Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Kindness of Strangers: How I Funded My Self-Published Novel With Kickstarter

The best time to prepare a Kickstarter project is a few years ago. Your history of generosity creates a bank of goodwill from which you can draw. The second best time to prepare is right now.
On July 13, I launched a $2500 Kickstarter project that raised $3,027. Direct contributions raised an additional $1,185 for a total of $4,212. After fees, I grossed $3,909. After paying for the rewards to backers, collateral materials, and shipping, I netted about $3400—a good chunk of the cost of self-publishing Little Deadly Things.
Success is not rocket science. It’s just hard work plus a few basics. Here’s what I learned.
Write a damned good book and a perfect Kickstarter pitch. Twelve percent of my funding came from strangers browsing Kickstarter for interesting projects. An indifferent pitch and the kindness of strangers will pass you by.
Aim low. Set a funding goal that you can attain or exceed. If you fall short of your goal, your project will not be funded.
End your project on the second weekend of the month. The first paycheck of the month pays the bills. The second check is more disposable. Don’t end a project at month end, when the money’s spent.
Short projects work better than long ones. Maintain a sense of urgency, and stay focused.
Backers help people they like. People you know won’t care about your project so much as they will care about you. Don’t take it personal. Make it personal.
Backers, II. Your generosity is infectious. Be a vector of giving to gain credibility. More about that at the end of this blog—don’t miss it.
Backers, III. People you’ve helped will help you. But there’s a caveat:  if you touch someone’s life, stay connected. I’ve done a lot of pro-bono work, but the only ones who responded to a solicitation were the most recent of the folks I helped, or those with whom I’ve stayed in touch.
Everybody likes a hero. Nobody likes a mooch. Use social networks wisely. I posted daily on Facebook. People were interested in the book’s progress and experienced my journey vicariously. But I was careful to mention my  Kickstarter project only three times.
One-third of my pledges came through the Little Deadly Things’ Facebook page. Remember to build your story on social media well before you start your funding appeal.
You must have a project video. It doesn’t have to be fancy. Check out the LDT video. It’s clearly home grown, but it worked.
Keep your video short. 197 people clicked on my five-minute video, but only 20% watched to the end. Your video should be well under three minutes.
Communicate well. Successful projects require strategic Updates. Too few, too many, or overly long Updates can mean failure. Short sentences and paragraphs are easier to read.
Rewards rule! The perceived value of the reward should approximate the size of the pledge. Browse Kickstarter to see what other project creators offer.
Rewards, II. You must include low-dollar value rewards. Nearly one out of three Kickstarter backers pledged $10. Their reward was an eBook, which was very profitable because there are no inventory or shipping costs.
Rewards, III. International backers preferred eBook rewards due to extra shipping costs and customs fees. If you ship print books internationally, indicate “Gift” on the customs form to avoid fees charged to the backer.
Rewards rule, IV. Shipping is the tail that wags the dog. I underestimated these costs. Also, I offered posters as a reward. I had to purchase mailing tubes and extra postage. Wish I’d thought that through!
Do not kick in your own money in order to hit your goal. It may be considered money-laundering. Your project may be taken down and the pledges cancelled.
Compliment Kickstarter with direct mail. One-third of my support came from people who do not frequent the internet. Bone up on how to write a fund-raising appeal.  Ask local shopkeepers how they handle requests for donations. Six percent of my proceeds came from shops I patronize.
Support Grubstreet’s young writers. Read Little Deadly Things. Starting in January, Little Deadly Things will fund a quarterly scholarship for the Grubstreet Young Adults Writers Program. You can help YAWP—and read a damned good novel—with your purchase. Buy from the LDT site, or from Amazon. You can even borrow the Kindle version free, from the Amazon Prime Lending Library. That helps YAWP too. Find out why YAWP might have saved a main character’s life.
Kickstarter is a heckuva lot of work. But it’s worthwhile.  Best of all, it will make you a better writer.

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