In this biweekly column, GrayHaven comics reviews their experiences in the comic industry to provide a how-to for new comic creators to see what they should and shouldn't be doing.
Nearly $16,000 raised over the past few years. 5 projects funded, 16 comic books printed and nearly 200 comic book creators given the opportunity to have their work published for the first time. That’s what Kickstarter has meant to GrayHaven Comics and The Gathering.
Welcome to LET’S TALK ABOUT, a new ongoing column here written by the creators of GrayHaven. We’re a self-published anthology that began a few years ago. We’ve had our share of misses and our share of successes. The point of these columns will be us to try and help you in all aspects of being successful in the comic book industry. We’re going to cover everything from writing a pitch to editing a script, finding an artist and handling rejection in the hopes that you can learn from what we’ve done.
This week I’m going to talk a little bit about Kickstarter.
Kickstarter keeps detailed information about projects and their success rate in their stats section.
About half of all projects get funded and about half of all comic book related projects get funded. That’s the information you care about. So what I’m going to draw on my personal experiences successfully funding 5 out of 6 projects that we’ve run over the past few years.
The first Kickstarter we ran was right before the first issue of our anthology, The Gathering, was due to come out. The goal was $2,500, an arbitrary amount that really meant nothing as far as I could tell and we got about a third of that before time ran out.
There were many problems with that Kickstarter. The goal amount was too high, the rewards (all six of them) all revolved around the first two issues of the comic (both weren’t out and one wasn’t even being worked on) and those amounts were too high. For example $100 got you the first two issues, a sketch and a cameo in the book.
I was overeager about the goal amount. I heard good things about Kickstarter and wanted to help offset some of the costs involved with production of the book. The total production of issue one (printing, shipping, comps, convention appearances, etc.) totaled about $5,000. So from that point of view $2500 was okay if even a bit short. But we were a group of nobody’s putting out a black and white self-published anthology for the first time with pretty lame rewards. Getting people to trust us to come through and produce is a difficult venture.
We didn’t have enough rewards. If you’re going to get people to invest in your book you need to give them something in return. Yes there are people that will back your project and not want any reward. They believe in the project and want to throw a few bucks your way. For the most part though, people are going to want something for their money. Our rewards were all variations of getting the book signed and expensive ones at that.
The second time we did a Kickstarter, one issue was out, the second issue was about to hit and we had positive reviews from a bunch of websites along with a testimonial from creator Gail Simone (who also ended up writing a short for the second issue). Skittish of failing a second time, I also set the goal amount at $1,000. It wasn’t about funding the entire project with Kickstarter money but helping offset those costs.
We hit the goal. We reached $1,155 actually and the neat thing about Kickstarter is if you reach goal anything you make beyond that can be kept. Compared to some other projects (including our own) it was still modest. Why? Lame rewards again. This time there were only 5 rewards to choose from.
Almost a year later we tried again. It was at this point where we knew The Gathering wasn’t going away. Several issues were out and several more were in the planning stages. More sites had reviewed the book, more people had read it. With many more issues coming out we offered guaranteed pages in the book as rewards. We were also able to offer anywhere between 1 and 4 books and the biggie: In depth critiques of a person’s script or comic by professionals like Gail Simone, Boom Studios editors and Fabian Nicieza. 12 rewards in all of various pledge amounts. We smashed our $1,000 goal and ended up with nearly $6,000.
The pro critiques were always a much in demand reward as were the guaranteed pages in an issue of The Gathering. Of course we also gave away comics: full sets, single issues, sets of the newest issues and whatever other combinations I could think of.
One bit of advice most people who do a Kickstarter will tell you is you have to do a video. It can be about the project itself: cut from a movie, pages from a comic or just standing in front of a camera making your pitch to the world. Projects that include videos have a much higher rate of success than those that don’t. For our most recent Kickstarter I did a very simple (and I mean simple) video showing all the books we put out to this point, 16, while narrating how it came about.
I also tried to look at other successful projects to see what they used as rewards: naming characters or designing characters after people who pledge, original art, variant covers, having an artist illustrate someone’s story and retailer rewards. We also went back to what we had success with: pro critiques (12 different professional creators helped out this time), pages in our books and of course comics. Lots of comics.
We set the goal a little higher because our latest project is a lot more detailed but still kept it relatively modest. Most experts think that if you set the goal too low once a project is funded you’ll have a hard time raising more money for the project. I always prefer to err on the site of caution. Better to get some help on a project and try to go for more than attempt to cover the entire project plus and fall short (and get nothing). One idea to keep things going after you’ve hit goal but want to go a little higher is to implement stretch goals. Stretch goals are new goals you set after the goal has been met where you can upgrade single issue rewards to trade paperbacks and things like that. Our stretch goals range from everyone who pledged $25 or more getting a sketch from our artists to (God help us) a Men of GrayHaven calendar.
So to sum up how to have a successful Kickstarter:
Know Your Limit: It helps if you have a completed project to show off if you’re an unknown or can get some sort of buzz going. Maybe try and get a pro creator to donate a sketch, a cover or signed comic. Send PDFs of the work to review sites and get feedback that you can show. People are a lot less reluctant to shell out money for something if they think the project has a chance of getting off the ground. If you can’t put out the project before going live or if you can’t reach any pros to assist then it’s best to set that goal amount low. Maybe $1,000 or $1,500 won’t cover a 1,000 issue print run of your trade paperback but if you start with a single issue or go Print on Demand for a lower print run you’ll end up spending less. Imagine if someone you never heard of asked for ten grand to fund a comic project. Aside from worrying about the project ever coming out you may have doubts it could even get funded at t
hat amount. Best to get some of your cost offset by a low goal than get none of it.
Show Your Project: Have a video. It doesn’t have to be fancy. Anyone with an iPhone can help you shoot a short video where you talk to the camera and explain (briefly) what you want to do. Let people put a face to the project. It’s much easier to want to give money to someone when the project feels “real.” In the “Story” part of the project where you make your pitch to the masses include as much of the project as you can. Completed pages or covers are great. If you haven’t gotten that far, even sketches of characters or script notes are a cool way to show people that the project is on its way to being finished.
Interesting Rewards: Offer print and digital copies of your books, maybe at different levels. If you only have one book you can offer signed copies of the book and if the artist agrees, perhaps original art pages. Sketch variant covers are a cool idea and don’t cost much more production wise if you go POD. $25 rewards tend to be the most popular so something like a sketch cover could be good there. If you have original art you can offer that at a higher rate. Amanda Rachels, artist of Clown Town (another Kickstarter success) came up with the idea of turning backers into clowns (via art of course) for special covers and sketches. A great idea to get backers more involved that cost only time. Offering to name a character after a backer is another great idea that costs you nothing but can bring in money. You can offer something silly like singing a song over the phone or Skype for a certain level. Sometimes the crazier the better because it gives them something to talk about when they see your rewards.
And Lots of Them: The more rewards you can offer at different levels the better. Everything from a ‘thank you’ one dollar pledge to your most expensive and out there rewards (five grand to host a BBQ for the backer) can give people variety and the chance to choose what works best for them. You can add rewards at any time, so if inspiration strikes after the project goes live you can add it in.
Use Your Updates: There’s an update function on the Kickstarter. Let your backers and potential audience know what’s going on with the project. From halfway point warnings to showing off new pages of the project it’s a great way to keep backers engaged in the project and maybe if they like the progress you’re showing they’ll increase their pledge.
Most Importantly Don’t Forget to Send Those Rewards: Whether it’s a thank you after the project ends (funded or not, thank the people who took the time to pledge) or actual rewards that need to go out make sure you fulfill your promises. If you hit a snag in the project and the rewards are going to be later than you promise use that update function and let them know. You aren’t just putting your work out there; you’re putting your name on the line. The best way to give your new career a short lease on life is fail to live up to the promises you make.
It’s a lot to take in. You can’t go on Facebook or Twitter without being bombarded with links to Kickstarter projects so you have to take the time to create a campaign that works best for you and where you can focus on the things that make your project special (from the book itself to the rewards) to get attention in the sea of links.
Our advice may not be foolproof, but it’s worked for us. Hopefully it’ll work for you, too. Please send in your stories of Kickstarter success (or failure) and we’ll discuss it in a future column and good luck to you out there.
In the meantime, there is still time to pledge to our latest campaign.
We’ve hit our goal but are in the middle of trying to reach several stretch goals.