I’ve been promising a lot of people a wrap-up of how my Kickstarter went and what conclusions I draw from it. I decided to post it here on the DGC site instead of the main blog on ceciliatan.com because later when I’m looking for this, this is where I’ll think to find it.
I ran this (successful) Kickstarter to raise the funds to produce a paperback omnibus of the first 200 chapters of my online serial, Daron’s Guitar Chronicles.
The short version for those not interested in the nitty gritty:
1.Yes, I would do it again, and probably will.
2. The majority of the backers seem to be people I already know.
3. I’m glad I didn’t set a higher dollar goal.
4. Running a campaign is time-consuming, so I’m glad I wasn’t on the road.
Total backers 122, total raised $3,386 (goal was $2,750).
Now on to the details on how it went, publicity, spreadsheets, math, planning, et cetera:
INTRODUCTION: Early Crowdfunding
My starting point for all this goes back a few years. The first crowd-funded publishing project I did was before the term “crowdfunding” was really a thing. Back in 2006, at Circlet Press we were sitting on the manuscript for Best Fantastic Erotica (23 stories that were the winners of a massive contest we had run) but we were too broke to print the book. I won’t go into a long detail, but suffice to say that bankruptcies of our distributors and other economic disasters in the book business had left the company so debt-ridden that mustering the $4,000 to $5,000 it would take to put a trade paperback into print was difficult. My credit cards were maxed out. So was my home equity line.
One of my brilliant volunteer staff, though, Kelly J. Cooper, basically asked me why I was the one who was always giving the money to Circlet to make things happen. “Why don’t you ask other people for money?” At first I said “no,” because I felt squidgy and uncomfortable about asking for a “handout.” She pointed out that if the company went out of business, it would make a lot of people sad, and we should give them the chance to chip in if they wanted. Besides, if we could just pre-sell enough copies of the book, it could pay for itself, right?
She organized the whole thing and ran it like an NPR pledge drive. People had a month to pledge. I think a $25 pledge got you a copy of the book (and your name in the back of it), whereas $500 got you a copy of everything in the Circlet backlist. $50 got you a T-shirt, etc. She also ran a big fundraising party at my house where we had a bartender taking “tips,” a book sale, etc. The upshot? We raised about $4,000 and the book went to press. All the energy generated around the book helped generate some great publicity and reviews, too. Best Fantastic Erotica was one of our best reviewed books ever.
Unfortunately, none of that energy made it through the ennui of the failing book-retail world, and the book didn’t sell in stores. That was the beginning of the change in Circlet’s business model to one that is more direct-to-consumer, more ebooks, and more focused on our community of customers and less on the retail bookstores, who had basically just proved they were not a viable market. (The details on that story are for another post, though: here it is just the preamble to the actual point of this post, which is post-mortem on the Daron Kickstarter.) A few years later we did it again with the “Circlet 100″ campaign. To print “Best Erotic Fantasy” (the sequel to Best Fantastic Erotica) we said we needed 100 people to buy our special, limited time only CD of tons of ebooks for $50, a huge bargain. For $100, folks got a T-shirt, too. We raised the $5,000 printing budget in about 3 weeks.
The point is we proved crowdfunding could work within our sphere of influence, back before Kickstarter and similar online facilitating tools were around.
But if I proved crowdfunding can work before Kickstarter existed, why should I use Kickstarter instead of just doing it via Paypal on my own blog? Several reasons. Daron’s Guitar Chronicles is an online fiction serial I started posting in November 2009. (Ignore places where I say 2010. I’m wrong.) I already have Paypal links on the serial’s site asking for “donations” like an online tip jar. Like a street musician, my art is free to be enjoyed by anyone passing by on the Information Superhighway, but if you are motivated to, you can toss some coin in my basket.
I wanted to make it clear the donation push to do the omnibus book was separate from the regular, ongoing donation stuff going on, and doing it through Kickstarter helped make that clear. Also, Kickstarter makes it so EASY. They make it very simple to set up what could be a complicated endeavor. You can have very complex reward levels and price tiers, but Kickstarter makes it very easy for people to navigate, and even change their pledges up or down, etc. I could say a ton here about all the back-end logistics that Kickstarter does, but others have covered that topic pretty well and one can learn by doing. Suffice to say they handle a ton of stuff that would be difficult, time-consuming, and impossible to do as well by myself. There are some other sites popping up that do similar stuff: IndieGogo, Peerbackers, and dozens of others. But right now Kickstarter seems to have the best online tools, the best reputation, and they are specifically for creative projects, so they have built an artsy cachet. All these things contributed to me deciding to use them. Looking at the list of crowdfunded projects I have backed in the past myself, one or two were independent, two were IndieGogo, and about a dozen were Kickstarter. So they were definitely the top of the list.
Shortly after I launched my Kickstarter, Amanda Palmer launched hers. Kickstarter was already riding a wave of third-anniversary publicity, with pieces in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, etc… but with AFP going viral, she has been on NPR and all over talking about it. It’s been awesome seeing her break down the details on how her financing works which feeds back into my thoughts and analysis of how Kickstarter works. (P.S. Go Amanda!) There have also been a few high-profile Kickstarters lately that raised millions of dollars in one shot, and those have gotten a lot of publicity, too. So it has been extra interesting to be doing a Kickstarter just when all this publicity it hitting.
I ran a lot of spreadsheets before I started. Why? Because I had seen various artists, writers, and publishers lamenting after their KS campaign was over that they had underestimated the actual cost of fulfilling all the rewards.
The complex thing that is difficult to figure is how it scales. If you bring in twice the backers you expected, you also have to manufacture twice the number of books or CDs, double your mailing costs, etc. If more people choose the reward level with the physical product instead of the digital one, it costs most to fulfill.
So the first number I needed to figure out was what my actual fixed costs were. For example, it’d cost me the same amount to hire a designer regardless of how many books were pre-bought. But the number of books, T-shirts, etc… pre-ordered as rewards aren’t fixed costs in total.
But they’re fixed costs PER BACKER. So I calculated what the net per backer would be. If the T-shirts are going to be $8.30 to print, and mailing them will be $4.95 in the US mail, that’s $13.25. If I set that reward level at $25, more than half the pledge cost is going to fulfill the reward. Add on the fact that 5% is going to Kickstarter and the credit card processing fees, that’s another $1.25 right there. So $14.50 is already spent. Someone “giving me” $25 is actually only putting in about $10 toward the fixed costs (designer, etc.).
The thing is, you don’t KNOW how many backers you’ll have who want the T-shirt, the book, the special promo package etc. So I ran general spreadsheets with all the costs built in seeing how much would end up in the kitty at the end if I had 100 backers but played with the levels. On one, 10 people went for the ebook, 25 for the print book, 10 for the T-shirt, etc…. on another it’s 5, 50, 35, etc… You get the idea. It’s a lot of guess work, but in the end it centered around what seemed like a doable target. Adding together my fixed costs and the likely average variable costs to fulfill rewards for 100 backers, I came up with $2,750. It seemed doable: and as it turned out, it was.
(I’ll update this post with a real post-mortem with what we collected versus what we actually spent after I get the books printed and mailed, and I see how much KS actually passes through–some people’s credit cards will bounce at the last minute, etc. A few have already paypalled me separately to make up for it…!)
By the way, numbers can make my head swim, but I felt it was my responsibility to really be the one to wrestle with the numbers and have a solid handle on the real costs. Many many creative folks would not be able to put themselves through that. And that’s okay, but the advice on doing a Kickstarter, or ANY aspect of a creative career: if you’re not going to dig into the numbers yourself, you better have someone highly trustworthy doing it and who also really understands your business and what you’re trying to do. They can be a math whiz, but they’re useless if they later say “What? I didn’t factor in the mailing costs overseas” and you’re stuck with a bill you can’t pay.
The other thing I did was compare other Kickstarters that were raising funds to do a book. Here are four projects I compared mine to for various reasons:
Girlfag is queer and not science fiction, like DGC, Son in Sorrow and Spots are both web serials doing book editions, etc. You’ll note that all of these met or exceeded their goal, some by quite a bit. (Spots actually finished higher than this–at the moment when I did the numbers the campaign was still ongoing.) I felt pretty confident that the $2,750 goal I set was doable, given these data points.
MY OWN NETWORK
Based on my experience, I would stress to anyone doing a Kickstarter the importance of their own network. Here are some numbers to think about:
2120 Twitter followers
2250 Facebook friends
2180 Google+ have circled me
Even assuming 50% of them are the same people just overlapping on multiple sites, that’s still close to 3000 followers, say, who know me and my work and have chosen to follow me online. What percentage actually chipped in? 122 people became backers. That’s about 4%.
That doesn’t mean that if you have only 200 followers that only 8 people will back you. A smaller group might be more focused, more supportive, and have fewer “casual” fans among them. Your Mileage May Vary. But I wanted to illustrate this point. You can’t think “I’ve got 5000 followers, if they each gave me ten dollars, that’d be $50,000!” and necessarily expect that’s what’s going to happen.
You also can’t necessarily count on random charitable givers finding you through Kickstarter. Some folks think a million people will see their Kickstarter video, it’ll go viral outside of their own network, etc… I think that happens VERY rarely. I think a maximum of five donors found me via Kickstarter (the KS dashboard lets you see referring links and some other analytics similar to Google analytics, as well as how much money came via each referring site, Facebook, Twitter, etc…) but they might have been friends of mine who just went to KS and looked for it instead of using one of my referring links.
I also found very few backers who found out about the Kickstarter from my friends retweeting or spreading the word to their friends. Some of this may be that the friends of friends who might be interested were likely also in my network directly already. This surprised me. I thought friends tweeting or facebooking “hey check out this cool thing I’m supporting” would spur more people I didn’t know to back me. A few folks came that way, but very few (I think 3 tops).
The biggest challenge turned out to be getting the attention of the actual people in my actual network. It was much more challenging than I though it would be. I had to really tweet and Facebook about it every day: donations fell to zero on days when I didn’t. And on Facebook many many people were still missing it in my status updates. I didn’t pull in my folks on FB until I scheduled a video chat, and sent out “invites” to the event. That was what suddenly energized/informed my Facebook following and got the donations pouring in about 12 days from the end of the campaign. Each social media site works differently–figure out how best to leverage each one.
I also enacted a publicity plan of guest blogging on other websites. Since Daron’s Guitar Chronicles is a 1980s, coming-out, rock and roll love story, I contacted various writer-friends who do gay books, romance, or other similar topics. I guestblogged about six different places, including writing an article on crowdfunding for GLBT writer at the Lambda Literary Foundation website. I did an online email chat in Beth Wylde’s email group. etc.
Looking at Google Analytics for the website of Daron’s Guitar Chronicles, it looks like about 250 new readers came to the site in the month, an increase in readership during the campaign of about 27%, which is quite good. I thought at first that surely all my blogging and promo, if not convincing people to back the Kickstarter, was at least resulting in much increased traffic?
But looking more closely at the numbers, I see about 200 of those readers appear to have come as the result of a totally unsolicited review in an LJ community. That means the bump in readership from my own efforts was probably smaller than I first thought, and was more like 20-30 new readers (some new readers come to the site every month as a result of reading the free ebook on Amazon, etc, also). All in all, I could have probably gotten 30 new readers without spending as much time as I did writing guest blogs — like I could have bought a month’s worth of 1 cent/day ads on Project Wonderful for $15.
I said in the summary above I was glad I wasn’t on the road while trying to run this. The first two weeks of the campaign, we made about $100 a day on a very steady pace, except ZERO on the few days I didn’t tweet/facebook. That put us just about on pace to make goal on the LAST DAY. That meant I felt I couldn’t slack off. Every day I tried to promote it somehow. Some days that meant only tweeting or Facebook, Google+, but other days I did more. I got the guest blogs out almost all in the first two weeks. The chats. etc. Enacting my publicity plan took work every day.
One thing I did NOT do in my publicizing is spam my email contacts. I never sent email and relied instead on the social media, where people had chosen to follow me. Judging from the positive response I got after inviting Facebook people to the Google plus video chat, I probably *should* have emailed at least a selection of my contacts. But since we made goal without that, in the end, I was glad I didn’t go that route. (I did email one mailing list I have of special Daron supporters. But I didn’t go through all old commenters on the site, for example, and email them. But I thought about it.)
As I said before, the thing that suddenly accelerated the pace of donations for me was I planned a date for an online video chat when there would be seven days left in the campaign. I then created a Facebook “Event” entitled “Cecilia’s Seven-Days-To-Go Kickstarter Chat!” I invited about 1500 of my 2000 Facebook friends. This put a message directly into their Facebook inbox saying, essentially “Cecilia has seven days left on her Kickstarter!” This spurred a lot of people to become backers who had not been seeing my regular wall status updates or the re-shares of their friends when I linked to KS or to any of my guest blogs. After taking in about $100 each day, the first day I started sending out invites $400 came in, and the next day about the same amount, and then we stayed at a somewhat higher pace until we hit the goal, at which point I slacked off on pushing it and people slacked off on joining, too.
It worked. We made goal, the fans will get an awesome, well-designed and well-polished printed book, and some of the superfans of the serial will also get some really limited edition goodies like a T-shirt, etc. In the end this is all about art and creative endeavors, and being able to hire a designer to do the cover art and make it a beautiful book is, I think, going to be totally worth it. I’m glad I didn’t shoot for a higher goal–when we made it, it was a huge relief and I was able to go back to spending more time writing the serial instead of promoting it and the Kickstarter. I’m also glad I didn’t do longer than one month. Too nerve-wracking!
Hopefully in another year the serial will have reached the point where it’s time for another omnibus, and at that point I plan to do it all again. I’d do most things the same way again, as well. See you next year?