Ellen Million (ellenmillion) wrote,
Ellen Million

Kickstarter Clues

I "accidentally" funded four coloring books through Kickstarter last May.

I've been running a very small art business for the last 20 years, and one of my best-selling products has been coloring books, mostly aimed at grown-ups. I printed a solo coloring book in 2005 called Dotminatrix, and I had finally gotten enough work together for a second solo book.

Unfortunately, the company I used to print with changed their cover format to a really thin stock that I was utterly dissatisfied with. I found a local printing company that could do what I wanted, but to get the pricing down to something I could afford to sell wholesale, I'd need to buy at least fifty at a time - 100 was much better.

Did I mention I was a really small art business? I usually ordered 25 or 30 of a title to start with, then got 10 or so more at a time as I needed to. This was a gulp-worthy investment! I figured this was a good test of the Kickstarter site; it was a safe way to see if there were enough people interested in the coloring book to make it worth a purchase like that, and it saved me the hassle of having to store a whole bunch of books I didn't sell.

So, I set up a very modest little 30 day campaign for $385, which would just cover a run of 50 coloring books after expenses and fees. To my astonishment, my Kickstarter ended at $4735, which was a little over 12x my goal, and I ended up promising four coloring books, instead of just one! One great campaign hardly makes me an expert on the system, but I learned a lot at every step of the way, and I've had the good fortune to watch several friends run their own successful campaigns. I'm very happy to share my observations with you and hope that they help if you decide to run your own.

The look and feel of your campaign

First impressions matter tremendously at Kickstarter. Almost 60% of my funding came from people who found me browsing the Kickstarter site. Those are people who don't already know anything about me, so from my project page alone, they have to trust that I am making something awesome... and that I'm actually going to deliver it. More than that, I have to be making something awesome enough to be worth their money, when there are so many other amazing projects they could be investing in.

Their platform limits the amount of bling you can add to the text itself, but it will give you a huge leg up if you can add a little dazzle to your description with visuals. A logo, a picture of the cover, portraits of your characters... even just pretty section headers will add a little polish. I didn't have a ticker visual for my stretch goals, but I wish I had!

A video is really necessary. Not only does a video mean you can be selected for a staff pick, but a LOT of Kickstarter browsers view these and make their judgment of the project based on them. They aren't judging your video itself, but how your project is portrayed by the video. I made a very simple, bare-bones slideshow of my artwork in Windows Live Movie Maker. I originally previewed the project to some friends with a silent video, and got a whole chorus of 'add music.' Even if you're using a webcam and talking about your project, consider a low background score. This is super easy to do, and there are a lot of sites out there with music available free for this kind of use. I found mine at ccmixter.org.

It's more important that your video be to the point than that it be very pretty. People want to know about your project, and (unless your goal is actually a video or animation) they don't expect you to be a professional videographer.

Give a really clear example of what they'll be getting, in both the video and the written description! I was selling a coloring book, so I made sure I had a lot of samples of the artwork itself. For a novel, tell them just enough to hook them, and give a writing excerpt. If you're doing a print copy or a comic, show a page of one of the best layouts. If you're doing music, share some of your available work.

Goals and Stretch Goals

My personal suggestion is to set your goal as low as you can possibly manage. Pare your project down to its very bones to start. It's better to over-fund by a lot than fall short of your goal and end up with nothing for your efforts. If you're looking to publish a book, for example, set your goal at a modest e-release, or a release through an on-demand printer that doesn't charge anything to set up (like Lulu, or createspace). You can make your stretch goal something more ambitious; if you make enough extra sales, you can hire someone to do more professional layout, pay for illustrations, improve the quality of your cover, buy in greater quantity, or even fund a trip to go to a convention to market your books.

I chose to set my goal at $385, which was $350 after the likely Kickstarter fees. (Figure 10%, though the credit card fees vary!) This would enable me to make an order of the size that got my coloring books down to a price where I could wholesale them at a competitive rate. This goal was purely to cover the material costs of that purchase; it wouldn't pay me anything for my layout time, administration effort or for doing the artwork itself. I made sure that the project was very minimal effort for me at that level - I had all the artwork I needed already finished, though I would have liked to do something new.

When I first drafted up my project, I had all of the stretch goals that I had brainstormed so far set out in the description, and it was recommended to me by a friend of a friend that I not reveal them quite so soon. This was probably the best advice I got, and I cannot emphasize how important it is, because there's no good way to predict how your Kickstarter will progress.

The stretch goals I'd first laid out capped out at $1200, which I figured was crazy-high! More than 3x my goal! I had six or seven stretch goals in that range: new pieces of extra art, extra pages added two at a time, and several other things that I didn't expect to have to do, spaced out every $50 or $100 ...And I blew past that in three days. Because I had not actually revealed more than the first two stretch goals, I was able to space the rest out further, so that we were getting to a stretch goal every day or two, instead of all of them all at once and then a scramble to come up with more.

To contrast, I've watched several projects that got slower starts than they were anticipating, and they end up back-pedaling in their updates, breaking up their promised stretch goals into smaller increments so that they could make some achievements. This is not the end of the world, but it's not as energizing as getting to your original stretch goals and then adding more!

I suggest listing 2-3 modest stretch goals and then talking about your further stretch goals without being specific about their dollar amount. This gives you something to update about, and allows you to space them out organically in response to the project activity. I found it helpful to alternate stretch goals between things that benefited everyone, and things that added perks specifically for higher donors.

Be flexible, too. I had a whole bunch of people ask about Dotminatrix, my previous coloring book title, very early in the campaign - both PDFs and printed copies. So, I added them each as a stretch goals that I hadn't planned on at all.

As I got a few more days into the campaign and was running out of the stretch goals I had anticipated, I started wracking my brains for more things I could add... things that wouldn't cost me an awful lot or be a huge investment of time. I had been toying with the idea of a miniature coloring book for a while, so I decided to add *Asterix, a teeny little coloring book. As a PDF, that wouldn't cost me anything, and I had plenty of artwork that was already finished that I could use. I added a print copy as another stretch goal, and extra pages as another. I was careful to make sure I wasn't going to lose money or spend too much time on the rewards packages, so I only offered the print copy of *Asterix with packages over $150, or as a separately-purchased add-on. The PDF, costing me nothing, was included with all of the packages over $12. I went one extra step and made the print version of *Asterix a limited edition - limited to those purchased through the Kickstarter, plus 10. Each one will be signed and numbered. (I have little or no idea if limiting the edition drove up the desirability of these coloring books, but since I was making these by hand, I wanted to make them all at once and be done with them.)

People adored the idea of *Asterix, and they expressed that they were really pleased that they were getting MORE artwork for their investment, so that got my brain spinning on how I could do more like that. I've been doing artwork of this type since the early 90s, so I have a pretty broad archive of work that is admittedly not as polished as the work I'm doing now, but I still don't mind sharing. So I announced Archivistrix as stretch goal #12, a collection of my older artwork. Instead of limiting it, like I did with Asterix, I declared that Archivistrix - if we got there! - would be completely free for everyone in PDF form and I would make it available as a download at my site.

That last night, I also added in three pie-in-the-sky stretch goals, just in case I woke up in crazytown. We got to Archivistrix in the last hour of the campaign!

Stretch goals don't have to be serious, either. I've seen several campaigns that had things like 'I'll get a tattoo at $10,000,' or 'I'll videotape myself dancing.'

Rewards and Add-Ons

I've talked briefly above about reward levels and add-ons, but let's take a closer look at those.

Kickstarter backers can pledge money to a project at any random value, but the vast majority of them choose a reward package. The creator sets a price and the details for each reward - a copy of an ebook and a bookmark, for example, or two copies of a book and a postcard.

You can also pledge for a reward, and then add a few dollars for add-ons. The most common add-ons are extra copies; I offered extra copies of each coloring book we got to, and also packages of the collectable cards.

It's a bit of a toss-up, trying to decide whether to make something an add-on, or a reward package, and there are a lot of ways to decide, and even if you have just a few things available, there are a lot of ways to mix and match! I watched one campaign that was so complicated, they released a spreadsheet, so you could figure out which rewards could get which add-ons, and which stretch goals had unlocked which extra perks for each reward level... I recommend avoiding anything this complex.

What about their pricing? More great advice I received before I listed my project was not to have my lowest reward too low. Lots of people are going to pledge at the lowest value listed, just to get in on the project. If your lowest reward tier is $1, you'll get a handful of $1 pledges. If your lowest tier is $8, you'll get pretty nearly that same handful of $8 pledges... and it's worth a LOT more. If someone can afford $1, but not $8, they can still pledge that $1, without claiming a reward package, and you can still offer all your supporters some kind of bonus (I offered a PDF download of a piece of artwork I had just finished, and an inexpensive ACEO print) without making it a formal reward level.

Stair-step your rewards logically, without too much gap in cost between levels. You want to tempt people up the levels, so have nifty new things that add on with each package, but seem within reach. (People think: "I've pledged $20, but for $5 more I get a pair of illustrated postcards... and for $5 more, I'll get a magnet, too...")

It's also a good idea not to have things available at lower levels that the higher packages don't get. I got quite a lot of complaints the first few days because the only reward level that included the PDF of Dotminatrix was a $12 digital double pack. As a stretch goal, I ended up adding that to all of the higher packages as well. An alternate would have been to make it available as an inexpensive add-on. Ideally, however, it would have been added to all the higher level rewards already! Never make your backer have to choose a smaller reward package to get something they want.

Make sure you cover your reward costs, plus what you need to fund to your project. Although goodies are great, don't break the bank on them. Don't promise postcards until you get enough pledges to order them in bulk, for example. And factor your time in - you want to spend that time crafting your novel, not cutting out shaped stickers by hand for six weeks. You can limit some rewards, for practical purposes - be sure to do this, even if you set those numbers fairly high. I had existing originals available at a few reward levels, and these by necessity had to be limited to just one. I also had a few commission slots available, but didn't want to commit to some crazy unknown number of these, so I kept art card commissions to 6 and 9x12 inch commissions to just 2. Scarcity can also drive demand!

Have fun with your rewards! Pretty much on a lark, I added a $75 reward called 'Aspiring Artist' that included two copies of the coloring book, a series of the collectible cards from Fantastrix, a tin of colored pencils, an ink pen of the brand I used to create most of the artwork, and 10 blank art cards to inspire their own artwork. This ended up being a surprisingly popular option.

Don't rely on hitting a stretch goal when you set your rewards, but do keep them in mind. I set up most of my reward levels over $25 to include two coloring books. My initial idea was that they would keep one for collector's value and color one, but when the stretch goals morphed to include putting Dotminatrix back in print, it seemed logical to allow supporters the option of a copy of Dotminatrix instead of a second copy of Fantastrix. I wish I could say I had planned that bit of cleverness, but it really was just a lucky break that worked out so neatly... and many backers increased their pledges from one book to two when we got there, so I'm glad I did it.

The nice thing is, you can add rewards while the project is running, so you can always add a level or two to take your stretch goals into account as you hit them! Start as simply as you can, and adding new reward tiers can be something worth an update.

Before you Start...

A little forward footwork will serve you well!

Go look at other Kickstarter projects. Read the updates of successfully funded projects. Steal their good ideas shamelessly. Observe which rewards make your hand twitch towards the pledge button. I had backed half a dozen projects by the time I was ready to do my own, and it was very useful being at that side of the customer service desk first.

Get your existing fans enthused about this venture, and let them know when you will be starting. Blog and use social media in advance, and try to convince people to pledge early. Kickstarter tends to reward popular projects with more exposure, so any spike in activity will build on itself; it's best to cluster any pledges you can together at the very beginning. I wish I had had the foresight to offer a limited early adopter reward tier of some kind, and definitely will next time.

While your campaign is running...

I actually asked my backers specifically if an update every day was too many. Very few responded, but those who did indicated that if there was something to actually say or show, it wasn't too much. Repetitive updates would get old, however. I ended up updating every 1-4 days. I don't recommend going much longer between updates. You should compile a few of these updates in advance, so you don't run out of things to post about during the mid-campaign doldrums.

So what do you update with?

Let them know what you're doing! If you are still in the midst of creating, share some of that process. Part of the charm of Kickstarter is that you get to feel like you're involved with the creative spark as a patron. I solicited ideas of things to draw, and shared my sketches and in-progress artwork.

Stretch goals! Even if you haven't made your first goal yet, revealing a future stretch goal gives you something to talk about, and an air of optimism.

Add-ons! As your campaign progresses, you may get ideas or suggestions for what your audience in particular wants to see. If your cover is gorgeous, you may get requests for bookmarks or postcards of the artwork.

New Reward Tiers! If you get an amazing idea mid-campaign for a reward package, go ahead and add it. I added a package that was only the pdf files and collectable cards, for someone who didn't want copies of the coloring books but did want the ACEOs - and ended up with two backers at that level, so it was definitely worth the minute or two I spent to set it up.

Thank yous! While you don't want to get too repetitive, make sure your backers know you appreciate them. I ran my Kickstarter over my birthday, and celebrated hobbit-style by giving away an ACEO print to every backer, every level (even those that didn't pledge enough to get a reward). This should be something cheap, if you go this route, or better yet, free. If you have a trunked short story, for example, you could share that with them with no loss from your bottom line, or a pdf of lineart to color.

Avoid pleas for help, anything that smells like desperation, guilt-ing or nagging your backers. These are the people who have already pledged their money to you, don't make them feel bad or regretful or like your appreciation of them is based on how many other people they can bring in - and remember that they can withdraw their pledges!

(This fact caught me entirely flat-footed, I have to confess. There was a bad day right in the middle of the campaign - when things are rather flat anyway - where I had two backers pull out and ended up with a negative day. That leads to a spiral of self-doubt and apprehension, but don't worry - it just happens.)

Reserve a few of the updates for backers - it makes them feel special and appreciated, and it's a good way to share goodies with them, but also make a few public updates. I find that I like to browse the updates of a project before I pledge, to get a sense of the project management. If all the updates are reserved for backers, I may not be as inclined to put my money down.


I ran two advertising campaigns of note during my Kickstarter - one through Facebook and one through Project Wonderful (projectwonderful.com). They weren't wildly successful. I spent just about $15 in each place, and got very little interest through Facebook. Project Wonderful got some views, but not a lot of results... with one site as an exception that got me 3 pledges that paid for all the advertising I tried. I wouldn't invest a lot in such a campaign, but if you do, Project Wonderful has some great tools. One thing I wish I'd done is start a page at Facebook for myself as a business entity. I have a business page, but my business represents a lot of artists, so I felt weird about using it to promote a project that was All Me. I am slowly bowing to the pressure of setting up a business page for myself as an individual, and it would have been nice to have such a place to collect people and focus my updates.

I also blog steadily and have a fairly regular following. I gushed enthusiastically about the Kickstarter throughout the campaign, which gave me easily as much exposure as anything I paid for. It's easy to saturate your immediate market, though. Be enthusiastic, sure, but don't go overboard. I've watched some people do Kickstarter campaigns where their entire social media life narrowed to constantly begging people to contribute and spread the word. That starts to get annoying, and will personally turn me off of a project I might otherwise consider supporting. Remind people, yes. Talk about your updates, sure. Be enthusiastic about your project and excited about what you're doing... but not all day, every day to the exclusion of all else. Don't make pleas and spam your sole contribution to your friends Twitter or Facebook feed during your campaign!

Word of mouth did me a lot of good, too, as a few key people got enthused about the project and shared it with their friends. Very little beats a genuine, personal recommendation from someone who is actively excited about what you're doing. Try to encourage your friends to do this for you, without begging or resorting to emotional blackmail; the best advertising is spontaneous and from the heart.

The Final Countdown

The last hour of the Kickstarter can be the most exciting. I made $388 in the last hour (more than my entire initial goal!), and a lot of that, I feel, was due to making a big deal out of it, and also to being available for questions. I set up a Facebook event, and invited my friends to come hold my hand during that last countdown. I did a quick trivia contest (an easy question that was answered on my Kickstarter page itself), gave the first 25 people to sign up a free ACEO card (figuring that there was a good chance that most of these people would be backers already, so I wouldn't be out much in postage... and 45 cents wasn't that much to lose in any case!), and we did a nervous watch as we got toward the stretch goal that got our fourth coloring book released. People were so excited to see it happen that they were willing to add a little to their pledge to get there.

I also lowered the cost on my originals by $25 for that last hour - and after selling none of them during the whole Kickstarter, sold two to event attendees who had been on the fence about snagging them. They had some questions about the pieces that they were able to get answers to in real time, and I think that made a big difference in their decisions. I wouldn't recommend lowering your price on something like that if you have sold any prior... an early purchaser might feel ripped off!

We did a 10-9-8-7... countdown together, and then it was all over.

Except, of course, that it wasn't. I still had four coloring books to put together! Backers still wanted regular updates, and I had promised a few new pieces of artwork for the coloring book that would require a lot of work. There were also commissions to do, and then layout, printing, sending surveys and PDFs...

In a lot of ways, I was just beginning my Kickstarter adventure.

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Tags: art, crowdfunding, kickstarter, scaly scaly capitalism

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