Thursday, 3 May 2012

Kickstarter, lessons learned

Last year I completed my first Kickstarter campaign to help get The Hero Code published.

Originally set out as a way of getting an off-set print run of the book completed, when I lost my day job, it became a means of helping finish the last few pages of production and still get a good sized print run of the book done.

Always ready to share experiences and offer advice on these matters, I wanted to write up a kind of overview of the process, and perhaps offer up some ideas for people thinking of doing a campaign, and sounding out some future ideas if I decide to do another one.

I will make something clear here and now. I am by no means an expert on this subject. The only difference between me and someone who either hasn't started a campaign, or whose campaign didn't meet it's goal, is that mine did. I do not know how or why (aside from the obvious generosity of it's backers!) and think that there is a danger in thinking that there is some magic technique to all of this. I can offer advice as to what I think will help, but cannot guarantee anything! In fact, for a large chunk of the time I was running the campaign, I genuinely thought it didn't stand a chance of meeting it's goal.

A lot of this article will be talking about the area that I have experience in, namely a campaign for a comic book. It may translate over to other areas, but quite possibly not.


First, I think it needs to be clear exactly what it is that you are campaigning to kickstart.

Before you even get to applying to Kickstarter (it's an application process, which can take a few days) you need to be clear with yourself what the end result of the campaign is working towards.

If it is for a single issue of a book - focus on that. A trade, again focus on that. Is it the production or publication?

Know this before you start, and you have a better chance of knowing what amount you are actually campaigning towards.

If it's for a single issue of a book, are you looking to do a large off-set print or a small print run? Knowing this will allow you to get a fuller quote as to what something like this will cost.

Is it colour or black and white? How many pages? What stock paper?

Plan as much about what the end product will actually be as you can. Know the result, and then get a number of quotes so that you know what the target is that you are aiming for.

Once you know this, you can start to get an idea of what figure you will need to raise to run a successful campaign.

Some things to factor in:

* Kickstarter and Amazon (who process the payments for Kickstarter) both take a cut. It roughly works out to be 10%
* Shipping and handling. You will need to send out the rewards to backers. Think about what you'll be sending them in, and what method you'll be using. Bulk buying sturdy envelopes can save a lot of money, as can using on-line postage services (ie paying and printing out the postage before going to the post office). Also, registered post is a lot cheaper when bought online than at a postoffice - and having a tracking number for a package can save you down the line.
*Overseas shipping will cost more. A lot of people factor this into the campaign, by either asking for a higher backing or offering an overseas option to backers.
*Production costs of rewards. Not just the book (for example) but sundry items. T-shirts cost a lot to produce, and add to shipping costs. An action figure may sound great, but remember, this is a campaign for a comic book!
*Getting more than 200 backers and a high (from memory, but please correct me if wrong, $8,000) figure in a campaign can mean that you are responsible to declare the campaign as taxable earnings.

Make it easy

One thing I have noticed as a backer of lots of campaigns, I like an easy in. That is, there should be a very clear and obvious reward bracket which offers the item, and just the item, at an appealing amount.

Numerically speaking, the majority of backers will be at the $25 and less levels of rewards. You may make more money elsewhere with more bespoke options, but to keep it simple, try to encourage casual backers to get onboard with a nice entry level rewards.

A low cost digital edition is also a great idea as a low cost, low risk reward.

Also, too many rewards, or too complex a series of rewards, or too many variations on the same value of rewards can be off-putting. They should progress naturally, the more you back, the more you get.

In the house

Something to consider, if there is a way of keeping the production of the rewards as "in house" as possible, aim for that. Keeping your costs down means more money towards the campaign itself.

If you have a button maker, fantastic! Silk-screen t-shirts? Marvelous!

Every little helps.


Your reward structure and amount to be raised should be mutually beneficial to a degree. A good idea is to set up (mentally) a two-tiered reward structure. The first tier, the lower side, should make your target reachable - if you wanted to run a campaign with just these rewards, you could.

The second tier should be more bespoke, inventive and look to bring in large chunks of the target amount from less people.

For example, with comics you can offer some of the following:

* Original artwork.
* Likenesses in current or future issues (this is a pretty great reward, as it is special to the backer, and cost effective to create)
* Sketch covers or character sketches.

One idea I have been toying with for either a future campaign, or even as a possible offer from the Monkey Pipe Studios store, is to have a unique cover - a one off cover, appearing on that one copy of that issue only. You could include the original artwork along with the issue too.


Some people don't feel comfortable with the idea of running a Kickstarter campaign. I have seen some comments which question the validity of the service.

On the other hand, I have seen a few people use the service as almost a pre-order service.

One criticism of this is that it doesn't take into account the added cost of running a Kickstarter campaign.

By the same token, Kickstarter provides a brand awareness that perhaps you alone do not have, and a reach you might lack individually. Ask yourself is that worth the cost of the campaign? Can you consider it almost like an advertisement cost?

Some final things to consider:

With Kickstarter you will only receive funding if the campaign is a success. Does that mean it is best to aim lower to ensure success, and then push higher?

Running a campaign can be a lot of work. You will need to push hard to get the campaign out there. I had a lot of success with twitter, and with a few small-press news sites - the later really pushed me over the finish line at the end of the campaign.

If you are looking to put out a book, consider that the campaign may see you reach a limit as to how many readers your book will reach. You may find yourself in the same boat for future issues.

Are you comfortable shilling? It will feel like you are spending a couple of months spamming people, and some people may feel that is the case.

For the duration of the campaign make it as easy as possible for people to get to the page. If you mention it on a social network, link back to the campaign. Any profiles should be altered to include that link. I have seen a couple of people mention that they are running a campaign, but with no clear link to it. The update service should be used as a process blog. I perhaps went a little overboard with posts, but a good amount will keep interest up, and keep the campaign feeling alive.

Finally, be ready to get the rewards out in a reasonable time frame, and if you can't let people know why and what changes in time frame should be expected.

Would I do it again? I would. I found it to be an easy as a service. I'm not totally confident of success, which is a good thing, surely - complacency would be terrible.


A. Diallo Jackson said...

Very interesting and a lot of things for me to consider as I'm working up to launching my campaign. A lot here I hadn't considered. Thanks!

Jahhdog said...

Being located in Canada and realizing the added expense for shipping I agree with including the reward/option for digital pdfs of comics.

agnes said...

good notes! thanks for sharing!