During a chat with other comic creators about the thorny Kickstarter issue of postage costs, Brigantia co-creator Chris Mole mentioned there was probably a blog post to be written on the enormous stresses involved in running a crowdfunding campaign. So here it is.
Kickstarter (and other crowdfunding platforms) have had a wonderful, democratising effect on the comics landscape, allowing creators like me to essentially run a pre-ordering system to fund the production of our books before (or as) we make them. It’s fantastic and something I wish had been around decades ago. As an ordinary working stiff, I think I’d be years behind where I am now if I could only make books after saving up my own cash. But running a Kickstarter takes an awful lot of preparatory and on-going work and stress can really creep up on you, even if you’re doing well. I’m going to have a look at a few pitfalls and make some suggestions on how to avoid them from a purely personal standpoint, but hopefully some of this will resonate.
Firstly, there’s no getting around the work
And I’m not even talking about your comic – that should be the fun part. As soon as you start building your crowdfunding page you should be aware that you are *UGH* marketing your book, yourself and your co-creators. Build a good page showing your offer clearly and attractively and you’ve saved yourself a lot of stress already. If you’re wondering why no-one is visiting your page or backing, a lot of people will think it’s down to things like social media campaigning etc. It might be, but look at your page first. Is it great? Really great? Work on it until it is.
If you’re the organiser of the KS, you’re most likely the organiser of the whole comic project. You’re probably hassling people to hit deadlines, getting printing quotes, creating your KS video, scouting for a variant cover artist, pricing add-ons like badges etc. all on top of work, family and whatever other commitments you have. You’re being pushed and pulled in a lot of directions. Be aware of that and first of all, make sure everyone is always on the same page with clear communication. Group emails, WhatsApp, etc. provide ways to make sure everyone involved in the comic has all the info they need. Make use of cloud storage sites like Dropbox or We Transfer to make sure that you don’t have obsolete versions of scripts art etc. flying around. Also, get help. You have other collaborators and friends who can give you a hand with various parts of the process. There can be an understandable but dangerous urge to do everything yourself so you can best control the project. We’re all not-so-secret control freaks really, aren’t we? Recognise that as impractical and reach out.
Postage, the biggest hassle
Anyone who has run a Kickstarter will groan when you mention postage. It’s a huge pain in the arse that money your backers pay towards postage will be factored into your grand total and not held separately. This makes calculating postage costs a pain generally and for first time creators, an almost impossible task. You have no idea how many backers you’ll get and you have no idea where they will be from. Once you’ve done a Kickstarter, you can use the data it generates (which is quite good and useful) to help you project for future campaigns. But as a general rule of thumb, I always have in mind that around a quarter of my grand total will go on postage costs. Some people absorb or subsidise postage costs from their production totals to try and be more attractive to potential backers. That’s fine and up to you. But personally, I charge what it costs and trust that people will be ok with that to get something they can’t get anywhere else. Part of the appeal of Kickstarter is scarcity and uniqueness, so don’t undersell that. That said, I always offer a digital version for anyone who quite understandably finds postage costs a bit much.
The Dreaded Promo
Promotion is massively important. People do it a variety of ways but for me, if you make sure you have trailed your project on social media and have some idea of how you’re going to keep the KS in people’s minds while it’s running, you should be ok. You can try and get advance reviews, talk to people on podcasts, do interviews etc. or play things more low key if that suits the project. What you must do (for me) is prepare your approach.
Winging promotion or not doing any promotion because it sticks in your craw seems to me to be a recipe for stress, as you’ll be scrambling while the campaign is running to try and get backers because no-one knows your book exists. Promoting on the hoof can look sloppy and desperate, often because it is. What I’m saying is, this is a significant part of the project and you need to take time to prepare your approach. Be aware of the kind of book you’re doing. Trail it, let people know something new is coming. Try to figure out a cool way to promote it and always be aware (even if you’ve had a few moderate successes) that hardly anyone knows who you are.
Elation, then nothing
Ok, so your super-organised Kickstarter has launched and you’ve done some thoughtful marketing and yes! People are backing it! Awesome! Your first day will probably be quite frantic as you thank people for backing and try to push the message as hard as you can. That pace might last, but it probably won’t. Be ready to go from incredibly busy to nothing very quickly. In my experience, the first day there’s a lot of attention and chatter and the next almost everyone you know who cares has backed, shared your message on social media and moved on. This is fine of course, but the gear shift can be a really abrupt crash.
If you’re anything like me this will drive you crazy. You KNOW more people who don’t know you will love this comic! Where are they? How do you find them? You will wrack your brains for some kind of marketing magic bullet to propel you into a new audience. Don’t do this. Seriously, don’t. Continue letting people know you’re there on Twitter, hit up some comics groups on Facebook, stick to your plan. The reality is unless you have a marketing budget, get talked up by someone with huge influence or just happen to have a project that resonates with a bigger audience than you’re used to, the effort to return ratio in chasing backers is negligible. It will also be enormously stressful. Now, I’m not saying don’t try to get new readers, of course not. Do what you can. But be aware that most of us will have to build our audiences incrementally by being a positive presence in comics over an extended period of time. And if you are working hard on ideas for breaking new audiences, be aware of the toll it’s taking on you. These urges will probably manifest when you are part way through your campaign. You’ve made a comic book, organised a crowdfunding campaign and prepped tons of promo. You’re drained. Be aware. Remind yourself that this should be fun. Take breaks, spend time with people and actively avoid obsessing. I don’t want to sound patronising and I know you’ll all have your personal ways of coping; I just mention this because stress can be sneaky as fuck. My last Kickstarter campaign was over before I realised I was close to something akin to a crisis. My friends and family all saw it, I didn’t. Until the campaign ended, the adrenal rush dissipated and I crashed like a ZX81.
Be very careful with stretch goals. If you are lucky enough to make target, there is an expectation that you’ll offer backers something extra if you make extra money. It’s a cool way to keep the momentum going and set new targets for your campaign. But there are many notorious cases of campaigns overpromising and getting into trouble. Basically, think about how an extra offering will impact production and postage costs. If your stretch goal is adding pages or switching from softcover to hardcover? That will have an enormous impact on costs. My rule of thumb is stick to stuff that will fit nicely in the envelope you’re already sending and isn’t so heavy it will up your postage costs. Digital rewards, stickers, temporary tattoos, prints, coasters, bookmarks etc.
So your campaign is over, you’re funded and now all you have to do is post out masses of comics!
I think a lot of people find fulfilment pretty daunting and it obviously will be if you have a very big success, but really this is the easy (ish) part. Firstly, Kickstarter provides you with great facilities to download your backers details for labelling and keeping track of who you’ve posted stuff out to. You’ll have to survey people for their address details however which is a pain because there’s always a chunk of people who never respond. Be ready for stragglers providing their details literally months down the line.
There’s also loads of places you can get really good cheap mailers that should fit your budget. You can also set up a Drop & Go account with your local post office to make handing stuff in a much quicker, less painful experience. It works really well.
Be careful during the setup of your campaign to make sure people know when you’re going to be able to post stuff out. Most people are fully aware that this is a spare time thing and are fine with you having work or other commitments that mean you can’t post stuff the minute it’s ready. Just make sure you hit your fulfilment dates or be very clear about why any delays have occurred.
I’m sure there’s plenty I’ve not covered here and of course I’m aware that this won’t be everyone’s experience. And I also hope I haven’t put anyone off running a crowdfunding campaign. It’s great fun. But that is kind of my point. It can get a bit addictive. If you’re anything like me, you can find yourself wrapped up in it to the detriment of yourself and the people around you. However if you go in with your eyes open, you’ll hopefully be able to avoid the pitfalls, make something great and have a good experience. Best of luck!