Entrepreneur Jim Kukral on Crowdsourcing His Book Advance

by Susan Johnston on October 24, 2011
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Marketing consultant Jim Kukral (pictured) had already published a book the traditional way when he decided to try self-publishing. “Being a marketer and an entrepreneur, I can’t wait nine months to have a new piece of content come out,” he says. But instead of doing all the work upfront and hoping to earn money later, as many self-published authors do, Kukral decided to crowdsource the funding for his book series Business Around a Lifestyle, which shows readers how to rethink their careers or businesses and choose the lifestyle they want.

In just over three weeks, Kukral raised more than $20,000, mostly in micro-donations from his followers to cover costs like professional editing, design, and proofreading. The Intuit Small Business Blog asked the Cleveland, Ohio-based author and entrepreneur why and how he did it.

ISBB: How did you come up with the idea to crowdsource your book advance? Did you consider using an existing platform like Kickstarter.com?

Kukral: I did apply to Kickstarter, but what Kickstarter told me was they only accept creative projects. They want projects like artists and musicians. They didn’t want anyone in a business sense. I said, “I’m an entrepreneur, and I already have a platform. Why don’t I do it myself and go direct?”

The inspiration came from J.K. Rowling. The Harry Potter empire made her a billionaire. But what she has done lately is gone direct to her audience: She created a website and had her fans come to her. She cut out Amazon, the publisher, the agents. She cut out every gatekeeper. I thought, “Why can’t anyone do that?” If you’ve got any type of fan base, you can leverage your platform and go direct. I went directly to friends, followers, associates, and businesses I knew, and it snowballed from there.

Once you decided to approach your network directly, what strategies did you find most effective?

I used my blog, YouTube, LinkedIn. I would point this out: Building my platform took years and years. There was no overnight success. Since 2001, I’ve released thousands and thousands of articles and videos and free content.

How can someone else do this?

First of all, you have to be very authentic and honest with people. Be able to come out and tell a story, explain what you’re doing, why you’re putting out this content. I told the story in a video form: Here’s why I’m writing these. It’s not just asking for money. I hadn’t written the books yet. I raised the money before I put pen to paper. It’s about authenticity and being completely real about what your goals are. If people don’t trust you, they’re not going to want to donate or pledge.

Do you think your subject matter or the size of your fan base also played a role in your success?

You have to have a topic that people are interested in. Millions of people are unhappy with the jobs that they have and want to learn how to build a lifestyle that they want instead of being controlled by their business. People really have to want your content. Part of the reason I’ve gotten some of the donations is because I have a fan base, but that is not the majority. Once my fans saw what I was doing, they spread the message for me. I’m getting all kinds of new people. Some are making very minimal pledges, similar to what happened in the last [presidential] election, but I did get a $7,500 sponsorship from Aweber.

What’s the incentive for the people who pledge micro-contributions?

It’s essentially like a pre-order. When you pledge, you get copies of all the books and updates to the books. For authors who don’t have the ability to get an agent or a book deal, it’s essentially a virtual singing bonus. When I signed on with Wiley, they sent me a five-figure signing bonus that allowed me to relax for a couple of months and sit down and concentrate on writing my book.

Any other thoughts?

People don’t need publishers anymore. Anyone can self-publish. I have five books in the works, and by the end of the year, I should have at least four of those books available. I’ve never been a big fan of gatekeepers. I like the fact that anyone with information in their head can transfer it to the web or upload it to Amazon and have their book on the Kindle.

Susan Johnston is a business writer for Intuit and is passionate about solving small business problems.

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