When I launched my Kickstarter project about two months ago, I wasn’t sure what to expect. How was I going to promote my project and make it relevant to the community? Most of the successful projects seemed big and exciting to the world, while my project was a small little novel I’d written.
I noticed that publishing projects weren’t the sexiest projects on Kickstarter. I still wanted to experiment with the platform though, so I decided to learn as much as I could about running a project on Kickstarter.
I did what any good artist would do: I emailed other people who ran successful projects similar to mine and tried to implement their advice. They helped me a ton and I wanted to share the advice they gave me:
On Running Your Project
Most of your funding comes from people you know.
Most of the people I surveyed said their funding came from friends, or sometimes, friends of friends. Many quoted that around 90% came from friends or family. I would have to agree with this figure from my own experience, and purposely set my fundraising goal with this in mind.
Otherwise, know your audience.
I have a popular blog with over 2500 subscribers, a mailing list with over 2500 subscribers, a Twitter handle with over 7,000 followers. The only problem is that they are all connected to me for my professional non-fiction writing and most have little interest in the fiction writing I have.
That doesn’t mean I didn’t get tons of support from them–I did. They were willing to interview me about the project, tweet for me, and support me by purchasing a book either for themselves or as a gift. But the point is, don’t count on your current network to pledge… more people doesn’t equal more pledges because relevancy is key. Finding a targeted audience of people you don’t know online could be just as effective as targeting your family and friends!
Set a reasonable goal.
Phil Simon was successful in raising $4000 for his business book, The New Small. He explained that this was because he offered something of value to an audience he had been building around the same topic, business advice for small business owners.
If you are writing a novel, it’s much harder to come up with the “value,” and it’s much harder to to raise a large sum of money. Most of the novels I saw set their fundraising goals between $500 and $1500. Know what’s reasonable from the beginning, because you can always raise beyond your goal as long as you hit the goal in the first place!
Figure out why you’re fundraising.
Most people who used Kickstarter to fund their novel mainly used it to take pre-orders. I perhaps went a bit overboard with my project and tried to come up with something a little too creative: to turn my entire novel into an free digital experience of Youtube videos. Ambitious!
My thought was that people cared about the future of publishing the same way I did, and would be interested in how a long work of text translated into online mediums. But no one was that interested in that specific concept, though they thought it was cool. Still, most people funded the project because they are a friend or they read the first chapter and enjoyed it.
As Tonya Foster, author of Waiting on Humanity, put it, “Most of my backers were family and friends and the rewards didn’t mean much to them. Most just want a copy of the book that they are backing. I think strangers are the ones that like the rewards.”
So keep it simple–people will still respond!
The most popular rewards are $30 and under.
This makes sense because the price of books is fairly inelastic, meaning that most people know a book costs around $25 or less. People aren’t willing to pay a huge premium on your book, so if you want to create rewards higher than $30 you should consider selling bulk packages.
What do these $30 and under rewards look like? Most people offered a digital donation for around $5, a single book+digital edition for between $15-25, and then did bulk orders for 3 packs, 5 packs, and 10 packs. For larger rewards, Ken Schneyer, author of Are you the Agent or the Controller?, offered a $100 reward to provide a prompt for one of his short stories. Phil Simon offered a $200 book dedication to two people–and sold them both.
I also experimented with selling a “fan” edition (with author notations about the writing process), character namings, and short stories set in the world.
Play with pricing.
If one of your rewards isn’t selling, don’t forget you can change it! Kickstarter allows you to change any reward that no one has chosen. If I could do one thing over, I would play with the prices of some of my higher rewards. They don’t cost a lot to deliver, so I lowered some of those rewards to get a few more big donations before the end of my fundraising. And it worked!
The other reason to do this is it gives you a good reason to re-contact everyone who hasn’t pledged yet. Add late rewards to tempt late backers. I wish I had done a price change around the mid-point of my project as well, but it definitely worked during the last push!
On Writing Your Project
Write a good explanation of your novel.
Many authors who use Kickstarter are self-published, which means they haven’t written a query yet. The way you explain your novel is important, and it’s also essentially the body of a query. You can learn so much about writing queries from reading one blog: Query Shark. My favorite one is here. Use this description of your novel as the first paragraph of your Kickstarter project.
Summarize your novel in one sentence at the very beginning.
This was a tip from Brian Kittrell, author of The Dying Times, a zombie novel. He writes, “I’d recommend adding a catch phrase early on. I get the idea that your book is about supernatural forces, bullying, and the life of teenagers in modern society. What I don’t quite understand is how all these things play in together. For instance, on my Kickstarter project, I started out at the very front with ‘Do you like zombies?’ It clarifies to people what the book is about in broad terms and, for those who like zombies (i.e. those who would actually pledge to the book), they would keep reading to understand the project.”
If you can summarize your novel in a catchy sentence, around 20 words, you will signal to people who enjoy your genre that they should keep reading. Questions seem to be good for this.
Explain all jargon used in your rewards section.
My novel is an urban fantasy and I discuss Hallows and Nephilim. If you have terms like these, make sure you define them in the rewards section. I defined them in the body of Kickstarter, but not everyone reads that section first.
Create a video.
As writers, we hate creating videos! You can create one fairly easy though, and they are a must for Kickstarter projects. Some authors simply got on camera and explained the premise of their book, while many used book trailers, which are much better for the camera-shy types. You can create a book trailer easily with free images and music found through creativecommons.org.
“Make everything snappy and fun.”
This was the advice that came from Belinda Kroll, author of Haunting Miss Trentwood, a historical thriller. She writes, “Make sure people can feel your enthusiasm and make them feel like they are part of something amazing.”
Include a sample.
I posted the first four chapters of my book online at http:/sevenhalosseries.com. Many people read the first part of the book and were dying to know what happened next! Some even raised their funding level after reading. The sample definitely pushed people to pledge and helped up the stakes to spread the word.
On Marketing Your Project
For marketing, Facebook rules.
Most authors said they posted multiple times on Facebook. Several suggested posting about the initial project, then posting updates at 10%, 20%, etc. I didn’t post that often, but I do think posting about milestones, additional rewards, and any updates to your project is valuable for reminding people and getting more coverage.
People also posted on Twitter and blogs. My advice is to post wherever you can, since you never know who’s watching!
Update your project regularly.
Brian Kittrell said he updated his project every 1-2 days and thanked every one of his new backers. Then he thanked all of his backers in the next paragraph. He reports that he had a mix of family/friends and people he didn’t know, and it may be because he spent so much time in the community.
Many authors said that the regular updates were key, especially when they gave a behind-the-scenes look at how the project was progressing. Don’t be afraid to share the gritty details–people like them!
Back other projects.
This isn’t a must, but it helps to be part of the community you are trying to fundraise in! Don’t back projects just to back them, but if you find something you like, support the artist. Kickstarter is a community for artists as well as a platform.
Reach out locally.
Surprisingly, several authors said they reached out to their local artistic community for support. Authors did local readings, posted at local bookstores, and posted on community message boards. None really specified how much this helped the Kickstarter project specifically, so only use this if you have the time.
Email people you know.
Randy Sappo, author of Kylie and Kip, a children’s book, swears by this. He writes, “I sent out emails to hundreds of friends and families as soon as I started the project and about a third of my money came in in the first 48 hours. I continued to send solicitation emails every two to three weeks, and each time, I got a sizable sum of money within 48 to 72 hours. Many people intended to help, but put it aside and forgot until I sent another email. Then in the last three days I sent an email each day as we came up to our deadline. I explained that I wasn’t trying to hassle them and joked that the emails would end soon.”
He also says that you shouldn’t worry about harassing your friends. “My sister (the author) sent out a few to her friends, but only petitioned each of them once, and NONE of them ever responded. She didn’t want to be a pest…frankly, I didn’t care. As far as I know, none of my friends hate me for trying repeatedly to sell them something I am producing.”
Don’t be afraid to promote yourself! If you do good work and you are proud of it, put it out there into the world. If you are worried about too many emails, settle for three:
- An initial announcement
- A mid-way update on progress
- A final push, about a week to four days before the project ends
Ask your backers for help.
Many authors said that when they didn’t have an update to their project, they just asked their backers to pass the project along to friends who might like the genre. Asking through Facebook worked best, and many were surprised by the friends of friends they were able to connect with when their backers/friends reposted the project on their own Facebook pages using the “Share” feature.
Read other blog posts about successful projects.
What I researched was specific to books, mostly novels. Don’t forget to look at the broader picture though. I also read these blog posts from really successful projects:
- Financing a book or any creative project on Kickstarter by Brian Kitrell
- [Podcast] How To Run A Kick-Ass Kickstarter Campaign
- (On the Kickstarter blog) Tips from Creators and Beyond
- 10 Tips for Funding a Successful Kickstarter Project
- $24,000 in 30 days (re)making Art Space Tokyo
- Lessons Learned in the Land of Crowdfunding
There are tons of gems in these that I tried not to repeat here, since they were explained so well elsewhere. Good luck!