More than half of the projects posted on Kickstarter fail, and the outlook's even worse for visionaries trying to crowd fund their culinary dreams: Music, film and art projects, which naturally lend themselves to the online video solicitation format, are far more likely than food projects to attract backers.
There's a frightening amount of floundering in Kickstarter's food section. Right now, you can support a doggy dessert cookbook; a mobile spin-off of a Korean barbecue restaurant in Cherry Hill, N.J., and a wings-and-waffle joint in Frisco, Tex. As of last week, almost nobody else had.
But Seattle food writer Matthew Amster-Burton recently funded his Tokyo travel memoir in a matter of days, defying the odds and his own expectations. He's since upped his original $5000 goal, collecting an additional $3000 to underwrite a limited book tour. "Honestly, I wasn't sure it would end up funded," Amster-Burton says of Pretty Good Number One: An American Family Eats Tokyo.
Amster-Burton has cultivated an enthusiastic band of followers through his writings and podcasts, but concedes he couldn't have achieved full funding if he'd relied on friends and diehard fans alone. He instead devised a few strategies which he suspects could be helpful to anyone trying to self-publish a food-themed book.
First, Amster-Burton thought carefully about his ask. He wanted to raise enough money to hire a professional copy editor, commission a strong cover design and develop a "very good website."
"Publishers do a lot of work," Amster-Burton says. "You have to really start thinking about marketing from day one. You have to think outside your strengths as a writer."
In writing his pitch, Amster-Burton tried to appeal to readers interested in food, Japan and his quirky perspective. That's a different approach than he would have taken in compiling a book proposal for an agent, who would want to hear about the book's prospective audience.
"With Kickstarter, you're bypassing that and going directly to the readers," Amster-Burton explains.
Finally, he used iPhoto to create an animated slideshow featuring a voiceover by his eight-year old daughter, Iris.
"Getting these things right is absolutely critical," he says. "It takes time and effort."
Assembling the Kickstarter page took about 40 hours, Amster-Burton says. And that work represents just one of the many non-writing duties Amster-Burton assumes as his own publisher.
"I keep joking the book gets published automatically and I don't have to do anything else," he says.