Note from Jane: Today’s post is by guest Matt Kaye, who started his career in traditional publishing (Avalon, Wiley, FSG) and then spent the past four years at Amazon. He recently joined Inkshares, a crowdfunded book publisher, in large part due to his interest in how crowdfunding might positively impact the publishing landscape. I asked him to explain the basics of crowdfunded publishing as well as the difference among various crowdfunding opportunities.
As if deciding between self-publishing and traditional publishing wasn’t confusing enough for writers, you can now find publishing models that borrow elements from each. An example is crowdfunded publishing, an option that is growing in popularity.
An obvious reason to crowdfund is to cover your cost of hiring professional editors, designers, and marketers to publish a quality book, while maintaining creative control. But for me, the most exciting thing about crowdfunding is the direct engagement between readers and writers.
Eric Ries described his decision to crowdfund as “an experiment designed to see how I can collaborate with all of you [the readers] as part of the research process for my next book.” Bringing passionate readers along for the publishing ride creates deeper fans and stronger advocates—and (ideally) grows the overall number of books sold.
If you decide to crowdfund your book, the next step is to figure out which platform is right for you. The options fall into two main camps:
- Fundraising platforms that help you connect with your audience
- Full-service book publishers that use crowdfunding to decide what to publish
Both camps provide direct reader engagement, so the decision comes down to your publishing goals. If you prefer to control every aspect of the publishing process yourself, and maximize your profits, then fundraising platforms are your best bet. If distribution into bookstores and editorial, production, and marketing support appeal to you, then the full-service publisher model may serve you well.
These platforms provide tools for you to raise money to publish your book and take a small cut of what you raise. You’re then responsible for finding and hiring the professional services you need (editors, designers, printers, marketers, etc). Here are the biggest ones you’ve probably heard of.
Kickstarter: Kickstarter is the most popular crowdfunding platform for creative projects, including publishing. While an open platform, they review projects before launch to ensure they’re in line with their rules. They take 5% of funds collected, in addition to 3-5% payment processing fees. If the project doesn’t meet its goal, the funds are returned to supporters.
Indiegogo: Indiegogo is a fundraising platform for any idea, not just creative projects. While they feature book projects, they don’t have a designated “publishing” category like Kickstarter. They also have no review process before projects go live. They offer an option for campaign creators to keep any money raised (4% fee if the goal is hit, 9% if not), or a 5% fee for the Kickstarter approach. They also have a 3-5% payment processing fee.
Publishizer: Publishizer is also devoted exclusively to books. They plan to offer a feature that distributes successfully crowdfunded books to traditional publishers, but haven’t launched it yet. They charge a 5% fee on funds raised.
Book Publishers That Use Crowdfunding
Like fundraising platforms, these companies offer tools to raise funds to publish your book, but their role doesn’t end there. They are also full-service publishers, using those funds to pay for editorial, design, marketing, and an initial print run. They then work with a distribution partner like a traditional publisher would, to sell books into physical bookstores in addition to online retailers. They only make money when books sell.
Inkshares (my employer): Inkshares acts as a traditional publisher once books succeed in their funding goals. We use Girl Friday Productions for editorial and production services, R.R. Donnelly for printing the initial print run, Ingram for national physical and digital distribution into bookstores and other retailers, and a team of marketers to generate awareness. We have a rewards system (Inkshares Credits) for readers who refer books to friends or help fund books that go on to sell thousands of copies. We pay authors 50% of gross revenue on physical books and 70% of gross revenue on digital books. Authors grant Inkshares nonexclusive rights, meaning an author can publish elsewhere if they so choose.
Unbound: Unbound reviews all submissions before launching a crowdfunding campaign for a book. After a pledge goal is met, Unbound also acts as a traditional publisher, offering editorial, design, printing, marketing and traditional publicity, and distribution services. They are based out of the UK, with UK physical distribution into bookstores through Penguin Random House UK. They pay authors 50% of net profit on all books sold. According to their terms, they “usually own the worldwide or English language rights, but this can vary on a project by project basis as this can be negotiated in the contract.”
Take time to explore these sites and what they offer, just as you would if you were deciding between traditional publishers. They each have a different feel, different benefits, and a different approach for presenting your work and connecting with readers.
Is Crowdfunded Publishing the Future?
If you’re tired of new trends coming along claiming to “reinvent” publishing, know that crowdfunding isn’t anything new. As Unbound author Paul Kingsnorth described, “The idea of funding books by subscriptions is actually something that was very popular in the 18th century. We’re really going back to a time before we had big, central publishers who were able to give writers big advances, and using the web to attract readers to a project.”
In a landscape that can feel increasingly polarized between self-publishing and traditional publishing, my hope is that the crowdfunding option adopts some of the best traits from both sides—that it can be democratic, open, and financially lucrative for authors while also inviting the participation of a broad community of booksellers, publishing professionals, and readers.
Do you have experience with crowdfunding? What happened? Or what questions do you have about crowdfunded models? Let us know in the comments.
Matt has worked in the world of books for over a decade. After receiving a BA in English from UC Berkeley in 2004 he started in publishing by marketing books for Avalon, Jossey-Bass/Wiley, and then Farrar, Straus & Giroux as their Senior Publicist until 2009. Matt went on to receive his MBA from Columbia Business School in 2011. After business school Matt joined Amazon, where he was primarily a Senior Product Manager on their books team until 2015.