Who is Mike Allen, and what does he know about funding a Kickstarter project?
Mike launched a Kickstarter project on July 10, 2012 with a goal of raising $5,000. With a lot of hard work and support, he was able to achieve multiple stretch goals and hit a final Kickstarter backing of $10,219 on August, 9, 2012.
I know that many loyal readers of TwistedSciFi.com are contemplating their own Kickstarter projects so I reached out to Mike to better understand the challenges and successes associated with funding his short story anthology, CLOCKWORK PHOENIX 4 using Kickstarter.
Are there any red flags that someone should look for with a potential Kickstarter project that should cause them to delay launching their project, or to avoid crowdsouring as a funding vehicle completely?
I want to start all these answers off with a disclaimer: I am by no means an expert on Kickstarter. I have used it successfully once, but don’t have my mind wrapped all the way around how Kickstarter works globally, so I can only frame things in terms of my own experiences.
Kickstarter is for creating things, not for funding causes or fixing financial problems. So of course you first need to make sure your project fits Kickstarter’s guidelines.
But perhaps more importantly, you need to think about who will give the money that you’re trying to raise, and how do you reach them, and what will you offer them? I think a number of people approach Kickstarter with the idea that you just put a project out there and it goes viral through Internet magic and Boom! you’re funded. (There’s a similar strain of thinking out there with regard to e-book sales, for that matter.)
But that isn’t really how the Internet works. There’s no way to control whether something goes viral or not. You should never count on that. So … imagine that there will be no miracles. Is there a community you can hopefully count on to take an interest in your project? Family, friends, other writers, other readers, lovers of music or gaming gadgets? And if so, are there means at your disposal to tell them what you’re doing? Are they all Facebook friends? Will you be able to speak to them at a convention or club meeting? Do you have a friendly colleague with a lot of Twitter followers who might signal boost?
So I don’t suppose I can offer you any examples of “red flags.” More of a caution sign: think about who you can count on and who you can reach when you weigh whether Kickstarter is a good idea. Remember that you won’t be able to just put it out there and let it sit. If you want it to work, you’re going to need to be out there doing something to promote your project for just about every day of the campaign. It’s hard work and a huge commitment of time and energy.
Once someone commits to a crowdsourcing platform like Kickstarter, what are some important steps that should be taken before the campaign goes live?
Look at other Kickstarter campaigns like yours that were successful. Study what they did. Look at some like yours that failed, and study what they did. Talk to friends and colleagues about what you want to do and how you want to approach it. If those friends are frequent Kickstarter backers or have run successful Kickstarters themselves, that’s a big bonus.
Kickstarter allows you to show your “beta readers” what the project looks like so you can get their opinions and make changes before going live. Use that feature as often as necessary.
I’m very lucky in that the first three Clockwork Phoenix books left a number of people wanting more, and so I had a lot of folks, former contributors, colleagues, fans, to run ideas by and consider suggestions from. All that feedback made a huge difference.
Heed the advice of Kickstarter itself. If you have the means, make a video. If you don’t have the means to make a high quality video, just use it to get straight to the point, which is what Anita and I did. (And if you lack the means altogether, there are plenty of successful Kickstarters without videos, so don’t despair.)
Try to have a really crucial, juicy reward at the $25 level, which Kickstarter says is the most popular reward tier. That certainly proved the case with our campaign.
Also, plan to give people copies of whatever it is your making, in as many ways as you can, at the lowest level you can reasonably afford. This is where things like e-books and music and movie downloads can really pay off.
Do you have any advice for determining the amount of your Kickstarter goal?
Well, a wise friend of mine, writer and editor Rose Lemberg, pointed out that people tend to underestimate how much they’ll need for one of these projects and end up not raising enough money. My original target was $4,000. After Rose questioned this I delved a little further into the math and released that shooting for that amount could have left me in quite a fix, needing to shell out additional money of my own to complete the book, which was the circumstance I wanted to avoid in the first place. So I adjusted up. Given other campaigns I looked at, $5,000 seemed like a reachable goal. (Again, looking at how similar projects panned out is very important. If you plan to ask for $15,000 and all the projects like yours raised $1,500, you might need to rethink.)
Something that’s really crucial: figuring out whether the rewards you offer will help or hurt you in reaching your goal. One of the rewards that was suggested to me during the planning stage involved giving out tote bags with logos. Sounds reasonable, right? But when I looked at how much it costs to purchase and ship a custom tote bag, I realized I couldn’t give them out as low level rewards, because, at the prices that seemed reasonable to offer them, they would end up costing me enough to make them that I wouldn’t have enough money left over to fully fund the project.
So with the rewards, just as with the goal, there’s a balance you have to strike so that it all seems reasonable to your backers, but also actually fulfills your goal, so that you can fund the project and the rewards with the money you raise.
Once the Kickstarter project is launched, what do you think are the most important things someone can do to get their project funded?
Here’s what I did. I used Twitter to signal boost the campaign several times a day; Facebook as well. I felt silly doing it sometimes — I tried to say something different each time, and that gets tricky — but it ultimately worked. I’m not sure I’ve really mastered the art of being insistent without being pushy, but if there was any backlash I never noticed it, heh.
Anita and I went to ReaderCon in Boston in July, and I promoted the campaign there in front of as many live audiences as I felt could stand it.
I asked friends and colleagues to help signal boost, mostly on Twitter and Facebook. I made it clear, too, that if for some reason they couldn’t or didn’t want to, that was okay, it was up to them. And a lot of those friends helped me, many more than once. I’d say that made a crucial difference in how the Clockwork Phoenix 4 campaign went.
And by the way, there was no magic bullet. Every little bit helped a little bit. No one thing decided it all.
I kept in mind how much I believe in this book whenever interest seemed to fade, when pledges slowed down or people didn’t retweet my posts, and I kept at it.
We hit our first goal a lot earlier than I expected. So with help from Anita and from my friends and peers I came up with new goals, new rewards, and new ways to promote them. I played toward what was popular. People really took to the special Clockwork Phoenix pins Anita was making, and the Cherie Priest/Paula Friedlander chapbook that I brainstormed with Rose Lemberg’s help halfway through. So I made videos of Anita’s progress on the pins, and shared those. That made a difference. The excitement over Cherie’s chapbook, and the boosts we got from Cherie herself, also made a difference.
What all of this meant was that when unanticipated things happened — like Neil Gaiman signal boosting the campaign four hours before it ended — we were in much better shape to benefit from it than if I’d just left it sitting there.
Would you personally consider using Kickstarter for future projects? If so, please explain why or why not?
I would but not anytime soon. Kickstarter is exhausting!
About Guest Author, Mike Allen
Mike Allen is a writer and editor of poetry and fiction. His horror story “The Button Bin” was a Nebula Award finalist in 2009, with more recent appearances in Beneath Ceaseless Skies and the upcoming Solaris Rising 2 anthology. He’s also recently made three short stories available on Kindle, “Stolen Souls,” “She Who Runs” and “Sleepless, Burning Life.” He edits the poetry journal Mythic Delirium and the anthology series Clockwork Phoenix. Thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign, he’s now getting ready to open to submissions to Clockwork Phoenix 4. Here are links to his homepage and his LiveJournal page, The Plasteel Spider Factory; he’s also on Facebook and Twitter.