Speaking of crowdfunding and Kickstarter, our own Jed Alexander has some experience. I asked him to share his thoughts. Take it away, Jed!
Like many of you, I’d been trying to get a book published for a number of years. I did all the right things. I got Best in Show at my first local Spring Spirit SCBWI conference. Soon after I started getting work from Cricket Magazine. About three years later, I acquired my agent, Abigail Samoun, at then fledgling Red Fox Literary.
From the beginning, I’d always wanted to be an author/illustrator, and have had one foot planted firmly in both disciplines. I’ve always wanted to make my own books. So as soon as I got my agent, I immediately started submitting my book proposals and dummies. And I immediately started getting rejections.
But book dummies aren’t books. They’re half-formed. Half-finished. For years I’d started project after project and never completed them, a habit I swore I’d break. And here I was doing it again. I understood it was a necessary part of the process, that this was how it was done in the publishing world. But I was tired of waiting for permission. I wanted to make a book.
In SCWBI, we’re always warned against self-publishing. A self-published book won’t be taken seriously by a real publisher. You won’t be able to put it on your resume. And when I told my agent I wanted to publish a book using the crowdfunding site, Kickstarter, she let me know that we shouldn’t consider this my official debut. But for me, it was a question of: How long was I going to wait? At what point was this going to be real? I had just turned 40, and I wasn’t going to wait any longer.
It took months to prepare. I read as much as I could on the subject. I tried to glean as much as I could from successful crowdfunding campaigns. I did as much of my homework as I could until I knew I was absolutely ready. I made my video on my iPhone, editing it with the free software that came with my Mac. I researched the most economical way I could print my book—off-set printing overseas—and got the best prices I could for the T-shirts and posters I would offer as my rewards. I made sure everything was fairly priced.
The campaign was a great success. I had almost 300 supporters and raised over $10,000. My project became a Kickstarter Staff Pick, and a Kickstarter Pick of the Day. And eventually, through an old contact, I was able to get Alternative Comics, a small press comics publisher, to agree to put their name on the book and sub-distribute it.
While my book (Mostly) Wordless was, and continues to be, a modest seller, its publication has resulted in other opportunities. I was offered a regular writing gig for the site Pyragraph, I taught a class in crowdfunding for The Children’s Book Academy. And most surprisingly, 16 copies of the book were requested by a member of the Caldecott committee for review. I might not have come even close to getting the award, but now I’m on their radar, and I can’t wait for them to see what else I can do.
So yes, everything they said at SCBWI proved true. The book isn’t taken into account by mainstream publishers when I submit my manuscripts and book dummies. It’s not likely to go further than my modest first printing of a 1000 copies. But I made a book. A book I’m very proud of. And it has readers. And I still get e-mails from parents who have enjoyed the book with their children. It’s even been used by teachers to teach pre-literate kids.
If you’re at all considering self-publishing as an option, think about why you’re doing this in the first place. Do you really want to make a book, or do you simply want to be published? How high do you have to count before your book matters? How many readers? How many dollars? Very few people make a living from making books—even those who have been published by major publishers. So you can’t be in this for the money. And you won’t have readers unless you put your book out there. And with desktop publishing and crowdfunding, publishing is easier than ever. The only permission you need to make a book is your own.
After working for over ten years in the editorial field for such publications as LA Weekly, The Sacramento News and Review and The Santa Cruz Metro, Jed returned to his first love, children’s literature. With this new focus, Jed debuted his portfolio at The 2009 Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators North/Central California conference where he won Best in Show. He has since contributed to Nickelodeon Magazine and Cricket Magazine as both an author and illustrator.
Jed will be teaching a Self-Publishing Through Crowdfunding Course with Mira Reisberg at The Children’s Book Academy (10/24-11/21). He is also currently writing and illustrating a comic strip for SpongeBob Comics. Find out more about Jed at jedalexander.com.