Kickstarter: A Path to Success or Failure?
Everyone who heard that marketing guru Seth Godin brought in $287,342 for his Kickstarter project asked themselves, “Could I do that?” And the answer they heard in their heads was, “Yeah … maybe”.
I analyzed twenty publishing projects that launched in 2012 to determine what made projects succeed or fail to answer the question in my head: Would it be advisable to launch one for my book?
This is what I learned:
Yes. Anyone can run a successful Kickstarter project.
As in, it’s possible.
There’s a lot of hard work, a little luck, and a lot more hard work involved. Mostly, it’s hard work that makes a success. As of this writing, Kickstarter has 27,988 successfully funded projects–and 35,608 not-so-much. Many of the not-so-much projects put in a lot of hard work.
First let me define what constitutes a success. I do not consider Seth Godin’s project a model for success. Yes, he got people to give him $287,342. That is a success. But not as an example for you and me. Unless you have a tribe numbering in the hundreds of thousands, you will likely not have that kind of response. Let’s look elsewhere.
Who constitutes a success you and I might emulate? Jordan Stratford. His project Wollstonecraft is a middle-grade book featuring two tweenage nineteenth century women before they became famous, Mary Shelley and Ada Lovelace. He dug into his contact list to find and nurture press contacts. Those contacts led to an article on a science-fiction blog. Which led to recognition of his science angle on CNet. Then Wired magazine picked it up. And, in the end, Kickstarter chose it for their newsletter. The modest Mr. Stratford would tell you the last two were luck. But that kind of luck is the result of his hard work.
Another example (there are many) is Chris Johnson who set his goal realistically high at $95,000 and nailed it. His project, A Better Life, brings Atheism out of the closet by citing and photographing 100 prominent Atheists. His contact list was almost identical in number to his eventual number of backers. Since we never get 100% of our friends to do anything, we know he worked to fill the gaps. Chris Johnson made a plan and executed it.
What were the primary keys to Mr. Johnson’s and Mr. Stratford’s successes? Passion. Realism. Sincerity. Modesty. Confidence. Honesty. None of the successful projects I studied were pleas for money. In fact, they rarely mentioned the money or how it would be used. (Which brings up the topic of Kickstarter’s fiduciary responsibilities–but let’s shelve that one for another day.) Successful Kickstarters exude passion. In Mr. Stratford’s case, a passion for making math and science fascinating for middle schoolers. In Mr. Johnson’s case, a passion for making Atheism more acceptable.
Mr. Stratford’s goal was $4,000. For anyone who knows publishing, that can disappear in an afternoon. Realistically, it costs $90-100,000 to launch a book and another untold amount of money to promote it for the first 6-12 months. If you watch his video on Kickstarter, you will hear all the attributes I listed above in his voice. The passion and sincerity are front and center. You don’t need to read his description of the project, just listening to him compels you to give him money. The public responded.
Mr. Johnson’s primary key was confidence. Knowing he would face unwarranted venom he persevered and focused only on following his belief system. If you watch his video, you will hear a simple honesty in his voice. It’s right behind the hint of stage fright. You will also see a professional video that shames everything else on the web. But don’t let that intimidate you; he is a professional filmmaker.
Back to our mutual internal question: Could I do that?
My answer was: Yes. I have that kind of passion for my project.
But that question should be preceded by “Why?”
Money is nice to have, but the big dollar projects are exceptions. Very rare exceptions. Including those rarities, Kickstarter projects average about $4,000. That includes the multi-million dollar gaming projects and film projects that rake in celebrity supporters. Publishing projects average $2,100. Enough to fund a nice cover and a press release. So why bother with the hours of work?
Kickstarter is a huge personal risk. Your mom and some of your friends will back your project. But can you grow it past that circle? Is your project something the public will get behind and push forward? Traditional publishers are watching the Kickstarter market like vultures. If someone can bring in a thousand backers or, like Mr. Stratford, nearly 3,000, then they know that book has a market. And, yes, Mr. Stratford was planning on independent publication until a publisher stepped up to ‘help’ him as a result of his Kickstarter success. If you listen to Seth Godin’s pitch, he states that he was using Kickstarter to prove the viability of his book to his publisher. For publishers, the business math is easy. If a project has X number of people willing to back it with cash, then it will have Y buyers waiting for it at the bookstore.
So, um … What if you fail?
I backed twenty projects this year. Two of them failed for predictable reasons. One sounded like a satire of the author’s family that would appeal only to members of that family. The other was a nice enough project but presented by slackers who did little to project confidence in themselves or the project. Both had lofty goals for the audience they sought. Small-appeal projects can succeed where the goal is equally small. But then, is it worth it?
Where does that leave my personal question, “Would it be advisable to launch one for my book?”
My goal is to introduce a new kind of heroine in thrillers: a woman who is president of a security company. New category. Big risk. Why Kickstart it? One out of three thousand Americans will read a new thriller. That’s three hundredths of one percent. Even a blockbuster in that category will appeal only to three tenths of one percent of the population. And those numbers are for thrillers following the formula of a loner as the hero/heroine. Plowing new ground with a risky heroine requires reaching a lot of people. The answer I chose, after taking a deep breath, was – yes, Kickstart this project.
Will it work? I hope and pray.
Click here if you want to see my project: A Heroine for Our Times.
That leaves one important question left between us: Will it work for you?
My advice is to see if your project passes these tests:
- Is my motivation for this project beyond the money?
- Am I capable of dedicating myself full-time to push my project forward? Do I have enough open cycles in my life and am I willing to dedicate a full month to this?
- Am I willing to accept failure? If the free market responds with a “no”, can I live with that?
- Can I shamelessly ask all my friends and every stranger I meet to back my project? And deal with inevitable rejection just to glean the backers it will take to go forward?
Best of luck!
reprint: 08/15/12 Seeley James