SUSAN HAMILTON: How To Get Published With Crowdfunding

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You finally found time to pen that book you had always dreamed of writing, so, now what? If you are ready to think about publishing, but need help with to fund it, why not consider crowdfunding to get your masterpiece out there?

Crowdfunding has grown in popularity over the past decade as a way to financially assist a cause; be that helping a family in need, funding a community project or raising money for a charity. However, as a writer, you can also use the power of the people to get your book from desktop to bookshop!

Award-winning urban fantasy writer Susan K. Hamilton has been writing stories for as long as she can remember but really hit her paces as an author in college. She was asked to write a 14-page creative story for an English assignment, which ended up as a whopping 75-page comic book fantasy.

“After that, I started to wonder what was keeping me from writing a book. So, I started bringing an extra notebook with me and working on my book idea whenever I could. It took awhile, but eventually that notebook became Darkstar Rising.”

Like many other authors, Susan found writing a book is one thing, but getting published is quite another. To test her manuscript for Shadow King and see whether she had what it took to get published, she entered ut in the Launchpad Manuscript Competition in 2016. As part of Launchpad, participants had the opportunity to post their work on Inkshares, a rights-management and publishing platform, and begin a crowdfunding campaign. The three authors with the most number of unique pre-orders won a full publishing package. While the competition judges loved her story and offered some very positive and valuable feedback, unfortunately, Susan missed out on a full publishing deal by just a couple of spots. However, through her crowdfunding work, she had garnered enough pre-orders to qualify for one of Inkshares’ regular publishing deals, and Shadow King was on its way to meet a growing fanbase.

Susan also crowdfunded her second novel, The Devil Inside, through Inkshares and the manuscript is currently waiting for its turn with the Inkshares editor. While this method of publishing has allowed Susan an opportunity to publish that she may not otherwise have had, it has been a steep learning curve.

“Before getting onto the Inkshares track in the competition, I’d never even heard of crowdfunding a book, so this was all new territory for me,” she said.

“People don’t necessarily realise how time-consuming it is. It is nice to imagine that you’ll put your book out there, hundreds of people will say, “this is amazing!” and wha-la, your book is crowdfunded. That’s not how it happens, at least, not for 99% of us,” she said.

Through her experience, Susan found that people who were willing to pre-order her books had high expectations and timeliness posed an issue. Her first book waited in the production queue for 18 months and then took an additional six months to complete. She also had to work through frequent disappointments from people saying they would buy and but never following through.

“It will make you crazy, but you need to let it go…people will let you down, and when they do, it can be really disheartening because you’re so passionate about your book. Don’t take it personally – writing is a tough business,” she said.

Susan has put together her top tips to crowdfunding to help you decide if it is a viable path for you and – if so – how you can improve your chances for success in this often fickle business.

DO YOUR RESEARCH

Susan’s biggest piece of advice for other writers considering crowdfunding a book is to do their research. Inkshares uses a business model whereby you must pre-sell a certain number of copies to prove there is a market for your book, then they choose to invest in production through editorial and design services before moving forward as a regular publisher.

Alternatively, you can fund via platforms such as GoFundMe, Indiegogo, and Kickstarter, where pre-sale money often goes into the editing and design work. You also need to set aside enough funds for marketing, website creation and promotional items to make the most of your campaign. Once these things are taken care of, printing costs are often then offset by sales after the book release.

Whichever way you go, make sure you know what’s covered and what’s not, and have a realistic amount you ask from your supporters. If potential supporters think that your goal is unreasonable or unreachable, it might discourage them from contributing. So, clearly understand what costs you anticipate, and then crowdfund to raise a percentage of that.

HAVE A PLAN

Don’t just throw yourself into crowdfunding. Susan recalls she spent zero time planning for Shadow King and this ultimately this caused a lot of extra stress. The campaign to fund The Devil Inside was still stressful, but more manageable with the right planning in place.

Make a marketing plan for the duration of your campaign. Get your social media up and running and consider a website to promote your upcoming book further. Understand who you’re going to talk to, when, and through what channel.

If you’re going to offer incentives, be clear on what they are and when you offer them. For example, everyone who contributes between X date and Y date gets entered into a raffle. Or, consider offering to name a supporting character after, say, the first 10 customers.

As they say, plan your work and work your plan.

BUILD YOUR PLATFORM

Crowdfunding campaigns are based on donations, not ‘investments’, from people who support your work. Success is rooted in creating and growing a large following, so expand your reach. You can do this through social media as well as local interest groups, your local library, an email list and personal website. Some of these avenues require an investment, so pick the ones that work for you. Also, don’t forget about friend and family connections. Get to know your target demographic and what they want from your work.

Driving traffic to your project early will provide an anchor for you. Something to help promote your book and build excitement, and enable you to build your author brand and voice along the way.

INVEST THE TIME

Once you have your marketing and promotions plan, put it to good use. Know who you are going to target and when, and set aside time every day to work on your campaign. It is likely you’ll spend an hour, and quite likely more, when you are in the middle of an active campaign.

Be meticulous with your records so you are not bothering people who have said no (or who have already supported you) and keep track of where your funding is coming from.

BE CLEAR

The key to any sales is always a concise and clear pitch. Prospective supporters need to know what you are doing and what you are asking from them (AKA, “what’s in it for me?”). Be very clear about timelines, and set expectations for your supporters. And be sure to stay connected with them along the way so they can see your progress. Don’t leave them in the dark.

You also need to be clear about what happens if your campaign fails. Will they be refunded for their pre-order? If not, what happens with the money?

KEEP YOUR PROMISES

If you promise it, deliver it.

If you promise a reward (gift card, special short story, naming a character), follow through. Don’t disappoint your supporters. If you promise a book for their up-front order, be sure they get the book when it comes out. As a golden rule; you’re always better under-promising and over-delivering.

STICK WITH IT

Susan’s final piece of advice is not to give up. You have an incredible piece of work that deserves to be shared – but you have to be willing to put in the hard yards.

“For some people it is a wonderful opportunity and a way to get their work out into the world without having to go through a traditional publisher. However…there’s no sprinkling of magic dust — to get the result you want, you’re going to have to work for it and work hard.

“But keep at it, don’t give up. The world needs more stories from more voices—especially your story and your voice.”