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August 2011 - Courting a Crowd for Your Books

"Crowd-funding" is a way of leveraging social media to help finance a project. The concept of pooling public monies through online pledges is an option for authors looking to obtain support for a book proposal. This type of funding, also referred to as crowd-sourcing or crowd-source capital, was more traditionally utilized to solicit contributions for disaster relief, political campaigns, or non-profit causes. However, there are several websites that follow this type of online business model to support creative ventures in the fields of book publishing, feature films, music recordings, theatre, drawing, and other artistic endeavors.

Unbound, a British company, and the Manhattan-based Kickstarter are two companies that support funding proposals in the creative arts, with Unbound dedicated exclusively to authors, readers and books. The Unbound site was conceived with the belief that authors and readers should play a role in determining which books get published. In an article on crowd-funding in the July 23rd edition of The Economist, Unbound was described as a place that allows readers to participate in the creative process while "authors see a new way to nurture fans and make money, even as publishing budgets dwindle." Visitors to the Unbound site pledge their dollars for a book that is only partially written by "buying" them in advance. If the proposed book reaches its funding goals, those who contributed will get a copy of the book. According to John Mitchinson, co-founder of Unbound along with Dan Kieran and Justin Pollard, "We can make books work at a much lower level of investment." Authors can pitch story ideas directly to the reading public, and if it meets with a reader's satisfaction, they can pledge their support. A blog post on The Telegraph, touts Unbound as "a new and innovative way of harnessing the crowd to fund books that traditional publishers might otherwise shy away from."

Kickstarter connects projects with patrons and boasts that their site is the "largest funding platform for creative projects in the world." They have a roster of impressive clientele with well publicized campaigns that have successfully secured thousands of dollars in pledges for a variety of ventures. "Most of the pledges aren't donations but advance purchases of products or tickets, and over the past two years, it's raised over $40 million for 8000 projects, including hundreds of books." (The Telegraph, Adrian Hon Media.) Kickstarter operates under three basic dictates: 1) A good idea, communicated well, can spread fast and wide; 2) A large group of people can be a tremendous source of money and encouragement; and 3) Every Kickstarter project must be fully funded before its time expires or no money changes hands. In addition to Unbound and Kickstarter, there are other US and foreign online platforms geared to funding the creative arts, including IndiGoGo; Pozible; RocketHub; and Ulule.

All these sites have slight differences in how they solicit, nurture, and fund projects. Each has promotional tools to help the "creators" sell their unique ideas. There are author "sheds" which store author interviews, drafts of chapters, blogs, and updates. Others stress online videos to launch or pitch a pledge campaign, adding profile pages as a place to share comments, or offer special perks to their financing fans. Authors need be their own best advocate of their creative concept and learn to effectively present their message to the public. As with anything involving authoring a new book, "It's all about selling yourself and marketing your idea." (Cedric Begoc - Ulule, Calgary Herald 7/29/11)


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