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GUEST BLOG: Crowdfunding for beginners

22nd November 2013 - Diana Bird


London at DawnChanges in the book trade over the last few years persuaded photographer Anthony Epes that his project to record some of the world's great cities at dawn that the traditional publishing route would no longer be the best way to get his beautiful images published. Crowdfunding - as his wife and collaborator, Diana Bird, explained in her blog for us a couple of months ago - was by far the better option.


With London at Dawn and Paris at Dawn now published - and a stunning exhibition on display in the Gallery at Foyles Charing Cross Road until 29th November - Diana offers her tips on successful crowdfunding.



For the past two years my photographer husband Anthony Epes and I have been putting together two new books that we hope will be a series on Cities at Dawn. We had interest from some publishers, but no attractive offers (in fact, some very unattractive offers which I talked about in my previous blog post). So we decided to go it alone and try to use 'crowdfunding' as a way to raise half the money to print the books.


Crowdfunding essentially provides you with a platform to 'pre-sell' your creative project, in our case books. Your backers purchase your books, or any other 'rewards' you can think of, to help you get your project off the ground. It's an amazing platform - but it's tough. 52% of projects don't get funded, but within our field only 36% of photo books get funded. Most crowdfunding websites (of which there are many) use an 'all-or nothing' system: you get to pick the amount you want to raise, but you must raise that amount or you get nothing. And you have to rely on your own personal network to raise most, if not all, of the money.


Crowdfunding not only gives you the option to raise money, it can also help you build a new audience for your work. We were able to raise £10,875 for London at Dawn and Paris at Dawn, and we attracted backers from all over the world, many of whom messaged us after saying they would back our next Cities at Dawn book. So what's not to love? Here are the essential things we did.


1: It was not easy

The best article I've read about crowdfunding is from Nathaniel Hansen. He says you have to fundraise like it's a full time job. Every day, getting the word out there and yes, losing sleep, lots of sleep.

I had done one previous crowdfunding campaign to raise £2000 for Anthony to photograph the Homeless World Cup in Mexico City. Even though it was for 5 times less than what we were asking for our books, it was crazy intense. I was constantly emailing, Facebooking etc. It was a real shock to realise that you may be super super passionate about what you do - but to get other people to feel even a tinsy, winsy bit passionate, requires a tremendous amount of hard work. There is a lot of stuff in this world competing for their support.


2: We needed the campaign to be seen by at least 30,000 people

In this article on they explain some of the things you need to work out to get your campaign funded: 'Ryan Koo of ran one of the highest grossing film campaigns in Kickstarter's history at $125,000. He decided to set a big goal to make himself rise to the challenge, but he also made sure it was viable by calculating the number of people he had to reach at a 1% contribution rate for an average of $50. Don't be afraid to dream big, but back it up with some math."

To raise £10,000 I realised we need 30,000 people to see something about the campaign (on a blog, or a friend's Facebook page, etc) so we had to think of great ways to get it out there. Press is an obvious one, and it was an area I worked really hard on. Unfortunately, even though we got 6 or 7 articles up about the campaign it only generated 2% of the total amount we raised.

What worked better was Twitter and Facebook. The most convincing and compelling person to sell your work is someone who has just bought your work. So the people who promoted it once they backed us were the most powerful voices. Also - we had the luck of getting Stephen Fry to tweet about us three days before the campaign ended (he wrote the foreword to the London at Dawn book). Twitter and Facebook raised 20% of the total for us.


3: I was politely shameless

I even texted my osteopath! But I am an obsessively polite person, so although I emailed most of my network (friends, professional contacts and family) 3 times over the month we were crowdfunding, I was very polite about it. Persistence and humour I think are your best friends here.


4: I asked many of my more talented friends and family to help

I really really wanted this campaign to work. And that desire paralysed me when it came to writing the campaign page and emails to people. So I asked my writer friend, my filmmaker brother, and my mother to jazz up/re-write what I had done. It would have been very, very boring otherwise.

Telling your story in a compelling, real and interesting way is imperative to this process so because I couldn't, I asked people who could.


5: I wrote lists, and more lists of people we could tell

I did epic amounts of research - bloggers, journalists, tweeters. Anyone who might think 'this is awesome'. We planned lots and lots of communications - via email, Facebook, Twitter etc, to get people to notice what we were doing. Sometime it led to a sale, most of the time it didn't. But unless you try a bunch of stuff you won't know what will work.


6: And I had templates for emails coming out of my ears

I know myself well enough to know that intense pressure and me are not great friends. So before we pressed go I wrote a bunch of emails for different situations and stored them. What I didn't do was think of a subject line for said emails. Doesn't sound like a big problem? Well, we spent two hours coming up with boring email subject lines on the first day.

I should have done that when I had more head space. Here is an awesome article that has tonnes of templates for you to use and generally great tips for other crowdfunding tools.


7: I have looked at hundreds of other crowdfunding campaigns

I modelled our campaign after two highly successful photography campaigns on Kickstarter. They chose to be short, let the photos do the talking, and had less than ten rewards. I'm sure it's possible to innovate, but for me I find it easier to emulate what seems to have worked for others.


8: I chose the crowdfunding platform that I thought was right for us

There are tonnes of crowdfunding platforms that are out there and I have done extensive research as to which one is right for us. We chose Kickstarter because I thought we would get more contributions from people we don't know and it worked. 25% of our backers were people who were already using Kickstarter and found us on there.

There is lots of research to show that the all-or-nothing system is the most galvanising for your crowd and the most successful way to crowdfund. Look here and here.


9: Keep some ideas up your sleeve for if the campaign stalls

Most campaigns follow a similar pattern - money comes in at the beginning and at the end, with some seriously quiet days in the middle that will make your heart stop with anxiety. At day 25 (out of 30) we were only 52% funded! So in the middle we came up with two new rewards - photography workshops led by Anthony - and that got people so excited we raise 10% of the funds from those ideas alone. Do not despair when things go quite. Keep plugging on.


London and Paris at Dawn is on display in the Gallery at Foyles, Charing Cross Road until 29th November



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