Spring Conference Let's Get It (Kick)started

Posted on April 27, 2018 in News & Reviews, Scotland

Panel: Natalie Fergie (Unbound author of The Sewing Machine), Katie West (Fiction & Feeling founder), Gala Morozova (Hidden Door)
Chair: Heather McDaid (404 Ink co-founder)
The first panel of the day delved into the subject of crowdfunded publishing. Today, the rise in the success of crowdfunded publishing inspires many independent presses to consider crowdfunding their projects and titles. 404 Ink co-founder Heather McDaid, the session chair, pinpoints what accounts for the popularity of crowdfunded publishing, reminding us that it allows publishers, authors and project leaders to connect directly to readers (/consumers).
The panellists are asked to introduce themselves and their work. Gala Morozova, who joined the Hidden Door team in 2017, was responsible for running the festival’s Kickstarter campaign; Katie West, founder of the indie press Fiction & Feeling, funded the anthology Becoming Dangerous through Kickstarter (the project was fully-funded in only two days, with £39,000 raised in total); and Natalie Fergie, author of The Sewing Machine published by crowdfunding publishing platform Unbound, raised over £4,000 between March and April 2016 (the book was published in April 2017).
Heather asked Katie and Gala why they had chosen Kickstarter to fund their project. Gala emphasises the user-friendly aspect of this platform. Having looked into different crowdfunding platforms – a reminder not to neglect market research when undertaking a crowdfunding campaign! –  she and her team found that Kickstarter had a larger audience, including in Scotland (the primary audience), and thus it felt the right fit for their project. Katie puts it simply: she chose Kickstarter because it is the largest and best-known crowdfunding platform. The audience for her book was to be primarily based in the US and Canada (Katie is Canadian). She highlights the ‘all-of-nothing’ aspect of Kickstarter (if a project isn’t fully-funded by the end of the 30 days of campaign, pledgers get their money back and the publisher doesn’t receive a penny) –  which means that it is a high risk for the project leader. However, Katie thinks that it puts a certain pressure on the audience to pledge immediately.
Why did Natalie choose Unbound to crowdfund her first novel? Having ten years of experience in textile, and with crowdfunding playing a prominent part in the craft community, Natalie knew about crowdfunding and organising a campaign. She tells us a bit about the process: the author pitches to a scout or editor from Unbound and has to send their whole manuscript (!) by email. Although they intend to remove ‘gatekeeping’, Unbound reject around 95% of manuscripts they are sent and select the books that will make it onto the website. Once the manuscript is accepted by Unbound, the author has to create a video, and runs the crowdfunding campaign themselves.
How do you then prepare for the campaign, Heather asks? Katie started to think about it around six months in advance, but the campaign itself took three months. To minimise mistakes, she suggests getting feedback from trusted people (that is, people who had ran successful crowdfunding campaigns, not just good friends). She also raised awareness in her audience through her newsletter – also getting more people to subscribe by doing a giveaway of a book she had previously published – and highlights the importance of her newsletter in the success of her campaign. For Gala the process was different, not least because they were a core team of six people working on it. Like Katie, they started to do some research around six months before the launch of the Kickstarter campaign, but only properly oriented their efforts towards it two months in advance. Gala recognises their relative fortunate position in that Hidden Door already had an established audience, which has been growing since the creation of the festival in 2014. She emphasises the importance of the campaign video: it is crucial to have a clear purpose and convey a clear message when creating it. Gala and her team ran a very successful campaign (they doubled their target), but she still wishes they had thought about it earlier!
The discussion moves on to the all-important rewards: how to decide about pledge rewards? They don’t have to be big, or expensive, says Katie. In her case, the most popular reward – by far – was an enamel pin specifically designed for the project. Gala recalls a ‘big mistake’: they chose to include a framed print as one type of reward. In addition to being expensive to post, it also arrived broken to a pledger’s home. Gala suggests choosing rewards that will be produced anyway – in their case, tee-shirts and standard festival merchandise. When thinking about pledge rewards, it is crucial to think about your crowd, and important to communicate updates to pledgers, Natalie adds.
Talking about the campaign itself, Katie is unequivocal: ‘talk about [your project] every single day – everywhere and all the time. […] The most important are the first and the last twenty-four hours.’ To reach a wider audience, it is also worth trying to get some press/blog coverage, or (more) influential people to talk about the project on social media, for example.
The panel is coming to an end, and Heather asks about any horror stories or disasters the panellists may have encountered. She recalls arriving to the post office unprepared, with around 2,000 books to post. Regarding shipping, Katie warns that ‘it will cost way more than you expect’, and Natalie adds: ‘make friends with people at the post office!’. Gala regrets postponing the campaign for so long (the festival started only twenty-one days after the end of the Kickstarter campaign), which meant they had to keep their efforts focused on it, instead of focusing on the festival.
Closing the panel, Heather asks: one last tip? Plan, Be Friendly, and Have a Good Idea, say Gala, Natalie, and Katie. One key element that the panellists emphasised throughout the session is to know your audience. Because as much as crowdfunding allows publishers to address and connect to the public directly, they must know who (or, more cynically, whose wallet) they are trying to reach.
Blog by Alice Fischer, SYP Scotland Conference Committee
Photo by Chris Scott