In what is clearly an emerging trend, Kickstarter, the crowdfunding website, has helped several cookbooks go from idea to actual product, with at least one traditional publishing deal resulting.
It wasn’t long ago that the journey from blog to cookbook was the big story, with popular cooking bloggers (from Julie & Julia to Pioneer Woman and Smitten Kitchen) ending up with cookbook deals. Another route to cookbook publishing success opened up to prospective writers. From a publisher’s perspective, the risk of taking a chance on a cookbook was reduced as popular bloggers come with existing fan bases and a built-in marketing tool.
And now, Kickstarter. If you’re not familar with the site, check it out – it’s fascinating. Essentially, people pitch their ideas to the public, looking for funding. In return for helping fund an independent film, for example, if you pledge $20 you might get a copy of the DVD. Pledging $100 might also get a T-Shirt and a thanks on the credits, and higher pledges might result in producer credit, invitation to the premiere etc. If the funding target is not reached in the time allotted, your money is refunded.
There have been some amazing succcess stories, including new electronic products and movies. Quite a few authors have raised money to produce a new book – essentially pre-selling their title and reducing the risk of self-publishing or producing a new product. This process enables a creator to bypass the publishing industry completely, not just establishing an audience as a food blogger might, but also guaranteeing sales of the book itself before it’s even created.
So, what has been funded in the cookbook arena? There’s an amazing range of projects, from Just Food, the creation of a group of high-school students who raised $445 to the Blackbird Bakery Community Cookbook, ‘the first gluten-free community cookbook’, which raised over $30,000 from 119 backers. Most are in the several thousand dollar range, though the highest, an app & cookbook from chef John Sundstrom and Lark restaurant gained $54,437 and 562 backers.
Publishers shouldn’t be quaking in their boots just yet: there have been just 88 cookbook projects pitched on the site, and of this, only 27 met their target funding (4 are still open for backers to commit to), giving a success rate of about 1 in 3. Still, these are all projects which have had their costs successfully covered and reached a willing audience – one author used his funds to print 10,000 copies of his book with only a few hundred backers.
For one author, Adrien Sala, his title Cooking to Get Laid (yes, it’s exactly what you’d think from the title, though not in a creepy sort of way) not only got funded, but as he noted on the Kickstarter page for his project, attracted so much attention that a big publisher got in touch.
As you might expect, as the latest, greatest Internet Thing, there’s lots of hype and buzz about Kickstarter projects, quite a bit of it well earned, but some hyperbolic. I doubt this model will displace the traditional publishing process, just as food blogs and recipe websites have not destroyed paper cookbooks.
It’s certainly not easy: the author has to work very hard to get funding – there’s an art to creating a Kickstarter pitch, including creating an engaging video to present the idea. Successful ones attract attention, have the potential to go ‘viral’ and have to get funding from people outside the author’s immediate circle of family and friends (there’s a cut taken by Kickstarter from each successful project).
However, for an author, it’s definitely a great way to test out the marketability of an idea, and honing your pitching skills is never bad, even if your idea isn’t funded. It’s no secret that publishers regularly pass on ideas which eventually end up being hits, and there are only so many books they can publish each season.
It’s also important to remember that publishers are not just people who arrange for the printing and distribution of books – with cookbooks in particular, there is (or at least there really should be) a system of testing and editorial feedback which is vital to creating a successful cookbook. I’ve certainly been burned more than once buying a self-published cookbook which turned out to be poorly tested and riddled with errors. Kickstarter-funded cookbooks will, in the end, be like any other self-published book and have to live and die on their own merits.
What I’m curious to see is if an already successful cookbook author will jump ship from traditional publishing and use Kickstarter to get their existing readership to commit to a new book. When that happens I think we’ll truly be seeing something that will give traditional publishers the shivers.