Five things I learned crowdfunding with Unbound books

After 90 days of crowdfunding I am absolutely over the moon that my fantasy novel The End of Magic is now fully funded at Unbound Books and will be published most likely in early 2019!

My agent mentioned Unbound early on in the process, and the thing that really grabbed my attention was that I would be working with the editor Simon Spanton. Simon is a legend in science fiction and fantasy. I knew him from his time at Gollancz where he worked with the likes of Richard Morgan (Altered Carbon), Joe Abercrombie (The Blade Itself) and Scott Lynch (The Lies of Locke Lamora). The opportunity to work with Simon was too good to pass up.

“Let’s do it!” I said.
“There’s a catch,” my agent replied. “You have to raise about four grand… in ninety days…”
“Me?! I can barely scrape together my rail fare, how am I supposed to raise four grand?”
“You know lots of people, you’ll be fine.”

This is how Unbound works: by crowdfunding the production and editorial costs of every book they publish, not only does the book build its own readership, but it’s also profitable on the day of publication. Very few publishers can claim that these days.

All I had to do was raise £4000 (actually about five and a half grand before VAT) in 90 days.

Like most Brits I can be queasy when it comes to just talking about money, and like most Brits I am in danger of spontaneously combusting when it comes to asking another person for money. So I knew that I would find this whole process difficult, but I seem to have become this experimental author by accident so I figured what the hell and grasped the nettle.

So, dear reader, should you dare to venture on a similar quest here are a few of the things I learned from my Unbound Crowdfunding experience that you might find helpful…

1. It’s personal

You’re going to have to contact an awful lot of people, but you must avoid any blanket blind-copy-all emails. This needs a personal touch. You need to draw up a list of everyone you know, everyone you’ve ever emailed, everyone you know on Facebook, and put them on a pledge grid (a secure one in these days of GDPR!). I created columns for:

Name
email
Contacted?
Chased?
Pledged?
Signal boost?
Notes

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This will be your bible for the whole of the campaign. Save it on your desktop and open it every day, because this thing is going to take over your life a bit…

2. Set targets

After the initial flurry of pledges from close friends and family I had a first day total of 5% pledged. I reckoned that if I targeted myself 1% per day that I would make the total within the recommended 90 day period. I figured that it took an average of four or five pledges per day to make my target. Of course, not all pledges are equal (I had some options for £150, £250, £300) but the great majority would be for the paperback, so use that as your average pledge amount.

I referred to the pledge grid on a daily basis, working through the names and sending each individual a template email topped and tailed with personal details:

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Some stats:

38% of my pledges came direct to the site. That is, from links that I sent to people. Only 8% came from the mailings that Unbound send to over 40,000 people. The remainder were variations on mail referalls from Facebook and email links that I sent. It became clear very early on that this book wasn’t going to fund itself!

Oh, and have a cheerleader! Someone you can brag to about your daily total and celebrate the milestones with. In my case it was Simon…

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3. Polite persistence

If there’s anything worse than asking for money, it’s asking for it twice… or three times… or four. What started as crowdfunding became borderline harrasment.

Timing is key: if you’re writing to colleagues then don’t ask for money a week before payday when they’re skint… ask on payday when they’re flush!

And don’t be shy about asking for help when you’re close to a milestone. These were the most effective mailings and Tweets:

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And always remember to thank them when you hit those milestones…

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One problem that threw me was how some people struggled with the idea of crowdfunding. I’ve supported a few myself, so was already familiar with the concept, but quite a few people couldn’t get their heads around why I needed money to edit, produce and print a book (let alone write it and pay an artist and designer for the cover art). Make it clear how it works in a pithy way. Luckily, Unbound provided a handy page explaining it all.

4. Social media won’t do it alone

Very few of my Tweets or RTs resulted in direct pledges. However, there is an old marketing maxim that we have to see something at least seven times before we’re prompted to purchase, and I lost count of the number of times that people told me they were reminded to pledge after a Tweet or a Facebook update. This made their eventual pledge a combination of:

initial email + update + social = pledge.

My regular updates were key. I updated on the Unbound page, on my blog and social media and celebrated every milestone. This was a gentle way to remind those who hadn’t pledged that this thing was still a going concern. It also helped those who had already pledged to take ownership of the project: they were involved in something fun, they had skin in the game, and were as determined as I was to make it work as I work. This has been the most rewarding part of the project: having pledgers bang the drum. It’s a great feeling!

I did dabble with Facebook ads. Don’t bother. A complete waste of time and money. You’ll be better off spending that money pledging yourself!

Oh, and I have to confess that I did resort to this a couple of times. I knew that I would get a mailing from Unbound when I hit 50% and after a couple of days of non-activity I thought screw it and pledged for 5 copies (I can sign and sell them at events/conventions later). This nudged me to 50%, got me the mailing and gave the campaign a boost… Just don’t make a habit of it! It kind of defeats the object.

5. It’s not personal

Don’t be offended when people say no… Okay, allow yourself a moment a rage, but then get over yourself. Though, some of the excuses for not pledging did make me laugh:

Friend, “I don’t read fantasy fiction.”
Me, “You don’t have to read it, just gimme the money!”
Friend, “Hmm… Nah.”

Friend, “Sorry, I’m funding my own project.”
Me, “Cool. I had no idea. Let me have a link and we can pledge to each others’ projects. Let’s help each other out.”
Friend… <tumbleweed>

Friend, “Yeah, I promise to pledge!”
90 days later…  <tumbleweed>

Never forget that people have busy lives and it’s astonishing these days when money is tight that anyone hands over their money. Be grateful for every penny.

Once again, a huge thanks to everyone who pledged (some of them more than once, some of them to the tune of hundreds of pounds!), and those who spread the word, banged the drum, cornered strangers at parties, and wrote the theme tune and created a mini trailer that I used pretty much every day… okay that last one’s pretty specific, but thanks Dom!

A quick note on videos – you’re asked to produce one when you start with Unbound. I made mine with my kids and it was lots of fun, but it was only after I added subtitles that we started getting better engagement. Most people watch social media vids with the sound down, so it’s worth the extra effort…

What’s next? Well, edits, revisions, repeat and rinse, then copy edits, proofreading, choosing the cover art and then sending this baby out into the real world.

Oh, and you can keep pledging! More money means we can spend more on the cover art and finishes (spot laminate on the cover would be lovely, thank you) and of course you’ll get your name in the book. So pre-order now!

I hope you found that useful and if you have any further queries, then do please drop me a line below and I’ll do my best to answer them and good luck with your own project!

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Published by

MarkStayWrites

Author, screenwriter, and co-founder of the Bestseller Experiment podcast.

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