Brad: I’ve just launched my first Kickstarter, and one of the first things I’ve noticed (only a few days in as I write this) is that it brings the author, or any Kickstarter team, much closer to the consumer than ever before, even more than I thought it was going to. Not only is the consumer interacting directly with author by pre-ordering their products, the author is almost by necessity interacting with the consumer. I say “almost” because technically speaking, the Kickstarter owner need not interact with their backers, but boy are you missing out on an opportunity if you don’t.
First of all, your backers have a lot to say. They can add comments to the Kickstarter itself or to the updates that you occasionally add. They give encouragement on stretch goals and even offer up ideas for new ones, especially if you ask. Furthermore, interacting with the people who are buying what you’re selling is immensely gratifying. Having the chance to talk to those who are already champions of your work, or those who might be, is a great way to explore and benefit from the human aspects of Kickstarter. Writing is a lonely business indeed, and the chance to have a high-traffic virtual store for a month or so is an exciting and heartwarming experience.
The last thing I’ll say about my early impressions is this: I think it’s groundbreaking the degree to which artist can modify their products to suit the desires of their fanbase. For example, I’m offering the chance for a backer to help create a character name or a character’s backstory or even to help create a story from scratch. There are tons of other creative rewards I’ve seen from authors and artists alike. Some might say this is invasive to the pure creative process, but I disagree. There’s plenty of time for an author to hide away and remain “pure” if they wish. Kickstarter offers a way to interact and to have a fun, creative experience with people they never would have been able to otherwise.
Matt: I totally agree, but I’ve never been one of those authors who feels sullied by commerce. I make things up for a living — I started with tabletop games and also write for video games and comics — and getting paid for such efforts has always been a messy process. Historically, we’ve had publishers, distributors, stores, and so on that make it easier and cleaner to reach out to people who might enjoy our work. One of the trade-offs, though, is that these layers remove us from those same fans.
Kickstarter makes it easy to go direct to your fans, just as if you were a street performer busking for a living. You put your hat out there in front of your project, and you do what you can to encourage people to toss in their cash. You can be as elaborate or as simple with your presentation as you like, but in the end, it’s all about pitching your project straight to the end user.
The one thing that really struck me about Kickstarter is that it’s not a system or a store or anything else so much as it’s a platform. It’s a space cleared out for you to work on, and that’s about it. That gives you a ton of freedom to tailor your drive the way that seems best for you, and lots of people who use it are still trying to figure out the best ways to make the most of it. It’s tricky but fun.
Brad: I asked around quite a bit before I started making plans for my Kickstarter. Like most anyone, I wanted to be well informed before I dove in. Now that I’ve launched and have some sense of what’s helped, I’ll pass along a few pieces of advice that I think helped me the most.
First, if your project is for a book, spend the time and/or money to create a professional cover before launch. In my case, I ended up finding the piece of artwork I liked, working with the artist to see if it was available, and discussed terms before moving forward with the mock-up. Cover design is also one of my pet interests in the field, and I have a bit of experience in graphic design, so I tackled the design myself. What I ended up with is a cover that now acts as the face of the project. This is basic marketing, and yet I’ve seen a lot of projects with amateur-looking graphics, which only serves to blunt your project’s potential. Even if you don’t have the final art, you can easily create an inexpensive cover by using such websites as dreamstime.com or iStockPhoto.com. And along these lines, if you need help to create a professional design, get it. I can personally recommend Jenn Reese at tigerbrightstudios.com. Just take a look at the front page and you’ll get an idea of what a professional designer can do with even stock photos.
The second piece of advice I have regards your video. And make no mistake, there really is no question on whether or not you should include one. You ignore the statistics at your own peril, which are all over Kickstart’s site: 50% of projects with videos fun, a statistic that drops to a paltry 30% for projects that decided to move forward without videos. So my advice isn’t to do with whether you should have a video, but with the content itself. You’ll see some pretty elaborate videos out there. That can be really daunting. Unlike the cover, I think it’s ok to be “stripped down” in the video. There are plenty that are quite informal—just the project owner talking to a camera. So how to get your message across? The main thing is excitement. Talk about the things that got you excited about the project in the first place. Believe me, that sort of enthusiasm is infectious, so tap into it and it’ll show in the number of backers your project picks up and their willingness to spread the news.
Matt: All excellent points. The big things to remember about your pitch are you need to both look professional and connect with the audience. Kickstarter is a trust economy in that people are only going to back you if they trust that you’ll give them something wonderful for their money.
You can gain that trust in two ways. The first is to earn it. If you’ve already proven yourself, it makes it much easier for people to trust that you can produce excellent, fun stuff again. You’re trading on your reputation.
The second way is to give such a polished presentation that people can instantly see how amazing your project is. You’re trading on a display of talent and skill here. If you can manage to pull off both of these things, you’ll go even farther. If you can dazzle backers with your pitch and point to a proven track record of success, you’ll fund for sure.
The other big trick is figuring out how much to shoot for. If you reach too high, you can flame out fast, but if you shoot too low, you can wind up losing money on the entire deal. To find a good balance, look for a goal you can reach without losing cash. If you top it, you can set stretch goals with new incentives to help encourage people to spread the word.
Brad: It seems to me that the trend of collaboration between author and reader will only deepen as time goes on. Whole new ways of reaching across the divide will be envisioned and then executed. Some more poorly than others, true, but the ones that work and the ones that fail will teach us how to make stronger connections with the people who want our content. Social networking is still in its infancy, and already the author is much closer to the reader than ever before. Kickstarter and other crowdfunding sites take the interaction to a whole new level, offering ways for the reader to provide input before or during a project’s development. Another example is Coliloquy, a new imprint from Amazon that publishes episodic fiction and tracks reader response and creates automated reader surveys to help gain feedback from readers. Do authors truly benefit from it? Maybe not today, but who can say about tomorrow as technology becomes more socially aware.
Advances in technology have already allowed a lot more experimental fiction than was possible even five or six years ago. There have been attempts to meld art and fiction in the past in the form of illustrated novels and art books with bits of fiction interspersed. And in recent years, teams of artists and programmers have developed amazing and beautiful interactive books and games with wonderful stories. There are 4D movies now, with smells and mists piped into movie theaters to enhance the viewing experience. How long before some of that technology hits home theaters, and then tablets?
As Matt says, crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter are platforms that allow content creators to adopt new technology from practically the moment it’s available. And with technology advancing so quickly, I’m sure we’re going to see some pretty creative ways of presenting stories. Some of those will be major multi-person or even multi-team productions. Others will be more modest endeavors by authors with adventurous and entrepreneurial streaks. Whatever comes, it’s going to make for an interesting ride. I can’t wait.
Matt: Same here. I’m less interested in the multi-media aspects of the future though — which are more likely to be exploited by larger companies or groups with all the necessary skills — and seeing what people can do with regular old text with the tools developing in our hands. The ability to write whatever appeals to you and put it in front of an audience has never been easier to grab and make the most use of than it is now.
Lots of people would like to be able to devote enough time to such pursuits to make them financially worthwhile or at least feasible. The desire to create and share art starts to pale when you lose money on it. You can only keep that up for so long before you have to give it up.
For me, Kickstarter filled that canyon. It gave me the ability to reach out to fans and say, “Hey, I have this cool idea. What do you think?” When they jumped on board, I knew I had something, and I didn’t have to take out another mortgage on my house to fund the print run.
We’re still in early days in figuring out how to best use Kickstarter and other crowdfunding platforms though, and I think we’re going to see that evolve like crazy over the next few years. I can’t tell you where it’s going to lead, but I’m thrilled to be along for the ride.
In many ways, we’re in the punk music era of writing. You have all the tools you need now, whether it’s a publishing and funding platform or three chords and the truth. It’s up to you to figure out how to make the most of them.
Bradley P. Beaulieu is an epic fantasist that recently launched his first Kickstarter for a story collection. Lest Our Passage Be Forgotten & Other Stories collects his short fantasy work into one volume, with DRM-free e-copies, trade paperback, and limited edition hardcover options available. The Kickstarter funded in just over five hours and reached its first stretch goal in less than twenty-four. Two of the stretch goals for the Kickstarter have already triggered new stories from his critically acclaimed epic fantasy debut, The Winds of Khalakovo, which earned debut of the year honors at Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist. For more, please visit quillings.com.
Matt Forbeck has been a full-time creator of award-winning games and fiction since 1989. He has designed games and toys and written stories of all sorts. He has twenty novels published to date, including the award-nominated Guild Wars: Ghosts of Ascalon and the critically acclaimed Amortals and Vegas Knights. His latest work includes the Magic: The Gathering comic book and his novel The Con Job, based on the TV show Leverage. He is currently in the middle of his 12 for ’12 project, in which he’s writing a novel every month this year. For more about him and his work, visit Forbeck.com.