This past year has been turbulent to say the least; with the number of ups and downs, I still can hardly tell whether I’m standing on my head or on my feet. However, one of the most notable ‘ups’ was that I ran a successful Kickstarter. Then I ran another one. And then one more! In fact, in the past ten months I ran three successful Kickstarter campaigns and collectively raised over $35 000 USD for an Old Norse phrasebook, a Viking-themed card game, and an anthology of historical fiction. This does not make me a Kickstarter expert by any stretch of the imagination, but I have learned a few things and I hope to pass on a bit of insider knowledge here for crowd-funding hopefuls considering this route to publication.
"[In] the past ten months I ran three successful Kickstarter campaigns
I have an idea. Should I run a Kickstarter?
If any creator was to ask me this question, I would ask them three questions in return:
If you answered yes to these three questions then I think your idea is probably viable for a Kickstarter campaign. (Note: ‘viable’ does not guarantee success.) If you answered no to any one of these three questions I would strongly discourage you from pursuing funding through Kickstarter. Instead, I would suggest that you pitch your idea to publishers who can handle the items above while you focus solely on the creative aspect of the project.
"If you answered yes to these three questions then I think your idea
When should I start working on the Kickstarter?
I think there is a misunderstanding of timelines when it comes to Kickstarters for new creators. Way back in the day, the idea of pitching a project, getting it fully funded, then working on it for six months to two years while backers wait patiently may have been an option. These days, you want to have a fully finished product (be that a game, book, album, etc.) as you will be competing with very polished products for attention and for funds. My suggestion would be to complete the ‘idea to reality’ stage first, make sure it really is as awesome as you were hoping it to be, and then begin to prepare for a Kickstarter campaign launch.
" My suggestion would be to complete the ‘idea to reality’ stage first, make sure it really is as awesome as you were hoping it to be, and then begin to prepare for a Kickstarter campaign launch."
I would budget about 5-15 hours a week for pre-campaign work (designing graphics, recording the video, networking, securing promotions, getting feature spots on podcasts or in relevant publications, developing publicity materials, recruiting followers on the pre-launch page, etc.) for about three months before the campaign and then 15-25 hours per week during the campaign. Any work you complete before the campaign will be very much appreciated by your future self during the mid-campaign madness. I highly suggest working with a partner (or a team) on this as that is a lot for one person to handle while remaining somewhat sane.
What funding goal should I set for my Kickstarter?
This is highly dependent on what the product is, but in general you obviously want to cover the cost of printing or production. Be sure to get a quote for this before you set your funding goal and do not just ballpark your costs. If you’ve never worked with a printer or a manufacturer before then do your homework early in the planning stages. I had friends who funded their board game on Kickstarter then received copies from the manufacturer overseas, 30% of which were defective. They were on the hook to cover thousands of dollars of re-printed games out of pocket; it was either that, or lose the significant following they had built upon Kickstarter over several successful projects.
Additional expenses, which can be significant, include Kickstarter’s 5% fee, warehousing and distribution, and any costs related to fulfillment management services. Typically it is understood that backers will be charged shipping (be very careful if you plan on including shipping in the backer price) and most creators, even small ones, will use a fulfillment manager such as CrowdOx to help with post-campaign delivery. I would highly recommend that another buffer of at least 5% be added to the funding goal to cover any unforeseen expenses related to the campaign.
"I would highly recommend that another buffer of at least 5% be added to the funding goal to cover any unforeseen expenses related to the campaign."
Of course, there is also the whole issue of your being paid for the creative work you have done. I would suggest using the Kickstarter to fund the production costs or the print run then pay yourself through post-campaign sales. For example, if you fund a print run of 2000 copies of a book and you have 800 backers, then there are 1200 copies that can be sold post-campaign. Not everyone would agree with me on this, but consider the fact that you are paying Kickstarter 5% of your ‘creator’s fee’ if you raise those funds through the platform.
I just launched my Kickstarter! Time to sit back and let the pledges roll in? (Spoiler Alert: The answer is no.)
No amount of pre-campaign preparation can prepare you for the rush, the thrill, and the terror of your campaign launching on Kickstarter. You are baring your soul, your dreams, and your ambitions to a nebulous universe of interconnected intelligent entities surfing across the vast expanse of the web. When the campaign begins, it is time to start pushing harder than ever to reach new audiences, network with influential people around the topic of your project, and follow up with media features you set up during the pre-campaign.
During my third campaign we were fortunate to be selected as a ‘Project We Love’ by Kickstarter. Our campaign was featured on the ‘Project We Love’ page and we were given access to a promotional badge which helped us stand out. Only 8-9% of all Kickstarter projects are selected to be in this category so it is a significant achievement; however, there is no process to apply for this status as projects are selected using a secret process that happens behind closed doors.
"During my third campaign we were fortunate to be selected as a ‘Project We Love’
However, if you look at the current ‘Projects We Love’ page you can identify some themes in terms of which projects are getting selected. While not every project might fit into this category, consider tweaking your campaign page to try and catch the eye of a Kickstarter administrator. Note that your campaign might be live for several days before you receive notice that your project has been chosen as a ‘Project We Love’ and such a designation does not guarantee success.
My Kickstarter is live and it is not doing very well. Should I pay for advertising?
This is, unfortunately, an all too common experience, especially for first time creators. Overall, only 38% of projects on Kickstarter reach their funding goal by the end of the campaign. Creators need to be prepared for the worst-case scenario but should not sit back once the campaign begins. The energy of the campaign, especially in the first few days, will be key to either its success or its failure.
It is very common to have a mid-campaign plateau and that is nothing to panic about. The spike of pledges in the first few days and the rush of backers who had been following the project or holding back in the final hours are like riding an extreme roller-coaster, but this middle section can feel like trudging through a desert of despair. At this stage, if the project has not yet funded many may feel immense pressure to pay for advertising in a desperate attempt to reach more people.
"The spike of pledges in the first few days and the rush of backers who had been following the project or holding back in the final hours are like riding an extreme roller-coaster, but this middle section can feel like trudging through a desert of despair."
I would caution against paid advertising in general. If you have a background in SEO analytics or marketing then maybe you can turn this to your advantage. However, paid advertising will never, in my opinion, be able to match personal recommendations. Having an influential podcaster, author, or academic personally share your project and encourage people to back it is more authentic than paid advertising and will attract the kind of loyalty that these projects need to succeed. People need to believe in the project like you do, and that sense of communal excitement is difficult to generate without personal recommendations. Besides, there are plenty of people ready to take your money with baseless promises of Kickstarter success, but once they are paid your money is gone, gone, gone.
My Kickstarter is funded! Now what?
Ah! You’ve reached that enviable state for which so many have striven. However, there is still much work to be done in finalizing the production of your campaign, fulfilling orders, and staying in touch with backers. One thing I was surprised to learn is that many of the pledges bounce, sometimes upwards of 10% of all pledges; Kickstarter has no way of securing these funds if the payment information is not current and backers do not update their details before the funds go through. This is not too much of an issue for campaigns that significantly overfund, but if you barely make it over the line at, say, 102% funded on a $9000 goal, you may end up with only 95% funding once all the funds come through. This is yet another good reason to build in a bit of buffer in your original funding goal.
"One thing I was surprised to learn is that many of the pledges bounce,
Last, but not least, if you begin creating projects through Kickstarter you are likely to continue with future campaigns that expand on your series, universe, or game. While answering mountains of backer questions, wrestling printers to meet your promised deadlines, and interacting on social media, remember that these amazing people who backed your project may be interested in backing future projects, provided you’ve shown yourself to be reliable and professional. Keep backers up to date and inform them of delays in fulfillment or any other items relevant to the campaign.
"...remember that these amazing people who backed your project may be interested in backing future projects, provided you’ve shown yourself to be reliable and professional."
All of this is really just scratching the surface of the wild and wonderful world of crowdfunding; if you are interested in learning more I encourage you to check out the extensive collection of posts by Stonemaier Games or to send me an email through my contact form for more specifics on any of the topics above. Keep making the world a little bit more awesome with everything you create!
For more from Josh, explore the sub-category 'Articles' on this blog or following him on Twitter!
"When I’m feeling fancy: prosciutto and fresh arugula. When I’m feeling basic: pepperoni."
As a writer of thriller and fantasy, you know how to get the reader’s adrenaline pumping. What common pitfalls have you encountered, either through your own development or through reading others’ work, when writers try to amp up the tension but end up falling flat?
Several things can make the tension fizzle. The first that comes to mind is info-dumping or excessive flashbacks / background in the midst of the action. If you want to maintain the tension throughout a scene, you have to stay as much as possible in the present moment. I’m currently reading Crescent City by Sarah J. Maas and am thoroughly enjoying it, but I nearly put it down in the first five chapters because it felt like every other moment in the scene was interrupted by detailed backstory. It’s something I have had to work on with my writing as well. Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo is a good example of how to keep the tension going, with backstory woven in more subtly.
"Several things can make the tension fizzle. The first that comes to mind is info-dumping or
There are many new avenues open for authors to share and publish their work online but being an author today also comes with a whole new set of challenges. What strategies helped you find success as you built your audience online and off?
As a first step, you have to identify what your goals are: do you have a published (or soon-to-be published) book that you’re ready to start marketing? Or are you more interested in building community at the moment? I, personally, am currently focused on community-building. I do my best to align my social media engagement with what feels good and authentic to me - my personal goal is to organically connect to readers and fellow writers. This means I gravitate toward the platforms I enjoy using, regardless of whether or not they have a good reputation for producing sales or click-throughs. Facebook, for example, is generally considered helpful, especially for indie writers, if you can learn how to leverage its targeted advertising system. But I do not enjoy Facebook. At all. So I prioritize my time on Instagram and Twitter, which perhaps aren’t as good at generating click-throughs, but are wonderful sources of inspiration and connection with fellow writers and readers.
"I do my best to align my social media engagement with what feels good and authentic to me -
"Second, as clichéd as this may sound, you have to show up as you. What you see on my social media feed
And last but not least, focus on building a positive and welcoming space on your social media feeds. We’re all inundated with negative news on a daily basis (now more than ever), so I try to provide as much entertainment and escapism as possible. To that end, the best decision I've made was to launch a newsletter. It has helped me connect more deeply to the wonderful people I've met online, and it allows me to give back to the community - every month, I run a book giveaway exclusively for subscribers, because I love sharing the books that I’ve enjoyed (recent giveaways included Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo, Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman, Sinner by Sierra Simone). I also share things that I love talking about with friends: trailers for upcoming movies or TV shows (especially thrillers and mysteries), books coming up soon that I’m excited about, and interesting articles about real-life stories that are stranger than fiction and could be great inspiration for thrillers. The key is that I love doing all of this - and because I’m talking about things of general interest, other people seem to be finding enjoyment or a bit of distraction from the newsletter as well.
It may take some experimentation, but take the time to find the things you enjoy and focus on them. That way, it won’t feel like work. A while ago, I drafted a blog post answering this question with some more detail, in case it's helpful.
Writing can be a lonely endeavor and it helps to have a community of writers around you for encouragement, critique, and, let’s be honest, to just blow off steam sometimes. You have established a healthy community of writers around you through your website and through Twitter events that you host. What advice do you have for writers who feel alone and are trying to connect with other writers?
If you’re new to the twitter writing community, probably the best way to get started if you don’t know anyone is to follow some of the big writing hashtags. My favorites are #writingcommunity, #vss365, #indieapril, and #writerslift. The “vss365” tag stands for “very short stories, 365 days of the year,” and is a fantastic community of writers who craft single-story tweets based on a prompt word that the host of the month shares every day. I would start by supporting other writers on the vss365 tag - read their stories, like their tweets, and comment with words of encouragement. If you’re feeling brave, contribute your own stories!
"I would start by supporting other writers on the vss365 tag - read their stories, like their tweets, and comment with words of encouragement. If you’re feeling brave, contribute your own stories!"
If you are an introvert, or have social anxiety or otherwise feel uncomfortable being very open and communicative on social media, I completely understand that “Have fun!” isn’t going to be doable for everyone. Please don’t feel like you have to push yourself to be someone or do something that goes beyond your comfort zone. If you feel comfortable with a more limited form of engagement, you could start simply by reading through the above hashtags and getting familiar with the writing community online. And if you do a search of “how to build an author platform if you're an introvert,” quite a few resources pop up - rest assured that you’re not alone!
"If you are an introvert, or have social anxiety or otherwise feel uncomfortable being very open and communicative on social media, I completely understand that “Have fun!” isn’t going to be doable for everyone."
Your short story The Calving takes an honest look at environmental issues through the story of a young couple facing an uncertain future. New writers often make the mistake of letting the message overshadow the narrative in a way that makes the story feel expository or preachy. How do you manage to write about issues that really matter while also keeping the narrative vibrant and engaging?
"In fiction, our job is to take the larger world and whatever big-picture issues
The dry story about the big-picture issue is: dozens of reporters are killed in war zones each year as they try to expose human rights abuses. The personal story is Marie Colvin’s own life, which reads very much like a thriller - so much so, that a Vanity Fair article about her was adapted into a movie a couple of years ago. Whatever subject matter you want to tackle, no matter how broad or epic it might be, put yourself in your characters’ shoes and make it as personal to them as you possibly can.
The Apartment, a short film which you wrote the screenplay for, is now in post-production. What was the experience of writing for film like and what advice do you have for brand new screenplay writers who are trying to break in?
It was a surreal experience to write words on a page and then see people bring those characters to life (I also directed the short, which my best friend and immensely talented filmmaker, Matthew Newton, produced). It was also rather frustrating. With fiction, you can write whatever you want - there are no budgets and production practicalities to hamper your vision. With a screenplay, by contrast, you start with your dream vision (locations, scenes, the “look” of it all) … and then slowly whittle down that vision to a budget, production schedule, locations, and cast and crew hours you can actually afford. It is simultaneously a humbling and thrilling ride.
"With fiction, you can write whatever you want - there are no budgets and production practicalities to hamper your vision. With a screenplay, by contrast, you start with your dream vision ... and then slowly whittle down ..."
I’m not trying to get an agent or sell a feature screenplay at the moment, so I can’t quite speak from experience about the industry, but I can give the following tips:
"The Scriptnotes podcast, hosted by Craig Mazin and John August, is a fantastic resource. I have learned more about the screenwriting craft and the industry from them than from any book or website."
2) Read as many screenplays as you can! Some of my personal favorites are Sicario (fantastic action sequences), Michael Clayton (brilliant dialogue and character development), and Traffic (great structure). Incidentally, all three scripts are examples of movies that take a big-picture political or social issue and make it intensely personal. There are so many other stellar scripts you can learn from. You can start with a search of the “top ten most important screenplays for a writer to read.” Or you can let your curiosity be your guide and start with the scripts of the movies you love. Either way, read with a critical eye and pay attention to plot structure, rhythm, dialogue, and all of the other craft elements you should examine when you’re reading to learn.
What is the next big project you have on the go? Can you give us any sneak peeks or hints around what it will be about?
"I’m really excited to indie-publish my first supernatural mystery novella! Mile Marker Eight combines the small-town weirdness of The X Files with the dark comedy of Fargo."
I’m also currently revising the first draft of an adult supernatural thriller that melds three of my favorite things: super-strength, telekinesis, and mixed martial arts cage fighting (MMA is my favorite sport). It’s heart-pumping action, ticking-time-bomb danger, and a heavy dose of steamy romance. I hope to be ready to start querying agents in the fall. Until then, I’m sharing little details through my newsletter but otherwise playing this one close to the vest.
Where can readers find more of your work and stay up to date on your latest publications?
I’m at @rrvaleauthor on Twitter, where I host writing sprints and write vss365 stories, and on Instagram, where I share writing motivation and tips, book reviews, and moody shots that inspire some of my writing. And you can sign up for the monthly Thrills & Magic Newsletter for exclusive updates, giveaways, and behind-the-scenes sneak peeks.
Joshua Gillingham is an author, editor, and game designer from Vancouver Island, Canada.