by Stan Yan, Author and Illustrator
This is the first part in a two-part series where I will discuss my “missteps” in crowdfunding my picture book, There’s a Zombie in the Basement, because sometimes you have to risk going against conventional wisdom to bring your book into the world.
In 2013, my primary job was drawing zombie caricatures at conventions. One day, my 3-year-old son wouldn’t come down to my basement studio, fearfully pointing at my zombie artwork on the walls. This inspired my foray into kidlit, which taught me some lessons.
Ignored Step #1: Don’t Self-Publish.
When I joined SCBWI in 2014, the first thing I got was The Book, which discouraged self-publishing, lest your story be disqualified from trade and traditional publication.
So, I spent a year submitting to publishers. However, bringing a mockup of my book to conventions sparked great interest — by year’s end, I had almost 2,000 folks on my email list! Self-publishing became less scary, and I decided to crowdfund it instead of going the traditional route.
I ended up choosing Kickstarter over Indiegogo, which only takes money from backers if the goal is reached. I’d hate to be obligated to pay to print color hardcover books for backers if I only got two $25 backers since I wasn’t doing print-on-demand printing.
Ignored Step #2: Don’t Give Away the Surprise Ending!
People hate spoilers, right? But picture books get read over and over to children. As a parent, I won’t BUY one unless I’ve read it. My story follows a similar plot as Where the Wild Things Are, and if you don’t read to the end, you might not realize that the protagonist has gained control over these creatures/fears. So, I not only let people read my complete story at events, I also narrated the whole thing in my campaign video.
Ignored Step #3: Don’t Launch a Campaign at the End of the Year.
One of my first SCBWI events was about crowdfunding. Julie Hedlund explained that funds she received before year’s end created taxable income for that calendar year, and she didn’t have offsetting deductible expenses until the following year.
I ignored this. I wanted to have the book printed and produced for the 2016 convention season, since people had been badgering me to buy it for months.
While I finished the art before the end of 2015, I wasn’t able to reach my printer during the holidays to arrange a deposit. I guess I paid more to the IRS for 2015 than I could have. Whoops!
Ignored Step #4: Ignore the Promoters That Inundate You After Launch.
Speaking of printers, when you launch, all sorts of folks contact you about services. I ignored these, but fortunately, I didn’t ignore them all. I had a company called Mascot Books, based out of Virginia, offer to give me a printing quote, and it turned out they would be only $400 more than the Chinese printer I was going to go with. They offered a lot of free marketing services, ISBN numbers, and basic graphic design, but most importantly, they got my book into Ingram, (which had only been available to publishers of 10 or more books annually) as a “publisher” for self-publishers. And, since the books are produced in the US, turnaround time was half of what I was expecting.
Bonus: What Did I Learn?
In spite of my imprudence, my book isn’t showing signs of failing yet. To date, all of its Amazon reviews are five-star, glowing trade reviews are rolling in, and I’m on my second print run!
I’m not encouraging you to rebel like me. I just hope my unique journey will provide you with insights. On Monday, in part two, I will tell you how my convention-going experiences helped me launch my book and continue to help me promote it.
If you have questions for Stan about crowdfunding, ask him in the comments below!
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Stan Yan is a Denver-based writer/illustrator, graphic novelist and instructor, but is probably best known for doing zombie caricatures. Yan’s debut picture book is inspired by his son’s fear of his artwork, There’s a Zombie in the Basement. Yan has been an SCBWI member since 2013 and is Assistant to the Illustrators Coordinator for the Rocky Mountain Chapter.
Images provided by Stan Yan.