RectorWriter

Adventures in storytelling by Bob Rector


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CROWD FUNDING FOR A BOOK — CASE STUDY

My wife and business partner Marsha Roberts has produced a long list of projects for outfits like Coca-Cola, IBM, Revlon, General Mills, and assorted branches of the military. She was once asked to explain exactly what a producer does. “Lunch,” she said.

Marsha Roberts performing her producer duties

Marsha Roberts performing her producer duties

Funny, but every entrepreneur knows what she’s really saying. The best way to close a deal is face to face and that means being there and that means travel and lodging costs, cab fare, restaurant tabs, and if you’re a woman, clothing and salon expenditures. In other words, it takes money to make money. Not original, but true.

The project Marsha is currently producing is for her book, “Confessions of an Instinctively Mutinous Baby Boomer and Her Parable of the Tomato Plant.” The book so far has sold several thousand copies and received rave reviews through normal social media outlets.

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Her goal now is to expand her presence into the general bookselling marketplace and to use crowd funding as the mechanism to finance her endeavor. Rather than try to explain what crowd funding is (if you don’t already know), just click on the Kickstarter or IndieGoGo logos here to get the full scoop.

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Marsha started by establishing an account with IndieGoGo (no cost involved). She felt it was more simpatico with the creative nature of her project. They provided a template into which she dropped the kind of info you’d expect: personal bio, project description, detailed info on exactly what you’re trying to raise funds for and why, etc.

The catch is in the etc. A clear and compelling reason has to be made as to why your project is worthy of someone’s donation; particularly why it benefits them as well as you. It is also customary to provide ‘perks’ for those who donate funds at certain levels. For Marsha’s project these range from signed copies of her book to custom “I’m A Mutinous Boomer” T-shirts.

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But the centerpiece of a crowd funding home page is a video pitch about 4 or 5 minutes long, which is posted on YouTube. IndieGoGo automatically links it to your home page. Fortunately, Marsha and I both have decades of experience in film, video, and stage work so making the video pitch was not a problem. Here’s how we went about it.

Like any video production, it started with writing a shot-by-shot shooting script. We worked on this together and went through about a dozen drafts before we were happy with it. A lot of thought was given to setting and general approach. So many people who have read Marsha’s book said they felt as if she were sitting across the kitchen table, chatting with them over a cup of coffee. That’s what we went for.

We decided to shoot it in our dining room, but the wall was covered with curios we had collected during our travels around the world. When they were removed, we had a plain white wall. I shot a few tests of Marsha at the table and it was quickly obvious that the white wall was just too overpowering visually.

An early lighting test. The wall had been painted and the artwork temporarily propped up.

An early lighting test. The wall had been painted and the artwork temporarily propped up.

Our friend Richard Harrison, who did the cover art for my book Unthinkable Consequences, served as art director and decided to paint the wall a light beige. I shot more tests and the beige wall worked perfectly.

Rick then took a floor length painting Marsha had given me years ago showing an open French door leading out to a veranda overlooking the ocean. He used it to break up the wall and provide a feeling of depth. Opposite, he placed a pedestal topped with a flowering plant. On the table itself Rick artfully arranged Marsha’s laptop, several copies of her book, her Kindle and iPad, and a cup of coffee. The ‘set’ was ready.

Marsha picked out several outfits she thought might compliment the warm tones Rick had established and I shot tests of her in each of them. A red outfit trimmed in black worked best. It drew the viewer’s eye to Marsha, which was what we wanted, but blended in with the other elements in the frame.

A freeze frame from the finished video.

A freeze frame from the finished video.

We spent a day preparing to shoot. This consisted of lighting and makeup tests, shooting a few cut-a-ways such as her book on a bedside table, and rehearsals so that Marsha could feel comfortable in front of the camera and get her pacing right. Good pacing is essential in a pitch video. Frank Capra explained it to his actors this way: do your scene at the pace you feel comfortable with, then speed it up 25% and it will look right on the screen.

At the end of a very long prep day our microphone blew up on us. This was the small lavaliere mike Marsha would be wearing concealed under her clothing. While replacing the battery something snapped and it was dead as the proverbial doornail. To replace it with a compatible mike would take several days. We decided this would create too many negatives. We were set and Marsha was primed and ready to go.

The solution was to use the built-in mike on the camera. Not a great solution but workable even though it added a bit of a hollow sound because of the distance from Marsha to the camera. I shot several tests and found it was noticeable but not distracting. We decided we could live with it.

Getting ready for another take. Holding the slate is artist Richard Harrison, who served as art director for the video.

Getting ready for another take. Holding the slate is artist Richard Harrison, who served as art director for the video.

It took us two days to shoot the 4-1/2 minute video. Why? There were the usual interruptions that occur when shooting on location: trucks rumbling by, aircraft passing overhead, the guy across the street with his leaf blower, dogs barking, car doors slamming. Face it; we live in a noisy world.

We didn’t have a teleprompter, so Marsha had to memorize long passages, many of them filled with tongue twisters.

Only enough of the wall was painted for framing purposes. Notice I didn't bother to retitle the slate.

Only enough of the wall was painted for framing purposes. Notice I didn’t bother to retitle the slate.

Adhering to the accelerated pacing while keeping her energy and enthusiasm levels high also resulted in a number of blown takes. But Marsha came through like a champ (she always does) and by the end of the second day of shooting it was ‘in the can.’

There were a number of graphics that had to be created then converted to video, but I’m pretty good at Photoshop, so no problem. A number of photos also had to be converted to video complete with leisurely zooms and pans. For this I used a program called StillLife.

I edited our opus with Final Cut Pro which allowed me to fine tune color correction and density, add a few dissolves, drop in superimposed titles, adjust sound levels, and bookend the video with a short piece of music. Total editing time was about a day.

We posted the finished video to YouTube as instructed and voila, Marsha’s crowd funding campaign was ready to go live. To see how it all came together, click here.

The funds we’re trying to raise will be used to hire the services of a professional publicist who can secure Marsha and her book targeted media exposure beyond the reach of social media. This will include interviews, personal appearances, and book signings, which in turn will require travel expenses. There will also be advertising costs. If you are an indie writer, I hope you’ll visit the campaign site and see what we’ve done. This is a learning process and we want to share what we learn with other writers.

As many of you know, we toured our play Letters From The Front around the world for 15 years so we know what’s involved in getting the word out. We know how it’s done because we’ve successfully done it. Now we’re ready to do it for Marsha’s book. In the process, hopefully we’ll discover a pathway that other writers can follow and benefit from. Support from our fellow scribes can help pave that pathway.

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