Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Ballad of Kickstarter Part 2

Previously, in The Ballad of Kickstarter Part 1 we’ve seen our romantic myths about publishing shattered by drunken Uncle Kickstarter, and we’ve stumbled in on Aunty Publishing swigging gin at two in the afternoon. But, the human heart is nothing if not hopeful!

If it’s not the case that every book on the shelf is a success, and if publishing isn’t a well-oiled machine in which everyone is paid well and good work always gets rewarded, then we need another myth!

Here it is: “Crowd Funding is Easy Money”.

Even if Uncle kickstarter is mostly drunk, he’s also stinking rich, and he gives it out to ANYONE with a half-arsed comic or a lame idea for a video game. Even whilst we ridicule him, and poke fun at all his silly unprofessional ideas, we secretly wish that we were the ones he was giving money to, because surely anyone with half a brain and some spare time can get funded!

And I must admit, that without fully realising it, I’d bought into slightly less jaded version this idea myself when I started the IndieGoGo campaign for The Firelight Isle. I’d just come off the back of an extremely popular webcomic, working for one of the best known writers in comics, I was confident and a little na├»ve. It didn’t take me a long time to realise my mistake, and I’m going to be honest about exactly how I made it, so that others can approach crowd funding realistically too:

  1. I went in without enough material. You can’t get proper funds off the back of vague promises about a project to come. I’d gone so far as to create a website, do some poster art, write up paragraphs about how I’d use the money, but in the end, I hadn’t got a single page of the actual project to show up-front. Half way through the campaign I was less than half way to my total, and my traffic rates were dropping alarmingly. I knew that I needed to do something a little special to reach my goal. Because there were solid reasons that I couldn’t produce sample pages, I made an animated trailer instead, and that did the trick, but it was a LOT of work to make something good enough to get people properly excited.
  2.  I underestimated how much effort promotion is. Promoting my project and driving traffic to the site was hard work! This is a major factor, you can’t just send out one or two tweets and a blog article and wait, you have to be constantly reminding people, constantly talking about it, constantly coming up with ways to make people excited enough to talk about your project to other people. You have to call in favours and bug people who you know don’t want to be bugged. It wasn’t until after I’d made the trailer, and talked to my sister (who works in digital marketing) that I really cracked this, and even then it took effort.
  3. I didn't realise how much money Admin costs. Even after you’ve made your total, the simple fact that you’ve succeeded comes with its own burden. Emailing everyone, spending the time to track the money, fulfil the perks, keep the site updated, it all takes time, and the money for that time has to come from somewhere.
  4. Perks and Fees mean that totals aren't as impressive as they seem. You can knock anywhere between 20% and 50% of the total money raised by any kickstarter campaign off simply because of the money tied up in fees and fulfilling people’s perks. Even very very well-funded campaigns will rarely actually make any profit, and profit isn’t the purpose. All the money eventually goes back into something directly relating to the campaign.

So you need at least a few of the following to get a successful campaign finished:
  • good material that stands out from the crowd
  • a head for business and admin
  • a head for marketing and time to generate traffic
  • a pre-existing crowd of fans who already trust you
  • a back-log of projects
  • perseverance and the confidence to shout about yourself.

And if you don’t have a number of those things, you won’t have a successful campaign. I learnt all this on the fly, and even after achieving my goal, I’ve had to be careful with every penny I raised in order to use it how I’d promised to use it.

Hopefully I’ve shattered two myths here about publishing and crowd funding respectively. We can dispense with all this “drunken uncle and aunt” stuff. Crowd funding is not easy money, and more often than not, you need to be a dedicated creator with a pre-existing fan-base to think about getting a decent sum of money for a new project.

To end with, have a glance at the most funded comics and games. It’s full of recognisable creators, properties with large fan bases, professional looking products and well managed project pages.

So, some things to remember about kickstarter: If they weren't asking you for funding, they'd have to ask a publisher. If you didn't have to take a risk, an editor would. If you don't pay for the costs of production up-front, you still pay for them with the price of the product itself! Kickstarter cuts out the middle-man, and it can be argued whether this is ultimately a good or a bad thing. But one way or the other, it makes the creative process a lot more transparent, and this is a positive change in my opinion.


  1. There was actually one other issue with your IndieGoGo campaign: you weren't able to offer the perk I actually wanted.

    I pledged a relatively small amount, even though I really want to read The Firelight Isle, because I want to buy a copy of the comic. I couldn't really justify the more expensive levels knowing I'll (happily) be paying a chunk of cash as soon as the hard copy is available.

    1. I wish I could have offered that to more people, and I tried to find a way to do it. But the campaign was to fund the development stage of the project, and at the time I had only a basic idea how it would be printed (and I'm still not 100% sure). All I was able to guarantee to most contributors was that it would be available on the Web (which it will be). I'd worst comes to worst, and it's never printed en-mass, I can still produce one off copies of the book for the higher contributors. Because of that it was more of a conscious decision than the short-sighted things I've listed in this article, although as you pointed out it wasn't ideal! Once the webcomic is out, hopefully that should be resolved for everyone who didn't have the option first time round :)

  2. One of the major problems I found with IndieGoGo (which I think they have now rectified) was the fact that that you would receive your funding even if you didn't meet your goal. This seemed great at the time but it turned my project into a huge burden.

    I raised less than 20% of my goal and, while this doesn't sound like a lot, it was still a significant amount of money ($1500). This left me with an obligation to complete the project but insufficient funds (and therefore time) to do so.

    As I said, I think IndieGoGo now allow you to receive funds only when the project reaches its goal, but before this was the case a strong back-up plan was definitely a necessity and something I wish I better anticipated.