So, about a month ago, my book LURK failed to hit its funding goal over on Inkshares. I can’t say I didn’t see it coming. To be honest, I always knew it was a long shot. Already by the end of the second week of the campaign, pre-orders for the book had halted to a slow trickle. I appeared to have tapped the ceiling of friends and family members linked to my social media who were willing to chip in $10 and help my weird little novel about an evil party house get funded.
This, of course, is the end result for most Inkshares hopefuls. Only a fraction of the campaigns on the site actually result in a book being published, out of hundreds, or possibly thousands now, since the site is booming in popularity. Inkshares works like Kickstarter. It takes small, piecemeal investments from various people interested in seeing a promising product go to market – in this case, books – who are not actually charged any money unless the campaign reaches a preset threshold of funding. My book, like most others on Inkshares, needed 1000 pre-orders (or about $10,000) to get published. The odds of succeeding on Inkshares are slim, but in my experience, the people at the company bend over backward to support their authors.
But, rather than bitch and complain about the fact I didn’t win, like some baby in a bathtub with soap in his eyes whose rubber ducky has just jumped ship, I want to analyze why LURK failed to hit its crowdfunding goal, in the hope this information will be useful to other Inkshares authors, or anyone thinking about using the platform as a way to get published.
1. My blurb sucked
No blame football here. I’m not good at writing blurbs. In fact, I’m terrible at it. Everyone who has read my book so far has given me positive reviews, some so good they made me giddy, including a glowing one from a prominent indie/geek culture book reviewer (I’ll post that here when his formal review goes live, I imagine within a week or two of when the book launches – more on that coming soon).
But, everyone who read my blurb text shied back a little like I was offering them a tasty kiss of the plague. My girlfriend Hannah offered some awesome changes, which I ignored, because I thought my blurb was awesome and nothing could make it better. I then sent the blurb to one of my favorite horror authors, Her Majesty of the Macabre, Ania Ahlborn, who very gently suggested some fixes to the blurb for LURK which might make it suck less, including something my girlfriend had already told me to change, so I finally admitted to myself the blurb was shit and that I should probably quit writing.
I’m not going to post the blurbs here, either the original or the revised one, because it would not be helpful to those of you reading this for the purposes of edification. There are scores of blog posts and articles about how to write a good blurb, and since I already told you I suck at it, there’s no reason to try to learn from my bad example.
I did, however, see a small spike in pre-orders after I updated the Inkshares blurb to the shiny, more highly polished version… so, if not for the next point, it probably could have helped me a lot more if I had identified this problem early on. Which leads me to point two…
2. Not enough lead time
I only had LURK on Inkshares for a total of ten weeks, only eight of which I actually focused on the campaign. For Inkshares authors with a very large social media presence, this wouldn’t be as much of an issue, but for an unknown author like yours truly, who has not published much at all outside of video games (and even there, all of my work has been indie), this was a huge nail in the coffin. When I signed up for Inkshares, the site allowed you to choose how long you wanted your crowdfunding campaign to be. I chose six weeks, foolishly thinking it would be enough time to build a groundswell of interest… wrong. When my pre-orders all but dried up before the end of the first month, I foolishly asked Inkshares for an extension, thinking my project would get a second wind, if I just had a little more time… wrong again.
As I describe in more detail in my next points, much more goes into succeeding on Inkshares than time, including the size of your social media presence, the amount of in-person promotion you can do, whether or not you are famous (like Abomination and Star Wars screenwriter Gary Whitta, the platform’s first breakout success), and your willingness to beg your friends and loved ones for money. But willingly choosing a short campaign, especially if you’re an unknown like me, can do nothing but work against you. In hindsight, it’s clear I would have needed at least three to six months gaining followers before launching the actual crowdfunding campaign, plus another three to six months of it being live, to even stand a chance.
It takes a lot of persuasion to get people to invest their hard-earned money in some random person on the internet’s dream of being a writer, even if their dream includes an already-finished manuscript, and even if that person is someone they know. Which segues nicely into my next point…
3. i don’t have enough friends
That’s a lie. I do have real friends, friends who fill my heart with joy and wonder, though these days we are all scattered across the planet, and I don’t see (or speak to) most of them anywhere near as often as I want to.
No, I mean that I don’t have enough social media friends, or perhaps followers is a better word. That’s not to say no one helped me. A lot of people did. Almost 100 of my friends and family members pre-ordered LURK, enough to fill a raging house party or the first several rows of pews in a quaintly crowded church. Some of my friends and fam even bought three copies, for no other reason than they wanted to support me, and I promised them alcohol if they went for the premium backer option, which I not-so-cleverly named “Lurker.” And no, they weren’t all my mom.
But, let’s do some math. I have 500 friends on Facebook, around 50 followers on Twitter, and roughly 200 connections on LinkedIn. I don’t use Tumblr (I’d rather stab myself in the eyeball with a rusty fork infected with the T-virus). My only blog is the one you’re reading, which has a very small number of regular followers.
Grand total, my maximum number of potential backers was around 750. Inkshares has since changed their policy, but before they did, you needed 750 pre-orders to publish an e-book, and 1,000 pre-orders to publish both e-book and print, so your book could be found in bookstores.
To succeed, I would have needed every single follower I have on all my different social media platforms to cough up $10, just to hit the bottom level goal of publishing an e-book, which as I learned, is simply impossible. The actual number of people willing to back a project after seeing it on social media, I found, was closer to 10%. 10% of 750 is 75, which is lower than the real number of pre-orders I got, but not much. I should mention, too, that Inkshares’ breakdown of social media cashflow is pretty accurate – most pre-orders I got came from Facebook, with the second most coming from other Inkshares authors. The numbers from Twitter and LinkedIn were so small they were inconsequential.
If I had to guess, I’d say the average Inkshares author needs 1k-2k followers on social media to have any real chance at success, unless they are particularly gifted at #4, which is…
4. I didn’t ask people for money
Really, there’s no way around it. If you want to motivate people to help you, you need to ask them, and you need to ask bluntly. This is something I’m not good at. Could I have gotten good at it with practice? Yes. But, by the time I realized it was necessary – after reading a delightfully helpful post on the subject by Ghosts of War author Paul Robinson, I was already 2/3 through my campaign, and 90% positive I wasn’t going to make it (that last 10% hung on for at least another week, like an abused xenoarcheologist aboard a starship that’s been taken over by hostile four-butts, who refuses to get the hell to the lifeboats because goddammit, there’s still a chance to understand).
If you want that sweet book deal, and you’re an Inkshares author, there’s no other way to do it but to grow a pair and send your friends and family a short message saying, “Hey, I’m trying to get my book, TITLE, about YOUR PITCH published over on Inkshares, a crowdfunding site, and I can’t do it without your help. Would you be willing to pitch $NUMBER to make it happen?” Or something to that effect.
5. I didn’t go viral
Alternatively, this could be summed up as I didn’t do enough promotion, either online or off, or more accurately, I didn’t do enough networking. But those don’t sound as catchy when you write them as listiculations.
Inkshares recommends that their potential authors do everything in their power to self-promote and spread the word about their book, including blog posts, blog tours, blog meat and cheese platters, reviews, previews, Reddit posts, in-person appearances at bookshops and the uninvited doorsteps of friends and random strangers, pretty much the works. Besides a few Reddit posts, the only online promotion I did was this interview, which I did not see any tangible results from in terms of sales.
Could I have done more? Absolutely. This part, of course, was entirely my fault, and entirely preventable. I didn’t put my foot heavy on the self-promotion gas pedal, mostly because I didn’t know how. The only knowledge I had about the subject at all came from this book, which I recommend as a good starting point to anyone thinking about alternative, small press, hybrid, or self-publishing. Just don’t make the mistake I made and think it will be enough.
The takeaway of all this? Start organizing your campaign before you begin funding. Get those blueprints in place before you set your shovel. This advice applies all of the above points, but mostly to the last one, which is by far the most important. Most of us can’t write deathblow blurbs, aren’t famous, don’t have two thousand followers on social media, aren’t good at asking others for money, and aren’t wizards at self-promotion. To have any hope of winning this race, you need to be able to get the word out about how awesome your book is. And you can’t do that without good old-fashioned networking!
Reach out. Write emails. Write more emails. Harass people on Twitter. Don’t actually harass them, but bother them politely until they grant you five minutes of their time, or tell you to piss off. Give people a spot to rant or rave or review on your blog, and ask them to extend you the same opportunity. You cannot make it without the help of others, specifically, others in your spheres of interest. LURK needed the backing of lots and lots of horror fans who didn’t know me personally to get funded, which is why it didn’t – I didn’t reach out to them, and thus never got them interested. You need more than just friends and family. You need fans. Don’t pull an Adam Vine and screw the pooch while simultaneously dropping the ball and shitting the bed.
For fuck’s sake, network.
But, It’s not all bad news…
… Because, in the time since my Inkshares campaign ended, I got a book deal. LURK will be published either late this year or in early 2016 by Booktrope’s new horror imprint, Forsaken Books. It’s almost ready to go – I’ve seen the new cover art (it kicks ass), and my proofreader just did his final pass of the manuscript – all that remains to be done is the layout and approval. As soon as I know the exact release date, I’ll post it here.
I should add that I’m not mentioning this to brag or burn bridges, or throw up my middle finger in anyone’s face. Inkshares treated me very well during the time I was trying to get published using their platform. They went far beyond what I expected, and even though I did not make them any money, they bent over backwards to support me and my work while I was under their umbrella. I will always be thankful for that, and for them, and I will definitely consider using the platform again in the future.
Thanks for reading, and I hope that you found this post-mortem useful, or at the very least, mildly interesting.
And, since I already used one Xenogears meme…