Kickstarting Your Novel

This post is part of a series of posts about self-publishing. I’m revising my book Self Publish Your Novel and posting the chapters as I finish them. If you’d like to be alerted when the new version of Self Publish Your Novel is available, please click here.


ayerobotWriting a novel is hard. Making money on a novel is even harder. If your book doesn’t find an audience, it may never happen.

One way to minimize risk and accelerate the profitability of your novel is to use a crowdsourcing service like Kickstarter or Indigogo. I’ve self-published six novels this way. It gives you a way to gauge the popularity of your idea and, if the Kickstarter is successful, provides you with some cash up front.

Basically the way crowdsourcing a novel works is that you create a project page with a description of your novel and try to get potential readers to pledge money up front to help you get the book published. You can spend the money on editing, cover design, marketing, and anything else related to the book.

Another advantage to releasing a book this way is that the crowdsourcing site itself can be a way to reach new readers. You can generate buzz around the Kickstarter for several weeks before releasing the novel.

Caveats to Crowdsourcing

A few caveats to this idea: I don’t recommend crowdsourcing your first novel unless you’re already at least 90% done with the book. Until you’ve done it a few times, it’s hard to know how long the process of revising the book and getting it published will take. If you end up delaying the release of your book by a few months, your supporters won’t be happy.

Additionally, crowdsourcing works better if you already have an established online platform. If you don’t have any fans who know your work, you’re going to face an uphill battle trying to convince potential readers to pledge.

One other factor to consider: directing your fans to a crowdsourcing campaign will cannibalize your initial sales somewhat. If you’re counting on big sales numbers to push your book up the Amazon charts shortly after its release, crowdsourcing your novel may not be the way to go.

Kickstarter versus Indiegogo



The two main crowdsourcing platforms are Kickstarter and Indiegogo. Kickstarter is a much more popular platform than Indiegogo, so you’re more likely to generate organic interest in your project by posting there. Additionally, Kickstarter takes a smaller percentage of your proceeds. The main advantage of Indiegogo is that it allows you to keep the money raised even if you don’t meet your goal. Some people also like Indiegogo because its project requirements aren’t as strict, but this isn’t really an issue with a clearly defined project like a novel.

I can’t think of an instance in which I’d recommend Indiegogo over Kickstarter for a novel. If you are concerned about not getting any money in case you don’t meet your goal, just set your goal lower. A lot of people make the mistake of setting their goal too high. It’s much better to set your goal low and go way over than to set a high goal and almost reach it. You should always set your goal to the minimum amount you would need to make the project happen.

Setting Up Your Project

The more information you can provide about your novel, the better. You’ll need a refined “elevator pitch” as well as a longer marketing summary (see below). If you can get your cover artist to do a simple cover mock-up, that will help a lot. Kickstarter also strongly recommends recording a short video about your project. Projects with videos tend to have much higher engagement rates. Read the Kickstarter guidelines carefully. Be honest but confident in your language. Sell your supporters on the idea of making a great book possible, rather than begging them to give you money.

Reward Levels

You should have a wide range of reward levels. Mine usually start at $5 and go up to $200 or $300. Each level should offer the potential supporter a greater value than the one below it, at least up to the $80 level or so. Above $80, you’re in patron/superfan territory. Patrons are people who will pledge more than the value they’re receiving in order to see you succeed. Superfans are people who love your work enough that they’ll value intangibles like signed books, being mentioned in the acknowledgements or having a character named after them. In addition to such intangible rewards, I’ve given away paperbacks, posters, drink koozies, USB thumb drives and t-shirts. You can take a look at the successful Kickstarters I’ve created here:

Before you launch your project, make sure to get some feedback from people you trust to make sure you’re putting your best foot forward and offering great rewards at good prices. Planning pays off.

Case Study: The Starship Grifters Universe

Kickstarter-800-FUNDEDI recently ran a Kickstarter for my “Starship Grifters Universe.” A lot of my fans had asked me when I was going to be doing a sequel to my 2014 space opera comedy Starship Grifters. Starship Grifters has sold reasonably well, but it was a bit of a cult hit, and I wasn’t sure there was enough demand to justify a sequel. So I launched a Kickstarter with the goal of publishing three works of fiction in the Starship Grifters universe: a revised version of my short story, “The Chicolini Incident,” a novella called The Yanthus Prime Job, and a full-length sequel called Aye, Robot. I decided $5,000 was the minimum I’d need to make it worthwhile to write and publish these works. The Kickstarter ran for 30 days and raised $7,322. “The Chicolini Incident” and The Yanthus Prime Job ebooks were sent to Kickstarter supporters a few weeks ago, and they are now available on Amazon (a steal at $.99 each!) I just sent the Aye, Robot ebook to the Kickstarter supporters on Monday, and it will be available on Amazon on March 7.


This post is part of a series of posts about self-publishing. I’m revising my book Self Publish Your Novel and posting the chapters as I finish them. If you’d like to be alerted when the new version of Self Publish Your Novel is available, please click here.

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