Crowdfunded Publishing: The Highs and Lows of Making It on Your Own
By Emma Regan and Jordan Maxwell Ridgway
This week, the alternative publishing team is taking a deep dive into the world of crowdfunded publishing. Recent examples that suggest that crowdfunding can be a desirable alternative to the traditional publishing route, but it is not without its drawbacks.
So, what is crowdfunded publishing? It is different from purely self-publishing, as it relies on donations from an online market rather than being financed from your own pockets. These donations can cover the costs of editors, designers and marketers, as well as providing a direct connection between the writer and readers, as it shows the project has a viable audience. There are numerous fundraising platforms for writers to choose from, including an entire section of Kickstarter dedicated to the publishing sector, as well as Indiegogo, the UK-based platform Unbound and more.
Books have been crowdfunded for centuries, though with slight variations on the model. In the past, writers and publishers would advertise subscription schemes for a particular work, which would only be published if enough subscribers showed they would be keen to buy the work upon completion.
Crowdfund publishing is growing increasingly popular and the biggest example of its success took the internet by storm earlier this year in March. Brandon Sanderson, a renowned fantasy and science-fiction writer, broke Kickstarter’s records with a staggering £17.5 million (and still counting until 31 March) being raised by his campaign to publish his ‘Secret Projects.’
On 25 March, in response to the success of his campaign, Sanderson declared his commitment to back every single publishing project on Kickstarter. The only caveats were that the work had to be within Kickstarter’s terms of services and “if there is anything that is extremely not safe for work, we’re not going to back that,” to avoid the promotion of harmful content. This historic moment has left many in the publishing industry wondering if there is a change on the horizon because of this huge success. But, in an interview with the Guardian, Sanderson said this does not mean he is giving up on traditional publishing. He stated, “I like to try new things and perhaps one of the main reasons I did this is because of the dominance Amazon has on the book market.”
So, is change happening? Should we all quit the day job and pour ourselves into our own dream crowdfunded campaigns?
The Positive and Negative Aspects of Crowdfund Publishing
One of the biggest advantages of crowdfund publishing is that it allows full creative control to be given to the author. They get to decide everything from the cover of the book to the rewards they want to entice their audience with. It has all the advantages of self-publication, without having to rely on their own finances. This gives the author more control over decisions during the process. However, this also means it has the disadvantages of self-publication too, meaning the author is still expected to do all the branding, marketing and advertising for their book. A huge amount of time and dedication is required, especially for up-and-coming authors who do not have a team behind them like Brandon Sanderson does.
With the growth of crowdfund publishing, there’s also been an increase in number of companies that specifically deal with this area of publishing. The biggest is still Kickstarter, yet there are more book-specific crowdfunding pages such as Unbound, Indiegogo and Publishizer. However, there are some drawbacks when it comes to these sites. Similar to when authors rely on publishing houses, the crowdfund publishers will expect to take a cut of the money raised to keep their service going. Crowdfund publishing websites are also not as well-known as publishing houses, or even independent publishers, so the target audience for the book in question might not be aware of the different projects they can pledge towards. This means that the author will have a better chance at gaining traction if they have built up an audience already. Social media platforms such as Twitter, Instagram and TikTok can be beneficial to authors in the process of marketing the book as well as spreading awareness – yet with so many authors utilising these platforms, it has become increasingly difficult for them to stand out of the ever-growing crowd.
However, if an author does get crowdfunded and everything goes well enough, they might even become a best-selling author. Alice Oseman is a perfect example of this. Alice started publishing their webcomic Heartstopper in 2016, and by 2018 launched a Kickstarter project to publish the first volume of chapters in physical form. Since then, it has been translated into twenty-three different languages and the live-action adaption is about to drop on Netflix during April.
With the rise of crowdfund publishing growing even more and giving a chance to authors that might not be able to publish their work in the traditional way, is this the future of the publishing industry?