Kickstarting the Home Stretch

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.

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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.

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Kickstarting the Home Stretch — 13 Comments

  1. Now they tell me the last three days can be as crazy as the first three.

    That’s the experience I’ve seen, in projects I’ve backed and watched. We’ll see how Tales comes out, and how your own project comes out.

  2. I believe Tales will fund, though it’s giving its creators palpitations now.

    We’ll see what happens with Living in Threes.

    Fascinating study in human behavior, isn’t it?

  3. I’m planning something special to raise money for art and print versions, if I have to do the three Alfreda novels myself. But due to the nature of the project, I will need to start on it the minute I finish the third novel!

  4. It’s a lot of work, for sure, Kathi. Worth it though if you get the funding. Even if you don’t, it’s a leg up in time and effort, anyway.

    It’s kind of like ebay. You put your bid out there and hope. If you get it, yays! If you don’t, you walk away.

    There are other setups that are more open-ended and don’t have the all-or-nothing thing going. I’ll be looking at them eventually, to see how they work. I’m not sure if Kickstarter will continue to be so fruitful as more and more writers come on board. It might hit a critical mass of too many projects and too few backers.

    I’ll be talking more about that after mine is over–thoughts out whether to do another one, and if so, when.

    • I think you hit the nail on the head with the thought of trusted authors – so Kickstarter should continue to work for people who have a) big enough readership and b) set themselves realistic goal which they then c) deliver as promised.

      Because buyers who get burned with the promised delivery date (unless there’s an unforeseen catastrophe of a personal nature which they are told about) won’t bother again, I believe.

      But Kickstarter wouldn’t work for a new author/artist, who doesn’t have a following yet.

        • Yes, I think those who have thought to make it their personal ATM are finding or will find that backers aren’t THAT charitable. It seems to me like something that an established author can take advantage of once or twice a year, but any more often than that is asking to be dismissed as a panhandler.

  5. Wow…. NEW LOOK OF BLOG! That’s what comes from mostly reading via LJ Feed ^^. There should be a favicon up there, in the address line, though.

    What I wanted to point your attention to is that various communities have very different views on the validity of Kickstarter – there was a great discussion post with very diverse opinions about that at Dear Author.com recently (where I hyped you – and again in the reader thread for this month ^^)

    • I took a quick look at that–thanks for the shout-out! Someone else mentioned the project, too. Many of the reservations make sense to me. Also the consensus that it’s not something a complete unknown can do. One has to earn one’s way into it by demonstrating proficiency in the field–by being a known name with a known record of performance.

      Also, giving it away for free after people have paid for it? No. I plan to put a somewhat higher price on the public version ($5.99) than backers have paid. Also, backers are getting perks that the public won’t get. I think that’s important. And bonuses have to be interesting, unusual, and fun.

    • Thank you, Kelly! One thing I’m learning is that it helps to run in packs–and to pace your promo. If you set up your project in advance, enlist support from your fellow artists, and also support them, you can broaden your base enough to get your project funded.

      The next bit of data will be whether my project gets the alleged final spike in backers. I ended up with a major religious-holiday weekend for my closing period, so might have canceled that out. But that remains to be seen.

      Looking ahead, I won’t be doing this again this year–I think I’ve taken out enough credit for the kind of writer I am and the level of support I can draw. Next year I well may, depending on how things go over the next few months. A lot depends on how the increasing number of projects affects the backers–will they run out of steam and cash? Or will a whole new crowd join the party? And if they do, will they be interested in what I have to offer?

      Will be interesting to see how it plays out.

  6. Yeah–just this past week I think I’ve seen six or seven projects go up on my LiveJournal feed alone. Kickstarter seems to be a popular method of crowdfunding right now.

    A year or so ago I finally stopped reading a couple of blogs because the writers seemed to have their hands out pretty much constantly.

  7. It’s so hard to know how to balance the need to support oneself with the fact that everybody else has to support themself, too. And nobody really knows where the line is. Except that when someone goes ‘way over it, it’s obvious.

    I thought long and hard before getting on this particular bandwagon, and I’m awfully glad I did it when I did. Now it’s a mob scene. Will I do it again? I might. But I want to see how the rest of this year plays out. I do really enjoy the cooperative nature of the project, and the excitement of sharing it with dedicated readers. Will all that get lost in the stampede? Time will tell.