Second Thoughts on the Veronica Mars Kickstarter
Night Shade Books: Oh Hell No.

How I Ran a Successful Kickstarter

So enough playa hatin'.  Let's focus on the postive, shall we?

Last month I concluded a successful Kickstarter to fund editing, cover art, and printing for my excellent YA noir superhero novel Enter The Bluebird.

Here's the completely amazing cover courtesy of the Excellent Erik Evensen.  Yowza!  Look for it this summer!  (Or sooner, if you backed the kickstarter.)

Bluebird-froncover-med

If I had any business sense at all, I would claim that my success is repeatable if you follow my five easy steps and then sell an ebook full of my advice.  But I'm just not a born huckster.  I don't know what's going to work for you, but I can tell you what worked for me.  Ready?  Here we go!

1. I backed a bunch of projects before launching mine.

I backed stuff not because I was hoping to run a campaign of my own, but just because it sounded cool.  This had the additional benefit of allowing me to get a sense for how people set their rewards, what kind of updates they sent out, and how they delivered on their promises. It also allowed me to better view my own project from a backer's perspective.

2. I set decent rewards.

Someone said to me not long after the campaign launched, "I like that there are good rewards.  A lot of times you pledge 15 bucks and get, like, a sticker." As a backer, I look at Kickstarter as pre-ordering something I believe will be cool.  As such, I don't like to shell out  a ton of cash to get something decent.  Here's where I ran up against an unpleasant reality: doing small-scale projects can be expensive. For the hard copy, it's going to cost me around 11 bucks a copy to print and in the neighborhood of five bucks to ship.  So in order to build in costs of the editing and cover art, I had to set the cost at 25 bucks.  This seems like a lot for a trade paperback, so I added personalization and an acknowledgment in the book.  

I tried to add value for backers at every level without adding expenses for me. So because I have ebook rights to three of my books, I was able to throw those in to some reward levels. I gave naming rights to some characters and offered behind-the-scenes access to the editing process.

3.I set my goal as low as I possibly could. 

I got a quote from my editor (whom I already knew) and did some research on both printing and cover art and set the goal at my best estimate of what I would need to fund all of this stuff at professional levels.  I probably could have gone a bit cheaper had I talked to some local print shops, but I really liked the idea of supporting a local independent bookstore by using the Harvard Book Store espresso machine.  This will also allow me a reliable retail channel for the hard copy of the book to complement the ebook.

4.I put some effort into the video.

I watched a bunch of kickstarter videos, and the ones that are just a person talking to their webcam always look sad to me.  I invested about two days and zero dollars in making my video, which I shot with the digital video camera we got for Christmas a couple of years ago and edited on my 5-year-old macbook.  It's far from professional quality, but at least it's not me staring mopily at my webcam.

5. My project appealed to a few different constituencies.

So there are my friends and family, who would probably have been on board anyway (I hope). Since the main character came out of my Monthly Mutants & Masterminds game, there was gamer appeal.  And since a small but dedicated group of people are fans of my fiction, it appealed to them as well.

6. I asked for help.

I asked for people to help me by giving me feedback on the video and the campaign page.  I asked for help spreading the word on social media. And, fundamentally, I asked for help getting this book off the ground.  Here's a cool thing: people like to help.  It was a little hard for me to ask, but I emailed people at work, my mailing list, my twitter friends, authors I know who are more successful than me (i.e., most of the ones I know), and lots of people helped by spreading the word and kicking in some cash. And every time somebody helped:

7.I said thank you.  

The rewards are a thank you, of course, but it was important to me to thank people in person, or on Twitter or Facebook, for supporting the project.  People like to help, and people also like to know that their help is appreciated.  I hope I didn't miss anybody.

8.I used Facebook.

I have conflicting feelings about Facebook, but the fact is that this project wouldn't have succeded without it.  Here is a chart to illustrate the point!  I got more backers clicking through from Facebook than from any other single source.

Kickstarter referrers

 

9. I reached out early and often

I sent email to my mailing list, posted on my personal and professional facebook, tweeted, and sent emails to my work friends as soon as the kickstarter launched in hopes of getting some early pledges to help the project look more credible.  It worked!  I raised over 25% of the total in the first day. 

I also had to overcome my fear of annoying people by posting about the Kickstarter multiple times. If you want a variety of people to see your facebook or twitter posts, you just have to put stuff up at different times.  I capped my begging at no more than one a day.  I hope I didn't annoy people too much.

10. I have a lot of online friends and acquaintances.

I've been on social media since the MySpace days. I have tried, not always successfully, not to be a dick online.  I've also tried to be gracious and grateful whenever I got a fan letter or a request for a favor from another writer.  I was shocked and really gratified at how many people I've encountered along the way in my writing career came through with a pledge or some help with promoting the campaign. I would not say I was "building a network," because I really have just interacted with people I find interesting, and I try (again, not always successfully) to interact in a positive way and be myself. Or, anyway, a slightly less curmudgeonly, misanthropic version of myself. 

Is This The Future of Publishing?

I don't know.  Maybe?  The support I got for this campaign was really touching and somewhat overwhelming.  My friends, family, and fans really came up big in this campaign. I was incredibly honored that anybody believes in me enough to sink some cash into a project that had only four sample chapters up, and really touched on a personal level at all the support I got.

 I think the best way for me to honor the outpouring of moral and financial support is to not try to tap into that too often. If I manage to build a bigger fanbase with this book, then I might return to Kickstarter to finance a sequel, but one of the reasons I think this worked well was that it was something new and special.  My first local book reading/signing drew 35 people.  My fifth drew 5. I kind of think this is analagous. People will go out of their way to support you, but you can't take that for granted by asking for it again and again.

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