Running a Successful Small Kickstarter
A couple of weeks ago, I launched the Kickstarter for my first book, Sprout. It successfully funded in two days, so I feel safe calling it a success even though the campaign is ongoing as I write this. Sprout is my first Kickstarter experience, and I have learned a lot, so I thought I’d share my experience in case it helps you Kickstart your own book (or any other creative venture that you get your messy little artist fingers into).
Part 1: The why
I was deep into the creation of Sprout when I decided to Kickstart the project. I had been looking at various publishing options for the book, and ultimately decided that I wanted to self-publish this project due to its unusual format and my desire to fling it out into the world as soon as possible. There were a number of specific circumstances that led me to choose to Kickstart the project, but they mostly boil down to these reasons:
1. I don’t have a lot of internet fans, but I do have some good friends and family.
Kickstarting your creative project can be an excellent way to corral the enthusiasm of your loving friends and family who might not be interested in the project itself, but who want to support you in general. Don’t count on strangers to show up and support your brilliant zine about the speculative patronuses of your favorite NPR hosts. It might feel a little awkward to ask friends and family for support at first, but I promise that these are the people who will be most excited to help you succeed. So swallow your pride and politely ask for support from the people who care about you.
2. I wanted to show that I’m serious about publishing this book (and start building some hype for it).
If your Kickstarter is successful, you are making a promise to people to deliver that project to them in a timely manner. Therefore, if you run a well-structured campaign, people will know that you are serious about actually producing your product. Kickstarting Sprout meant I had to put concrete deadlines, rewards, and features in place, all of which lets people know that I am thinking about the logistics of making this book a reality. It also gives me a excuse to talk about my project to everyone while the campaign is running, which helps build some buzz before the later public release.
3. I am one of those left brain + right brain people who likes making the creative project, and also all the logistics of promoting the sh*t out of that project.
The legends are true: those unicorn people do exist, and I am one of them. I LOVED all the research, marketing, scheming, and plotting that have gone into running a Kickstarter. I know this kind of work is not for everyone, so consider carefully before you jump in- maybe you can find a marketing buddy to help out if you truly hate the promotion and research part. However, if you love this kind of stuff and don’t get a chance to use these skills in other areas of your life, running a Kickstarter might be just the thing to tickle that fancy.
Part 2: The how
These are some of the things that I did that I think helped make my Kickstarter a success. These decisions were based on research I did about my specific project, so they might not apply perfectly to your poster series summarizing the complete works of Shakespeare in emojis, but I think these bits hold up pretty well for most creative-type Kickstarter projects.
1. I started sharing the project online well before I launched the Kickstarter.
I spent several weeks before the Kickstarter began sharing pages from Sprout with my friends and family online, and I let them know well in advance that I would be running a Kickstarter for this project. I wanted to give them a good sense of what the book would be like in terms of both story and style, so they would be familiar with it when the Kickstarter began. This way, some people began to connect with the work and get excited about it, and everyone else would at least recognize the project when I started sharing the campaign.
2. I emailed everyone I knew that I thought would be interested in supporting this project to get an early sense of how much support I’d have.
I wanted to get an idea of how many people would definitely be backing my project, so I could figure out what to aim for with my funding goals. To do this, I wrote an enthusiastic but polite email asking if the recipient was planning to support my Kickstarter, and then sent it to everyone I knew who I thought would be interested (close friends and family, previous clients, old teachers, etc). I also made a mailing list on my website, and sent this it to those people as well. It’s okay to cast this net wide, because you really want to let as many people know about the Kickstarter as possible, and you might be surprised by the random people who show interest in supporting you. I also asked these supporters to back the project early, which is what helped the project fund in just two days. People who are excited to support you are your best resource, so go ahead and tell them the best ways they can help the project (and be sure to thank them profusely for that help).
3. I kept my scope small. (Like, really small.)
I chose options for the project that would allow me to keep the funding goal small and the cost of rewards affordable. Based on the feedback from my preliminary email blast, I used the number of confirmed supporters to calculate my funding goal. (With a book, I don’t have a lot of overhead cost to consider besides the printing/shipping of each book, but if your project has more overhead, you’ll also need to factor that into your initial funding goal). Also, I am using this Kickstarter just to fund the distribution of my book, not the creation of it, which is a much cheaper and easier sell. People feel more confident supporting a project that has already been made, especially from a first-time Kickstarter. My project was mostly done, my rewards were relatively affordable, and my overall funding goal was based on established interest in the project, all of which makes the campaign feel like a safe bet for supporters.
4. I continued to promote the Kickstarter throughout the campaign with regular updates, outreach, and promotion.
So far, I have interviewed with a local newspaper, given a talk at my alma mater, and emailed several dozen blogs about the Kickstarter, in addition to posting regular updates to remind people about it. Thanks to this, I’ve had a regular trickle of support coming in, even after my primary supporters backed the project early on. This helps keep your project on people’s minds and helps generate better SEO for the campaign page, which will carry on to help your project even after the Kickstarter is over.
Part 3: Lettuce wrap this up
Every project is different, and I encourage you to do plenty of additional research before launching your hand-sculpted kitten-shaped ivory coat buttons on Kickstarter. However, if you are an artist with a weakness for marketing, or if you want to give yourself some concrete deadlines for your passion project, or if you just really want to share your project with the people in your life, Kickstarter is definitely a great way to go. You don’t need a million doting fans, you don’t need professional experience, and you don’t need a ton of money- all you need is a project you believe in, some friends who believe in you, and the commitment to see the thing through. It ain’t easy, but it is totally doable for you (yes, YOU) to run your own Kickstarter to bring your creative project to life.