K-K-K-Kickstarter: A Postmortem

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IR_CoverIt’s been four months since the end of my successful Kickstarter campaign. As I work now on fulfilling the rewards to the 26 doners, this seems like a good time to share my thoughts and conclusions about the Kickstarter experience.

Preparation

I heard about Kickstarter about a month before I started working on my project. A couple of author friends had used it to fund the writing of their novels (with mixed success). I wasn’t sure that made much sense—especially for someone like me wihtout a following—because you’re basically asking for income to meet your daily expenses while you write. Still I was struck by the concept, and applaud the idea of art or other projects being funded by non-corporate interests. I decided I wanted in.

I tossed around a few ideas, including seeking funding for my WIP (which I rejected early on). Kickstarter is all about raising money for tangible end products, as opposed to charities or causes, so I focused on the possibility of funding the promotion I intended to do for my upcoming book. In the end I decided that raising funds for the book trailer, which my friend Mike was making, was my best bet. I later amended this to “book trailer and other promotional materials.”

I put together what I thought was a bang-up pitch video (you be the judge) and a list of rewards. That was the hardest part; I couldn’t find any guidance as to what the cost ratio of the rewards and the pledge should be. I checked similar similar projects (not that there were a lot of similar projects) and found that most people’s rewards seemed to have little cash value. Kickstarter advices that donors like something that gives a sense of ownership of the project. That didn’t apply to me very well (or so I thought), though it did inspire me to have the names of high donors listed in the credits of the book trailer. I also offered discounted editing (my day job), with the simple intention of attracting my client list.

Kickstarter says in its user guide that it usually takes two weeks to prepare for a campaign. I took me exactly two weeks, so I thought I was covering the bases. Later I read stories about people who planned for months or as much of a year–so maybe not.

The Good Parts

I went live with the project with a goal of $3,000  and sent out emails to everyone I know on the planet, as well as all the listservs I subscribe to. I also posted the Kickstarter video and invite to pledge on all the websites I have access to (three). And facebook and twitter and I joined Pinterest primarily as another place to get the word out. All according to Kickstarter suggestions.

My relatives and oldest friends pledged quickly, though, I admit, at lower levels that I had anticipated, but still pretty good. A few writer friends who seriously couldn’t afford it kindly pledged at the lower levels. My levels were $5, $10, $25, $50, $75, $120, $250, $500, and $1,000. By the end I got pledges at all levels (3 at the $120 level and 1 each at the three higher levels). I think I contacted by email list three times over the one month that the project was up–enough to catch a few more pledges with each mailing, but not enough to generate any requests for me to cut it out.

It was fun to do the updates, mainly because I had great visual materials to play with. It was time-consuming to try to get the word out to the donating universe, but I felt it was time well spent, because I was also developing a list of contacts to promote the book itself later on. Everyone was very positive, with the exception of a couple of posts on reddit.com that eviscerated the video. Since they were the only people I had zero connection with, that may be significant. Or they may have been a couple of snarky kids looking to things to flame. Hard to tell.

In the end, I made my goal. A couple of donors had problems making their payments (credit cards that had expired or otherwise been retired), but it all worked out. A couple of people asked if they could just donate money, because they didn’t trust online financing. I said sure. Kickstarter handles the money collection through a deal with Amazon.com. In the end, Kickstarter and Amazon together took a little over seven percent, which struck me as very fair.

The Bad Parts

All that said, I realize in retrospect (!) that I made plenty of mistakes, and had a lot of false expectations. Here are the things I did wrong:

1. I put the project up under Conceptual Art. I believe this was a mistake. Even though the trailer itself is “Art,” it is being used to promote a book. I should have gone for the “Publishing” or “Books” category. I was always marketing to the wrong group.

2. Many of Mike’s and my friends live overseas. I should _not_ have chosen to restrict the project to US pledgers only (I did this because I thought it would be too much of a hassle to ship rewards overseas). Kickstarter makes it easy to leave the door open to handle unknown overseas postage. For a while, I hoped the project would fail, so that I could run it again (which Kickstarter is happy to have you do) and fix the things I had done wrong.

3. Other authors, who might under other circumstances have chipped in, questioned why I needed $3,000 for a book trailer when there are countless companies online who will make a trailer for you for under $100.00. Not to mention that many authors make book trailers themselves for $0.00. Though I tried, I  obviously failed to convey that this particular book trailer was basically priceless, created as it was as a one-off by an amazing artist, frame by frame, using original art and advanced CGI. For the record, we spent significant $$$ on music rights, software, etc. Mike refused to let me compensate him for his time. In the end, I got a good budget for posters, postcards, and promo, but I don’t think the outside world every got the point. In the end, I think trying to raise money to write a book would have had a better chance, as it is at least easy to understand.

4. One person said “But he’ll make the trailer whether you are funded or not, won’t he?” Answer: Yes. I think most Kickstarter projects will be completed whether the money comes through or not–but the most famous Kickstarters are those that indeed depend on the money for success or failure. I’m not in that category.

5. It was tough doing everything alone. I don’t think I would do that again. I ran out of ideas and abilities and time. I learned a lot. I made some money (and boy did that go fast). I’m writing this report to share my experiences. But it’s not a one-person game.

6. And this one is the big one: It became clear to me early on that my campaign was not going to go viral unless I could attract people who did not know me. I spent four to six hours every day for a month trying to attract that attention. I emailed book bloggers, art sites, Kickstarter sites, and everyone I knew more often than I was comfortable doing–all to no avail. In terms of the cost of my time, I might as well have done nothing. I do not know why this is so. I suspect it is because the book trailer idea is just not that great a draw. Possibly being in the wrong category was a contributing factor. And then there’s the issue of planning ahead…

In Conclusion

Thanks to the generosity of friends, I made my goal—just barely—and am proud to have done so. The trailer is finished and I’m overjoyed with it (see below). The book is up for advance sales on amazon.com. The book launch is set for December 8th at the Somerville Public Library, 2 PM, Somerville MA.

Several people have pointed out that Kickstarter is the only crowd-sourced money raising scheme that insists that you meet your goal or you won’t get a dime of the money pledged. Others are not so harsh–but they require you to pay up front, or they charge greater fees. And by the way, you have a huge choice for crowd-sourcing these days. I might try one of these in the future–if I have help and if the project I’m funding has a clear purpose.

And here’s the finished book trailer!