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Nikesh Shukla: Five Things I Learned From Successfully Crowdfunding Projects

By Nikesh Shukla, a writer who has successfully crowdfunded three projects, including The Good Immigrant, which was shortlisted for Book of The Year in the British Book Awards.

I’ve been involved with three successful crowdfunding campaigns now. My first was in 2015 with The Good Immigrant. I had grown tired of moaning about the lack of diversity and representation for writers of colour in UK publishing so decided to take matters into my own hands and ‘do something about it’, which is what trolls tell you to do when you moan about a lack of inclusion.

I chose crowdfunding as my route because I was interested in engaging disenfranchised readers from marginalised backgrounds, who felt that we were in an age where books weren’t being published with them in mind. We were in danger of what Chimamanda Adichie refers to as ‘the single story’. And whenever I spoke up about this lack of inclusion, people in the industry told me, ‘no one reads books by BAME writers, and anyway, we don’t know where to find them’. To the latter I thought, well, you’re obviously not using Twitter right, cos they’re all on there. And to the former I thought, wow, how insulting, you’re referring to my skin colour as a marketing trend, and you’re saying it’s not a lucrative marketing trend.

Nearly two years later, and The Good Immigrant, which was successfully crowdfunded in three days, is an award-winning bestseller. And those people now acknowledge that my skin colour IS a lucrative marketing trend. And I’m still insulted, because there’s the social need for diversity as well as the profit-led need.

Anyway, after that, I crowdfunded for a book of essays written by young people I mentor, called Rife, as a response to Brexit and the general elections not reflecting the will of the under 25s. And more recently, my agent and I crowdfunded to continue on the work of The Good Immigrant, by crowdfunding for The Good Journal, a quarterly magazine of writers of colour.

So here’s what I’ve learned from crowdfunding:

1) No one knows anything

Since crowdfunding for The Good Immigrant, I’ve been inundated with requests for advice for similar publishing projects. And I don’t know what to tell you. You could try replicate exactly what we did each time, with varying results. You could try something different and go bigger. You could do more videos and not reach your target.

I don’t think there’s any hard and fast rules for crowdfunding. I think the things that make a successful crowdfunding campaign are mostly intangible because they’re about you. I mean, obviously you have to have a brilliant idea that people want to invest in because they’ll get something cool, and you’ll get to do something cool.

But in terms of how you present the campaign: show us you care, show us how much it means to you so that we are willing to part with our money, show us why it’s important for you as an artist, show us why it’s important for us as a reader. I guess that’s why these issue-based anthologies have done so incredibly well, because there’s a sense that either, if we’re from that community, we’re seeing ourselves reflected; or if we’re not, we’re reading outside our comfort zone.

So, luck, enthusiasm, a great idea and a clear presentation to the audience of what they get, as a product, and as a sense of well being — that’s what you need to demonstrate clearly.

2) There is a tried and tested journey for successful campaigns

From what I’ve seen and heard, every successful campaign goes through the same journey. For some, this journey might be over the course of 24 hours, for most, it’ll be over the course of 24 days, but this is how it goes: your first 20% goes very quickly, because of early adopters, supportive friends and family and your audience. 20%-75% is a slog. It’s slow. It’s painful. You spend a lot of time making contingency plans because you don’t think it’s going to happen. Your tweeting becomes desperate. Then 75%-100% is quick again. Because people know it’s going to happen, so they’re willing to invest their money.

3) People get paid at different times

Don’t keep a shit-list of all your friends and family and audience who hasn’t pledged yet. They get paid at different times of the month. Also, there are certain people who want to be the saviour and swoop in at the end. So it’s okay to keep reminding people. Don’t be embarrassed about sending messages out to people who haven’t pledged. They will get round to it if you keep reminding them. Because it’s important to you. But sometimes people forget. And it’s totally okay to do self-promotion. Don’t go overboard though.

4) Keep your pledgers sweet

Your pledgers have invested in you and your time to make something. They’re totally okay with you sending updates out on the project: whether it’s how the crowdfunding is going, and whether they can continue to spread the word, or whether it’s about you choosing endpapers for the book or doing a callout for submissions. This is their project as much as it is yours, because without them trusting you enough to give you the money to make your dreams come through, it wouldn’t be happening. So keep them in the loop. Make them feel like they know what you’re up to, and that you’ve not run off to Mexico with their money.

5) Keep going. Don’t go it alone.

Crowdfunding is hard. Keeping up the enthusiasm is hard. Feeling self-conscious about constantly asking people for money is hard. Watching the graph stagger slowly up to 100% is hard. Don’t do this alone. Make sure you’re in a team. You have access to different audiences and have energy levels at different times. So ensure you’re working together. And keep going. You’re going to get there. You believe in the idea and we believe in you, and you wouldn’t have decided on a crowdfunding campaign if you didn’t feel that communicating your project’s importance to its audience was so valuable you had to talk to them directly. Remember that, and keep going.

Happy crowdfunding.