By Aisling O’Mahony
Crowdfunding is the concept of a business or individual raising money for a project through donations from a large collection of people. With self-publishing becoming more popular, crowdfunding serves as a way for authors to undertake this venture without having to take on as much financial risk. The idea of crowdfunding for books can be traced back as far as the 18th century. Readers would subscribe to the book, paying a certain amount in advance and the rest once the book was published. One of the earliest examples included the publication of The Iliad by Alexander Pope. Subscribers were promised that their names would be mentioned in the manuscript if they supported the project and the names of 750 supporters were featured in the first volume.
Types of Crowdfunding
There are various types of crowdfunding and different models are suitable for different projects. For example, donation-based crowdfunding relies on charity and backers who don’t need to be provided with anything in return. Reward-based crowdfunding typically provides different levels of rewards corresponding to how much money people donate, e.g. someone pledging £50 gets a copy of the book or someone pledging £100 gets a signed copy of the book and a book-themed piece of artwork. Debt crowdfunding is similar to taking out a loan, and the individual/business promises to repay the amount within a certain time. Equity-based crowdfunding allows people to pledge money in return for shares in the business/project. Royalty-based crowdfunding gives backers a percentage of revenue from the business/project in return for pledging money, but they don’t actually become shareholders in the business. However, not all of these models are suitable for publishing a book.
Benefits of Crowdfunding
There are several benefits for authors who go down the crowdfunding route. For instance, they have access to a greater reach of investors, as the project is visible to the public. Crowdfunding allows authors to test the waters and see if there is a demand for the book without taking on any financial risk. It also builds a sense of community and an eager fanbase, allowing readers to be instrumental in the book’s creation. Authors are also selling directly to their customers, meaning they gain a greater share of the book’s profit.
There are several platforms available for authors to begin crowdfunding. Some are even specifically tailored towards publishing books. Kickstarter is one of the best-known crowdfunding platforms. First launched in 2009, over twenty million people have supported projects on the website since. Unbound is another platform available for authors looking to crowdfund. Unbound is a publisher that utilises crowdfunding to raise money for their books. Authors can submit an idea to their commissioning editors and, if the idea if approved, it is launched on their site. Authors have the benefits of working with publishing professionals while also pitching their idea to potential readers and building up a fanbase. Since Unbound was established, it's funded nearly 600 projects.
A successful example of a recently published, crowdfunded book is Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls. Launched on Kickstarter in 2016, the book is a number of anthologies retelling stories of inspirational women. Though their initial goal was $40,000, they ended up raising over $675,000. Another example is The Freedom Journal by John Lee Dumas. The hardcover journal promised to help you reach your number-one goal within a hundred days. The project aimed to raise $25,000 and instead raised over $450,000.
However, crowdfunding isn’t necessarily the right choice for everyone. One of the drawbacks is that the author usually doesn’t have the support of a publisher to generate publicity and interest for the book, meaning they are solely responsible for bringing attention to their book. For authors using Kickstarter, the website operates on an all-or-nothing model. The author is responsible for calculating how much funding their project needs and if the funding goal isn’t reached, the author receives nothing, and the money goes back to the supporters. Similarly, if the author sets the goal too low to cover the cost of the project, they might end up with a loss having to pay extra costs themselves. While some books enjoy great success through crowdfunding, other books are more suitable to a traditional publishing route. Ultimately, it depends on the project and how much responsibility the author is willing to take on.