I’ve been watching authors use Kickstarter for about two years now. Perhaps the best hand I’ve seen at this game is Brad Beaulieu, who kickstarted both the third novel of a series, The Flames of Shaddam Koreh, and his collection, Lest our Passage be Forgotten.
I’ve invited Brad into this guest post to ask him a few questions…
BRENDA COOPER: Both of your Kickstarters funded easily, at well over the asking price. How did you decide what to ask for, and do you think starting low helped you succeed?
BRADLEY P. BEAULIEU: For the first Kickstarter, the one for my short story collection, Lest Our Passage Be Forgotten & Other Stories, I wanted to start it at a point where I knew I would succeed in funding. I did some research on some other novel Kickstarters by Tim Pratt and Tobias Buckell and tried to gauge where they set theirs and what the final tally was when all was said and done. If I recall correctly, those were both set around $7,500.
But my Kickstarter wasn’t for a novel. It was for a story collection, and collections are not as popular as novels these days. So after adding up all my costs I included next to nothing for my own efforts. Why? Because, like I said, I just wanted the Kickstarter to take off. That’s what led me to set it initially to something as low as $1,000-that and the fact that I was terrified of it not funding-but the cool thing is there’s a certain buzz that can build when a Kickstarter ends up tripling or quadrupling its funding goal, which Lest Our Passage Be Forgotten & Other Stories ended up doing. I certainly used that to my advantage as the Kickstarter progressed, letting people know it was over 200% funded, then 300%, and so on. (By the way, it ended up at $5,729, more than 5 times what I was looking for, a total I was shocked to have reached.)
For the Kickstarter for The Flames of Shadam Khoreh, the concluding book in The Lays of Anuskaya trilogy, I was really Kickstarting the whole trilogy. I needed to pay for the cover art, for the printing costs, for the ISBNs, and so on, for all three books, so there were more costs than may at first be apparent. Again, I totaled all of the costs and did add some for my own time, and settled on $5,000 for the starting goal. I ended up doubling that, a great sum that helped the series to find a wider audience.
Starting low has the advantage of giving people confidence that the project will succeed. True, backers don’t pay if the Kickstarter doesn’t fund, but there’s certainly something to be said for perceived momentum in a project. That ever elusive “buzz.” Setting a project’s funding goal low is not the only way to achieve it, but I think it can help.
BPB: Thank you so much. The artwork is beautiful, isn’t it? The cover piece is by artist Sang Han. I found him by trolling the net, and by looking at the troves of artwork on deviantart.com and cghub.com. It was a piece that was already made and that, thankfully, was available for licensing, so after tracking Sang down, we worked back and forth until we had the rough terms in place. Then I relied on my friends to supply a sample contract, which I adjusted for the specifics of our arrangement.
I also worked with another artist, Evgeni Maloshenkov, on the interior artwork. Evgeni I found through Lee Moyer, a friend and a wonderful artist. I acted as the art director to create each of the pieces for the collection’s stories. That was a great experience, choosing the scenes and providing Evgeni with some cues as to how the scenes should look. And then he took them in some wonderful directions, some that I had envisioned ahead of time, and many that I didn’t. I’m very proud of those pieces, and feel fortunate to have had a chance to work with Evgeni on them.
Once I had the artwork itself, I used Photoshop to design the cover. I’m no master at Photoshop, but I know enough to get around, and I’d been dabbling in graphic design for years and years. I’ll admit, I’m not terribly good at coming up with new designs of my own, but I’m pretty good at reproducing a look I like. So I wandered the virtual aisles of Goodreads and trolled my friend’s sites for book covers I liked, and once I had a collection of notes I was trying to hit, I applied them to the new cover and eventually (after many, many hours of tweaking) settled on the finished cover you see now.
The interior was a matter of mastering InDesign, which was no easy feat. It took me some time to watch some tutorials and to play with the software itself, but eventually I learned enough to create the master pages and prepare the layout itself. Here, too, I relied on a lot of what’s come before. I paged through my print books, looking for those with attractive layouts, and then I used them to help me set the interior for the collection, and later the Lays trilogy.
These were all things that I was expecting to have to tackle, and I knew would enjoy them, because (a) I wanted to know how publishers did them, and (b) I wanted to learn and grow from the experience itself. It was a fun, busy time, but also a time of learning, of growing. For me, it was as much about that as it was the business end of things.
BPB: Well, the sheer amount of time to do everything was not completely unexpected, but it sure did consume me for several months. I had planned on, and budgeted time for, publishing my short story collection, but Kickstarting the third book in my trilogy was an unexpected thing (brought on by my fairly public falling out with Night Shade Books), so things became roughly twice as complicated, took twice the time, twice the effort, and so on.
What did that mean for me and my writing? Well, I had planned to write a middle grade novel early this year, and I’m pretty sure I could have finished it in the time it took me to run and then fulfill my Kickstarters, so the opportunity cost for me was basically one novel. A short novel, true, but a novel nonetheless, and that’s something you have to seriously consider when you dive into these things. Is a Kickstarter, in fact, the best use of your time? For some projects the answer will be yes, but for others, perhaps it’s no. Everyone should evaluate the balance of things carefully before diving in.
BC: Were there any unexpected benefits from funding your books this way?
BPB: One that I’ll mention was not unexpected, per se, but it ended up pleasing me a great deal, and that’s the notion of publicity. Kickstarter is a great way to get the news out about a project. It has more appeal to the buyer than simply releasing a book. Just putting out your own book hardly seems to make readers raise an eyebrow-there are, after all, about a bajillion books coming out every week these days-but Kickstarter is still new enough that people take notice of them, bringing attention to you and your projects you wouldn’t otherwise received.
Plus, there is a strong sense of community (or maybe a “team mentality” is a better way to think about it) with Kickstarters. People feel involved in the ‘Starters they back. They feel a sense of ownership-I certainly do in the ones I back-and that helps to get them to spread the word and to bring others in on the project. And that’s a pretty great feeling. I’m sure I’ve gained some fans from the Kickstarters. I hope not only that they’re lifelong fans, but that they bring others to me and my work as well.
BPB: For the right project, absolutely. There are certain types of projects that lend themselves to Kickstarting and going the self-publishing route. One is the story collection; very few publishers are interested in collections unless you have a huge built-in audience. The other is a novel that doesn’t easily fit into established market labels. Epic fantasy is a big seller, as is urban fantasy and the generic young adult novel, but science fantasies? Not so much. Other subgenres are very cyclical. Paranormal romance was all the rage about eight years ago. Now it’s a much tougher sell. Or maybe you have a project that’s outside your established brand, a project that publishers might pass on because they fear you’ll alienate your core audience and fail to reach those in your new market Projects like these might get turned down by the bigger and even smaller presses. If so, and assuming you truly believe in the project, then consider taking it out on your own.
If I dive in again, I’ll certainly weigh all the effort that goes into it carefully, but assuming I have the time and a project that I think would work well going direct to fans, I would certainly consider another Kickstarter.
BC: What did I miss?
BPB: Nothing I can think of. But I will mention that if anyone is curious about more detailed and practical advice for Kickstarters, I wrote up my thoughts on the subject in a two-part series of posts:
- How I Ran Two Successful Novel Kickstarters in Less Than Six Months — Part I
- How I Ran Two Successful Novel Kickstarters in Less Than Six Months — Part II
BC: Can people who didn’t participate in the Kickstarter get your books? How do they do that?
BPB: Absolutely! They’re available in print, electronic, and audio formats. The best place to start might be my web pages for the books, which have links to sites where you can buy the books:
- The Winds of Khalakovo
- The Straits of Galahesh
- The Flames of Shadam Khoreh
- Lest Our Passage Be Forgotten & Other Stories
Brenda Cooper is an award-winning author of seven science fiction novels and over forty short stories. Her most recent novel came out just this month from Pyr. It’s The Diamond Deep, part two in a two-part series that started with The Creative Fire. The Diamond Deep explores the human struggle for power, safety, and hope as a generation ship returns home to find changes no one aboard had imagined. Find out more at www.brenda-cooper.com.