Hi. Mark Waid here, intro’ing a guest blogpost by one of Thrillbent’s longtime contributors, Trevor Mueller, very much worth a read. Trevor’s Albert the Alien has been a success story for Trevor and his collaborators, and rather than ask us simply to endorse his upcoming Kickstarter campaign (which we do), he’s penned a very informative process piece which we encourage you to read and share. Thanks!
Last year, Albert the Alien artist and co-creator Gabo and I launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund the character’s first graphic novel: ALBERT THE ALIEN VOLUME 1: NEW IN SCHOOL. The campaign was a success – the first successfully Kickstarter funded Thrillbent series (and for their first syndicated all-ages series, to boot)!
Kickstarter was such a great help, we decided to fund the second graphic novel on there as well: ALBERT THE ALIEN VOLUME 2: THE SUBSTITUTE TEACHER FROM PLANET X! The campaign launched on May 31, and you can check out the project here.
Albert the Alien volume 2 cover
People have been asking us how we did it. It’s hard to find a silver bullet that’s going to work for every person every time. If I had that golden ticket, I’d be doing Kickstarters every few months! But that said, I would like to provide some helpful insights on things we learned during our Kickstarter campaign – A few key items that have stuck with us from last year, and that we’re keeping in mind for this year’s campaign.
I want to start by saying that your experience may vary. No two people have the same experience on Kickstarter, and I’m sure our experience this time around will be different from last year. Having a big name can be helpful, but having a big fan base (or even better, a quality product) can help even more. It’s really going to depend on how much effort you put into the project, and into the campaign to make your project. With that said, below please find the Top 7 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Started my Kickstarter:
1) It’s a time commitment
Kickstarter campaigns are a lot of work. Before they start, while they’re going, and after they’ve ended. I spent about 4-6 weeks prepping for our Kickstarter prior to hitting the “launch” button. And that doesn’t count anything about content in the book (finding my guest artists, writing bonus stories, etc). That’s just researching and getting the assets together for the campaign itself. Some of the things we had to do were 1) write the script for the video; 2) film and edit the video; 3) figure out our costs, our goal, and our timing; 4) figure out what rewards would appeal to our fans; 5) get tracking into place so we could see what promotions were proving successful (and which were a waste of time / money); 6) figure out shipping (not just postage, but packaging); the list goes on.
During the campaign I was posting about the Kickstarter 5-10 times per day. Making updates, reaching out to friends, fans, and family, and trying to get the word out about the project to the masses. This was no easy feat. Thankfully, Albert is a quality product, and it’s easy for me to talk about how awesome he is. We also had some great endorsements from industry pros who loved Albert (Mark Waid among them). We got some great coverage during the campaign (and even more after it ended).
After the campaign ended, I had to put the book together, collect bonus stories and art from our guest artists, collect photo references from our appearance backers (people who pledged enough money to appear in a story), and also ship the files off to the printer. We had a time table to get this book out in time for the holidays, and it was a tight timeline. There was little opportunity for missing a deadline, and those deadlines needed to be communicated out to the team. Which brings me to my next point…
2) Get organized — and stay that way
Making comics is a lot of fun, but it’s also a lot of work. Especially if you’re self-publishing a book, like I was. I had to juggle 5+ artists, photo references from 23+ pledgers, work with shipping companies to get the best rates (both domestically and internationally), and also work with the printer to make sure they were making their deadlines to print and ship the book. There are a lot of moving pieces that all need your attention when putting a book together on your own. Thankfully, it was my our first attempt at self-publishing a comic book. However, it was our most ambitious to date.
This is what a pallet of 700 books looks like, weighing approximately 800lbs. The work’s not done when the campaign ends
3) Set realistic (budget) goals
Lots of people ask how to set their goals for the book. I was paying for my artists out of pocket, so I ate those costs. But the printing, shipping, shipping supplies, etc all needed to be accounted for in the funds we received. And printing (especially in color) and shipping are EXPENSIVE. Also, Kickstarter and Amazon take a cut of the earnings (approximately 5% each). So how do you set a realistic / attainable funding goal for Kickstarter?
Let’s talk about every creative person’s favorite topic for a moment: math.
I started by totaling all of my costs: printing, shipping, supplies, etc. I then added 10% to that to cover the Amazon and Kickstarter fees. Our total was about $8,000 (which was our funding goal). I then took that number and divided it by 25. Why 25? Because this is statistically the most popular funding level for Kickstarter campaigns. This is likely where you will receive the bulk of your backers. So dividing your total by 25 tells you how many backers you need at $25 each to reach your goal.
Our number was 320.
I knew 320 people who wanted to back this project. So this was a very attainable goal. In the end, we had 171 backers for our first project – but many of them pledged a lot more than $25.
4) Expect to pay more
Even though our Kickstarter was successfully funded, I lost money on the campaign. First of all, I paid all of my artists out of my own pocket. This was my choice. However, the other issue we ran into were printing and shipping rates.
Printing quotes are typically only good for about 30 days. Thankfully, I had negotiated with our printer to extend that to 90 days (they were a good partner). However, the specs and parameters for our book had changed slightly. Some of our stretch goals unlocked new story content, and that meant more pages in the book. I also lowered our print run from 1,000 copies to 750 copies because we didn’t move 320 copies of the book. We had a lot of people fund at higher levels ($100 appearance level was our most popular reward level), which moved less copies but made us more money. I didn’t want to sit on the extra inventory, so I decided to shrink the print run a bit – which increased our costs overall by a bit, since we were no longer running at any special bulk rates.
Additionally, shipping costs changed. Apparently they change all the time. So my rule of thumb on shipping now is to take the estimate in the shipping quote, and increase it by 1/3 to 1/2. Because yes, sometimes shipping can change that much, depending on who you’re shipping through and the time of year you’re shipping.
5) Project completion
I can’t tell you how many Kickstarter campaigns I’ve backed that I still haven’t received the reward. Or I had to wait years for the reward to get shipped to me. Some of them were so long ago, I don’t even remember having backed the project. I didn’t want Albert the Alien to be one of those experiences for our backers. So how did we combat this? We had the book done BEFORE we started the Kickstarter.
We had 100 pages of story content from our webcomic series, and then a bunch of bonus stories from guest artists (some of which a pledger could appear in). Those bonus stories were all finished before I hit the launch button. Expect for the actual appearances themselves. Those were digitally dropped in on another layer after we were successfully funded.
Now, this approach may not work for all projects. Some people are trying to pay themselves or their artist with the Kickstarter. This is a totally fine approach, but my recommendation would be this: at least have half of the project done before you start a Kickstarter campaign. There are a few reasons I recommend this:
1) More content to show to your readers and to reviewers
2) Shorter wait time for you to finish the book, and to get your book in the hands of your readers
3) The opportunity to show your work to editors at conventions – I’ve heard a handful of success stories of creators having their projects picked up for publication, but you need to have something for those editors to look at
I’m a strong proponent of the concept of “Brand You.” This concept states that it doesn’t matter who I think I am, it matters who YOU think I am. The goal should be for both of these things to be the same. I know I’m a guy that can get a project done on time or early, and get it to you by or before I’ve promised it. Many of our backers were impressed when this actually happened – and I know they’re going to be repeat backers of our next project because of it.
Some fliers we made for convention appearances. If you pledged at the con and showed it to us, you got an exclusive gift
6) Promotion, promotion, promotion
This is always going on. You may feel like you’re overwhelming your social feeds with posts if you post 5-10 times per day. Well, it depends on how many people they are following. But I had a bunch of people tell me in week 3 they didn’t even know I was doing a Kickstarter, and I had been posting about it constantly. Part of this is because Facebook filters what posts actually reach your friends organically. Part of this is because friends may not be “following” you on Facebook.
There are a couple of ways to do promotion for your Kickstarter. We tried a bunch of these, and some worked better than others:
1) Social media (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, etc)
2) Interviews (podcasts, web interviews, etc)
3) Reviews of your finished project (you can only do this if your project is done)
4) Direct mail
6) In-person bonuses at conventions (we did a postcard)
7) Digital ads (web banners, link exchanges, etc)
8) Begging your parents
9) Begging your extended family
10) Direct sign up at convention / signing tables
My approach was to try a little of everything and see what worked the best. This is where measurement was important, so I could know where my time (and sometimes, my money) was best spent in promoting the campaign. Thankfully, poor performers were quickly identified and I was able to focus on the channels that were driving conversion. If you don’t have a way to measure the success, then you’re working blind and you may waste a lot of time on channels that aren’t working for you. I recommend tracking EVERYTHING.
7) Keep track of your schedule
In my day job I work in advertising, and a part of that is project management. It’s ensuring you make a schedule and stick to it. Sometimes that means building in buffers – a little extra time for some tasks that are outside of your control. But essentially it boils down to this: don’t miss deadlines. Especially when you’re the one making the deadlines.
Thanks so much for reading through the list. I hope you find this list helpful in starting your own Kickstarter campaigns, but again your experience may vary. I’ve only scratched the surface of our experience crowd-funding our graphic novel project. If you want to see how things are going with our current project, please check out the Kickstarter page here. And if you like what you see, please pledge to receive a reward and / or share the link with your friends and fans.