How to Launch a Project on Kickstarter

Micro-funding sites like Kickstarter have taken arts funding out of the hands of philanthropists and into the mass market. Or so I thought. About a month ago, GalleyCat editor Jason Boog got the idea to feature a new Kickstarter project every week to help indie writers realize their dreams. As the mbStartups co-editor, I volunteered to use the site myself and report on my successes and failures in launching a project. I had 30 days to raise $1,500 to publish my novel-in-progress, Black Wave. Using the Kickstarter platform was simple – asking for money was not. But with less than 48 hours to go, I have already exceeded my goal. This morning I went on the Morning Media Menu to tell the listeners how I did it. Here’s what I did right – and wrong – to raise the money:

1. Understand the Kickstarter Aesthetic

  • Kickstarter favors community-based projects, like mapping technology or pie recipes from around the world. They also insist that the people raising the money do the majority of the work, which is why tech projects that need outside developers often get rejected. Mine was a simple ghost story – not terribly social, but creative enough to pass through the application process. SUCCESS.
  • Also remember that these guys are really into visual art – the better you can make your video, the more likely you are to end up in their newsletter or “project of the day” feature, which moves your project higher in the search results. I recorded a song over some old black-and-white photos, which was decent, but I failed to get the file I made in iMovie to fit the screen properly. FAIL.

2. Offer the Right Incentives

  • Kickstarter has seen a lot of creative incentives, like balloon rides and free pie in the park, but as a writer, the best I could do was a copy of the book in any format, an invitation to a reading, and one quirky add-on – a postcard from a ghost (or rather, me pretending to a ghost) in Cape May, NJ. It probably would have been cheaper just to promise an e-book, but the journalist in me wanted to investigate the book’s true market potential. Would my readers want a hardcover, softcover or electronic copy? The good news is, I had takers for all three. The bad news is, now I have to print very small batches of all three. E-books, being only $10, were the most popular, but not by much. SUCCESS.
  • Coming up with incentives for higher donation amounts was a stretch. My story was set at a haunted bed and breakfast in Cape May, so I decided to name my characters after the backers – a hotel guest for $75 and a ghost for $100. My friends really liked this one – total strangers, not so much. SUCCESS.
  • Kickstarter only allows users to change incentives for pledge amounts that haven’t been claimed. I had tinkered with the idea of selling ad space in my book – for $50 and $200, I offered to let other writers or artists publish a short story, illustration or excerpt from a novel in my book as a way to expand their networks and mine. After three weeks I had zero takers, so I decided to take those out. But I haven’t given up on the idea. One of my favorite things about Netflix is that the subscription model means I can watch any low-budget film I want with no risk. In the future, I might look for ways to package Black Wave with other books from more established writers for free. FAIL.

3. Don’t Expect your Project to Go Viral

  • Some entrepreneurs are able to build a business entirely from scratch, but most have outside help. More often than not, an angel investor is a friend, parent or spouse. To do this, you have to work your social networks with daily status updates – not everything you post makes it into your friends’ status feeds, so keep trying. I also updated my backers and personal blog followers with excerpts from the story. My biggest donors were family-members and long-term friends and every time I put up an announcement, someone made a donation. SUCCESS.
  • Kickstarter is great for blogging because the videos and widgets are easy to put onto a website and the stories are brief, but compelling. Reach out to bloggers who might be interested in your project, as well as the editors of other related sites. I contacted a number of paranormal blogs. Unfortunately, I waited until the week of Christmas to do this, so the response wasn’t great, although I did get a very gracious e-mail from one of Harlequin’s Paranormal Romance editors, who explained that they only write about their own titles. FAIL.
  • When all else fails, there really are people who join Kickstarter just to back a bunch of projects from total strangers. I can count these people on one hand, but whoever they are, they are really cool. SUCCESS.

4. Look for Loopholes in the System

  • Kickstarter does not allow artists to contribute to their own projects. I decided early on that if I got within a couple hundred dollars of my goal and it looked like I wasn’t going to make it, I would transfer my own money to my fiance’s account and have him make a donation on my behalf. Unfortunately, being the supportive guy that he is, he jumped the gun and made a donation of his own. I started to panic when relatives who didn’t like to use their credit cards online told me they were sending me checks. But within hours, additional money came in and I reached my goal. Sorry, Kickstarter – those checks are going straight into my pocket. SUCCESS (barely).
  • The best loophole of all – if Kickstarter doesn’t work out, you can try your luck on other sites, like United States Artists or IndieGoGo.

The biggest takeaway is this: when you put all your thoughts into a neatly designed web page, even the most nebulous idea looks a lot more solid. The further I got into the project, the more confident I was that I could not only raise the money, but that I could finish writing the book.