Crowdfunding is much harder than I had assumed although, on the face of it, what could be easier? Just fill in a form, make a video and Bob’s your uncle – the money starts pouring in.
The process is straightforward, at least on Kickstarter, one of the first crowdfunding platforms, but, in my case, it reduced me to a nervous wreck.
This is what happened:
On 24 June 2017 my mother died. Not only was she the heart and soul of our family but she had worked wonders for Scottish publishing — as well as various aid agencies she’d supported. I loved her as my mother but had not realised how appreciated she was. I got an email from Alexander McCall Smith who said she was “one of the most exceptional people I have ever met,” and Jamie Byng, of Canongate Publishing, wrote “she was an inspirational figure in my life.”
I didn’t know how to mourn. What are you supposed to do? Get sad and gloomy? Go into a depression? I was in denial and, to this day, can’t believe she’s gone. The only thing I wanted to do was write about her but I found that I couldn’t. I was blocked.
I did manage to write a short blog post, asking people to share their anecdotes about her. They came pouring in and soon I had 27 comments, some of which were lengthy and beautiful. With very little effort on my part, her life story was being written in draft form. Maybe I could turn these comments into a book? Hmm…nice idea but I was still being held back by the demons of doubt, sloth and complacency.
The spark came from Nick Barley of the Edinburgh Book Festival who, together with Jamie Byng of Canongate, organised an event about my mother at the Book Festival. It was suggested that a wee booklet about her be organised and I jumped at the opportunity.
I soon realised that doing a booklet or brochure was as much effort as doing a short book. Here was my chance to write about her; not the book that I had in mind (a swirl of self-indulgent ideas and sunny memories), but it was something I could put together quickly. I wrote to Alexander McCall Smith, who had published with my mother before he became famous, asked for a contribution and he agreed – as did Alasdair Gray, William Boyd and many others.
It came together in a few weeks mainly thanks to Jim Hutcheson who, my mother used to say, is the best book designer in Scotland. He agreed to work for free, as did everyone else who helped. All that was needed was £1,600 to print the thing.
Crowdfunding – asking individuals to contribute towards an online project – was the obvious solution and I had used Kickstarter to fund a bike tour round the Highlands, when I published my travel book about Tibet.
Until that point I had been riding a wave of optimism and positive energy. Everyone loved my mother and I had great material; what could possibly go wrong?
But when I got down to the nitty gritty details of Kickstarter, asking people for “rewards”, I was struck by doubt: Maybe I wouldn’t raise enough money? Why would anyone give me money? Who the hell was I to do this book anyway? Surely a proper writer should be doing it? Why the rush?
The darkest moment was when the appeal was ready to go. I felt I had exposed myself and would become a laughing stock. I convinced myself that the project was a failure, my reputation would be in ruins, and it was only with great difficulty that I launched it.
At first nothing happened and the voice in my head said “of course nothing happened. What did you expect?” The next morning I had only raised £30 which was, Kickstarter reminded me, not even 1% of my funding goal. My worst fears were realised. I was doomed.
I was a nervous wreck and I checked Kickstarter every hour. After breakfast it had risen to £120. An hour later it was on £240, and by lunchtime £350. By the end of that first day I had almost reached £900 and with rising optimism I knew I was home and dry. I left the neurotic wreck by the side of the road and became an excited teenager, unable to believe my luck. A week later I had shot past my target, comet-like, and raised £3,270. All the extra cash will go to her three favourite charities.
Conclusions? Crowdfunding is easy if you have a compelling idea, but it can bring out your worst fears. Sharing your hopes and dreams with the public can be terrifying. In my case, the problems were all in my head. Now I know that if you have a good project and a network of people who support it, a crowdfunding project can easily succeed.
You can see the Kickstarter project about my mum here. The books have all sold out and I’m thinking about a reprint. Let me know if you would like a copy.
This article was also published in The National.