Self-publishing: raising the fund

After two years of writing, visualising and sharing the hand-sewn version of A Little Daily Dose with friends who were learning Chinese, we felt that we were ready to bring it to the next level.

Comparing quotes

Last November, we reached out to many book printers for quotations of printing 100-500 copies and the estimates were as follows (in USD)…

United States-Oakland: $25k for 100 to 300 copies
Singapore: $6k (100 copies) to $9k (500 copies)
China-Shanghai: $2.5k (100 copies) to 4k (500 copies)

Having our books printed in China seemed like the most logical decision. After factoring a shipping cost of between $500 and $1,000, and adding the 5% Kickstarter fee and 5% card-processing fee, we would be looking at about $4-5k – which was still the cheapest option.

Lowering the goal (probably the wisest thing we’ve done)

Having never run a Kickstarter campaign before we thought we should be more conservative about “the goal”, especially with the Kickstarter All-or-nothing policy. Raising 80-90% of the goal but leaving with nothing would have been incredibly disappointing. We decided that we were willing to fork out $1k from our pockets to see the project to the end so the goal was set at $3,188 (about 35% lower than what we had needed).

Researching and reading up on Kickstarter

It took us more than a week to fully digest the Creator Handbook, many supporting FAQ pages and some horror stories that were available online. We made sure that we were ready for the best and worst that could happen.

Making a video introduction

We learnt that Kickstarter campaigns were more likely to be successful with a video, but neither of us were video-editors. In a very old-fashioned but highly efficient way, we took photos of ourselves and laid them out as Powerpoint slides. Subsequently, we added our message, slide timings and royalty-free music before exporting it as a video.

Introducing and positioning ourselves

Our Kickstarter campaign page became a very important link for a few months before our website was ready. Every successfully funded project gets this page immortalised by a Spotlight – great way to keep this part of our journey documented.

We wrote the introduction the way we would describe the project to our friends but inserted a part about our professional experiences to add more credibility. We wanted our backers to feel confident that we could deliver on our promise.

In the beginning, we chose Publishing as our category and were surprised to see 10,000 more projects than the Design category. Our content was great but our design was one of a kind too so we got creative and made the switch.

Keeping our emotions in check (always, always remember to breathe)

Our project was 50% funded by the second day and we thought we would be highlighted as Projects We Love. But, no.

(Remember to breathe, it is not the end of the world)

Projects We Love is an evolution of Staff Picks, a feature we used in the past to connect creators and backers around best-in-class projects. Projects We Love automatically get a nice little badge, so that everyone can tell when we’re extra excited about a project. 

Kickstarter, Feb 2 2016

We noticed, the following day, how some projects instantly became Projects We Love even without a single pledge. (How? Why were these projects being read and highlighted so much faster than ours? Was this a cruel algorithm or a community reading about our project and making the decision that they didn’t love us enough?)

But why are we fussing about a badge?

Well… had we become Projects We Love, we would have been among 3,000 projects in the Design category. However, because we did not become Projects We Love, we had ten times more competition in that same category. It was pretty troubling when our project was no longer visible within the first few pages after a week of launching the campaign.

(Remember to breathe… let’s figure out another way)

Like an insurance agent having exhausted all possible contacts (family/friends), we posted on social media again and got a few responses. The brief spike on Dec 5 played a part in filtering us into a different pile – Nearly Funded – for a good two days.

Nearly Funded filters campaigns that were over 75% funded. This little-known filter reduced our competition from more than 30,000 to about 500 projects in the Design category. Interestingly, people do click on this particular filter.

We “hit the target” somewhere in the middle of our campaign after receiving generous pledges as birthday gifts. Perhaps the lull in between was due to our family and friends holding on for this surprise. (They had no idea how anxious we were)

Getting 100% funded was a great relief! Although being aware that the bulk of our fund came from people we knew somewhat diminished the excitement we might have had if it had been from strangers, we were immensely thankful. We told ourselves that we have to hand-deliver these books and thank them in person.

Out of all our backers, 12 were strangers. At an average pledge of about $54, it is encouraging to know that our project was fun enough for a stranger to want a copy. We wouldn’t have reached these wonderful people without the campaign. If only we could meet them and hear what they have to say about the book.

We had imagined getting more traffic from Kickstarter but referrals accounted for only 14% of our total – just a little more than the 10% Kickstarter and card-processing fees that would eventually be deducted from the final figure.

It was also good to know beforehand (thanks to all the prior reading up) that backers sometimes drop out during the last week of the campaign or fail to have their credit cards verified. There were a few cases.

(Remember to breathe! We have already won! Focus on getting our books printed!)

Looking back

Could we have done this without Kickstarter? Probably not. However, we do wonder if we could have built our website and collected money via Paypal (2.9%) as donations or pre-orders of our books. Maybe something to think about in future?

Could we have forked out more money from our pockets and wait for future sales to break even? Probably, but it would have given us a lot more anxiety in a time we just wanted to be creative.

At the end of the campaign, we were ranked 102,087th among the 333,200 campaigns that ran in December… were we surprised? No, not really. We were not one of those success stories that had gone viral.

A Little Daily Dose was a simple project that succeeded mainly because we were in our family and friends’ pile of People We Love – they believed in us and wanted us to succeed.

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