Guest Post: The Crowdfunded Publication Model

The following article is written by Helena Echlin, a client of mine who wanted to share her experience with Inkshares, a crowdfunded publishing platform. As you know, I don’t often do guest posts, but I made an exception because I find this particular experience very interesting. While I haven’t done a lot of research on Inkshares and haven’t fully formed an opinion on this specific mode of getting a manuscript out to readers, I can’t help but acknowledge and be curious about the various platforms available to writers today. Consider pre-ordering SPARKED and enjoy!

unnamed-1 As you read this, I’m probably hitting the refresh button on my phone’s browser to check how many preorders of my novel, Sparked, I’ve sold. Or taking my five-year-old to a birthday party purely so I can hand out promotional bookmarks. Along with my co-author Malena Watrous, I’m working with a publisher called Inkshares—think Kickstarter for books—and ever since our launch on September 1, we’ve been obsessively selling preorders, even though our book has no publication date yet. Inkshares authors raise funds this way in order to subsidize the initial publication costs. Malena and I have both published adult novels with traditional publishing houses. How did we end up here?

Back in 2012, Malena had an idea for a young adult novel: what if that clique of mean girls in high school got superpowers? By the time we finished writing it, editors at traditional publishing houses informed us that the paranormal genre was “down-trending” in YA. But we quailed at the thought of self-publishing, which would take money—$5-10K—and require us to do everything ourselves, from copyediting to marketing.

Then we discovered Inkshares, a crowd-funded publisher based in Oakland. The gatekeepers aren’t New York editors, but readers, who care less about New York publishing trends than finding books they enjoy. These readers subsidize your initial publication costs by preordering your book. Sell 250 preorders, and you get light publishing. Sell 750 and Inkshares will do everything a traditional publisher does, including help with marketing and distributing the book into bookstores. You get a percentage of the profit that they say is better than what a traditional publisher would give you. And hey, they seem to be good at selling movie rights, so we can hope.

It seemed like the perfect fit, although crowd-funded publishing does have its own challenges. The biggest: how do you sell 750 copies of a book without a publication date? If the book doesn’t exist yet, people are not ordering a book so much as they are supporting your dream. Only people who know you want to do that, while strangers want to spend their $10-20 on a book they can have right away. Most of us have about 150 people in our network. Between the two of us we could sell 300, but that still left 450 total strangers to win over. One advantage we were lucky to have: we are both published authors already, so we didn’t have to convince people we can write a book.

After strategizing for months, here’s what we learned:

  1. Prepare your marketing materials. Minimum: a book cover, a website, the first few chapters of the book that are edited and ready to read. If you are a debut author it’s even more important to make these look professional. And if you’re going to persuade strangers to invest in your dream, then make your dream compelling. As well as the story itself, sell “the story of the story”—tell people who you are and why you wrote the book.
  2. Prime as many friends as possible to order on day one. People want to believe they really can help you realize your vision, which means they want to see you’ve got dozens of orders already. Email people individually to let them know day one is important. Your friends want to help you but your book could easily fall to the bottom of their to-do lists. This won’t happen if they put your launch date on their calendars.
  3. Segment your emails. Emails are more effective when you tailor them to specific groups. MailChimp is great for this. For instance, I sent an email to all my mom friends reminding them that Sparked was the book they’d heard me talk about at the playground so many times, and it’s a great escapist read for tired moms.
  4. Offer freebies. Your friends buy a non-existent book because they love you. Strangers want something more, so think of something to give them, preferably something that costs you little or nothing. In our case, it’s a free writing coaching session.
  5. Sell to friends of friends. Where strangers won’t buy, sometimes friends of friends will. Have people post about you on Facebook. Better yet, get your “Connector” friends to reach out individually to their friends.

We were incredibly grateful to get over 250 orders on the first day, so we’ll get “light publishing,” whatever happens. Many people kindly ordered the book simply they wanted to help us make our goal and we’d never have been able to sell them our teen thriller otherwise. Now we’re working on those remaining orders: 160 to go. Now, if only I had the willpower not to check that number every five seconds.

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SPARKED authors Malena Watrous, left, and Helena Echlin, right.

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