Creators Corner: Running a Successful Kickstarter Part 1: Getting Started

A product with no backer…yet

Congratulations! You–like me–are the proud producer of independent content, either because you didn’t produce something that interested Big Pubs, you’re too new as a producer of content (and need experience before you can get experience), or because you could get big publishers’ interest but prefer having complete creative control instead of having an editor murder your darlings, as they say.

And, by the way, no judgement on whatever your reasons are for producing independent content: in my case, my self-published comic Rebirth of the Gangster sparked some interest from publishers but not enough to get them interested in backing my project, partly because I was so new. In fact, if I’d trimmed Rebirth of the Gangster from a proposed 500ish page series to a 150ish page graphic novel, Dark Horse would’ve been interested. Because I have a day job (teaching, sometimes teaching comics in the classroom, as I’ve written about), I refused to neuter my story that way. My influences refused to compromise, so dammit, why would I? So, again, no judgement, because–like me–you probably have many reasons for entering the self-publishing game.

I’ll say it again: congratulations! But you still have a long way to go to get your product made and distributed on a larger level.

Now that you’ve decided to rely on yourself to publish this content, you need to figure out how to finance the whole thing, how to crowdfund something to get it out to an even bigger crowd. Having run a successful Kickstarter campaign myself a little under a year ago, I know the stresses of this process, along with the joys when someone donates even $1 to your cause. Throughout that journey, I had a lot of hills and valleys, but I learned a lot and could avoid some of those deep depressions if I were to run another Kickstarter.

And maybe more importantly, by sharing my reflections on that journey, I can help you create a Kickstarter that’s even more successful than mine was. After all, I was so successful, because I relied on the advice of others, so it only seems fair to pay it forward, a style of thinking heavily encouraged by all crowdfunding sites.

cropped kickstarter successful project graph


And that advice of others was the first place I started. Because as any writer will tell you, research is the fun part of the job and the real reason we do this! In all seriousness, though, it’s indispensable, even if it’s occasionally boring. The first step in research was to look at Kickstarter’s requirements, including what is not OK to post on the site or offer as rewards (like a % stake of the profits on your projects–Kickstarter isn’t Wall Street people). One of the most important things to look at, though, are Kickstarter’s fees, both their general fee and their payment processing fee. Don’t ask me how those two things are separate, or why they don’t bundle them together, because I’m a writer, not a mathematician darnit! However, even if you don’t understand the logic behind some of these fees, you need to take them into account. Otherwise, you might set a goal without considering those fees, have the Kickstarter tax man come and skim a little off the top, and be left with not enough money to publish your comic, produce your movie, record songs, etc… Here’s a quick breakdown of how fees affected my total earnings once the campaign was complete.

cropped kickstarter fees and made money

cropped kickstarter suggestions for rewards

The next step in your research: sift through the many campaigns to look at the successful ones, especially focusing on the most successful ones. You want to mine 24 karat gold, not 2 karat gold. Yeah, they’re both gold, but one is definitely going to attract more eyes. When looking at other campaigns, I looked at

  • How a campaign presented the project, the creator(s), costs in a transparent way, and the timeline. Trust and sympathy are key in Kickstarter campaigns, so if they don’t find a hook to latch onto your product, if they don’t like you, if they don’t know how you’re going to use their money, or if they don’t see an end date in sight for this project, they’ll do the Kickstarter equivalent of swiping left.
  • How a campaign used a video to present their product in a clear, concise and engaging way. We live in a visual culture, so if you don’t have a strong video, many people won’t even read your gold standard writing mentioned in the first bullet point.
  • Most popular rewards, along with the best breakdown of reward price (How many rewards should you have? How much do you jump prices between rewards? How many limited offer rewards do you have?)
  • How others advertised their Kickstarter. One of the best pieces of advice: build a fanbase before running your campaign. I had about 500 Twitter followers, along with support of family and friends, which was a good start, but if I could go back in time, I’d focus a little more on connecting with fans earlier and finding fans earlier.

Congrats again!  You’ve finished the research, and now you just have to create your campaign, cajole others into supporting it, create the thing, and deliver those rewards!  That should be a breeze, right?  Well, don’t worry, because I’ll cover those steps in upcoming segments.