So, you think you’ve something to say about wine and you’d like to write a book. You’ve tried contacting a few publishers and you might even have attempted to find an agent. All to no avail.

Or maybe you did find a publisher who said they might be interested in your lovingly penned ode to the Unique Wines of Bluemeania – but only offered an advance of £3,000 or £4,000 to cover all your research costs and the actual writing of the book. Of course, that figure is based on 10% of the revenue from hardback sales (7% for paperbacks) and if the world were to develop a sudden interest in Bluemeania, you might get a bit more money, but the chances are pretty small. Even if your book is about a really popular region, sales tend to be disappointingly low.

But don’t give up. There’s another option: you could publish and sell it yourself. And you could guarantee that you get paid enough to make the exercise worthwhile before you even write a word. The key lies in offering people the chance to help you get the project off the ground via Kickstarter. For those who are not familiar with this website, since its launch in 2009, some 5.5m users have, between them, pledged nearly a billion dollars ($940m) to the people behind 56,000 projects – 44% of the ones that have appeared on the site.

Unlike many other crowdfunding sites, Kickstarter is not looking for investors into the projects on its site; it’s offering an advance chance to buy something that does not yet exist – and indeed may not ever exist unless 100% of the target set on Kickstarter has been achieved. (And if a project does fall short of its target by the date that has been set for it, the pledges are cancelled.).

So what has Kickstarter to do with wine books? Well, nine would-be authors have pitched their projects on the site; three of them got the thumbs up – a rather poorer success rate than Kickstarter’s 44% average, but still reasonably appealing odds. The projects that persuaded people to put their hands in their pockets were the Essence of Wine by Alder Yarrow of the Vinography blog and; Jura Wine by wine travel specialist Wink Lorch and the wonderfully named Mommy’s Favourite Juice – a Children’s Book About Wine by Mike Nemeth. 

The six failures were The Wine Diaries; Secrets of the Wine Whisperer; Southern France Wines & Vines; Blood & Wine; North Coast Wines; and A Wine Book Written by Winemakers. I leave it to wannabe authors to discern a pattern here.

In fact, there may not be one. It is quite possible that the three winners owe their success to the efforts of the authors; to do well on Kickstarter you have to get a lot of people to look at your project there and what you have to offer. As Arnold Waldstein rightly points out in a comment to this post, Kickstarter only offers a platform; if you don’t direct enough of the right kind of traffic to your offer, it will fail.

Alder Yarrow and Wink Lorch both listed a set of options, ranging from the cheap – Yarrow’s $10 offer of a laminated “Aroma Card” to the extravagant – his $3,500 package that included a day’s tutored tasting for six, by him in Napa, including the limo journey from San Francisco. No one took him up on this last proposal and only seven people opted for the Aroma Card. Far more – around 150 of the 183 pledgers – bought his book in print form or as an e-book. By my estimate, these sales add up to around 160 or so books which Yarrow will have to print, plus some e-book versions. His income from the campaign was $24,240, minus Kickstarter’s 5% commission (non Americans pay an additional 3-5% I understand) which compares rather well to his original target of $18,000. Wink Lorch did even better – proportionally – raising a wapping £14,076 from 376 backers, against her target of just £7,500.

Alder Yarrow’s offers – and the numbers
of people who were sufficiently tempted
to pledge to buy them.
Obviously, both Yarrow and Lorch have to write and print their books and deliver them by the deadlines they set themselves – along with anything else bought by the pledgers, but having myself profitably produced a 256-page full-colour wine book in the late 1980s when “self-publishing” was a synonym for “vanity publishing”, I can heartily recommend it. Even without the Kickstarter element of a) testing the market (if one’s friends, family and social media “friends” and followers won’t commit to buying your book, you really have to wonder whether it’s worth doing) and b) getting a potentially substantial chunk of cash into your bank.

I never thought about Kickstarter when I began writing the Wine Marketing book I’m busily struggling to complete – but who knows, maybe I should give it a try…
  1. Thanks for singling out my project, along with Alder's. For the record, I received 10% less than the amount pledged once you take into account the Kickstarter commission, the credit card fees (yes for UK as well) and 20% VAT on all of this.

    It was a great experience, but took huge amounts of time both to prepare the project to 'sell' it in this way and also to keep marketing it during the 30 days the project was live on Kickstarter. Not for the fainthearted.

    Best of all was that most of the pledges were for the book itself, and that those who pledged came from 25 different countries, showing there was a real interest in the subject around the world.

    Now it is taking huge amounts of time and money to 'deliver the goods' but that is hardly Kickstarter's problem 😉

  2. Thanks for the response Wink – and very well done for being one of the three wine writers to make this work! (I get so bored hearing people whinge about how difficult it is to sell wine or sell wine words, I really enjoy hearing about people who've given up relying on others and simply got on with it themselves… Good luck with the next part!)

  3. Terrific stuff, Robert – I wonder whether there's a market for “The Book of Indian Wine” I've been wanting to write for some years, but never got the funding together?

  4. While I think that the fast-evolving nature of the Indian wine industry makes it premature to think of attempting any kind of definitive book on it, an ebook (whose purchase might include updates) is an interesting thought. I note that there are several other (non wine-book-publishing) Indian projects on Kickstarter, so why not give it some more serious thought? Bear in mind, though, that as Wink says, it's not a light undertaking.

  5. Hi Robert.

    Been awhile and thrilled to see you think about Kickstarter.

    I've done 6 projects over the last 18 months now with clients and friends.

    The big piece that you don't mention is that Kickstarter does NOT provide a market for your project, only the tools to go after one you already have.

    If you have a strong preexistent network, are marketing a known brand (buddy raised $8M to redo to classic videogames), tap into a deeply passionate niche market (robots for example) or are extremely luck, KS rocks.

    If you don't, either match your financial goals to the network you can muster or–as I recommend to clients–it's easier to raise the money privately.

    Good luck with your book!

  6. One comment, one thought Robert–

    -Dump this commenting system. The networked world of blogs runs on Disqus mostly. Not perfect, but the best there is and free.

    -I wish you the best with your book on KS. One challenge you need to face head on is that wine is international in its touch points. Aggregate Jura lovers across the globe and you have a small but dynamic community.

    I like your work, love your wordsmithing but from my vantage you write for a European marketing audience tied to the culture and distribution of wine there. Interesting but not necessarily germane to me and the NA market. Figure out how to address that as the majority of funders (I think) come from here.

    Let me know how it goes!


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