How To Run A Kickstarter
This is going to be a big one. So big, in fact, that I was tempted to separate this into two parts. So, be warned, this is a long one (around 4000 words!) but hopefully there will be parts of it you might find useful!
Disclaimer: I am no expert in running Kickstarters and I purposely ran all of mine (4 to date: here is a link to my previous ones) very simply with very few 'add ons' and didn't use pledge managing systems at the end of the campaign. I used Kickstarter purely to enable me to make books with very few frills. Even if you follow all this blog to the letter there is sadly no guarantee your campaign will succeed, these are just the things which have worked for me.
Kickstarters! Everyone seems to be doing them, right? How do you make sure they are a success? What do you need to check before launch?
The first thing you should do if you are planning on a Kickstarter, before reading this, is to read the HUGE amount of advice that Kickstarter has itself over on its page. Everything you need is there and what's more, loads of other creators have written blogs about how they ran their campaigns (and about why they failed too, also very important to read!). One Fantastic Week over on Youtube also have loads of shows dedicated to talking to creators about their Kickstarter successes and failures. If you still don't feel confident then you can even go and check out the Kickstarter course by Stephanie Law over at Make Your Art Work where she shares her wealth of knowledge in running Kickstarters.
Now over to me, what did I do? (In no particular order of importance)
This blog is exclusively about my experience in running an art book Kickstarter, but could be applied to other creative endeavours too! First of all I did a LOT of research. I looked at previous successful art book Kickstarters since my first KS (I will use KS to shorten the word Kickstarter from now on) and looked at the way they laid out their campaigns and what sort of things they offered. I also am fortunate to share my life with another artist, Matt Dixon, who had already run successful Kickstarters before me and he is a big influence on how I run mine.
1. A HOBBY OR A BUSINESS?
Decide how you want to run this campaign. KS's are VERY hard work (do not underestimate this, and they don't get much easier the more you do!), they take up a lot of time and a lot of energy (emotional and physical). You deserve to be paid for your time and unless you have a source of income which means you don't have to make a profit on your project, then I strongly suggest you treat it as a business and make sure to work a profit into it in order to pay you for your time. Publishers don't make books without profit margin or they will go out of business, so why would you?
Time is precious and I personally can't afford to spend several months of work on something without any payment at the end. If you already have independent income that means you don't have to make profit, then that is great, you can maybe go a bit more crazy with extras! (You should still budget sensibly though!)
2. KEEP IT SIMPLE
I just wanted to print my book, any extras were a bonus. I didn't want to deal with lots of 'add ons' because that would mean I had to chase people for their choices after the campaign (and as anyone who has run a KS knows, it's not always easy to get hold of people!) and it just adds to the already large workload. So for example, when I was offering a book plus a print, I didn't give a choice of print, I only offered a print of my choosing, this makes fulfilment much easier. Using a pledge managing company (Pledge Manager, CrowdOx, Backerkit etc) can help you gather backers choices after the event, however, YOU will still have to go through all the results and order/sort/ship out all those different prints and pack them up.
Hardback or perfect bound? I chose perfect bound as it kept my costs down (for shipping too as the books are much lighter and a huge part of my customer base are international) and I was trying to get to a point where my work could support me financially so every few pence and pounds of profit were important. I do want to make a hardback book in future when my business is more stable.
I know a lot of people like to add lots of stretch goals or unlock goodies along the way (especially if the KS goes incredibly well), but do not get carried away as it can seem like you have lots of extra cash to play with, but you need to do your sums/budgeting before launch. Don't get tempted to add too many extras (especially if you are not great with maths, like me!) that you find yourself either only just covering costs or worse, losing money.
Work out what stretch goals you could add BEFORE you launch and know where to stop. If you are not good with numbers then find a friend who is to help you out with this. With my first KS I worked a couple of my stretch goal plans into the funding goal before I launched so I knew it would be safely covered in my costs. Any extras I added after the start of the campaign were light (extra prints in my case) so that it would not impact on cost or shipping too heavily).
3. PROMOTE, PROMOTE, PROMOTE
The only way people will know about your KS is if you tell them. A lot of people I think imagine that just the act of putting up a KS on the site will mean that people will find them, this is not the case. You have to get people excited about your project. When I made Strangehollow I didn't have a huge social media following, but I did have some and they were very communicative/interactive and I also had my patrons over on Patreon. I started to post about it at least 2-3 months before I launched my campaign, teasing various parts of the book, telling folks about the creatures (NOT every day at this point) and drawings and paintings. The longer you tease your project the more excitement you will generate (well, that's the idea!). Look and see how other artists have handled this part of their project. I don’t think 6 months is a bad idea as a preamble, but be careful not to share everything before launch! Once you get close to launch you can get more frequent and create a countdown (and a facebook events page if you like too) to get everyone REALLY excited.
During the campaign you want to post every day on social media (especially on Twitter). Make sure to keep some artwork secret until you launch so you can use these to make your posts. I set up my daily planned posts in advance, so I had an idea of what to post about every day of the 30 day campaign. You can post about any original art you are adding (if you have any) and so on. People generally don't see all of your posts so don't worry about spamming anyone. If they don't like it or aren't interested then they will scroll by, plus the algorithms mean that some folks don't even see all of them. Keep artwork aside that is purely for the finished book (this is if you are making a book of course!) so that you haven't revealed all the goodies and that you have some fun surprises for people when they receive their books. (I shared all the dragons for my dragon calendar however as I approached a calendar slightly differently and it was a shorter (2 week) campaign).
This is when having a newsletter is very helpful (if you don’t, set one up now!) as you have a direct line to everyone who is interested in what you make. I wouldn’t send more than 4 newsletters out during a month long campaign but you will know your following best.
I have paid for a couple of ads in the past (Facebook) but I didn’t really see any spike when I did, but I only ever paid small amounts (£25 at the most!). I relied on shares from fellow social media folks.
4. FUNDING GOAL
This is always a tricky one to figure out. Even If you have thousands of followers who are very engaged with you and you KNOW that loads of them are interested you should still be working out your budget with a number of backers you KNOW are going to back you. So if you only have a handful of followers, find out how much it would cost you to make 50 books rather than 500 and that will of course keep the funding goal nice and low.
When I did my first KS I didn’t really know how many would back it but I was pretty confident that I could sell 200 (if not during the actual KS I thought I would have some left over for my shop afterwards). I worked out how many people I needed to back just the book to cover the cost of printing 200 of them and that was my starting point. Once you have costed out the print costs, shipping (see below) and any other extras you are offering add a ‘buffer’ to that. There will always be extra expenses that pop up (that you can’t predict) so it’s good to have a safety net there for you.
5. SHIPPING COSTS
DO NOT FORGET SHIPPING! When you are working out your funding goal make sure to add shipping (unless you are using a pledge manager, in which case you can choose to add shipping after the campaign, but for me as a creator AND a backer I prefer to pay all of it at the end of the campaign, not at a later date, just personal preference!). You can work out how much it will cost to ship your book by working out the weight (the printer should help you with this) and going to your local post office to find out the cost that it would be for each book when all packaged up. I was able to use a magazine to estimate the weight of what it would cost to send my books.
I only use tracked and signed shipping for the original artwork in the KS and keep it to standard shipping for the rest of the items to keep the cost down.
If you decide to add shipping using a pledge manager after the campaign then make sure this is very clear on every reward tier. People will often not read the info anyway as they are too excited to back, but make sure it is there!
6. CHOOSE A PRINTING COMPANY IN YOUR COUNTRY IF YOU CAN
This might not be possible for some, but for me I wanted to support a UK business so I didn’t even consider using overseas printers even though they might be cheaper. Using a UK printer meant that I could be pretty sure when I would receive the books and therefore have a better estimate of when I could let backers know fulfilment would be, a case of up to 2 weeks turnaround from when you send them the files, sometimes less. (Not to mention no air/sea miles!) - go seek out your local printer or at least a printer in your own country, they are out there! Google that stuff!
Find out how much your book is going to cost BEFORE you launch. You need to know exact numbers and not just guess vaguely what you will need to make the project happen. Obviously there may be changes after launch but this is what buffers are for as mentioned earlier.
7. YOUR PROJECT SHOULD BE COMPLETE OR ALMOST!
You don’t have to follow this rule of mine at all because there are many ways to run a KS (including ones which are to fund the creation of the whole thing/idea, not just the printing of the book, computer games are a good example of this but this is not how I have run mine so I am sticking with what I know!).
If you can complete your project before you launch then you will be able to be very accurate on turnaround times for fulfilment. The first couple of times I made a KS I had my book 70-85% completed. In future I aim to have them as good as 100% finished before launch (this is helped by the fact I have a healthy Patreon page that keeps me afloat and client work to supplement that).
Some creators have used KS as a way of funding their time to make the whole book or most of it (or whatever thing it is they are making). They might only have the idea or bare bones of the project and ask people to pay for them to have the time off their regular work to make it. I have no experience in this whatsoever so you will need to look to others for info on how to do this if this is the sort of thing you were thinking of.
8. FULFILMENT TIMES
Always overestimate how long this will take. When you fill out your KS page and rewards it will ask you to enter in when you think the item you are making will be sent to the backer. This is always a guess, but if all you have to do is send the PDF to the printer once the money comes through then you will have a better idea when you will be able to start shipping (hence having everything done before launch makes everything easier!), but if you have to estimate how long it will take you to complete a book, be sure to be generous with that timeframe so you don’t have lots of backers messaging you asking where their goodies are. If you think it will take 3 months, say it will take 4. Then if it ends up being finished early then your backers will be thrilled!
I have done a few questionnaires about whether people even watch the KS videos and most seem to say no, but I am one of those people who DOES watch them! Also KS says that their analytics tell them that campaigns with a video are considerably more successful. Maybe part of the reason for this is that it gives the impression that someone has put effort into their project.
I have chosen not to be in the videos I have made (apart from my voice in the Strangehollow one) because I wanted to create an atmosphere which I felt would be spoilt by me popping up to say hello! I really enjoy videos I have seen where the creator is there talking about their project though, so go for it if you are comfortable with it! Otherwise there are many mobile based apps and reasonably priced programs on desktop that can help you make a snazzy video (I used Wondershare Filmora for my videos). Remember for the main KS video, keep it short, it doesn’t need to be a movie, 90 seconds is fine. Grab their attention and have fun with it!
You can also embed video into the ‘about’ section of your campaign, so if you need to show a video of some making of or behind the scenes (or show the original art you have for sale like I did), then you can put that there as well as having the ‘official’ video at the top.
10. BALANCED TIERS
Most people will just want the main offering (in my case a book) but it is good to have options for all budgets. Give people the opportunity to spend their money with you if they want to!
11. PAGE PRESENTATION
Go and look at your favourite KS campaigns, there will be some variety, but you can be sure the really successful ones will have a page which looks neat and tidy and is easy to navigate. I added a LOT of original art to my first campaign which did make it a bit of a long old scroll to the bottom, but it did not seem to negatively affect the overall success.
It is useful to show for each reward tier what people will be getting in visual form in price from low to high to match the order of the tiers that will be listed down the right hand side of the page. If you can add the odd animated gif in there, all the better (well, I at least, am a sucker for a moving picture!), but keep the fonts in your reward tier depictions you pick readable if you are going to use any (try to avoid arty and squiggly fonts, they might look nice but often very hard to decipher especially for non English speakers) and if you want to use more than one font then keep it to a maximum of two!
12. TELL A STORY - BE ENTHUSIASTIC
Why did you want to make this book? Why do you make the art you do? You don’t have to write a long essay (and it’s best you don’t), but if you can find your ‘USP’ (unique selling point) then that will help! Maybe you are obsessed with unicorns and you happened to grow up on a farm that bred Shetland ponies? You can easily weave those things together! Everyone has a unique story and life experience which will make their project stand out, even if the theme might be a popular one as fantasy definitely is!
Whatever you make, be enthusiastic about it. If you are not excited about your project then nobody else will be. Enthusiasm is contagious!
13. KEEP YOUR BACKERS IN THE KNOW
While your project is running you can message your backers about how it is going and of course to thank them. This is useful as you can tell them if you have added any new goodies to the campaign, but also when you have reached a stretch goal too!
AFTER the campaign make sure to keep your backers updated on the progress of your project. Post about when you have got your print orders delivered or your books, do an unboxing… you get the picture. An informed backer is a happy backer. They are the reason you are able to do this so it is best to keep them as up to date with what you are up to as is possible, that includes delays because of ill health or other obstacles.
14. WHERE SHOULD I START/SHOULD I RUN A KICKSTARTER?
If you have a small enthusiastic fan following on social media and a number of responsive and interactive fans then I would say yes, you can do this. Only you know whether you would be able to make it work though. If you have a following of 50 then it might not be time yet because the percentage of your followers who actually back you will be much much smaller. I think I was at approx 1500 followers on instagram and 88 patrons on my Patreon page at the time of launching Strangehollow. Kickstarter led more people to my Patreon page since 2017 as well.
If you have no experience of selling your art, no social media presence or no following then I would wait until you have spent a few years/months on creating that following before attempting it since it relies on your reach with promotion. There is no fast track to these things unfortunately, it is a marathon, not a sprint! Remember, people will not find your KS randomly so your fan base/following are an essential part of making this work.
15. STRETCH GOALS
Even though nearly every KS you see will have a stretch goal of some kind it is still not essential and still not built in to the KS platform itself. A great tip I was given was not to add any stretch goals on the page until I had launched. I had NO idea how well my KS would do and if I had tried to guess where to place my stretch goals, I would have run out of them very fast! Wait at least 24/48hrs and see how you are going until you release the goals and then you can balance them across the whole month more easily. They are a great thing to post about (although I don’t think they actually make people pledge more to get them, not with art book projects anyway). The first 2-3 days of a KS are always the busiest as that is when you send all your people (most of whom will pledge right away if they are big fans). I only added extras which were easy to package along with the book, no enamel pins or mugs or t-shirts that would have to be shipped separately.
Another nice way of doing stretch goals that I have seen other artists doing, is creating little illustrations that say that the goal is ‘locked’ before it has been reached and then you upload and replace it with a new ‘unlocked’ image when it has been reached. You could do this and tease what stretch goals you might have planned without sharing what funding amount you will set them at. This will build a bit of excitement at the potential goodies to be unlocked without you trying to second guess what funding amount to set them at.
16. EARLY BIRD?
I did do early bird offers on my first three Kickstarters. I decided to stop offering them purely because it didn’t seem to stop people pledging at the same tier after the early bird had ended (which in my case was only a £5 discount). There seems to be mixed feelings on this and I even saw someone on Twitter saying that they would on principle not back a KS that had an early bird since he felt that he was being penalised for not being fortunate to hear about the project till a later date! That is something I hadn't even considered when offering an early bird.
Most of the time when people visit a KS they already have an idea in their head of how much they are willing to pledge and will just look for a tier which fits their budget. The most popular tier on every single one of my KS campaigns was the tier with JUST the book/calendar in it and nothing else came close. Some people like extras but most aren’t bothered. This is a good reminder to not be tempted to add endless extras since it makes more work for you and ultimately will not be adding much value overall to the project. People want to back the star of the show, your book or print, the extras are superfluous.
17. WORKLOAD & MAKING TIME
This is a really big job (especially if you are doing an art book) and while I managed on my own with my biggest KS (approx 800 books to send out in the end in one go), I wouldn’t want to tackle anything much over that on my own. It will be different for every individual on what they can manage and dependent on what they produce (a set of prints is going to be much less work than a book plus lots of other extras obviously!). You know what you can handle and if you need help then you must ask for it, don't struggle on your own.
What you must do is set aside time for fulfilment (if you can) if you are still working in a full time job. If you can’t do this you must take into account how long the fulfilment will take when you are doing it in the evenings and make sure to factor that in to your fulfilment time. With my first KS I was still doing a lot of client work so I had to work the fulfilment around my other commitments.
18. WHEN TO LAUNCH
There are lots of graphs and charts online saying which are the best times of year to launch your KS which you will be able to find easily but try to start and finish on a week day if you can as weekends tend to be quieter (would you believe it) than week days for activity (at least they have been for me).
19. GOING TO PRINT
When your KS is over and you have made your goal (YAY!) then you need to figure out how many books to print. The more books you get printed the lower the cost for each book. Do you go to conventions or fairs where you can sell your books? Do you have an active online shop? Have you got enough books set aside in case of lost or damaged items?
I wanted to have enough books to sell in my online shop (I don’t do conventions anymore) so I made sure to make a bigger order than the number of backers I had. I have a fairly slow moving online shop so I still have lots of Strangehollow left and I will be making those available when I launch Strangehollow 2 later this year as part of a bundle.
20. LOST OR DAMAGED ITEMS
I always print enough books to fulfil any which have been lost or damaged on their way to the backer. There will always be a handful and the more books you send out the higher probability there will be that you need to do that. There are also countries that you KNOW will probably take weeks to arrive or not arrive at all sadly.
As an example, I had 144 backers for my Dragon calendar and set aside 10 calendars for this purpose and it’s unlikely I will need them all (only one has been re-sent). Make sure to take this into account when making your big print order!
If the second book/item doesn’t get to them then I am sadly unable to send another since it is just not possible as such a small business to do so and they would have to purchase the item again in order to receive one.
In conclusion, if you plan well, make something people love and promote it as much as possible, you should do ok!