My books were too quiet.
Or that’s what I kept being told. Never mind that Margaret Wise Brown and Clement Hurd’s lullaby in prose GOODNIGHT MOON, a book about a bunny who stays in bed throughout the entire book, is and continues to be one of the most consistently best-selling books in history…according to publishers, quiet didn’t sell. My agent submitted my books to publisher after publisher and we heard the same words over and over. It’s too quiet. There needs to be more action. I always got great compliments on my art, but as much as they seemed to like the way I drew, nobody was hiring me to illustrate their books.
So I decided to make a book on my own terms. I would make a book that was everything that publishers said they didn’t want from me. Too quiet? My book was going to have hardly any words at all. Instead of one long narrative, it would be a series of short pieces and vignettes, most of which had no perceivable plot. Even the format was unconventional: rather than typical children’s book dimensions it was a square. Instead of the usual 32 pages, it was 52. It was everything publishers didn’t want but it was the book I wanted to make. And the only way it would see print was if I self-published it.
To raise the money, I decided to use crowdfunding. I spent nearly a year researching everything I could about successful crowdfunding campaigns. I discovered that Kickstarter would be my best option. Though I had no experience in business or marketing, I came up with a marketing plan and budget. Though I had never made a video before, I shot my video on my iPhone and learned how to use the editing software on my Mac.
My goal was $7,000 dollars. Some of my friends told me this was too ambitious. That I was asking for too much. That I should set my sights lower. But this was how much I determined I would need to make the book that I wanted to make, and if I couldn’t make the book I wanted to make, I didn’t see any point in doing it at all. And if I failed, the only thing I stood to lose was the time I invested.
Once the campaign began, I got to work. I used every spare moment I had to promote my book. I spread the word on social media. I arranged an interview on a local radio station. I e-mailed everyone I knew.
My campaign succeeded beyond my expectations. Authors and illustrators I admired posted links to my project on their Facebook pages. My project became a staff pick on Kickstarter and one of their “projects of the day,” which meant that my video was featured on their home page. They even used my project as an example on their phone app. I raised over $10,000, well in excess of my $7,000 goal, and was able to use the extra money to enhance my book with extras like spot lamination and color endpapers.
While a few of my supporters were friends and family, most of them were people I didn’t know who had come to believe in my project. One of them was a small press publisher who offered to sub-distribute the book once I met my goal. The publisher would put their name on it, and with the legitimacy that a veteran publisher afforded, I could get the book into libraries and bookstores and I could get it reviewed.
I made some mistakes along the way but I’ve had the opportunity to learn from them. The book has opened many doors for me. It’s gotten a number of positive reviews. I’ve held signings and done lectures and taught classes. I’ve met a lot of wonderful people I wouldn’t have otherwise met.
But most important of all, my book is being read. And if you self-publish using crowdfunding you may not be the next J.K. Rowling, but I guarantee you will have readers. Because crowdfunding not only provides you the funds you need to publish, but it builds enthusiasm for your book and an audience that you wouldn’t have otherwise had. That book that everyone rejected, that no one was willing to publish will finally have readers.
And above all else, isn’t that the reason we do this? Because we love books so much we want to make them and share them and have others enjoy them? Because otherwise you’re in the wrong business.
Jed Alexander is the author/illustrator of (MOSTLY) WORDLESS, which he originally self-published with crowdfunding finances and which was then picked up by a small traditional publisher. He is represented by Abigail Samoun of Red Fox Literary. Find out more about Jed at JedAlexander.com.
Jed will also be co-teaching an extraordinary course on How to Self- or Indie- Publish with Crowdfunding starting March 23rd with Mira Reisberg. The course covers print, e-books, crowdfunding, marketing, social media, and much more.