Voices

How to crowd-fund and self-publish an e-book

By Nik Peachey

03 May 2017 - 17:00

In the first of a series on self-publishing, author and digital publishing specialist Nik Peachey explains how to crowd-source funding for a self-published e-book.

In this series, I’ll look at some of the issues to help you decide whether crowd-sourcing and self-publishing is for you, and if it is, how to avoid some of the mistakes I made along the way.

If you are reading this, then, like me, you may have been thinking about writing a book for years. A few times, I put together proposals for books and expectantly sent them off to publishers, only to be disappointed. Even more times, I started to write my book and then lost momentum, as other work took over and bills needed to be paid.

Then, I started to notice a few sites like Kickstarter, which allowed people to crowd-source funding for creative projects, so I thought I’d investigate that.

I finally decided to crowd-source the money to develop my book, and launched my crowd-sourcing campaign in January 2014. I managed to raise £5,000 in three months, by sharing the link to the campaign through my various social network connections, writing articles about it on my blog and creating a demo video to share through social media. Getting the money was important as it bought me some time to forget about the day-to-day bills, and work on the book full-time. I assumed it would take me around three months to produce. That ended up being very optimistic: I finally finished and published the e-book in the summer of 2015, about a year past schedule.

In 2016, the e-book was shortlisted by the British Council for an ELTons innovations award in the Teacher Resources category. To my utter amazement, it won. Since completing that first book, I’ve published five more e-books, numerous lesson plans and materials and also launched my own website with resources for other English language teachers. All the other books I’ve written have been produced without funding, in my own time, whilst also working full-time.

This may sound like a fairy-tale success story, but it’s not. Well, at least not yet, and it may well never be, but it is a story or at least a road map of how you can make your own book a reality.

Why should you crowd-fund your teaching e-book?

There are a number or reasons you may want to do this, but the initial one is money. If you write a book for a publisher, they will usually give you an advance on your sales, which will help pay for the time it takes to actually write the book or at least get started. Raising money through crowd-funding can replace a traditional publisher's advance, and buy you some time to start writing.

If you are self-publishing, there are other things to pay for, apart from your time. You may want to hire an editor, proofreader, illustrator, designer, and maybe even someone to pull the e-book together and get it online for you. Even if you don’t hire in any of these people - and I didn’t - then that’s more of your time that you’ll need, so having some money in advance can help cover your costs.

Why do it yourself rather than just go to a publisher?

The first and most obvious answer is that the publisher might not want the book you want to write, or may not want you as the person to write the book.

Doing it yourself also means that you don’t have to compromise, and you can produce the book the way you want it to be. In my case, this was very much what motivated my decision. I wanted my book to be an e-book: an electronic version of a book, designed to be read on a computer or handheld device. I wanted to embed video into the book. I wanted full-colour illustrations and screen shots on every page. For a publisher of paper-based materials, most of these things are either too expensive or impossible.

I also wanted a ‘tools section’ with activities built around up-to-date online tools and mobile apps. For a publisher, this is problematic because it shortens the life span of the book, or at least the time between revisions, as many of these tools disappear quickly and the book can easily become out of date. Publishers look for generic ideas that aren’t tool-specific.

One of the last benefits of crowd-sourcing your funding is that it acts as a kind of market research. If nobody wants to back your project, then that tells you how successful your book is likely to be, so it may well be better that you never write it.

Are e-books expensive to write and produce, more so than a paper book? What are the benefits?

If you have basic tech skills, and by this I mean word-processing skills, image-editing skills, and a reasonably good eye for design, then you can produce an e-book to market at minimal cost. Really, it’s just your time that you need to invest. I used iBooks Author to produce my master copy, and I was able to publish it directly to the iBooks Store from the software, and export a PDF version for other platforms. There are other options though, and I’ll deal with this in more depth in one of the next articles in this series.

For me, the real benefits of producing an e-book are the low production cost, because you can do everything yourself, and the low distribution cost. You don’t have to pay for lots of printed copies to be produced and shipped all over the world.

My e-books are about technology, so it also enables me to make the books more interactive, and I can add multimedia.

Last, another big advantage for a tech book is that I can update the e-books, and make a new version live within hours, if I want to change something. That kind of thing is close to impossible with paper-based books.

What’s the best way to ask people to fund your book project?

To raise the funding for your book, you’ll have to set up a campaign on one of the many crowd-funding platforms that exist. These work in different ways, but basically what you do is use one of the platforms to set up a campaign and offer the people who fund you some kind of ‘reward’. I used indiegogo.com. The campaign gives potential backers information about what you want to do and shows them a number of levels at which they can back you and what they will get for backing you. You can see my original campaign here.

Fund-raisers offer a range of rewards from ‘gratitude’ to a mention in the book, advertising space, a personal message, or free copies. If you decide to try this, it’s worth looking at what other people have offered to get some ideas.

When raising the money for my own e-book, what surprised me was that the most popular rewards were those that got people involved in contributing to the book in some way. Many of the backers paid to contribute their time to editing drafts, reviewing materials, and sending in feedback. This was enormously helpful for me, as it saved work and money paying for an editor and proofreader, and also helped me to get some feedback and reassurance that the book was going in the right direction. As a self-publisher working on your own book without an editor, you have to be very disciplined, and often it’s hard to make tricky decisions like whether or not a chapter or paragraph is really necessary or whether you are explaining your ideas clearly and concisely enough. Working without an editor is for me one of the most difficult aspects of self-publishing. I have since managed to persuade my wife (a former English and Spanish teacher) to take on the role.

How do you get the word out, so that you get lots of people contributing?

It’s essential that you share your campaign as widely as possible, and especially through social media. But you need to start building your social media network way before you launch your campaign. This is where blogging comes in really handy. If you can manage to build a blog audience around your writing, then those people will be much more likely to have the faith and confidence to invest in you. Build a professional Facebook presence, either through your profile or by creating a group. Set up a Twitter account, launch a YouTube channel, and build a following on those platforms too.

All of these networks and connections will be useful when you launch your campaign, but don’t over-estimate the influence that they will have. If you have 3,000 followers on Facebook or Twitter, don’t assume that they will all rush to fund your project. To give you some idea of ratios, I had a combined social media following of around 100,000 when I launched my campaign, but it was funded by just 136 of those people.

What’s the best platform to use?

The number of crowd-funding platforms has grown enormously over the last couple of years. When choosing the best platform for you, a few things to check on are:

  1. What percentage of the money you raise does the platform keep? There will also be other charges such as bank transfers and tax to take into account. Of the £5,000 I raised, I actually only received £4,000, and that money was still liable to income tax.
  2. What kinds of projects usually get support on the platform? Some platforms lean more towards creative projects, whereas others are more for business or charity.
  3. How is the money collected? In some cases, people need to have a particular kind of account to back you, or they need to register on the site first. Look for a site that makes it as easy as possible for your backers to deposit their contribution.
  4. What happens if you don’t raise enough money to meet your target? When raising your funds, you have to set a target. In some cases you can opt to keep the money and still produce your book using the money you have raised, but on some platforms, if you don’t hit the target the money is returned.

What are the risks of an online fund-raising campaign for your book?

One of the greatest risks is that you don’t convince enough people of the value of your project, and your campaign fails. The main damage there is to your self-esteem.

Another great risk is that you do meet your funding target, then realise that the book is going to take much longer than you think, and you run out of money before it’s finished. This leaves you sacrificing any free time you may have and paying for things from your own pocket to ensure that you finish the book and honour the commitment you made to your backers.

What do you wish you’d known when you started?

One of my biggest mistakes was to be over-ambitious about the scope of what I wanted to produce. My final publication was over 400 pages, with more than 300 images and almost 30 video tutorials. Really, what I produced could have been two, or even three books. The best advice I can offer anyone who is starting out on the path to writing their own book is to think 'MVP' (minimally viable product): make sure you have covered enough to satisfy readers, and fine-tune it later. Try to design your book to be a simple as it can be. That way, it’s much more likely to get finished, and much less likely to bankrupt you.You can always write another one with the ideas you have left over.

Nik Peachey is a freelance teacher trainer, materials writer, blogger and consultant specialising in digital publishing and the development of digital resources for teachers, available on his website. He has been involved in English language teaching since 1992 and has worked all over the world as a teacher, trainer and project manager.

The 2017 ELTons awards, which reward innovation in English language teaching, will be live-streamed in June 2017. Follow the link to find out more and consider applying for next year's awards when applications open in September 2017.

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