Launching Your First Kickstarter: More creators and publishers are launching successful Kickstarter campaigns than ever before. Join writer Tina Horn (SFSX), cartoonist Eric Powell (Did You Hear What Eddie Gein Done?), cartoonist Afua Richardson (Aquarius the Book of Mer) cartoonist Jeff Smith (Tuki), Arune Singh, Skybound Entertainment’s director of brand, editorial and Kickstarter’s director of publishing & comics outreach Oriana Leckert to discuss the most difficult and most rewarding elements of crowdfunding, how to structure your campaign, the best ways to promote your project and everything in between.
Despite the pandemic, Kickstarter campaigns raised over $26 million last year — $10 million more than in 2019. Oriana Leckert reported that there are already over 1,300 projects on the go this year and numbers are tracking towards similar levels of success. In particular, she noted that there is a 76% success rate for comics, which is more than double the site average.
In this panel, the four creators shared their experiences with launching their first campaigns, starting off with the question of why they chose the platform to help them tell their stories.
Tina Horn spoke about the advocacy work she does within the fields of sex, porn, BDSM, kink, and the LGBTQIA+ community. She mentioned working with the organization Hacking/Hustling where sex workers actively research the institutionalized censorship and surveillance that affects social media marketing and more. Explicit books and products struggle to reach their audiences because of the surveillance and restrictions inflicted upon them. Though others have found apparent issues with Kickstarter, Horn feels that Kickstarter is a place where more explicit materials can be safely campaigned, however, she remains vigilant in her advocacy and the need to ensure that the platform doesn’t fall under the pressure by corporations and other restrictions.
For Eric Powell, it came down to wanting to do a high-end book, but the lack of initial funds is a hindrance to producing the level of quality his team desired. Afua Richardson agreed that Kickstarter offers an opportunity to buy her time back because it provides the funds that can be invested into the necessary resources. The site also comes with that well-established sense of confidence backers can feel when investing in a project. The legacy of success and the number of books moving through Kickstarter gives backers the much-needed confidence for backers, which in turn bolsters creators who may have doubts about whether or not people want what they have to offer.
As we learned in our interview, Jeff Smith and Vijaya Iyer were encouraged to try out Kickstarter by industry friends who were already using the platform successfully. As independent publishers who have been innovating within the industry for 30 years, once Iyer and Smith launched their campaign, they found themselves wondering why they hadn’t gotten on board sooner.
For Arune Singh, reaching a broader, more diverse audience is the key. “What Kickstarter has done has really put to bed the myth that projects from marginalized voices can’t be gigantic successes,” he said, or that they don’t have gigantic built-in audiences. It feels safer and more inclusive than other platforms.
The creators spoke at length about their campaign experiences, commiserating on shared lessons learned. Leckert wrapped things up with a three-part question that asked about the overwhelming feeling that struck them when launching their campaign, things that they would do differently, and the most significant triumph.
Smith and his team did not know what to expect when they pressed the button to launch their Kickstarter campaign, but within 10 minutes, they had already reached their goal. They were also unprepared for the amount of work that was required to maintain engagement with the community, including lots of comments after the fact from people who missed the campaign deadline. The team implemented 4-hour shifts for the four members, with Smith busy working on the books themselves. The lesson learned for Smith and company was to be much better prepared, but, despite the busy schedule, they were overjoyed by the fan response.
Fear was the foremost feeling for Powell. In entertainment, one’s star can rise and fall at the whim of the readers, he noted, making the campaign a stressful experience right up to the end. Thankfully, he found relief when the campaign ended and no one had cancelled their pledges, despite the paranoid voice in his head that kept telling them he would. He also spoke about the women who end up doing a lot of work behind the scenes. In his case, it was his girlfriend. Together, they did a lot of preplanning, but there were still so many administrative tasks that they weren’t prepared for. If they had to do things over, Powell felt that a different book would have been better to start with a project that had broader appeal and could involve more fun incentives. Then they could carry that audience into a more controversial, heavier book like Did You Hear What Eddie Gein Done?
“Please please please don’t be the campaign that doesn’t get funded,” was the thought that ran through Singh’s head. Kickstarter seems to keep him humble because, he said, “When you get too cocky, you know it’s all gonna fall apart.” But when those final numbers come in, the feeling of success is profound.
One of the things he learned is the need to set up recurring structures to allow for launch planning and meeting deadlines to keep everyone focused and organized. The comics industry is used to turning on a dime, he said of the industry habit that needs to be unlearned when working on Kickstarter. There’s nothing like the first Kickstarter success and seeing those final numbers.
Afua Richardson’s story began with terror and ended with a touching success that went beyond the numbers. She spoke about not having enough prepared and wanting to have more visual media available across all promotional platforms, as well as better planning in the marketing of the campaign to handle the downtime that comes in the middle of it. Aquarius the Book of Mer is a deeply personal book for Richardson, one that she had wanted to share with her grandmother who, sadly, passed away shortly before the launch of the campaign. However, members of her grandmother’s church, as well as relatives whom Richardson was not necessarily familiar with all reached out and contributed to the campaign, helping to push it through to an emotional success.
Horn, who describes herself as more of an anarchist, didn’t seem as stressed out about the process, figuring she could just set it and forget it when she launched her campaign at midnight. She was right. When she peeked in before going to bed, it had already reached $5,000, with another $5,000 rolling in by the time she woke up. “I love making money while I sleep,” she laughed. Still, one of her struggles was having to choose between the advice of equally qualified experts who are telling her very different things. Fortunately, the choice she went with worked out well, and there were no hard feelings from her advisors. What Horn loved most about the campaign, to which the other creators agreed, was the response of the backers — not simply monetarily, but in knowing that they are a part of the creation of this project.
Each of the creators came into Kickstarter with varied levels of experience within the comic book industry, but the platform has certainly helped shape their experiences going forward. Campaigning on the platform clearly has its bumps, but the consensus here seems to be that preparation, organization, audience engagement, and continued maintenance are the keys to a successful campaign, no matter what level of industry experience one walks in with. Be prepared to do the work — and of course to follow through on your commitments.