How to Crowdfund Your Book? Take a Cue From Journalist Revati Laul
In the face of several challenges, including losing her father to cancer, Revati Laul managed to crowdfund her book.
It was the summer of 2016. I had spent two years shutting down all money-making and work possibilities, to dedicate myself completely to the research and writing of my book.
I had hoped to land some institutional funding for it, and every place I had applied to, turned me down.
It may just have been that I sucked at writing proposals. And then some said it also had to do with the fact that my book was based on three people from the mob of 2002, Gujarat. Those two words taken together, made people freeze, even though the content was entirely non-controversial.
So I had no where to go with my half done project except to crowdfund it. Literally – go get a crowd of people interested in my book project, to put money on it so I could finish.
I needed one year’s worth of funding – for rent, travel, food, books, legal fees. That added up to 8 lakh rupees. When all funding agencies had said no – national and international – would people put money on this? How much money? Most of my friends are perennially broke like me. The maximum I could expect from them was between 1,000 and 5,000 a head.
How many friends could I count on to pay? Let’s say 50 – of which 40 gave me a 1,000 and 10 gave 5,000. That would add up to Rs 90,000. I would need strangers to pitch in another 7 lakhs! It seemed impossible.
But I’m about to tell you how and why I eventually raised 9.7 lakhs in about fifteen days from about 97 people.
That is the power of a crowd.
The Power of a Crowd
If you engage people and infect them with the energy of what you are doing, I discovered it is contagious. So contagious that school-mates who were in a different class from me and whom I had not met since school, reached out from literally nowhere, re-entered my life and funded the book. So contagious that when I launched my book in December 2018 and about 180 people turned up for the launch event, 80 percent or more were friends from my new crowdfunding family.
When institutions ran scared or decided the combination of 2002 and Gujarat was too risky a proposition to fund, individuals reached out and put their money on it.
Some put a 1,000, some put 50,000, and their names. Unlike the institutions, they were unafraid, and they believed that what I was trying to do – open up new conversations on mass-violence, un-polarise the space – was worth their hard-earned money.
But there was a method to the madness. It was the product of research and then a three- month long preparation to launch my crowdfunding campaign.
Why I Chose an Indian Crowdfunding Site
First, I had to figure out whether to run a campaign by starting my own blog and using my contacts alone or whether to put my campaign on a professional crowdfunding site. I decided on the latter for two reasons.
Firstly, a crowdfunding site that approached me said using their site would increase the visibility of my campaign beyond just my immediate circle.
And secondly, I needed my fundraising to be properly accounted for and audited independently so having money transferred directly to me by individuals seemed to me to be harder to explain than an independent agency that accounted for every individual and every penny got.
Then I had to decide on what kind of crowdfunding site to launch my campaign with. There were many even in 2016 – international ones like Kickstarter and Indiegogo and Indian ones.
I chose an Indian site because they approached me, they met me through a publisher and liked what I was doing. They were very enthusiastic and they sold me their plan.
They said once the campaign is up it’s a link online so it won’t matter if it’s an Indian or a foreign campaign site.
My Next Steps
But Indians are still wary of online transactions, and they have the facility to collect checks and cash from people in addition to online transfers from anywhere in the world. They also said they will assign a campaign person to me who will help me design and calibrate my campaign so it gets the maximum attention online, crucial to getting money.
They also said on an international campaign page, I would be competing for attention with campaigns from all over the world including big Hollywood studio productions raising money to finish million-dollar films and big, fat crowdfunding teams working full-time on those campaigns.
Whereas the Indian sites were leaner, meaner and I had a higher charge of being at the top of their campaign page or their home page, based on how well my campaign did and how quickly it filled up with cash.
I was sold. I signed up with the Indian site. And then we worked together for three months to get the campaign strategy in place. I created a blog to accompany the campaign so that whoever saw my campaign could go to the blog and read some of the best writing on mass violence on the 1984 anti-Sikh pogrom and on genocides around the world from Rwanda to Armenia.
I created a crowdfunding video that needed to be short, clear and evocative all at once.
A 45-Day Campaign – And Twitter Trolls
The crowdfunding site helped me design a campaign page and a robust strategy. Should this be a 30 day or a 45 campaign? What should I put out in week one, week two, etc.
And who to target in the beginning, then the middle and then in the end. We decided this should be a 45-day campaign. By the time we hit live, my father was in and out of the ICU.
I ran the campaign most days from the hospital where I was losing him to cancer. But the campaign had a crazy energy of its own and started to fill up really fast. By the fifteenth day, I had raised all 8 lakhs I needed. My father smiled between being on several drips and on the ventilator. “Very good Motu,” he said. It was what he called me affectionately.
By day fifteen however, something else started to kick in. The success of the campaign had attracted the attention of Twitter trolls.
One troll I was told by the crowdfunding website harangued them on their social media space, knowing perhaps that it was futile to come after me, I don’t react. The crowdfunding site suddenly seemed to develop cold feet.
My Dad Died Knowing My Campaign Was a Success
The co-founder called me and said in a strangely menacing tone over the phone, “We have been asked to take your campaign off by one of our principal funders. He said we shouldn’t be running this sort of thing and how you are not a credible journalist. And that if we don’t take your campaign down, he will pull out all his funding. We aren’t taking you down but we are taking you off our social media pages,” the co-founder continued.
I was a bit thrown by this. Not entirely because I half suspected that something like this might happen, and had warned the crowd-funder in advance of the risks of taking my campaign on board.
“You are taking 10 percent of my crowdfunded money, that’s 80,000 rupees and if you don’t promote it, what are you charging me for?” I shot back and said.
But the money was in the holding account of the crowd funder so I had no choice. They took their ten percent plus another 30-40,000 for converting those who paid in dollars and euros to rupees and various other transaction fees they had not talked about at the start.
But I had raised my money and was now starting to tell those that still wanted to contribute not to since I had reached my target.
I lost my father, and that was where everything stopped. I no longer looked at the campaign. He died knowing it was a success, but a few days before its official closing date.
Finding A Curious Crowd That is NOT a Mob
But the book got done. Entirely because of the faith of old friends and new and some familiar faces that became friends in the process. And as I write this, entirely overwhelmed by the unfolding of events that finally allowed my book to see the light of day, I have come away filled up with the faith and belief of so many people. And some stray thoughts on the process of crowdfunding.
It needs work, it needs strategy, it needs full time attention for at least three months before the launch of the campaign. It needs your heart and soul and gut. And perhaps, if I were to do this again, I may reconsider what kind of crowdfunding website to go with.
No, go find that must-do idea, the resistance you believe in, that no big fat cat investor or company wants and know that if you believe in it enough, others will too. And that’s how the world also does move. As we despair with what we see happen at Sabarimala and in police-stations and qasbahs around the country, I want to wish you all some happy resistance and say, there is a curious and engaged crowd that is NOT the mob. Go find it!
(Revati Laul is a Delhi-based journalist and film-maker, and the author of `The Anatomy of Hate,’ published by Context/Westland, now in stores and also on Amazon.in. She tweets at@RevatiLaul. This is a personal blog and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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