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.”