After I helped fund Vitor Ramil's CD and a play my friend was in, I decided to understand how crowdfunding portals work and gauge their potential for literary projects. Crowdfunding is still something relatively new, but it's been growing in my native Brazil, where it's used increasingly more often by independent artists―with proper planning and people working together as a team―in order to fund different cultural activities. I looked through the kind of projects registered on these sites and the strategies people use to request financial resources to fund their publications in print and/or digital format. However, these efforts are still taking baby steps when it comes to literary projects.
According to Estadão, one of the main newspapers in Brazil, crowdfunding platforms grew 85% worldwide since 2012, gathering over $1.4 billion to fund a variety of projects, from hardware manufacturing to cultural events and products in general. In Brazil, this practice has been consolidated mainly as a model to support cultural projects, the most popular of these platforms being Catarse, which keeps 13% of all funds contributed towards a project if the funding goal is actually met. In case that doesn't happen, all the money pledged is returned to potential sponsors, so they can select another project they'd like to support.
When I went through Catarse to write this article (mid 2013), I found 67 projects listed under the Literature category. Among them, 37 did not meet their funding goals within the 60-day deadline. Since 2011, 23 literary projects gathered enough funds―some of them actually went over their goal―which is a low percentage when compared to other projects, such as CD production or theater plays.
While I was trying to understand the possible differences between approved projects and those that did not get financed, it seems that the latter had been registered on the website without any planning, that is, with incomplete project descriptions and without any marketing plan (some of them got no money pledges at all!) Several of these projects gathered a very low amount of funds because, maybe, the people behind them didn't have a good idea of the total cost involved in a well thought out publication effort. Pretty much 100% of projects that did not receive enough funds were way below their goal. In other words, it's not that they got close to receiving enough support to meet their mark; they actually got almost no pledges. None of these unsuccessful attempts got more than 29% funds and most of them got between 0% and 5% of pledges.
Those literary projects that were successful or are very close to reaching their goal have something in common: a more detailed description or a careful project that includes information on how financial resources will be effectively implemented. They usually offer nice "rewards" to sponsors, such as exclusive gifts or personalized copies. From those I analyzed more carefully, I noticed projects created by people who already have some experience under their belt, even if so far it had been only through blogging. Such was the case with Beto Pacheco and Izadora Pimenta, for example.
I've also noticed that the projects that got enough support were requesting more money, but had a very detailed description of how the funds were going to be used. And, from those 23 successful projects, only three of them had planned for an eBook version. Would there be an overlook on the project manager's part? I confess I was expecting a higher number than that.
At ComeçAki, there was only one book project and it had only gathered 3% of the goal, maybe because the project manager didn't pay attention to some of the tips the site itself had given about the basic steps towards a successful collective financing campaign. Nevertheless, I must confess, I didn't find information on how much the site gets to keep because I didn't go through the entire registration process and this data wasn't readily available to people visiting the website.
Another site, Juntos.com.vc, doesn't charge any admin fee because it also collects funds to sustain itself, but it's more geared towards social projects. When I visited the site, I didn't find any book-related efforts under the Arts & Culture category. As for Zarpante, it is from Portugal and it charges 7% of collected funds. I only found two projects there: one was a children's book that was successfully funded, and the other was a religious book project that is currently receiving funding. Interestingly enough, they were both from Brazil and focused on printed versions only. At Kickstarter, which is in English but has many Brazilian projects, I only found successful publications from the U.S. and Canada and none from Brazil.
Later on, I found out about BookStart, which is a literature-specific crowdfunding site completely focused on the book market and aimed at showcasing literary projects. Overall, the website structure isn't much different from other collective financing websites, except for the smaller amount of projects available for funding. However, I must highlight the fact that this is still a very young effort.
Needless to say, I couldn't contain my curiosity and signed up to understand the tool better from an author's point of view. I'm actually thinking about creating a project, when time permits, because I would be naive to think that you can be successful in such an effort without a very detailed plan that has a coherent budget, a set schedule, a marketing plan and, preferably, the support of qualified professionals.
But, going back how Bookstart works, I think it's so cool that they made available a set of tips on how to market your project and gather support. Of course it's not a fail-safe step-by-step plan that will address all anxieties from authors who are trying to walk on their own feet in this new world, where "you gotta stop crying over the fact that publishers haven't answered your calls and assume more of a go-get attitude." Still, it lays down a good foundation for the path you can follow.
A 15% commission is charged when the project meets or exceeds a goal. Yes, the percentage is higher compared to other collective financing sites I've analyzed, but it's fairly reasonable if you consider the fact that they are responsible for all costs involved in returning the resources gathered when projects do not hit their mark.
Another noteworthy aspect is that their team―whose members are not specified on the website―is available to support authors and find service providers that are relevant to the project execution. We all have to agree that, in case that really works, this is a great value-added service that makes the website stand out.
In conclusion, there's not much dissecting left to be done at the moment. I may one day enjoy the adventure of putting together a project to have a printed version of one of my eBooks, and then I'll be able to share with you the high and low points of the crowdfunding process. Until then, after going through the most popular crowdfunding sites for Brazilians, these are the questions that still remain and that I'd like to bring them up for discussion:
- Are self-published authors unaware of the possibility of funding publications?
- Are sponsors in crowdfunding sites people who don't necessarily enjoy reading?
- Do Brazilian authors have enough money to fund their own publications, so that's why they're not seeking collective funding?
- Are authors unaware of the costs involved in a well cared for project (review, critical reading, preparation of the original, eBook and printed version production, printing, release, marketing)?
- Readers don't consume independent publications and, being aware of that, authors don't even attempt to go for crowdfunding?
- Am I overthinking this collective funding thing as a way to leverage self-published projects that do include all crucial steps to making a quality-product available?
So, what are your thoughts and views about it?
MAUREM KAYNA is a Brazilian author born in the State of Rio Grande do Sul in 1972. In addition to working as a Forest Engineer since 1994, she has always been passionate about books, words, and libraries ever since she can remember. In 2010, she published an ebook called Pedaços de possibilidade, inspired by her blog of the same name. She also had a short story translated into English and published by the Contemporary Brazilian Short Stories project, and more recently she launched an interactive literary site available in three languages and titled Seasonal Labyrinths.