdfunded projects than alternative methods.

How does crowdfunded author-reader interactivity help new authors? Again, it goes back to being given the chance to establish an audience and being able to gain that audience’s opinion throughout the writing of the novel, wherein traditional publishing this chance is non-existent because it lacks that same interactivity. New authors can use reader suggestions in ways established authors may not be able to. Established writers, simply from the fact that they are already established, have reader expectations they must live up to. Readers expect them to write in certain genres for example. They may not be able to branch out in a crowdfunded book because their current readers like what they already do and may not support any change. New authors though have no reader expectations; they’re not locked into a certain genre or style or even audience. If crowdfunded publishing becomes more popular among readers, new authors may actually have an advantage over established authors.

Publishers may be weary of crowdfunding sites, especially those aimed specifically at generating books because they may consider them competitors, but I don’t think this needs to be the case. Crowdfunded books could be very beneficial to a publisher if they embrace the crowdfunding platforms that then go on to publish the books that have been campaigned successfully, as in the second vein of crowdfunded publishing I mentioned earlier. If a publisher chooses to use this model, authors can submit to them as they would to a book-specific crowdfunding site such as Unbound. According to Unbound, this model is the way to go for publishers wishing to make it in the online world. With a successful campaign, where money is coming in from lots of people hoping to see this book finished, the publisher knows ahead of time that there is a market and an eager audience for the book. This is good for the publisher because they have a greater sense of who to target, and it is good for the author because they’re already seeing financial success from a book they haven’t even fully written yet. Then when the funds raised during the campaign are used by the publisher to publish the book, the publisher can worry less about taking a hit if the book doesn’t end up doing so well because at least some of the cost of publishing was covered, depending on how much was raised. If crowdfunding were to take off and join with publishing like this, new authors may be more likely to get published and become successful because the risk of the new will be less daunting than in traditional publishing.

Crowdfunded publishing is a really exciting idea – exciting because it may actually work as an alternative to traditional publishing. As long as an author can get over any fears they may have about asking for money and attention, there is room for authors to be very successful at crowdfunding their books. If this model continues to grow and mould itself, the wannabe, new author may just be able to become the successful, real author in ways traditional publishing simply cannot offer. Given the chance to test their idea in the market, to find people who want to read their book, and to interact with them in the creation of that book, crowdfunding has created a great formula for the new author trying to get published, a better formula that doesn’t leave out the wannabe from the creative world.
Works Cited

Anderson, Porter. “Self-Publishing and the Industry: Implications and Impact.” Publishing Perspectives. N.p., 24 Sept. 2013. Web. 2 Nov. 2015.

Bearman, Susan. “Crowdfunding for Authors: Is it right and is it right for you?” Write It Sideways. N.p., n.d. Web. 2 Nov. 2015.

Bransford, Nathan. “How a Book Gets Published.” Nathan Bransford. N.p., 25 Aug. 2009. Web. 5 Nov. 2015.

Dmatriccino. “Why Don’t Publishers Market & Promote the Books They Publish?” Writer’s Digest. N.p., 19 April 2010. Web. 5 Nov. 2015.

Galley, Ben. “How to Crowdfund Your Book.” Publishing Talk. N.p., 18 May 2015. Web. 2 Nov. 2015.

Gartland, Matt. “Will Crowdfunding Books Replace Author Advances and Further Empower Readers?” Winning Edits. N.p., n.d. Web. 2 Nov. 2015.

Hesse, Jason. “Crowdfunding Authors’ Books Could Save Publishing.” Forbes. N.p., 30 Sept. 2014. Web. 2 Nov. 2015.

Hogue, Joseph. “Ultimate List of Crowdfunding and Fundraising Websites.” Crowd 101. N.p., 28 July 2015. Web. 4 Nov. 2015.

Inkshares. Inkshares, n.d. Web. 2 Nov. 2015.

Kaye, Matt. “What You Need to Know About Crowdfunded Publishing.” Jane Friedman. N.p., 31 March 2015. Web. 2 Nov. 2015.

Kellogg, Carolyn. “Authors Prefer Traditional Publishers to Self-Publishing. Surprised?” Los Angeles Times. N.p., 9 Jan. 2014. Web. 5 Nov. 2015.

Prive, Tanya. “What Is Crowdfunding And How Does It Benefit The Economy.” Forbes. N.p., 27 Nov. 2012. Web. 4 Nov. 2015.

Publishizer. Publishizer, n.d. Web. 2 Nov. 2015.

Rich, Jason R. “The Major Steps in the Self-Publishing Process.” Self-Publishing for Dummies Cheat Sheet. For Dummies, n.d. Web. 5 Nov. 2015.

Schofield, Justine. “Publish Your Next Book with Crowdfunding.” Positive Writer. N.p., n.d. Web. 2 Nov. 2015.

Sweeney, Joe. “Everything You Need to Know About Crowdfunding.” The Simple Dollar. N.p., 1 Dec. 2014. Web. 5 Nov. 2015.

Tart, Nicholas. “7 Things I Learned from Publishing a Book.” Income. N.p., n.d. Web. 5 Nov. 2015.

Unbound. Unbound, n.d. Web. 5 Nov. 2015.

Weinberg, Dana Beth. “Author Survey Results: Expectations of Traditional Publishing and Self-Publishing.” DBW. N.p., 27 Jan. 2014. Web. 2 Nov. 2015.

2 Comments

  1. I appreciated the unique perspective the writer was able to take on this assignment, being as she herself is a writer who hopes to be published sometime in the future. But is she planning to go ahead and start crowdfunding for her own book? Has she started already? The first-hand experiences of an author who’s in the midst of crowdfunding for the first time would have been a great addition to the essay.

    The introduction was a little confusing to me, as it positions crowdfunded books to already be a mainstream phenomenon (e.g.: “in a world where crowdfunded publishing has grown into the norm, it is the wannabe writer who benefits the most”) — though, that isn’t quite true. Some editing for clarity would have benefited the essay as a whole. For example, for what reasons does the writer believe that book crowdfunding will one day be mainstream?

    It is mention several times through the beginning of the essay that crowdfunding is especially beneficial to “wannabe” authors, but, later on, the writer acknowledges that authors who already have established platforms would in fact be more successful at it (“Crowdfunding is often […] most successful when the author either already has an established platform (blogs, social media accounts with many followers, etc.) or is capable of getting one up and running successfully”). This confused me a little. Using the word “wannabe” made me picture somebody who is only beginning to think about writing professionally; someone who already has a popular blog, and who probably writes for at least a couple reputable sites in order to gain followers, etc., seems to be beyond that category. Providing an example of what the ideal “crowdfunding author” looks like near the beginning of the essay would have been helpful.

    I’m also not sure I buy the argument that already-published authors would not be as interested in crowdfunding in the future. The essay posits that established authors might not want feedback from new readers, as what they hear might conflict with what their more loyal previous readers expect — but why would this happen? If the author is doing her marketing/writing correctly, shouldn’t the readers of her older books comprise a good chunk of who’s crowdfunding her new book? Wouldn’t hearing the feedback of prospective readers in addition to that of already-loyal readers help the author’s newest book be even better? I think even “wannabe” authors, who so far have only written things like blog posts, would experience this expectation problem — their blog readers would probably expect the books that are in the process of being crowdfunded to follow, in some way, the styles of their blogs.

    It’s nonetheless really fascinating to picture a future in which readers’ input is heavily factored into the writing of books, and I do feel convinced this will happen. But what exactly would motivate readers and feedback-sharers to also become donors? It is stated that “crowdfunding a book idea or story segments allows new authors to test the waters in a way that wouldn’t be financially smart for traditional publishers – why should they risk losing money on some no-name author?” — but, also, why should *readers* risk wasting money on some no-name author? And why wouldn’t traditional publishers modify their business plans to better-include reader feedback in the future? This is a section that would really benefit from being elaborated on, in order to make crowdfunded books seem like they might one day be mainstream.

    This essay was an enjoyable read overall, but I didn’t find its argument convincing. Better clarity would have helped, as would have a couple examples of authors who are already finding some sort of success in the crowdfunding model.

  2. This essay does a nice job of moving through a couple of the advantages and specifics of crowdfunded publishing. I think it addresses those points well, and offers some insight into the effects of such a model. The personal account approach, I thought, worked well enough to keep the reader engaged. That said, the essay also become a little repetitive at parts, stating the same point without necessarily building a strong argument for the point. It was, at parts, wishful thinking on how it would be possible to be successful as an author using social media, without addressing the challenges and broader implications of such an approach, including some of the potentially negative consequences.

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