Trying technology

Today has been a somewhat trying day.

After uploading Flirting with the Camera to Amazon yesterday, I got the email this morning to say that it had gone live. Except it hadn’t. The link in the email went to a 404 error page and searching Amazon brought up no results. I emailed customer support. Then checked the forums (should have done this first). Apparently, that is now a thing. So I waited and a few hours later, it appeared. Hooray! Except, boo, no table of contents. So I redid the file, converted it to mobi, checked it on my Kindle and uploaded it again. Except somehow I uploaded the Smashwords file instead. Disaster! You can’t make any changes until the book is live again, so I waited, and have finally just uploaded it again. If it’s not right this time I shall scream. Or cry. Probably both.

Anyway, once the link went live the first time, I was able to add it to the new editions of the other books and upload those. Hoping that they have the right files! I think they do. The kdp uploaded did spot a couple of typos in Reckless Runaway, so I have corrected those. And uploaded a corrected file at Smashwords.

So now, the state of play is that you can buy all the books at Amazon, though you may not get the best file of Flirting with the Camera if you buy it right now. You can buy the up-to-date editions of all the books at Smashwords. And you can buy old editions of everything except Flirting with the Camera everywhere else. This is because they are all still pending review at Smashwords, before they can be pushed out to the other retailers from there. This tends to happen in stages, over the course of a week or two. You’ll recognise when the new editions are available because they will have the new covers. And of course I’ll add the links for Flirting with the Camera here as they go live.

In amongst all this, I have been sending out Kickstarter rewards. So far, I’ve done all the non-personalised ones and one personalised one. The rest are going to have to wait until tomorrow, I think. I’m too tired and frazzled to do it right today.

Phew.

Coming soon!

I finished the content edits on Lying for the Camera last night and it’s now safely in the hands of the copyeditor and proofreader. These are two separate processes but I have hired the same person to do both. Hopefully that will work okay. She anticipates getting it back to me in about 10 days. During that time, I’ll make sure I’ve got everything else in order – the final version of the cover, the back matter, the table of contents. It’s a while since I formatted my own ebooks so I want to remind myself how all of that works. But all being well, it should be going on sale in the last week of September.

And, to celebrate, I am re-launching ALL my self-published books. They will all be getting new covers – I want to have a more consistent look across all the books. I’m also going to do some minor edits of things that people have pointed out. The ginger kitten from Reckless Runaway at the Racecourse is going to have to decide once and for all whether it is male or female, for example. And my American characters in Twelve Days will no longer say ‘bloke’ or ‘biro’. Another thing which I’m going to look into is making a print version available. I can’t afford to do a traditional print run and print-on-demand books tend to be expensive. So what I’m wondering about is an anthology: Reckless Runaway at the Racecourse, The Tycoon’s Convenient Wife, and Lying for the Camera all in one volume. If that comes in at a reasonable price, then I’ll do it. I need to do a print version of Lying for the Camera for some of my Kickstarter backers, but that will be a limited edition and not for general sale.

So these are exciting times. I’ve been thinking about the year ahead and making plans. I’ve got a short story that I’ll finish writing this month and send for editing in October, to publish in early November. My next title from Entangles is due out in December. I’m aiming to write two more books and a couple more short stories by next summer, but I’m still thinking about which to self-publish, which to submit to Entangled, and whether to try again with Mills and Boon. I’ve got a linked series of three books in mind which I think might suit Entangled. And another standalone which is definitely for self-publishing. But there are other ideas percolating that I’d like to try for M&B. Watch this space!

How to… run a successful Kickstarter campaign

This is nothing like an expert guide, just an account of how I went about it, what worked and what didn’t.

Setting up the campaign
Before doing anything else, I worked out the budget for my project. I got estimates for the content editing, copyediting and proofreading that I wanted to pay for. I worked out what I could afford to contribute, and I set my target at the minimum level I needed to be able to pay for everything. Don’t be tempted to set your target too high, because if you don’t reach it, you don’t get any of the funding. Then I worked out my reward levels with the target in mind. I wanted people to be able to pledge just a couple of pounds and still get something, but I also included a couple of much higher levels of reward in case anyone was feeling especially generous. Some rewards I set a limit on so that I wouldn’t end up creating excessive work for myself if I got a huge, unanticipated response to the project. For instance, I limited the number of printed books to 50. If all of those were taken, I’d have exceeded my target, and I wouldn’t end up in a situation where I was dealing with shipping thousands of books out.

I did make a video, because all the advice suggests that helps massively in getting your project funded. I made mine a bit like a book trailer, so I didn’t film myself speaking. I used some royalty-free music and did some basic editing. I am not an expert, but I think it was worth the time it took to do this.

In my campaign story I talked about the book, linked to sample chapters, explained what I wanted the money for, where the project was at, and why I was confident I could complete the project. My advice is to be as clear and concrete as you can with this information. Think of it like a business proposal you’re taking to the bank. You can have fun and show personality, but ultimately you’re asking someone to trust you with their money, so you need to show you’re taking that seriously. Make sure that the focus of your campaign is on the book, not on you and your dreams of becoming a published author.

Promoting the campaign
Some campaigns will get traffic via Kickstarter itself. If your project is a staff pick, it will appear on the front page of the site. Some locations generate local traffic. Some kinds of project are more appealing to the community. I got almost no funding via the Kickstarter website. Almost all of my backers are people new to Kickstarter, and of those that have backed previous projects I know that all but one found out about my project elsewhere. You can’t assume that just by putting up your campaign you will generate funding. You have to go out and get backers.

Here’s what I did:
Blogged about it.
Tweeted about it.
Mentioned it on my personal and author FB pages.
Added it to my signature on online forums.
Posted about it (with permission from moderators) in online forums.
Sent an email to friends which included information about the campaign among other things.
Contacted a number of other blogs.
Signed up to Kicking it Forward, Kicktraq and Ayudos.
Talked about it on a writing forum.

Here’s what didn’t work:

Tweeting. I tweeted to my followers and also to several of the kickstarter/crowdfunding accounts. I think I got maybe 2 RTs.

Contacting other blogs. One posted an enthusiastic link in a weekly news post. No backers. One posted a distinctly unenthusiastic piece about the evils of Kickstarter without a link to my campaign. However, this was not wholly negative, since in the comments, there was some very useful discussion. It’s a blog I regularly follow and know many of the commenters there, so I was able to join in the conversation. I added a new reward level and an update clarifying more financial detail as a result of that conversation and one backer found me through that (indirectly by clicking on the link to my blog which had the link to Kickstarter).

Signing up to the other crowdfunding sites. As far as I can tell, no backers came through those channels.

Here’s what did work:

Using my own pre-existing online contacts. By far the majority of the backers have come via facebook and Ravelry. Some are people I know pretty well online but many are not. But because they are part of the same communities there’s a predisposition to trust and be interested.

Emailing my own RL contacts. I was quite reluctant to do this for various reasons, but by including it as one item in a regular (ish) update I send out anyway, it seemed easier. My strategy of last resort was going to be sending out a similar email to various family members next week.

Blogging. I’d posted various updates with links to the campaign which hadn’t had much impact. Then a few days ago, I wrote a post that had been brewing in my head for a while about the nature of Kickstarter and how it relates to arts patronage and commercial creativity. I linked to it from Facebook and twitter and a couple of other forums. That prompted a good number of backers who pledged very generous amounts.

Of my 27 backers, 5 are people I know in real life, 3 are online friends, 2 are friends of friends, 2 I have no idea about, and 15 are from online forums. The average pledge is just over £25 (which is a little lower than the overall Kickstarter average of about $50, I think). The most common pledge amount is £10. 7 backers pledged more than they needed to for their reward level and one chose to receive no reward at all.

I think only about 40% of Kickstarter projects get funding. If you look at some of the unsuccessful ones, it’s very clear why – not enough information about the project and what the money will be used for. For others, the target level is unrealistically high or the reward levels don’t match the target. If you’re hoping to raise $10,000 with 5,000 $2 pledges you’re just making life hard for yourself. But similarly, don’t expect ten $1000 pledges, either. You need a range and they need to match the rewards you’re offering. But for many unsuccessful campaigns, I think it may be because there isn’t a marketing strategy in place. It helped me to think of selling this campaign in the same way as I would think about selling my book. If one of your reward levels is effectively a simple pre-order, then that’s exactly what you are doing, after all.

Good luck!

Kickstarter, arts patronage and commercial creativity

How do people get paid to do creative work: a simplistic analysis

Model 1: Amateur

Not all creative people do get paid for their work. A lot of creative work happens outside and around paid work. People do a job to pay the bills and spend their free time doing their creative work. Some people are happy being amateurs, even though they may produce work that is of exceptionally high quality.

Model 2: Hobbyist
These people do get paid for their creative work, but not at a level that generates a full-time income. Either they have to support their hobby through a paid job, or they may be in a position not to need to work. Lots of stay-at-home mums have creative hobbies that pay a small amount, for example, but the main family income comes from another source.


Model 3: Commercial

The leap from making a small income as a hobby to making a commercially viable creative business is a big one. It usually requires investment of time and money, and it can be a risky business. It depends on there being a market for your work at the level you need to charge in order to make enough money to survive. That’s not the same analysis the hobbyist has to make. That’s why, in some creative fields, hobbyists can seriously undercut professionals, making it even harder for anyone to go pro.

Model 4: Patronage
This model relies on patrons with money deciding to support creative people so that they can go professional, even if the market is not at the level they would need to be self-sustaining. A patron might provide studio space, or a minimum salary, for example. They are investing in that creative person, or in a creative project, because they believe it has intrinsic value greater than the market value. Sometimes this patronage can come from government funding and sometimes from private trusts or individual patrons.

These four models all exist with respect to writing and publishing. The amateur writes for their own pleasure, and if they publish they expect no payment. Perhaps they publish stories on a blog, or anecdotes in a local newspaper. The hobbyist sells short stories to magazines for maybe £100, or these days they might self-publish a book on Amazon and make a few dollars a month, but certainly not enough to give up the day job. The commercial level is a bit more complicated, because of course many commercially published authors do have other jobs. There can be a transition period, waiting for the royalties to reach a level where the day job can be jettisoned. But in principle, these authors are writing to make money to live on. Patronage is much less common for writers. Sometimes writers are given a residency at an institution which provides an income, giving them freedom to write.

Where does Kickstarter come in?

Well, it can be used in different ways. The commercial view would tend towards a pre-order model of Kickstarter. This generates advance income to cover publishing costs and is very like the subscription model of publishing that was common two hundred years ago. People signed up and paid in advance, so that the publishers knew how many books to print and could cover their costs. For a hobbyist transitioning to a commercial business, it’s a good way of generating the financial investment needed. The ‘reward’ is basically just the product, and the ‘pledge’ is the price paid. This is a good example of a ‘commercial’ Kickstarter project to fund production of a new kids’ toy. You pledge the price of the toy, and when it is manufactured it will be sent to you.

The patronage view asks supporters to invest in the creative person and their project at a level higher than the market value. That is, it asks them to consider that the work has an intrinsic value higher than its price. There are some projects on Kickstarter which are obviously patronage projects, where the rewards are tokens of gratitude, not products for sale. This is a patronage-style project, with rewards including acknowledgements in the program and a commemorative t-shirt.

Of course, lots of projects combine the two, with lower priced rewards that are more like products and higher levels of pledge which go beyond the value of the reward to attract patrons.

I like the idea of arts patronage being linked to crowdfunding. You don’t have to be a millionaire philanthropist sponsoring a season of opera. You can give $10 to someone you believe in to help them achieve their dream. This kind of patronage has more often been associated with the performing arts, and to some extent the visual arts. I don’t think it has much of a history in writing, at least not for fiction.

I also like the idea of leveraging an end product to raise money needed for its production. Not everyone has their own capital to invest. The cost of producing a self-published book can be up to $1000, if you have to pay for editing, copyediting, proofreading, cover art, and formatting. If you want to produce print copies, it will be significantly higher. Using a pre-order model means you don’t have to find all that money upfront.

In the next year, I’m hoping to move from ‘hobbyist’ author making a nice supplementary income, to a ‘commercial author’ with royalties that I can rely on. I’m investing time into this project, and as much of my own money as I can, but I don’t have enough to cover all my costs upfront. So that’s why I’m running a Kickstarter campaign for my next self-published book.

There’s a reward set at a commercial level: £2 for an ebook.

And there are rewards set at patronage levels: £10 for an ebook with a personalised message, autograph and mention in the acknowledgements, £100 to name a character. And so on.

So far, I’ve been amazed at the number of backers who have pledged in patronage ways. People who have pledged but indicated they don’t want a reward at all, or people who have pledged above the minimum level for their chosen reward. It’s humbling to know that people see value in this project – even in me – beyond its market value. In fact, I don’t think I’ve had any £2 pledges for the no-frills pre-order at all.

People are awesome. Thank you.

Kickstarter update

  • I’ve reached 45% of the funding target! People are AWESOME. If you’ve pledged to back the project, I am incredibly grateful. Thank you for helping to make this happen!
  • I’ve introduced a new ‘no frills’ reward level. When the book is published, it will go on sale at £2. If you pledge £2 now, you’ll get the ebook then. Effectively, you are pre-ordering the book at the normal purchase price.
  • I’ve also put up some more details here about the budget and the funding target in response to a few questions.
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