A Guide to What Works and How

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Suspending and Learning

I’ve opted today to suspend my book’s crowdfunding campaign at Kickstarter. The project is only a bit over 10% funded and unlikely to succeed. But I’m happy about it. Why? Have I gone crazy?

No. I learned an enormous amount through this effort. Let me share a few pieces of feedback and insight.

Clear vision. When I started thinking about this project, I envisioned a coffeetable book that would spread some of the excitement about crowdfunding with insights about what worked. As I developed it further, I realized my strength, and where the greatest interest lay, was in a how-to book. I never entirely centered the book’s mission on that new goal.

Pre-order versus support. As noted in other posts, many successful projects are of the “do another thing like that thing I liked before,” such as a musician releasing a CD of music like the music that fans like. My crowdfunding book is, in many ways, unlike everything else I’ve done, and I don’t have a “natural” (or existing) audience for it. Thus, for some backers, friends and colleagues, they supported me by supporting the project.

But for a larger group, and I think this included folks who might have retweeted and otherwise spread the word about the project, the pledge levels were too high. The ebook was $25, the paperback book $50, and the hardcover limited edition $125. This reflected the cost plus a portion of the overall project budget. But that wasn’t how it was seen by folks who saw this as pre-order not support.

When I relaunch, the ebook clearly needs to be about $10 and the paperback $25. (The speaking/site visit levels still make sense because of the time and cost issues.)

Pre-write some of the book and shoot some videos. I also received clear feedback that not seeing any of the book, just several articles I’d written, didn’t give backers who didn’t know me a sense of what the book would actually be like. My thinking was that much of the book involves interviews and research, and thus I couldn’t write a draft. But to make it work, I’ll need to write, at a minimum, a chapter and a prospectus that lays out the project better. The same with videos. I should be able to rent decent equipment and undertake some video interviewing in Seattle and Portland in that regard.

Find an audience. I plan to continue to update this blog, and hope you’ll come with me (and comment on it) as I go. This will be a good place for me to discuss ideas and solicit feedback as to what works for folks.

All of this was invaluable, and I count all the time towards the project as time well spent. I talk to other people working on and planning crowdfunding projects regularly, and have exchanged and learned quite a bit from what they’re up to, as well as provided advice that has actually worked as a result of previous research and what I’ve learned from this effort.

I’ll be back! Keep reading, and pass the URL for this blog on to others.

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Keith Knight on Crowdfunding

One of the lovely people I talked to in preparing my project was Keith Knight, a cartoonist whose work I’ve loved for years. Keith writes and draws a large-panel strip and a daily comic, as well as performs in a band and illustrates on the side. It’s all in a day’s work for a cartoonist.

Keith offered up several pieces of advice and self-discovered wisdom from his campaign for “I Was a Teenage Michael Jackson Impersonator!“, a graphic novel he’s creating from his own life. True stories! Keith set out to raise $40,000 and brought in $42,843.

I happened to pledge to his campaign when he was a few dollars short of $40,000, so I claim to have technically put him over the top for funding!

Here’s a few nuggets of wisdom:

  • Kickstarter dies on the weekends. Don’t launch or have a project complete on a Saturday or Sunday. People don’t pledge on those days.
  • Schedule time a few days in to a project to start emailing the folks who already know your work and get them on board.
  • Put up samples of your work. Keith somehow managed to launch without including any cartoons! He quickly rectified that. This would be true for any writer, musician, or artist; videos would suffice for people making products to show work they’d already created.

Keith’s breakthrough in funding came when he had neared $20,000, and figured he wasn’t going to make it over the top. But a friend of his said, “All you have to do is get people to double down.” Many contributors had given relatively small amounts from $5 to $40. They had already committed to the project, and clearly wanted it to happen.

Keith sent out a backer update asking people if they’d consider upping their pledges in order to make it a reality. Many did. He shot to nearly $40,000 in a few days, and then reached funding not long after that.

I’ll be meeting Keith in person in Los Angeles as part of my storygathering tour for the book.

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The Unique Problem of My Book

One of the problems I have with raising funds in this method to write my book on crowdfunding is that it’s not “more of the same.”

That is, most crowdfunding is successful for people and groups that have already built a substantial audience for the kind of thing that the audience likes. Amanda Palmer has a huge following in real life and on Twitter and on her blogs and elsewhere because of the decade of music she’s made. She already recorded the album that she used Kickstarter to raise what was ultimately $1.2 million ($100,000 was the goal).

Someone who loves Palmer’s work says, “Ah ha! Something along the lines of what she’s done before that I already love, but new, and I get to be part of it, and I can get exclusive things if I pay more for them, like an art book or a private house concert.”

This is less true for products, in which people may never have purchased anything from the makers of the Pebble watch, which took in over $10 million for their effort, but the backers could read up on the track record of the makers, and the product was compelling enough to pre-order.

I’m somewhere in the middle, which may be a problem. While I know that millions of people have read my work over the years, some of it is without byline (as at the Economist in the print edition, or just with initials on the blog), and much of it is the kind of writing that people may not recollect my name.

I have nearly 7,000 followers on Twitter, and some have rather large followings to which they have already or will re-broadcast my book’s Kickstarter project. That network effect will certainly help.

But I don’t have a critical mass of fans who are saying, “Glenn, that thing you do: we want to help you to more of it.” It’s also true that this book isn’t precisely like what I’ve done before. I’ve written dozens of books and thousands of articles, and this book will be a bit like some of the how-to books (especially in the Take Control series) and somewhat like some of the articles. But it’s entirely new.

I do expect I will be able to fund the project. My marketing and PR efforts start in earnest on Monday, when I start to reach out to friends and colleagues, write articles for other sites, and send email to many of the folks I’ve spoken to over the last several months about writing this book, and whom I want to profile in it in the case studies part.

I’m 3% there after the soft launch. Let’s see what happens when I turn on the engines.