I’m a magazine writer by profession, but like all writers, I have a lot of slumbering projects in the drawer. Not all of them fit within my established brand—travel writing, feature stories, and experiential personal essays, but that didn’t mean I didn’t want to see them out in the world. One of those projects, a children’s math picture book called Tessalation!, kept gnawing at me in the year after I wrote the text. A few friends encouraged me to go on Kickstarter to crowd-fund a first print run of the book. In March 2016, I raised $8,320 on Kickstarter and self-published my book through Mascot Books.
My experience on Kickstarter with crowd-funding has completely changed how I view getting my work out in the world. Thinking about audience and how you’re going to serve that audience and connect with them where they are—these are lessons you learn minute-by-minute on the world’s largest crowd-funding site. Everything you do on Kickstarter must be crafted and shaped with your backers’ experience in mind. It’s not about you; it’s about the community you are building around an idea that must be out in the world.
It wasn’t easy. Not by any means. I spent six months researching the process before ever taking my project on Kickstarter. I wanted to do it well. No, I wanted to do it awesome. I refused to fail. It just wasn’t an option. And when my project was funded halfway into the campaign, I knew I had connected with a group of people whose belief in me and the project propelled me to do it as best as I could.
In the months after my book’s release, I’ve seen the power of getting a committed group of fans for a project before it comes out in the world. I’ve also seen people flail around on Kickstarter with half-baked, self-serving ideas.
Kickstarter encourages you to interview creators about their process before going on the site, but for me, that wasn’t enough. I felt so changed that I wanted to share my experience with crowd-funding children’s books so the next creators to launch projects there won’t lose the time I did trying to figure it all out. It’s not so much about tips and recommendations—the entire process requires you to completely rewrite the way you view the writer/reader relationship. The result is my book The Ultimate Guide to Kickstarting Children’s Books.
- A personal story of Kickstarter
- “If you’re gonna do it, do it well.”
- Finding the audience for your book
- Creating a book website
- Studying the successful and unsuccessful projects
- Distribution: Self-publish or hybrid publish
- Finding a printer
- Reward levels
- Creating your campaign page on Kickstarter
- Week-by-week launch plan
- Reaching out to media/bloggers
- Communicating with backers
- Shipping your book to backers
- Giving your book a life beyond Kickstarter
- Loving a little more on your backers
- Case studies
- Final words: You are part of the new way of doing things
I truly believe that there are ideas that need to be out there in the world, whether or not they’re marketable to a mass audience. Kickstarter is the perfect setting to make those ideas come alive. Mass market children’s literature, with its focus on the experience of childhood and the shaping of young lives, doesn’t always produce the kinds of books that can really change the world or move the needle on social issues. Ideas that won’t fly in the mass marketplace can gain traction on Kickstarter because they appeal to a nerdy, niche audience that yearns for a specific type of book. Thus you’ll see a lot of books about science, physics board books, coding books, books featuring marginalized people, books about maligned figures, zombie ABC books, or books about the lovability of pit bulls. Some of these books are just not fit for major publishers, but they’re perfect for a smaller audience who will love them fiercely and become their biggest fans.
That has been my own experience. My own book, Tessalation!, tells the story of a little half-Asian girl who hides in the patterns of nature (tessellations). It’s a math concept book with a rhyming story that sends a strong message about feeling like a part of the world. For kids like the one I was—a bit scared by math but completely on board with art and creativity—my book could make all the difference in a child’s relationship to math.
Backers are the best
I had the best backers for my project. Every creator must feel this way, but I know it’s true. I had a lot of math educators, math play advocates, math lovers, Asian-American families, and friends and family of my own who got behind this little book that might not have flown in the mass marketplace. How do I know this? I still have to explain what a tessellation is to nearly everyone I meet (it’s a pattern of interlocking shapes with no spaces in between). I’m not convinced I could have found these people, or connected with them meaningfully, otherwise.
Giving and giving back
You can’t go into crowd-funding thinking others might do for you. You can ask. Indeed, you must ask. But every time someone tweets, posts, blogs, or otherwise shares your project should feel like a gift. Because that’s what it is. The greatest gift. My backers helped me set up a 15-day blog tour, included my book in their subscription services, blogged about the project, interviewed me for their audiences, and took pictures of the book with their kids and posted on social media. It was a giant love fest, the best possible birth a book could have in the world.
That brings me to the idea of collaboration, and why every one of us needs to get away from the idea of a single creator of our projects. I think everyone wants their books to be a success. Everyone wants to see their books out in the world, being read and loved. But—and this goes against everything I grew up believing—books might actually be better when the crowd helps create them and even more brilliant minds are involved in the process.
The thrills of collaboration
Mascot Books has been a great collaborator in the process. For those of us who have no intention of keeping 1,000 books in our garage for the rest of our lives or don’t want to hand-ship every book order, hybrid publishing is simply the best solution out there. I for one had no interest in communicating directly with printers, figuring out the different paper types, or researching all the details that go into book production. Having a trusted partner to guide you through these decisions saves time and a lot of headaches.
What’s at stake
I don’t claim to know everything there is to know about crowd-funding, but I spent the next six months interviewing other creators, building case studies, studying the successful and unsuccessful projects on the site, learning about how books are positioned in the marketplace, and writing it all down in my Ultimate Guide. My hope is that more people will gain the courage to stop waiting for the gatekeepers to select their work and pick themselves. I have this dream of a book marketplace where quirky, niche ideas find the people who will love them most, where creativity brings about new story types, new characters, and new ways of looking at the world. I have this desire to set people on this path if it is right for them and give them the tools to succeed.
There are just too many ways to get books out in the world these days not to try.
Emily Grosvenor is the author of Tessalation!, published by Mascot Books in July 2016, and The Ultimate Guide to Kickstarting Children’s Books. Follow her on Twitter @emilygrosvenor.