Above: Rebecca Guay funded her art book via Kickstarter and the results were far beyond what may have been possible if it had been available from a traditional publisher. It’s simply too “deluxe” for it to have been produced the same way for the mass market. This Wednesday (July 29) she’s going to have a “flash sale” for the remaining copies she has on hand: hit this link for details.

by Arnie Fenner

Doing It Yourself

Everybody these days seems to be using Kickstarter (or some other crowd-funding method) to finance their self-published art books. I had briefly mentioned KS in an earlier post so I thought I’d take a shotgun approach to discuss a few additional points.

Let’s assume you’ve got a book you’re aching to do and for one reason or another you’ve decided to forego pitching it to a publisher and plan to print it yourself with the help of a few hundred on-line supporters. I guess the first thing to do is hit this link and familiarize yourself with the process…

Read it? Great. Now you’ve learned that not every project proposed to Kickstarter gets accepted (they have to make a profit after all) and not every accepted project gets funded. Like everything else in life, there are no guarantees. Beyond that there are some key things to think about:

  • First, the most humbling question to ask yourself straight out of the gate is: Do people actually want a book of my art? Have I created a body of work people will pay to have preserved between covers? Do I have the rights to publish the art in a book? (Remember my previous post about copyright and Fair Use: you are legally responsible for everything you put into print so make sure what you include does not infringe on anyone else’s rights.) Or, if I’m going to create new work for this project, have I built an interest in what I do for people to want more? And perhaps most importantly can I produce what I’m promising when I say I will? 
  • If your answers to the above questions are “yes,” the next step is to do your research and figure out the details. Assuming scans are available of all the art, how many books am I planning to print and how much will it cost to print them? Am I going to sell extra copies printed above what’s needed to satisfy my obligation to supporters and what will be the retail price? Who will print them (domestic or overseas)? Who will design the book, me or will I have to hire someone (if you’ve never designed a book before, there’s a lot to it)? How long will it take to deliver a finished product to backers? How much will it cost to ship them to backers? Where will I purchase shipping materials (boxes, bubble wrap, etc.) and how much will they cost? And who is going to be doing all of that packing and shipping? Believe me when I say that schlepping packages to the Post Office or UPS is awful and takes up a lot of time and energy. You have to plan how to handle every aspect of your project from initiating the idea to getting the finished product out the door, and that planning has to include the labor needed to get the job done. All of the negative costs have to be factored into the dollar figure you’re hoping to raise if you want to avoid nasty surprises further down the road.
Above: The amount Brom & Flesk Publications raised for their book project set an impressive Kickstarter record (since broken, I think) that had the community buzzing and more than a few envious tongues clucking. What the jealous failed to comprehend was that Brom’s huge international popularity and John Fleskes’ savvy marketing are a rare combination; their success is incredibly hard to duplicate and shouldn’t be a yardstick for your own project or color your expectations. 
  • Be realistic in the amount you’re trying to raise. The goal is intended to cover the expense for doing your book, either simply or with as many bells & whistles as you can come up with. And, sure, if you can turn a profit from the git-go no one is going to seriously complain. But have a certain amount of humility and don’t overreach if you want support. Many look at the success of the KS project for Brom’s book a few years ago and figure, what the hell, I’ll expect a quarter million, too! While anything’s possible (look at the Potato Salad project) the thing to accept is…there’s only one Gerald Brom and he is in a rarified position of respect, demand, and popularity. The rest of us ain’t him. Keep your expectations modest and if you hit your goal, for God’s sake be happy; anything extra is just icing on the cake.
  • Remember that there are fees attached to the funds raised. Kickstarter takes 5% of the gross and other processing fees can take up to another 5%—meaning that if your goal/production costs is $10,000 and you meet it (are “funded”) at the end of the cycle, you’re going to get $9000 not the whole $10K. Plan on seeking slightly more than what you’ll need to produce your book so that you can cover the fees and don’t come up short at the end.
  • Also remember that what you raise via crowd-funding is not free money: it is income. The tax man will know exactly what you got and, at some point, will expect their cut, quite possibly at a higher tax rate than what you’re used to. Every negative cost associated with your book/project is a business expense that can be deductions, but you’ll have to keep receipts and account for everything to receive them come tax time.
Above: The Feds came down semi-hard (“hard” would have been jail) on Erik Chevalier after he failed to deliver on a game he successfully raised $122,874.00 via Kickstarter to produce. The government obtained a judgement against him for $111,793.71. As more incidents like this occur with crowdfunding, the penalties will probably increase as prosecutors get used to the process. Only C’thullu knows where the 71¢ came from.
  • You have to deliver. Duh. Simple enough, right? Unfortunately, not everyone does and in the U.S. the Feds have started to crack down on deadbeats. There are repercussions for not giving people what they’ve paid for so be conscientious.
Hooray: you crowdfund, you publish, you deliver to your supporters, and you have extra copies to sell at conventions or through your website. But does that mean you’ll now be able to hook up with a distributor and get your book into every bookstore and comic shop in the land?
Oh, sure, as I mentioned earlier anything is possible, but let me just say the odds aren’t in your favor. You can most certainly hand-sell books “the old fashioned way” to local stores and independent retailers like, say, Bud Plant and Stuart Ng, at anywhere from 40% to 60% discount off the retail price, but the door to both national distributors and to national retail chains is closed no matter how popular you are or how good your book is.
Why? Well, distribution (like bookselling in the 21st Century) is…complicated…and tedious…and frustrating…and a post unto itself. Let me just say that chain bookstore buyers deal only with the sales representatives of distributors and professional publishers, not with individuals with one title to sell; likewise distributors only represent professional publishers with lines of product. It’s all matters of accounting, tracking, profit, and quantity: dollars and sense (not cents). Distribution and mass bookselling are cumulative businesses not geared to—or profitable with—a single book that’s been self-published. Entering into “onesy” agreements with individuals simply does not make financial sense.
Anyway, I guess the thing to take away from all this is that regardless of the way you’ve financed your book you have to treat it as a business—because that’s precisely what it is, whether it’s a one-time deal or the beginning of an empire. It’s governed by the same rules and considerations as any business: research the market, pay attention to costs, get everything in writing, keep records. Too many have been overly optimistic with their expectations and wound up with a basement full of very pricey unsold paper. Be cautious when it comes to deciding on the quantity for your book: if it’s successful, it’s easy enough to go back to press.
And in case you’re wondering if I have ever supported books via Kickstarter, I have indeed. Do I have reservations about the whole crowdfunding approach to publishing and self-publishing in general? Absolutely. Maybe I’ll talk about them a bit sometime in the future.