Kickstarter and me – getting into the top 44%

(This is the longer version of the story of this book, with more about the Kickstarter adventure. For a shorter and more general account, try the header item from the History menu. Or click here.)

On 12 March 2013, my thirty day experiment finished. I could now email friends and family without an ulterior motive. I could stop agonising about whether I had set the correct target, whether my video was compelling enough, whether my pitch was likely to convince anyone. The repetitive tweeting could end.

I had hit my funding target on Kickstarter. I was going to get paid, I had sold copies of the new book before it was written. Only 44% of projects reach their target and I had created one of them (http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1745374173/everything-turns-out-just-fine-an-unashamedly-upbe).

Why?

As an author without a conventional publishing deal, without a fanbase, without a marketing budget, I needed a new approach. I could browbeat and guilt-trip friends and family into reading (and even, sometimes buying) my books but it needed to spread. I needed to reach friends of friends, if not friends of family of friends of family.

The previous year, I had decided to try the giving-it-away approach to marketing. I set the ebook price for They All Die At The End (http://www.amazon.co.uk/They-All-Die-The-ebook/dp/B00519AB2W) and Timestand (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Timestand-ebook/dp/B007FFQD9K) to zero for a few days. And hundreds of copies were promptly downloaded. I know for a fact that one person read the book of short stories because he wrote a glowing review and told me about it. All of the rest were simply tallies – no names, no contact – and no sales boost afterwards. But I didn’t consider them lost sales – these were people who were unlikely to have bought the book at any price, the sort who like to load up their Kindle with free material just in case they ever feel like reading it.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not criticising them for taking that approach. I had chosen to give it away and some people decided to take me up on my offer. Good for them (and I say that without the slightest sarcasm). Getting one positive review was, frankly, already more feedback than I had expected.

And at the end of 2012, a friend told me about his plans to launch a product on Kickstarter. (If he had ever done so, I would link to it here. The story of why he didn’t would fill another article.) I had heard of the site and knew, broadly, its premise – describe the product, invite funding, list rewards for backers and hope for the best. I knew it was risk-free – no fees are paid unless the target is reached. Well, it’s financially risk-free – stress and worry is another matter.

There seemed no reason not to. (That must count as the very worst possible reason for doing something. I have no excuses.)

How?

You don’t need me to describe how to put together a Kickstarter project because they explain it themselves so very well (http://www.kickstarter.com/help/school). Make a video, think up enticing and relevant rewards for backers, describe what you’re trying to do clearly and succinctly (not sure I succeeded on the succinctly). Then answer any questions that come in and wait for the pledges.

The video was amusing to put together because clearly I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t want it to sound scripted so I just blathered away at a camera and picked the best take. Oh yes – all in a single take which seemed so professional until I realised that having a three minute reading in the middle was utterly inappropriate so I chopped it out.

Then I edited some of the worst bits together and uploaded that as well (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5PRv9ILSJDA).

And waited for the pledges.

How much?

First few days were crucial for my nerves. Sure enough, I had a few pledges within hours. Yes, within hours. And from strangers. It turns out that getting the project visible is the most important thing. (Who knew?) And, for the first few hours, your project, be it earth-shatteringly splendid or bone-crushingly dull, will be displayed in the section called ‘Recently Launched’. And some people trawl through that looking for something to catch their eye.

The bad news is that once your project is too old to be called ‘recently launched’, you’ve actually got to work at it.

Of course, you could hope that your project will become a ‘staff pick’ or could make it to the email newsletter or even make it to the home page. It’s got to happen to someone and it’s more likely than winning the lottery but hoping for that shouldn’t be your only strategy. (Although if you do make it into one of those categories, you can probably ignore the next few paragraphs.)

And then?

There’s no two ways around this one. You have to bother family and friends. I did it. Everyone does it.

You’ll ask them to pass it around. Some will, some won’t. It’s important to you but not so much to anyone else. That’s not to say that your friends and family don’t care. They just don’t feel the same burning in the soul that you’re feeling. And, if they do irritate their friends by forwarding on your pleading, they really won’t be that interested.

By now, you’ll be wondering if your target is even slightly reachable. But of course it is. Because you went through your list of friends, relatives, acquaintances, neighbours, colleagues, etc. And you guessed that maybe three of them would care, five of them would buy it just to get you off their back, twelve of them would reply but not do anything about it, two of them would hit the spam button and the rest the delete button. Then you added a handful of walk-up strangers, multiplied it by slightly more than the cheapest amount to get a basic reward and hey presto – there’s your target.

I didn’t really do that. I worked out how much it would cost to fire off a reasonable size print run and just went for it.

Aftermath

You already know I hit my target. What I hadn’t realised was that the whole process would carry an unexpected bonus. Getting back in touch with people I hadn’t spoken to for too long. Yes, I know it shouldn’t take a writing/begging project but, sometimes, that’s exactly what is needed.

Proper telephone, email and even face-to-face conversations have ensued.

And I have picked up a few new readers all over the world. (Yes, really all over the world – USA, Australia, Germany as well as the dear old UK.) And I’ve written to a commission. I have created one of the short stories specifically for the wedding of a couple (who I’ve never met) as a gift from two of their friends (who I’ve also never met). It’s a story about a couple, from when they meet to when they get married. The names are the same. For their sake, I hope the story is different although, of course, in the story everything turns out just fine.

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