Crowdfunding Forum Kickstarter Q&A

I was asked by the moderator of the Crowdfunding Forum to answer a few questions about my Kickstarter projects. The original forum thread is here.

#1 Tell us a little bit about yourself and your project.

My name is Alex Woolfson and as a gay kid growing up I loved science-fiction and action stories, but I never got to see what I really wanted to see and that’s kick-ass genre stories with real heroes who just happen to like guys. So I decided to create those stories myself as comics. I released my first comic, the science-fiction graphic novel Artifice, on the web from March 2011 through April 2012 and when it completed I launched a Kickstarter project to raise money to bring it to print. I asked for $7,000 and received over $36,000 in pledges. This year I created a Kickstarter to raise money to print my latest online comic, the superhero thriller The Young Protectors. For that one, I asked for $14,000 and raised close to $134,000.

#2 Why did you choose Kickstarter out of all the crowdfunding platforms that exist today? Do you think you could have succeeded in funding your project on another crowdfunding platform? If so, which?

There are lots of reasons I chose Kickstarter—for example, it seems to be the most popular and it’s got the best name recognition. Other creators I respect have used it. But there’s a philosophical reason too. Part of what makes Kickstarter such a good platform for funding a speculative creative project is that it’s a win-win for both backer and creator in terms of its safety net, i.e. people’s credit cards are only charged if the goal is reached and you’re only on the hook to provide rewards if the goal is reached. Other services offer something tempting: the ability to keep all the money even if you don’t reach your goal (with higher fees of course). For those who have struggled to reach their goal, I get why this is tempting but it encourages bad crowdfunding hygiene. IMHO, your goal amount should be the amount of money you actually need to create and ship everything you promise. For you to get a bunch of money that’s still not enough for you to do that, puts you in tough spot and sets you up for burning your backers. Not good for you, not good for crowdfunding in general, by my lights.

#3 What do you feel contributed the most to the success of your project? Where did all these people who funded your project come from?

I’ve actually written a whole article about what I think led to the success:…omeone-who-did (I wrote it while the The Young Protectors Kickstarter was running so the dollar amounts don’t reflect the final total that was pledged.) The most important factor is building your audience ahead of time – nothing will make a bigger difference than that. (I was posting comic pages for a year before I launched my first project and that made a huge difference.) Also very important is having a way to get the word out on a consistent basis without it being simply a money-beg (the fact that I was posting new pages of my comic twice a week as the Kickstarter was running made a huge difference: with every post came a spike in pledges.) Having clearly defined and compelling stretch goals is a must if you want to exceed your goal—be sure to think of those ahead of time and start promoting them from day one. It’s also a very good idea to think about what’s special about what you’re doing that reporters will actually care about: be thinking of what kind of press releases you’ll create before you launch.

#4 What was something that you learned from having a successful Kickstarter project which you did not know prior to going live?

Shipping, especially international shipping, is crazy expensive. More than you could believe possible. Luckily with my first Kickstarter I had included a sizable contingency to make sure I could deliver so I wasn’t left in tough spot, but without that contingency I would have been in trouble. Figure out how much things weigh and then use the online USPS service to ship that weight (plus packing materials) to Germany and Australia and factor that into your goal. Be very, very wary of stretch goals that add to your weight (such as bumping up your paperback printing to hardcover), you can really get into trouble that way.

#5 What mistakes do you think you may have made along the way on your crowdfunding journey?

With my first Kickstarter, I didn’t include very high-dollar pledge levels because, well, I didn’t think anyone would bite and it felt like it would be arrogant to have them. From the over-pledging some of my backers at the top tiers made with the Artifice Kickstarter, though, I realized I was probably wrong about that so I made sure to have a $1250 pledge level and even a $2500 level this time around (figuring that if I didn’t have at least one level that was too high to get pledges, I was selling the project short.) Even the $2500 level got a pledge, so don’t be afraid to dream big!

#6 If you could give advice to someone thinking about launching a crowdfunding campaign, what would it be?

Remember that it’s not a payday. From the outside, it’s hard not to believe that when a project explodes at least some of that money doesn’t wind up in the creator’s pockets. But for lots of reasons, it doesn’t really work like that. Yes, I received $133,640 in pledges for my latest Kickstarter. But after Kickstarter fees, Amazon fees and failed credit card transactions, how much wound up in my bank account? $120,000. OK, that’s still amazing, right? Right. But how much will it cost to make everything I promised to my backers (including shipping)? $117,000. And that extra $3000 I’m saving for contingency.

Now, before anyone cries me a river, that $117,000 means that next year, after all the backers get their rewards, I’m going to have a lot of great inventory to sell and if the stuff I make is cool enough, then I’ll get a nice chunk of change from sales to new folks on the back end. (For example, I spent all my Artifice Kickstarter money on the book, but after shipping the backers their books, wound up with nearly 4000 printed copies of the book left to sell, with the design and printing completely paid for. Not bad for a $20 book that’s selling quite well, thank you.) The point is, though, that despite clearing $100,000, I’m not able to quit my day job to live off the Kickstarter money, or fly to Tahiti or anything like that.

Don’t think for one second that money will help you pay rent. Rather, think of a Kickstarter as a great way to afford to create things that you would never be able to make otherwise. I’m just a regular guy and I wanted to make comic books with gay superheroes—it doesn’t get much more niche than that—and I wanted those books to be of the same quality or better than what the big comics publishers are able to create. Kickstarter has made that impossible dream possible.

Kickstarter is not the lottery; rather it’s a means for a bunch of folks to get together to make awesome stuff. It can give the little guy the chance to compete with the big boys: for example, it’s a great way to pay for runs of inventory at a scale where the per unit cost is low because you are ordering thousands of units instead of dozens. And for many of us, it’s the only way we’d ever have the money to create that awesome thing we’ve always dreamed of making at all. Think of it in those terms and you’ll be OK.

#7 Now that your project has been fully funded, what issue or unexpected occurrences have you run into, if any?

Both times I’ve been surprised at how great publicity it’s been. For the reasons I gave above, I think it’s dangerous to launch a Kickstarter for any reason other than to make cool stuff, and that includes doing it to raise your profile. That said, after the success I’ve had with Kickstarter, I’ve gotten a ton of attention and kind words from media and other professional comics creators. It’s opened doors to distribution and public speaking that I could not have anticipated. It’s added thousands of readers to my comics.

When it works well, it maximizes everything. This is a great time to be an independent creator and Kickstarter is one awesome reason why.


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