So, I had some success with my Kickstarter project. I set out to raise $7000 over 30 days to print a trade paperback of my completed sci-fi webcomic Artifice and wound up receiving $36,551 in backing.
There’s lot I could say about that (especially about my deep gratitude to my stunningly awesome readers) but I’ve been asked for advice from those considering their own Kickstarter projects so I thought I’d offer some tips here. Approached correctly, I believe Kickstarter can be a incredibly useful tool for independent creators. Done wrong and you’ll be putting in a TON of effort for nothing.
First off, how does Kickstarter work?
A Kickstarter project needs to be “something finite with a clear beginning and end” and something that is “creative” (which is defined very broadly to include things like food, video games and digital watches). For a time period you choose (from 1-60 days) to reach a specific dollar goal, people are able to make “pledges” to your project, ranging from $1 to whatever they can afford. For their pledge, they get to select one of your “rewards” of equal or lesser value to their pledge.
Here’s an important detail: their credit card or other account will not actually be charged at the time they make their pledge, and they can change the amount of their pledge or even cancel it right up to the final deadline.
If the final deadline comes and the goal is reached, then everyone gets charged the amount they pledged all at once. But if for some reason the goal isn’t reached, then the whole thing is called off. No one gets charged, no fees are applied and everyone just keeps their money.
So for backers, there’s no risk of putting up money and then the printed book (or whatever) never happens because of lack of funds. And for you, there’s no risk of having to fulfill a bunch of rewards if you don’t raise the money to finish your project.
As you can see, it’s an attractive set-up for everyone.
BEFORE YOU BEGIN
Kickstarter entered my radar when another webcomic creator, E.K. Weaver, used it to fund her own print run. I had never backed a Kickstarter project before but she did lots of things right, including fairly priced and attractive rewards and a funny, kick-ass video that made her seem totally down-to-earth and likable. I was already a fan of her comic, but she made it easy for me to want to support her. I took the plunge and found the process completely painless and satisfying. Which brings me to my first bit of advice:
Before you launch your project, back at least two other projects.
(After I decided I wanted to launch a project of my own, I went onto Kickstarter looking for other things to back to try it out, but ultimately only backed one other project that was particularly well-designed—and again, was of a webcomic I already admired. At that time, nothing else even tempted me. That, in itself, was useful for me to know.)
(And folks are able to tell because the number of projects you’ve backed will be right next to your picture on your project page.)
Before you launch your project, go look at a bunch of projects that succeeded spectacularly—and especially look at those that failed.
If you want to launch a Kickstarter project, there are certain requirements. And one thing they insist on is that—success or failure—a project once launched will live on in the Kickstarter archives forever for others to learn from. For those wanting to figure out “best practices”, this is a very, very good thing.
First, go to the Most Funded page and explore the all-time most successful projects in Kickstarter history. You’ll find that page divided by type of project (Comics, Dance, Fashion…) so you’ll be able to see what works for other projects like yours, but I’d also encourage you to explore projects outside of your focus to figure out what universally works for a Kickstarter project.
(And on that page, be sure not to miss the little “More in…” links you’ll find under each set of 3 thumbnails to the right. Even though the Most Funded landing page only shows 3 projects per type, using those “More in…” links will let you see EVERY successful project for each type starting with the most successful on down. Be sure to at least check out the top 10 for your type of project.)
Then once you’ve explored several successful projects (watching the videos, reading the description, taking note what kind of pledges were asked for what kind of reward), go click on Ending Soon and look for those Kickstarter projects that are about to fail. It can be a bit painful to go through these projects, for when a Kickstarter project fails, it tends to fail spectacularly. But you don’t want that to be you. And if you look at enough of these, you’ll be able to see patterns that seem to ensure failure.
Some harbingers of disaster are fairly obvious: for example, creators, who haven’t taken the time to build up a community of fans, asking for huge dollar amounts. If you’re asking for under $1000, you’ll probably be able to get that from friends and family alone. But if you’re looking for more than $10,000, you’re almost certainly going to be needing pledges from people who’ve never met you.
For most of us, that will mean having a fanbase in place of folks who already want to support your work. (I’ll share some thoughts on building that kind of community in a future post.) It will also mean having very attractive rewards.
Which brings me to my last bit of advice in this post:
Start thinking about your project and its rewards from the perspective of a consumer.
As a creative person, it can feel a bit, well, icky to think of your work in terms of dollars and cents. But with a Kickstarter project, you are asking strangers for dollars and cents. And let’s face it, though I’m sure you are your own special, unique snowflake who is working to create beauty in this world, you aren’t the Red Cross. You aren’t a charity. And nobody owes you anything.
If there is one consistent thing I noticed about failed projects, it’s that their rewards were either 1) unappealing and/or 2) overpriced. Don’t make this mistake.
Of course, the way Kickstarter is set up, it’s an easy mistake to make. People make “pledges” which evokes something like the PBS pledge drive. You’re encouraged to talk about your dreams and hopes to make your project personal (which if you are sincere is, in fact, good advice.) And if you’re making something like comics, you certainly aren’t in it for the money—you doing it because you know your project is on some level going to make the world a better (or at least more entertaining) place. It’s easy to think that folks will (and maybe even should!) donate to you out of the goodness of their hearts.
Don’t count on it.
There’s a reason why Kickstarter “champions exchanges” that are "a mix of commerce and patronage". In fact, I believe it’s best for you to actually think of your rewards as “pre-orders”, especially for the lower pledge amounts. There have been projects I absolutely wanted to fund—I mean I clicked on the Kickstarter page with my credit card in hand!—where I changed my mind once I saw the exorbitant amounts they were asking for their “rewards.”
Let me say it again: outside of your friends and family and a few (beloved) hardcore fans, a Kickstarter pledge will not be an act of charity.
Based on what I’ve seen, if you want your project to succeed, what folks get for their pledges should be equal to or even less expensive than what they’d pay for that same “reward” in a retail store. For a trade paperback, that means something like $20 or less. With domestic shipping included.
(Now, this is not to say that you shouldn’t mention the intangible values of your creative work as well—if your project actually is about making the world a better place, by all means trumpet that! As a backer, I certainly want to have a good feeling about the projects I support—and as I said above, E.K.’s “likability” in her video was a big factor in making me want to give her money. Just make sure that while you promising to do the work of angels, you keep the pledge amounts for your rewards down to Earth, particularly in the case of the lower pledge amounts.)
So, before you even begin working on your application to Kickstarter (and especially while you are reviewing those successful projects), be thinking about what kind of rewards you can afford to offer (including shipping and minus Kickstarter fees! Very important! Don’t lose money with your rewards!). And especially especially think about what kinds of tempting rewards would actually seem more than worth the amounts you’re asking folks to pledge.
I had to get over myself and think hard about what I could offer in terms of rewards that would be worth a stranger’s hard earned money. And I’ll be talking about that and other things I learned in a future post. :)