February 2012

Lessons from Kickstarter Part 3: Budgeting

by Suw on February 28, 2012

This is Part 3 in my series of blog posts looking at the lessons I learnt doing a Kickstarter project. See also Part 1: Don’t Go Off Half-Cocked and Part 2: Rewards.

Budgeting. For many people, budgeting is the worst part of any project. The tedium of researching suppliers, figuring out numbers, minimum runs, working out overheads, it’s all a massive pain in the neck. It’s also utterly essential if your crowdfunded project is to make, instead of cost, you money. So here are a few tips for making budgeting easier.

1. Use a spreadsheet
I’m in the middle of working out budgets for Queen of the May, which means that I have a spreadsheet with all my costs in one sheet, and three other sheets with my reward levels and backer projections so that I can see how many people I’ll potentially need to reach different targets. The sheets are interlinked so as I refine my reward costs, that’s reflected in my projections. It’s relatively easy to do that in programs like Excel, so if you don’t know to do formulae in spreadsheets then now is a good time to go and find out.

2. Use scenarios
You should explore difference scenarios in your spreadsheet. How many rewards do you need to sell in order to meet your goal? What would happen to your numbers if you saw runaway success? How would that affect the number of rewards that you’d need to make or have made? How would that affect fulfilment and admin costs? If you don’t know what will happen in different scenarios you open yourself up to problems.

3. Know your reward costs
It can be difficult to pin down reward costs without precise order numbers, but you have to do your best. You need to know how much each reward costs so that you set your prices at a level higher than your expenditure. That might seem blindingly obvious, but it’s far too easy to set the reward levels at what you think people will be willing to pay, rather than what you need to earn to make the project at least break even. A miscalculation on your reward costs can end up losing you money, so be very careful.

4. Remember P&P
Don’t just run the numbers on your materials. You need to know the cost of packaging and postage as well, which means knowing how you are going to send your rewards out. In a box? A padded bag? Wrapped somehow?

Many crowdfunded projects ask international supporters to add a certain amount for the extra postage, so make sure you know how much that is. However, please do tell what you mean by ‘international’! You can’t assume that everyone knows where you are.

5. Understand your minimum runs
For many items that you could be ordering, there are either minimum runs or short runs become very expensive. You should know exactly what minimum runs are and how much they cost. Don’t do your calculations purely on the pro rata cost per item.

For example, if you’re buying postcards and the minimum run is 100 for £50, then even if only one person selects the postcard reward you’ll still have to shell out £50.

6. Don’t forget fixed costs
Once you’ve calculated the costs of your rewards, you need to calculate your fixed costs, ie ones that don’t go up depending on how many rewards are ordered. This is stuff like design costs, prototyping costs, or software. Just like your minimum run costs, these costs won’t go down, so you need to make sure that your goal covers them.

7. If you can’t cost something, set a limit
Sometimes it’s impossible to figure out an exact cost. For example, I can’t get a cost for the leather-bound editions of Queen of the May without knowing how many have been ordered and exactly what the design is. I won’t know that until the project is funded and the design completed, so instead, I have set a limit which I won’t exceed. I know I can get them made for less than that limit, but exactly how much they will cost will remain up in the air until the project is funded.

8. Wages
If you want to work on your project full time when your fundraising drive is complete, you’ll want to factor in wages. This does mean having some idea of how long things will take, which is tricky estimate accurately, and then figuring out how much you need to cover your wages for that period. Be generous in your estimates as it’s only too easy for things to take a lot longer than anticipated!

9. Leave some wiggle room
You’ve carefully worked out reward costs, know your minimum runs, understand your fixed costs and have set limits for rewards you can’t cost properly. Sadly, it’s almost certain that you’ll forget something! It’s important, therefore, to leave some room between your combined costs and the reward levels you set in Kickstarter. This wiggle room gives you a cushion in case costs go up unexpectedly, or in case you underestimated something.

With Argleton, my printing costs doubled because the paperback book had to be stitched as well as glued. Luckily, although I hadn’t costed this in, I had over-funded and so had a bit of spare cash. Wiggle room isn’t a luxury, it’s an essential.

As tedious as it is, working out your budget in detail will help you avoid nasty surprises once your fundraising drive has completed. Once the money’s in, you are committed to providing the rewards you have promised, whether you are covering your costs or not. Don’t let a small miscalculation turn your project into a white elephant.

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How do people discover new books and authors?

by Suw on February 24, 2012

Last month I put together a brief survey to find out how people find new books and authors. One of the biggest challenges facing new authors, regardless of whether they are self-published or going with a traditional publisher, is getting the word out about their work. Increasingly, authors are having to do a significant amount of legwork in terms of promotion as marketing and advertising budgets are slashed, whether we like it or not.

The trouble is, most self-published authors don’t have a particularly detailed understanding of their market. Either they haven’t thought to find out, or simply don’t know where to start. It’s understandable – we didn’t get into writing in order to become expert marketeers – but something that we just have to get to grips with.

So I thought I’d start my own journey towards understanding by asking people where they find out about new books and authors. Here are the results. Note: In the original question, 1 meant “frequently” and 5 meant “never”, but I inverted it during analysis so that the graphs made more sense.

Question 1: What genres of fiction do you enjoy reading?

The first question asked people to rate how often they read particular genres. As you can see, respondents were fairly evenly spread, but the most popular genres were Science Fiction and Fantasy; the least popular were Western, Chick Lit, Romance, and Horror.

Ave popularity by genre


Question 2: Where do you find about about new books and new authors?

The second question asked people to rate how frequently they found new books or authors via different methods. There’s bad news for self-publishers here: The most popular ways to find new authors remains word of mouth (but not via Twitter or Facebook), browsing in a bricks and mortar bookshop, browsing in an online bookshop and newspaper reviews.

Least popular sources were Kindle forums and Amazon forums, which isn’t a surprise as much of the content there is for authors trying to figure out the vagaries of Amazons physical and ebook stores. Disappointingly, GoodReads and Library thing fared poorly too.

Most popular sources


Now, my sample size was quite small, just 238 responses. But it echoes Verso Digital’s 2011 Survey of Book-Buying Behaviour, released last month, which polled 2,200 respondents. Verso Digital found that most of their respondents found new books through personal recommendation (49.2%), bookstore staff recommendations (30.8%), advertising (24.4%, and a source I forgot to add in), search engines (21.6% and ditto). Only 11.8% found new books through social networks and 12.1% via blogs. Book reviews accounted for 18.9%.

There are a lot more interesting nuggets in the report, so it’s well worth a flick through the slides.

Conclusions: Personal recommendation most important for self-publishers

The results of this survey are a bit of a mixed bag for self-publishers. For most of us it’s impossible to get our books into prominent positions in bookshops either offline or on, and even harder to get newspaper reviews. The places where it’s easy for us to gain access, such as GoodReads, LibraryThing, Twitter, Facebook and on our own blog simply aren’t that influential. It’s disappointing, because these are places where authors can be very proactive.

My suspicion is that whilst the people who use book-focused sites are avid readers and buyers, there are few of them in the broader population. Given the lack of referral stats for Amazon there’s no way of knowing how many people find my book from Goodreads, but I know that few make it over to my blog from there.

So what are we left with? Both my graph and the Verso Digital figures show that self-published authors should focus on encouraging people to make personal recommendations for their work, as that is still the most important way that people find new authors and books. Simply telling your friends that you recently read a book and loved it appears to be the single most important thing you can do to help an author along. Plus ça change, eh?

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Lessons from Kickstarter Part 2: Rewards

by Suw on February 16, 2012

This is Part 2 in my series of blog posts looking at the lessons I learnt doing a Kickstarter project. See also Part 1: Don’t Go Off Half-Cocked.

Rewards. These are one of the most important aspects of your crowdfunded project and getting them right is essential to your success. Getting them wrong, on the other hand, can not only mean that it’s harder to find supporters, but also that you might succeed with a millstone around your neck. So, a few thoughts to help you think about your reward levels:

1. Understand how much work is required to create each reward
Coming up with ideas for what sorts of rewards you can offer is the easy bit of planning your rewards. But you also need to know in great detail how you are going to produce each one.

One mistake I made when doing Argleton was that I decided to cover some of the hard-backs in silk. It took something like nine prototypes for me to figure out exactly how I was going to make them. It then took hours to cut and bond the different pieces of silk, then to embroider them and add the backing paper ready for binding. It was a huge amount of work and I hadn’t realised before I added the silk covers as a reward that they would be so time consuming.

I should have completed the prototypes and had my manufacturing plans nailed to the floor before I launched the project.

2. Limit handmade rewards
I was lucky with the silk-covered hardbacks of Argleton: Only 14 people pledged at that level, and that was about the limit of how many I could realistically make in a reasonable amount of time. If even another ten people had wanted this reward, it would have caused significant problems.

I should have limited the number of silk-covered hardbacks OR I should have had another way to produce those rewards.

3. Beware the low value, labour intensive reward
For a while, I toyed with the idea of including a hand-made lace bookmark as a reward level, but when I thought about how much time it would take me and how much its perceived worth would be, I realised that it was a bad idea.

I’ve seen and heard of projects where creators have offered beautiful little hand-made trinkets at a price point that actually jeopardises the project. If you offer something that’s low value but labour intensive, you risk firstly not paying for your time (it’s not enough to just pay for the materials), and secondly also risk annoying your supporters because of how long it takes you to fulfil your promise.

4. Prepare for runaway success
How do you scale up your rewards if your project is wildly successful? With some rewards, it’s easy enough to simply order more. But with others, does a bigger order have an impact on your supplier? For example, with Queen of the May, my next project, I will be offering a leather-bound edition. If I outsource that to a bindery, they will have the same scaling issues as I would if lots are ordered.

Check with suppliers about how bigger numbers will affect their ability to fulfil your order. If they foresee a problem over a certain order size, make sure you limit the number available to your backers.

5. Make use of non-physical rewards
One way to extend your rewards is to add non-physical rewards. With books this might be an ebook version, an audiobook version, or some other downloadable media. If you are working with an illustrator or designer, for example, why not give backers high-rest digital versions of the illustrations as well as using them for a physical reward.

I did this to some extent with Argleton, but I could have done a lot more.

6. Make use of exclusivity
Different reward levels aren’t just about different physical or digital objects, but also about the exclusivity of a reward. Again, thinking about fiction, this might include allowing a supporter to name one or two of your characters, or buying a spot on the dedication page. The nice thing about rewards like that are that they add value without adding cost, so they can dramatically increase the amount you raise without increasing the project costs.

I didn’t do this with Argleton, mainly because I didn’t think of it, but I will with Queen of the May.

7. Add rewards if you overfund
One fantastic project that I find myself inspired by is Rich Burlew’s Order of the Stick reprinting drive. One thing that Rich is doing which is very important is that the more pledges he gets, the more he gives his backers at all levels. By adding new rewards, either by asking people to “add $5 to your pledge to receive $new_thing” or creating entirely new reward levels, he is giving his existing backers an incentive to pledge more money. He’s also encouraging new backers to sign up by offering them more per reward level than he previously could have.

I think this is a very clever tactic, and one I hope to be able to employ with Queen of the May. I already have some ideas in mind for new rewards that I can offer people and will soon be researching costs so that if I overfund, I can add the new rewards very quickly.

8. Pricing
It’s really important to get your pricing right. This isn’t just about understanding your production costs, time and admin, but also making sure that your prices makes sense. I’ll cover budgeting in another post, but here want to talk about how prices make sense.

One important aspect of how human brains work is that comparisons are important. If you go into a shop that sells suits at the £200 price point and you see a suit at £500, it seems expensive. In a shop that sells suits at £1000, on the other hand, a £500 suit looks like a bargain. Make sure you have an expensive reward that positions you as the £1000 suit shop, not the el cheapo market stall.

You also need to think about how backers will view the spread of reward prices. Human babies naturally think logarithmically, and as adults we retain that logarithmic sense, so a reward schedule that goes up in a sort of logarithmic way feels right. Reward levels that go up in regular intervals risk feeling cheap.

Kickstarter has a blog post that looks at funding levels, and $50 and $100 levels both account for a lot of the income. But lower levels are more popular, with $25 appealing to the most people. The valuable thing about low-value rewards is that they bring in more backers which means that you have more people to ask for help in spreading the word. (Again, I’ll go over promotion in another blog post.)

Matt Haughey also has a good post with tips on using Kickstarter from the point of view of an enthusiastic backer. He goes into some detail about prices, and I found it particularly interesting when he said “I fund most projects in the $20-40 range, which I consider a “what the hell” level equivalent to a single visit to an ATM”.

Make sure that you have some ‘what the hell’ rewards that people really want. Don’t just fill up the bottom end of your reward schedule with postcards and wallpapers, make them something that people truly desire and can afford.


Next time, I’m going to talk about budgeting, an issue that’s close to my heart at the moment as I’ve spent much of the last month doing exactly that for Queen of the May. (And remember, if you want to be amongst the first to know when that project is up on Kickstarter, join my mailing list!)

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Do faeries have sex?

by Suw on February 13, 2012

WARNING! This post might contain spoilers for my next novelette… or it might not. I’m not sure yet. But if you’re spoiler-sensitive, you might want to look away now.

Queen of the May is the story of a young woman stolen away by faeries who has to find her way back to the human world. I can’t say I was thinking I’d be writing faerie stories, but here we are with a fully fledged faerie realm and an unwilling human abductee who has to work out from first principles how the faerie magic works and how to use it to get home.

Of course, if I want my heroine to make sound, reasoned decisions based on the information she has available to her, I need to know just how the faerie realm works. And this is where the questions start.

Firstly, what species of faerie are we talking about? The dainty, winged Cottingley Fairies? The beautiful and fair-haired Tylwyth Teg of Wales? The human-sized, malicious elves of Pratchett’s Lords & Ladies who live in Fairyland? (Which then raises the question of whether elves are a subspecies of fairy?) Shakespeare’s meddling and incompetent Oberon? Any one of dozens of other species? Or even an entirely new fae species previously and heretofore unknown to man?

Once we’ve established the species, which is not necessarily easy, that raises even more questions.

  • How does faerie magic work?
  • What happens if faeries use too much magic?
  • How does time pass in Faerie? Is Faerie one realm or are there many different Fairylands? What’s its relationship with the human world?
  • Do faeries get sick? Does germ theory work in Faerie? If they do get sick can they die or are they immortal?
  • What the hell do faeries do all day, when they aren’t meddling in the affairs of man?
  • What’s the relationship between faeries and the humans they steal away? And what on earth do they put in their place? Another faerie? What’s so valuable about a human that you’re willing to dump one of your own in a strange and hostile world?
  • Do faeries build houses? Where do they live? Do they wash?
  • What do faeries talk about over dinner? What are the politics of Faerie? Are there dissenters? Subversives? What would a faerie subversive be subverting?
  • Do faeries have sex? If not, where do the faerie babes used as changelings come from? If so, how come the place isn’t crawling with faeries? Do they have some sort of magical equivalent to family planning?

It’s at times like this that I feel less like an author and more like an ethnographer.

Read a sample chapter.

Add to Cart from Suw’s bookstore for £2.49, or get it for just 99p if you join my mailing list.

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Taleist 2012 self-publishing survey

by Suw on February 8, 2012

Taleist is running a self-publishing survey to get some more information on how (and what) the community is doing, so if you are a self-published author no matter how early in your career you are, do go over and fill it in. This is their first year running this survey so some of the questions need a bit of polish, but they’re very interested in feedback so leave a comment on their blog post if you see issues with the questions or want to make a suggestion.

I had been considering doing a survey like this myself, because it’s only through gathering and sharing data that independent publishers and self-publishers will gain insight into how this new market is shaping up. I am very curious to see how this survey shapes up!


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Just how long is a piece of string?

by Suw on February 8, 2012

I’m in the process of planning my next Kickstarter project, which I’m hoping to have up early in March. This time, I’m trying to make sure that I really nail down my costs before I settle on my reward levels but this is proving to be trickier than anticipated! I want this time to offer a leather-bound version of the novelette, but in talking to various bookbinders, the answer to “How much does this cost?” appears to be “How much have you got?”.

The wide variation in options means that we can go from a very basic leather binding with nothing much more than a label on the spine to say what the book is and who wrote it, right the way up to complex bindings with inlays, gold tooling or gold-edged pages and everything in between. Before I can really know the price, I need to know what the design is but I won’t start the design work until I know that the project is going ahead. That creates a bit of a catch-22 situation as I need my costings to be as accurate as I can get them to ensure that I don’t end up under-budgeting.

Now, I have bound in leather once before and was chuffed as a small horse to hear from one of the bookbinders I met yesterday that my work is of a professional standard. Indeed, I was told that if I pitched up at this particular bindery with that as an example of my work, I’d be offered a job pretty much on the spot. It’s hard to express just how happy that made me as I obviously want to do as good a job as possible for my supporters!

At the moment (and for the foreseeable future), I don’t have the equipment needed to bind in leather. Once you start doing case bindings with a rounded spine, you start to need presses and other equipment that I both can’t afford and don’t have space for. But there is another option: to find a bindery that will allow me to hire space and provide a mentor under whose tutelage I can work so that I can make sure I don’t do anything wrong. That’s something I’ll be looking into over the next week or so, and it is my preferred solution. I adore making books, and working with leather is just a delight, not least because of the fabulous smell! And it would be a fantastic opportunity to hone my skills, so I am hoping that someone, somewhere does indeed go for a leather-bound hardback once the project is up online!

If you want to be amongst the very first people to know when Queen of the May goes live, join my mailing list and you’ll find out before anyone else!

Meanwhile, to whet your appetite, some photos of the leather-bound journal I made:

Leather-bound journal

Leather-bound journal

Leather-bound journal

Leather-bound journal

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In a change from your scheduled programming, I bring you these two awe-inspiring videos created by StoryMonoroch showing first the earthquakes over M3 experienced by Japan during 2011, and then worldwide earthquakes over M4.5, to put things in a little perspective. The two videos will leave you in no doubt as to the astonishing power of the T?hoku earthquake.

It’s well worth putting both these videos on full-screen.

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It’s amazing how much you can achieve through creative procrastination. I finished up the first draft of my next novelette, currently titled Queen of the May although that might change. The transcription from my handwriting wasn’t too bad, but it has resulted in a lot of errors because my writing has a tendency to get a bit scrawly when I get over-excited. The first first draft came in at 21,673 words, a number which is steadily decreasing as I tidy up the copy.

But I have to confess that editing out weird typos is not exactly the most thrilling of pastimes, so I’ve been putting a lot of energy into planning my next Kickstarter project and, this time, getting my costings spot on. I’m talking to Oldacres in Hatton Garden again for printing as they did such a great job last time, and between us we’re trying to figure out how to do a better job on the paper cover for the hardback.

Last time, we used just normal paper stock with a laminate finish. It looked really good, but it was a bitch to work with when binding. Not only did I have to deal with the paper fibres swelling, as is their wont, but the lamination worsened the problem meaning that I had to tape down each sheet in order to work with it. Since then I’ve done a couple of bookbinding courses at Falkiners, both of which were fantastic. I learnt some new techniques and got to play with some materials that I’d never have used on my own, and that experience has altered my thinking on how to bind the next set of books.

Firstly, I want to use Japanese paper for the paper-covered hardbacks. Japanese paper is made differently to western paper and because its fibres are random, rather than being all lined up as in our usual paper, it doesn’t curl when wet. This makes it a joy to work with. Japanese papers are also stronger, so you can work with a thinner stock which allows you to get much crisper, cleaner lines. But when you buy decorative Japanese paper, it has usually been screen printed, so although we can buy white sheets, how we print it is something that we’re still trying to work on. Oldacres are currently experimenting for me with some samples from John Purcell Paper, a wholesaler. I am very anxiously awaiting the results!

Secondly, the methodology I used for the silk covers last year turned out to be horribly, painfully time-consuming. I translated my “design” into blocks of colour, cut the right shapes out from appropriately coloured dupion silk, bonded them together and then sewed over the joins with embroidery. A very time-consuming process. The embroidery alone took 16 hours per cover. Beautifully as they came out, I cannot go through that again! So now I’m looking at the possibility of screenprinting, or maybe just doing a simpler embroidered design. This is going to require some serious and careful thought as it will have a big impact on the cover design. (You’ll be glad to hear that I’m not going to be doing the design myself this time!)

I’m also looking into possibilities for a leather-bound version. I’m talking to a number of binderies about my options, both for them to provide the binding service, and to explore whether there is any way that I can work on the leather bindings myself, under supervision. Whilst I worked with leather in my second Falkiners course, I have neither the equipment or the experience to do the leather versions myself. BInding in leather, even if it’s just an A6 novelette, is going to be far from cheap, but the results will be stunning.

Soon, I’ll have my costings nailed down and then I’ll be in the right position to start my next Kickstarter project. I have had a few ideas for exclusive rewards that I’ll be listing, but their numbers will be very limited indeed. I’ll be announcing the project through my mailing list first so if you want to be amongst the first people to know when it goes live, join the mailing list now! I send out very few emails and I manage the list using Mailchimp so you can set your preferences for type of email and can unsubscribe at any time without any risk of your email address winding up in the wrong hands.

I’m very excited to be planning my second Kickstarter project. It’s been 18 months since I put Argleton up, and the Kickstarter community has expanded dramatically over that time, so I’m eager to see what sort of support it’s possible to get now. My goal will certainly have to be a bit higher than last time in order to pay for a designer and my time: If writing is to be sustainable, it has to provide me with a modest living, and I would be very happy indeed if it could do that independent of the behemoth that is Amazon.

In the meantime, though, there’s only so long I can put off doing that edit!

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