So You Launched a Kickstarter Campaign



So, you know you're ready for Kickstarter, and you've put your entire pitch together. What can you expect from the campaign itself?

Most Kickstarter campaigns follow the same general trend:
  1. A large amount of pledges on the first day.
  2. A quick drop-off of pledges over the next couple of days.
  3. A long "lull" where the amount of pledges per day is about the same.
  4. A spike of incoming pledges on the last two or three days.
From this, I can tell you a few things.

First, don't freak out during the lull. It's perfectly normal, and there's nothing you can do about it (almost nothing; see below). Instead, interact with your backers and continue your non-spammy publicity (again, see below).

Make the first day of your campaign count. A lot of projects, even major ones asking for millions of dollars, like to throw their project up one day and surprise everybody. Mostly, this doesn't go like everybody thinks it will.

A better idea is to float the idea of a Kickstarter to your existing network (you do have one, right?). These are your core fanbase and your early backers. By telling them what's going to happen ahead of time, not only do you make sure that some people show up on that first day, but you can also get a sense of whether your Kickstarter is even a good idea. Are they excited about it? Worried? Do they have ideas for rewards you can offer? You can learn a lot from your core fans, so don't hesitate to include them on the idea.

Prepare for the last days. You'll have spent the lull interacting with the core backers who hang around the Kickstarter page, but on that last day you'll see an influx both of people who haven't been to the page in a while and who have never heard of your project at all. Make sure the information on your front page is still clear to someone who knows nothing about your project or stretch goals. Make sure your updates are inclusive.

Every Kickstarter campaign has a lull. It's perfectly normal, but your backers might not feel so. You can educate them on the basic life of a Kickstarter, but there are other, better things you can do to make them feel like the campaign is still moving.

Interact with, and listen to, your backers. I cannot stress this part enough: people want to feel like they're making a difference. If people suggest good ideas -- stretch goals, rewards, ways to improve the product -- take them, run with them, and don't forget to credit the people who submitted them.

Also answer their questions or just hang out with them in the comment threads. People are much more likely to invest in a person than a project, so make yourself real and personable to them.

Make stretch goals. Now, stretch goals are not appropriate for every project, but if they make sense for yours, then do them. In fact, plan them even before you launch (you never know when you might, you know, break the fastest to a million dollars record). They won't break the lull (more on that in the next section), but they'll give your core backers things to watch and root for.

Some of them might even plunk down more money just to meet a stretch goal.

There is very, very, very little you can do to break the pattern of the Kickstarter lull. For the most part, there are only three things that can give you a spike in the middle of your campaign:
  1. Get to within a few percent of your funding goal. If you look at the pledging stats for other projects, you will notice that almost every single one has a spike of new pledges and new backers on the day they met their goal. Once again: people want to feel like they're making a difference.
  2. Get publicity to an audience that hasn't heard the news yet. This is about marketing. By the middle of your campaign, your core fanbase knows about the project. Their friends have heard about it. Is there anyone else in your target audience who might not have? Find them. Find the forum or news sites they hang out at, and tell them too. (But DON'T SPAM. Spamming only reaches the same audience repeatedly, thus annoying them. Even well-intentioned fans can be guilty, so be careful.)
  3. Make an announcement that changes the nature of the project (in a good way). For example, say you launched a Kickstarter to get internal illustrations for your book. Halfway through the campaign, you announce that Tony DiTerlizzi(!) has agreed to do the illustrations. Whether it's a newly revealed stretch goal or not, this sort of announcement can give you a huge spike in pledges once people hear about it.
Don't freak out if these spikes don't create a new level of daily pledges. Very likely, the pledges will jump up for a day or two then go back to the normal lull. But that's okay. You've created excitement, given your core backers something to talk about, and made just that much more money. And that ain't bad.

Hopefully this little mini-series (written while my novella is in the hands of the most awesome critique partners in the world) will help you, should you ever decide to Kickstart a novel. Or anything, really. You can't predict everything, but neither is it all completely random. Let me know if you have any more questions.

So You Want to Launch a Kickstarter Campaign

I think one of the reasons 56% of Kickstarter projects fail is because people tend to believe it goes:
  1. Have idea.
  2. Click 'Publish.'
  3. Rake cash.
But a Kickstarter campaign, a good one, is a lot of work. Not as much work as writing a novel, but it's not something you just post on a whim. Before you click "Launch," you need to know (or have) ALL of the following.

This is every backer's first question: "Why are you coming to me for money instead of doing it yourself?" There are lots of great answers to this question. For example, you might want to:
  • Gauge interest before spending a year of your life writing it (though be warned: if you have no writing experience, people are going to wonder what, exactly, you're gauging).
  • Fund a nice print run, limited edition hardcovers, etc.
  • Fund a marketing campaign for a novel you've already written.
  • Hire an illustrator for the book cover, a map, or internal illustrations.
  • Hire an editor to give the book you've already written the polish it deserves. 

Whatever your reason, it's part of your pitch, and part of the reason people are going to back you. They want to be a part of something important, so make them feel that.

How much money are you trying to raise? This is more critical than you think. People often judge a campaign based on how much it asks for. If you ask for $1,000, people don't expect much, but you lose some respectability. Ask for $10,000, and now people expect something serious -- a midlist author or a book that had a publishing contract but backed out for some (respectable) reason, for example.

Obviously it's not just about appearances either. How much do you actually need? What are you using it for? Are you barely covering your costs or did you build in a profit? Did you remember to take into account Kickstarter's fees? Rewards? Shipping? Once you are successfully funded, you are responsible for all the promises you made during the campaign. Make sure that, if you hit your minimum funding goal, fulfilling all those rewards will still be worth your while.

What are you offering your backers in return? Obviously a copy of the novel, but in what format? For how much? Do you have more rewards for people who want to back you at a higher level? Think carefully about this, because fulfilling rewards (especially physical ones that have to be mailed) can eat up a lot of your budget. But at the same time, people won't back a project if the reward they want is too expensive.

You're a writer, so what do you need art for? Well, you don't have to have it, but if you can get good-looking art -- maybe concepts of your story, a map of your world -- it can make an average pitch look great.

Be careful, though. Bad visuals are worse than no visuals at all. 

You might think that because the Kickstarter is meant to determine whether or not you'll even make the product, you shouldn't have to do any work on the product at all. This couldn't be further from the truth. The more work you put into your novel (or whatever you're pitching) ahead of time, the more faith your backers will have that you can pull it off.

There's a balance though. If your product is completely finished, people will wonder why you need to raise x-thousand dollars for it, and they could be more hesitant to put their faith in you. Again, people want to feel like they're making a difference.

This is the first thing people see when they hit your Kickstarter page. You don't have to have one, but some people are more likely to watch a two-minute pitch than read all the text on your page. How to make a good video is beyond the scope of this post, but in general:
  • Keep it brief.
  • Pitch what you're doing, why you're the one to do it, and why you need the backers' help to do it.
  • Show off any art you've got, even if it's just concepts.
  • Don't show anything that makes you or your product look bad. Kickstarter is about transparency, but you can go too far.
This is the meat of your Kickstarter page. It's got to have all the information listed above, plus more to pre-emptively answer any questions a potential backer might have. The better you anticipate and handle potential questions, the better your launch will go.

What happens after launch? I'll deal with that in the next post.

So You Want to Kickstart a Novel

Kickstarter has funded the hopes and dreams of thousands. Could it do the same for you?


First things first: Kickstarter is not the new self-publishing. A quick look at their own stats will prove it: less than half of the projects put up on KS have been funded. The statistics for the publishing category are even more grim: only a 31% success rate.

Still, it's better than querying, amirite?

I want to spend a couple of posts talking about what you can do to get yourself in that 31%, and why you might want to do it at all. Kickstarter isn't a magic bullet.


But it does have a couple of benefits over publishing straight to Amazon. Specifically:
  1. It shifts the risk. Instead of spending a couple years writing a novel only to discover nobody wants it, you can learn the same thing after only a couple of months.
  2. You can get input directly from the people you're writing for on what they like and don't like.
What Kickstarter can't give you is writing experience, which is admittedly kind of critical. So I can't really recommend it to inexperienced writers. But if you've been writing a while, and you've got this great idea for a story, but nothing of yours has ever sold really well and you're not sure if it'll be worth your time, well.... you might look into it.

There are 3 things you should probably have to run a successful Kickstarter. If you're only asking for a little money (say $1,000 or less), maybe you can get away with one of these. From $1k-10k (where most of the successful publishing projects are), you want at least two out of three.

(1) A great idea. Be careful here. Everybody thinks they've got a great idea. You've got to have an idea people want. No, more than that: an idea they need. It's hard to pitch something innovative, and a lot of great-but-untested projects fail right here. This is why nostalgia and spin-offs sell really well. But if you're an author looking to self-publish, you don't have the luxury of a license. High concept is your friend.

(2) Evidence that you can pull it off. Because everybody has great ideas, people are hesitant to back someone if that's all they've got. They want to know why you're the person to put this together. Anything that proves you can write: short stories, a blog with a following, even a popular Twitter feed. If you don't have anything, try an excerpt of what you're planning to make.

(3) A network of people to spread the word. Kickstarter does not mean instant visibility. While it's true your backers have a vested interest to spread the word on your behalf (another benefit of Kickstarter), you have to get some backers first. Having a platform to start from can help a lot.

If this looks a lot like what you need to succeed in self-publishing -- or querying agents and editors, for that matter -- you shouldn't be surprised. Kickstarter doesn't change the playing field. It just shifts things around. Instead of WRITE => BUILD PLATFORM => MAKE MONEY, now it's BUILD PLATFORM => MAKE MONEY => WRITE.

These are all just guidelines, of course. It depends very much on how much money you're asking for, and even then there's no guarantee that any of these will make your Kickstarter successful (see what I said before about magic bullets). Though if you've got an idea people are craving, a history that shows you can pull it off, and an audience just waiting for you to launch so they can tell their friends about it, well . . . then you might have something interesting indeed.

But you still need a campaign. We'll talk about that next time.