An Indie Publisher’s Guide to Launching and Supporting a Successful Kickstarter Campaign

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We’ve only run one successful Kickstarter campaign as a publisher, so most of this will entail what worked for Cemetery Gates Media in raising $29k last October for Corpse Cold. But if you’re an indie publisher in the horror/sci-fi/fantasy genres, I think our lessons learned will most readily apply to your crowdfunding project.

The following is a questionnaire that one might ask themselves before launching any Kickstarter, followed by my answers as related to launching a book.

Do I have a unique product?

The most successful books are illustrated, representing visual arts as their major selling point. This coffee table book on Norse Mythology is a gorgeous collectible. It raised 75k last year!

Are you filling a niche in demand? Handcrafted spell books and books about witches tend to do well because there is a strong online community of Wiccans and Neopagans. Warning: niche impostors won’t attract the same interest as someone with a preexisting presence in the genre, community, or lifestyle.

Launching a single-author general anthology is a difficult task, even if it’s illustrated. Which is why so many books launched are group anthologies. Everyone needs to first identify their crowd, the characteristics of who might support their project before running a campaign. A group anthology often attracts a crowd by including authors with the desired characteristics of their targeted crowd i.e. authors who’ve been featured in other anthologies in their desired genre, authors who’ve had success on other platforms like Reddit, Tumblr, YouTube, etc.

Can I expect to reach consumers outside of my family, friends, current social media reach?

Establishing a brand that can be promoted is so much more important than establishing your author ‘name brand.’ You need to have a finished product to show, a back catalog of work, even if it’s only a few paid anthology credits. You need new eyes to be able to trust that your work is already well-regarded by an audience, any audience. Launching a Kickstarter to gain your first exposure, to build your first brand is incredibly difficult, and likely an insurmountable feat in the publishing world.

If you can’t dip into the audiences where your work has had some traction, then you’re going to have to rely too heavily on Kickstarter itself as a promotional tool. This is the death knell for most failed projects on Kickstarter. The Kickstarter algorithm pushes traffic from within its site to your campaign on par with the traffic generated by you, from off the site. If you’re successful in generating traffic to your campaign page, Kickstarter will stand shoulder to shoulder with you in driving pledges.

Do I have to RISK money on advertising?

Even if you have tens of thousands of followers on various social media platforms, have an existing marketing pipeline for selling books, you’ll need to spend hundreds of dollars and be willing to risk losing that money. There’s an incredibly common misconception that you can really start to promote a Kickstarter campaign after its been funded — when the marketing is already paid for.

If you don’t hit half of your goal within the first two weeks of launching, your project might not get funded. Projects tend to lag ¾ of the way through. There will be days that you remain flat or even lose money from backers withdrawing their support. The most exciting times for a campaign are at its launch and conclusion. If you fund your project early, you can count on the interest of latecomers, watchers, fence riders, to propel your funding in the final week.

How much should I spend on advertising?

You should aim to hit 10k eyeballs a day for the first week using a static image with your brief message. Facebook is still the most efficient way for small budget publishers to generate traffic to a Kickstarter page. Rates have increased, but you should still be able to target genre readers for $40-60/day, or ~$350 for the first week. I think we spent $1400 for our 30 day campaign on FB alone.

You have one shot at capturing someone’s attention with your image as they scroll by. Use little to no text in an image, using the book cover is fine if it’s a great cover, but you can get creative with the image you choose. The ad text needs to be brief. What brand are you selling and why should someone click your link? The link can go right to the campaign page, but it’s not a bad idea to have a landing page to continue the argument for why someone should back your project. The project landing page is your full sale for what you’re doing and should be promoted in your video and on your Kickstarter page.

We spent a small amount on Instagram, Twitter, Reddit, but they were largely inefficient for generating traffic. We weren’t able to get any deals done for promotion by social media influencers, YouTube personalities during our campaign. However, the micro-influencers were key in promoting our project on social media. Once you hit your goal you become a news piece for your genre and it’s incredibly easy getting people to work with you in getting your message out.

Should I promote my campaign video?

Yes, and no. You shouldn’t spend money on promoting your video. It’s unlikely that it’ll be a viral sensation even if it’s a good/funny/creepy/emotional professional production. You want people to go to your campaign page to watch your video to garner information about why they should pledge.

You should promote the sharing of your video with press releases, through your existing network of contacts. New eyes aren’t going to watch any video for more than ten seconds as they scroll through their feeds.

What does a good campaign page look like?

A few images associated with your work. A few paragraphs summing up the message of the video and some additional information from your web page, including a link to your web page which should have at least one full story for a potential backer to sample. Don’t include anything about stretch goals until you hit your stretch goal! It’s clutter.

If you’re promoting a book the reward tiers shouldn’t be all that complicated.

Digital

Paperback

Hardcover

Bundle -offer things associated with your genre, things readers would appreciate.

Special Version -additional material, not just rejected material.

Ultra Tier -you might offer your time, mentorship, handmade items.

People get hung up on creating wacky reward tiers, largely for their own amusement; or trying to convey what might happen if funding is successful early on. You should be offering a boutique experience as a publisher. You need to convey the idea that you are putting out this limited product for, and only because of, your backers, and not because you’re using Kickstarter to jump-start your writing/publishing career.

If you’re launching a campaign from the US, include the cost of shipping in the cost of the book! International shipping will cost $15-35. We purposely set our international shipping at a flat “deal” rate to generate more international buys, because we included excess cost of a couple dollars in our domestic shipping calculation.

How much money should I ask for?

The minimum amount that makes the project work for you. Assuming $350 dollars is your minimum advertising fee, your goal should be 10x your risk, before taking into account other costs.

Shipping to 100 unique buyers isn’t a big deal, and isn’t that costly if you’re in the US shipping to mostly American backers. Shipping to 500+, when you have closer to 100 international buyers, is labor intensive. The last I checked, you could ship flat rate international for $30-35, but it’s constantly increasing.

If you have a successful campaign you will be contacted by distribution expediters, some of them are worth their fee, some aren’t. Are you willing, do you have the time to be a distributor yourself?

Producing paperbacks is cheap! You can get your cost to about $4 per book shipped to you distribution area. Hardcovers are a different story. If you only have to produce 30 hardcovers you might be paying $16-18 per copy.

Assume you hit 100 unique physical buyers at an average cost of $35 per sale to hit your goal, and that you’ll have to produce 90 paperbacks and 20 hardcovers. ($360) + ($340) = ($700) just to get your books to you, before shipping to your customer. You’re shipping these yourself, you average $3.50 book rate in the US w/tracking, so 100 packaged x 3.50 = ($350).

So, now your expected costs are ($350 advertising) + ($700 books) + ($350 shipping) = ($1400). Remember, are tentative goal is $3500, so we’re in great shape. But we’re also going to lose ($385) in Kickstarter/Transfer fees. Everyone is going to have to spend money on a cover, editing, and if it’s a group anthology, you have to pay for the material you’re publishing.

Professional cover: ($300)

Editing services: ($100-300)

If you’re trying to put out an illustrated book, 100 unique buyers won’t be enough to cover that cost, even if the illustrator is partnered with you for the project.

Token payments for a group anthology might run $30-80. 20 stories x $50 = ($1000)

Now our cost for 100 unique backers is approx. ($3285). $3500 – 3285 = $215 which covers a few credit card charges that won’t go through, a few international packages lost, and materials for shipping. So, if your author payments were $80/story, you’d be losing money.

I just wanted to show one model for calculating a doable group anthology, since they usually have the best chance at funding. You’re going to want to get more than 100 unique backers. It costs more to get those eyeballs. I promise you, you can’t hit the volume you need to hit through your normal social media channels. A 500k reach on all your social media avenues through everyone involved in the project wouldn’t even be close to enough(you can’t possibly contact every follower, fan, subscriber.) Ideally, you want your project ad in front of 200k-1M people in your genre, to return you 500+ unique backers. 500k eyes for 500 backers, a conversion rate of 0.1%! That’s $350 per week of your campaign toward advertising.

Does seasonality really matter for Kickstarter projects?

Yes! You shouldn’t run a Kickstarter campaign in December or January, no matter the content of your book or product. If you have a Christmas book you launch in September or October into November, ending before December and promising to deliver by early- to mid-December.

People love to buy books for presents in December, but they won’t back your book Kickstarter. January is a retail wasteland, don’t fight 100 years of sales knowledge. People don’t have excess income in Jan/Feb.

-Joe Sullivan

This is a really brief guide. If you have any additional questions, you can hit me up on social media or via email. Cemeterygatesmedia@gmail.com facebook.com/cemeterygatesmedia u/EldraziHorror

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