The Art of Crowdfunding (Part 1): Planning

Over the next couple of posts, with the help of some of our lovely customers, we’re going to be taking a look at crowdfunding your comic. We’ve briefly touched on the benefits of kickstarter to creators before now, but in this series we’ll be attempting to sketch out some of the mechanics on getting a project funded. In this first post I spoke to Kate Ashwin, who successfully crowdfunded the last three volumes of her comic, Widdershins, and to Rachael Smith, whose first graphic novel, House Party was crowdfunded last year with the help of the now sadly defunct Great Beast.

Why should I consider crowdfunding?

This is a relatively simple question to answer: you’re about to incur a lot of expenses (printing, packaging, posting, other alliterative expenses) and you’d probably like to continue being able to pay for food and accommodation. Unless you’re very fortunate something’s going to be strained. A successful Kickstarter is a way of at least alleviating the financial burden.

Kate (Widdershins) agrees: “it’s a lot less nerve-wracking than paying for the print run out of pocket and just hoping that people want it! … Kickstarter works like a well-organised and high-publicity pre-order system, essentially.” This comes up a lot when talking to creators – even those like Kate, who have an established fan base, appreciate the admin support that’s baked into a crowdfunding platform – you can run a preorder system yourself, of course, but the admin burden involved in creating, updating, and promoting it takes away from time you could be spending writing and drawing.

And that’s before considering the benefits of the analytics on offer. For example: Kickstarter lets you know whether backers arrived at your project through a direct link (from your twitter, website etc) or just from browsing the site itself. In Kate’s case “that’s been 20-35% of [backers], so I think there’s a not-insignificant amount of people browsing for something new.” Being able to tell whether your support is coming from existing fans or new people is a handy little indicator of whether you’re making the most of your potential readership as well as how well you’ve presented your project page: your existing fans will probably back you regardless, but a solid showing from people who stumbled on your project means you’re doing something right! Keeping a note of what’s worked before will help with future campaigns.

How much should I ask for?

Obviously this is a really key question. Ask for too little and you won’t raise enough to cover your costs, too much and you risk falling short of your target. There are crowdfunding websites, Indiegogo springs to mind, which offer flexible funding (meaning that if you don’t hit your target you still get whatever you did manage to raise) but there are drawbacks to this approach. For one thing, Kickstarter has a much greater reach than its competitors, so if you’re using an alternative you’re taking on more of the publicity work. More troubling – there’s the risk that with partial funding you end up in a situation where you’re obliged to deliver on the promises you’ve made, but don’t have the funding you need to do it. That, in case it’s not instantly put a chill down your spine, is pretty much the worst of all worlds…

Back to the question, then – how much should you ask for? Well, it’s all about budgeting properly – picking Kate’s brain again:

Get your print quote first! Can’t overstate that enough. Don’t estimate, get a proper quote and work around that.

Your shipping estimate has to be a guess but at least make it an educated one- look at the post office site and look at their numbers, it’s a pain but you have to do it or shipping will kick your arse. Remember shipping when setting stretch goals too, don’t include anything that takes the weight over into the next price band unless you’re ready to eat the extra shipping cost.

Then include the Kickstarter fees, which work out at around 10.5%. Remember tax, too, this is income, thus any leftover profit is taxable!

Add costs for any other extras you’re planning, add all that up, and that’s your goal. Should work out to a modest and achievable goal, with any extra as a bonus for you. It’s tempting to add a bit onto the goal to pay yourself with, but remember you’re essentially paying yourself in stock, you’re gonna have a ton of extra books to sell at cons and such, and they’re all profit!

Getting your print quote is easy, of course, as is trawling through the Royal Mail website to get estimates on your shipping costs. You’ll need to account for packing materials and such as well, though, so bare that in mind. As Kate says, it’s probably best not to add too much as your payday (even if it is tempting), but I’d suggest adding 5% or so to whatever figure you come up with as a buffer to cover (or at least minimise) any unexpected expenses.

It’s also worth pointing out that kickstarter isn’t necessarily your only source of funding. Rachael Smith, whose debut graphic novel House Party was released to critical acclaim last year, ended up overfunding her project, but had planned ahead: “I had £1000 saved up to spend on printing – so when we decided to set the KS goal it was with the idea that I’d pay that on top of what we made. So I guess I was quite conservative, yeah. We actually made more than our goal though so I was able to spend the £1000 on postage and getting to shows and eating and whatnot – which was ace.” The point being that Kickstarter might be a good source of money, but there’s nothing to stop you supplementing it with savings and easing the pressure on your campaign by setting a lower target.

How should I present my project?

If there’s one thing everyone I spoke to for these posts can agree on, it’s that when putting your project page together you want to go multimedia. Rachael was quite emphatic on the topic: “I’ve only ever had one KS campaign – but I do know that you MUST have a video. You MUST! People who don’t know you will want to see the person behind the project. I hated making my video and still cringe when I watch it back now – but it definitely helped.” Kate points out that it’s not necessarily the quality of the video that matters as much as the fact that you’d made the effort: “I don’t tend to watch them for the projects I back, but it shows a certain amount of commitment, even if it’s just a couple of pages of the book and a (slightly nervous) voice over.” Not bothering with a video, when everyone viewing your project knows that you have the option to make one, suggests that you’re not as dedicated to the project as you could be – and when there are so many comics to back why would you choose one with a creator that doesn’t seem to want to go the whole hog?

The same goes for the general presentation of your project. Successful Kickstarters tend to be replete with bells and whistles – little visuals to go alongside the wall of text that tells the story of the project (not like us – we like walls of text, as you’ve probably established. Well, more accurately, I don’t like sourcing photos and don’t care who knows it…) Rachael feels this helped her reach her funding goals: “I also spent a long time making the Kickstarter page as pretty as possible – I made little images for each reward tier and did a Kickstarter exclusive bookplate and so on. I put the first few pages on there too – which introduced people to the story and (hopefully) hooked them in!”. These little details help a project stand out, as well as giving viewers a chance to get a flavour of your art style, which obviously helps when you’re pitching a comic!

Not that you can just rely on bells and whistles, of course. Kate points out that it’s important to get the technical information down as well: “I like to make sure the information on the book itself is very clear and easy to access- the fact that it’s full colour, the page count, etc., since that’s what I look for when I’m deciding whether to back a project or not.” Borrowing elements from project pages that you’ve been impressed with yourself is also a great idea, so you’ll want to do plenty of research: “it’s worth backing a few others people’s projects before running your own, so you can see things from the consumer side, ie. What they did right, what you’d do differently, etc. It’s good research, AND you get comics, bonus.”

What should I offer?

One thing that baffles me about some KS projects is the decision not to offer a physical copy of the book as a fairly basic reward. For Kate “the base level is often a PDF of the book, since that’s nice for people who want to pitch in but can’t afford the physical copy and shipping, or simply prefer to read on ipad or whatever. I like to have PDFs as the lowest reward, followed by the book as the next-highest just so it’s easy to spot, but your mileage may vary.” Rachael adds: “I think it’s important to remember that if you’re crowdfunding to bring out a book, most people will be looking to buy the book, so I don’t think you should hold back too much on that.”

The key point is that rewards should be, well, rewarding. Nobody on Kickstarter owes you their support, you have to convince them to want to part with their money, not assume that you can just demand it. You might well find yourself with a couple of backers prepared to sink a lot of money in, and it’s nice to have neat add-ons for them, but the vast majority of your backers are likely to be interested in your book. It’s your core offering, so you should make sure that it’s available, prominently displayed, and affordable as much as possible.

There are various other shinies and baubles you can offer, from personalised sketches to stickers, posters to plush toys, bookmarks to… something that also begins with “b”… bigger posters? That’s the second time in one blogpost that I’ve been let down by my alliterative skills. Anyway, I digress… Backers like these little bits of collateral, and to a certain point they’ll pay more for them, but don’t get distracted or too invested in them – a lot of the more esoteric higher level pledge rewards end up unclaimed since, while a keychain of the main character in the independent comic book you’re buying is a nice idea in principle, it’s probably not nice enough to induce you to pay three times what you were going to pay for the book…

Finally, when constructing your reward tiers, try not to overthink the process. There’s no point in having 50 tiers, all very slightly different, when four or five will do just fine. It’s confusing for backers, it’s an administrative nightmare for you, and it’s not adding any value to the project. If you find yourself considering vast numbers of tiers consider splitting some of them out and using them as stretch goals instead – that way all your backers get a slice of the pie.

That’ll about round it out for the day – we don’t want this post running too long or else nobody’ll read it. In part two we’ll be looking at what you should be doing to support your campaign in the run up to launch and on into your funding period. Thanks to both Kate & Rachael for sharing their thoughts.

Posted in Comic Book Printing Tips

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