5 Things I Learned from Launching a Kickstarter
I learned a lot from launching my Kickstarter campaign for The Manderfield Devil back in November 2021. The campaign was created to fund printing costs for a 60-page book that includes my indie comic, The Manderfield Devil, and 20+ pages of bonus content featuring an afterword, sketchbook, and pinup section. The campaign successfully funded, drawing in 306 backers and raising $8,278 of a $4,800 goal. I wanted to share my insights for the benefit and encouragement of other artists out there thinking about launching their own campaign. Here are the top 5 things I learned from my most recent Kickstarter.
1. Minimum Viable Product
I had big dreams for how I wanted The Manderfield Devil to look in print–I wanted it in hardcover with spot gloss and custom endpapers…the works. But it was going to cost almost twice as much to print those books as it would to print softcover copies. Chris Bodily, creator of Ghost Machine Publishing, advised me to set the bar low–think: minimum viable product–and then have a stretch goal to meet my ideal vision. I’m so grateful I took that advice, because although I did reach that stretch goal in the end, had I set it as my initial goal, I would have been biting my nails all the way up til the final hours of the campaign hoping to fund.
According to ComixLaunch, Comics have something like an 85% success rate on Kickstarter, funding more frequently than projects in any other category. And so the most heart-wrenching thing to see on Kickstarter is a comic project fail because of an absurd funding goal. I advise anyone planning to launch a campaign to set your funding goal to cover the minimum viable product–the simplest version you’d need to get it off the ground–and then add other bells and whistles on as stretch goals. Some quick tips to cut down costs:
Order paperback or saddle-stitch instead of hardcover
Plan to order fewer books
Don’t include shipping charges in your goal–have backers pay shipping fees post-campaign via a platform like BackerKit
Cut back on bonus rewards like pins and stickers
Launch a campaign to print a single issue first instead of the entire series
A side note: If you plan to pay an artist to draw your comic/illustrate your book for you, I advise against including that fee as part of your campaign goal. Consider raising the money to pay your artist up-front so that you can keep your funding goal as low as possible. It’s not best practice to promise your artist you’ll pay them “after a successful campaign,” in the event that your campaign fails and you can’t pay them anything for their work. If you must rely on Kickstarter to pay your artist, wait until after the campaign has succeeded to have them start any of the work.
2. Things Cost Money
No matter how much I thought I had prepared myself for the costs affiliated with this campaign, I still underestimated some fees.
Shipping costs were a big one, and I definitely wish I had taken Will Terry’s advice earlier and taken a sample package to the post office for estimates. I thought I knew what I needed to know with a scale and a computer at home to get accurate prices, but there was information I didn’t have (like the difference between a flat and a parcel, and the requirements for media mail) that made a big difference when I did finally go to the post office.
The final Kickstarter payout was also a bit of a surprise, since I didn’t calculate how much Kickstarter fees would cost beyond my initial goal, and there were some unpredictable dropped pledges.
Perhaps the most disappointing fee I hadn’t accounted for was the cost to ship packaging material to my house–which cost over $100. Next time I estimate packaging costs, I’m going all the way through to checkout to see the final charges.
Costs that I underestimated but am not ashamed of are costs toward higher-quality reward products, like the addition of the custom head and tailband to the book, or the raised spot-gloss I included on the bookmarks–It’s my current philosophy that quality is better than quantity when it comes to making products for paying customers.
I like to be transparent about money (since it’s such an unreasonable taboo in the art industry). So here are all my costs laid out. As you can see, I’m actually currently in the red after all is said and done. But not by too much–if I can sell just about 5 more books I’ll be green again. Then every book I sell after that is 100% profit.
3. What Goes Around Comes Around
I think it can be tempting as an artist to try and hog your “piece of the pie.” With all the competition we have going out there, sometimes it can seem like slim pickings, and you’re lucky when you can grab a crumb for yourself. However, for me, this campaign really brought home the fact that there is no “pie.” What goes around comes around.
Alaire Racicot was the first person to introduce me to the idea of cross-promotion on Kickstarter–which I quickly learned is a big thing in the Kickstarter comics community. Initially I balked because I thought my backers would be annoyed by me asking them to hand over MORE money–it was uncomfortable enough for me to ask them to give me money in the first place–but I came around. I wound up cross-promoting with a handful of talented creators before my campaign ended. And oftentimes I’d share campaigns that weren’t cross-promoting with me, just because I loved their projects. This attitude spread beyond Kickstarter–I also shared campaigns on Twitter.
Not only did this draw in more backers for my campaign, but it also introduced me to more creative friends. And my BackerKit surveys indicated that this referral system was the third highest source of backer referrals–second only to Instagram and Kickstarter search.
4. You’re Worth It
As I mentioned before, I’m uncomfortable with the idea of asking people for money. But as a freelance illustrator coming up on 8 years now, I know I’m considerably more comfortable asking for money than most artists I know. And yet I still felt odd including Kickstarter reward tiers that cost more than what my book was worth–$25. It was Chris Bodily who strongly encouraged me to include a $100 tier. The idea seemed insane to me–what the heck could I offer people to make it worth $100? I thought it was egotistical and presumptuous. But Chris assured me that the tier was more for people who wanted to support me, rather than get all kinds of extra swag. And so, reluctantly, I created a $100 tier that included a limited edition acrylic pin and a signed and sketched-in copy of The Manderfield Devil.
Initially I limited the tier to 8, simply because that was how many pins I had, and I was certain they wouldn’t be sold out. But I was shocked to find that they were gone within the first day of launch. I removed the limit and wound up having 21 backers at that tier–some of whom pledged even more than $100. Thank goodness for Chris–I never would have had that much faith in myself to assume my work was worth that much to some people.
5. Do Good Work
This is more of a personal reflection than an observation based on hard evidence, but I think it’s worth sharing. Jeff Lemire once told me that “If you do good work, you’ll find an audience.” What makes “good work” can be very subjective if you’re judging it based on content, skill, or appeal, what-have-you. If you judge it based on how much effort was put into the project, however, it’s easier to gauge.
The Manderfield Devil is a weird story. I frankly did not expect it to draw in as large an audience as it has. It’s short, it’s a tragedy, it’s got funny-looking characters that have Popeye forearms and Inspector Gadget proportions.
Is it good art? Is it a good comic? That’s up to its audience–but who can really say?
What I do know is that I worked VERY hard on it. I didn’t cut any corners. I put in as much effort into it as I could, and used all the artistic, storytelling, design, and comics know-how I could put into it. Whether it was the research, the script, the character design, pencils, inks, color, lettering, book design, Kickstarter page design, the reward items, and even the promotional tweets and updates throughout the campaign–none of it was done half-way. And so even though I already look back on it and can see areas where I could improve, I can confidently call The Manderfield Devil “good work.” And I think that’s how it found its audience.
If you want to run a successful Kickstarter campaign, start by doing good work. And before you get scared off by that bar, remember that all it takes is a good, honest effort. Your project may not be the most grand thing out there, but it will find its own audience, be it large or small.
Thanks for reading! I’d love to know if this article helped you or inspired you to launch your own campaign. Feel free to reach out to me with questions–I’m more than happy to help with what little knowledge I can offer.