mentioned a few weeks back, I had the pleasure of meeting Michael and his wife at ConnectiCon and it was a wonderful, fun time!
Today, Michael is sharing his experience using Kickstarter to fund his science fiction novel Hollow World. Michael will be stopping in to answer questions so be ready at the end!
I want to thank Casey Wyatt for inviting me to do a guest post. For those who don’t know who I am, let me start out with a very brief introduction. My name is Michael J. Sullivan and I’m a speculative fiction author. I have a varied publishing history and have “done it all”: small press, big-six (five), and self-publishing. I also try to do what I can to help authors navigate this wild world that is publishing in 2013.
I had self-published five of the six volumes in my debut series, The Riyria Revelations and then sold that to the fantasy imprint of Hachette Books (Orbit) who republished it as three two-book omnibus volumes:
I had fully intended to self-publish my next series of books, The Riyria Chronicles, but Orbit made me a nice offer for them as well, so I signed my second contract with them.
When I decided to switch genres to science-fiction, Orbit wasn’t as enthusiastic. They loved Hollow World but didn’t think it would sell well and that I would be better off sticking to fantasy. So they passed. This was fine with me, as I could return to self-publishing, a venue that has worked well for me in the past.
One of the things I’ve always felt strongly about is that if you are going to self-publish you should produce a product that stands toe to toe with anything coming out from New York. In the past, my self-published books did exactly that, but because I was operating on a shoe-string budget, I had to do a lot of the work myself. That meant cover design, meticulous copy editing, and layout. Being traditionally published, I was spoiled. I liked having a team of professionals doing all this for me so that I could concentrate on writing other books while the production was being done on the book I had just completed. And this is what brought me to Kickstarter.
I desired to use the same professionals that my traditional books use, which is easy because many of these people are freelancers. I contacted the artist who did the French edition of my Riyria books (his covers are my favorite of all the versions both English and foreign) and got a quote for artwork. For structural editing (something that many self-published author have to do without), I turned to Betsy Mitchell. She has thirty years experience editing science fiction and fantasy and was the editor-in-chief at Del Rey for over a decade. At the time of the Kickstarter I hadn’t yet selected who would do the copy editing but I had a pretty good idea about the costs for that. In total, I figured $6,000 would cover all the production aspects of the book.
Now, let me be clear…I’m not saying you need to spend this kind of money when self-publishing. Some of my self-published books cost me just $50 (for ISBN and distribution channels), while others ran around $500 – $700 (main cost was in editing). So it can be done cheaper, but these are the people I wanted, and if I could make that happen, that was my first choice.
I’d never run a Kickstarter before, and I didn’t want to fail. So I set my goal at $3,000. My thought process was that I would finance ½ of the startup myself and hopefully my readers would finance the other ½. My worries about not fully funding turned out to be unwarranted as the Hollow World Kickstarter ended up finishing at just under 1030% bringing in $30,857. What this meant was not only did I get the production costs covered, but I got a nice “advance” as well.
I should note, that there was a bit of a miscommunication with my agent, and she had submitted Hollow World to another publisher after Orbit had turned it down. That publisher made a nice five-figure offer, but I ended up passing on it because I wanted to try out the Kickstarter route. I’m very glad that I did.
To me the whole process was a real eye-opener. I’m already familiar with the high revenue that self-publishing can bring, but it has the cons of:
• No advance
• No team of professionals
• Initial out-of-pocket expenses
Using Kickstarter took care of all of these problems. Not to mention it solved the cons of traditional publishing such as:
• Getting the project past the gatekeeper
• No control over the product produced or price it is sold at
• Most of the money going to the publisher
• A greater concern over how much money a book will earn rather than how good a read it is.
Now, I should note that I don’t think Kickstarter is for everyone and every project. In my case, I already had an established readership. To start off with no following makes crowd funding VERY challenging. For this reason, I suggest Kickstarter to those who already have a fan base. It doesn’t matter whether that is through self-publishing, traditional publishing, or even just a large blog following. The important thing is knowing a sizable number of people who believe enough in your work that they are willing to help make it a reality.
Also, not every Kickstarter is as successful as this one. At the time it completed it was the highest funded Kickstarter for a single traditional novel in the fiction category. There were some that funded higher, but they were either for a series of books, an interactive story, or an anthology. Some of the reasons I think mine worked well include:
• I had already written the book, which reduced risk and ensured people that they were actually going to get a final product
• People saw the caliber of people I was employing, and supported the concept quality
• I had already commissioned Marc Simonetti’s artwork and used it in my promotion – again demonstrated the high quality I was shooting for.
• I had existing readers that I could reach out to. I didn’t bug or pester them, just “made it known” and let the rest take care of itself.
• I provided some nice perks: free short stories, posters of the artwork, signed bookmarks, and a wide range of contribution levels ($2 – $250).
• I gave the contributors a period of “exclusivity.” They received the books in July but the rest of the world would have to wait until January. This made them feel special as they had something that other readers couldn’t get.
• I offered a variety of formats including: limited edition signed hard covers. I also provided the ebook to everyone that bought the print edition, and at the higher levels they got a hardcover (to sit on their shelves), a trade paperback to loan out, and the ebook to read.
Since running my own Kickstarter, I’ve become a big fan, and I’ve funded a number of projects. I really like the entrepreneurial vibe that Kickstarter fosters. As a contributor, I feel like I play a part in getting something that sounds interesting to market. I’m also hoping that authors will see my success as a template for works that they have shelved. Usually this is because they couldn’t get the book picked up by traditional publishers or they were offered too little money. Now, if they believe in the project, and they can get their readers to as well, it will see the light of day…gatekeepers be damned.
Kickstarter is just one of the myriad of changes that is opening up opportunities for authors. I think it is important for authors to keep abreast on what is going on and be agile. Remember, what worked yesterday, may not be the best choice today. I know I’ll certainly look toward Kickstarter and other avenues for my future projects.
Michael, thank you for being our guest today. Scribes fans, have you ever contributed to a Kickstarter campaign? And if not, would you do so in the future? And, please, feel free to ask Michael questions! He’ll be stopping by to respond to comments.