I had thought I might blog the Kickstarter experience more regularly, but you know what happens to good intentions. Today however I got inspired. My own project is five days from completion, and is a go–we’re racking up bonuses now (which I’ll talk about in a bit).
In the meantime a bunch of other projects have cropped up, including one barnburner that looks as if it may break some serious records. The guy behind it posted a statistical note today about the trajectory of the project. I have some thoughts about that, too.
The fascinating thing about being in at the start of something new is watching everybody figure out how to make it work. I wasn’t a founding member of Book View Cafe but I was aware of it when it started, watched with interest as it grew, then six months after it went live, found myself on board and participating actively in the process.
Three and half years after the lights were first switched on, what we’re doing is rather different than we thought it would be in those heady early days, but some things are a constant. The cooperative nature of the venture. The conviction that you can never have too many books (ebooks now, free online content and serialized chapters then–but always books). And the dedication to bringing out the best books we possibly can–inside and out.
Kickstarter is much younger and brasher than BVC, but I can see it evolving before my eyes. The basic model is crowdfunding: getting a bunch of people to throw in a few pennies or dollars toward a project they want to see happen. The part that makes it interesting in a gambling sense is the number one rule: you set a goal and a deadline, and if you don’t make the goal by the deadline, nothing happens. It’s all or nothing. But, if you make your goal early, you’re not capped at that amount. You can raise as much as your backers are willing to put in.
There’s been a bit of a gold rush toward funding for literary projects in the past couple of months. Inspired by some outstanding successes, a growing number of authors have decided to give it a try. Some have become or are in the process of becoming outstanding successes themselves. Others have tried their best but fallen short of the goal.
When I did my own research, I picked up several important bits of information. One was that 54% of projects do not make their goal. Those that do usually reach 30% funding in the first few days. Fred’s post that I linked to above (go, read; it’s short; I’ll wait) describes, with pictures, how the thing works, if it’s going to work.
You get a big spike in the first three days. That’s when all your friends, fans, and family rally to your support. Word gets spread. Enthusiasm rises fast. You, as the project’s creator, gets an adrenaline rush.
But this isn’t a sprint. It’s a marathon. Most projects run for 30 days.
I ran mine for 45 on C.E. Murphy’s advice based on her own wildly successful project: because many people are paid monthly, and the longer period gives them more time to add you into their budget. It defers the payoff by quite a bit (you don’t see a penny until 14 days after the deadline–I would guess so the payment system can make sure everybody who pledged can actually produce the funds), and drags out the race for another two weeks, but also gives everyone more time to spread the word and get the project funded.
Either way, with some truly notable exceptions, the initial rush of energy dies down. As Fred noted, most projects level off. The creator is advised to remind the world that her project exists, not so often as to annoy everybody into catatonia, but often enough that potential backers are motivated to become actual ones. It helps to offer rewards and incentives. And to have bonuses planned in case the funding goes over goal–because bonuses are where it really gets fun.
Rewards are what backers at different levels get for their investment. For mine, put in $5, get an ebook. Put in $500, get an ebook and whole bunch of other nifty things, and also get to be in the book. Put in various amounts in between and get other perks.
Bonuses offer something for everybody who has backed the project and who comes on board after the project has funded and is a go. These are things that backers will really, really want–enough to get off the fence and invest, and enough to up their pledges if they’re already on board. They can be swag or products related to the project, art, crafts, calendars, cookies–but as both backer and creator, I’ve observed that what backers of a literary project want most is more words.
Offer them a story, or a chance to watch the story evolve (writing, revision, worldbuilding), and they are so there. If it’s a story with a beloved character or a popular theme, they’ll give you a nice little (or nice big) spike in funds and adrenaline. And then you-the-creator can come up with another bonus that does the same thing. And another. And…
This week’s big adventure features a number of group projects. Rather than one or two authors funding novels or novellas, anthology editors have climbed on board with stables of high-spirited, popular and up-and-coming authors. And then there’s the T. Rex in the room, Fred and company’s Dinocalypse.
The modest $5000 goal has already quintupled. A trilogy is now five volumes. And counting. These novels will be written by hugely popular writers in their own right who have brought their own legions of backers and fans on board. At the moment, two and a half weeks from deadline, there’s no telling where it will end up. It’s a completely new animal in this new menagerie. It’s making up rules as it goes.
And for backers? It’s an increasingly spectacular return on a modest investment.
A few things I have noticed. Profile matters: if your project has recognizable and popular names attached, it’s more likely to prosper. It will get more buzz, and more attention, and more funding.
Subject matter is important. It has to be something a sufficient number of people want to read. The really, really successful projects that I’ve noticed seem to be related to gaming in some way. Gamers are numerous, passionate, and (based on Kickstarter stats) willing to pay a notable amount for projects that draw their interest. Those that are not directly related to gaming seem to have gaming connections, or else have the aforementioned popular authors on board.
Does that mean the individual, non-bestselling author is completely out of luck? Not at all. As a lifelong Critical Success and Writers’ Writer, I am here to testify that if you have or can attract a core of fans who admire and support your work, you can make this model work for you. You may not break funding records, but all you have to do is set a reasonable goal and a sensible deadline and offer an interesting and attractive project.
The nature of that project will evolve as it goes on. It’s very much a group effort, and backers love the chance to share a writer’s work up close and personal. I had no idea when I started that I would be writing “Ponies in Space”–or that it would be so popular with backers, to the point that they were willing to push up past the story to the worldbuilding behind the story. It’s probably going to end up spawning (foaling?) a novel.
The bonuses can become at least as compelling as the project itself. And that’s part of the fun, too. They’re market research on the hoof, and crowdfunding in the truly communal sense.
Now they tell me the last three days can be as crazy as the first three. I don’t know about that, for my project; it’s done pretty well for a little mammal among the T. Rexes, and those three days are over a big weekend for two major religions. But I’d better have some bonuses in reserve, just in case.
Judith Tarr’s Kickstarter gallops to a close on April 9th. Also, just out of the gate, fellow Book View Cafe member Laura Anne Gilman is funding a project in her popular Cosa Nostradamus universe. There’s a shared-world anthology inching toward its goal, with a Mayan theme and some excellent writers on board. And those are just a couple of the projects that interest me personally. There are many more.
And the beauty of it all? As little as a dollar gets you a piece of the action. Put in even a little more–$5, $10–and you can see a huge return on your investment. In our high-tech way, we’ve gone back to the roots of human culture, to the storyteller in the bazaar, spinning tales to buy his dinner.
It’s a brave new world. I’ll be very interested to see what happens with this corner of it over the next year or two or three.