Crowdfunded publishing (and how we used it to find our place in the UK industry)
Lauren Nickodemus is co-founder of the indie publishing company Monstrous Regiment, and works in book marketing. Originally from Michigan, she is now based in Edinburgh. She tweets very sparingly at @laurennicko and spends her free time writing speculative fiction.
Ellen Desmond makes up the other half of Monstrous Regiment. In 2016 she was awarded the title of Ireland’s Best Student Editor and nominated for an SAAI Award for contribution to Irish student media and publishing. She’s always happy to connect on Twitter @ellen_desmond.
It’s undeniable that crowdfunding is a popular option for publishing start-ups in the UK right now. The ambition that so many small publishers pursue – to publish that dream project – seems to have found a realistic platform of support in the form of sites like Kickstarter, RocketHub, Indiegogo, and, to an extent, the publishing-focused company Unbound.
Crowdfunding and community
Readers are becoming increasingly vocal online about wanting to see their stories reflected in the books they read, and what better way to satisfy this need than to allow them to crowdfund projects they believe in? There are pros and cons to crowdfunding, of course, especially in terms of the ways it may be used by non-publishers to diminish the role of professional publishers. But readers love the sense of product integrity they get when they can see somebody passionate bringing them a book they believe in – and with social media and campaign updates, they can see it grow right from concept to creation. Publishers need to make the best of this opportunity if we’re to keep crowdfunding as a positive for us.
The sense of community given by crowdfunding means a lot to a reader – they know that a crowdfunded book wouldn’t have happened without them. With the idea of community in mind, there seems to be a particular movement by liberal writers and publishers to crowdfund anthologies or collections from a leftist viewpoint in response to current political dilemmas. Think of the huge global success of feminist publication Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls, which started with a dream and a crowdfunding campaign too.
Indies take charge
We at Monstrous Regiment are another of those grassroots publishers, and in October 2017 we successfully fundraised 5,200 GBP to produce an anthology of essays about bisexuality (aptly named The Bi-ble). LGBTQ+ anthologies or writings tend to overlook bisexual voices, and very little had been done focusing just on bisexuality. Bisexuals are quite vocal about this, but not all bisexuals have publishing degrees. Knowing there was an appetite for this kind of publication, crowdfunding was an ideal way for us to take control of the content, and produce the kind of book our peers wanted to see.
An example of another popular anthology – one that very much led the way with this trend in the UK – is Nasty Women published by 404 Ink to international acclaim (they raised over 20k on Kickstarter and were a big inspiration to us). 404 Ink (in collaboration with BHP Comics) have just hit a fundraising target for a new publication WE SHALL FIGHT UNTIL WE WIN on Kickstarter this month.
The benefits of Kickstarter
Kickstarter was our preferred platform too, because it’s well streamlined and does a lot of the work for you. It’s also a recognisable website that people have started to trust as “legit”, especially in the publishing community, because by now it’s been widely used by successful start-ups.
We’ve watched quite a few people struggle to raise funds on similar websites, for example Indiegogo, and we suspect this is because they don’t use the time frame limit that Kickstarter utilises (if a KS project doesn’t reach the target within an allotted time frame, backers are not actually charged). Without this time frame pressure, a fundraising campaign can lose momentum. It’s also hard to make a business plan if you don’t know when a campaign will end.
Kickstarter also allowed us to have backers from around the world, and it processed all the donations for us into one large GBP transaction. This was important to us because neither of our company’s founders are originally from the UK, so we advertised using a lot of connections from our past lives in the US and Ireland. The only catch with Kickstarter is they take a fee for use of their website, but if you know about this in advance you can budget for it in your fundraising.
Making crowdfunding work for you
We think our crowdfund was successful because we developed a product that had both a passionate niche support audience (bisexuals and other LGBTQ+ supporters) as well as wider appeal (anyone interested in sexuality, general liberal readers). There’s not another product exactly like it, but at the same time it’s an accessible publication. People understand anthologies, and what a collection of essays on a specific issue will generally look like, so this was a new topic/issue (in the UK publishing market at least) in a familiar format.
Another strong point was that we ran the Kickstarter campaign over the course of a well-planned month online, making the most of hashtags, videos and graphics. Crowdfunding campaigns usually do very well on the first and last week but have a huge dip in the middle, so we planned our campaign with Bisexual Awareness Day set midway through. We tapped into the social media hashtags used for that day to garner attention at times when the campaign may otherwise have plateaued. This something that I think Knight Errant Press (Scotland) are doing well right now with a fundraiser based around #LGBTHistoryMonth (for their anthology F, M or Other).
With this anthology now under our belt, proving popular both online and in bookshops, we’ve been able to show that we are capable and trustworthy publishers, and ready to move on to the next production challenge. It allowed us to jump into the deep end as a start-up and find our place in the publishing community. Crowdfunding was the kickstart we needed.