My Self-Publishing Model: Kickstarter

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Last year I managed my first Kickstarter campaign, and failed miserably. I had to cancel it after two weeks. However, in hindsight, I was able to see what went wrong and what went right. So when I decided to run another one for my own personal project, my novel The Alchemist’s Theorem, I had a much better idea of how to go about it.

Knowing that a lot of time and effort needed to go into finishing the book as well as putting together the campaign, I took a big risk by only working part-time in order to pull it all off. I’ve been living on very little money for the past 9 months, but to me it was worth the risk.

Since I have weirdly become an organized person in the last couple of years, I’m going to break my Kickstarter methods down into categories, and discuss accordingly.

Being Active

I launched my campaign on August 3rd 2015, but I began working on it in January of 2015 by setting dates and deadlines, laying out plans, and scheming. I saw a comprehensive picture of what I wanted to accomplish. My ‘to do’ lists were endless, and essential.

Since I didn’t have a finished book to build an audience around, I thought up other projects to do in the mean time, so that people could still be engaged by creative content. In February, I started this blog, posting twice a week about the progress of the book etc. In March, I launched my Minecraft YouTube channel, publishing new episodes every Wednesday. Whenever I posted a new blog or video I tweeted and Facebooked it, so that people in my community would know I was actively producing content.

People

I knew that I couldn’t pull this off myself so I enlisted awesome people to help. I needed editors, proofreaders, co-hosts, and an artist. I searched the website Fiverr for the artist. The first one I worked with bailed on me within a week. The second one was Poohpuu, and I totally lucked out. Poohpuu is talented, dependable, and affordable, and hit the deadlines I had set for illustrations.

In July, I reached out to every individual in my community that I felt comfortable enough to ask to help support my campaign on the day that it launched. I was nervous about this, I thought I’d come off as a salesman and get awkward replies. It turned out to be quite the opposite. I only copied and pasted a few basic sentences about the campaign and my request for support. I always added a personal message. I LOVED getting in touch with and hearing from everyone. I got to catch up on, reconnect with, and strengthen all of my relationships. It took a good deal of time, but it was great! Everyone was excited and more than happy to support me.

The Page

At the beginning of June, I created the page for my Kickstarter and started putting it together. Early on in the year, I came up with most of the funny headlines and punchlines for the campaign’s main page. I let them sit for a couple of months to see if they were still funny, and fleshed out a little here and there. The book’s synopsis took a while to craft. When I began putting the page together I wrote, revised, and organized all of the content. Brooks was consulted on a regular basis and provided valuable feedback. I knew I didn’t want my page to be a huge information dump. I wanted to take into account short attention spans, especially since I am one of those people. I kept things as organized and concise as I could, as well as humorous; it is easier to engage people with humor.

I made all of the graphics, which was tedious and time-consuming. I re-uploaded each graphic many times because they could always be improved upon. I originally did the recording of me reading a few pages of the book in a professional sound booth, but I am claustrophobic and read the lines too fast because I wanted to get out of the tomb. I ended up re-recording in our bathroom.

The video turned out to be the easiest part. I drafted the script and storyboards in June, revised it a couple of times, worked on the jokes with Brooks, found a camera and location, and then shot it at the end of the month. We only needed one session. I had been rehearsing my lines and imaging how I wanted it to look days before, so when it came time to execute it, I was ready. I made sure the narrative was simple, concise and informative. It was a summary of what was on the page. I said who I was, what I made and what it was about, stated my creds, included who I was working with, said what I needed funds for and thanked the viewer. I made the music with loops in Garage Band and edited it all together in Final Cut Pro. Then I sent it out to a few people to get feedback, made a couple of small changes and then uploaded it.

The pledge levels are probably the trickiest part. Kickstarter and Amazon take about 10% total of what I make. I have to pay the god-awful 20% self-employment tax. The funds have to pay for the cost of printing the books as well as shipping them. And I still need profit in order to pay for what I proposed in the campaign (a short print run etc.). I knew how important it was to make sure I was setting the proper amount for each pledge level. I’ve heard of campaigns making hundreds of thousands or even a million and only breaking even because of all the costs. So, I made a spread sheet, got the proper numbers and estimations, and set the pledge prices accordingly.

Once I had the page put together I sent it out to people for feedback. After I considered everything, made decisions and adjustments, I let the page sit for a couple of days, looked over it again and decided it was ready. I posted regularly about my progress, and everyone was ready for the day that I launched. How a Kickstarter does in the first day will determine how it does throughout. It is said that around 25% of your funds need to be raised in the first day or two. Because of all my time, effort, and preparation, I managed to hit my goal amount of $2,500 in the first 16 hours.

During the Campaign

I quit my part-time job the month before the launch so that I could work on the Kickstarter full-time while it was live. My adrenaline was elevated every day for thirty days. It was intense. I low-balled my goal amount because of the basic fear anyone has when they do something like this, that not enough people will support me. $2,500 was the minimum I needed to order 500 copies of my book to sell in the market. I needed a helluva lot more to give my book a decent start. So when I hit my goal in 16 hours I was a bit anxious that everyone would disappear because they thought it was over. Thankfully that was not the case, but I still had a lot of work to do.

I had a list of things to do every day: post on social media, reach out directly to people in my network, reach out to media outlets, email bloggers. I also posted updates twice a week, blogged twice a week, and published Minecraft videos once a week so as to keep people engaged and excited to hit stretch goals. At the tail end of the Kickstarter I went to Worldcon and promoted the campaign there as well.

Reaching out to my network personally, and posting fun stuff regularly, really helped push the campaign from the core of my community out into the expanse of people I have been connected with over time. Reaching out to different media outlets was good exercise but I never got a hit. However, one of the VP’s at Kickstarter found my page, pledged, and then posted it in a Kickstarter newsletter. That created a big spike in pledges from many people I don’t know. Also, my page eventually found it’s way to the editor-in-chief of an online middle grade reader magazine, and she reached out to me and asked for a copy of the book. So the labor didn’t have a direct effect but certainly an excellent indirect effect.

I found a list of over a hundred blogs that review middle grade reader fantasy books. I looked at every single one of them. The ones that said “no self-published books” I skipped. The ones that didn’t, I carefully read their policy, and if they were accepting books for review I read their about section, checked to see if they were active bloggers, and what kind of audience engagement they had. I ended up emailing about fifty of them. Only four of them replied and agreed to review my book. Though that doesn’t seem like a large number, they are all genuinely interested and excited to read my book, which counts for a lot because they aren’t just professionals who are reviewing a book, they are my audience. What they think about The Alchemist’s Theorem really matters to me and the future of the book.

And that’s how, in a nutshell, I went about my Kickstarter. But what worked for me might not necessarily work for everyone. However, I definitely think that anyone who wants to do one would benefit from having a plan, help, and time.

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