by Lazarus Black
As I am currently in the middle of my 18th successful Kickstarter campaign, I thought to share some important wisdom that I've learned that I've not heard repeated elsewhere. My campaigns have earned from $3,000 to $630,000, with most ranging from $10,000-$30,000.
My wife is a world-famous artist and I have used my considerable advertising background to help her succeed. I lecture on Kickstarter at conferences around the country and online without any compensation except for a sense of pride in helping others succeed. And I've found the most important information a person needs to know before starting their Kickstarter campaign is often hidden from them by gurus charging for their services or people so far into their careers that they forgot what it took to develop their audience in the first place.
Namely: You must bring your own audience to the Kickstarter.
You must bring your own audience to the Kickstarter.
When Brandon Sanderson completed his forty million dollar Kickstarter campaign, gurus and pros around the world lauded it as heralding in a new age of publishing. They said he "changed the game" and "traditional publishing is dead".
Frankly, they're full of shit. Traditional publishing may be near its end-times, but not because of Kickstarter. And Brandon didn't change a thing. In fact, he built his entire fanbase through traditional publishing that followed him to Kickstarter because he properly nurtured them and appreciated them. No one without a fan-base could raise $10,000, let alone $40 million. And I fear for anyone who thinks "nurturing a fanbase" by an author is some "world-changing" concept. If you aren't doing that, you aren't really doing anything at all.
The fallacy lies in the imaginary Angel Kickstarter Backer who wanders the platform looking for things to back. Now, there are a very few number of backers visiting Kickstarter, but they are not looking for anything. They are looking for content that fits their preferences and then narrow it down by how confident they are the project will satisfy them.
I've met with and listened to famous authors praise Kickstarter for bringing them new fans that have never heard of them. But the truth is, their fan-base is who brought them in. Imagine a reader of science fiction coming across two projects by authors they have never her of. The first has raised a few hundred dollars from 30 backers and the authors catalog shows one previous book. The second has raised tens of thousands of dollars from thousands of backers and the author has 50 novels spanning 3 decades, plus a wikipedia page listing all their honors, awards, and how many millions of their books are in print. Which do you think they are more likely to back? Now, ask those authors to provide the data showing how many of their backers have never read them before... they can't. An author will never know every person who reads them. And though Kickstarter will tell them how many clicked on the basic ad for their book without following a link from an email, etc. Kickstarter can't tell the difference between a person who just stumbles upon the project, the person who stumbles and screams "OMG! My favorite authors has a Kickstarter! I didn't know they did those!", and how many people have simply lost the link from an email or social media and just find it easier to visit Kickstarter.com and search. Having run nearly 2 dozen Kickstarters, I will confirm that I have seen every single one of these scenarios and more. I keep in contact with my wife's collectors through social networking and face-to-face events and simply ask them and they simply tell me. And I've done the same with the Kickstarters I've consulted on. That's how I know the following:
98% of your funds come from your existing customers, via email list, social media, face-to-face events, etc. 2% will come from people taking a risk on a new project.
98% of your funds come from your existing customers
Of course, gurus want you to believe that you can lure completely new people with just the right advice or campaign you hire them for. Well, I've got decades more experience in more complicated campaigns than most of them, so believe me that you should not hire anyone for help until you are fully established as a brand.
How do I build an audience before running my first campaign?
Ah, that depends on your product and business model. For authors and artist, the single best way is to make your product first and meet people face-to-face. Every other way is expensive and returns less for the investment.
People who back Kickstarters are looking for the perfect combination of the following: a product they can't get elsewhere, an experience they cannot get elsewhere, and a relationship they cannot get elsewhere. If they are just looking for the product, they can usually get it later and maybe even at a discount. But the experience of contributing to the creation of the product is unique to Kickstarter and feeds the collector in them. But the relationship they feel they've earned with the creator is powerful, and that tempts them to back every Kickstarter the creator has. Anything that develops that personal relationship in advance, builds the strongest audience. A simple "mailing list form" is virtually useless. People might sign up on a whim or even sign up their friends and family who don't want to be there (sometimes as a joke). But impressing someone in person already draws them in. When the Kickstarter is announced, they remember "Ooh! I remember that creator." and usually hope you succeed even if they can't back at that time. They might share your project and convince their friends to back.
Compare this to advertising, where you can spend money to place an ad in front of thousands of people who will don't want to be advertised to, will actively ignore the ad even if they might be interested in its content, won't remember it the first 6 times they see it anyway, may not trust the content, will still research the creator to see if its a value even if they do follow the ad, and may not have any money to back even if they like it. And they certainly won't share an ad with their friends unless it some viral-worthy video that entertains them outside of it being an actual ad for something. Marketing calls this process "Conversion". Converting a person from seeing an ad to becoming a customers takes a huge amount of time and energy a new creator doesn't have.
And even Brandon Sanderson didn't do that. Brandon Sanderson did it by leveraging the lists and industry advantage of Traditional Publishing and THEN doing all the face-to-face work of book signings and video streaming and media personality development. And all of that costs money. If you consider how many years and dollars were spent for Brandon to create a $40M KS, you're talking well over 10 years and $1 million dollars. The ads he did (and I'm not sure how many he did) were specifically targeted to his existing customers. He didn't even bother trying to reach people who hadn't heard of him. If they found him at all, it was because of the excitement his fanbase generated.
I am planning on Kickstarters for my writing in the future. I have spent over 10 years traveling to art shows and comic cons and SFF fan shows developing relationships with like-minded people. Everyone who is a fan of my wife's knows who I am. And even when my stories and their preferences don't align, most of them still want me to succeed. Some of them will even recommend me to people they know who might be interested. And as already stated, those kinds of referrals are very valuable. I have also joined readers groups of my genre and become active in them just to get my name out there. I don't advertise except to let them know that I am a writer and hope to show them something one day — and this builds a certain credibility. Reading groups want author members of their community to succeed. I have joined writers groups and writing conferences, but there's not a lot of point to sell yourself to other authors. Instead, I'm building a reputation as someone willing to help them with what I specialize it hoping some of them will reciprocate and help me with what they specialize in. And when I recommend them to readers I know, I hope they will one day do the same for me.
Not all of this is replicable by every author, but most can. And it doesn't hurt me to encourage others to follow my example. My books don't compete with anyone else. My readers read me and lots of others and there is no way we can all satisfy them in the first place. No readers only reads Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings — so rivalry between two authors is just silly. We all rise together.
Follow all the advice you can do for free; those almost always work
So, follow all the advice you can do for free; those almost always work. But more than anything, focus building a community of fans and customers before you launch. Because relying solely on Angels and Stumblers is a lost cause and can kill your soul.
Today, my campaign is over 500% funded and a Kickstarter "Project We Love", with three and a half weeks left to go. No, it's not for a novel - but it is for a book: my wife's 6th art book. You can check it out at: https://www.kickstarter.com/pr...