Hard Lesson 19: 12 Things I learned from running four kickstarter campaigns this year

September 27, 2016

12-things-i-learned

I just wrapped up my fourth Kickstarter campaign in 12 months. Katrina Hates the Dead ran from September until October 2015. Then My Father Didn’t Kill Himself ran from February to March 2016. Then I Can’t Stop Tooting: A Love Story ran from April to May 2016. Finally, Spaceship Broken, Needs Repairs ran from August 2016 to September 2016.

Along the way, we also launched Gherkin Boy and the Dollar of Destiny Activity book without Kickstarter, but for the most part all our launches this year have involved a Kickstarter. We tried to run a Kindle Scout campaign for Spaceship Broken, Needs Repairs, but that was a disaster. You can check out my thoughts on that by clicking here.

I thought about talking about Spaceship Broken solely on this episode, but I would be remiss not to discuss what I learned from all the campaigns we’ve run this year. I thought I was an expert on Kickstarter after Katrina. Ha! That is just one category, we dove into the publishing category this year and it was like a whole different ballgame.

So what lessons did I take away from four Kickstarter in one year?

1.  Make sure you have an audience who likes you and will buy your stuff before you plan a Kickstarter every quarter.

There’s a big difference between putting together one book a year on Kickstarter and doing multiple books a year. When you are doing one book, you can get a lot more money raised because this is your only book. However, if you are doing a bunch of books, people will just wait for the next one. You segment and fragment your audience because everybody knows the next one is coming along soon. So instead of raising $10,000 from one book, you may find yourself raising the same $10,000 but on a bunch of books.

If you want to do a bunch of campaigns, you must build an audience consistently that works their way down you funnel so that you can raise money consistently on each campaign.

2. Just because somebody likes your comics doesn’t mean they’ll like anything else you do.

This goes for anything, whether you are a fine artist or a novelist. When you move into a new genre of format, most people won’t follow you. We opened up into novels and kid’s books this year, and saw our total backers drop considerably from 294 with Katrina down to 155 with My Father Didn’t Kill Himself and finally down to 65 at our lowest, before rebounding back up to 75 with Spaceship Broken, Needs Repairs.

With our comics, we could count on 200–300 backers, but by expanding into other genres and formats, those numbers went down considerably because people that knew me from comics didn’t trust me to make a quality novel.

3. A higher backer count does not mean more money.

Our Katrina campaign raised $8780 from 294 backers. Between the other 3 campaigns we ran this year we raised $7459 from 295 backers. Logically, you would assume we would raise almost the same amount from the same amount of backer, but we came up with a $1321 loss from roughly the same backers.

This also goes back to our previous discussion about splitting your audience. In 2016, we raised less than we raised in the entirety of 2015, from almost the exact same number of backers, but we raised it on three projects (MFDKH, SBNR, and ICST) instead of one (KHTD). This is a perfect example of how you can segment your audience into three projects but not make more at the end of the day.

4. You need to give your audience enough time to read your work.

It takes about 6–9 months for somebody to read a book they bought. I have people who’ve had my books for over a year and haven’t read them. If you want people to back your new work, you need to give them time to fall in love with your last work. One of the main failings of the Spaceship Broken campaign was that we didn’t give people enough time to enjoy My Father Didn’t Kill Himself.

This goes in tandem with allowing people to build a fervor for your books by dripping out information over time, giving people samples, and generally talking about your projects for enough time that interest is built. You can’t just drop a book, even to your existing audience, and expect them to froth at the mouth for it immediately.

5. You better be really good at marketing your books.

When you start doing multiple projects, you will be hitting your audience a lot. For the month leading up to the campaign you will be building hype, for the month of the campaign you will be slamming them with information, and for the month after you’ll be doing wrap-ups. That’s a three-month cycle for every campaign. If you launch 4 books a year, that means you are continuously in a launch cycle.

So you have to get really good at providing value to people, building your hype without it coming across as begging. You need to know your audience down pat.

6. You can’t assume everybody will buy from you.

When you launch one product a year, you can assume more people will back your project, even if they aren’t jazzed by it.

When you are launching multiple books a year, though, you have to become okay with people backing what interests them, and not everything you do. This is a huge mindset shift for most people because they are used to a massive swell of people backing their only Kickstarter for that year.

7. Not everything will be a rousing success just because you made it.

Just because you made it, doesn’t mean it will resonate with your audience. Maybe you made something that is a super niche, like Spaceship Broken, Needs Repairs. Or maybe you wanted to test out a new market and it didn’t work, like I Can’t Stop Tooting. Or maybe you were trying to break into a new medium like My Father Didn’t Kill Himself.

No matter what it is, you can’t assume that it’s going to be a breakout hit just because you made it. It’s the same with all mediums. Jared Leto isn’t going to get the same reaction to Suicide Squad as he does to his indie movies. Your products won’t be any different. Some will surprise you. Some will disappoint you.

And some will completely change the landscape of what you do.

8. Kickstarter is just one way to launch a product

I launch products on Kickstarter, but I also launch products at shows. I have launched products right to Amazon. Kickstarter is good for certain products, but it is certainly not the only way to launch a product. However, the principles of Kickstarter hold true on every campaign, from pricing to videos to sales letters, Kickstarter is a microcosm of how to launch any product. What you learn there can be expanded into everything you do.

9. Kickstarter can hamper your live show sales.

When you have multiple products, Kickstarter can stop people from buying books that already exist on your convention table. You are basically exchanging immediate sales for the potential that a product will launch successfully in the future. That’s a high-risk gamble.

When you have several products already, those become the focus at live shows. You have tangible products that can be sold, which becomes the focus of your table. Kickstarter works against you in that scenario, because you forego sales of your existing properties to make money for your launch.

That is just swapping operational money for launch money. All your money goes into the same pool at the end of the day. If you are exchanging convention sales for Kickstarter sales, it doesn’t net you any more money at the end of the day.

10. Kickstarter fatigue is a very real thing.

Even though you can launch products all the time if you want, there is fatigue that sets in with both you and your audience. With Spaceship Broken, Needs Repairs, I was already aware of this fatigue. I wanted to avoid yet another burnout from my audience, but the failure of my Kindle Scout campaign made launching my third Kickstarter of 2016 a certainty.

If you launch multiple products in a year, it’s best to vary your launches and do some on Amazon, some on Kickstarter, and still other straight from your site. The less you can rely on one platform the less burnout you will receive from your audience.

11. A campaign that didn’t raise much money might still work on your table.

None of my campaigns from 2016 have burned up the charts, but My Father Didn’t Kill Himself and I Can’t Stop Tooting: A Love Story both found audiences when I put them online and on the con table. Just because your campaign doesn’t do gangbusters doesn’t mean you can’t sell your books.

12. Kickstarter has to integrate with the other aspects of your business.

Kickstarter is a great way to build and maintain and audience, but it’s only a piece of your marketing and business strategy. It has to integrate with your con strategy and your Amazon strategy too. You can’t focus all your energy on Kickstarter to the detriment of the rest of your business, nor vice versa. You need to find a balance.

While Kickstarter still has a big place in my business, it’s becoming a smaller and smaller piece of it. As retail, Amazon, and my con table takes but a huge slice of my revenue, Kickstarter has become a way for me to amplify important projects and reach people who don’t live near me. It provides me with a base of funds for projects and allows me to get pre-orders to fulfill my print minimums.

Kickstarter is an essential piece of my business. However, it is now only a piece instead of the whole thing. Together, we’ve done almost $40,000 in revenue this year. $7,459 is a massive piece of that, but it’s only 25%. In years past it was 90% or more. I’m very proud of that.

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7 comments on “Hard Lesson 19: 12 Things I learned from running four kickstarter campaigns this year

  1. Nice round up of thoughts, Russ.

    The only point that I’m not sure about is #9. Kickstarter can hamper your live show sales.

    Can you expand on that?

    While I agree that if you’re doing live shows to promote your Kickstarter, that sends a bit of a mixed message to potential customers.

    In general, convention attendees are there looking for instant gratification, so I never try to sell them on my Kickstarters at shows, even if a campaign is going on live.

    If you’re averaging about 150 backers (from around the world) on Kickstarter campaigns, what are the chances that any given person walking by your table at a con will have backed or viewed that project on Kickstarter?

    For me though, a significant chunk of the product I have to sell at conventions was subsidized by successful Kickstarter campaigns… so Kickstarter has done anything but hamper convention sales.

    Rather, it’s helped make convention sales more profitable than ever.

    • noheltyr@gmail.com Sep 28, 2016

      Thanks! Generally I recommend having live events during your campaign and pushing the Kickstarter, which is what I did for both Ichabod and Katrina. While you can do that when you don’t have much product, when you have 7 books on your table focusing on your Kickstarter at live shows becoming futile because you are foregoing sales now for sales in the future. In my first 2 kickstarters over 25% of my backers came from live shows. In the last three I ran, that number was under 10%.

      I suppose my point in that was just to know when you have more product on your table than just a couple books, don’t push Kickstarters at live events at the expense of your other books. However, you should set up launch and close events at shops and such which are devoted to your Kickstarter without costing you money.

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