Thursday, April 16, 2015

Crowd Funding & Self-Publishing: Tips From A Newbie

by Mindy McGinnis

I've never jumped into the self-publishing waters before, mostly because I feel like standing out in the crowd would be the biggest challenge. As a traditionally published author with HarperCollins I still feel that way, quite often. Even with everything my publisher does for me (and they do a lot) I'm a long way from being a household name. Pile on top of their efforts what I do myself in terms of promotion - Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Pinterest, Blogging - yet in many ways I'm still just another voice in a very crowded room.

That's always been my reasoning behind not following the self-pub path... until recently.

A few months ago two good friends of mine, Demitria Lunetta and Kate Karyus Quinn - both fellow YA Harper authors - approached me about participating in an idea they had for a self-pub anthology that would feature short stories from thirteen authors (us and ten others yet-to-be-determined). I figured that this would be a good opportunity for me to learn about the process, and also ride along as we all learned how to run a Kickstarter.

After a couple of lengthy email chains we came up with a title AMONG THE SHADOWS: 13 STORIES OF DARKNESS & LIGHT.

I signed on, and between the three of us we quickly amassed our thirteen authors. You can see by our back cover that we've been lucky. Some big names in YA are contributing to this project, and yes that definitely had a huge impact on our success so far. But I can still speak to the process of self-pubbing and crowd funding as a wide-eyed, carefully-stepping, newbie who wants to be sure there aren't any landmines in the field she's about to cross.

One of the first things we did was pool non-monetary resources. What could we do ourselves? What friends or family members had skills we could utilize?

When it comes to publishing of any sort, cover is always key. With our theme of darkness and light, we knew we could get a great visual out of that. After some stock photography purchases and a lot of favors called in from Demitria's talented brother, we ended up with a pretty kickass cover.

We were thrilled. With just the funding for the stock photography involved and the design talent of Demitria's brother we had a great cover. Be aware this wasn't an overnight job. We went through a few different concepts and quite a bit of tweaking once we'd settled on one.

Tip: If you're calling in favors from friends or family, make sure you're comfortable giving your opinion, and they're happy to rework. A bad cover will sink you. Be ready to give feedback if you don't like what they produce, and be up front with them about what you want from the beginning.

So we had the outside of a book! Great! But the inside of a book has to be designed as well, something a lot of people don't think about. Again, we were lucky to have an author on board who has formatted interiors in both physical and e-formats, and she graciously volunteered her talents. (Thank you RC Lewis, you are a good, kind, talented person).

Tip: When asking for in-depth work of this type from a friend or contributor, make sure that you have deadlines in place that you can give them far in advance. Formatting is time-consuming. Don't drop it in their lap and ask for it by the weekend.

What else can get costly in self-publishing? Editing.

Editing is a different animal from writing. Not all writers can self-edit and many editors will tell you they can't write worth a lick. A very different skill set is involved, but hiring a freelance editor can get expensive. The three of us asked ourselves if we honestly thought we could do it, and decided that yes, we could. With each of us having gone through the process of being professionally edited for our published books (six between us all), we decided to take what we've learned from that experience.

Tip: If you're going to edit yourself, or edit for a friend, you must both be comfortable giving and taking criticism. Compliments are wonderful, but they don't improve the story.

Finally, the big concern that has always held me back from self-publishing: visibility.

Even with a great line up of authors with built-in fan bases, our anthology would need advertising dollars in order to get exposure. There are a lot of great ways to get your book in front of readers. Advertising on Goodreads gets clicks, and many people have had success with Bookbub, an e-book email blast with tons of subscribers. But advertising comes at a price - and not a cheap one.

Crowdfunding can be a fantastic way to gain support and dollars for your project, but there are a lot of pitfalls along the way. We put together a list of feasible incentives that we knew we could deliver on time, and set our goal at a reasonable amount.

Tip: Be aware that running a Kickstarter is a project in and of itself. Make sure you have the time to invest in putting together a good pitch, design a nice page, and be able to post updates on your progress.

Tip: Be inventive with your incentives, but don't promise anything you can't deliver. Post clear dates on when the incentives will be made available.

Tip: Be honest with yourself about how much money you actually need. Setting a high goal can be off-setting to possible contributors. Remember you can always go over your set goal, but coming in under means (in some crowdfunding platforms) you don't receive any of the pledge money.

I'm very happy to share that our Kickstarter for AMONG THE SHADOWS was fully funded within 48 hours. Yes, it's definitely true that having known authors on the list gave us a boost, but we also followed the steps above and used common sense to help us out. Even with a great lineup of authors, a bad cover or a high donation ask would have been a turn off.

So far my first experience in self-pubbing has been great... but, what about the final question? Sales.

I'll let you know when AMONG THE SHADOWS comes out September 14th!

Mindy McGinnis is a YA author who has worked in a high school library for thirteen years. Her debut, NOT A DROP TO DRINK, a post-apocalyptic survival story set in a world with very little freshwater, has been optioned for film by Stephenie Meyer's Fickle Fish Films. The companion novel, IN A HANDFUL OF DUST was released in 2014. Look for her Gothic historical thriller, A MADNESS SO DISCREET in October of 2015 from Katherine Tegen Books.