Writers on Kickstarter: Do’s and Don’ts


As each year comes to a close, many people in the United States take a few moments to ponder what they are going to make a priority for the coming year. Many of those people then promptly give up on said resolution, and another gym membership sadly goes to waste.

I’m talking of course about New Years resolutions. My own resolutions are going well – 2 are ahead of schedule, 2 have substantial progress made, and only one is behind; between work and painting, I have not been devoting  as much time to writing, specifically not blog related writing as I should be. I’m not here today to talk about my resolutions today though, I’m here to talk about what I can only assume are other peoples.

Kickstarter always has an abundance of projects in a few veins. We have recently discussed some of the most popular already in a previous post, but there are also a fair number of “save our movie theater,” “Fund my art residency at X,” “Help get my children’s book published,” and of course – “help me publish my first novel.” This time of year there seems to be more novel projects than average – I can only assume that is because people vowed over new years that this was the year they were going to make it happen, and become an author; unfortunately many projects in this flood have picked up a few bad habits along the way.

To be clear – I don’t have a problem in the world with writer’s using Kickstarter. I think it is a totally valid funding mechanism for reasonable projects. Unfortunately most projects are pretty unreasonable.

The purpose of Kickstarter is to fund projects, not pay you to live, or pay you to do something you were going to do anyway (I’m looking at you Peter Pan.) To the writer of the average novel, this means Kickstarter can and should be used to pay for costs related to: A cover artist, an editor, a proof reader or two, an ISBN, the costs of printing said book (where applicable ) and any other costs related to funding the rewards of the project. That last category should not cost more than all the others put together. Notice that at no point did I say that the writer should be paid a word rate to write their book – that would be a “fund my life project,” which is specifically against Kickstarter’s terms of use.

So if funding one’s life is against Kickstarter’s policies, how did a project called “Help me live while I write my first novel” get through the censors at our favorite crowd funding site? More importantly, if one was to flag it (like I did,) why would such a project still be up and funding 24 hours later? The author, it what might be the worst funding pitch ever proceeds to offer you this bit of wisdom:

“If I were you, and I knew me, I wouldn’t give me a cent and expect anything back. It’s not that I’m a bad person… I’m really not. I’m just, like I said, ineffective.

I’ve been dealing with depression and anxiety for as long as I can remember, I’ve done a poor job of trying to get treatment for it, and now I’m 34 years old and I have no career, no passion, and a very uncertain future.

It has never occurred to me before now to financially commit myself to finishing a writing project.  It’s not like I got an advance on that article for Odyssey, and they didn’t even pay me until a year later.  What’s changed is I really feel, for the first time, like I have an awesome and viable idea for a work of fiction, and the idea very much draws from my own experience.”

He finishes off by explaining that the risks and challenges are: “The challenges all come from me being my own worst enemy. I have no ability to concentrate, I panic at the slightest hint of adversity, and I’m on Reddit.” I acknowledge that this may all be sort of a joke/humor project, but then I don’t really think that belongs on Kickstarter either. At the end of the day though, this author wants $5k and offers no explanation whatsoever with how he will spend the money.

Another, more reasonable project I also found illustrates another very different error. Sparcus only want’s $2k, has a reasonably professional pitch, and offers some explanation as to where the money the author is trying to raise might go. On that side of the equation  it does most everything right. The rewards though, are another matter. For $1 you get a thank you email and for $5 you get a copy of the e-book; I don’t understand why those rewards are offered in limited numbers, but so far so good. For $25 you get an autographed copy of the paperback, for $50 you are recognized as a contributor in the back of the book, for $80 you are recognized as a major contributor, and for $250 you are recognized as a patron.

I hate to break it to everyone, but the signature of an unknown author is not worth a whole lot, and the public thanks and appreciation is significantly overpriced. I included a signature level in our own project, The Wardenclyffe Horror, I know. I think it is a fine upper tier addition, but that only works if you have a lower tier for other backers to jump on board at, which this project lacks.

After taking a long look around at these, and similar projects though, I have developed a few guidelines on the subject:

  • Keep your goal and reward tier costs low – people don’t know who you are yet, and pricing yourself above the latest New York Times Bestseller might well price you out of the market.
  • Account for your costs as specifically and completely as you can – I will not pay you to write your book, but I am much more inclined to contribute a few bucks to help it get edited, or see that a good book gets a good cover.
  • Have the book written (or mostly written) – there are enough risks in a good Kickstarter – don’t add “and the book might never be finished” to them.
  • Include a sample of your writing – many projects fail to do this. Worse, many projects have a pitch page riddled with typos and poor sentence structure; we are all guilty of these things (me especially) but you are trying to sell your writing.

Anyone have more to add on this subject? 

This entry was posted by David Winchester.

8 thoughts on “Writers on Kickstarter: Do’s and Don’ts

    • Though not quite as popular as band funding, people trying to fund their first novel is certainly high on the list of Kickstarter popularity. I just wish they would have more realistic expectations. I’ve seen projects where people said straight faced that for ten or twenty five thousand dollars up front they would sit down and bang out their first book.

      Life just doesn’t work that way.

      I’ve backed exactly 2 Novel projects, only one of which was successful. Half the reason those projects got my money was I thought their creators did a really great job with the pitch, and had a plan that justified a capital infusion.

      • Would you mind sharing links to those two projects so writers could see good examples for how to run a Kickstarter for their novel? Thanks!

  1. Yeah, the “Help me live” project is without a doubt the saddest, most pathetic thing I’ve seen on Kickstarter. I almost think it’s a troll, like a depressed Tony Clifton. The $100 level actually tells you not to support him. I’m going to take him at his word on that, because he needs therapy, not a Kickstarter project.

    I don’t generally back books on Kickstarter. These “help me write my novel” ones actually OFFEND me at times. I mean, I know a guy who has autism, and was until not too long ago unemployed, and he’s written four books and put them up on Amazon. But these people think theirs is so special? I did back a collection of gothic horror stories, but that was a reprint volume.

    The one I really wanted to back was a book called “Sex and Spooks and Sauvignon – The Misadventures of a Reluctant Psychic” The book looks fun, the video was personable and interesting, and the project proposal was decent. Unfortunately, the rewards just made it all fall apart for me. She’s actually already published this on Amazon’s Kindle store, so she’s looking to fund a print version. Which is great. I love printed books. Unfortunately, she’s asking £20 ($31.62) plus another £2 for shipping from the UK. Because she’s published on Amazon, she apparently can’t offer the eBook as a reward. Besides, if you want it, it’s available on Amazon for the equivalent of £2. I think her project will fund, and I’m rooting for her, but I’m not backing.

    • Do you avoid this flavor of projects in general though, because you don’t think they are not well implemented, or because you don’t think they need your money, in general?

      I see both sides of that coin, for sure.

      On a side note, I’ve heard you say similar things about video games. What kinds of Kickstarter projects are you most likely to fund/are valid uses of crowd funding?

      • A little from column A, a little from column B. I don’t think authors necessarily need Kickstarter in order to function. If you can’t get there via the traditional publishing channels, then you can go the eBook route. If your work is good, and is worth following, and you do the marketing necessary to break out, then maybe you will. I’ll give you a couple of examples:

        David Wellington serialized his book “Monster Island” online. He built a following, people bought it on Amazon, and eventually it got popular enough that he was able to release it in paperback. In the meantime, he kept writing, kept building his audience, and while he’s not selling like Stephen King, he’s selling, and he’s likely to keep selling.

        Hugh Howey released “Wool” as a standalone story on Amazon. He followed that up with more “Wool” books. It was well-written, and has caught people’s attention. Since it’s release, he’s negotiated foreign releases, sold the film rights to 20th Century Fox, and gotten Simon & Schuster to release it in paperback.

        The notion that going through Kickstarter is THE way to bypass the publishing system is a false one. If people want to do it, and other people want to support it, more power to them. I’d never tell you that you SHOULDN’T do it that way. It’s just not for me. That said, I do like the way that Greg Stolze uses Kickstarter, with his “Give me $X and I’ll release the story for free.” That’s clever.

        As for “not well implemented”, I just don’t back bad projects in general. I have seen projects that had something I liked (a comic, an album), but which had a crippling, but easily correctable, flaw. In those cases, I’m not above dropping the creator a line to suggest that maybe $100 before a physical copy is provided is excessive, or “could you include a digital-download pledge level” for music.

        The reasons I don’t fund books is different from the reason I (generally) don’t fund video games. Video games just have too long of a development time for me, though I did back “Cryamore” because I thought the project was very well done. Books, well, I think I explained that overly much.

        The things I tend to back are music, comics, and board/card games. If a band has an opportunity to professionally record, and I like how they sound, I’ll back them. There may come a time when music recording/editing software is so ubiquitous and flexible that recording an album is as easy as writing a book, but I don’t think we’re there yet. The comics industry is so dominated by Marvel and DC that I really want to help the smaller projects happen, as I did with “Wardenclyffe Horror.” You had a good pitch, and an intriguing product. Games…I’m just looking for interesting games to play, and I back things that interest me. I need physical versions, though.

        Maybe that’s the distinction with comics and games. I have always backed at the physical copy levels for those.

        (Damn, it’s the “War & Peace” of blog comments.)

      • Fair points, all.

        I loved Wool, though I think it loses it’s way in the later third. I also really liked the prequel, and wish the author all the success in the world. There are many roads to Rome after all.

  2. Hello!
    ‘Sex and Spooks and Sauvignon’ was my project, it did get funded and Kickstarter was a fantastic helping hand for me. But I just want to address something about the ‘reward tiers’. I think some people are missing the point. On my page for £1 you got a thank you in my novel, in print. Some people wouldn’t get a whole lot out of seeing their name in print, others would and did. But I tried to offer quite a variety of rewards for every purse. £10 got you a hand-made ‘Sex and Spooks’ thank you card as well as your name in the book, £20 got you a signed copy and your name in the book etc etc, all the way up to a psychic reading or your name interwoven into the novel as a character.
    The whole point of Kickstarter is, you only back if you want to and you only look at the page if you want to. People who pledged £20 to help me get my first print run off the ground, obviously had £20 they wanted to donate anyway. Otherwise they could have waited and bought a hard copy or read the Kindle version for a few quid. These funding platforms aren’t a place where you are ‘buying’ the book or other eventual product for next to nothing. Not in my case, anyway. Of course I wouldn’t charge £20 for my book, signed or not, in the real world. You are donating to a cause because you like the look of it and want to help out. The rewards are simply there as a thank you. How would anybody actually get anything off the ground if everything they made on Kickstarter went into backer rewards? As it was, all the lovely people from America who pledged £20 + £2, got a £6.99 book delivered to them and the postage cost £7.50! I was eternally grateful, and hopefully when my book sells it’s first million they will be in possession of a signed first edition with their name printed on a thank you page!
    I wasn’t trying to bypass the publishing system by the way, I was trying to give my novel a little kick to get it moving. And it seems to have worked. I think people back what they like and lovers of humorous, ghostly books backed mine!
    Long may Kickstarter continue, it’s been a way to make things happen. Txx

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