Kickstarting creative projects

In response to a conversation on Facebook about ROI for Kickstarter Backers, where the responses were alternately about Kickstarter being a money-sink and about seeing lots of interesting products available there, I responded:

Kickstarter has to keep reminding people (and modifying the way things are worded & presented) that it is not, and should not be used as, a store. Backers aren’t Buyers. Rewards aren’t Products you’re purchasing.

At its core intention, Kickstarter is for this: A person has a creative project they’d like to execute, but not the funds to do so. Other people pledge money toward that person being able to create what they’ve envisioned; if enough people think the idea is something they want to exist (enough to put up cash), the creator gets funded.

As an aside, creators may offer rewards to backers who pledge significant funding toward their project. What a backer is paying for is always the execution of a creative idea, and any rewards delivered are equivalent to a tote bag or mug you’d get for pledging to PBS. The biggest problems I’ve seen in the discussions around Kickstarter come from creators & potential backers who deny what Kickstarter says it is, and try to treat it as a marketplace/store – and Kickstarter letting them.

I’ll admit that I have trouble with this last point/problem, myself – largely due to financial reasons; I’m not a wealthy patron of the arts, but a sort of ‘starving artist’. I don’t have a lot of room in my normal budget for making meaningful pledges. Roughly half of my pledges have been for the minimum amount: $1. None of my pledges have been over $15 and only one over $10. Where the problem of my budget meets the problem of seeing Kickstarter as a store selling products is this: I look at the rewards on a project I want to back, and if the “cheapest” reward is more than I can afford to spend, I typically just back $1 – it’s a way of showing that I believe the project is worth backing (though I can’t afford to do so properly). Projects I see near the beginning of the month are more likely to get my backing than those near the end of a month, because of how we do our budgeting; if we have $45 for [books + music + movies + games + apps] each month, it’s pretty easy to not have even $25 left (for a product we may not see for half a year) by the time even mid-month rolls around. Likewise, there are projects where I know the creator, I want to support their work, but I have no interest in the specific project they’re Kickstarting.

For example, there are two current Kickstarters by authors I know, The Way of the Gun and Dead of the Union, which I’ve been debating backing. On one hand, especially for Scott Roche‘s The Way of the Gun, I want to support the creators – Scott Roche and I have worked together on several projects over the years, helping Beta Read and/or edit one another’s stories/novels, discussing business, religion, and more, and in principle I’d like to see all his creative projects succeed. On the other hand, I have no interest in westerns. At all. I don’t know anything about Bushido. The core concept of his project is lost on me. I’ve never read/heard anything by the other authors whose stories are in the anthology, either. Likewise, I don’t currently crave historical fiction or zombie novels, though I have a couple more of my own to write, so while I would like to see Dead of the Union succeed, I don’t really want to read it.

Still, in accordance to what I wrote above, the point is the support, not the rewards. If I had the room in my budget, I could pledge more and tick the ‘no rewards’ box at Kickstarter, but I think the best way I can support these two projects is to: 1) ‘Sign my name’ by backing them, and 2) Spread the word. So I’m pledging a bit to each project, and I’m blogging about them here. I’m also sharing the projects on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+. In a few years, when we’ve paid off our debts (we’re still on track to pay off our consumer debt (not student loans) by mid-2104) and have a little more financial freedom, I’ll almost certainly upgrade this sort of behavior to include more substantial pledges, but for now my best effort is to try to encourage you, dear readers, to consider making your own pledges to these projects.

As an aside, I wanted to share some of my other thoughts on Kickstarters by authors. The goals they set range wildly from a few hundred to many thousands of dollars. The vast majority of successful Publishing projects on raise between $1k and $10k, though another good chunk raise under $1k. (Kickstarter stats doesn’t break it out, but I’d guess most get under $3k.) Three of my own projects, based on the bare-minimum costs to cover setup and printing of just enough books to profit if/when they all sell, have had goals in the $300-$500 range, and three of my four projects got $300-$600 in pledges each. Knowing this is the amount I’m able to drum up, I’ve been reluctant to seek more.

For example, for Never Let the Right One Go, I set the goal at $1k because I wanted to create a unique hardcover edition, which is more costly than creating a paperback. Or for Dead of the Union, Brenton Harper-Murray is seeking $2k to cover printing (and warehousing/distribution) of a run of 500 books, which gives him a lot more freedom (than I get with my smaller print runs and higher per-book costs) to send out review copies to reviewers and book stores. (Having never sold more than 80 copies of a single book, I have trouble imagining myself making such a choice; instead I set a lower minimum-threshold and leave room for pre-orders/backers to cover the cost of a larger print run, if the interest exists or can be generated.) Or for The Way of the Gun, Scott is looking for $5k so he can have it professionally edited, pay the contributing authors, and get a professional to design the cover.

Those all seem like excellent things to use the money for, but my inability to even see how I could raise such sums (even through sales, after a book is published) is a large part of why I don’t really consider paying a professional editor to go over my books, and why I don’t get many submissions from authors looking to be published. Professional editing of a novel-length work (by a freelance editor) can easily cost upwards of $1k-$3k. If I weren’t an artist and designer with the strong desire to create my own covers, or if I compensated myself for my work, I’d probably have to spend $100-$500/book for professionally designed covers. If I was paying myself professional rates for my writing (not less than $0.05/word), I’d owe me thousands more per book. Since I myself have proven again and again incapable of raising $5k+ toward publishing a book, or even $1k, when I see authors with $5k Kickstarter goals, I balk. (When they’re only planning on putting out an eBook, no paper edition at all, and ask for thousands to “publish” it, I blanch.) Obviously, if they’re better at Marketing, at leveraging their social networks, if they have an established name (or names, like The Way of the Gun), and/or if the book they’re Kickstarting is pop/commercial/genre fiction, they’ll have more success and be able to hit those higher goals. Since I know I can publish a book as a paperback, an audiobook, and an eBook in half a dozen formats for two or three hundred dollars, the idea that one would need ten or twenty times as much feels beyond the pale, to me. Even though I know what the money is going toward, and that those uses are at fair rates, it feels wrong.

Of course, then a lot of them get the money. They find the backers. They have the readers willing to spend the money. Hundreds of people putting up more dollars each than I’ve received backers on any single project. Which is great. It’s something I aspire to, having sufficient engaged readership and/or sufficient sales to be able to afford each book to cost several thousand instead of several hundred dollars. I support the idea of authors working at that level, despite the emotional and cognitive dissonance brought about by working an order of magnitude lower for so long, myself. Yet when I see a niche author, or a niche book, with a multi-thousand-dollar Kickstarter goal, my heart drops. I don’t think they’ll make it. Unless they marshall the majority of their goal within the first few hours, which would mean they had a built-in audience eager for their next project, it always looks to me like a month-long death scene. I hope, maybe I back a bit, maybe I spread the word, but mostly I try not to look. I try not to revel in another creator’s failure. I try to figure out how I can avoid that fate in my own next project.

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Author, artist, romantic, insomniac, exorcist, creative visionary, lover, and all-around-crazy-person.

One thought on “Kickstarting creative projects”

  1. Thanks for the post Teel. I certainly get what you’re saying and I too balk at huge projects. I consider The Way of the Gun huge, but as you say I’m paying the authors the bottom end of what I consider a pro-rate ($.05/word) and I’ve budgeted for art, editing, and layout. I’ve also left myself some wiggle room for unforeseen expenses./marketing/etc. So it’s as huge as it “needs” to be.

    The next KS campaign I do will be much smaller and just for covering editing/art for a novel. 

    Regarding your backing my project as you have, I’m thankful. As I said before about any of my stuff, if it’s not your cup of tea I don’t want you buying it just to be a friend. Helping me spread the word and saving your ducats for something you’re jonesing for is much better. And this way you get updates and if I had a few hundred like you who even kicked in a buck and wrote a blog post on top of that I bet you I’d get to the goal much more quickly than if people just said “Not interested” and went on their merry way.

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