Crowdfunding has exploded. More and more filmmakers are raising money through online donations.

In the early days of crowdfunding, only a few independents managed to raise money for individual projects directly from their websites. Then two new web platforms were created (
IndieGoGo and Kickstarter) that made crowdfunding accessible far and wide.

Few projects have more to teach filmmakers than ROBIN WRITES A BOOK, which was selected by the Kickstarter staff as the best project of 2009. It shows how crowdfunding can be used to launch a project, raise money, and build audience.

Robin Sloan decided to write and self-publish his first novella and launched a Kickstarter campaign to make it possible. His approach had four key elements:

• A COMPELLING PROJECT – His novella tells the story of a Sherlock Holmes for the 21st century – a woman who investigates the digital and the occult and looks like a cross between Tilda Swinton and Carmen Sandiego.

• ENTICING REWARDS – Starting with real bargains such as $1 for a digital download of the book (the “Ultimate Ninja Ally Pack”) and $11 for a physical copy, Robin makes it fun and easy for people to donate. Other reward levels include the “Sincerity Pack” and the “Super Occult Value Pack.”

• A PERSUASIVE PITCH VIDEO – Robin’s smart and funny pitch is irresistible. Check out his “
Creator’s Guide to Video” to learn his production secrets.

• TARGETED OUTREACH – Robin began by reaching out to his inner circle of friends, family, and colleagues. Then he targeted a second circle of people who read
his blog or followed him on Twitter. These people then spread the word to a third concentric circle. Ultimately 75% of his donors were people he had never met.

After the initial positive feedback, Robin “doubled down” and during the second month spent “more than full time” on the campaign. His hard work and charming persona paid off, enabling him to exceed his goals across the board:

• MONEY – Starting with a goal of $3,500, he ultimately raised $13,942 in pledges (of which Kickstarter kept 5% and Amazon Payments took another 3%). This money enabled him to publish and distribute the book.

• BACKERS – Even more important than the money he raised were the 570 backers he attracted to the project. In the short-run, backers can help a project in many ways beyond their financial contributions. In the long-run, the goal is to turn backers into a posse of patrons who will support future projects.

• AUDIENCE – Most backers opted into Robin’s email list, which has the cleverest opt-in sequence I’ve ever seen. Many of them also joined Robin’s Twitter following, which is now over 200,000 strong.

Although this was Robin’s first crowdfunding campaign, it surely won’t be his last. He learned that one of the most important benefits of crowdfunding is that “it forces you to think in terms of having an audience before you have a thing.” He believes that when you are starting out, “obscurity is your greatest enemy. The single biggest challenge is how to get your work in front of people.” He also learned the importance of giving people the opportunity to make creative contributions. He not only made ANNABEL SCHEME available under a Creative Commons license, which permits readers to remix the book, he also created a fund to finance the best remix proposals.

Crowdfunding enabled Robin to build what he calls his “army of angels” – a band of hard-core supporters and evangelists. ANNABEL SCHEME is now available as a
free download from his website. It has already been downloaded tens of thousands of times and continues to attract more recruits to his army.

Are you ready to start building your army of angels?