Crowdsourcing II: Bringing Past Medical History into the Present by Don Stewart
Our first self-publishing project, a picture book suitable for display on anyone’s coffee table, was produced in-house and entirely funded by advance sales. The process taught us how to design, produce and market a book, and how to rely on a loyal customer base to support us in a risky undertaking.
It worked so well in fact, that we decided to try it again with Past Medical History, an artist’s collection of autobiographical short stories.
Not that we didn't try the traditional route first. I spent a couple of months training myself to accommodate book agents and publishers, writing impactful query letters and voluminous Book Proposals, thinking that this would be a positive and fruitful enterprise. It was not. Then I took a little more time to catch up on the world of POD and e-books, and was again disappointed by the mass of material that is being self-published and not being purchased and read.
Eventually my wife and I decided that the only way to make the project happen would be to self-publish a complete print run, and to fund the project via one of the new online crowdsourcing programs. We chose Indiegogo, and began plotting the best strategy for our new book campaign:
First, we put together a video pitching the project. It was an amateur affair, but our research told us that quality didn't matter nearly as much as content. The video offered a clear message describing our plan, with an identifiable goal, a reasonable budget, and a clear pathway to actually completing the project. Of course we mentioned our track record – we had attempted this kind of thing before, and succeeded.
I spent about a month working on the script, and the storyboard for our video. We shot it in the studio with a tiny hand-held camera, then did all the editing ourselves on iMovie. The whole process was overwhelming at every stage, but we chipped away at it, a little bit every day for weeks, until we had something that we felt would tell our story.
We knew we then had to carry the burden of selling this fundraising program to our audience. We learned in online group discussions that too many people think you simply throw the switch on this kind of campaign, then sit back and count the money. Not so. If you want people to participate, you have to find them, inform them, and encourage them to get involved.
We promoted the first book with e-mails and postcards, so it made sense to try that approach again. This time we used a newsletter service, engaged specifically for this campaign, and we duplicated the newsletter message with personal e–mails through our regular account.
Snail mail post cards went out to our entire mailing list, telling them about the online funding plan, and also giving them the option to pre-order the book from our web site. We then added printed flyers to every art order that we sent out of the studio over the course of the campaign.
To increase our online presence, we created dedicated Past Medical History pages on Facebook and Pinterest, added new book links to our regular DSArt.com web site, and built a whole new site for the book itself (www.pastmedicalhistorybook.com). All this was to give any interested donors plenty of targets if they decided to research the book, the author or the crowdfunding project. I also blogged, tweeted, pinned and posted about the book throughout the campaign. We then joined a number of online forums for writers and artists, in order to gain access to new venues for discussing the book project.
Before long, we started showing up on the first page of Google web and image searches. More important, we started seeing lots of positive activity on our fundraising campaign.
Finally, we sent out a number of press releases, and signed up with news source organizations to answer reporters' requests for tips and interviews. This generated dozens of PR opportunities for us to talk about the new book, and the funding campaign.
Did it work? Absolutely. Our long-time art customers, business associates, friends, family, chance acquaintances, perfect and imperfect strangers stepped up to support our publication, taking Past Medical History off of our Wish List, and putting it firmly into the hands of hundreds of new readers.
So far, so good. Now it’s time to get the book out of our art studio, and see how well it does in the real world.
About the book
PAST MEDICAL HISTORY
Donal B. Stewart, MD
DSArt LLC; August 2013
Paperback, 221 pages
Past Medical History is a compilation of short stories chronicling the life of Dr. Don Stewart, who grew up with the singular goal of becoming a physician, then quit the day he earned his medical license to make a life and a living as an artist. It’s The Devil Wears Prada meets The House of God, with a character who sees his own career circling the drain, pronounces it DOA, and turfs himself to an art studio for treatment. It’s Patch Adams, with an attitude; The Things They Carried, dressed up in scrubs and a white lab coat.
This series of stories draws a clear picture of a doctor who recognized the pitfalls of his chosen profession, discharged himself from the hospital, then took his life in a more creative, and far healthier direction.
Don Stewart has a bachelor’s degree in Biology and Art, with honors, from Birmingham-Southern College, and an MD from the University of Alabama School of Medicine. He also served a year-long surgical internship at the Mayo Clinic, where he published some of his first composite drawings, and won awards for poetry and short fiction.
Dr. Stewart’s short stories have since been published in Pulse--voices from the heart of medicine, The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, The Placebo Journal, and The Journal of Irreproducible Results, where he is listed as honorary Art Editor. For four years he served as Contributing Editor to Informal Rounds, the newsletter of the University of Alabama Medical Alumni Association.
For the past quarter century he has made his living as a self-styled Visual Humorist, hammering words and pictures together at the DS Art Studio Gallery in Birmingham: www.DSArt.com. You can also find him at www.PastMedicalHistoryBook.com.
His latest book is the autobiography, Past Medical History.
Connect & Socialize with Don