If you're doing it right, it's the toughest job you'll ever take on. You'll feel anxious, elated, irritated, grateful, frustrated, righteous and exhausted. You'll spend double shifts at the computer, Facebooking, Tweeting, sending out news releases and answering backer's queries. There will be hair pulling, interrupted by happiness dances. But thank the gods of publishing for Kickstarter!
If you're the creator of an independent comic -- or any artist, or author -- the Chinese curse "May you live in interesting times" could have been written about you in 2013. With today's technology, it's never been easier to write, illustrate, design, layout or print your book. But how do you do this and eat? Even creative types have mortgages. And once you have book in hand, how do you break through the "sound and fury" of the Internet to let people know about your soon-to-be bestseller?
Enter Kickstarter, the first-choice crowd-funding site for works of art and literature, and the place where creator-owned comics find love. My own project, Harry Palmer: Starstruck, is a sci-fi noir graphic novel and the latest chapter in the Starstruck series I've been doing with artist Michael Kaluta, off and on, since the mid-1980s. We'd previously worked through publishers -- Marvel, Dark Horse and more recently IDW -- but we really loved the idea of going directly to our fans. We reached our basic funding goal only a few days ago, so I thought I'd take time to share what I've been learning about surviving a Kickstarter campaign.
#1 Before you start your campaign, throw a few bucks to the campaigns of other Kickstarter projects. It's good Karma and you'll begin to pick up followers who will look to see which projects you're backing. And when your own potential backers look at your Kickstarter profile, they'll see that you practice what you preach. I'd been donating to Kickstarters for a couple of years before jumping into the fire, but it's never too late to start.
#2 Build it (well) and they will come. Spend a few months building a solid campaign. Do not throw together something slapdash. You'll need a good video. Call in favors, if you have to. Have eye-catching images to go with your pitch. No one will read big blocks of copy, unless you give them some eye candy. (Insert picture here...)
#3 If your project is a large one, involves other people, or will take a while to complete, you'll want to become a legal business -- this can be as simple as filing a DBA -- and open a bank account for that business. If you use your personal bank account to receive Kickstarter funds, the IRS may think that cash is personal income, when every last nickel is going to produce your book, film, performance or gadget.
#4 Offer tempting incentives to your backers. A few gentle souls will donate from the goodness of their hearts, but most will be encouraged by the thought of the goodies they'll receive, once you've been funded and your project is complete. You'll want to offer your book, of course. T-shirts, prints or note cards featuring the cover or illustrations from your book, Skype chats with the author, or commentaries as audio downloads are all nice incentives. Let your imagination run wild, but think about the cost of shipping. If your book is titled Stone Soup, don't offer to mail the ingredients!
#5 Don't be a beggar, be an enthusiast. Make your backers feel as though they're part of creating a wonderful new work of art, because they really are. You can't do it without them. Once your campaign has started, send your backers frequent updates, letting them know how things are going and keeping them in the loop. Try and make your updates entertaining. Attach pictures. Keep it fun. And if your book takes a while to finish, manufacture and ship, keep the updates going, so your donors don't feel forgotten.
#6Think of your campaign as not only a portal for funding, but as the best free advertising you'll ever find. If you've done your work, your Kickstarter page will be engaging and fun, so send out media releases and use social networking sites to send new eyes there. Learn to love Facebook. A big hunk of our funding came from "Friends."
#7 Don't freak out when your funding slows down. You may get a big influx of money from friends, family and die-hard fans at the beginning of your campaign. But the money will slow down and the first day it stalls, or dribbles in a few bucks at a time, you'll feel like the world has ended. My friend and fellow Kickstarter vet, Dina Falconi, described the feeling this way: "You're like a kid whose parents have given him a chocolate sundae every day for a week. The first day you don't get the ice cream is a nightmare!"
#8 On the other hand, don't just sit there when things slow. Do something. Offer new perks or stretch goals. Send out another news release. Create a Facebook event. Call those cousins you haven't spoken to in years. Set up some interviews. Do podcasts. Blog. Did I mention this was exhausting? The modern world hates silence, so get out there and make noise!
#9Don't act on every complaint. Yes, you will get a few complaints. And it's easy to feel that if one person is upset, everyone is. If you're worried, come right out and ask your backers what they think in an update. I'm a big fan of backers' polls. They're a great way to find out what will make your donors happy.
#10 Number ten should tell you to try to relax and take frequent breaks from the campaign, but I haven't been able to do that, so why should you be any different? My son often tells me, "I'll sleep when I'm dead." Guess I'll sleep when the Kickstarter's over.