Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Notes on Kickstarter

A lot of comic creators are getting interested in Kickstarter, and for good reason. It's a fantastic service. I used Kickstarter to fund my marketing efforts for Sweets: A New Orleans Crime Story. I already had a publisher at Image Comics, so my funds were used exclusively for marketing and promotion. Things like convention expenses, advertising, printing, Facebook ads, etc. I'm told Sweets was one of the very first Kickstarter funded comics to hit shelves nationwide, and that's pretty cool. With a successful Kickstarter project comes lots of questions about my experience with the service and lots of requests for advice on the subject, so here are a few notes for those interested in my experience. And here is the original Kickstarter project listing for those that haven't seen it.

Tip #1: Make sure your Kickstarter project has actual content, not just a sales pitch. For SWEETS, my original 5 page preview of the comic was ONLY available inside my Kickstarter video for the first month or so. If you wanted to see the art pages from the comic, you had to watch my video showcasing the project. That produced a lot of traffic to the Kickstarter page that might have just looked at the art on a news site, on my blog, or on my website. Exclusive content inside your video gives people a reason to watch your pitch. As proof of this, I actually hit my funding goal in less than 36 hours. I think that was a direct result of the exclusive content I had in my video.

Tip #2: Keywords. Make sure your project description and pledge packages contain important keywords. Make a list of words that describe your project, your target audience, your characters, your genre, etc, and fineness those keywords into your Kickstarter page. That's going to help people find it in a few different ways. I was actually surprised how many people found my comic via the front page of the Kickstarter website using the search. So be smart, use keywords to maximize search results.

Tip #3: Make your packages a good value. Rather than take the 'donation' approach, I decided to offer something of value for each package. I think all of my packages were well in line with the price you might pay if you purchased those items directly from me at a convention. They weren't all an exact dollar value, but I made sure people were getting something for their money. It's called Perceived Value. It's not about the exact production cost of your items, it's more about how that person views your product and if they believe it's worth the price you're asking. Many factors come into play, quality, exclusivity, nostalgia, emotional connection, etc. Example, someone might think a price tag of $40 on T-Shirt at WalMart is absurd, but you can bet they'll happily pay $40 for a T-Shirt at a concert for their all-time favorite band. The difference is the level of importance they place on you as a creator, or of this particular comic project. Perceived value includes the tangible and the intangible. Rational and emotional. Be aware of this, it's important.

Tip #4: Work your ass off on the presentation of your material. Make sure your audio sounds great, shoot some quality video and spend some time on editing. Make sure your package listings aren't just accurate, make them interesting. Presentation is very important for something like this. Take the time to do it right. I looked at a Kickstarter package last week and the video quality was so bad I couldn't even make out what was going on with the artwork in the comic. If you don't take your project seriously, your backers won't either.

Tip #5: Make sure your comic doesn't suck.

Now, on to some of the major problems I discovered during my Kickstarter campaign:

Problem #1: Your biggest and most loyal supporters will get the comic LAST. This was a problem that didn't really occur to me until later in the process, but it became something I stressed about and should have seen coming. Here's how the process works with Image. Diamond ships the books to comic shops all over the world and the book hits the shelf on the same day for everyone. Casual comic readers could grab them right off the shelf. But my Kickstarter backers were to receive their comics directly from me in exchange for supporting one of my various Kickstarter packages. My box of comics typically arrived after retailers got their copies and had them on the shelf already. Then I had to package everything individually, and ship stuff out. That takes a whole lot of time, and when you're super busy making a comic book and your deadlines are tough, that extra time is hard to find. So there were shipping delays I deeply regretted. Also, I calculated shipping based on the weight of each individual Kickstarter package and included extra shipping for international orders. My shipping numbers were pretty close to the actual shipping cost, so I did good there. But that single package to be shipped meant that everyone would get their packages AFTER the entire 5 issue run was complete. Meanwhile, everyone else had been reading the comic all along via their local comic shop. To try and correct this on some level, I shipped the first issue, sketchbooks, prints, etc up front, and then did a second shipment later, after all the issues came out. That reduced my Kickstarter funds greatly because shipping (especially international shipping) is very expensive. But again, that wait is a terrible thing for those backers that jumped on board first. So I highly suggest figuring out a way to compensate for this with your packages. Perhaps a digital copy via ComiXology up front? Not sure what the best solution is, but it's a problem you should be aware of.

Problem #2:  Declined cards. Credit card and debit card info is collected as people make their pledges. Once the project reaches its goal, those cards are billed and the funds are transferred to your Amazon account (similar to PayPal). Depending on how long you run your campaign, it could be up to several months between when the card info is collected, and the actual billing occurs. Turns out, about 25% of the funds pledged for my project were declined or canceled when that person's credit and debit cards got declined. It's understandable, shit happens. People move, change banks, go broke, etc. But that means your original total revenue gets reduced every time a card gets declined. So make sure you compensate for 'loss' in your original target amount. My loss was about 25% of total revenue, yours may be less (or more).

Problem #3: Amazon and Kickstarter skim funds directly off the top from your final total (minus declined cards). Again, like problem #2, make sure you compensate for this stuff. I don't recall the actual % taken from each source, but you should study those numbers and calculate accordingly. My advice is to go about 30% to 35% higher than your actual required financial goal to cover card loss and Amazon/Kickstarter fees.

Problem #4: Over promotion and SPAM. I was fortunate in that my project went viral and people were posting the link for me on regular intervals. But I did a lot of promo myself via my website, newsletter, blog, Twitter, Facebook, etc. But I've been seeing a trend of Kickstarter projects that promote non-stop online. The last thing you want to do is annoy the people you expect to support your project. Keep it classy, drop your link once a day at various times using whatever social media you'd like, but don't SPAM. No one likes SPAM.

Hope this helps.


Joey said...

As a recent success story of Kickstarter w/ my book Footprints (, I'm loving all the recent conversation about it. All your points are 100% spot on, and these are the same methods we used to find success.

Thanks for posting, and great work on Sweets!

Kody Chamberlain said...

Right on, Joey! Looking forward to checking out the book, and the Kickstarter page looks great, glad you got funded. How's progress on the book going?

Harper said...

Thanks for posting this. You answered a few questions I had about Kickstarter.

Will Terrell said...

Thanks Kody! You've always been so awesome at sharing information and experience. It is much appreciated. I can't wait to put your advice to work eventually!