By Anthony Desiato
Among the final panels of this year's Comic Con International: San Diego programming was Kickstarter Secrets Revealed, moderated by Kickstarter's own Jamie Tanner and featuring Kel McDonald (Sorcery 101), George Rohac (CEO, Breadpig), and Hope Nicholson (The Secret Lives of Geek Girls), all of whom have run successful crowdfunding campaigns.
Though the session was tailored to independent comic book creators, many of the principles discussed apply to Kickstarters of all kinds. Tanner began by revealing that the panel's title is actually a misnomer, as "none of this is actually secret." He proceeded to explain the rationale behind Kickstarter's "all or nothing" funding system — if a project does not meet its funding goal, none of the money pledged actually gets collected. Tanner argued that the high stakes actually encourage backers and benefit project owners. After all, if projects kept all of the money pledged regardless of funding goal, then creators might end up beholden to backers to complete projects despite raising much less money than they actually require.
Of particular relevance to aspiring comic book writers and artists, Tanner quoted the following statistics: Comic book projects have a 55% success rate (as compared to 40% for all Kickstarter campaigns generally), with most raising between $1,000 and $10,000. Further, 80% of comic projects that reached just twenty-five backers were successfully funded. Lastly, comic projects have the highest percentage of repeat creators.
Tanner did note, however, that one of users' biggest misconceptions is that Kickstarter is a "magic money machine." In launching a campaign — which typically consists of a project image, video, description, list of rewards, and updates — creators would do well to convey as clear and specific an idea as possible to potential backers about what the project will be. Before turning the conversation over to the remaining panelists, he revealed that there is no formal application process for a project getting featured (akin to a "staff pick") on the Kickstarter site. Rather, he said, simply "have a great project."
For their part, McDonald, Rohac, and Nicholson offered their insight into three key areas of a Kickstarter campaign: goal-setting, budgeting/record-keeping, and marketing.
In deciding on a funding goal, Rohac addressed the balance between seeking enough money to do the project justice while still keeping the goal attainable. He urged the audience to "think about the main, core thing you want to do" and set the goal accordingly. The panel shared anecdotal evidence about the life cycle of a campaign. In their experience, one third of a project's total funding is usually raised during the first few days, followed by a plateau in the middle of the campaign and a surge at the end.
The panelists all stressed the importance of utilizing spreadsheets to keep track of budgets. The panel also recommended that creators insist on getting finished quotes ahead of time from any other parties that will be involved in the production process. McDonald recounted an issue another creator ran into with a project, which the printer deemed "pornographic" and refused to print for the agreed-upon price; the creator ended up getting the book printed, but for double the original amount. McDonald instructed aspiring crowdfunders to include a "screw-up fund" in their budget to account for miscalculations and fluctuating rates. Rohac added that such a practice also allows creators to pursue new opportunities that may arise in the course of bringing a project to life.
Lastly, the panel discussed the importance and challenge of spreading the word about a Kickstarter campaign. Everyone advised the audience to be wary of marketing spammers who flood project owners' inboxes after a campaign is launched. Nicholson shared that she once hired a publicist, which turned out to be "a waste of money." McDonald said that doesn't have the money for paid advertising–"which is why I'm using Kickstarter in the first place"–so she starts with social media and her existing audience and contacts to help spread the word. In seeking press about a campaign, Rohac stressed that creators should "put the project first" when reaching out to journalists. These days, it is not particularly rare or newsworthy for a book, film, or other creative work to be crowdfunded; rather, the creator should be able to explain why the project itself would be of interest to a news outlet's audience.
Anthony Desiato can be reached on Twitter @DesiWestside