Kickstarter – a New Model for Indie Publishing

Kickstarter is a website for ‘funding and following creativity’. I’d never actually given the site much attention (even if I knew of one or two projects, by acquaintances, funded through the site) until – well, two days ago I stumbled onto a discussion on Kickstarter’s growing influence in the independent book world, and everyone seemed pretty positive about the service. So I decided to check it out.

Kickstarter’s core idea is simple: you post a creative project to their site, put up a description (and very often: a video), and then you set a series of pledge levels that show to the right of your project page. These levels indicate what backers get in return for specific amounts of money. For instance, this book project promises an autographed copy for $20, an 8×10 print (and book!) for $30, and an acknowledgment (plus doodle and print and book!) for $100.

The genius here is that these pledges happen before your book’s published, with absolutely no risk for all involved. Your book will be funded by the usual crowd of backers: mostly your readers, some fans and perhaps several Kickstarter community members. And if you can’t raise the minimum, your project closes, the page disappears, and nobody need pay up.

Craig Mod's Art Space Tokyo
There have been a number of striking book projects done through Kickstarter. Craig Mod, for instance, has published a run of handcrafted, silkscreened books with Kickstarter fundraising; Robin Sloan (of Snarkmarket fame), managed to get $13,942 to fund the writing of a novel. From his project page:

I’m writing a book: a detective story set halfway between San Francisco and the internet. And the more people who reserve a copy, the better each one will be!

I’m beginning to think that Kickstarter (and websites like it, that I assume will appear in the future) are going to play a prominent role in independent publishing – maybe in one or two years, but certainly for a long time to come. And how can they not? It makes perfect economic sense for both reader and writer. If a writer has to earn the privilege of getting paid for his work, then this model delights in that exchange, and rewards the avid reader. (Imagine: being able to chip in, for your favourite author! How fulfilling! How incredible!)

But I also find it very cool – the very idea that you can help support your favourite writers as they produce and publish good books – books you already love, because you’re reading them online. This idea is wonderful, I think, and brilliant, and so befitting of the kind of closeness the Internet is able to afford its readers; its writers.

Digression: there’s actually a space right now for a service that enables closer reader-writer relationships – the kind of relationships that encourage a ‘you fund me, I’ll make good books for you’ ethos. Current solutions are good, but things can be, and will be, much better, given the right technical backbone. My bet is that Kickstarter has the seed of this in its model. All that remains is to think about this and tease it out a little.

I’ll be looking for a few Kickstarter authors to come write on Novelr in the future – in particular the ones who have successfully funded the publication (and sometimes even the writing) of their books. In the meantime, I’d recommend that you consider Kickstarter for funding. And maybe not for large, $10,000 runs, but it seems perfectly fair to begin with a small print of carefully-bound books, shipped to a loyal pool of delighted readers.

Oh, and a random thought: perhaps – as more web fiction writers stumble onto the idea of publishing with Kickstarter, we’ll begin to see an increasing number of links on Novelr to their respective project pages. Which I look forward to, and – I suppose – can only be a good thing.

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Category: Making Money · Publishing
  • Isa

    Yeah… I would not get your hopes up about Kickstarter. Crowdfunding platforms? Sure. Kickstarter specifically? Would be a revolutionary platform if they could ever decide what their mission is.

    I think what people don’t realize about Kickstarter, what’s usually missing from all this press and buzz they are getting, is that their screening and approval for projects is extremely selective and they keep changing the standards for what is and is not a Kickstarter appropriate project. In beginning they sold themselves as a great platform for raising money for school plays, community events, pre-orders for indie artists … look through their projects now, they RARELY host any such projects anymore. When I first joined Kickstarter there was this kid raising money to travel in a sailboat around the world, donors would receive a postcard and various neat perks from his adventures … it was a cool project, he would never get approved today.

    What annoys me about all this is that it’s absolutely unnecessary. There’s no reason why the screening process can’t be more general and let the donors decide. There’s no reason why “featured” projects can’t be leveraged to keep the site looking cool for first time visitors, while other less than cool projects use the platform to raise money from their friends, supporters and social network. Obviously they need to keep projects that are illegal, people looking for money to pay off credit card debt, and other things of that nature off the platform. There needs to be SOME screening … but the cynical side in me keeps thinking this is what happens when a bunch of hipsters in Brooklyn start a company. Decisions are made based on arbitrary whims about what’s “cool”

    Kickstarter seems to forget that not only is it not giving anyone any money, they’re also MAKING MONEY off successful projects. So unless their system is obscenely expensive to run it’s in their best interest to let as many people use the platform as possible. Even those unsuccessful projects will bring in new members to Kickstarter who might contribute to the neat projects of strangers.

    So yes this is a neat idea. But future of indie publishing it is not because only the elite of indie authors would actually be accepted into the Kickstarter program in the first place.

  • Eli James

    So that’s why so many projects in Kickstarter have this sheen of … awesomeness on them. And no wonder there’re so many high-profile books being funded through the platform.

    Thanks for pointing this out, Isa. I’ve been wondering myself.

    I’m not sure if Kickstarter (as in – the site itself) will win out – but it’s certainly gotten a few core elements right for this model, elements that probably would be replicable, by author or by another competitor.

    And I’m not too worried about the selection process. Sure, it may be selective, and it may seem arbitrary, but this can be good, if only to force people to reconsider submitting their project for peer review (and to consciously seek to improve on what they have in order to ‘make the cut’, whatever making the cut means).

    And the great thing about the Internet is that it’s self-correcting. Kickstarter sucks? Start a new one. And I bet – it won’t be too long before we see the alternatives.

  • Clare K. R. Miller

    There already is at least one alternative–I just can’t remember what it’s called! This is annoying me, hopefully someone else will come in with it. From what I saw of this Kickstarter-like-website-whose-name-I-can’t-remember it seemed more indie and hopefully it is less picky in what it allows.

    I hadn’t realized that Kickstarter’s criteria had changed, but it makes sense now that I think about it. There’s far fewer projects that I’m interested in, and far more that seem like they already have a good base.

    However, I will point to one weblit-related Kickstarter project: It’s an online fiction magazine. (I theoretically edit for them, but I don’t actually have a story to work with yet.)

  • Eli James

    Brilliant – thanks Clare, linking to that next.

  • Clare K. R. Miller

    Ha! I found it, thanks to Tonya Moore and fiction2.0!

  • Eli James

    So that was what it was! Thanks, Clare. :)

  • Isa

    ….never seen fiction2.0 before XD Eli you’ll give us an update on the NYT mission, yes? I have lots of thoughts about this but cannot join the group

  • Eli James

    How come? Is there something wrong with Google Groups? :( And, yes, Isa, I’ll leave lots of updates on the NYT mission – you can leave that to me.

  • Isa

    Other than past negative experience with GGs … my google account is for work and google makes it very difficult to manage multiple identities :)

  • Katherine

    I think the alternative Clare is thinking of is IndieGoGo. It allows anyone to post their project and even gives you the money if your funding is unsuccessful. There is no selection/vetting process. (Basically all the things Isa is talking about.)

  • mediaChick

    I successfully used Kickstarter to fund a research and media-gathering trip to Denmark earlier this year in support of my serialized semi-autobiography The Miracle in July:

    Kickstarter *is* very selective but can be an extremely lucrative fundraising option, especially for authors who have already built an online community around their work. I found the “all or nothing” rule (which kept me from pursuing Kickstarter as a fundraising option for a long time at first) turned out to work out in my favor. People who backed my fundraising campaign became emotionally invested in the success of my efforts, and as the days wound down they began to promote the campaign on their own. My backers are my partners, plain and simple.

    The Kickstarter campaign also brought many new readers to my story and attention from the press and universities, so my experience with the philanthropy website was overwhelmingly positive. However, it’s not for the faint of heart. You must be “in it to win it” once your proposal gets accepted.

  • jann

    if you are a musician you should also checkout crowdfunding site PledgeMusic at – it is a specialist Direct-to-Fan crowdfunding platform for musicians and bands …

  • ashnyc

    You should also checkout crowdfunding site bookraiser at – its a site the helps you accept goods instead of cash, basically people can donate there unwanted used media, books, cd, dvd, and games and turn that into cash for your project.

  • Bengfisher


    They don’t fund art, they fund projects that will make them money, because they take a percentage of the money raised.

  • Clockwork Gypsy

    The problem with Kickstarter is that they are about looking cool, not funding art, or anything else. They turned down multiple very serious projects about making alternative energy sources available to rural areas, educational projects, art projects that have serious social value. They prefer their artists in skinny jeans.