Friday, July 19, 2013

Writing for Kickstarter

Okay, admittedly, that is probably a horrible title. This is not about writing for Kickstarter. Instead, these are a few of my reflections regarding the various Kickstarter funded projects I have seen. I am talking about the ones that succeeded as well as the ones that failed.

Of course, in the interest of full disclosure, I must admit that I have less than altruistic reasons for my examinations of Kickstarter. Come on, I am a writer. I would be a fool, if I did not see the potential for greater reward at the end of that digital yellow brick road. I think anyone who has taken part in the process—whether successful or unsuccessful—would agree that it really is not as simple as coming up with an idea and posting it online, asking people for money. There is a lot of thought and a lot of work that needs to go into running a Kickstarter campaign. Now, mind you, I am on the outside looking in, so what I have here are merely some observations and what I would like to think are educated guesses.

Do your homework. Kickstarter put out a report earlier this year about successes from the past year. Kickstarter is obviously growing and growing fast. By reviewing statistics and past projects, we can see what works and what doesn’t. We can see where people are willing to put their money and where they are, well, a bit more cautious. This gives us a jumping point. Has our idea already been done? Can the market bare similar, but different projects? Can we do it better? What did the successful precursor do that helped them be a success?

There is an old saying that goes something like “It’s not about what you know, but who you know.” I whole heartedly believe that, with Kickstarter, a big piece of the success puzzle comes not from what you know or who you know, but who knows you. There are plenty of upstarts with some amazing talents out there. However, it is just like a lot of other industries. People always talk about if they just had the chance, had the opportunity, they would blow our socks off. Well, with all the tools available today, you have that chance. In fact, in many cases, you do not even need startup money to do a good job on a fun project. For us writers, we have ePublishing, but we also have the opportunity to submit to magazines, books publishers, literary agents, or even make ourselves known on the web through blogs and social media. Artists can put out their art on DeviantArt, Rederosity, and hundreds of other sites. They can ePublish an art book, etc. The idea here is that, without having proven ourselves in a field, it is going to be difficult to ask people for money. Last year,  +Monte Cook  made history with Kickstarting his Numenra RPG, which raised almost half a million dollars. +Fred Hicks  and his team at +Evil Hat Productions  raised a few hundred thousand for FATE Core. These people have been around the block. People know who they are. People know they can deliver a quality project. It is a bit easier to give someone a shot when you are pretty darn sure they are not going to muck it up based on previous experiences.

Know what you need before you ask for it. This goes into the realm of research again. If you want to put out your own book, how much is it going to cost? There are printing and layout costs. You need to consider distribution. With Kickstarter, there are all those crazy add-ons from bookmarks to a meet and greet. Do the math ahead of time. Know what everything should cost. Consider inflation and market fluctuations. If you do not know how to do this, enlist the aid of someone who does. I read a great blog awhile back about someone who did a Kickstarter and had misjudged some of the printing and shipping costs. They ended up losing money rather than making any. They would still do Kickstarter again, but they ended up putting out that blog post as a cautionary tale. If I can find it, I’ll be sure to post a link for it here. Also, know what it is going to take to actually complete the work. We’ll stick with books here. If you have not finished writing the book or have not even started writing it, you better know how long that is going to take. Do not forget how much time or money or cajoling it will take to have the book properly edited, laid out, and so on. Consider potential delays and risks to the project. Heck, that is built right into the Kickstarter framework.

Be sure to pimp your own product. Make sure others help you do it. People were excited about FATE Core from the day it was announced. I do not have access to the numbers, but I am sure Fred Hicks and crew saved a ton on marketing simply because of word of mouth. That word of mouth accounts for a lot online. It is especially powerful when other people are excited about your project and encouraging others to invest as compared to when you are the only one pandering to the masses. Use the tools at your disposal. There are lots of fine social media platforms to use as well as blogging on your own site, guest blogging, and Facebook and Adsense marketing is relatively cheap. Sometimes, you have to spend a little money to make a little money.

Be engaging. Monte Cook put out some information, but was always apologetic that he was simply too busy to get out and share as much information as he could regarding the upcoming Numenera. Now, let that not be misconstrued as me knocking him. He put forth an effort. He explained delays. He was putting together a whole company around it. He had other projects in the works. And, he has this weird thing called a life. Evil Hat and crew did an excellent job of keeping people updated before the project was even successfully funded, throughout the Kickstarter campaign, and then throughout the development of the project. They are still very active with the community. I do not know if they will ever feel the need or want to turn to Kickstarter again, but if that day ever comes, I can almost totally assure you they will be funded. Meanwhile, another project I backed was the Cortex Hacker’s Guide. These guys have been very lax in communication. They have gone weeks without updates, even weeks after promised updates were missed. Sorry, folks, it does not take much to jump online and type out a quick note apologizing for delays or giving some sort of explanation or feedback. That is doubly true when people are posting on open communites dedicated to your company or product and even on the Kickstarter page itself. Funny enough, as I wrote this, I got an update that’s a few weeks overdue from Cortex. Time to put the tin foil hat back on, I guess.

Kickstarter is not the easy road to riches some people might think it is. And, with a number of cases of people taking the money and running, I think it is going to be a bit harder to get money through the venue for virtual unknowns. It is hard work and your work should start long before trying to put up your first crowdfunding campaign, in my opinion. I might be wrong, and I welcome anyone to explain to me how I am wrong. Meanwhile, for someone who has their head screwed on straight, has a plan, does not mind hard work, there is a lot of potential there.