The

Effect

Those who have read my lengthy essay on why signature sheets are important know that I'm a pretty big supporter of many Kickstarter-based limited-editions (LEs). I sincerely believe Kickstarter (KS) is a revolutionary site that allows people who have virtually no seed money to still see their dream projects realized through direct funding from enthusiastic individuals. For this wonderful service, KS only takes a 5% cut from the final funding amount of successful projects, which is extremely reasonable for the invaluable service they provide.

As a backer, there are several aspects of a KS campaign that either attract or repel me from pledging. Not only that, the more striking a project is presented, the more I'm liable to contribute. The opposite is also true - if a solicitation only captures a fraction of my interest, the less I'm likely to contribute. Indeed, I've completely skipped several successful drives because of a variety of unattractive or troubling factors.

This, then, is my advice to those currently overseeing KS campaigns and also to those considering one. Please note that this is only one man's opinions, but I believe they are based on sensible and rational trains of thought. Also please be aware that, even though these points are from the perspective of someone interested in obtaining hardcover LE artbooks and graphic novels, almost all are universal, regardless of the product being marketed.

One other extremely pertinent point - do NOT treat your backers as if they were investors or, even worse, donors. Project creators who fail to deliver after a successful campaign will get butchered in the public arena with threats of legal action, especially in cases of gross over-funding. Therefore, the best way to regard your supporters are as customers pre-ordering a product. While that may go against the spirit of KS, it will put you in the right mindset and not allow you to believe that you can hedge your bets if something goes awry. Remember the old adage that talk is cheap, but action is golden.

1. Be ambitious...but not too ambitious.

A typical hardcover artbook or graphic novel of 100 color pages on decent stock should require a minimum of around $12,000, depending on included features. This covers ALL expenses, from conception to shipping. A campaign that only requires a portion of that amount immediately makes me suspicious of the final product's quality. Why is the project creator asking for so little? Is s/he only going to commission a bare-bones book devoid of LE elements, like a signature page, illustrated endpapers, a slipcase, etc.? Will the paper used be very poor? What sort of proofing will be utilized? Will the typography be professional in appearance or look like it was done on someone's resource-starved home computer using nothing but an old version of Word?

Another disconcerting thought that races through my head when evaluating a campaign with a questionably low funding goal is if the project creator really knows what s/he is doing and understands all the expenses that will be incurred. It is imperative that you radiate an air of competency, especially in the area of financial responsibility. A campaign that reaches its funding goal, but is, in reality, deep in the red could be ruinous and endanger the entire drive. That's a narrow ledge on which you do not want to be stuck.


An example of a very successful campaign with an eminently reasonable funding goal.

While campaigns with low funding thresholds make me dubious, those with lofty base goals also make me leery. Why is the project creator asking so much? Is s/he promising everything plus the kitchen sink, but will instead run off to Cancun after the campaign is over, never to be heard from again? Or is s/he just outrageously prideful of his/her work and considers it unworthy of all but the wealthiest of backers? Is the intent to fund the product or is something else cooking that doesn't have anything to do with the drive?

Project creators need to strike a balance between offering goods of true quality versus appearing to engage in fraud or hubris. If a book will be expensive to produce, document a cost breakdown detailing each area of overhead, as that will go a long way towards clarifying the fiscal needs of your campaign.

2. Get involved and STAY involved.

KS offers three modes of on-site feedback - direct, update comments, and general comments. Project initiators need to be acutely attentive to ALL of these critical communication channels and not become absentee landlords. I've seen many campaigns falter due to uncaring creators refusing to answer questions from backers with legitimate concerns. Any relevant issue raised by a supporter should be addressed, either in the comments section or, if many backers share the same or similar worry, via a project update. Don't shrug people off and think it won't be noticed by both current and potential sponsors.

Speaking of updates, I've also witnessed drives stumble due to a lack of timely appraisals. The average campaign window is 30 days. In those 30 days, there should be a MINIMUM of five updates from project beginning to end. And these should be "meaty" progress reports, not comprised of trivia and tangents. As stated above, these updates should also soothe any anxieties expressed by your backers. Both exciting developments and unforeseen setbacks should be detailed here in the spirit of project transparency. Don't let something uncontrollably fester while keeping your supporters in the dark, as they could suggest viable alternatives to the satisfaction of all.

A campaign whose project creator cared.

The utter lack of updates doomed this project.

Which leads to backer input. Don't ignore inspired suggestions from those who've pledged towards your campaign, no matter how small. For many, this won't be their first rodeo and their experiences with other drives will be priceless towards your own endgame. Many backers are delighted at the prospect of influencing the final presentation of your product. While some propositions might simply be non-starters, others will be very doable and be terrific enhancements that otherwise would've never crossed your mind. Additionally, some backers might issue very salient warnings of expenses you haven't figured into your project's spreadsheet.

Related to the above, backer input can also be essential when devising stretch goals. For example, if everyone is clamoring for a print if a certain funding threshold is crossed, you should seriously investigate how expensive it'll be to get one produced. If you had another stretch goal in mind, announce it while acknowledging the desires of your backers and leaving the possibility open of its feasibility as the campaign attracts further pledges. As with the first point, strive for a balance between your own aspirations and those of your supporters.

3. If you're not good at sales and webpage design, find someone who is.

This may come across as a bit hypocritical considering Awful Books' spartan look, but I'm not trying to get something funded. You are. To that end, you need to create a knockout campaign which will maximize your influence with prospective pledgers. IOW, if you design a drive on the cheap, don't expect a lot of people to come calling. Garbage in is garbage out. Unless you're already famous and can get away with just throwing out anything, your campaign needs to be clear, concise, and very, VERY attractive. It should be highly structured with pledge tiers expertly enumerated. A few paragraphs of text and one or two graphics just won't cut it. You need to include a generous helping of fully processed artistic elements as well as descriptive prose.

However, don't get too crazy. A campaign shouldn't require a college degree to digest. Treat any potential backer as intelligent, but keep your ideas and concepts down-to-earth and immediately recognizable. If something rather esoteric is a part of the book's feature set, then don't assume everyone else will know what it is. For example, not a heckuva lot of people have seen fore-edge painting, so prior examples and a mockup should be incorporated into your campaign.

And mockups are EXTREMELY important. While you shouldn't break KS's rules on mockups, provide curious parties with at least a partial visual aid of your intentions. If you're unsure of how the book will ultimately appear, then include examples of interior pages or even just isolated art elements. The goal here is to convey a general look and feel of your final package, but not necessarily something set in stone. As previously stated, also weigh the counsel of your backers into your final formula and adjust your campaign page accordingly.

Mockups from a variety of campaigns that I've supported.

Successfully marketing a product requires both skill and talent. If you're unsure of your own abilities, find someone that has both. You don't want to fall short of your funding goal because your campaign page didn't have enough pizazz to attract a sufficient number of backers.

4. Be sensible with your pledge tiers.

It always makes my teeth hurt whenever I run across a genuinely interesting campaign that has bogged itself down with a byzantine and never-ending series of tiers. Remember the rule of KISS - Keep It Simple and Stupid. All you're doing is raising funds for a book, not trying to be the KS equivalent of Wal-Mart. Try to consolidate your offerings while keeping things as streamlined as possible. For example, if you're including ten pieces of original art as part of your campaign, all you need to do is define one tier with a quantity of ten, not ten tiers with a quantity of one each. Be as succinct as you can while still conveying the necessary information to your target audience.

Furthermore, leave your campaign room to breathe so that it can reach its maximum possible funding amount. I've run across several campaigns whose majority of tiers had already been taken and only one or two levels of any significance were left. If a potential backer hastily skims over such a drive, with tier after tier of zero availability, s/he may get the wrong impression that everything has already been claimed and nothing of any decent value is left. Only restrict the accessibility of items which are truly limited, like original art or personalized sketches, otherwise you're handicapping your campaign's potential.

Regarding expensive goods, don't shoehorn them in at the last minute, but instead at the earliest possible moment in the campaign's life, otherwise they could go unclaimed. Backers need to plan their budgets, too, just like everyone else on the planet. Plonking down a $500 tier in a drive's twilight hours doesn't give supporters enough time to allocate the required money for such a lavish outlay.

The tier breakdown at the left is a perfect example of a very lean (maybe TOO lean) pledge structure that's open-ended and with its most expensive level already defined at the start of the campaign.

5. Be very, very careful with stretch goals.

If there's any single aspect of a campaign that can bite a project creator in the ass, it's this one. Stretch goals can either be a tremendous benefit to your drive or an unmitigated disaster. Before announcing a stretch goal, do your research to ensure its fiscal viability. Many project creators have gone bankrupt trying to finance a mountain of stretch goals to the detriment of the root campaign. Product enhancements and/or swag that initially seemed innocuous and relatively cheap and quick to manufacture can actually be extremely expensive and time-consuming to fabricate. While you should certainly seriously consider suggestions from your backers, you also shouldn't succumb to pressure by promising expensive add-ons which could torpedo your bank account.

Tl;dr version - don't let costly stretch goals sink your campaign.

6. Be invested in the material and flexible during the campaign.

You've decided to solicit an artbook or graphic novel. You've amassed enough material to warrant one and you think it'll be a hit on the KS market. That's great! You now need to carefully and judiciously decide on not only what to include, but how your project will be packaged. Your base funding goal should dictate your initial printing solution, since that is your financial bedrock. Don't be coy by setting a low goal, but expecting to be overfunded. For example, if your campaign funding threshold is $12,000, then only expect to see $12,000 in pledges, minus KS' cut. Don't make grand promises with the expectation that you'll receive enough money to make good on those promises. IOW, be realistic and practical with both your product and your wallet.

That said, if you do create a knock-'em-dead solicitation and your campaign takes on a life of its own, don't become greedy and simply hoard that extra cash. Backers will justifiably expect a return on their considerable investment. Start thinking of how you can put those pledges to a mutually beneficial use. For example, if you were initially only planning a softcover run, start investigating the possibility of a hardcover edition, an expanded pagecount, and/or swag (see below). Do NOT rule out anything that could be feasible simply because it might seem too tedious to pursue. Use both your own imagination and the desires of your supporters to produce truly fantastic results that you may not've previously envisioned or thought possible.

7. If the campaign has stalled, do something!

There's nothing worse than watching a campaign clock strike zero and falling short of your funding goal. The sense of failure must be overwhelming. While KS pledges tend to graph like an inverted bell curve, with spikes in the beginning and end with a lull in the middle, you can buck that trend. If your campaign starts to alarmingly plateau, quickly brainstorm something to stimulate it. I've encountered more than one drive fail and being utterly mystified at the lack of anything offered to get things back in gear. While the focus of your campaign should be the main product, don't underestimate the allure of swag. For better or worse, people love things like prints, stickers, bookmarks, posters, sketches, plushies, pins, and other doodads. Prepare to make them an integral part of your drive, either as part of the base funding amount, stretch goals, or add-ons.

Also, reach out to your backers and ask them what you can do to increase their pledge amounts or attract new people. Don't subsume yourself in a vacuum or adopt a know-it-all attitude. If you think you could use some help, then ask for it. Don't just sit idly by while your drive gasps for air. If you don't quickly medicate an ailing campaign, then death is virtually guaranteed.

In short, keep a close eye on how your campaign is proceeding and use tools like Kicktraq to judge when it needs a swift kick in the butt.

8. Don't take the money and run.

This is an outgrowth of point #2 and one of the most common problems that backers encounter and rail against - project creators who go silent after their campaigns have ended. If your drive is successful, that's fantastic and should be celebrated. However, that's only the VERY BEGINNING of the journey. This point cannot be overstated - your successful KS campaign is just the first stage in the process. Once Amazon has released your funds, it becomes your responsibility to keep your supporters informed of not only achieved milestones, but also of any setbacks. KS has justifiably earned a pretty nasty reputation of being a haven for project creators who just cannot, for whatever reason, make good on their shipping estimates. And in a few extreme cases, backers have been left holding an empty bag YEARS after a drive has ended. Transparency is the key and you should share any joys or pitfalls with those who made your dream venture possible. Even if there's little to report, make an update anyway to prove that you're still alive, kicking, and working diligently on making the items advertised in your campaign a reality.

Note that this does NOT mean you have to use KS as your primary communication tool. If you prefer to provide updates via other venues, like Twitter or Facebook, that's fine, but you need to be clear that those sites are where people should go for the latest information on your project. I personally prefer that minor updates be relegated outside of KS, but major news should be made available on KS as campaign updates. You also need to monitor the three aforementioned methods whereby backers communicate with project creators on KS itself.


With these eight guidelines in mind, let's take a look at a couple of my favorite campaigns, starting with:

The Incognito Project (TIP) was the first campaign I backed. It beautifully presented its subject matter via professional typography, rich painting reproductions, and high-quality materials. The Stricklands devised a masterful project page that, IMO, should be considered a how-to for anyone considering a KS project. It was logically structured and extremely literate without being too wordy. As one reads through the sales pitch, the following are featured:

The campaign ran for 21 days between August 13 through September 3, 2012, offered 15 different pledge tiers, and was funded by 95 backers. In those 21 days, a whopping 15 updates were posted, with another 9 post-campaign updates detailing the status of the book and after-action reports. Those updates were content-rich and intensely relevant. And as a final feather in its cap, TIP was one of only a tiny percentage of drives that shipped on-time to backers with no reports of loss or damage due to improper packing. The only thing TIP lacked was add-ons, which are becoming increasingly popular.

To summarize, TIP covered every base in a stunning main campaign page, provided frequent project updates, offered some great doodads, and revealed several cool stretch goals. The one aspect of the drive that gave me some pause was the low funding goal of $7,000, as I think it should've been closer to $15,000 for such an ambitious undertaking. However, the final amount of $8,147 was apparently enough to produce a wonderful book and some terrific swag.


I will admit to a fair amount of bias towards mike henry's PINK HAIR GIRLS (PHG), as I was fairly heavily involved in its feature-set. That aside, Mike ran a very successful campaign that utilized very clear descriptions alongside a tremendous amount of professional-grade illustrations. In reading through the campaign page, Mike revealed:

As with TIP, Mike broached all the relevant points associated with the campaign and did so with flourish and style.

PHG was solicited between June 27 and July 27, 2013 with ten pledge tiers. A massive 18 updates were issued with two more updates posted after the campaign had finished. $30,845 was raised from 575 backers with a $13,500 funding goal, making PHG one of the more successful artbook drives on KS.

Part of PHG's obvious success was undoubtedly Mike's tireless dedication to backers in the form of direct replies to inquiries. From the first general comment to the last, Mike answered everyone who had a question or concern. This also extended to comments posted in the 20 updates. Of course, it remains to be seen if this level of communication is maintained now that the campaign is over, but I'm confident Mike will take this obligation seriously.


CLOSING THOUGHTS

Whether you are new to KS or a seasoned pro, I sincerely believe these suggestions should be taken to heart. Not because I made them, but because they are entirely sensible and will vastly improve your campaign's likelihood of success along with the disposition of your supporters. You only have a small window to make your case to an increasingly jaded populace. And it doesn't take long for backers to sour on fruitful campaigns that were once enthusiastically received due to project creators ceasing communication, shirking on product features, being absurdly late with estimated delivery dates, or by exhibiting an uncaring or defensive attitude. By taking your endeavour to KS for financing, you have, in effect, become a public figure and should act like one, otherwise your chance of success will be minuscule.

Now, go Kickstart that project!