Kick-starts for books, bands
Local ventures tap crowds online.
by Patrick Dunn
From the May, 2013 issue
After spending five tumultuous months in Sweden as an au pair for what she describes as a "crazy, dysfunctional family," Natalie Burg knew her experience would make a great book, but she wasn't sure how to get it published. Burg took the job after graduating with her English literature degree in 2005, but it wasn't the post-grad adventure she'd envisioned. She faced a major communication gap and employers who expected her to assist in recruitment for their religious sect rather than caring for their teenaged children. Burg began piecing together a memoir of the experience in 2008, but she says searching for a publisher was "like finding a needle in a haystack."
Last year Burg, who now freelances for the Observer and other local publications, found a solution: "crowdfunding." Burg started a campaign on the website kickstarter.com, asking supporters to pledge money towards editing, printing, and marketing her book. Crowdfunding donors receive rewards, which for Burg's campaign included a copy of the finished memoir and an invite to the book launch party. Over a monthlong campaign, she raised $8,760--$1,760 more than her original goal--and her book, Swedish Lessons, is now in the hands of a professional editor.
Burg says the campaign was nerve-racking at times. "It's been such a mind-blowing whirlwind," she says. Things got off to a good start, but "midway through the second week, nothing was coming in, and I thought I was a failure."
As a crowd-funding veteran of sorts, Gray Bouchard says the mid-campaign slump is only to be expected. Bouchard and Melissa Coppola make up the "power-folk" duo Match by Match, which just released its second crowd-funded album, Vivat Veritas. Bouchard says the band's first Kickstarter campaign taught him that most of the money comes in the first week and the last week: "There's a lot of excitement when you first announce it, and there's a lot of excitement when you steamroll towards the finish line," he says. That excitement brought Match by Match about $500 over its $3,000 goal for Vivat Veritas.
Burg and Bouchard agree that getting the word out via social media is key to a successful crowd-funding campaign, engaging followers through creative content including photo and video updates. Bouchard says the crowd-funding system can be particularly harsh in making a project's financial success "directly proportional" to the general public's interest. "It puts a very direct value on what you're doing as an artist," he says. "On some level, it's humbling in that way."
[Originally published in May, 2013.]