Everything you need to know about using Kickstarter to self-publish a fiction book
Thanks to some fellow indie authors, I was inspired to run a Kickstarter to fund all of the expenses that come with self-publishing a book. It was successful and I was ecstatic! I got 200% of what I was gunning for and a whole lot more reach than I expected to be able to reach.
I made no profit from this endeavor. In fact, I ended up paying $72 out of pocket. That’s entirely my own fault, which I’ll explain below. Hopefully, this breakdown will be a good guide for anyone that wants to give this route their own attempt, with better judgment on how this will work out for them.
Setting up the Campaign
I based my own campaign on at least 20 other campaigns that successfully reached their funding, found by perusing Kickstarter and using their filters to limit it only to Successful, Publishing -> Fiction, campaigns. Something they all had in common was that the authors showed their faces. I wanted to remain entirely anonymous, so I went about making my own really simple (yet charming?) video showcasing the book with OBS and Microsoft Paint.
The rest of the page is broken down by section, starting with a general tag for the book, and introduction to who I am and why I am a credible person to be giving their money to, the costs, stretch goals, and a sample for them to get a taste of the story. Credibility is huge on KS, so I had connected to my Reddit and Instagram pages to let them know where they could contact me outside of Kickstarter to talk to a real person.
The costs were something I was worried about sharing with the audience but determined that transparency would be the best for this project. I included the fact it would cost me $295 to purchase ISBNs, which if you look into it means that I’m buying 10 ISBNs. I was worried I’d be called out by someone asking why I needed more than one or two for this project, but it seemed backers didn’t mind. The answer of course was that it’s cheaper to buy in bulk, and I intended to make this a series from the beginning so it was good to plan ahead.
Rewards were also something that took a lot of time to think over. After researching other campaigns, signatures, early-bird specials, and hardback copies were the biggest sellers, so I offered all three!
Early bird specials are to incentivize people visiting your page to pay for it now rather than later and give your concept some social-proofing with those early backers.
Hardcover copies were made exclusive to Kickstarter to really sell the hype, and that worked absolutely wonderfully.
Signatures were a big pull as well since there isn’t really a way to get a signed copy of my work otherwise.
With the help of a few people looking it over, I was ready to launch the project in July.
Launching the Kickstarter
On July 1st, 2020, The Young Knight’s Dragon Plight Kickstarter was born and — wait, what’s that?
The Kickstarter Scammers
I was not even an hour into the start of the campaign before I began receiving messages from people:
Hello N. T. Lazer,
Congrats on your project launch! I just came across it! I saw your campaign could use some hand to increase traffic.
I just started! Minutes ago!
So, be aware you’ll receive a lot of these. I ended up getting six different people soliciting me by the end of the campaign. They prey on desperation, so some reach out at the end when you’re not quite there. Don’t fall for it. None of these people can help you any better than you could help yourself by messaging your family and friends. If you look into the sites they’ve produced to claim they know what they’re doing, you can see that they have little to no credibility. Looking up the companies by name will produce some pages with people saying “Don’t use this advertising! It’s a scam!” Any money you could spare to send these “advertisers” would be better off in being invested in your own project.
Advertising the Kickstarter
The most important thing when running a Kickstarter is getting the word out! It is also the most difficult. If you have a good project page, then you’ll be able to get a single-digit number of people to support it when they see you in the “new” section of browsing Kickstarter, but otherwise, you’ll be on your own! And marketing is crucial for a successful campaign!
There are plenty of ways to go about doing this. Family and friends are certainly a very viable avenue to get started and pad your project a bit by showing it has at least a backing above zero. People love to see that a project has the potential to succeed and tend to jump in later rather than sooner (take this with a grain of salt, I have a single experience under my belt).
I had the blessing of a personal subreddit and Instagram to message asking for support. Reddit’s turnout was rather abysmal, to be honest. Of my almost 3000 subscribers, I barely scraped by 7-ish backers. I know this because I posted about it on Reddit long before posting anything on Instagram. Instagram, with (then 5000) followers was much more successful and ended up bringing me to my goal within two days of advertising to them. They were much more engaged and even shared it within their circles.
According to my analytics, the first day I posted on Instagram was the strongest, with plenty of pull in the subsequent days. Reddit had only a tiny uptick. Once I had reached my 100% goal, people seemed even more enthused to back it, bringing me to 200% in another two days' time. I was ready for the next step to prepare for release.
Updating the Backers
While this one isn’t strictly necessary, backers greatly appreciated being in the loop on where I was in the process. I sent them an update about twice a month on when I sent out eBooks, when I ordered paperbacks and hardcovers, and when they should expect to receive their physical copies. It’s easy to do and they are very grateful. After all, they gave you money!
I kept very close track of every penny dedicated to the cost of publishing, it breaks down as follows:
I made a total of $2473.00 in Kickstarter, leaving me with $71.28 out of pocket. And considering it would have cost me $934.25 without Kickstarter, this was a great outcome.
In case you want more granularity, I’m going to explore these costs even further:
Kickstarter Fees — $221.59: Right off the bat, Kickstarter took about 9% of my project funds for their processing fees. They have a handy calculator that takes that into account when starting your project, so I wasn’t surprised to see the money lost.
Editing — $400: Any way you look at it, editing is going to be one of your most expensive needs for publishing. My book was a modest 20k words, and I had it edited by someone I know personally. Editing was worth all the money put in, I think it really made scenes in the book flow better as well as foreshadow things in a smoother fashion.
Book Cover — $175: I found my cover artist through selfpubbookcovers.com, getting an artist by the name of Viergacht. They were fantastic and did a great job in both speed and communication, especially considering I had reached out to them in the early days of COVID. The art for this post is the art they delivered. I returned to them for my sequel and I think they did even better. People will judge your book by its cover, so make sure you get a good one
ISBNs — $295: Here’s where you could potentially save some money. If you intend to sell exclusively on Amazon and use their free ISBNs, then you don’t need to purchase them. Bowker has a monopoly on ISBNs and charges a ton for each one. I purchased ten for the price of $295. A high price, but it was a bundled price and could have been even higher if I purchased one at a time. But if you’re gonna do everything through Amazon with their free offers to authors, then you save yourself tons on ISBNs. So look into what ISBNs mean and what exclusivity on Amazon means before committing to it either way.
Fantasy Map — $64.25: I originally made my own map on inkarnate.com, but it was pretty meh, so I went to a professional I found on Fiverr to really make it pop. They were open to many revisions, so I made sure it would look as it needed to for my full series. Not a single reader has mentioned it (whether that’s a good or bad thing, I don’t know), but I use it pretty often for writing the sequels, so I’m happy with it.
Proof of Concepts — $48.92: Here’s another place you can save some money if you’re more meticulous than I was. I ordered three different Paperback Proof of Concepts from Amazon (totaling $19.26) because I couldn’t get the first two quite right. Each order took days to come in, so it delayed getting out the finished copies. I only needed two proof copies of the Hardback, which I ordered from Barnes and Noble Press (totaling $29.66). I should have only needed one since the first copy was perfectly formatted, but I accidentally capitalized the ‘L’ in Dragon PLight and needed to get a second to be perfectly happy. The nice thing about ordering proofs from Barnes and Noble Press is that they don’t come with the tag that says “Do Not Sell” like Amazon, so I could use my second copy as a finished copy to deliver to a backer.
Ordering Books — $601.49: This is another place I could have saved a few dollars. By the end of my Kickstarter, I had 61 orders for Paperback Copies and 39 orders for Hardcovers. I ordered 65 Paperbacks from Amazon and 45 Hardcovers from B&N to be safe. I expected a few books to be lost in transit when shipping them but all of them made it in time to reach my promised goal of delivering by October 2020, so now I have a few extras to give to friends and family.
When the order for the Hardbacks arrived, I found 11 of them had a misprint. I emailed B&N Press about it and (with pictures for proof of the good and bad ones) they sent another batch of 11 books immediately. It was a speedy service, and I appreciated them getting back to me so fast.
Paperbacks are also significantly cheaper than Hardcovers. My 65 paperbacks cost me $194.75 and my 45 Hardcovers $406.74. These costs are including taxes and shipping. The significant increase in cost was calculated ahead of time, so I was good here too.
Packaging — $154.96: Everything should be done through the United States Postal Service to save yourself the most money (sorry non-US writers). Not UPS, not FedEx, but USPS. They were helpful, fast, inexpensive, and you don’t pay any taxes when dealing with them since they’re part of the US Government. I required 73 small packages (totaling $137.83), 5 medium packages ($10.95), and 2 large packages ($6.18) to pack all my books. For 100 books, paying about ~$1.5 each was pretty fantastic. Use the USPS.
PO Box — $47.50: I rented a Post Office Box for six months from a local post office so I could place it as the return address. It originally cost me $95, but I closed the box before three months had passed and they reimbursed me for the remaining three months.
Domestic Shipping — $186.07: Again, I implore you to use the USPS. Media mail was a life-saver when it came to shipping things out. Media mail can be used whenever it comes to shipping books (among other things), and all it takes is telling the clerk at the Post Office “I want to send these as media mail.” It cost me $2.80 to ship a book anywhere in the U.S. The heavier packages (that had multiple copies) cost me somewhere around $5. So, 81 books sent out domestically cost ~$2.30 a book when it came down to it.
Putting it all together:
To order, package, and ship a single Paperback copy in the US cost about: $7.55
To order, package, and ship a single Hardcover cover in the US cost about: $13.59
And these packages would arrive at my backers less than a week after I sent them, whether sent to someone on my end in California or to New York. Utilize the USPS.
International Shipping — $349.50: God help you. Where 81 books shipped domestically cost me a total of ~$186, the cost of shipping 19 books internationally cost me almost $350. I did not realize that the difference of ounces would skyrocket the price between Paperback and Hardcover. It was my own fault for not looking into it further and not putting this as part of the price tag for international shipping, but I’m sure I would have had fewer international backers if those costs were factored in. It was a huge jump.
The most expensive country to ship to from my location was Australia, costing me $17.25 for a Paperback and $27.75 for a Hardcover. All the other countries (Canada, France, United Kingdom, Spain, Singapore, Germany, Sweden, Mexico) cost me about two dollars less for paperback and hardcover, respectively.
So, while there were plenty of places I could have cut costs and possibly made it with paying $0 out of pocket, I think the real gut-shot to my expenses was the international shipping. For some reason, I charged $12 for it, and I can’t remember for the life of me why I selected that number. It ended up fine, all costs considered, but a few more international sales and I would have been tanked.
Putting it all together:
To order, package, and ship a single Paperback copy internationally cost about: $22.00
To order, package, and ship a single Hardcover copy internationally cost about: $32.50
Other things of note
Packaging takes a while!
Getting every book signed, sealed in a package, and addressing the package takes a long time! Took at least a few hours on multiple days. Don’t underestimate how long this step can take, I wanna say it was something like 6 hours total for the 100 books.
Long lines at USPS
No matter what day, the lines at USPS are pretty long, except for early morning. That’s why, for around a two-week period, I would go to the USPS as soon as they opened at 8:30am and send around 5-10 books. I didn’t want to incur any printing costs, so it took them about 20 minutes per visit to enter the addresses into their system and print a tag to be scanned and placed on top. But if you want to save time, there is a way to print out the labels ahead of time, but you’d have to pay printing costs.
Customs forms for international
All international shipments require you to submit a customs form when you give them your package. You can ask for a stack of them ahead of time and fill them all out from home. It’s really easy and adds to the time-consuming process of packaging.
I started a mailing list by asking my backers whether they wanted to be added to it! That went very smoothly and so far has not been used at all! But it exists for when I want to use it!
It was a very worthwhile experience and I would recommend it to anyone that has the capacity to advertise to relevant channels. It was a great way to start from a number that would not leave me in debt when releasing my debut novel.