Literary Crowdfunding: Cracking the Code

Madiha Waris Qureshi and Amita, Editors at Papercuts magazine

Madiha Waris Qureshi, Prose Editor at Papercuts, and Amita Rao, Poetry Editor at Papercuts, select their favorite literary campaigns on Indiegogo from the last 12 months, and reveal the secret to their success.

Video. Pictures. Funding Updates. Perks!

Planning to get published through crowdfunding? The above list better mean something to you. These are only a few of the latest things many authors and self-publishers must juggle with these days as they try to get the world to notice them, and hopefully, fuel their dream projects to completion.

Websites like Indiegogo provide a new platform for literary ideas to go from idea to reality. The big publishing companies might have served as gatekeepers in the past, but in today’s age of crowdfunding, the creative process has acquired a new egalitarian aspect: let the masses choose the ideas that see the light of day, while the rest quietly fades to black. Huzzah! Democracy for the publishing world!

There is a catch, however: navigating this new land of opportunity is not simple. Running a successful crowdfunding campaign requires promotion and visibility tactics that most writers and self-publishers are new to (we should know, having just been through the exhausting process of running our own campaign to take our magazine to print). Laying out your bright idea for the judgment of the masses is no longer limited to drying the ink off of a manuscript. The more there is at stake, the more effort is required to ensure the idea doesn’t fall through the cracks of an increasingly discerning, and increasingly targeted, public.

So in a time when projects and ideas are ubiquitous like never before, how do you sway the crowd to sacrifice their cash at the altar of your publishing idea? We reviewed hundreds of publishing projects on Indiegogo to discover how some campaigns have achieved just that. Here are some of our favorite, hand-picked projects from the last twelve months.

  • The Quarter-Life Breakthrough: The premise of this publishing project is hard for a potential funder to click past (unless you haven’t made it to your twenties yet). Alongside it, there’s an engaging video, setting the author in a very relatable, genuine light (and trust us, the author really is very good at this – this guy makes you want to give him money). Throw in the perks (the first one is the e-book itself!) and he blows past his goal of $9K to crowdsource $12,790.
  • Weight Hacking: Two words: Great. PR. The project idea was solid, but it was also backed by an excellent salesperson. This author pulled out all the stops for his project, managing to get it highlighted in various different magazines and websites. The updates were so regular that he has continued to update the contributors on the progress of the book well past the campaign’s completion.  An excellent way to build and engage a readership for future projects.
  • The Posterchildren: The initial campaign goal for this project was $3,500. It raised $18,500. That in itself is an outstanding marketing achievement. The enthusiastically detailed campaign updates that obviously proved to be a great motivating factor seem to have contributed greatly to this wildly successful campaign. It is clear that the author put in enormous effort into spreading the word, and capitalized upon the momentum built initially by hitting a relatively small target. We also loved the “stretch goals” she came up with after reaching the initial target, to keep the funders constantly inspired.
  • Mothership: Tales from Afrofuturism & Beyond: One of the secrets behind a winning campaign is the authenticity of the person running it. This campaign definitely scores big on that. In the midst of high tech videos, the video made by the author is simple, likely shot via cell phone. Yet, it does well conveying his passion and reasoning behind the project and grabs the viewer anyway. The constant updates give a sense that he lived and breathed this campaign through the duration of it, and nothing motivates funders more than knowing that. Also, the perks are extremely satisfying and motivating.
  • Small Stories of Women Farmers Who Are Changing the World: “Small,” as the project is lovingly referred to by the author in her impassioned introduction, is a great subject. But the campaign also comes across as a true labor of love. The project description is well-written, with good examples and photographs thrown in, and states the impact clearly and succinctly. It is also personal without being unauthentic. In the end, the hand-made perks, created by the indigenous women whom the book features, take the prize for enticing anyone who isn’t moved by the project itself.
  • BITSY the Heaviest Butterfly and RAFF the Tenderest Reed: A New Picture Book: While the universal anti-bullying message definitely helps this children’s fable, a simple video narrated by the actor Scott Cohen, taking us inside the illustrator’s studio and the story itself, is definitely a plus. The video is a little long, but one thing we’ve learned: even a low-budget video can score supporters if the narrator is as charming as Cohen. The list of perks is long for this project, and the project description brief, peppered with sections from the book which make a pretty good case on their own for funding it.
  • The Day It Rained: The idea behind this children’s book is a novel one (it is for children with family members struggling with Alzheimers disease), and that partly takes the credit for its completing its funding goals. But the author made good use of highlighting the book’s greatest asset: its unique and beautiful illustrations present throughout the project description. The description also does a good job of selling an idea that stands out in the saturated children’s book market, by telling a moving story of how it came to be.
  • INCITE Journal of Experimental Media, No. 4: Exhibition Guide: The publishers of INCITE make it very clear that their project is one that has consumed a lot of blood, sweat and tears. Links to the works highlighted capitalize upon the dramatic and distinctive appeal of the work exhibited in the journal, and the motivational writing in the frequent updates make up a well-run, enthusiastic campaign that achieved its goals.
  • Forest Farming: Not only is this a relevant concept in this age of growing awareness of climate change and the role of forests in it, the campaign does a great job of highlighting that. The video is simple and unflashy, yet carefully crafted and impactful. Even to a personal impartial to cold weather or forest farming, it presents a convincing case and draws you right in.
  • Cashing in on Catastrophe: The video for this campaign is its centerpiece. It illustrates the well-known importance of video in telling a story, even when the story itself is in the written word. The project description also manages to avoid the easy trap of falling into the conspiracy theory book category, and does a good job of highlighting the academic research behind it along with other authenticating factors.

So, to go back to our original question: how do you sway the crowd to sacrifice their cash at the altar of your publishing idea?

Based on the projects above, the first obvious answer is that the premise of your project needs to be one with meat. No fancy video or flash-in-the-pan promotion can make you attractive to the funder if your idea is tired and unoriginal.

But how does one capitalize upon a good creation to tell a story that hasn’t been told before to prospective funders, get them to personally invest in it, and better yet, engage them through the ups and downs of the campaign to the extent that when the goal is fulfilled, they share a sense of accomplishment, too?

We discovered the secret to be one not unfamiliar to fundraisers across the world: transparency, authenticity and creativity. These are the factors that are common to each of our selected campaigns. Together, they created a potent mix that made potential funders believe in the project idea, trust the project team’s motives and capacity, and feel emotionally and intellectually invested in the outcome of the campaign. Combine these factors in your campaign, and you may just be pleasantly surprised by the outcome!

Written by Madiha Waris Qureshi, Prose Editor and Amita Rao, Poetry Editor at Papercuts – the literary magazine from Desi Writers’ Lounge.

 

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