On July 12, Melody Carlisle, Jenny Nordbak, and Katee Robert, hosts of the podcast Bonkers Romance, launched a Kickstarter campaign to publish an original erotica series, Peculiar Tastes, featuring six books from six different authors. The campaign had a modest goal of $10,000—a figure that Nordbak said would be enough to “signal to us that there was enough interest to support the project eventually being profitable, even if the initial campaign served as a loss leader.”

Nordbak never expected that the campaign would meet its $10,000 goal in just two minutes.

The trio launched the Bonkers Romance podcast in September 2021 to celebrate their favorite romance authors and books. Soon, they hatched an idea to publish a romance series of their own, inviting some of the genre’s biggest authors to contribute. They conceived of a series of books called Peculiar Tastes, centered on Halloween—specifically, the Gaelic festival of Samhain—and set at a magical marketplace called the Shadow Market. But beyond the constraint of a shared setting, they wanted to “leave room for the authors to write whatever story called to them.” The featured authors will be Nordbak, Robert, Zoey Castile (the pen name of Zoraida Córdova, a PW contributor), Adriana Herrera, Sierra Simone, and Nikki Sloane, each of whom will contribute an original novel to the series.

As of this writing—and with 22 more days to go—the Peculiar Tastes campaign has raised more than $356,000 from nearly 3,000 backers.

What makes Peculiar Tastes an especially ambitious publishing project is its emphasis on design. The series will be available in hardcover, paperback, and e-book formats, with the print editions featuring custom book plates signed by each author and colorful, foiled covers designed by Emily Wittig Designs. Hardcovers and paperbacks will come in what Nordbak calls “Flippy Floppy style,” which divides the six books into three fully reversible volumes. Finally, in addition to the books, the campaign offers backers three art sets: vellum inserts designed to fit inside the books, greeting cards, and 4x6 prints. Pledge tiers begin at $25, which includes access to the series in e-book format, up to $210, the “Hardcover Swag Box,” which includes the hardcover series set, e-books, vellum inserts, greeting cards, and art prints.

Nordbak said she chose Kickstarter to house the campaign precisely because of the freedom it allows in terms of design and packaging. “Kickstarter gives us a space to be daring in the design of the books and the ability to offer readers something more immersive, with swag boxes that contain artwork like vellum page overlays,” she said. “The foiled special editions are reversible and contain foiled, hand-signed book plates featuring custom artwork for each story. That’s simply not a product we can currently offer through a traditional retailer.”

She was also drawn to Kickstarter by its emphasis on community over commerce. “It’s not just selling a product, it’s building a community,” Nordbak said. “With their buy-in, readers get to be an active part of bringing the project to life, and they have the power to collectively determine what’s successful, regardless of how niche or over-the-top the project is.”

Kickstarter has become entrenched as a powerful tool for independent publishing. In March of this year, fantasy writer Brandon Sanderson launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund the publication of four “secret” novels. The month-long venture broke records as Kickstarter’s most funded project of all time, with more than 185,000 backers pledging more than $41,000,000.

Sanderson’s success on Kickstarter “forced the industry to pay attention,” said series contributor Zoey Castile. “It is my hope that author-run Kickstarters keep publishers on their toes.” She wonders, if it weren’t for Kickstarter, “Would a project like this even make it to an acquisitions meeting?”

Nordbak called Kickstarter “a fantastic publishing tool,” noting that "we’re far from the first, but with each new campaign, entrepreneurial authors are finding innovative ways to reach readers and provide the content they’re hungry for,” she said. “One of the coolest things about Kickstarter is the way it scales or allows for collaborations like this where our platforms can be combined to leverage organic reach.”

Current “conservative” projections, Nordbak says, call for sales of about 2,000 hardcover and paperback sets—6,000 hardcovers and 6,000 paperbacks total. But having been so caught off guard by the campaign’s immediate success, she knows those projections could change at any moment: “The final days of the campaign could bring another surge that dwarfs those numbers.”