SPS-225: Kickstarting Your Indie Author Career – with Nicholas Kotar

Nicholas Kotar shares the details of his experience with a Kickstarter campaign to launch and fund writing some of his books.

Show Notes

  • Being a full-time creative entrepreneur, which means wearing many hats
  • On taking inspiration from Russian fairytales
  • The origins and set-up of Nick’s Kickstarter campaign
  • Looking at Kickstarter as a way for readers to pre-order
  • The journey of the reader as a hero’s journey
  • On the importance of the story being told in the campaign
  • Kickstarter as a marketing avenue
  • Tips for structuring your Kickstarter video properly

Resources mentioned in this episode:

PATREON: Self Publishing Formula Show’s Patreon page

WEBINAR: Join Janet Margo, ex of Amazon, for a free webinar on the insider secrets to successful Amazon ads. Reserve your seat here.

NEW COURSE: Learn the secrets behind writing a book that readers will love in How To Write a Bestseller.

SPFU: For a limited time, while the world is #socialdistancing, we are offering FREE access to SPF University* (*not a university). Click here for lifetime access.

DIGITAL EVENT: Were you not able to attend SPS Live? Get your digital ticket here.

MERCH: Are you a ligneous beetle or a yawning hippopotamus? Get your SPF hoodies and t-shirts in the brand new SPF Store.


Speaker 1: On this edition of The Self-Publishing Show.

Nicholas Kotar: What we are asking is not for people to give us money. We’re actually offering them a way of pre-ordering our books that include all kinds of interesting, ancillary goodies that they might get if we reach certain stretch goals. And that’s the real secret of Kickstarter.

Speaker 1: Publishing is changing. No more gatekeepers, no more barriers. No one standing between you and your readers. Do you want to make a living from your writing?

Join indie bestseller Mark Dawson and first-time author James Blatch as they shine a light on the secrets of self-publishing success. This is the Self-Publishing Show. There’s never been a better time to be a writer.

James Blatch: Hello and welcome to The Self-Publishing Show, with James Blatch.

Mark Dawson: And Mark Dawson.

James Blatch: And we are both representing today aren’t we?

Mark Dawson: Yeah, I guess. I was in a shirt this morning and I was playing football with my son and he ripped the shirt right down the middle. He’s very sweet. It’s a very old shirt. And he said … I said I was going to throw it away. He said, “Don’t throw it away, Daddy. You look good in it.” Thank you very much.

James Blatch: That’s sweet.

Mark Dawson: But no. I’m wearing my own brand today, which is a bit meta.

James Blatch: So lucky. Could’ve been a yellow card.

Mark Dawson: I think it’s a red card basically. He’s straight off.

James Blatch: What we should say about our merch, that Amazon is … in fact, this will bring us neatly on to one of our first topics of conversation today. That Amazon is struggling to get merch done in the United States, as we speak, with the COVID-19 situation.

They are, I think, still operating, albeit with delays, in the UK. But you’ll have to bear with us if you’re after that very nice t-shirt. Time will pass before you’ll be able to order again in the US. We’ll try and update the merch tab on our website with that.

That brings us on to a topic that’s been hot in our Facebook groups and other Facebook groups this week, which is Amazon has been a tad glitchy over the last three or four days. Go home, Amazon, you’re drunk.

This started, I think, about four days ago, five days ago when somebody posted into I think the 20 Books group and said hey, um, has anybody else found their book going to zero? I’ve just seen it’s being given away for free and I didn’t change it to zero. And that started a lot of other people saying oh yeah, this has happened to me.

It looked to me, Mark, reading the messages, as if it was affecting people who’d made some changes to their book in the KDP dashboard. Even uncommanded change added into that was it went to zero.

Mark Dawson: Yeah, it seemed that way. It didn’t affect me so I can’t comment on that one. Although I’ve had my own issues with Amazon this week. But it did. It wasn’t isolated, there were quite a few people who saw their book went to zero. I think preorders as well were going to zero.

So a lot of people were worried were they going to lose money. I haven’t spoken to Amazon about this, but I wouldn’t worry too much. I would be very very surprised if … first of all, they know. I believe they know it’s an issue.

And I would be very surprised if when they fixed it that it doesn’t mean that those sales that should have happened will be credited at the price they were supposed to be credited at.

So I wouldn’t worry too much. Frustrating and a bit worrying sometimes, but.

James Blatch: Isn’t that a difficult with that, though? Because let’s say you … I suppose they could use average sales. Let’s say you sell 25 books a day on average and you push out 250 when it’s marked to free for two days.

Mark Dawson: Yeah, that’s true. You could argue they just have to honor all of those because those books were downloaded at a price that they set that you hadn’t changed the list price. I don’t really know and I’m not thinking about that in legal terms.

But I suspect Amazon will do the right thing on that and that will all get sorted out.

James Blatch: Otherwise you will underwrite it.

Mark Dawson: Yeah, that’s right.

James Blatch: You’ll personally pay everybody.

Mark Dawson: Yeah.

James Blatch: Any losses incurred.

Mark Dawson: There have been a few issues. I was made notice too, I’ve got a preorder coming up and I changed the blurb. So I had a kind of a placeholder blurb, which I wanted to change to the real thing. And I did it, as we record this on Monday the 4th, May the 4th, happy Star Wars day.

It’s been four days I think and it’s just stuck in review. It’s really annoying. Also there’s the print version of this book that’s coming out whenever I can has been stuck in review for about the same time. And I’ve got a BookBub on Wednesday, on the 6th. I changed the price on Saturday and that’s still in review.

So the review process is basically broken at the moment.

James Blatch: Let me just say that this has come on quite quickly, because I did some changes, new cover, new blurb, to one of our books in Fuse. Must’ve been Monday or Tuesday last week and that went through absolutely fine, very quickly. I think I got the approval the next day, which is about right.

But suddenly, Friday or something like that last week, it all started becoming glitchy. So some cleaner somewhere’s unplugged a computer to put their vacuum cleaner in.

Mark Dawson: Something like that. So yes, I do have a preorder coming up and I want that to go live this week if I can, because I think that will be best for the launch.

James Blatch: This is a Milton book, though?

Mark Dawson: It is a Milton book, yes.

James Blatch: 17?

Mark Dawson: 16th. 16th Milton book. The advance readers have been really positive. Which is always lovely.

So it’s ready to go pretty much. The manuscript is done, Vellum is done. Everything is ready. But I set the preorder date a year in advance, so I set it in September last year so I’ve got until this September. But I’m ready to go now.

I’m just waiting for this blurb to be approved. And of course once that’s approved, I’ll then have to upload the correct manuscript and then click … get it approved again. So it’s entirely possible that this won’t be approved for another day or two.

I’ll then have another four days to wait whilst … we’re going to be into next week before we know it. I’ve dropped an email to some Amazonians who I think might be able to help. So hopefully they’ll be able to give it a kick, switch it on and switch it off again. Always the best policy.

James Blatch: Exactly. And just so I understand, or we understand how this works. The preorder, you get a year. During that year, I think they’ve done some extensions actually because of COVID, but anyway.

During that year, you’ve got to make the book live at some point in those 12 months. But the date, sort of the year point, when you put your book up for preorder do you put a date, public facing date, of the date it’s going to go live?

Mark Dawson: You do. Yeah. So on the website it says September 2020.

James Blatch: And you chose that? And that was the maximum length you could’ve had under the Amazon rules and you chose that date?

Mark Dawson: Yes. I knew it would be ready in advance of that. But I wanted to run the preorders so I could just hoover up sales. And 13,000 preorders is pretty healthy.

I knew there’d be no pressure in having that out there. I could’ve said date six months from when I put it up for preorder. But that would’ve put me under a little bit of pressure that wasn’t necessary. So I just like it to be as long as possible so I can then push the button when I’m ready to go, knowing that there’s no possibility that I’ll miss the backstop date.

The only issue with that is that the date is on Amazon and I’ve had lots of readers, when I say to them in emails the book will be out next week, they’ll go I’ve just been to Amazon and it says September 2020. Even though I’ve got, in the email I said, ignore that date. And even on the actual Amazon page it says this date is wrong. They still don’t see that sometimes. And so I’ve had to be dealing with that.

James Blatch: That is a slight downside of doing it that way, because readers will always see that date.

Mark Dawson: Very small. It’s easy to correct, just email back and say don’t worry, Amazon’s wrong, I’m right. It will be out next week. Well hopefully be out this week. We’ll see.

James Blatch: Good. And I haven’t seen anything, I haven’t had a chance to look in the forums today to see what the situation is. But your understanding is as it May the Fourth Be With You day, that Amazon is still glitchy.

Mark Dawson: Well, only in as far as I can comment on my own experience. And those books haven’t been approved yet. So yes, it seems to be slow.

If you’ve got a BookBub coming up, I’d change the price as soon as you can because at the moment I’m not entirely sure it will be ready when the BookBub goes live on the 6th.

James Blatch: Well, you won’t be the only person in that position. I’m sure they’ll be easy on you at Boston Towers.

Mark Dawson: I know they will. They’ll jump on me. We’ll see, we’ll see.

James Blatch: Do you know what? This sort of thing happens from time to time. It happens more in a complex online environment than it used to happen in bookshops. But I’m quite certain they shipped 25,000 books for somebody’s autobiography in the 1980s and priced them up wrong in the shop for two weeks before anyone noticed.

It’s the sort of thing that does happen from time to time. And we have to make some allowances.

We are going to have a quick chat about the Amazon ads course. And the reason for that is that I’m really heads down editing it this morning. I’ve been going through the modules and the sessions.

It’s shaping up to be instruction in a slightly different way from most of our courses. Shorter sessions and more of them. But it’s a really really good course. And as somebody who’s now running Amazon ads in Anga for our Fuse books series-

Mark Dawson: Oh god.

James Blatch: I’m starting to really lap it up. I’m really excited about this course.

Janet Margo, just to remind people, we’ve recruited Janet Margo straight from Amazon. She was at the coalface, the person, helping to design this very platform. She’s now moved to another part of the vast Amazon empire.

Which leaves her free to be the tutor for you. To teach you how to use this platform that she had a hand in, in creating. And it’s exciting. It’s shaping up very nicely. We’re going to have it ready for June, I’m pretty certain about that now. Which is the late date we’ve got in mind for opening up Ads For Authors, the very beginning of June.

I know you’re keeping an eye across it as well, Mark. I see your comments in the vast spreadsheet we have. Which is the production side of bringing a course to fruition. There’s a few notes from you going back with some extra examples. Using our experience of putting courses together and helping Janet with that side of it.

Mark Dawson: Yes. Janet knows as much as anybody in the world about Amazon ads for authors, because that’s what she did. She set up the books program in Amazon Advertising. So she’s very knowledgeable.

So you combine that with our expertise when it comes to making courses look swish, plus I’ll be doing some stuff in the course as well. So things like keyword research, that’s something that I’m quite good at.

We’ll have some sessions with me, but it’ll be mostly with Janet. It’s going to be really good. I mean we’ve said before anyone who’s already a member of the Ads For Authors course will get that. You’ll just see that that will appear in your Teachable school.

And it will be something that we’ll be offering as part of the new course when it goes live in June. So definitely I’m pretty excited. I’m excited about it. I think Janet will show me things I didn’t know.

One of the things that we’ve got is a webinar coming up. So we’ll be doing some webinars during the launch period and Janet is doing one for us. It’s on Tuesday the 9th of June. It’s London time 9:00 PM, New York time 4:00 PM, Los Angeles time 1:00 PM.

And we’ll be looking at six secrets to Amazon ads success. So with me and Janet, hosted by your good self. And we’re going to be looking at how to start off small and scale up effectively. Whether ad relevance or the highest bid is more important. How to develop key learnings, I hate that word, key learnings, almost like journey, on what works for your books.

That simplicity is often key to a successful Amazon ad. And there’ll be a Q&A at the end. So it will be basically me, Janet, and James. So you’ve got to ask us about Amazon ads, Facebook ads for me, anything else really, and you can ask James. I’m sure James can answer some questions about some things. Not quite sure what. Think about that.

James Blatch: I can tell you I’m showing a profit on my Amazon ads, so I’m pretty much cracked that.

Mark Dawson: Very good. Yes. So what do we say the URL was going to be?

James Blatch: It’s going to be six secrets, so S-I-X S-E-C-R-E-T-S. Not to be confused with, which is John’s personal page. Don’t go there.

Mark Dawson: Yes, definitely don’t go there.

James Blatch: All one word. We’ll probably put the digit six version out there as well, just to-

Mark Dawson: Yes.

James Blatch: And that’ll be a place where you can sign up for the webinar. Completely free of course, as Mark says June the 9th. But get in early.

We’ve got a thousand spots available because that’s our limit on our GoToWebinar account. And it would not surprise me if this is the webinar that busts that top limit.

Mark Dawson: We’ve already done that once. We have had a webinar that was full once. So this one definitely will be full. I don’t think there’s any question about that.

James Blatch: And just to explain how that works, you can register. In fact we can register thousands and thousands of people. It’s a limit on attendees. So basically it’s getting in early.

If you get there on time or a few minutes before, in the past you’ve always been guaranteed a slot. It’s the last 10 minutes once we’ve started normally where it fills up and goes over the top.

Mark Dawson: We had a few people sending us angry emails with screen grabs of a little GoToWebinar dial up box that said this webinar is full. So this isn’t us. It’s not BS. It’s a thousand people and that’s the limit that we have.

Definitely register. And then make sure that you are there quarter to nine UK time, on the 9th. So yes, we’re looking forward to that one.

James Blatch: Okay. Right. Look, let’s move on to today’s interview. It’s with a man called Nicholas Kotar, a very interesting guy. He’s a first generation Russian immigrant family in the US. And he wears his heritage very proudly.

But he is also a very entrepreneurial guy, very motivated. And he’s somebody who has used crowdfunding to fund his fiction book. Now, this is something that does take place from time to time. More often I would say with nonfiction, certainly nonfiction products.

But it can work for fiction. But it works in a particular way, and Nick has really laid that open for us in this interview. Really gone into detail. It’s another way of doing things. it’s a way of building a fan base at the same time as writing the book. Really super fans who feel invested in your book. And are making the book profitable right from the start. A bit like preorders.

So let’s hear from Nick, and then Mark and I can have a quick chat off the back of that.

Nick, hello and welcome to The Self Publishing Show. Ooh, that was an extreme close up. That was-

Nicholas Kotar: Sorry.

James Blatch: Do you remember Wayne’s World? They used to do that extreme close up.

Nicholas Kotar: Yes, exactly.

James Blatch: That’s what that was. Okay, well that’s a good way to say hello. We should do a formal welcome then to the show. And you’re joining us from, remind me where. You’re in the US somewhere.

Nicholas Kotar: Yeah. I call it Cal Country, because that’s about as close as anybody knows. It’s near Cooperstown, New York, which is known only for the fact of it being the baseball hall of fame. But other than that, nobody knows where it is.

James Blatch: Ah, yes. I must go there one day. The whole town’s built around the baseball hall of fame right?

Nicholas Kotar: Yeah. It is, yeah.

James Blatch: Wow. Good. Okay, well there’s a trip for me one day. When the travel restrictions eventually get lifted.

Nicholas Kotar: Oh, good grief. Yeah, absolutely.

James Blatch: We’re right in the middle of it all. But hopefully by the time this goes out maybe things have settled down.

Nicholas Kotar: Let’s hope.

James Blatch: Now we’re going to talk a bit about you, but a bit about an unusual approach to funding your writing career. Which is I think what we’re going to get some instruction about.

But let’s start with you, Nick. An interesting career. You’re multi-talented. You’re a bit of a renaissance man.

Nicholas Kotar: That’s what I try, yeah.

James Blatch: So tell us about you.

Nicholas Kotar: I’ve been writing, as many people probably say on this show, since I was a kid. But in terms of actually writing for a living, it’s been a very long and kind of convoluted journey. Currently I consider myself to be a full-time creative, but it’s from a wide variety of different sources.

I translate from Russian to English, I write fiction, I speak, I give online workshops. I sing professionally.

James Blatch: Wow.

Nicholas Kotar: I conduct a men’s choir, for which I receive not that much money but I see that as the center of my creative life, on a regular basis. I’m sure there’s a few more things that I’m forgetting at the moment.

James Blatch: Did you mention your translation?

Nicholas Kotar: I did. I translate from Russian to English.

James Blatch: Yeah. Which is amazing. So you’re fluent in Russian I presume.

Nicholas Kotar: It was actually my first language. Even though I was born in San Francisco, I spoke nothing but Russian until I was five.

James Blatch: Wow.

Nicholas Kotar: There’s a story there. My parents come from immigrant stock. My grandparents had to emigrate from Russia after the revolution. And they felt very strongly about keeping the culture and the language intact, especially in America where people tend to lose that very quickly.

So I’m doing that with my kids now too. My three kids speak only Russian.

James Blatch: They speak only Russian?

Nicholas Kotar: Well, my eldest is starting to catch up on the English. It happens every quickly. It’s much easier to lose the Russian than it is to gain English.

James Blatch: Wow. That must be quite something. I’ve got friends who are bilingual and they do something where they’ll speak one language at home. Usually the language of the country they’re not in. So if they’re English families in France, they’ll speak English in the house and then French outside it. Something like that.

That’s a really good thing to do. I’m a lazy Englishman, so I obviously only barely speak English. But what a great advantage for a child to grow up with it being bilingual. Doesn’t matter what the other language is actually. I think that’s great.

Let’s talk a bit about your writing then. So I think it’s fairy tales. That’s at least one of your specialist areas. And perhaps fantasy?

Nicholas Kotar: Yeah. I’m sort of between genres. I think technically speaking what I write is fantasy, but practically speaking I take a lot of inspiration from Russian fairy tales. And the way I structure my stories is very much along fairy tale, traditional fairy tale, structures.

Oftentimes I get story elements or plot elements or characters from the old Russian fairy tales. And I think there’s a lot of actually good crossover between the two genres. But technically speaking, if you’re talking about Amazon genres, I don’t think I fit exactly into the fairy tale one.

Because usually what sells in the fairy tale section is happily ever after retellings of a Cinderella tale. And oftentimes they’ll have a princess in a ball gown as the cover. And that’s what people look for when they go to the fairy tales section. I skew closer to the epic fantasy scale of things.

James Blatch: Okay. I guess in their origins, they’re both … I mean one of the great things about fairy tales is they’re quite sinister.

Nicholas Kotar: Oh yeah.

James Blatch: When you’re a kid, you’re quite drawn to that dark side of poisoning young beautiful women and all the things that happen in fairy tales. Use the word grim of course, the Grimm Brothers. But they were quite grim.

And they’ve been used a lot in more modern terms in comic books and retellings, dark retellings. There was quite a violent Hansel and Gretel not that long ago. I can see where the origins work for both. But yeah, because of that child connection.

Epic fantasy, does this conform to genre? They’re quite long books.

Nicholas Kotar: They’re actually not. And this is the one aspect where I kind of go countercultural. They’re pretty self-contained. I think for most people who look for the door-stopper experience of the extremely rich world building, that’s not quite what I do.

I like a lot more streamlined approach to the plot. Where the world building happens a little more naturally as the characters go through the world. And to be honest, and maybe I shouldn’t be saying this, but I kind of get annoyed with the really really long epic fantasy.

Because oftentimes it’s just world building for world building’s sake. And we really don’t have all of that many hours in a given day and there’s so many books out there. I’d rather get to the story quickly.

James Blatch: I’ve been mulling that question today actually, because I’ve been thinking through some science fiction ideas I’ve been having, sort of in between ideas at the moment. And I often mention Ian Banks, because I love his science fiction writing.

What I think he does with science fiction is he doesn’t spend any world building time. The world building is all incidental. You learn it through the story. And it’s a normal sized book and a normal sized story.

But you can do the opposite of that. You can spend a lot of time because you think well people don’t understand how the society works here so I have to explain that. But it’s much more interesting when that’s incidental to the story.

Nicholas Kotar: That’s what I think. But I do recognize that a lot of epic fantasy readers read epic fantasy specifically for those asides. I’m just not one of them.

James Blatch: Let’s talk about this fundraising scheme that you had. When did you decide to do that?

Nicholas Kotar: As with so many things with the writer’s career, this one is almost a story in itself. I’m a dedicated follower of this podcast and Joanna Penn’s podcast, and a lot of the other bright and shining lights in the indie movement. The reason I’m indie is another story. But we’re not going to get into that.

I tried a lot of different things. I’m only about three years into this as an indie. So it’s pretty early days, so to speak. And I put my hand into every single pie that I could, especially initially, just to see what worked and what didn’t.

And there was one, I was involved with Instafreebie while they were still Instafreebie. And they had this strange email that came out, and I’m not sure that everybody got it. I think it was to a small subset of their people.

It basically said would you be interested in a pilot course for crowdfunding, for fiction specifically. And if you’d be interested, would you take a course with us?

I kind of just filled it out, thought nothing’s going to happen. And a few weeks later I was one of 15 people chosen for their pilot crowdfunding course. And it was done in total secrecy, nobody knew about it. It was a their attempt to make this into something that I think would become profitable for them at some point.

So I was in at the ground level, with an author, Jay Swanson.

James Blatch: Jay Swanson, yeah.

Nicholas Kotar: Yeah. He had done a few crowdfunding things and so he was pretty good at it. But none of us really knew what to expect because it was a first time thing and there was a lot of negative press surrounding crowdfunding as an approach for marketing for fiction specifically.

Pretty much anybody you would talk to would tell you don’t even try, because it only works for nonfiction. That was sort of the party line that everybody was spreading around.

But because it was offered and because it was free, I thought well why not? And so that’s how I got into it. It ended up being very successful. So we can get into the details of how that happened.

James Blatch: I’m interested in that, because I think people would think of it for nonfiction, for obvious reasons. Particularly nonfiction areas that are going to potentially reward the person investing in it by learning something that’s going to enhance their career.

When we think of crowdfunding for fiction and creative stuff, it’s normally lower level. Like Patreon is an example, Etsy and so on.

How did you set about? What was the offer?

Nicholas Kotar: Well, that’s the interesting thing. So the first thing that we had to understand, from the very beginning, is we had to unlearn a bunch of things that we thought we understood about crowdfunding fiction specifically.

Because so many people equate crowdfunding with charity, specifically because of GoFundMe and other such platforms that oftentimes are set up for people in tragic circumstances.

Kickstarter specifically, and it wasn’t just crowdfunding. It was Kickstarter specifically is a different platform entirely, because it has its own sort of social aspect. A lot of people go to Kickstarter specifically for everything that they need. Whether it’s practical things, whether it’s interesting new ideas, whether it’s books as it turns out

So the thing we all had to understand from the very beginning was that what we are asking is not for people to give us money. We’re actually offering them a way of preordering our books that include all kinds of interesting ancillary goodies that they might get if we reach certain stretch goals.

That’s the real secret of Kickstarter, as it turns out, is that it’s not merely a platform to get money from people who are interesting in buying your books. It’s a platform for that, but it’s also a platform for people who like the community building aspect of reading and of storytelling.

So if you are then, as I was, able to frame the whole ask in a way that emphasized the community story building aspect of it, there’s a real response to it. It was quite shocking actually. I ended up overfunding by a lot.

James Blatch: Wow.

How did you set it out? What were the extra community goodies that you got?

Nicholas Kotar: I started out by making sure in the video that I did, and by the way the video’s very important. We can talk more about the video later, about the specifics of it.

I made sure to focus on the reader. Not on me. And this is the real thing that a lot of people don’t think about. It’s not about me, it’s not about me as the author. I don’t need your help. You need my help actually.

You have to find an angle in which you look at the journey of the reader as a hero’s journey. So the hero, who is the reader, has a problem. And that problem can actually be answered very easily with fiction. We just don’t think of it in those terms. Most of the time it’s a matter of entertainment.

But I did it a little bit differently. I decided that I would focus on an ask that I was sure nobody else was doing. And that was how would you like to participate in the creation of a story at the very beginning? How would you like to be one of the people who actually have input into the directions that the characters go? Into the names that they get, into the mythical creatures that I choose?

That ask was the entry point. So it was interesting and different enough, and people automatically recognized that I wasn’t asking them for money. That I was offering them an experience. And so that’s what got them past my video and into the actual sales page.

And then when they got to the sales page, that’s when I hooked them. Because I included some pretty insane goodies. I gave them the option of entering at a certain tier level, they were automatically entered into a drawing where they would win a custom made, personally forged sword. That was worth over $2000.

James Blatch: Wow.

Nicholas Kotar: Yeah. And there was a few other things including a little stone carving of one of the characters in the novel, that was done by an actual stone carver. It was also given free to one of the people who entered at a certain tier level.

So there were two giveaways that were automatically for free. I also one of the stretch goals included audiobooks, which a lot of people I know contributed specifically because of that because they wanted to see the audiobooks made, as well as hardcovers. Which also interested some people because it’s not very often that independent publishers actually go the route of the hardcover.

Those were things that helped. But ultimately I think what really insured the success of the project was the fact that I had really good covers and I had really good copy. And that I emphasized again and again the community building aspect of it. And reinforced it at every single tier.

It was like I was leading them through a long story. Like my sales page was actually a story and they were the heroes in the story. Not me. And that’s hard to do in a crowdfunding context because you’re inevitably going to think of yourself as the hero because you want to win.

But it’s not. You’re not the hero. They’re the hero and it’s hard to do that because at some point you have to actually include your own struggles as part of the ask. So at some point you do have to give the ask.

It’s not entirely about them. It’s about us. But if you can manage to make it about us, then there’s more likelihood that people are interested.

James Blatch: So this unfolded on sales page with the stretch points you called them, as opt-ins at various points of this story of how far you wanted to go?

Nicholas Kotar: The way that the stretch goals work on Kickstarter specifically is if you reach a certain financial goal above your minium, then automatically those goals come into effect.

I was funding at seven and a half thousand dollars, and if you reached 10,000 then one thing happens automatically. Then if you reach 15, another thing happened automatically, 20, and so on.

That provides it also with an entertainment aspect because if you’re invested in it you want to see how far it can go. Especially if you’re one of the backers and there’s a chance you’re going to get an audiobook version of all five books. And it was a five book series.

Also what helped was that I had two of the books, three of the books, already written, and two of them published. So I was able to show the people a track record of success because there is some negative press around fiction Kickstarters, in that there is a fairly frequent, I don’t have any numbers, but in the zeitgeist, there’s this understanding that some authors don’t fulfill their promises even after the project is funded.

James Blatch: Right. Which is obviously a big no-no.

Nicholas Kotar: Yep. So there’s a lot of objections that you have to overcome on the part of the reader. But if you’re able to do that, they’re willing to help you honestly. It’s interesting.

James Blatch: And the good thing about that particular methodology is that the people who backed you and want to see the goals achieved for their own gain, are going to be your ambassadors on it.

They’re going to sell the project to other people.

Nicholas Kotar: And what’s interesting is that they’re actually a community in and of themselves. A community that doesn’t generally buy books on Amazon, that doesn’t generally buy books in many places. So it’s another niche, it’s another community that you can build.

If you sustain it well, they will be interested in what you do for the longterm. So it’s not merely for this one project. You can actually carry them on to become either your subscribers or your Patreon supports or other things.

It’s a fairly easy ask, because if you’ve given them all these things, much of which is actually free, and that also depends on how you do the tiers. You have to make sure that you’re giving people value for the money. If you do, they’ll be willing to follow you for a long time.

James Blatch: Yeah. So let’s get some details here.

How much did you ask for the various points and offers? And how much did you raise?

Nicholas Kotar: I raised over $25,000. I intended to raise seven and a half and I raised over 25,000. I was completely flabbergasted by it. I didn’t expect it to happen at all.

In fact, the seven and a half thousand ask was rather high. And the people that were in the course, most of them had a much lower ask. It was a bit of a risk. But because of those things, I ended up over funding much more.

I think the key to why I overfunded as much as I did was in addition to the all the other things that I said, was actually something that you don’t often see in fiction Kickstarters. And that’s that I was very careful about pricing my books correctly.

Because if you do some research on fiction Kickstarters that are out there, very often they’ll offer an ebook version of the book that they’re trying to fundraise for for something like $10 or $15 and the paperback version for 25-30.

The simple fact of that is that that’s not much of an incentive for a preorder, because they can just wait for the book to be published and buy it on Amazon for much less. And even if they don’t end up buying it on Amazon, that’s their thought process automatically.

In all honesty, right now people are looking for good deals more than anything. With the reality of the coronavirus that’s only going to make that even worse. So I was very careful about pricing my ebooks at about the same level as they would be on Amazon. It’s a much lower ask than most people would do for an ebook.

But I did it on purpose. But I also, what I made sure to do, was I made sure in my video to specifically direct them not to the lowest tier. In my call to action in the video, I made sure to direct them to the best deal that I had. Which was all five of my ebooks for $20. Which is a really good deal. It’s a lot less than it would be if you bought them individually on Amazon.

So it’s not even the same amount as it would be on Amazon. It’s a significant discount. And I directed them to that. And in the process of directing them to that tier, the next tier that I had that was really popular was actually the $100 tier. Which was all of my paperbacks, signed, all five of them, for $100.

Which is, again, a lot less than you would pay for five paperbacks.

James Blatch: Wow.

Nicholas Kotar: I had a lot of a $100 backers, as they’re called. They’re called backers on Kickstarter. And what I did to make sure that more people went to the $100 one is that I made the $100 and up an automatic entry for the sword.

I’m completely convinced that the sword did most of my work for me. Because I included actual pictures form the work of the forger, who’s a Canadian. A really great guy named Jeff Helms. He’s a fantastic forger. Swordsmith I guess you’d call him.

And just to have the pictures out there in the sales page, I mean they’re impressive. And you could win this for free and it’s only $100, so you know, why not? And that ends up working in my favor.

James Blatch: And did you get a couple of these? I’m assuming they’d be made out of Valyrian steel. Is that what they had in Game of Thrones?

Did you get a couple of these made so you’ve got one?

Nicholas Kotar: I don’t. Can you imagine?

James Blatch: Wow. You just had this one and it’s presumably now gone out.

Nicholas Kotar: Yeah, it’s gone. I don’t have it. I was willing to give it up to somebody else. Because to make two or three it would’ve been prohibitively expensive.

James Blatch: What’s interesting about this to me is the way you were describing it, is it’s not so much setting up a good sales page and the mechanics of it and what the price points.

It’s about the story, this narrative, this thing, this event that people were happy to be a part of. That’s what seemed to have made it work.

Nicholas Kotar: Well, that’s the entry point right? If you can catch people’s attention with a good narrative, then they’re willing to cut you some slack. But that being said, if you then provide them with a sales page that’s sloppy or with tiers of support that are not a good enough value, they’re not going to last very long.

They might get to the bottom of the sales page and then decide yeah, I kind of like what he’s doing but I’ll just wait for the book to be published. It’s safer that way.

You’re dealing with a lot of objections and you have to take care of all of those. So it means having very good covers. My, I guess you would call it a … I don’t know what they would call it. But basically the photo that opened my page, it was like the title photo, and you clicked on it then the video started, was three of my covers. Which were designed by Stuart Bache, of all people of course.

James Blatch: Of course.

Nicholas Kotar: Who had not done fantasy up to that point, so this was a kind of an interesting experiment for him as well. But they were fantastic obviously.

They grab people’s attention immediately. Then the story was good. And then I just took them through this story, and at every point I made sure to show them rather than tell them that this is actually a very good deal. This is something you’re not going to get anywhere else.

And the subject matter, the fact that it was Slavic fantasy, was different and appealing enough for people to stick with me longer.

James Blatch: Yeah. Well, we’re going to have to look up these covers now. Just give us the title and pen name of the books, people can look that up whilst we’re talking.

Nicholas Kotar: The series is called The Raven’s Son series. And the first novel is The Song of the Sirin, that’s spelled S-I-R-I-N.

James Blatch: I just got the books up on the screen here and having a look at them. They have fantastic covers, very striking. Okay. So you’d written two, it was a five book series, that’s what the project was funding, the Kickstarter was funding.

You’d written a couple but hadn’t published, is that right?

Nicholas Kotar: I’d published the first two.

James Blatch: Okay, first two are published.

Nicholas Kotar: The third was finished but it wasn’t published yet. They had an immediate incentive to support me because as soon as they would they would receive book three, which was just about to be published.

James Blatch: Okay.

Nicholas Kotar: So there was also that kind of limited time offer aspect of it. And it wasn’t just fund me for the future and someday I’ll get you the book. It was I will get you a book now. In fact, I’ll give you three of them.

James Blatch: People who did the $100, the signed hardback copies, is that right?

Nicholas Kotar: Signed paperbacks.

James Blatch: Signed paperback copies. They got the first three almost straightaway?

Nicholas Kotar: Yeah, they did.

James Blatch: Then waited for the next two.

Have you done the next two now?

Nicholas Kotar: I’m almost done with book five.

James Blatch: Okay.

Nicholas Kotar: So this is my one minus for all of this is that I wasn’t realistic with how fast I could finish it. I’m about a year behind.

James Blatch: Okay.

Nicholas Kotar: But to be honest, because I gave them so much value so early on, I’ve had almost … I think I’ve had one person complaining. And the rest of them just occasionally write me an email saying I love your books, when is the fifth one coming out. Not that I’m pushing you, they’re saying, I’m not pushing you. I’m just curious to know.

So it’s been a very positive experience overall.

James Blatch: Did it have a knock on effect to sales outside the Kickstarter? Once they were published.

Nicholas Kotar: Not immediately. And this is what’s interesting, is that the way I looked at it was this was an opportunity because I had so much more money than I anticipated, it was an opportunity for me to buy a lot of educational materials and to start saving up money for the future.

I didn’t expect it to have an immediate affect on sales because the difference between a Kickstarter buyer and a buyer on Amazon is quite significant. And none of those sales on Kickstarter are reflected on any list.

So even though I sold over 5000 books just on the Kickstarter, none of those 5000 were ever reflected in an Amazon algorithm or on any other algorithm. So that’s the one reality that you have to be aware of, is that it won’t immediately have an affect on your sales ranking on other retailers. That’s just not realistic.

But what I did is I bought a bunch of courses. I bought Bryan Cohen’s course, I bought Mark’s ad course. And I started to slowly take care of the fundamentals, the foundational stuff. So that when I was able to publish book four, I saw significant increase in my income for every month.

It’s continuing to go up, because I was careful about not throwing all my eggs in to one basket, but to do this more steadily. And I’m a wide author, I’m not somebody who does Kindle Unlimited. I’m looking at this as a long game.

James Blatch: So the Kickstarter project was a separate seed of money that you could use for a specific purpose, or whatever you wanted to do. Or even to start funding ads campaigns, but you should also be looking at the whole Amazon platform and on other retailers if you’re wide, platform as well in the same way. Almost regardless of the fact that you’d had a successful Kickstarter project.

Nicholas Kotar: I think so. And I think Kickstarter’s just another avenue for marketing. One that’s not particularly very often used, and that’s unfortunate. And I think there’s going to be a movement towards doing it more often for fiction.

In fact, there’s now a, and I’m going to do a plug here. It’s not for my own course. But Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch are actually offering a free course right now on fiction Kickstarters. And the reason that I’m happy to recommend Dean’s course is because I actually emailed him during the course of my Kickstarter.

And those of you who don’t know, Dean and Kris are basically a certain kind of standard bearer in the indie movement. They offer excellent educational opportunities, both online and in person. And they’ve both published over 75 novels. They’re sort of what everybody should try to become. In a lot of ways.

I emailed him with the link to my Kickstarter when it was active, and he said that it was one of the best Kickstarters that he’d ever seen. So he is a really good resource for this because he knows what he’s talking about.

They’ve funded over 10 Kickstarters of their own. That’s happening right now. So it’s a good time actually. In fact, I only found this course this morning. It was only announced late last week. So it’s a good time to start looking into this as a potential avenue.

James Blatch: Was this different genres or is this all epic fantasy?

Nicholas Kotar: No, this is fiction.

James Blatch: Okay. And your project I would like to see now, but I guess it’s down now because it’s funded? Or is it still there?

Nicholas Kotar: It’s still there.

James Blatch: You send us the link, we’ll include the link in the show notes for this episode so people can have a look at what we’re talking about.

Nicholas Kotar: I’ll do that.

James Blatch: One thing you mentioned that we haven’t talked about yet is the video.

So you have to have a video with a Kickstarter project or is it an optional extra?

Nicholas Kotar: You don’t have to. It’s optional. But it’s much harder to fund if you don’t have one, because let’s face it, we’re a video based culture.

James Blatch: Yeah.

Nicholas Kotar: No, it’s actually important. And there are a few dos and don’ts that I could talk about specifically that might be helpful for anybody who’s interested.

James Blatch: Yeah, go ahead.

Nicholas Kotar: Basically you want to do your research and see what other people are doing. But do it with a bit of discernment. Because if you look at somebody like Michael J. Sullivan who is extremely successful in Kickstarter, he basically funds most of his books with multi six figure funding Kickstarters. And everybody knows him as the Kickstarter guy.

He does videos that are … basically he can do anything. He can just turn on the video, talk to the camera, he can say stupid things. And everybody will still buy it because he is who he is.

For most of us, we don’t have the personality or people don’t know us yet. There are some things you probably should keep in mind. One is that people’s attention span is extremely short. So if you can keep your video under one minute, that would be better.

And the other thing that you really want to do is you want to structure your video like the hero’s journey. But again, the hero is not you but the reader. So you need to have basically six elements to your video. And only one or two sentences for each of the elements.

You start with a hook, and the hook is going to be unique to your project. And in my case the hook was the idea that wouldn’t it be cool, wouldn’t it be interesting, for you to take part in the creation of a novel. And it was a kind of an unexpected hook, not one that people had seen a lot of so it worked well for me.

You follow the hook with a setup, and that setup is like you introducing yourself as the sort of mentor. The Gandalf figure. I’m here and I’m going to take you on this journey. And you need to make that as interesting and as exciting as possible, because what you follow with is the problem.

And the problem is always going to be the same. Which is I don’t have enough money to do this on my own. And this is the scariest and the most difficult bit because you have to phrase it in a way that doesn’t turn people off.

So you will have to have given them an interesting enough hook, and an exciting enough setup, so that they can grin and bear it through the struggle. Because you want to carry them through the problem and the struggle where you explain why Kickstarter is what it is and why it’s a good thing and why it isn’t a platform for charity but it’s a platform for preorders. You have to stress that a lot.

And then you provide them with a solution, which is that we together are going on this journey where you are going to receive that which I promise. And that can be different depending on the genre. Most of the time you’re focusing specifically on entertainment value.

You end with a specific call to action. That call to action has to be as specific as so make sure to grab a copy of book title now, in the sidebar. And you point at the sidebar. For however many dollars.

You’re specifically telling them to go to one of the tiers. And the tiers can go from $2 to infinity. But you want to pick the one that’s most appealing and the one that gives the best value.

So I pointed them towards the $20 one. And knowing that if they were interested enough to look at that, they would keep scrolling and maybe the $100 one would interest them. Which is what happened.

James Blatch: Yeah. Well I’m scrolling, I found the page if I just Google Kickstarter Nick Kotar, it came up. And so it’s very interesting.

I see what you mean about the entry level one. $5 for all three ebooks is a good price and would keep people interested on the page. It’s that thing. Once people have decided that they’re going to be a part of this, I’m already scrolling, I’m going to buy it, I might as well go for something that’s going to give me, who knows, a shot at that sword. There’s the $100 one I’m seeing now. And there was a 150.

Something that’s been answered here looking at the page, I was going to ask you. And I would’ve guessed a higher number. It’s actually the total number of backers is lower than I thought it was going to be. So you made $25,798 from just 776 backers. That’s a hell of an achievement.

But I kind of thought it was going to be a thousand backers at $5. My math’s not good. But yeah, that’s only 776.

Nicholas Kotar: Well that’s the thing. Most people think that you’re going to get the vast majority of your supporters at a lower tier. That’s not necessarily the case. And it’s much more … basically in all crowdfunding you want to find a sweet spot that isn’t too low but that isn’t high enough that it’s going to scare people.

That’s why I made the hard sell for the $20 one. Knowing that there would be, perhaps, other incentives to push them higher up.

James Blatch: And your average sale was over $30, your average backer.

Nicholas Kotar: Yeah. I had a few $500 ones also. Which helped.

James Blatch: As we do need to be on, I’m not going to click on this now.

If we click on the main picture, is that where you get the video from?

Nicholas Kotar: It would have been.

James Blatch: Yeah, so I can see it’s come up with a play thing. Just so people know how to. Yeah, it’s there. It’s there I think.

Nicholas Kotar: Yeah, it’s there.

James Blatch: Well that’s really interesting. And there is a bit of this going on at the moment, as you say. You’ve alluded to a few people are using Kickstarter.

I think we should reiterate again that you only go into this and do this with a 100% guarantee to yourself that you are going to deliver what you’re promising. Because this will very quickly get a very bad rep with the reading public and the backing public if too many authors spoil the fun for everyone else.

Nicholas Kotar: Exactly.

James Blatch: And that’s happened. In any online business, you will get some bad actors. So let’s make sure we’re not them.

It’s really fascinating actually. A new stream of income. I think a lot of the rest of this year is going to be about diversification of income.

Nicholas Kotar: Yeah.

James Blatch: And not necessarily relying on your employer or any one source of income, but having different ways of doing things. And people are going to spend a bit more time at home and in digital environments.

This ticks a lot of those boxes.

Nicholas Kotar: Not only that it also ticks the box of community building. And I think that for as much as people are going to be talking about social distancing, what people are not talking about but what people really want is to make up for that community that they’re going to be missing out on because they’re no longer going to public places as often.

Often we get so negative about social media and about the virtual aspect of online communities. But now, more than ever before, this is a real advantage because people are going to be looking specifically for that.

If you can really focus on that aspect of it. And really for me, this was the reason, one of the reasons, why it was successful, is because I made sure to do a lot of preliminary communication with people one-on-one, to tell them that I was going to do this.

It wasn’t me just waiting for this thing to launch and then to start looking for people. I tried to build the community in advance. And what that did is that within 24 hours of the launch, I had actually already funded.

Then what Kickstarter did is they did me a favor and they made it into one of the projects that they love. And so this is how Kickstarter’s better than a lot of the other platforms, is that it has its own internal system that if you manage to trigger it you get a tremendous boost.

I’ll tell you, 75% of my backers came internally from Kickstarter itself.

James Blatch: That’s one area we haven’t specifically talked about, is how you marketed and raised visibility of this project. But obviously it’s a bit like the Amazon algorithm.

If you can get things going yourself, the algorithm will start to help you.

Nicholas Kotar: Yeah. And to do that you have to have a lot of initial support. So there are a few numbers that we can talk about. One of them is if you can reach 40% within the first week, you’re almost guaranteed to fund.

The other one is if you can get people to commit verbally to 40%, before you begin, then that is a good indicator that you’re going to be able to do this well. That you’re probably going to fund it.

Because Kickstarter, unlike the other ones, if you don’t fund completely you don’t get any of it. That’s the risk. But the risk is worth the reward if you’re able to get the algorithms on your side.

James Blatch: Where did you find your initial backers then? Is this your mailing list?

Nicholas Kotar: I started with my mailing list and this is the weird thing. It was almost entirely due to personal messaging on Facebook. So because most of the time people tell you, David Gaughran and other people like this, tell you do not market your books to your own family and friends because they’re going to mess up your also boughts. Right?

This is the exact opposite. You want to find every single person you know, on every single social network that you can find. Message them personally and tell them about what you’re doing. Because if you send a mass mailing, they won’t. There’s no incentive to answer you.

And some of my friends didn’t answer also. I didn’t get a perfect 100% answer rate. But because I wasn’t worried about messing up the also boughts, it meant that I could go after people that weren’t normally my reader.

For the initial 40%, that’s fine. You don’t need to have readers in your genre. You just need to have readers who are willing to put up the money. They might not even read your book. It doesn’t matter.

James Blatch: Or just friends who want to support your project.

Nicholas Kotar: Right. Exactly. And if you have enough of those, and so I made sure that I had enough promised that it would be able to cover the 40. And then I asked them specifically support me within this time period.

I was pretty active during the first 24 hours, reminding people and getting them excited and making sure to focus on the community building aspect of it. And because of that, it shot up through the gate immediately and just kept going.

James Blatch: Like a virus taking hold in the population.

Nicholas Kotar: I didn’t want to go there.

James Blatch: We’ve got to keep laughing, otherwise we’re just going to stop.

Nicholas Kotar: No, it’s true.

James Blatch: That’s brilliant. We’ve had a fantastic chat about this. I’ve of course been bombarded with messages, sorry if I looked a bit distracted in the middle of that.

I think people are all ears for different avenues in marketing as things unfold and become … in the current time this could be a very mainstream thing that authors do. But at the moment it’s an outlying thing and that’s why we want our audience on this podcast is the way we want them to be. So beginning of those curves. Ahead of those curves.

Fantastic. Nick, great pleasure to talk to you.

Nicholas Kotar: Thank you. You too, James.

James Blatch: Hunker down, as we’re all going to do now. Let’s see you on the other side and we’ll hear about your next thing, whatever it is, in the future.

Nicholas Kotar: Thank you, James.

James Blatch: There we go, Nick Kotar. Really interesting experience there and as he said, his Go Fund. I don’t know if it was GoFundMe, I can’t remember now, having done the interview. But whichever site it is, it’s mentioned in the interview and it’s still there. So you can see all those tiers he gave out and the comments he got back on all the rest of it.

Crowdfunding is suddenly … it’s been around for a few years. I’ve used it a couple of times in other projects outside of SPF. My local cricket club this year actually, we’ve had our finances saved from using a crowdfunding campaign. Because without cricket, without social events, without subs and match fees, we have no money coming in and all the bills still going out.

And we needed not very much, but we needed 5000 pounds to survive this COVID period. I used crowdfunding and we’ve raised that money in about two and a half weeks. Which is fantastic.

So crowdfunding is being used all over the place at the moment. There’s a very ancient soldier in the UK called Captain Tom, who walks with a Zimmer frame.

Mark Dawson: Colonel Tom.

James Blatch: Colonel Tom. Is he a colonel now? He’s captain isn’t he?

Mark Dawson: No, he was given an honorary colonel.

James Blatch: Now colonel. Sorry, sir. Has raised something like 25 million pounds.

Mark Dawson: Keep going.

James Blatch: More than that.

Mark Dawson: 40 million.

James Blatch: 40 odd million pounds through crowdfunding. So there is … that’s an example.

Mark Dawson: Walking around his garden.

James Blatch: Walking around his garden.

Mark Dawson: I can do that.

James Blatch: For the UK NHS. Yeah.

Mark Dawson: Just about.

James Blatch: But it just goes to show that crowdfunding is a billion dollar turnover business. And it is perhaps something we should be thinking about.

Mark Dawson: We’re thinking about Kickstarter for a comic project that I’m doing with my brother. So the Beatrix books, we may look at doing a Kickstarter for those potentially. So it’s definitely a big, interesting industry.

The Six Figure Author podcast had a good interview with, can’t remember who it was now, but someone who did very well with Kickstarter. And I’ve also seen, I won’t name names here, but I have seen some authors, one in particular, who was kicked off Amazon for being a bit naughty with regards to, well, some alleged nefarious behavior.

He moved over to Kickstarter. He’s got lots of fans and I think he’s able to generate 60, 70, $80,000 for every book that he launches. He actually has used that now to sidestep Amazon. Doesn’t need to use them to distribute anymore.

He’s probably making more money as well because he’ll be getting more than … the Kickstarter angle will be less than the 30% he’s giving to Amazon in terms of the royalty. So probably making more money.

It’s just another way to reach a different community of people who’d be interested in your stuff. It’s definitely an interesting growth area.

James Blatch: Yes, of course Kickstarter was the platform he used. It has slightly different rules than some of the other crowdfunding. Which Nick does explain in the interview.

It’s all interesting area of the digital landscape that’s ahead of us now. There are nooks and crannies all over the place. And definitely something to think about.

Maybe it’s the sort of thing that authors who collaborate could do. I was thinking about the billionaire women, the brilliant four authors who put together that reverse billionaire series. That’s the sort of thing I can imagine their fans would pay for on Kickstarter and feel a part of and get some special bundles when it comes out. Sort of thing would lend itself to. Just to have a chance to use your imagination about that.

Quick reminder. If you go to, S-I-X S-E-C-R-E-T-S, you can sign up for that exciting Amazon ads webinar with the one and only Janet Margo at the beginning of June. It’s going to fill up, so you’ll have to be there early.

I think that’s it, Mark. You can go back to the garden and try and tackle Samuel again. Try and get some revenge?

Mark Dawson: Yeah. I’m going to do a Boris Johnson challenge.

James Blatch: Do you think Boris Johnson-

Mark Dawson: It’s actually worth it. If you do Boris Johnson and rugby and child, it’s probably worth seeing that.

James Blatch: Not just rugby. He also did a very similar rugby tackle in a football game as well.

Mark Dawson: He did a two footed tackle on Frank Lambert or someone like that. So he is basically a bit of a thug.

James Blatch: He’s a liability on the sports pitch. Okay. Good. Thank you very much indeed, Mark.

All that leaves me to say is that tit’s been a great show. Thank you for joining us. I think it’s been a great show, I say that myself. And it’s goodbye from him.

Mark Dawson: And it’s a goodbye from me. Goodbye.

James Blatch: Goodbye.

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