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.


Matthew MacNish said...

I still think the Torment: Tides of Numenera Kickstarter will be one of the best campaigns ever done for a long time, but a nice example of a much smaller, book based one is Brad Beaulieu's Lest Our Passage Be Forgotten:

Steve MC said...

Like Matt said, you guys at Torment did really well in having quality art up and laying out exactly what you wanted to do and how you were the ones who could do it best.

Cap'n Heine said...

"some people are more likely to watch a two-minute pitch than read all the text on your page"

That's funny because I'm the exact opposite. I very rarely look at the videos. It's almost always the text on the page and pictures that determine my interest.

Sarah Ahiers said...

I'm with Cap'n. I only watch the videos if i'm really interested (like the Veronica Mars ones. You better believe i watched those)

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

But a Kickstarter campaign, a good one, is a lot of work.

This is probably what slows me down the most in considering something like this. For me, I'm always doing the ROI in my head on time spent on any non-writing activity. It has to either: 1) have a great, obvious, direct ROI on sales, 2) contribute to my productive capacity, or 2) be a lot of fun. Otherwise, I should be writing, because that's my core business and the one way I KNOW I can generate more sales and grow my author career.

Kickstarter could come under the "fun" category because it's new (to me) and cool (also to me). But the effort is substantial, and knowing me, I would go all-in once I decided to do it.

Looking forward to the "after the kickstarter" post! A successful book isn't just a successful kickstarter campaign (to me, at least) - but a book that continues to build sales (and readership) for some time to come.