I don’t know if you heard, but recently I ran a successful Kickstarter campaign.
That was sarcasm, BTW, because I haven’t been talking about anything else since.
My kids book, Only Freaks Turn Things Into Bones – about a little grim reaper who gets bullied – will soon be out in the world. My lovely friend and incredible illustrator Bree Roldan is hard at work finishing off the cover and spreads, and I’m working on getting book pre-orders happening and few other important admin details for the project.
I learned so much from this book’s success. I think the concept really spoke to people – especially now, in this age of #metoo and 13 Reasons Why – and Bree’s wonderful illustrations make this crazy idea of mine actually WORK.
For all the other creatives out there, I thought I’d take the time to outline some of the things I think worked really well on our project, and what we learned that we can apply to future projects:
1. You gotta get the word out
Kickstarter is a great platform to manage your campaign. You may even find a few new fans from the platform. But unless your campaign goes viral or you get featured by Kickstarter (which is not something you can buy/guarantee), the majority of your backers will come from your network or your own marketing networks.
You can probably count on your parents and a few awesome friends to back your project. If you have a project that. Bree and I had wonderful support from our networks of friends and acquaintances I think because we focused a lot on the gift aspect of the books.
In order to reach your goal, you need to find backers outside your current circle of influence. You do this by figuring out who will back your project (not who will read your book – those two things are sometimes different) and how to reach them.
For Only Freaks Turn Things Into Bones, I identified three key audiences:
- Goths and alternative people who’d like the little Death aspect.
- People in the book / arts community who like to support creative projects.
- Parents and people who need to give kids gifts.
I reached out to the alternative community through Facebook groups and blogs. For the arts community, I asked to write blog posts on book blogs and community pages. For parents, we looked at parenting magazines and groups. I had pre-existing contacts in some places because of all my previous projects, and I took advantage of them as much as possible.
We also hired an amazing publicist, Elizabeth Heritage, to help us get the word out about the book. She was able to help us reach big media outlets like Stuff.co.nz and Radio NZ. We incorporated her fee into our book budget.
A note about media: The further a platform is from Kickstarter, the harder it is to get backers. For example, my Radio NZ interview only resulted in 3 pledges coming directly from the Radio NZ website. We believe this is because getting people who are listening to go to their computer and type in an address is harder than getting people who are already online to click on a link.
However, the value of this media can’t be measured in the dollar value of backers. They help build your profile so that more people know who you are, and they can present you with other opportunities. (As you’ll soon find out, because we have a big announcement to make any day now!)
2. Be involved in the Kickstarter community
I’ve been supporting Kickstarter campaigns for years before we launched Only Freaks Turn Things Into Bones. A lot of the projects I’ve backed have been in the children’s book category or other weird books. One of the best things I did in the middle of the campaign – when things were lagging a bit – was contact all the creators of the book projects I’d backed, told them how much I loved their work, and showed them my project. Four of them graciously shared my project with their backers, and this resulted in $890 for our book.
During my campaign, I also received a lot of similar requests from other writers to share their book with my audience. None of these people had backed my project, and for some of them, the quality just wasn’t there. I think if you’re going to do this, you need to at the very least already be a fan/backer of the person you’re asking for a favour. I would happily share projects from fans who have work that my audience would love, but I’m less inclined to share the work of random strangers. I’m sure other creators feel the same way.
3. Engage your backers
This part seems kind of obvious, but you won’t believe how often people forget to simply ask their backers to help spread the word.
Your backers already support you. They’re already excited about the project and engaged in the creative process. Every time you post an update, remind backers to share the project.
Our backers also got the Kickstarter page in front of people, such as passing it around their office and posting it on parenting FB groups. Backers would message me in excitement – “I just got my boss to back the book!” “Two people said they backed you today!” They are the best cheerleaders you could ask for.
On the last week of our project, I noticed another Kickstarter I was backing reminded their backers that they could change their pledge level if they wanted to. I decided to try this with our backers. I let them know that they could change their pledge if they decided they wanted an extra book or a t-shirt or one of the other cool rewards. Overnight, eight backers upped their pledges to higher reward tiers, resulting in nearly $300 of extra funding.
At the end of your campaign, think of something really awesome you can give your backers to say “thanks for supporting my crazy idea.” We made a PDF colouring page of characters from the book, so people can print it out and colour it in. I’ve heard from a few backers the colouring pages are pinned up in offices and on fridges. How cool is that?
4. Make a video
I really, REALLY didn’t want to do a video. I get nervous because of how my eyes look on camera, and I don’t really like my voice. However, every article about successful Kickstarters said “By Odin’s beard, make a video!” so we did.
People clicked on our video 547 times, and 37.4% of those clicks resulted in a full watch of the video. Many backers commented on the video. I fully believe the video played a vital role in getting us to our goal.
5. Have something to talk about
Even though we had some pages already complete at the beginning of the project to promote on the Kickstarter page (and you should absolutely do this because backers need to see the quality/style) we wanted to have surprises to reveal throughout the campaign. We knew this would help keep their interest and give them something they could share with their friends and family.
Bree worked hard to produce four new pieces of artwork (plus our thank you gift) throughout the campaign. We also shared our media mentions and other news with our backers, and when we hit important campaign milestones.
Those are five things I believe contributed to our success, although I believe a HUGE part of it was down to Bree’s amazing illustrations. She really brought Little Death to life!
Here are five things I learned that I’ll be factoring in next time we do a campaign:
1. Utilize Facebook
Facebook was the top referrer for our campaign, sending us $2891 of our total funding. This was a combination of two ads I ran ($18 cost), me sharing on my personal and writing profiles, and friends sharing the post with their friends.
Literally, every time I shared the link on Facebook, someone new went along and pledged. I thought I’d annoy the hell out of everyone I love, but instead they commented and shared and helped push the message even further.
Next time, I’d set aside a bigger budget for Facebook ads and experiment with that as a channel.
2. Set a lower goal
Although we reached our goal (yay!) and we should have covered our costs for production and shipping (cross fingers!) we didn’t get close enough to hit our first stretch goal. I think to hit at least one of the stretch goals might have helped drive interest in the project and maybe enable us to raise more overall.
I think if I did it again, I would knock $1-2k off the goal so we’d hit it sooner and push toward the stretch goals.
3. Make more digital rewards
Even with only three physical rewards to make (the book, the t-shirt, the art prints), we still have a huge headache ahead of us when it comes to production and shipping. I live in New Zealand, Bree lives in London and our backers are spread far and wide across the world. We chose mostly digital rewards for our stretch goals so everyone could enjoy them, which I do think was a good idea, but for a future project, I might look at including more digital bonus content reward tiers to cut down on the shipping nightmares.
4. Have pre-orders ready as soon as the campaign ends
I’ve had messages from people who want a copy of the book but didn’t hear about the Kickstarter in time. We’re working on a way to manage book pre-orders, but it’s taking a bit longer than I’d hoped because reasons. In future, I’d have this on lock so we could point people on the Kickstarter page directly to a pre-order page.
5. Look for international press
Because of the high shipping costs of getting our book out to overseas backers, I focused our marketing efforts on New Zealand. However, I was surprised by just how many overseas backers we had. Well over half the backers for physical rewards have chosen overseas shipping (I’ll have a more exact idea once I’ve sent out the surveys). I did not expect this, but I guess it makes sense. I back Kickstarter projects all the time even if the shipping is CRAZY because the idea is too cool.
In a future campaign, I’d look at approaching more international publications and blogs for PR.
There you have it! If you’re thinking of running a book-related Kickstarter campaign (or any crowdfunding campaign), I hope you find this advice useful and experience all the joy of seeing your project become reality!
Stay tuned for some exciting news about Only Freaks Turn Things Into Bones.
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