Since moving to Charlottesville, Virginia, I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to get to know Bethany Joy Carlson, owner of The Artist’s Partner, which has helped crowdfund over $110,000 for creative projects, including over $70,000 for books.
This fall, Bethany is releasing Crowdfunding for Authors, a full-length guide on the topic, and she generously agreed to answer a few questions I have about her experience and expertise in helping authors successfully meet their crowdfunding goals.
JANE FRIEDMAN: I worry that some authors who are interested in crowdfunding don’t have the proper resources or network in place to run a successful campaign. While I don’t want to be discouraging at the start of this interview (!), are there situations where you advise authors to wait before they start a campaign—to ensure they have some essential components in place?
BETHANY JOY CARLSON: Most authors are surprised when I advise them to prep for three months to a year. Authors need well-organized reader contact information, a great draft cover design, and time for effective communication.
Crowdfunding is marketing, and that means it is subject to Effective Frequency, or The Rule of Seven: a person needs to hear a message seven times to act on it. So, authors need to communicate with their readers seven times before their book’s crowdfunding campaign launch. This means creative emails, posts, blogs, tweets, events, etc. about their campaign in the months leading up to launch.
I also remind authors that, just like with party or wedding invitations, not everyone invited will respond. In other words, not every reader invited to buy the book on a crowdfunding site will do so. If an author has an engaged email list, perhaps 10 percent will do so, and around 1 percent of their social media following will respond.
It really helps to line up a patron or two ahead of time who will take a big bite out of that figure—$500-1,000 or more—which cuts down the size of the email and social media threshold substantially.
Authors also need a good draft book cover to crowdfund their book. We hear the adage “don’t judge a book by its cover” precisely because that is exactly what people do. Sometimes authors attempt to design their own book cover, but that is almost always a bad idea. Authors should hire a professional book cover designer and budget to spend that money before they begin promoting their crowdfunding campaign. Depending on the book, workable drafts may cost between $30 and $1,500 (which is a reasonable max for a book cover draft).
For an author undertaking their first crowdfunding effort, about how many hours of prep time would you budget, and then how many hours per day during a typical campaign?
For a campaign of $20,000 or less, I would suggest six to twelve months of prep time. Budget five hours per week for the early months, ten hours per week the months before launch and during the campaign, with hotspots of forty hours the week before launch and the week before deadline. Time also needs to be budgeted for fulfillment—sending books and other goodies to backers—after the campaign is over. For an author who is already tech-savvy and great at communicating with their readers regularly, the prep time can be condensed down to three months.
You’ve helped your clients successfully raise more than $100,000, and you’ve got the process down to a near science. Your excellent posts on how to run a successful crowdfunding campaign elaborate on the number crunching you do beforehand. How much do you think it’s a numbers game?
Preparation is a numbers game, but the overall experience isn’t. The prep is based not on hope, but on hard figures.
The median crowdfunding campaign pledge is $25, and the average is $70; the typical email click-through rate to another website (like a crowdfunding platform) is 5–20 percent, and for social media is 0.5–2 percent, and people need to hear a message seven times to act on it.
If an author is raising $2,500, then they will need 35–100 people to pledge to their campaign. Doing the math, they need to communicate by email with 350–1,000 people or by social media with 3,500–10,000 people, or some combination thereof.
Authors need to identify twenty-five to fifty individuals strategically important to their campaign, and they need to budget two hours for individual conversations with each of them in the months leading up to the campaign. These are people who will perform one or more of the following essential tasks:
- Pledge within the first 24 hours
- Spread the word to a large number of the author’s readers
- Pledge a significant amount of money ($500+)
Here are some other interesting stats:
- The optimal length of a campaign is thirty days.
- Campaigns in the spring and fall succeed more often than campaigns in the summer or during the winter holidays.
- Campaigns without a great reward under $20 fail 72 percent of the time.
- Pitch videos longer than 59 seconds don’t get watched all the way through.
- Campaigns that aren’t at least 25–33 percent funded within 24 hours usually don’t fund.
- Successful campaigns under $20,000 are usually 40 percent funded by a handful of generous financial patrons courted by the author before the campaign.
Okay, moving away from the numbers: I know there’s an art to this as well. What are elements you observe, on the qualitative side, that the author has to bring to the table to help ensure a campaign succeeds?
Process-oriented authors do better than outcome-oriented authors at crowdfunding. In other words, authors who focus on the daily items on the to-do list are more likely to succeed than those who stare at the meter showing how much money they’ve raised. It’s the difference between enjoying the act of cooking versus hoping the guests compliment the meal.
Some people are great at holding themselves to deadlines, others are not. If an author needs help staying on task, they should get help from a writing group, a friend, an assistant, a consultant, a spouse—someone who has the to-do list and will help them cross items off each step of the way.
What tools or resources do you find indispensable for managing a crowdfunding campaign?
- A good email host. Authors need an email platform that allows them to segment their email list, track engagement, and incorporate visuals into their emails.
- Lots and lots of great pictures of the author’s face—and other faces. It’s called Facebook, not Wordsbook, for a reason! Authors usually hate this. Too bad! People respond to faces over one hundred times more strongly than they do to text.
- Basic image-editing software. Authors will want to create attractive slides and illustrated text, as well as crop and fix photographs, and sometimes combine images.
Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. She is the publisher of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors, and was named Publishing Commentator of the Year by Digital Book World in 2019.
In addition to being a columnist for Publishers Weekly, Jane is a professor with The Great Courses, which released her 24-lecture series, How to Publish Your Book. Her book for creative writers, The Business of Being a Writer (University of Chicago Press), received a starred review from Library Journal.
Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as BookExpo America, Digital Book World, and the AWP Conference, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.