Could You Use Kickstarter to Fund Your Next Novel?

iStock cash and book Constasmile

Using a crowdsourcing platform such as Kickstarter had never occurred to me as a way to fund a novel, but Author and PR professional Alex Greenwood used it successfully to launch his third book, Pilate’s Ghost.  He reached $1600, or 106% of his goal, from 38 backers in just 3 weeks. Some crowdsourcing projects never reach their target, but Alex not only found success, he shared his experience in a 22-page e-book that is only 99 cents. You can buy the book here.

What is Kickstarter?

kickstarter logoFirst, if you’re not familiar with Kickstarter, it’s an online platform launched in 2009 to fund creative projects by photographers, authors, inventors.  As of this writing, 7.4 million people have pledged $1 billion, funding 73,000 creative projects.  They have certain rules you follow when you launch your initiative with them, namely that it must represent a project that you want to share with others, and it can’t be used for charity fundraising, but the project is owned by you. To sustain the platform, Kickstarter maintains a portion of the fees contributed.

Who is Alex Greenwood?

Alex Greenwood

Alex Greenwood

Alex Greenwood is a Kansas City, Missouri-based PR pro who had already written two award-nominated mystery/thrillers as part of his John Pilate’s series, and wanted to raise money to help produce the third book in paperback version as well as cover recording costs for a future audio version. Paperback versions, as we know, are expensive to produce, and it takes a long time to recoup the investment. His third book in the series loomed, and he admits he was “fascinated” with ways to cut out the middle man. “That’s the same reason I embraced indie publishing — I don’t have to appeal to gatekeepers like agents and publishers to get my work in front of the public.  I like the idea of letting the market decide if my work is worth it or not. That’s the same way crowdfunding works. If you can credibly demonstrate you are creating a worthwhile product, people will line up to support you. If not, you don’t get funded. That’s democratic and fair, if you ask me!” So in July 2012, he started a 21-day campaign for Pilate’s Ghost.

I love that he took the time to share what he feels he did right and wrong in his crowdfunding approach by creating a brief e-book about it at a great price. [And here’s a link on Amazon to check out all of his works in the Pilate’s series as well].

Some highlights from his self-analysis in the e-book:

He asked for what he needed financially, not what he wanted. That gives the backers a sense they are propelling you and giving you momentum, not giving you a free ride.  The length of the campaign, 3 weeks, gave a sense of urgency (which we know from my earlier review of “The Small Big” book by Martin, Goldstein, and Cialdini helps motivate people to ACT).  He created a fun video, because projects on Kickstarter that have videos have a better success rate.  He emphasizes NO SPAM – he only sent one email to family and friends, and only to those who had expressed support all along of his books.  “Plenty of my family and friends want me to succeed, but mystery novels or reading in general just doesn’t interest them, and everyone has priorities about where their money goes.”

He looks at the role that social media played in his success, and focused on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. His advice – engage your base of fans, friends and family on Facebook and Twitter, but do it without being a “nudge” if you can.

He’s candid, too, with what he feels he did wrong, such as starting such a fundraiser over the July 4th weekend, when most people were away. In hindsight, he would have started media outreach earlier, thinking he was too hesitant and shaky in his confidence to feel it was a newsworthy story. He would have commissioned the book cover design earlier so he could show it off and possibly make the project more concrete in the minds of potential backers.  For more of his frank tips, download his e-book or audible format.

His final words of wisdom when using crowdfunding – Believe in yourself. Be organized. Be creative and credible. Be a person of your word. Be resilient.

Have you thought of using Kickstarter for your next book? If you have some proven success and credibility as an author, it could be a very worthwhile strategy.

Kickstarter Success Secrets: You can Succeed at Crowdfunding, by Alex Greenwood, e-book, Caroline Street Press, 2012, .99

Featured photo credit:

Kickstarter logo: Courtesy of Kickstarter

Headshot: Courtesy of Alex Greenwood

h/t to Barb Walter Harris for telling me about Alex! 

Growth Hacking for Authors: A Quick Intro

Judy McCord growth hacking

Recently I heard Tracy Diziere present at AZTechBeat on the topic of growth hacking, and I saw an opportunity to make the case here on Valley Book Blog that it is equally important for authors to apply these concepts to their book marketing efforts. Not much seems to have been written yet specifically for authors; most info seems directed at publishers. Thanks to Tracy for providing some salient points for this post – her observations are in italics. Based in Phoenix, Arizona, she brings more than 20 years of experience in marketing, sales support, program coordination, and public relations. Her business, Tracy Diziere and Associates, helps small business owners, entrepreneurs, and intrapreneurs advance their strategic marketing initiatives. You can connect with her on Twitter at @tracydiziere.

What does growth hacking really mean?

A heads up – if you look at different articles online about growth hacking, you’ll find a reasonable number of critics who think it is just another fancy name for marketing. (The comments on this particular post by Aaron Ginn, for example, which attempts to define the phrase, show great controversy). Here is Tracy’s take:

Since the coining of the term by Dropbox founder Sean Ellis, growth hacking has evolved to mean different things to different people. Granted, it is not without debate in terms of height and heft. Some people who are not fond of the term say that growth hacking is nothing more than just online marketing that is measured rigorously. My best definition in general is:

Tracy Diziere of Diziere and Associates

Tracy Diziere of Diziere and Associates

“Growth hacking is both the mindset and processes associated with pursuing and determining the metrics that matter, with the ultimate goal of moving the needle in those areas in creative ways.”

We can’t very well talk about growth hacking unless we agree on what “growth” means, however. In the Software as a Service (SaaS) world, this is often measured by users of the software and more specifically the growth rate, or ratio of new to existing users.

In the context of publishing, we would ask the following 2 questions:

  • What measures of engagement that we know lead to book sales might be worth experimenting with?
  • What new engagement opportunities can we test, with minimal risk, effort, cost, etc., to see if we can drive growth (in this case, book sales)?

That is the “hacking” part – the trial and error of marketing activity to see what will move the growth needle, in whatever form it is measured, and harnessing that knowledge of what is working in order to repeat it for increased growth.

Judy McCord growth hacking

How might an author use growth hacking in book promotion?

To apply growth hacking, you would first need to think strategically about what success looks like for you, because this will determine what you will measure (what metrics will be used as a growth indicator), and what data you will collect. For authors, this may be different at different stages in their careers as well as their publication’s shelf life and where and how it will be published.

The method of collecting the data needs to be consistent and may require some creativity as well as the use of social media tools. Some examples of possible metrics for authors to pursue:

  • Number of book-related shares on different social media platforms
  • Number of email subscribers
  • Number of new subscribers or active subscribers versus old or passive subscribers
  • Number of blog post interactions
  • Number of books signed at a book reading

These are just assumptions. They must be validated based on whether there is a purchase connection. So the first step is to begin collecting baseline data, and looking at the connections to sales. What do we know based on this data about the selling process and the buying process? Next, it’s thinking, how can we use this information plus some creative thinking in order to drive book sales?

Part of growth hacking, especially if we’re talking about engaged users or readers that (fingers crossed) result in sales, is figuring out what resonates with them, what gets them the most excited to share with their friends. That information should dictate your content, whether blog, social media platforms, or even your next book!

In another helpful post by Index Venture, we see that growth hacking is about process, making it easy for your customers to find, buy and share your product (book), and spending time figuring out who the people are who consider your product  a must-have. In this context, the goal of growth hacking for authors is to figure out how to have your fans propagate the book/content, including, as the Index Venture article lays out, leveraging their primal motivators (such as fear, greed, ego) in a social media world.

I’m curious – does anyone have a different definition of growth hacking? How have you analyzed and brainstormed your own ways of increasing growth in your book sales?

“Weeds” photo credit: © Judy McCord


Goodbye, Paper Newspaper – I Guess You Weren’t My Type

Typewriter Judy McCord

The unthinkable happened today, my friendly paper newspaper. Yes, you’ve been so faithful all these years.  Even when you seemed to get old and slow, I clung on, always happy at the sight of you on my driveway. You were so punctual!

But then, something happened. Was it you? Was it me? I don’t know. My other friends moved on, told me to leave you in the dust. I ignored them at first. Then, you started morphing before my very eyes. Maybe it was the fold-over ad insert. That always got in the way of our communication first thing in the morning. Petty, I know.  I should move past that irritation. You have to survive, somehow.

Maybe it was reading all the news I had already learned the night before. I admit, I like things that are pretty and shiny and new. And hey, not to make you feel worse, but the Frankenstein kluge of articles and graphics from a national newspaper didn’t help! I liked you better when you were your simple self, before the plastic surgery.

Typewriter Judy McCord

Come to think of it, maybe it was the letters to the editor? They seemed to lose their thoughtfulness. I didn’t learn much from them. After awhile, I skipped that part of you. Or maybe it was that I was becoming impatient at having to ask you over and over again not to stop by when I was travelling.

I kept this relationship going as long as I could, dear newspaper. You see, I’m growing older, too.  I have met the enemy, however, and it is not you, or me, it is us. We just aren’t each other’s type anymore.

Photo credit: © Judy McCord

Women Writers, Horror Stories and Psychological Terror

iStock old cemetery drKaczmar

It’s not so culturally acceptable today to be female and like horror stories, so I can well imagine how difficult it must have been for Mary Shelley in the 1800s and Shirley Jackson in the 1900s to be known for their spooky works.

In fact, in the preface to “Frankenstein, or, The Modern Prometheus,” Shelley writes that the publishers wanted her to give them more information about the origin of the story. She was asked how she, “then a young girl, came to think of and to dilate upon some very hideous an idea?”

iStock old cemetery drKaczmar

She writes that as a child, she scribbled, and her favorite pastime was to write stories. In the summer of 1816, she and her husband, the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, along with some friends, visited Switzerland during what turned out to be an extremely rainy summer. To alleviate the tedium of being cooped up, their neighbor Lord Byron challenged everyone to write a ghost story.

[Read more…]

Marketing in the Digital Age

iStock Ethernet Davizro

“Media need an audience before they can achieve a purpose. And to find that audience, they must compete with one another in the marketplace of attention.” James G. Webster

Anyone in search of an audience today faces a problem: a highly accessible, yet inexhaustible supply of entertainment and information. While the choices are endless, public attention is not. Are we at the dawn of a new participatory culture, or is digital media tearing society apart?

The Marketplace of Attention book cover

James G. Webster, who researches media use and teaches at Northwestern University’s School of Communication, set out to research the question, how much do we know about how audiences are generated? He published his findings in a new book from MIT Press, “The Marketplace of Attention: How Audiences Take Shape in a Digital Age.”

What he discovered is that the marketplace operates in ways that are often contradictory to our positive and negative views of digital media. His research draws on a very comprehensive bibliography of information about audience behavior. He and his team have sorted through all those competing theories to arrive at a single assessment of audience behavior. [Read more…]

Jon Bloch Writes From Personal Experience in “Identity Thief”

iStock keyboard lock Steve Byland

Can you take your personal experience and turn it into a psychological thriller? That’s what Jon P. Bloch, a Ph.D. criminologist, has done with his new book, “Identity Thief.”

Identity theft is the fastest growing crime in the United States, thanks to the Internet. According to Bloch (pronounced “block”), who teaches criminology at Southern Connecticut State University, there are approximately 10 million new cases of identity theft year. This means that about every 20 minutes, someone’s identity is stolen.


For authors, this presents an interesting dilemma. How do you get your name out there and build a platform, yet still protect your identity from being stolen? I asked Jon, who was a victim of identity theft himself, for some tips to pass along to other authors. In the long run, he points out, your personal safety is more important than promoting your work. He had this interesting but realistic perspective:

“If you have to close an account on a social media site and lose contacts, it is better than having to live in fear.”

So what should you do to be on the safe side? Here are 7 suggestions from Jon:

  1. Set up an email account that is only for your writing business. That way you can keep better track of who’s who, and not give out too much information to the wrong person.
  2. Be selective about replying to anyone who wants personal information. Do a web search for people or businesses that want to know more about you.
  3. Secure your trash. Always tear up checks, bills or letters with any personal information about yourself and cut old credit cards with scissors. Chop everything into little pieces, and don’t put them into the same container. Do this regardless of whether or not you recycle. If you are getting rid of an electronic device, use a utility program and wipe it clean of personal data.
  4. Secure your Social Security number. Any online, telephone or snail mail source that asks for this number should be checked out before you give it. Valid sources often only ask for your last four digits. If you don’t have a locked, secure mailbox, consider getting a PO Box for business transactions that require your Social Security number. Do not carry your Social Security card in your wallet, as it may get stolen.
  5. Don’t tell your life story online. Even seemingly innocuous information such as the names of your children or pets can be important proof of identity questions at business-oriented websites. Do not post the name of your workplace, your phone number or your home address.
  6. Be as secretive as possible. Use locks and encryptions whenever possible. If you can, use a login and password on your electronic devices if you have the option. Change your passwords often, write them down and keep them in a locked drawer.
  7. Take identity theft seriously. Don’t assume it will never happen to you. It can happen to anyone.

The novel is a quick read with a lot of plot twists.If you like psychological thrillers, you’ll appreciate how he has structured the story, alternating chapters between the viewpoint of the identity thief and that of the victim, Dr. Jesse Falcon. No one is whom they seem, and just as in real life, there are layers upon layers of deceit. That’s all I’ll tell you, without giving the plot away! Jon is interested in how and why people form the identities they do, and how relationships with others form who we are. We may see ourselves one way, but other people may see us differently. “I saw writing a novel about identity theft as a way of not only spinning a good yarn, but also exploring the issue of identity theft. I shared what I went through and learned firsthand.” 

I liked Jon’s brief acknowledgments at the back of the book, where he thanks Bacon Press and his manuscript editor, as well as thanking “the many people who taught me that their identities were not worth stealing, whereby I was stuck with my own.” It was also nice to see an “About the Author” page that was fun and tongue-in-cheek. In part, “He finally settled in Connecticut, where he is an indentured servant to his dog. JP writes on his king-size bed with the fan on. His hobbies include eating cashews while watching TV and overdosing on film noir favorites.” 

Ordering information

You can order the book from his website, from Amazon, or Barnes & Noble.

JP Bloch

JP Bloch

Identity Thief, by JP Block, available in print and e-book formats, Bacon Press Books, 2014, 258 pp, $9.99.

Featured photo credit:

Book cover and author photo: Courtesy of Bacon Press Books


How to Write an Effective Book Pitch

iStock baseball pitch Alberto Chagas

You’ve written your book, and now you want to make bloggers and journalists aware of the book’s existence. Having been on both sides of the fence, as a PR professional sending out pitches for many years to the media, and as a blogger who receives book pitches, I wanted to analyze for you what I believe are some of the most effective elements to book pitches.

Stacked books Judy McCord

Before I jump in, however, I don’t want you to dismiss the media as uncaring or snobby if they don’t reply immediately to your email. You have to remember that, in context, there are so many authors and publicists out there banging on the same doors. It gets overwhelming. Some days I receive two or three pitches about different books from the very same PR agency.

You have to do whatever you can to distance yourself from the seemingly unending line of zombies pounding on the inboxes of book bloggers. For additional insights into what makes mass pitching so abominable and too much like speed dating, you can read my recent guest post here for Iris PR Management.

To the task at hand, however – how to write a book pitch that is effective.

A pitch, just like baseball, is only good if it’s in the right ballpark. It’s helpful when you do everything you can to find out about the journalist or blogger first, before contacting them. This takes time. PR professionals and authors alike often don’t want to invest this kind of time, but it is what is required to make you effective. [Read more…]

How Alexandra Watkins Made It to the Amazon Bestseller List in Just One Day


Author Alexandra Watkins did all the right things to promote her new book, “Hello, My Name is Awesome: How to Create Brand Names That Stick.” By establishing a social media presence early and leveraging her professional experience as a boutique naming agency in San Francisco, she propelled her book to the Amazon Bestseller list on the very first day it went on sale, September 15th.

Hello My Name is Awesome book cover

She was motivated to write the book after seeing so many companies in Silicon Valley with odd and goofy names. She wanted to show that by using the right process, anyone, even the most noncreative person (was she thinking of me?), not only could come up with an awesome brand name, but actually have fun doing it.

In just seven chapters, she explains what qualities go into making a “super-sticky” name, the seven deadly sins of bad names, the best strategies for finding domain names for your product, the all-important creative brief that must be first created to streamline the process of arriving at an awesome name, how brainstorming should properly be conducted, how to build consensus correctly if there are others involved, and the pros and cons of changing an existing product or service name. [Read more…]

Got Old Photos? Two Great Conversion Services For Your Book or Blog

This old family homestead photo from Carver, Mass. in the 1800s was converted by Just Black and White

One of the challenges for authors and bloggers alike who want to include an old photo in their book or blog is figuring out how to modernize vintage images to digital format successfully.

This old family homestead photo from Carver, Mass. in the 1800s was converted by Just Black and White

This old family homestead photo from Carver, Mass. in the 1800s was converted by Just Black and White

Photos from the very recent past are pretty straightforward, as you might be able to scan them yourself if you have high-end equipment.

What do you do, however, if you have media from the 1800s? You might have a daguerreotype, a tintype, a carte de visite, or a very faded albumen print. Or what do you do if you have old family slides or film reels that might contain a telling clue for your family genealogy?

Here are two services that I have used successfully to address the old media conversion problem.

Just Black and White is based in South Portland Maine, and is a photo lab that specializes in restorations and enhancements for genealogists, museums and historical societies.  They have been in business since 1983, and the founder, David Mishkin, is well-known for his attention to quality and his presentations on photographic preservation and conservation.

The original print of the Carver homestead

The original print of the Carver homestead

In the featured photo above of a family homestead, his company took the original, which was a very faded print, and created an enhanced print for me so that I could really see the detail in the image. I was then able to scan the print – couldn’t do that from the original, which was much too faded to scan after suffering for years tucked away in a moldy New England basement. It’s well over 130 years old!  [Read more…]

How to Stand Out in a Crowded Field

Brown-Eyed-Susan flowers

Sometimes it can be difficult to stand out in the field you’ve chosen, especially when you stop to consider just how many people are pursuing their writing passion.  What are some of the best ways to differentiate yourself?

Brown-Eyed-Susan flowers

Here are 3 things I learned  – one by accident, one by instinct, and one by both accident AND instinct.  Maybe they will work for you.

Go to the empty room – During my second year of graduate school, the university held a special career night, when we could meet and talk to alumni who were employed in different areas of communications.  Each specialty had its own room – Film, Advertising, Public Relations.  I tried to get into the rooms, but stopped when I saw how crowded they were. Piles of students were trying to talk their way into a job with a local Boston agency or film company. I hesitated in the hallway, not sure what to do. I hadn’t anticipated crowds like this!

Then I saw the sign for the High-Tech room.  I walked in to check it out, and found myself completely alone with two alumni. No other students! One alum worked for Data General, and the other worked for Computerworld.  By walking into an empty room, I had a great opportunity to talk to experienced graduates in a quiet environment, and find out about a career path I hadn’t even considered. The connection I made there helped me get my first job out of grad school at Data General. To think how close I came to missing out on what is a deep interest!

Write the unexpected –When I wrote my business book a few years ago, I wanted to shake things up with my target audience. I wanted to address head-on one of the biggest mistakes I saw tech companies making: assuming that public relations was merely an activity of churning out press releases regularly, like an organ grinder and his monkey.

So I chose a title that I knew would grab their attention – Press Releases are Not a PR Strategy.  Emphasis on Not.  Now, you can legitimately argue that titles worded in a more positive way can be more effective, as in, state what WOULD be a good strategy, but I just knew I wanted a book title that would essentially stop potential clients in their tracks.  If they couldn’t get their minds wrapped around the notion that public relations is more than just press releases, then they likely wouldn’t be a good client for me.

Stake out an unusual niche – After moving from Boston to Phoenix, I was happy to land a good job at a Fortune 500 company, where I learned about process control manufacturing (as opposed to discrete manufacturing, which more people are familiar with). When I then left the mothership to start my own business (after admittedly a false start in trying to write a novel – not my forte), I turned that knowledge into a niche. Most of my clients were involved in some aspect of process manufacturing in one way or another, and most of them were out of state.

That old saying, “You can’t be a prophet in your own land,” does hold credence in many cases. As a female writer in a traditionally male-dominated industry, I also (unintentionally) stood out.  I didn’t start out calculatingly – I just wanted to be on my own and write about topics I liked, and I wanted to stay away from Arizona’s traditional niches of semiconductors, real estate, tourism, and hospitality.  So find a niche in your writing. A category within a category. Something that you genuinely like, but might be off the beaten path for some.


If you’re an author or author-in-waiting, take a look at all the different kinds of writing you’ve done, and see if there’s anything you have created that was contrarian, or unusual, or if there’s a niche that isn’t typical or popular. Be sure it’s one you like authentically.  Then go for it!

Photo credit: © Linda VandeVrede