So this past weekend, my Kickstarter project to fund the marketing, promotion, and publicity of my debut novel, An Ordinary Magic, successfully funded. That’s right. It was a success! I was only raising $5,000 (not a paltry sum but nothing compared to the Oatmeal’s Exploding Kittens campaign; yeah, I backed it) but I managed to pull it off…despite it coming down to the wire and a couple of big backers at the end. And although it was a success, the whole experience taught me a lot about crowd-funding.
It Takes a Village (or a lot of Facebook friends)
The biggest misconception of crowd-funding is the old saying (thanks Kevin Costner), “build it (or launch it) and they will come.” For the most part, that is just untrue. You need to actively promote your campaign to the one place you can—friends, family, and your social network. So, of course, it helps to have a big social network of engaged followers (or a really big, extended family). Where was my primary push? Facebook. These are the people that I work with, grew up with, hang out with, and know my deepest, most intimate secrets (well, maybe not all of them). But they listen to me and occasionally respond. What’s more, I had access to sending them direct, private missives via Facebook Messenger where I could hound them until they donated.
The key here? Don’t launch a campaign without a solid social network behind it. Your network may not be the only funding, but they provide the momentum that may attract other people to the cause.
What would I do differently? Asked for less money. The problem with Kickstarter is that you can’t modify your goal once the project is live. So you should start small. I would probably have targeted $1500 and included some “stretch” goals had I really been thinking it through.
Launch Something Unique
Okay, I failed at this. Miserably. I knew what I was doing—raising funds to market the book—wasn’t unique. It wasn’t going to get featured by Kickstarter. It wasn’t going to get picked up by the media. I’m not sure what I expected in this regard, perhaps that people would magically find my project and donate, but the opposite happened. If it hadn’t been for me hustling to raise money, I doubt the project would have been successful at all.
The key here? Crowd-funding a project isn’t for everything. Lots of people post projects on Kickstarter, Indiegogo, GoFundMe, and others without understanding that their project may not be a good “fit” for crowd-funding. In other words, it may be destined to fail when it could get “funded” via more traditional routes (like a loan, asking friends and family directly, etc.).
What would I do differently? I wouldn’t have posted my project on Kickstarter. I would have just developed a campaign of letters, private messages, rewards, etc. and raised money directly. The only thing Kickstarter provided was a convenient “platform” to raise funds (but they take a cut, of course).
Ask, Ask, Ask Again. Then Ask Some More.
If you want to successfully fund your project, you can’t be shy about asking people to donate. Your direct contacts (those people you have an actual relationship with, not just social media connections) are your primary source of funding. Unless, of course, your project is really cool, gets viral, and gets picked up by the media (yeah, right). I asked a lot of people multiple times to donate to the project. I had the distinct impression this is what politicians feel like—constantly badgering their constituents for a few bucks. But it worked. And it worked well. I want to think that part of it was the backstory for my project (I wrote the novel 20 years ago and it was my life-long dream to publish it) but it’s more likely that people were donating because they knew me and believed in me. This won’t be my last novel…
The key here? Asking for money makes most people uncomfortable. Kickstarter and other crowd-funding platforms provide a “reward” system that makes it less uncomfortable but not completely. You have to get outside of your comfort zone and be willing to ask people to donate, to ask them to give their money to yourproject, or the fund raising will fail. Unless, of course, you are making a card game about exploding kittens…
What would I do differently? Again, I would have had a longer timeline. Ten days was crazy hectic sending messages, answering questions, and trying to get people to donate to the project. And even though it worked, it wasn’t ideal. In fact, I probably left a lot of potential money on the table because people needed more time to make a decision.
The Long and Short of it All
So I learned a lot and there are a lot of things I would do differently (I’m sure I’ll be raising money again to promote my next novel) but ultimately, here’s what it comes down to:
- Have a plan—don’t just launch your project. Think through your funding goals (ask for FAR less than you need and build in stretch goals with additional rewards), think through your timeframe, and think through how you are going to raise the initial funds to get the ball rolling (i.e., who are you going to target directly).
- Keep in constant contact—don’t let a day go by when you aren’t publishing an update or sending out a status via social media. Not only do you want to keep top-of-mind for those that haven’t donated but you want to keep your current backers excited about the project (so they share with their friends and family)
- Be thankful—call out your backers via social media when they donate. Show them love. It not only endears you to them but it also shows everyone who’s not a backer that you are grateful and thankful for their generosity and kindness.