Why Did I Fail? My Inkshares Crowdfunding Post-Mortem

So, about a month ago, my book LURK failed to hit its funding goal over on Inkshares… But, rather than bitch and complain about the fact I didn’t win, I want to analyze why I failed, in the hope this information will be useful to other people thinking about using the platform as a way to get published.

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.

2477964-screen+shot+2013-05-02+at+6.30.31+pm

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.

Or don’t.

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.

In Conclusion 

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…

5 Reasons to Crowdfund Your Novel

So, I’ve decided to crowdfund my first novel LURK on Inkshares, which is sort of like Kickstarter for books. The platform uses pre-order goals to turn ideas and drafts into actual published books. Disclaimer: my book contains dark and disturbing content including death, drug use, foul language, sex, celibacy, the Friendzone, prostitution, alcoholism, mass graves, netback hats, an unruly pug, and hipsters dying. Don’t click that link unless you have an iron constitution.

My crowdfunding campaign is only a few days old, but here are a few things I’ve learned about why you should crowdfund your first novel, as opposed to more traditional methods like submitting the book to an agent or directly to publishers accepting unagented manuscripts (exceedingly rare these days), or just straight up self-publishing.

1. It saves money

Cover art is expensive. Copy editors are expensive (good ones, anyway). Gifts and drinks for your first readers who are indispensable in opening your eyes to flaws in your story you’re not seeing are expensive. In short, everything about self-publishing is expensive.

And, believe it or not, traditional publishing is likely to be even more expensive than bootstrapping it, if you consider that time equals money, and for a first novel you’re going to be wasting a lot of it waiting, for a pittance advance of a few thousand bucks you will probably never earn back anyway, if you even hear back from any of the countless agents you’ve emailed and they manage to get you a deal.

Crowdfunding is a way to cover your costs, as well as simultaneously give a huge return on your initial investment in the form of free advertising. Even if the crowdfunding campaign fails, literally thousands of people will have heard about your book from clicking around the crowdfunding site, as well as your and your friends’ social media, by the time the counter runs down.

If you succeed, your initial costs are covered. If you fail, you still saved a ton on advertising.

2. TRADITIONAL MARKETING SUCKS

Being a salesman isn’t fun. Marketing isn’t fun. SEO and social media wizardry are especially not fun. But their second cousin, the one who always gets drunk at family events and tells dirty jokes in front of your uptight aunt, who everybody is buzzing about and who everyone wants to be, Crowdfunding, is fun. In fact, he’s the coolest MFer at the Christmas Party.

It’s an unavoidable fact that whether you publish traditionally or self-publish, you’re going to have to become a salesman, a marketer, an SEO and social media wizard all at once. Nobody will hear about your self-published novel if you don’t plug it hard any way you can night and day.

Traditionally published first-time authors get a little bit of a boost, but the majority of them who did not sign a previously unheard of quarter million dollar advance will tell you they were still the party solely responsible for advertising, guerrilla marketing, and getting their book into readers’ hands. They, too, face the risk of their precious work vanishing into the ether if they don’t harass, annoy, plead, and beg across every platform available to them for people to read their book.

Crowdfunding is a non-traditional, cool way to get readers interested in your book, with as many possible permutations as the older forms, and a lot fewer possible headaches for you and your audience.

3. You can make it your own

Crowdfunding a novel requires you to do all that’s distasteful about traditional marketing, but you can put enough little twists on it to make it your own, that it becomes enjoyable.

For example, my novel features a character whose alias is the Muncher because he likes to eat other people’s leftovers out of the fridge. Here’s the post I made on Facebook telling my friends and family about the rewards they’d get for pre-ordering my book:

If you pre-order my novel “Lurk” and help me reach my crowdfunding goal of 750 pre-orders, you will officially receive the title of MUNCHER, as well as an ebook or print copy of the book, my eternal gratitude, and anything I have in my fridge the next time we hang out. If you pre-order 3 copies, because you’re a hero, you’ll get all of that plus the title of LURKER, your name in the back of the book, a bottle of booze of your choosing accompanied by a song played on the mandolin by yours truly, and the knowledge that you helped a fledgling horror author get his first book off the ground in a big way.

That post alone got me almost thirty pre-orders. I didn’t have to wait weeks or months to see if my twitter spam bomb, guest blog post, or custom-printed bookmark campaign paid off. I had tangible results within minutes. In fact, as of five minutes ago (the last time I checked my email) that post is still generating sales.

Patrick-Bateman-Axe

4. You’re insane

Unless you’re famous, have a large body of related work to show you’re an artist at the top of your game, or get impossibly lucky and become a viral Internet snowball, your chances of failure in crowdfunding anything are high.

Add to that the fact fewer and fewer people are reading books these days, preferring instead to spend their limited reading time each day scrolling through Reddit, their social media feeds, or clickbait articles like this one, and your chances of failure become even higher.

Add to that the fact that people who do read a lot are usually extremely picky, and many have a borderline snobbish skepticism of new authors (especially those who self-publish), and your chances of failure just went through the roof.

It’s hard out there. So far, the majority of my pre-orders have been from family and friends, with the next largest fraction coming from clickthroughs on Inkshares, Twitter, and LinkedIn. I still have hundreds of pre-orders to go with a little over a month to reach my goal.

The reality is that my crowfunding campaign probably will not succeed. I hope it does, but if it doesn’t, that’s fine. Because failure in this case isn’t a bad thing, it will just require some additional work to get book off the ground.

The prospect of failure is difficult for anyone to stomach. It’s especially difficult to think about when it comes to writing, something that requires you to pour hundreds of hours and buckets of your own blood, sweat, and tears into, that you’re hesitant to show other people in the first place because they might not like it or say something overly harsh, that you’ve pinned all of your life’s hopes and dreams on the fact it will succeed.

Chances are, it won’t. Only a crazy person would do something knowing it was almost guaranteed to fail right? Right. Hey, if writers were sane, we wouldn’t be writing.

5. You believe in your book

Almost all of the successful people on this planet share one thing in common: they believed in themselves no matter what, even when no one else did.

There will be people who say you suck.

There will be people who say you are the best thing since sliced bread, when it is painfully obvious they are just being nice to you, and their real opinion is that you suck.

There will be people who take one look at your blurb and say, No thanks.

There will be people who get offended by your book without reading it.

There will be people who get enraged at you for reasons that you, and probably them, will never be able to explain.

There will be people who shit on you because they don’t think the idea of your book is cool, or they think it’s too similar to something else, or they don’t like you as a person, or they don’t like your message, or just because they’re assholes whose only enjoyment in the pathetic day-to-day sludge drip they call their lives is to tear other people down for trying.

There is a word for people like them. That word is haters. And what do we say to haters? Nothing. Because they are not worth acknowledging. Their entire purpose for existing is to take players out of the game who don’t have the faith in themselves to stay in.

If you believe in your work, it doesn’t matter what anyone else says or does, or if you succeed or fail on the first, second, or third go round. You will do what you need to, as many times as necessary, to succeed.

George RR Martin

If you liked this post, be sure to check out my book LURK, an unconventional horror novel about a haunted college party house. You can read the first four chapters for free, and pre-order it here: