Whether you are self-published or traditionally-published, as an author you’ve probably considered a crowd-funding campaign at some time or another in order to bring a particular part of your work to life. Often times, this is the hardback or audiobook editions of your work, but I have also seen some runs at the paperback as well.
Self-publishing an aspect of your work can be expensive—and if you’re doing high-quality work, it should be. (Expensive, of course, is relative to the author involved, but I have seen many others flinch when told they should expect to spend a few thousand dollars on their particular project). Crowd-funding, and Kickstarter in particular, is a fantastic way to earn the money you need to make your ambitions a reality.
I have recently successfully completed my funded Kickstarter campaign for our Kings or Pawns audiobook edition, which ran until September 5th (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1484616180/kings-or-pawns-steps-of-power-book-i-audiobook), and I can share a treasure trove of knowledge, most of which you just can’t find anywhere else. (Trust me, I looked.) I will also warn you in advance that this post is long—running; a Kickstarter is like running a business for a month—you can’t just read a page and know what you need to know.
I will also be straight-forward with the information I am providing. You may choose to ignore certain aspects, but having now run a successful Kickstarter and spoken to others who have done the same and many of the hundreds of backers involved, what I say is simply the model of success I have seen and experienced.
Before you can even run a Kickstarter campaign, there are several things you must have under your belt (dependant on what type of project you wish to run): but all of them have one absolute and that is our first bullet point:
1. You must have an existing audience.
This does not mean a current fanbase, but rather a large number of friends/followers/likes on a variety of social media websites as well as friends/family that will pledge at least 30% of the funding you need within the first few days. The reason for the former is simple: who will see and care about your project? How will you approach people? It is very difficult to get complete strangers to back you—no matter how fantastic your project looks.
The reason for the “jump-start” 30% is also simple: those strangers who do consider backing your project need to see and believe that your project is going somewhere. Nothing puts a stranger off more than stumbling across your Kickstarter and seeing that 5 people have given you $100 when you’re asking for $3000. Even though there is no risk to pledging to a project that might fail on Kickstarter, it does give people the impression that the project isn’t as great as you claim—after all “no one seems to be supporting it.” Before you even present the Kickstarter to strangers (and yes, your followers/likes on social media are strangers), you need to reach 30% from people you actually know. Kickstarter projects that reach that initial 30% are 90% likely to succeed!
How large of an existing audience?—there are no hard statistics on this and the only advice I can give you is from my own experience: have 1200 people to each $1000 you wish to raise. (The $25 tier is the most common and $75 is the average pledge—but probably only 5% of your audience will actually back your project.)
2. You must have the time to actually run the Kickstarter.
Running a Kickstarter is a full-time job. If you have people to help you, this will certainly relieve your stress and time, but if it is only you: a Kickstarter is a full time job (and at MINIMUM a part time job with assistance).
3. You must personally message your audience.
Now there may be exceptions to this, but it is certainly relevant to new authors: you will need to contact people individually. DO NOT—and I cannot stress this enough—mass message your followers/likes/etc… If you don’t have the time to personally message an individual, why should they take the time to look and give money to your project? And don’t just message every single person following you. Choose the people who you believe may be genuinely interested in your work.
With regards to that: make sure your followers are actually targeted followers. Having 50,000 followers who don’t actually care about anything you care about is the same as having 0. Get to know your followers—choose them carefully. Follow back carefully. Social media is not just about growing as fast as possible, it’s about the quality and connections you make.
As a fan of video games, anime, d&d, cosplaying, and fantasy, I generally follow/am followed by those people. They are “friends”— even if I have not had time to speak with them frequently or even at all… they are not just numbers on my twitter account. Post material that actually interests them—not just self-promotion. No one wants to read a wall of self-promotion. Probably not even you.
4. You must have sample rewards.
Your kickstarter tiers will offer rewards: you must show these rewards to your audience (with the exception of the item the Kickstarter is being used to create). People want to see the quality and reality of your project. That means that you will need a certain amount of money to start your Kickstarter and if your Kickstarter does not succeed, you will be out that money.
For example, our Kickstarter project for Kings or Pawns required us to create a vast number of reward items, including paperbacks, hardbacks, tshirts, cards, plush fleece blankets, plush animals, playing cards, posters, canvas, pens, post cards, art prints, notebooks, notepads, hoodies, and bookmarks. The time it takes to research where to have these items made can be daunting, and the expense can be substantial.
Also, consider Kickstarter exclusive rewards—people love to get things that they can only get through the Kickstarter!
5. You must have a quality product.
This should be obvious to everyone, but you would not believe the number of projects that enter Kickstarter sub-par. What is a quality product for a Kickstarter book edition?
a. You must have an editor for your Kickstarter or must be able to hire one. While there are many self-published authors who edit their own work, I don’t advise this. If you want to succeed, all I can say is: have an editor. Not going with an editor is the biggest mistake you can make. Believe me, it happens to all authors! We are so heavily enveloped in our own works that we can’t see the mistakes and areas for improvement. Every author needs another set of eyes—a professional set of eyes—to help make your book the best that it can be.
b. Have a website. And not just a blogging website or a patched together website, but a domain owned by you, custom designed to reflect your work and message, and chock full of information about your work, who you are, and further ways for the potential fans to connect with you. It must be clean, clear, and organized. If you would like to reference the website we run for our series, you may hop over to www.StepsofPower.com.
c. Have eye-catching and appealing cover art for your series. Expect to pay at least $250 for a quality cover—custom art for your work. Here is an example from an author I know:
If you really want to catch your potential readers’ attention (create a wow factor!) and demonstrate your devotion and investment to the series, pick up a truly high quality artist for between $500-$1200. If you want to know what that sort of price gets you, refer to the cover art of Michael Sullivan or the cover art for our series at www.StepsofPower.com.
Please do not be tempted to use a cover made of photographs pasted together haphazardly in Photoshop!
I understand that this is all the rage today because it is cheap but let me be the first to say what no one else is willing to say: it is cheap because it looks cheap. There are EXTREMELY rare exceptions to this rule and it is best and safest to assume that you are not one of them. The more you wow people, the more likely they are to support your project!
6. You must have completed sample work available.
Have at least 15% of your novel available to sample. Make sure that this 15% is a completed and final version of your work—even if you are running a Kickstarter to help fund the production of your novel. Readers need to be able to have a taste of the true and final product.
Honestly, I don’t know anyone, nor have I personally seen any Kickstarters be successful, at funding an aspect of an incomplete project. If you are doing an aspect of your novel (hardback, audiobook, or something else), I believe you at least need a completely finished and edited novel with cover to have a chance at being successful.
If you are doing an audiobook as we did, use the audition as your sample. You can see how we included it on our video at our Kickstarter link mentioned earlier, at about the 4 minute mark.
So in summary, before you can even BEGIN your Kickstarter, you must have: an existing audience, a part-time or full-time work availability, sample rewards of all of your tiers, and a polished example of all aspects of your work.
Running the Kickstarter
If you have all of the above mentioned, congratulations! You are ready to consider running a Kickstarter campaign! I want to preface this by saying that Kickstarters are one of the most amazing projects you and your fans can get involved with—the triumph of grouping together to make a shared passion succeed is phenomenal!
But I will also warn you: Kickstarter campaigns are stressful, time-consuming, and a financial risk no matter how you approach them.
Now, to run a Kickstarter you’ll want to prepare a very professional looking campaign. You will need to take the time to create organized, clear, and relevant information on all topics your potential backers might need. You may refer again to our Kickstarter to see how we chose to handle the matter. I recommend something similar. (Organized sections, clear information, etc…)
As for the video, you cannot cut corners on this. This is the most important part of your Kickstarter campaign in capturing the attention of your potential backer. In the first 30-60 seconds, you need to grab your viewer’s attention and tell them exactly what it is you want to do. After that, you can introduce yourself, expand on the topic, and share examples of your product. There are so many Kickstarter videos available and everyone has a unique style. Spend a few days sifting through successful campaigns and deciphering what made those videos so exceptional. Make sure your video reflects your personality and style—not just a copy of someone else’s success. Backers want to be able to connect with you—to feel part of a team. After all, it is because of their generosity that we succeed. You can see our video here.
And as for your team? Sometimes, it’s just you against the world, but it helps to have a team behind you. Show off the people who work with you—they help bring your project life. Kickstarter backers want to be able to connect with your project, and showing off who they are supporting allows them to feel and know that they are now one of your team!
Run a 30 day campaign— a short campaign keeps things fast-paced, and they are statistically the most successful. Have your (30 day) campaign end on a Friday or Saturday, either the first or third weekend of the month (you need to make sure your backers have time to see the project, receive pay-day, and plan you into their financial schedule). Your Kickstarter should go fast the first and last week and slowly the two weeks in the middle. This is normal.
(We ran our campaign from August 5th to September 5th. Our first three weeks were very fast, our last week was slow; however, that is atypical for most Kickstarter campaigns.)
A few days before the Kickstarter begins, send out a letter to everyone you know (friends and family!). Tell them about your project and why you need their help. Explain what a Kickstarter is—don’t assume everyone knows.
You will also need to follow-up with these individuals (sometimes, even nagging is involved). You should know these people well-enough to tell when their “sure, I will back your campaign!” is just polite talk and won’t turn into anything. Until then, go at it!
After you have reached your first 30%, begin to personally message those select audience members. Keep it short and simple, but relate to them— after all, if you’re selecting your audience carefully, you should genuinely believe they may be interested— now you just have to explain why. And if they join your project, thank them and welcome them—they are fantastic!—they are the reason you will exceed.
Make sure to update your backers at least once a week—let them know how things are going, what you are working on, etc… Backers don’t want to be a number on your checkbook—they want to be involved. This is their project too. Answer every comment, consider all feedback, and welcome advice.
We personally undated once a week and also when we reached our initial goal and first stretch goal. We shall update at the end of our campaign.
If your Kickstarter is successful, get the rewards out as swiftly as possible. Generally, backers prefer to receive the rewards available and simply wait the extra time to receive the actual Kickstarter item they backed.
Continue to Update
Continue to update your backers after the Kickstarter ends—show your team packaging their amazing gifts. Keep them informed with what you are doing/how things are going. Show pictures of backers receiving their awesome gifts.
a. Ignore promotional messages you receive—when you launch your campaign, you’ll get a lot of sites that claim that they can help promote your product. They may be polite and claim a lot of success. If it’s not free, don’t do it. You can check with relevant blogs to see if they wish to promote you, however.
b. Half-way through your campaign, add another add-on or tier to get backers excited. Keep things fun and short. People are busy little bees.
c. Be prepared to stress. During the mid weeks, do not be surprised if you have days where you make literally nothing. Set a goal each day for yourself and try your best to reach it. If you don’t, there is no point in stressing further: you have done your best.
d. Do not run ads. Anywhere. They are extremely, extremely unlikely to bring in any profit whatsoever. Also, if you choose to post about your Kickstarter on social media, keep each post fresh and new—not just a repetitive post of “join us, here is a link!”
You can refer to my Twitter feed if you would like to see how I promoted it on my feed, but mostly I chose to do this to connect with people/have fun. As I mentioned before, almost all of your backing will come from your dedication to personally converse with your followers/likes.
e. If you succeed: CELEBRATE. A Kickstarter is a lot of work— you need to kick back and rejoice and relax for a day. Then get back to work on those Stretch Goals! If you are going to order your products at the moment you have reached your initial goal, be aware that your backers can retract their pledges at any time before the Kickstarter ends.
I hope that this information helped you in your decision on whether or not to run a Kickstarter campaign and how to go about it. If you have any questions, you may contact me through my Twitter account at @JJ_Sherwood. Good luck!