Business Musings: How We Use Kickstarter
In last week’s post, I talked about the sense of urgency in publishing. I suggest you read the post, because it’s important for all of us. We need to understand how, in the world of entertainment, the producers of content have lost control of the sense of urgency, and how that sense of urgency has moved to the consumers of content.
Read the post, please, before commenting here. I’m not going to reiterate the whole thing for those of you who might have missed it.
In that post, I listed a few places where producers of content can, for a brief time, regain that sense of urgency.
One place I mentioned is Kickstarter.
Writers can get fans to respond to a Kickstarter (or other crowd-funding projects) within a set period of time. Kickstarters and the like are the kind of deals that will show up for a few weeks or a month, and never appear again.
Not every Kickstarter is run like that, nor should every Kickstarter be run like that. Kickstarters have many functions beyond a buy-it-now-or-lose-it-forever mentality.
We at WMG Publishing run Kickstarters for a variety of reasons.
Let me delineate some of them, in no particular order.
- Experimentation. I put this one first because that’s how Dean Wesley Smith started our journey with Kickstarter. Ten years ago, we wanted to see how this relatively new platform worked. We also had been toying with the idea of starting an anthology series called Fiction River.
We put up the Fiction River Kickstarter to see if there was any interest in us editing another anthology series (like we did with Pulphouse: The Hardback Magazine in the late 1980s), or if the idea was a bust.
If there was support, then the second question we needed answered was whether or not Kickstarter was a viable place to test new ideas.
We got a yes to both of those things, even though we made a bunch of rookie mistakes on that Kickstarter.
Now we feel so confident in our ability to crowdfund that we do it often. We’re still learning about it, which is why we offer a free class on crowdfunding (Kickstarter in particular) on Teachable. The class is more of an opportunity for group sharing and information gathering, along with best practices. If you’re considering doing a Kickstarter anywhere in the future, then you want to join this group.
Keep an eye on Dean’s blog. He occasionally mentions how we use Kickstarter. He did so with a great post in August, telling writers what to look for in other people’s Kickstarters.
We still use Kickstarter to experiment. In 2021, I used Kickstarter to see if there was interest in a new Fey novella, which I knew would get me started on writing Fey novels again. Oh, wow, was there ever interest. Five hundred and seventy-nine people backed the Kickstarter.
In a world accustomed to book sales in the hundreds of thousands, that sounds like a small number. But it’s not.
Because Kickstarter is a unique platform. A lot of readers haven’t ever backed a Kickstarter. A lot of people are opposed to Kickstarter as opposed to other crowd-funding platforms for a variety of reasons. A lot of readers will never back a crowd-funded project, preferring to get their books in other ways.
So 579 people who are Fey readers and on Kickstarter is a much larger number than I expected, especially for a book series that hasn’t had a brand new volume in nearly 20 years.
The other part of that experiment? We don’t normally run Kickstarters on projects we haven’t finished. I ran this Kickstarter on a project I was having trouble starting. I figured I needed the help of readers—if any were interested. They had to give me a deadline, and they did.
So far, I have finished 2.5 novels in the new series. We’re Kickstarting the first full novel in that series right now, using a method that I’ll discuss below.
It’s not a technique that I will use often, if ever again, but it worked this time.
Here’s the thing about doing projects on Kickstarter as an experiment. If the project doesn’t fund, then the person who created the Kickstarter has to figure out why. Sometimes it’s because the person set up the Kickstarter incorrectly. (That happens a lot, which is why we offer the free best practices class.)
Sometimes it is because of Kickstarter’s own audience. There aren’t enough people on Kickstarter who like X combined with that type of writing project to actually support the Kickstarter.
And sometimes, the idea just isn’t a good one. That’s why taking a fearless inventory after the failed Kickstarter is a good idea. And why some writers take a second and third bite of the Kickstarter apple on a project, trying to get the pitch right.
We experiment a lot at WMG. When you experiment, you have to be comfortable with failure. If something doesn’t work, move on to the next thing. Failure is a part of life, and it’s certainly a huge part of experimentation. Keep that in mind.
- Advertising. One of the many reasons we hold a Kickstarter is to advertise a product that will be released in a future date. We have to promote the Kickstarter for it to work. If we structure the Kickstarter well, Kickstarter itself will promote for us. We have had a number of Kickstarters chosen as Projects We Love from Kickstarter, including this current Kickstarter.
Kickstarter puts those projects higher up in its algorithm as well as on a special page. There are people who scroll Projects We Love to see what’s available. Those folks are Kickstarter fans, and with luck, they become fans of your work as well.
But there’s more than that. Advertising is a numbers game. Study after study has shown that a consumer must see an ad at least seven times before it sinks in and the consumer is ready to buy (or not).
In the old days of marketing, that meant airing ads in broadcast media many times hoping to catch someone’s attention. Now, it’s easy to hit someone seven times in one day through a variety of social media sites.
However, anyone who has been on social media a lot knows how to mute that writer who is constantly posting about their one book…over and over again.
We’ll discuss the Rule of 7 in-depth in another post. But for the purposes of this one, think about Kickstarter as advertising.
Yes, you want readers to pick up the book that you’re kickstarting through Kickstarter. After all, you want your Kickstarter to go well. But Kickstarter is usually just one component of an advertising campaign. Even if the Kickstarter is ultimately unsuccessful (maybe your ask was too big, for example) the advertising effect remains.
People will have seen the pitches for the Kickstarter, sometimes months before the book appears for regular readers. If you add all the Kickstarter notifications, such as when a reward actually ships, then people will see the halo from that Kickstarter for a long time.
We usually run Kickstarters for books we’ve finished but not yet published. So, the book can go up for preorder on every possible site at the same time it’s being Kickstarted.
That way, you capture the non-Kickstarter readers, who hear about the book, are excited about it, but would never buy a book from a crowd-funding site.
- Rewarding Fans. These early Kickstarters reward the hardcore readers of a writer or of a series by giving them the book well in advance of every other reader. With that advance copy, the reader can also get some Cool Stuff, usually related to the book.
Some of the Cool Stuff can (and should be) limited to Kickstarters only. That way, a fan can get the book early, as well as Cool Stuff as soon as it’s finished. The Cool Stuff can include rewards that will only appeal to hardcore readers of the series.
I did that with a Diving Kickstarter. I put in a book of false starts, which I would never sell on a regular ebook site. That book of false starts would confuse the casual reader. I’ve gotten a number of letters from the regular readers of the series who just love seeing how the books could have gone.
- Subscriptions. At WMG, we do a number of magazines and/or annual projects like The Holiday Spectacular. We run annual (or biannual) subscription drives on Kickstarter for those projects. When you look at the number of subscribers that we get through Kickstarter, it seems small.
It’s not, if you remember that they’re a subset of a subset. It helps us gauge interest in the project, of course, but it also brings new people in.
Subscription drives used to be mailers sent through the mail. Now I get emails from the places I subscribe to, and those emails get lost in the clutter of the dozens of emails I get every day. I actively have to search to see when my subscriptions end so that the things that I want don’t get canceled on me.
The Kickstarter subscription drive reminds regular readers that it’s time to renew. It encourages new subscribers, many of whom go from a Kickstarter ad to the website to subscribe. And it also refreshes excitement in a project—not just for the subscriber, but for us as well.
Instead of doing subscription drives by rote, we take a look at the project with an eye to what we’re trying to achieve. Are we doing it? Or is this project successful in ways that we did not expect?
It’s fun for us and fun for the subscribers.
Which brings us to yet another reason we do Kickstarters.
- Fun. Kickstarter itself is an inspiring website. People are doing all kinds of nifty creative things and trying to get some kind of funding to back those things.
To encourage creatives during a slow time of year, Kickstarter came up with the idea of something called the Make 100. If you Kickstarted something that would “make” 100 things—of your choosing—then you would be part of the January Make 100 promotion.
We saw that and wondered what we could do that would “make” 100 things. And came up with the Year of the Cat anthology series, with 100 cat stories spread out over 12 volumes. Then we did Colliding Worlds, five books with 20 stories each—ten from me and ten from Dean. Last year, we did Crimes Collide, yet another collection series, only this time with mysteries. Of course, we’re talking about a fantasy series now.
These books, beautifully designed by Allyson Longuiera at WMG, wouldn’t have come about at all if we hadn’t thought, Hey, that’s a cool idea. How can we participate?
There are a million reasons to do Kickstarters or try crowd-funding for your writing. There are also a million pitfalls, most of which I’m not going to discuss here.
Except I will mention the big one. If you plan it wrong, you might end up owing money instead of making money. Writers and other creatives make that mistake all the time, by not costing out their project (including shipping) before launching the Kickstarter.
Kickstarter and other crowdfunding sites are another tool in your business toolbox. You don’t use the same tools all the time on different projects. We don’t Kickstarter every book we write or every project that we do.
And sometimes we surprise ourselves with new ideas that we want to experiment with or that we’re inspired by.
That’s how you make technology work for you.
And please, take a look at that last point. If doing a Kickstarter (or anything writing related) is not fun, then don’t do it. Just because I write about it here and I do it, doesn’t mean you have to.
Note that none of the reasons I listed for WMG’s Kickstarters are to add a sense of urgency to a project. I know some writers do that, but we don’t. The sense of urgency, minor as it is, is a bonus.
So examine the Kickstarter/crowdfunding tool with an eye to your business now and your business in the future. This might not be something you ever want to do, or it might be something you’ll do years from now.
Whatever it is, make that choice yours, not anyone else’s.
But make sure your choice is an informed one. This post just touches the surface. If the post interests you, then dive in deeper and do a lot of research before you make your own choice.
Your informed choice.
You have about 24 hours to back the Kickstarter I mentioned…if you read this on Wednesday night. The Kickstarter ends on Thursday morning. We’ve hit a lot of stretch goals, so anything you chose as a reward will come with a lot of extras, including a lot of extras for writers. And yes, if you haven’t read any Fey novels, you can still read this one. It’s the start of a new series within the entire saga. So hurry on over. You’re running out of time.
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“Business Musings: How We Use Kickstarter,” copyright © 2022 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.