Creators Corner: Running a Successful Kickstarter Part 2: Rewards
Now, that I’d done my research (see my first post, located here), I started creating the project: first focusing on rewards. I followed the lead of Kickstarter and other advice found in my research, and I asked my artist Juan Romera what he could offer. He offered a few things, but the winners mainly consisted of sketches of varying sizes.
Other than getting Juan’s suggestions, I had to consider a few more things. First, I had to be realistic about what Juan and I could do in a reasonable amount of time following the Kickstarter’s completion. While I might want to write a 50 page short story for every backer that gave me $100, it’s not realistic to do so.
In connection to this, I had to be realistic with the cost of rewards. It might be cool to print copies of the book for every backer that donated $1, but with a $3 cost per printed issue, that would only leave me in a worse financial position than I was in before the Kickstarter.
I also had to consider a fan perspective: while some behind the scenes stuff is cool, if I go too in-depth with those types of rewards, I would only entice creators, not fans.
After all this thought, I came up with what I believed were the best variety of rewards, balancing costs at the same time (for all of us: myself, Juan, and the Kickstarter backers)
I started with some basic rewards (pdfs of the first comic for $1, pdfs of the first two issues for $2, I’d follow you on Twitter or friend you on Facebook for $5, rewards that didn’t cost me much), and mentioning the backer in a closing acknowledgment or opening dedication for $10 or $20 respectively. Then I started jumping prices on the rewards more: $25 for a look at my first comic script ever, for an unpublished comic called The Eye of the Beholder, and a behind the scenes look at Rebirth of the Gangster–on sale at Amazon as “First Shot: The Making of Rebirth of the Gangster”.
I followed these with my high tier rewards: popular ones like original sketches by Juan for $35 and $55 depending on the size (as limited offers, which made it realistic to ask this of Juan) and some other rewards that didn’t work so well, like naming Marcus’s grandpa, and feedback from me on a script the backer wrote. But my most popular and lucrative rewards were making a cameo for $100 and getting an interview with me for $125; the cameo was limited to three backers, so it also was realistic to add a few new roles in a 22 page script, and the interviews are things I would do to promote the comic anyway, so I wasn’t really hurting with a time-commitment on that one, even though it wasn’t a limited offer.
As a last note, all of my rewards were cumulative–if you paid $10, you’d get that reward and the ones below that. The only exception to this were the limited offer rewards that only let a few people purchase them; those limited offer rewards received everything below it, but rewards above them couldn’t get the limited offer reward.
One of the handy features of Kickstarter is that you can see how the rewards break down, both in terms of how many were purchased and in the context of how much that reward contributed to your overall goal. See below for some of my key results after my campaign succeeded:
The above rewards didn’t have many backers–partly because they were limited offer rewards, only letting 2 or 3 people receive them–but clearly they helped my campaign the most, contributing to 62% of my total money raised.
The smallest donations for rewards–seen above–didn’t help my overall campaign fund much (only 3% of total funds raised), but I like to think they’re still useful, because they get more people reading my comic than would otherwise.
Reflections on my rewards, post-campaign
The success of my rewards hinged on a few things:
- Low cost rewards offer little risk to backers with the large reward of backers feeling like they made a project happen.
- High cost rewards were most attractive when backers were directly involved–and readers could see their involvement–in some component of the creation, like having a cameo. This was my most successful reward; many asked if I could add another cameo reward (and I added one, but stopped at that, because I wanted to save Juan’s sanity).
- High cost rewards were also attractive when they backers were delivered some unique product, like an original sketch from Juan
- Some high cost rewards–like the interview–didn’t attract people for the reward, just for the chance to feel good about supporting my project in a big way. I actually didn’t have requests from interviews for these backers–they were friends and family that supported in a big way.
The failure of some rewards popped up because of a few other reasons:
- Most people don’t want to pay money for social media connections. They probably realize that I would want to connect with them anyway, so I can have more options of getting the word out. This reward was mainly self-serving on reflection, and many backers saw that.
- The smaller sketch artwork was too small (I even had one or two backers change from that reward to the bigger one because they didn’t think about that size closely enough). Essentially, backers want a sketch that’s around a typical comic book size (8×11).
- Maybe because I wasn’t established enough, but the reward promising feedback didn’t work at all. I’m sure for established greats like Neil Gaiman and Alison Bechdel, that’d work. But then again, they probably wouldn’t be using Kickstarter.
- Although people were interested in the behind the scenes stuff, I didn’t get a lot of positive feedback about that: just positivity about the comic and the opportunity to support it in a more meaningful way than a few bucks.
Ideas for reward in next campaign, based on reflection (and assuming I’d do another campaign)
A few months back–about two issues away from being done with my first story arc and graphic novel–I started thinking about another Kickstarter campaign, only this time funding a printed copy instead of digital copy of the series. I always planned on releasing individual issues as digital copies only and then releasing graphic novels as both printed and digital copies, partly to save costs and partly because as a comic reader I really only buy trades.
I brainstormed a new list of Kickstarter rewards, keeping the oldies but goodies and adding some new ideas for a wider reach and better fan appreciation. While I eventually decided to just go with Amazon’s print on demand service (since it saves me the financial commitment of purchasing a specific print run; it also saves me the time and cost of a Kickstarter campaign; and it ultimately avoids the issues of purchasing a specific print run–namely, buying too many or not enough copies of the graphic novel).
Really, I decided that running another Kickstarter wasn’t worth the headache at this point in the graphic novel’s publication (and at this point of the school year–as a teacher, I know that the end of the school year is always the most hectic, so it wasn’t worth it to me to stretch myself so thin with another Kickstarter). I wanted any extra work done on my comic to affect my comic itself–the story and the art–not the publication of it. Despite this conclusion, I thought it would be useful to share with you my list of possible rewards and my reasons for keeping some rewards, jettisoning others, and adding some new stars.
Here they are:
- I wanted to keep the Twitter/Facebook rewards but with a twist. In my first campaign, I promised to follow/friend people, but it seems like people were more interested in a shout out of appreciation. I would change it to the shout out and reduce the price, since that would be a good small investment–others like the idea in my first campaign but not the price.
- I’d still keep pdf copies as rewards for small-time investors, although making them more expensive than the Twitter/Facebook rewards.
- Since people liked the cameo, I decided to add a “Suggest a Character” reward for about $10; that way I wouldn’t have to commit to a lot of characters if I only have room in the outline of a certain issue for a few, but it still gives backers a feeling of contributing to the project financially and creatively.
- I’d also keep the Acknowledgments reward, since I think people deserve a shout out on the graphic novel.
- I’d add a printed copy, since that’s the reward, and I’d price it at retail price, about $20-25. That way, I wouldn’t be losing money and backers would still feel it’s a deal, because they’d get the printed copy and the rewards leading up to it.
- For about $10 more, I’d offer a signed printed copy with either just me or just Juan signing it. Promising both would lead to big mailing fees and time concerns that wouldn’t be worth it to me.
- Although the interview reward worked well, I’d change it by lowering its price and offering a guest blog post as an alternative to the interview/podcast appearance. Some smaller websites prefer that since it adds to their site without too much time commitment from them. And, as I think I’ve mentioned, most people who backed this didn’t even request an interview, so I wanted to give another option to widen its appeal.
- I’d keep the cameos and sketches from Juan, unchanged, since those were the most successful.
- I’d add two videos: a director’s cut video for a specific issue and a director’s cut on how to create a comic in general. Stay tuned to later posts for some video analysis: it helps, but the one video I had on my campaign needed improvement, something I’d hope to do here too.
- My last two additions would be new rewards: I’d write something that looked like fan-fiction, creating a 5 page story of the backer in the Rebirth of the Gangster universe. I’d also offer a 2-page short story, unconnected to this universe. Because of the length, I’d ask for more for the Rebirth of the Gangster fan fiction style story. Both are short, because I wanted to balance reward with the time commitment on my part.
Eventually, I might use these rewards for a campaign later in the publication of Rebirth of the Gangster, or even in the publication of one of my other story ideas (The Others Behind the Wall, a mix between Lovecraftian horror and Stranger Things sci-fi, and A Story for Kari, a fantasy that uses my own long-term relationship as the basis for the romance). But before that day, there is still more from my first Kickstarter campaign to reflect on and use for future planning. But I’ll cover that in later posts in this series, so stay tuned!