Alternative title: All the stuff I wish someone had told me before I started my Kickstarter Campaign and nearly drove myself bonkers, put together into a nifty little list for you.
1) It’s going to be harder and more time-consuming than you probably imagine.
Preparing for this Kickstarter launch took weeks, and promoting it after the launch took hours every day for several more weeks. I remember thinking, when I first launched the project, that this was the most time-consuming, ridiculous way to try to raise funds. Years ago, I used to dig ditches (literally), by hand in the humid Illinois summer for $8 an hour. There were days when digging ditches seemed a lot easier than promoting a Kickstarter campaign.
What made it hard, though, wasn’t exactly the time, or the soul-sucking slog of putting out press releases and other promotional blurbs that seemed to go nowhere. It was the psychological challenge of asking friends, family, and strangers for support. This ended up being a lot more difficult for me than I expected. Yet as the campaign went on, I noticed a shift in my thinking about the campaign and my creative work that made me realize why crowdfunding might be an extremely important experience for writers, musicians, and other artists to have. Here’s why:
Artists need to engage communities, and crowdfunding is a way to create an intense, and hopefully reciprocal, engagement with a very invested community.
As a writer, I tend to want to stay in my basement and create stories. It’s much easier to write those in isolation, and imagine how they’ll become best-selling masterpieces that will change the world (we all think this, right?). To complete the creative process, though, stories need to be released into the wild, and all too often what happens after their release is a big, resounding nothing.
It’s not enough to simply write and release stories. You’ve got to find them suitable habitats too, and that takes work.
It means engaging communities, and trying to get people to look at the work, and invest in it. This is the part of the writing process that’s most difficult for me, but as Black Elk put it, “No vision is real until it’s enacted upon the earth for the people to see.” Getting people to see the vision is part of creating the vision. And it’s an essential part of engaging communities with creative work.
I’m told there used to be a patron system for funding the arts. This was replaced to some extent by a publishing system that compensated creators for their work. But now that publishing system has begun to crumble, because so much of what people create is being made available for free (think of the hundreds of thousands of free, or nearly free, e-books, music downloads, and comics being made available online). Unfortunately, all this content takes time, and often money, to produce.
It’s no secret that as a result of free music, the music industry has gone through a huge shift and many record labels have collapsed (here’s a comprehensive look at that). Traditional book and comic book publishing might be going through a similar change. I’ve heard editors, agents, and writers muse about how the good old days, when advances were big enough that writers could make a living, are long gone (like this article, from The Guardian, on the “end of the author’s life”).
Crowdfunding, though, is something that’s stepping in to fill the gap. In some ways, it’s a return to the patron system, only it’s a much more democratic patron system. Although I think much is lost by the decline of support for publishing, the participatory aspect of crowdfunding can be a good thing. And supporting artists, and other creators and inventors, is something I’ve found to be surprisingly gratifying and edifying (if you haven’t ever supported a Kickstarter project, try it. You might be surprised by how rewarding it feels. In fact, I just happen to know one you could start with: http://kck.st/1OCQTP9).
The musician, Amanda Palmer, has a great Ted Talk on how crowdfunding isn’t asking people to pay for music. It’s letting them be part of the process. But as this image of Amanda suggests, engaging a community like this can cause you to feel a bit exposed and vulnerable. Difficult as this is, I also think it’s a useful sort of discomfort for artists to feel. The bottom line is this:
People want to be part of bringing something new and good into the world, if you let them know about it, and are willing to welcome them into the process.
[Don’t worry — the rest of this list won’t be so long or philosophical. I just needed to get the big one off my chest first. Onward with my top 10 tips!]
2) Beware the scams (they’ll swarm to you like wasps to a carnival)
The moment you launch a Kickstarter campaign (and I imagine a similar thing happens with other crowd funding platforms), you’re going to get a barrage of emails claiming they can promote your campaign, and increase your ranking on Kickstarter, if only you send them some bucks.
I didn’t use any of these services. It seemed a bit unscrupulous to me, and when I looked into them more to figure out what they did to raise one’s all important Kickstarter ranking, I found a lot of folks warning that such services are scams. Here’s a good blog post on that.
3) Rather than fundraising, think of the campaign as a way to inspire project promotion
It’s not about the money as much as it’s about getting the word out. If you need money, dig ditches. It’s easier (see tip #1). However, since Kickstarter is an all or nothing proposition (meaning, if you don’t meet your goal, you don’t get anything), once you have your first backer, it gives you a powerful incentive to let others know about the project too.
Personally, I needed this. I struggle with doing what’s needed to promote my work. The nice thing about the project I did, though, is that I could look at it as promoting someone else art (because the project is a collaboration between me and the incredibly talented Irish artist, Patrick Mulholland).
Pro-tip: The best way to spread the word about the project is to contact potentially interested folks directly to let them know about it.
Contacting folks directly worked better for me than Facebook ads, press releases, tweets, blog posts, or any other methods I found to spread the word. It’s good old fashioned word of mouth. And many friends stepped up after I contacted them to spread the word, too, so the effect got magnified (thank you, friends!).
The more folks who back a project, the higher your ranking on Kickstarter gets, and the more likely it becomes that you’ll attract new Backers outside your circle of friends. Even small amounts of support (one or two bucks) help raise your visibility so you can attract new Backers and get beyond “friend funding.”
4) Keep your video short (under two minutes if possible).
People give to people, or so the saying goes. I was told that creating a video that showed who I was would be essential to a good campaign. But creating a video was agony for me. I hate being on video, and I think it shows (if you’re curious, here’s the youtube link to the video I made. Hopefully I didn’t scare too many folks away).
As short as I made this video, I know now that I over explained the project (but I couldn’t bring myself to redo it after the project launched). So, be warned, less is more with the video. In fact, explaining less in the video allows you to tailor descriptions of your project for different audiences with more personalized messages and emails. For instance, with some audiences, I referred to the Broken Saviors project as being a “comic book series,” while with others I called it a “graphic novel.” With some I emphasized the strong female characters and the kick-ass matriarchal aliens. With others, I emphasized the big environmental and political questions the series explores. And with others, I just talked about it being a rollicking good story. Rhetorical analysis in action, baby!
5) Develop a list of potential Backers and fans months beforehand!
To avoid simply “friend-funding,” you’ll want to develop a list of potentially interested folks months ahead of time. A good way to do this is by making some of the story, comic, or album (or whatever you’re creating) available on your website, then give folks who want more a way to sign up. These are the folks who you can then send the link to after the launch, and offer them more free stuff. I didn’t do this until after the project launched, but I wish I had. Live and learn.
6) Develop Swag Beforehand
Small rewards for backers like custom iPhone covers, signed prints, funky T-shirts, cool pens, hairless kittens, etc… take longer to create than you might think. But they make Kickstarter campaigns go gangbusters. So do your homework, and develop this stuff weeks beforehand, because once your project is launched, your hands will be full with promotion and other demands.
Also, swag gives you something to talk about and get folks attention with mid-campaign (so hold some swag back to release during the campaign). Without swag, you might have to resort to writing a blog post about crowd funding while you’re still fundraising.
(Fun fact: schwag and swag are both considered correct slang, although the first usually refers to bad green stuff, and the latter to “S*#t We All Get.” Who knew?)
7) Offer something concrete and physical in the Kickstarter
Related to the previous point, I’ve noticed that Backers are far more willing to back a project when they can get a physical copy of the project (think printed comic book), over a digital copy. People spend more for things they can hold. Trouble is, printing and shippings costs a bunch of money, but I guess that’s why you do a Kickstarter campaign.
8) Use that tiny url like crazy.
Once your project is launched, you’ll notice a button on the project page to “Share this project.” Click on the Twitter option, and you’ll get a smaller URL. For instance, the full URL for the project I launched was this: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/drunkensquirrels/broken-saviors-alien-invasion-comic-book-series
The tiny URL was this: http://kck.st/1OCQTP9
Grab that tiny URL and post it like crazy. It’s much easier for folks to copy and share and tweet it. If you want to practice, use this: http://kck.st/1OCQTP9 (Yes, that was a shameless way to include a link to the project again. I’m learning…).
9) Set your goal low, keep it to thirty days or less, and try to over deliver.
Promoting a crowdfunding campaign is exhausting work. I wouldn’t want to do it for more than 30 days, and a lot of projects that go over 30 days fizzle out and aren’t successful. In fact, you should know going in that over half of all projects on Kickstarter don’t succeed (so set your goal as low as possible—remember, it’s all or nothing).
Somedays, you’ll work your virtual butt off to spread the word about a project, and the needle won’t move a dime. The thing to remember, though, is that every Backer increases your project visibility, and that’s the real goal. To get beyond that circle of friends, and get broader support and awareness of your project, you need a lot of Backers (so every dime helps there). Trust me, you’ll never get so excited about 2$ again.
Honestly, now that I know what goes into doing a crowdfunding campaign, I’m going to give something to every single friend I know who launches a project. Just contact me and let me know about it. I’m rooting for you.
10) Give yourself permission to accept unexpected generosity.
So many folks chipped in to the project, it blew me away. And the biggest contributions were from total strangers. That was entirely unexpected, wonderful, and humbling.
Initially, every time someone chipped in to back the project, I felt both thrilled and guilty (as in, “How could I ever do enough to pay this person back for what they’ve done?”). True, that’s the way I often feel in general, but crowdfunding magnified this tendency. I had to keep reminding myself that’s it’s not always about doing more. It’s about allowing folks to be part of the creative process more. We’re all in this together, trying to make something good of our amazing existence. I’d give to that. It’s been pretty wonderful to discover that many other folks will, too.
If you want to check out my Kickstarter campaign, here it is. It ends on Sunday, April 26, at 7:30 am.
*After Sunday, issues of Broken Saviors will be made available to read here. You can also chip in here to keep the story going. All funds raised go toward production costs.*
A couple last tips on doing a Kickstarter campaign:
—Back other projects! This is the best way I found to learn what works well and what not to do (from the Backer’s perspective). Plus, it’s gratifying to do.
—For tax reasons, it’s better to do it earlier in the year than later. Give yourself time to spend all the money you gain on your creative project before the year ends. (In my case this is easy since I plan to lose money on my project, but I believe it’s worth it. The things we do for love….)