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How to Run a Successful Kickstarter for Your Ebook Project

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The world of self-publishing is gaining big traction in recent years, thanks to the rise of ebooks and a weakening of the stigma once associated with going the DIY route. It's becoming easier than ever to launch your own book project. Ensuring your books are top-notch quality before they hit readers hands, however, is a bit more complicated than just pushing the big shiny publish button.

Professional cover art, formatting, editing, promotion, and other important facets of the self-publishing process cost money — a lot of money, depending on your ambitions and abilities. For non-fiction, gauging the strength and size of your potential niche audience is equally crucial too.

Using Kickstarter to launch your book lets you measure your audience, build enthusiasm for the project, and cover the expenses that come with producing a quality product. That's why more authors are turning to this popular crowdfunding platform to get their works published.

If you have a book project in mind that you're eager to release into the wilds, Kickstarter might be just the thing you need to make it happen.

Running a successful book Kickstarter campaign can be a challenging and time-consuming process, but it's worth taking the time to do it right. You need to plan before you get started, craft your campaign, then optimize it to maximize your chance of succeeding.

How Kickstarter Works

Kickstarter uses an all-or-nothing model, which means projects that aren’t fully funded by their campaign deadline don’t generate any money.

Once you establish your book project and your campaign goes live on the Kickstarter site, backers can pledge money in different reward tiers to support it. Every creator sets a target dollar amount to raise and a deadline to shoot for. Some projects hit their funding goals very quickly with ample time to spare, while others progress at a much slower pace. The taste of funding victory is oh-so-sweet, but unfortunately not every project that launches makes it to the finish line.

Kickstarter uses an all-or-nothing model, which means projects that aren't fully-funded by their campaign deadline don't generate any money. The flip side is that, when you succeed, you still get to keep any extra funds your raise above and beyond your original goal. That's why creating a compelling project that balances a strong hook, great rewards, and a realistic funding goal is absolutely crucial.

Prepping Your Online Platform

Social networking is the lifeblood of every successful Kickstarter. I can't stress this enough. Get your book campaign to go viral, and you'll have a much easier time hitting your funding goal. If your social media reach is weak, consider holding off on your Kickstarter for a while and work on building up your online support system before you proceed.

Here are five must-have networking tools to sharpen before you embark on your book Kickstarter adventure:

  • Your Website: Build up your web traffic by posting regular content and insightful articles that tie into your book's topic. You'll be able to tap into readers when you launch your campaign.
  • Twitter: Connect with writers, readers, colleagues, and experts in your industry niche. Create friendships and establish a rapport with followers who can help down the road with useful re-tweets.
  • Facebook: Friends, family, and acquaintances can easily be turned into vocal supporters for your book campaign.
  • Google+: Another popular and useful social networking site for spreading the word. Google+ functions much like a cross between Facebook and Twitter.
  • LinkedIn: If your book ties into your work life, bolstering professional connections to help support your efforts is always a good idea.

Growing your follower base across multiple social networking sites will greatly increase your chances of success, but be careful not to overestimate your influence either. Just because someone follows you doesn't mean they'll be willing to shell out money for your campaign. That said, many folks won't mind helping to spread the word by sharing links to their own followers.

Research the Market

An important part of any self-publishing effort, up-front research can save you a lot of hassle. Start by exploring the demand for the type of book you're writing, and check to see if someone else has already covered the same ground.

It's also worth comparing your book to other similar projects that have already succeeded or failed on Kickstarter previously. This can give you valuable insights on what to do, what not to do, and where to improve in your own campaign.

When you're armed with a strong social media presence to help promote your book and vital information on what's already been done before, it's time to start constructing your project on Kickstarter's platform. Here's where the real fun begins.

Building Your Campaign

Patience and thoroughness really pay off when it comes time to build your project. While it can take weeks and even months of intensive planning and hard work to create an effective Kickstarter campaign, you don't want to rush things.

Here's a closer look at the essential elements of any book Kickstarter and what you need to do to make sure they're top-notch.

Step 1. Outline and Define the Parameters of Your Project

Cleary defining what your project entails is a very critical starting point that comes in handy further along in the process too. What is your book about? How long will it be, and what will it cover? What do you need to do to complete it? How will the money that comes in for the project be used if it succeeds? Why should people support it? What benefits will they get from this book?

These are all important questions to ask yourself and answer in your promotional material for your project. Laying all of this information out makes it easier for potential backers to determine what it is you're trying to fund and decide whether they want to get behind your book campaign. You can then use this to create the written pitch for your Kickstarter project's homepage.

Step 2. Set a Funding Goal and Timeframe for the Campaign

Put a lot of thought into your fundraising goal, because you can't change it once you start the campaign. Somewhere around the 30 day mark is usually the deadline sweet spot time-wise, but the dollar amount for your Kickstarter will vary widely depending on your individual circumstances.

Just keep in mind that the higher you aim, the harder you have to hustle to meet your goal within the allotted timeframe.

The scope of your project and what needs to be done to complete it will play a big part in what kind of goals you set. It's always better to be cautiously optimistic than to be overambitious in your figures. This is where it really helps to lay out a budget.

For my own successful Kickstarter to fund my book Up Up Down Down Left WRITE: The Freelance Guide To Video Game Journalism, I settled on a reasonable goal of $7,000. After I factored in the cost of fulfilling rewards, covering taxes and Kickstarter fees, paying for my time to finish writing the last portions of the book, and covering other key production expenses to launch the book, that figure left me just enough wiggle room to turn a comfortable profit on the first run of books. In the end, I exceeded my goal and raised a respectable $8,199.

If you have a larger fan base to begin with, you can afford to be more ambitious in your goal, like with Ryan North's Choose your own Shakespearian adventure novel To Be Or Not To Be which started with a $20,000 goal and ultimately raised $580,905.

Or you may find that you aim low but achieve the stars, like with David Lang's book Zero to Maker, which raised a staggering $49,483 with an original goal of just $2,500.

Just keep in mind that the higher you aim, the harder you have to hustle to meet your goal within the allotted timeframe.

Step 3. Create Awesome Rewards for Backers

Have fun with your choice of rewards. Backers appreciate rewards that are creative, and have special personal value too. Don't go overboard by offering too many options for people to pick from, but definitely make sure you have a good range of pricing tiers.

At the lower end of the spectrum you might offer a "thank you" acknowledgement in the back of the book and a PDF copy. The middle range could include those lower tiers of goodies plus a signed print copy. At the higher end you could offer all of that plus a one-on-one consultation or special access that benefits them. And for a crazy top-tier reward? Why not offer to fly out to spend a day with your mega backer — for the right price, that is. There are just a few common ideas. You can get as imaginative as you like.

Keep in mind that offering digital rewards in the lowest tiers can save you money, since it doesn't cost anything to email someone an ebook or a digital file.

Step 4. Create Your Pitch Video

A compelling and personal video pitch that engages potential backers and sells them on your idea is one of the most important elements of your project. The video is often the first introduction people get to your project, so make sure it shines.

It's best to take a look at a lot of different videos for other successful book Kickstarters to get an idea of structure and format. Here's another area where you can get wild, crazy, and creative to get people's attention, but don't skimp on the information too.

Some videos are very slick, professional-looking affairs, while others are quirky and low-tech. Both approaches can work quite well. For my video, I took a strange, humorous approach that matches my personality. I made sure to balance overt goofiness with delivering vital information, wrapping the video up with a call to action and sincere request for people's support. I cobbled the whole thing together on my computer using a mix of still images, a text-to-speech program, simple game programming tricks, and my crappy iPad camera.

Regardless of how you film and assemble your video, keep the length to just a few-minutes and make sure it both catches viewer's attention immediately and does a good job of explaining the ins and outs of your project.

With these core elements in order, it's time to finish up the behind-the-scenes housekeeping tasks and get your book Kickstarter campaign out there.

Launching and Promoting Your Campaign

Most Kickstarter campaigns have a natural rhythm and flow to them, and it's easier to stay sane throughout the process if you know what to expect. After you first announce your project, share the project page through social media, and start to drum up those first few backers, expect a lot of enthusiasm from early adopters.

The inevitable middle dead-zone is the most agonizing part of any Kickstarter. You’ll possibly face depression, doubt, and bouts of anxiety.

Your project may take a little while to build momentum, but once it does, the first few busy days tend to start with an exciting rush as you refresh your browser constantly and watch pledges come in. It's a great feeling. But then after the first week things typically slow down to a steady trickle before picking back up again in the final week. Don't panic! Okay, panic a little. But don't give up.

The inevitable middle dead-zone is the most agonizing part of any Kickstarter. You'll possibly face depression, doubt, and bouts of anxiety. Stick with it and keep plugging your project even when it seems to be on the brink of disaster. Those who've already backed your book will want to see the Kickstarter succeed, and they'll often chime in and encourage their followers to help push things past the finish line in the final moments.

If you don't meet your goal early, that home stretch can be a truly harrowing push, as was the case with my Kickstarter. This is where social media is absolutely necessary. To put things in perspective, I had only hit 49% percent funding mark with just three days left to go. I had just about given up. That's when my social networks exploded with many friends and colleagues pushing hard to fresh backers to help me out. I raised the final $4,724 in those last three days as a result. Whew.

Quick Tips for a Successful Launch

The good news is many projects succeed with plenty of time to spare. To help make your project a success one, here are some parting tips for a smooth launch.

  • Engage backers early, right before your launch. Reach out to press outlets and social media networks to start spreading the word a few days to a week before you officially go live. Line-up any early coverage you can get your hands on, and try to time it to drop on launch day.
  • Give yourself lots of time to bang the drum. Take a few days off at the start and end of your campaign if you can afford to, as it'll free you up to promote your project. Plus, you'll be too distracted to be of much use to anyone anyway.
  • Be diligent in promoting your Kickstarter, but don't be obnoxious. People will quickly grow tired of your constant blasts of "fund me!" "fund me!" if you don't put some space between your promotions.
  • Sweeten the pot with stretch goals and bonus rewards. You can add new reward tiers at any point in the campaign to help boost interest. It's also helpful to roll out some stretch goals that benefit all backers if they help you hit your target early or exceed your fundraising target by large amounts.
  • Post regular updates to backers. Update backers using Kickstarter's posting system to keep your crew in the loop with any exciting or critical developments. Afterwards, you can also use these posts to keep them apprised of the status of reward fulfillment too.
  • Recruit friends and notable colleagues to help. It doesn't hurt to ask people you know who have a large social media following and influence to put out a promotional email, tweet, or message on your behalf.
  • Have a marketing battle plan. It's not enough just to promote your Kickstarter on social media. You have to be strategic about it, rolling out fresh tactics and ideas throughout the campaign. Constantly revisit this plan to try out new approaches.
  • Make a big push in the final days and hours of your campaign. Whether you're short of your goal or just gunning to maximize your backer base, every little bit counts.

After the Big Win

Take a little time to soak in your victory, and be sure to thank your backers profusely for their help. Then get back to work. You have a book to produce and rewards to fill.

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