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A Group Effort: Kickstarting a Book & a Community
Written by
How She Does It
June 2018
Written by
How She Does It
June 2018

When Niki Tulk couldn't find a publisher for her book, she used the experience she'd gained as an indie music producer to create a Kickstarter campaign--and it exceeded her wildest expectations.

You have the novel, you have the agent, you are even shortlisted for a major award for an unpublished manuscript--but still no publisher wants to take a risk on your work.

This was the situation I faced after trying to garner the support of a publisher for my debut novel, Shadows & Wings. So,what to do? I had already been giving out copies to friends, who wanted copies for their friends, and I kept being asked, “When is this being published so we can buy copies for people?” It started to get embarrassing to keep up an uber-cheerful “Soon!”

To make things worse, each publisher returned the MS with a different suggestion. “Make it commercial women’s fiction and we’ll take it!” said one. “Drop the male lead,” said another. “Lose the female, make it all about the grandfather!” said another. If all, or even most, of the publishers had said something even slightly similar, we may have been onto a revision. But alas, the many different responses left me first confused, then clearer as to the need to trust my own voice and vision for the work. Meanwhile, my small book community grew.

My partner and I ran an indie, non-profit record label and artist management organization for several years, and we had always been very hands-on at every stage of an artist’s career--from co-writing and session musician work to photo shoots, and creating and managing press campaigns and national tours. We had always stressed to our artists that hype had to be about something; and that something needed to be grassroots-grown in order to be sustainable. We advised them to always to out there and create genuine community, fans who want the monthly email, who come to gigs, and who turn up for ice cream on a Twitter prompt. Art, we have always felt, should come from community.

So when the publishing houses kept turning my novel down, and yet I had my own circles responding positively, we had the idea to do with my novel what we had done with music.

That’s where Kickstarter came in.

The challenge was: If I prepared the project’s pitch well, allowing people to download samples and hear the journey and political context through a short video, would we get enough people on board to publish?

It was very scary, because I found it hard to believe that folks outside my immediate circle would be interested, but I really wanted to see if it were possible to find a core audience first, and then publish for them, rather than publishing the work and then finding a market.

Because it is my first novel, I also wanted to think longer-term and begin the writer’s journey with a community that I can hopefully then count in on future work, a community within which I can then share in others’ artistic journeys. Essentially, I see being a writer as another way of facilitating (and initiating) important and creative conversations among readers and fellow artists.

And over the Kickstarter campaign, this sort of dialogue began to happen. I got messages and questions from others who were inspired by the idea, wanted to find out more about commercial vs. artistic interests in publishing - the debate of art vs. commodity raged!

We burst through the funding goal, and we are ecstatic, because I know that a huge reason why people funded this project was to support the idea of independent artists and author self-empowerment. In other words, this campaign was a much larger concern than just my book; which is what I wanted it to be. I hoped people would begin to think critically about the process by which work is brought to them, or kept from them, to ask questions and to celebrate the range of places that new voices emerge from.

I hope now that should I become published traditionally in the future,  I will have more to bring to the promotions table, and will see any such arrangement with a publisher as a partnership, not author-as-consumer-of-publisher-resources. This again echoes my experience in indie music, where what we strived to do as a label was give wings to our artists so that we ended up supporting their efforts to run their careers, rather than being burdened by a lack of drive and commitment to really owning the whole process.


You can learn more about Niki and her project at 


* This post was originally published in September 2012.

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  • Stephanie Holster

    Very inspirational. Thank you for sharing. Best wishes for your future

  • Dr. Julia E. Antoine

    Congratulations to you, Nikki, and every author who has achieved success through self-publishing. I take courage in every successful story I read. Hopefully, one day I'll have my own.

  • Niki Tulk

    I have hopped on here just now and read (and re-read) the comments below. I feel hugged, cheered on and so warmed by all of you. I think that is what makes forums like this so important -- it is the site for our collective YES, and YES, and YES. As we pool wisdom, stories and both challenge and encourage each other we can write and connect our stories to others. And, as the wonderful Janet Frame wrote, "Silence [can find] its voice." Peace.

  • Velda Brotherton

    What a great story. Though some of us wouldn't worry about the funding of publication, the way you went about getting a core audience is certainly a help to those of us published by indie and/or Kindle publication. We've talked a lot about this among our core of writers, hoping to create that core audience who will support our writing by buying our books and creating a word-of-mouth "marketing" that will help us. Best of luck with your projects now and in the future.

  • This is an inspiring story. Thanks!

  • Daphne Q

    What an inspirational story. Way to go, Niki!

  • Valerie J. Brooks

    Niki, I'm so inspired by you! I've supported three Kickstarter campaigns and just recently our City Club did a special on Kickstarter for small business. I'm in the same boat you were in, having a novel that has been through three top agents, editors all turning it down for various reasons but nothing concrete, and three residencies plus an Elizabeth George Foundation Grant for this novel. In this time of publishing fear, we take encouragement from stories like yours. And direction. Thanks! You rock.

  • Agnes Macmillan

    This is a fascinating and inspiring story, Niki! Congratulations! It's fascinating because of the complex web of circumstances -- so many aspects of your life coming together to create a very positive outcome, and inspiring because of the Kickstart strategy -- how you 'stuck to your guns' to protect the integrity of your novel's messages. Do I take it from  reading the blog about your book on your website that you are from Australia? (moi aussi!!) And after reading Jean's comment below, where she relates using Kickstart as well, I'm wondering whether Kickstart is an official program, or simply a way of raising funds? Thank you for sharing your story with us, and all the best with sales of your book, and your next project.

  • Bwandungi Mugarura

    Very inspiring! Truly!

  • Helen W. Mallon

    What an inspiring story!  I've heard of self-publishing as "the new slushpile" and I'm sure it's true to an extent, but this exemplifies all that's good in the new publishing market. It's wonderful that your experiences as a producer can be of such help to writers, who are running to catch up with the new models.  The community aspect of your story is the most encouraging part.  BTW, the comment you left on my blog makes you  (ta-da!) a winner of a free copy of one of my short stories. Feel free to email me at [email protected] and I'll send the secret code...

  • Jean Ellen Whatley

    Hi Niki,

    Congratulations, congratulations, congratulations! We're sharing the She Writes eblast today and more, because I used Kickstarter to fund my writer's journey, (like seriously, 8,600 miles) in the summer of 2011. Like you, I had been getting all kinds of encouragement and felt like I was really on to something, but rejection after rejection from agents. Or, like your story, they'd say, "we like it, but why don't you (fill in the blank.) I just couldn't change my voice to fit somebody else's definition of commercially viable. The added touch of insanity with my Kickstarter quest is that I launched the 30-day funding campaign, and as you know, it's all or nothing, and then took off on my road trip to write a book. I didn't know if I'd have $$$ to even get back home on! I But it worked! About two weeks already into my trip, with funds running low, in a crappy motel in Waynesboro, Virginia, I hit my goal! It's a big part of Chapter 5 in Off the Leash, I call it the Blue Ridge Transfusion. And today, today  I get my first batch of real, live books!  and the first people who get a signed copy are my Kickstarter backers. Without them, and the community of blog readers who read my dispatches from the road, I never would have made it. I mean this sincerely. When they talk about platform, sister, this is it.  Great post and good on ya.

  • marina gottlieb sarles

    So wonderful to hear your story, Niki. I know you will be very successful. I'm interested to read your book which looks like it is about WW2. I too have written  a novel about that time - actually about the evacuation of East Prussia. The novel is coming out next spring - it's called  The Last Daughter of Prussia. I have a blog about the process etc

    Thanks for your inspiring article. Warmly, Marina

  • Katherine Reyna

    Im super inspired to reach out and just do! Your creative side and the tools you used to show community action takes me to get on with my first novel. Thanks. I feel its important to do what's never been done before or to do what others wont.