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Your 80+ hours of work invested was time well spent, what an excellent read. I personally published my first book through funds raised via gofundme last year. Something like €3200 from 40 or so donors was enough to pay for print, illustration, layout, ISBN - the lot! Definitely the way of the future, I agree that finding the right tier strategy is the key to pulling in good figures but I think when you're seen to be creating quality (as you are) the product will do the heavy lifting for you :)

Cheers,

Nick

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author

Oh that's so amazing, thank you so much for sharing that! I've been thinking about crowdfunding something for awhile so this is really helpful!

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Love this so much. Great stats y’all shared. I’ve been debating splitting a longer book into three books and self-publishing them and this is further convincing me...

I also like the move with Amazon Vella to encourage authors to do “seasons” with “episodes” instead of books with chapters.

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Wow, this is amazing - pure gold! I'm glad you touched on the complexities and costs of actually delivering promised work to subscribers / backers. This model is an excellent way to produce for a dedicated and motivated fan base. It's more bespoke than the "on spec" model of traditional publishing. The emphasis on quality and service is already generating ideas for me. Thanks for the spreadsheet - very generous of you!

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That was so eye-opening it was hallucinogenic... Thank you so much, Elle, for this extraordinary deep-dive :-) 🙌 🙌

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author

Glad it was helpful!!!

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This is an incredible piece. Thanks for all this work! Encouraging that authors can generate this level of revenue :)

That said, it's a bummer how much expenses there are... seems like many of these are low-margin. I wonder whether there's a way to capture this energy with more of a high-margin / digital offering. Do we think that's possible? Are there any campaigns in the spreadsheet that were primarily digital / high-margin? Or perhaps this market hinges on the tangible & physical.

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author

The market definitely hinges on the physical. I’m not sure what value you could add to a digital product that would increase margins. Apart from maybe the in person sessions and corporate sponsorships the nonfiction projects often have?

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Thanks for such a thorough breakdown of Kickstarter for publishers!

This is perfect timing for me. I just published my last book mostly from the strength of my Substack audience (it's a full-color collection of haiku comics). As I've been thinking about my next project, I've been considering doing a Kickstarter and making a more luxurious product. Color printing is already so expensive that I want to make something worthy of a $100 price that that gives me a margin of more than a couple of bucks per book.

I'm excited to see how platforms like Kickstarter and Substack continue to help indie authors invent the future of publishing.

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founding

I resent that I now know about beehive books because of you. This is going to be an expensive Wednesday.

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author

Been there

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It is a fascinating idea. But also a big undertaking. If only I had 1500 true fans with lots of disposable income! Guess I will stick with serializing on Substack. 🤣

Great article, as usual.

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author

O’Neill told me that he was surprised to learn most of his buyers weren’t just a bunch of rich people. Many were moving money around just to be able to get a particular book they really loved. It’s hard to tell how people will spend their money because everyone does it differently! You might be surprised at who would love to see a leatherbound Britpop!

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right on...

when we truly put our soul into our work, we have no idea how much it might mean to some very surprising people. one good piece of writing can change a person's world

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I can see real fans spending a lot on special editions. Even if they aren’t well off. But with only 50 or so copies of Britpop sold, the odds are not promising for me. 🤣 I need a few more fans first.

But I do like the idea.

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Great piece!

I've run two Kickstarters for my fiction books, one for a special edition re-launch of book 1 in my series and one for the book 2 launch and they both cleared five figures, despite me not having a big sales history on Amazon or a very large newsletter subscriber base. I attribute it to creating a good pitch around the book with awesome artwork to immerse the reader. I'm hoping to grow my backer count with the third book's campaign later this year and have ideas for spin-off campaigns, like a comic or an TTRPG.

Certainly as you point out, authors are able to clear $50K with higher priced offerings. It's like how non-fiction authors are able to offer an ebook, a more expensive hardback, a workbook, a class/community, and upsell their audience. With fiction outside of Kickstarter, that is much harder, and you only end up being able to upsell if you have a large back catalog.

But another thing I've noticed on Kickstarter is that you are able to sell regular hardcover books to backers with much less resistance than a reader browsing on Amazon, who may even chaff at a $5 ebook. I would need 2600 people buying my $5 ebook to net the same amount of money I raised from 371 people on my second Kickstarter campaign.

One note: Michael J. Sullivan actually writes an entire series upfront before he launches the Kickstarter for the first book in the series. He revises the later books in the series as necessary as they get closer to release, but for the campaign he has going now (his best yet), the content of that book was written probably several years ago. His current campaign is also a good example of offering a bunch of format/items. He has a regular hardback, a limited edition faux leather hardback, and a slipcase to hold all three books in the now-completed series.

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author

Oh amazing! Will you share the links to your campaigns?

You are so right about $5 seeming like too much on Amazon, but way too cheap on Kickstarter. It’s interesting how we value books digitally vs physically!

As to Sullivan, one of the campaigns he ran back in the day had him writing it after the fund, but maybe he does it differently now. Thanks for pointing that out!

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Kickstarter overall trends physical over digital. I guess people like backing/supporting tangible objects. Digital though provides a lower-cost tier to get someone in your ecosystem.

My campaign links are below:

Book 1 special edition:

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/jaauerbach/guild-of-tokens-an-epic-urban-fantasy

Book 2:

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/jaauerbach/guild-of-magic-books-1-2-an-epic-urban-fantasy

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author

Omg these are so cool!!!!!! How much time did it take you to put together those editions? Did you feel like it was overall worth it? (I ask because the whole process seems a bit overwhelming to me!)

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Thank you so much!

Learning how to put together a campaign and market it took several months of research and following other campaigns. Luckily I worked with a great group of designers and artists so everything came together for the first one somewhat smoothly even though I was figuring out my stretch goals mid-campaign.

The second campaign was easier to set up and I had all the artwork commissioned well in advance. I continue backing campaigns and researching and networking with other authors who were doing Kickstarter campaigns.

Overall I definitely feel it was worth it. It is a lot of work and fulfillment of the physical books was more work than I was expecting, but I think it's given me a great foundation for future books.

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author

Wow! Yeah the fulfillment seems like a lot of work. It was for even the 23 books I printed last year. That’s amazing you had a team though, and I’m glad it gets easier over time!!! Thanks for sharing your process!

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You're welcome!

Unfortunately for fulfillment it was (and is) only me, so a lot of wrapping books, researching the best/cheapest packaging materials, and hoping the Post Office doesn't get mad at me for sending so many packages at once. You can hire fulfillment companies to manage it, but you need a very large volume of backers to make the economics work.

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Fantastic reporting here, as always. You're consistently providing a window into what a better future looks like. Bravo.

A few factoids about my 2014 crowdfunding campaign with Inkshares, a crowdfunded publisher based in San Francisco: I only used Facebook at that time (didn't use Twitter or Instagram), and had maybe 1,000 "friends" on that platform. I posted weekly asking people if they'd like to help me become a published novelist while simultaneously pre-ordering my book for $25 or more (w/ benefits).

I was Inkshares' first prospective novelist, and the pitch was intimidatingly simple: "If you raise $10,000 in pre-orders in 3 months, we'll do a 1,000 copy print run and send you on a book tour." In 3 months, primarily using direct emails (I had zero marketing and didn't have a newsletter), I achieved the $10,000 goal with 232 backers. So even for the small fish out there, crowdfunding is possible ... you don't even need a massive newsletter to make it happen!

This Kickstarter information is exciting stuff. Much to consider, and applaud. Here's to believing in the future.

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author

I didn’t realize you did that via a crowdfund. That’s so incredible!

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Fantastic report, thanks for that, Elle!

I've been reluctant to back Kickstarters in the last decade after being burned on failed projects one too many times. I was initially a big supporter of the concept and ran a couple of successful Kickstarters myself, but there's a big risk, especially when physical production is involved.

The only thing I've Kickstarted in the last decade was in fact a book - this lovely indie comic by Neill Cameron: https://neillcameron.substack.com/p/new-graphic-novel-by-neill-cameron

As always, your numbers are generally ambitious and inspiring. I'm a long way behind, but getting there... :)

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author

There’s definitely a big risk, and a big expense! My general feeling is that it would take way too much money and time to make a campaign worthwhile, unless it was your main thing. Which is why I’ll stick to Substack for now. 💭 But very fascinating to learn what other authors are doing! You’re still the expert when it comes to serialization though. I loved your new index!!!!!!

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Yeah, same here - I don't have the time to run a big Kickstarter campaign, even if it was really successful. And the maths of operating a complex production at potentially zero profit don't quite make sense in my head, either. Unless you find a way to turn it into an on-going enterprise, like the examples you've found.

Substack might not have the big immediacy of a successful Kickstarter, but I feel it's considerably less stressful for everyone - the project creator and the supporters!

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author

100% agree!

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Another amazing piece of reporting on the new publishing world, with great analysis. So interesting - I’ll be thinking a lot about what you’ve discovered. Thank you

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Hooray! So glad you're writing about this, Elle - I was chatting to fellow newsletterers Terrell Johnson and Diana Butler Bass last week about Sanderson's incredible Kickstarter. WHAT A THING.

And while it's an extreme outlier, as you note, there are so many books of all kinds doing really well - like thriller writer Joanna Penn's nonfiction walking book Pilgrimage, which just wrapped up its successful campaign and raised over £25,000 ($30,000) on a £1,000 target: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/thecreativepenn/pilgrimage-book-travel-memoir-with-practical-walking-tips

Many exciting possibilities...

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Another one here: a book about keyboards! https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/mwichary/shift-happens Already 500k raised on a 150k target.

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author

Ok his Kickstarter was insane. I still can’t wrap my head around that! And that is so incredible Joanna Penn just made it work! I can’t believe I missed her campaign!!!!

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She did such a great job! A masterclass in covering everything in a really professional way. But then, that's not surprising - her work ethic is fantastic.

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author

So true!

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