Business Musings: Kickstarter Stress
Still, we didn’t expect the Kickstarter to fund in less than 20 hours. That surprised us so much we only have one stretch goal listed.
For those of you who haven’t clicked on the widget to the right of this blog post or saw the notification I published on the 7th, I’m doing a Kickstarter so that I can give the new Diving novel to my fans early.
The other point of the Kickstarter is to get the entire Diving series into hardcover. I’m working in conjunction with WMG Publishing on this. We’ve all been wanting to do that for some time, but wanting and doing are problems. To put the books in hardcover, with the learning curve and proper design, meant taking time from other projects that are on the schedule. Since WMG is a small company, taking time means moving someone from one project to another.
We needed to make the hardcovers cost-effective, and the Kickstarter would do that.
I set the ask at the bare minimum and thought it would take at least 10 days of push to get there. This Kickstarter is specialized; it’s primarily for Diving fans, and hardcore fans at that. Combine that with the fact that a lot of people don’t do Kickstarter or read ebooks, and I figured it would take some time to fund.
I figured wrong.
So why am I writing about the Kickstarter here, and in particular, why have I added the word “stress” to the title of this blog post?
Because doing a Kickstarter, from planning to execution to finale, can be stressful.
As I mentioned above, Dean and I have done eight Kickstarters now. Dean in particular has the structure down to a science. He knows when to do what, and in what order, especially as we set up.
Most of our Kickstarters have been subscription drives for Fiction River and for Pulphouse. The very first Kickstarter we did was to see if there was any interest in Fiction River. This was before we started the publication. We simply weren’t sure the audience was there.
Dean did the same with his Make 100 in January. He really wanted to put 100 of his short stories into paperback, and he wanted an audience for that. He got it, by doing a very simple Kickstarter.
Well before January, I’d been discussing a Kickstarter for my Diving Universe books. Dean actively discouraged me from doing that, and I don’t blame him. As I mentioned in my previous post, I’m very protective of my fiction writing. There was the very real threat that a Kickstarter would derail the very project that it was supposed to help.
If I had done this Kickstarter the way we did the first Fiction River Kickstarter—without the completed project, just to see if there was reader interest—the Kickstarter would have killed my writing. Even if the Kickstarter was successful.
I don’t write for others. I write for myself, on my own timetable. Having a deadline imposed by a Kickstarter (and by implication, the readers) would make me rebel, which I didn’t want to do.
But as I got deeper and deeper into the gigantic never-ending novel that became The Renegat, I knew that if I finished the book, it would make a perfect Kickstarter project.
First of all, The Renegat stands alone. New readers can read this one, and enter the universe without having to read all of the books that came before.
Secondly, I had more than 50,000 words of false starts and side journeys, just from this book. I knew that hardcore readers would want to see that. I knew that those false starts could be an extra Kickstarter reward.
I compiled those before we set up the Kickstarter, again, to see if my muse balked. If she didn’t want me to reveal those unfinished pieces of book, then I wouldn’t. Instead, she threw another entire book of extras at me, from the long-finished Diving books, extras that probably wouldn’t have gotten used for anything.
So I had two books of extras, and a brand-new novel that will release in September. It was time to do the Kickstarter.
Past time, really. I had to convince Dean that the Kickstarter wouldn’t break my writing. He checked with me over and over as we set up the project, and even did so before pressing the button on the night of the seventh.
But I was okay with the project (clearly). It was something I wanted to do.
I was particular about a few things. The standard Kickstarter “back my book” video is of the author, talking nervously into the camera about some aspect of the novel. Or about the plot. Or about the ask.
My broadcast training makes it impossible for me to do that standard video. If you watch this one, you will see some snippets of me talking to the camera, which I loathe. I hate being on camera. I love narrating things, so the Fiction River and Pulphouse videos have narration.
But I knew, for a Kickstarter this personal, I had to show my damn face. Which I did.
I’m not an expert at video—not by a longshot. I do know how to do broadcast quality audio, but Kickstarter requires a video. So I used my mediocre video skills to make the Kickstarter video approximate something that I would have done if I actually had video training.
That was stressful. Grumpy stressful. Because after recording and rerecording and re-re-recording myself talking, I finally gave up and let pale-faced mumbly lady with the wandering eyes out into the world. There’s no cleaning me up for video, not in a three-day time frame. (As you can tell, doing video with my face on it makes my critical voice rabid. I need to get out of that headspace fast.)
Why three days? Well, because I pushed my deadline. I had no real choice. We had a crisis at WMG in March that extended into April, and I got behind on everything. Then in the middle of April, I taught the mystery workshop (and had a blast), and then dear friends visited, and I wasn’t about to give up on time with them just to do a video.
So…three days. Three days that I didn’t have because I have other obligations. But I took the time anyway.
My biggest problem with video is that I can see about half of what I do wrong. (And please, don’t add your own points on that in the comments.) I know I’m missing a lot. I also can hear the audio mistakes, but I promised myself the video would be raw(ish), so some of the mistakes linger. And some are impossible to fix with the image of my mushy mouth on screen. (I can do audio clean-up if you don’t see my face.)
I hurried through the video, taking about four hours per finished minute, and ended up with something I liked.
Dean and I took lunches and afternoons to figure out the rewards. (Mostly that involved me saying no to a few things, and Dean reminding me that I can’t do anything with unfinished fiction.) I wrote up what Kickstarter calls “the story” and that was the easiest part of the whole thing. That flowed.
Dean handled building the page and writing up the rewards (because he has a system) and WMG designed some last minute covers, and Philcold (bless him) did a piece of art overnight, and we had enough to go live with the Kickstarter.
And, in some ways, the stress has eased. Not because we hit our goal. Hitting our goal actually adds a bit of stress, as I try to come up with a good stretch goal that readers will like.
No, the reason the stress eased was that the Kickstarter itself was a big slow-motion project, and the project—whether it succeeded or failed—was done.
Now that this part of the project is over, let me tell you our procedure for running a Kickstarter.
- Pick a project that will work on Kickstarter
By work, I mean two things. Make sure that it’s something that people will want. And make sure it’s something you can do.
- Have a goal.
Not a financial goal, although you need that too. But a real reason for doing the Kickstarter. Our first Kickstarter ever was designed to measure audience for the project. If we failed to fund, we would have abandoned the idea of Fiction River. But we funded, and we continue to do successful subscription drives for Fiction River every two years. It’s really nice.
In this instance, I had a large book that I’m excited to share with the fans of the series. The book has a publication date—September—but I wanted to give fans early access. I also wanted to let them have the books of extras. I wanted the extras to be Kickstarter only.
WMG came up with the hardcover goal and that enabled us to set a reasonable ask. Which leads me to…
- Set your funding goal properly.
It can’t be too low, or you won’t be able to fulfill your rewards because you’ll be undercapitalized. But it can’t be too high either. Kickstarter rules are that creators get no money if the funding goal doesn’t get met. (Indie-Go-Go is different in that regard.) So you might end up $500 shy of your perfect goal, and at the end (after all that work), you won’t see a dime.
I didn’t want a high goal on the Diving Kickstarter. I figured something this specialized would have limited interest—and I really wanted to give those books away. So we looked at WMG’s costs for beginning the move to hardcover, and figured we could do the project for $2000. We were going to put The Renegat in ebook and paper anyway. The extras would take some effort and have some cost, but certainly not enough to take away from the hardcover project.
So that worked.
- Make sure your rewards are cost-effective
A friend of mine did a Kickstarter early on with the best rewards ever. Except that they ended up costing him more than he made on the Kickstarter—once he factored in shipping. He hadn’t figured the manufacturing cost nor the cost of shipping overseas. The Kickstarter was a disaster for him.
Most of our rewards are things we already have in existence (except for the three new books), so we can use them on the lower levels. The hardcovers are the point of the Kickstarter, so they get factored in as well.
We have nothing in the rewards that we can’t fulfill. And that’s critical, because so many people make their biggest Kickstarter mistake right here.
- Make sure your rewards will be of interest to someone else
If you don’t have a readership base, then no one outside your friends and family will care if you finish the novel that you have up on Kickstarter. However, you can make folks care by having the right rewards. If you’re doing an exploratory Kickstarter, like we did with Fiction River, then the rewards need to be something that will interest people who jump on without ever having seen the project.
- Make sure your rewards add up to your ask.
This one is for the big Kickstarters. I’ve seen too many fail because someone set the goal at $40,000, but even if people picked up every single reward, the total dollars brought in by the rewards equaled $15,000. If you have a big ask, then you need big rewards.
That’s a balance, and one Dean is really good at. He helped a lot as we set up this Kickstarter, to make sure everything was balanced.
- Be prepared to do the promotion
Kickstarters exist for a limited period of time, and so you need to be able to promote it during that period of time on various platforms. Kickstarter is different now than it was when we did our first. Kickstarter makes sharing easy, and asks you if you back a project whether or not you want to make your backing public.
That didn’t happen in the past. In the past, the creator was on her own, unless someone copy and pasted a link because they were excited about the project.
There are other ways to share in the Kickstarter ecosystem, ways that we’ll be using as the weeks go on. It’s exciting, and fun, but not something you can do continually.
Which brings me to my last point…
- The Kickstarter should be special
I write a lot of books and this is the first one I’ve ever done a Kickstarter for. Even though it’s clear this Kickstarter will be successful, the success does not mean I’ll do a Kickstarter for every novel I write. The project really does have to be special. It’s taken me seven years to come up with a Kickstarter idea for a novel. I have no idea when or if I’ll do it again.
There are other Kickstarter rules, many of which you’ll find in Kickstarter’s own booklet on how to run a Kickstarter.
But do know that the run-up to the Kickstarter, particularly a first Kickstarter, is stressful. For me, it was the video. (It’s always the video.) For others, it’s making the decision to do the Kickstarter in the first place. And for some, it’s the promotion.
I think of a Kickstarter like a writing project. It has its ups and its downs, and is, if you do it right, just as creative. Because if you look through Kickstarter’s live projects right now, you’ll see that none of them are the same. They’re all different, all with different goals, different pitches, and different reasons for existing.
They’re fascinating and fun.
This particular Kickstarter proved surprising to me, because of all of the support. I didn’t expect it and I’m grateful to everyone who has backed the Kickstarter so far. I’m also grateful to the readers who let me know that they don’t do Kickstarter and they’ll be waiting to preorder The Renegat when the preorder goes live in June.
I like the way the world works now, where readers can chose how they get their reading material, and creators have options besides selling a novel to a traditional publisher who might or might not put effort into the cover and the copy and the book itself.
I feel really lucky to be able to do this, and I feel even luckier that readers enjoy my work.
Thank you all. I cannot express how grateful I am.
“Business Musings: Kickstarter Stress,” copyright © 2019 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.