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Should all fiction writers use Kickstarter
And why I'm waiting till I have superfans
UPDATE: Written in response to’s post
18 Kickstarters backed.
17 were successful.
7 were for Michael J. Sullivan.
5 were tarot deck related.
And all of this was done in the last 5 years. I wouldn’t say I’m addicted to Kickstarters. But I know what I like (interesting tarot decks) and I know who I support without question (Michael J. Sullivan). So, give me any combination of that and I’m there!
The thought, being a writer myself, has come to mind as to whether or not I would ever consider starting a Kickstarter myself? In truth, the reason why I was even spending so much time on the website was for research. I was comparing Patreon to Kickstarter back them and was weighing the pros and cons as well as obvious differences between the two.
I only happened to find things that interested me enough to back. Then there’s Michael J. Sullivan. A traditional author who, through some legal scuffles pivoted to a hybrid author. His story with how he did it fascinated me and I vowed to back all of his Kickstarters ever since. And I have.
Which leads me back to why, after all my research into other authors (big and small) who have created their own Kickstarter, I know it’s not for me.
SIZE ISN’T EVERYTHING BUT IT MATTERS
While it is true that a Kickstarter can be successful with the least amount of people, as long as they are willing to shell out the funds necessary to meet the goal you’ve set, it doesn’t always mean you should.
For me, it depends on why I’m doing the Kickstarter in the first place? Or more specifically, what is its purpose?
When I think back to the Kickstarters I’ve backed it’s been to purchase or acquire something that otherwise can’t be gotten through normal channels. Like Amazon or a bookstore. Mostly because it’s special or limited. What this means to me is, why do a Kickstarter unless:
I have an audience I know would want a special or limited edition
I want to put the time, effort and money into creating a special limited edition
THE PROFITS IN THE AFTER SALES
My research into Kickstarters was less about how large the ask amount was or even the number of backers each one got to meet their goal. Not that those numbers aren’t important. They are. But how much of what they got was actually profited when it was all said and done. Each Kickstarter is different. Some are much more transparent in how everything is divvyed up than others. And for the most part, it seems, very little is left over. In fact, because every dollar is allocated to something related to the production and delivery of the Kickstarter, the creators will set up an ability to leave a “tip” along with the pledge. The tip does go straight into their pocket and I believe Kickstarter does not take a cut from that amount.
I will all add that the more transparent you are about how the money is spent the better. The last thing you want to find out after you pledged $100 for a laundry lists of rewards is that the material was cheaper than expected and the snail mail option used meant the item got lost or arrived in less than ideal conditions and the creators pocketed way more than you bargained for. A Kickstarter is less of a “career” endeavor and more of a means to receive a thing created by a person you like at the highest possible quality that no one else can get unless they were a part of the Kickstarter. I’m a fan and therefore I want to show it and expect that you’re doing this more to give to your fans and less to make a huge profit.
That can and usually does come later.
Speaking from a fiction novel standpoint, there are special editions that are the reason for the Kickstarter, but there will always be the regular paperbacks. This is where Amazon comes in. Or wherever you want to put your self-published book. I use Amazon cause unless you are against it, you will list your book on their site, and why not? Especially, now that they finally opened the doors for Hard cover, paperback, and ebook options.
TIMING IS EVERYTHING
Imagine I had a trilogy ready to go for publication. I could go one of two ways:
Stagger the release of each book in a calendar year on Amazon and cross my fingers that preorders do well based on informing my audience (ie email list, Facebook Page, Twitter, TikTok, etc.). I would, of course, make it available in all three formats as well. And after a set number of years (5 or 10) I would create a “Special Edition” Boxed Set that would go on a Kickstarter as a “Limited Run” of just…250? sets and then include some little things along side it for various reward levels. The number for the limited run would be based on the number of sales I had. I would want to create less so there is more of a “got to get my hands on it now” feeling amongst the backers.
Create a Special Edition of this “highly anticipated” trilogy of mine. Of course, this presumes I’ve been sharing my journey (via my email newsletter) for the past year or less. Chapter releases. Cover mock-ups. Stuff like that. Keeping everyone wanting more and interested. Then I find a printer that can produce some fancy leather-bound edition, again at a limited run, and for a limited time. Each will be signed and personalized. I then drop the Kickstarter for a set number of weeks. If enough hype is generated then they should go easily, but I go in knowing I will likely break even, making little to nothing of profit. Then, and only then, would I time the Amazon release to happen shortly after the Kickstarter is over. “Oh, you missed the special edition limited run, but here are the hard cover, paperback, and ebooks.” And I might even include a bonus novella or short story with these that make it differ from the limited run Kickstarter so that the ones who jumped to get the limited run will buy the book again for the extras from Amazon.
Of course either of those two scenarios hinge upon one key point that we all know and cringe to think about: our fanbase.
None of this works without someone willing to spend their cold hard cash. Whether it’s hundreds of dollars on a Kickstarter limited run or $20 on Amazon. If you don’t have the numbers are either worth it? I say the Amazon route is always worth it. You literally have nothing to lose unless you decide to purchase your own ISBN’s. But, if you live in Canada then ISBN’s are free so there’s that…
DON’T START A KICKSTARTER WITHOUT A FANBASE
I say this as a caution to your ego more than anything else. The last thing you want is to set yourself up to have either no backers or not enough to get you to the goal you set. I know a few people who have created a Kickstarter and either had zero backers or missed it by that much. And it can be soul crushing. Some will bounce back, pick a different promotional strategy, call on friends and family, or even just lower the bar in the hopes that the ones who backed it will do it again so the goal can be met.
Speaking for me personally, that is not a position I want to put myself in. If I create a Kickstarter I want it to be because I know without a shadow of a doubt that it will meet its goal. I much rather be like Michael J. Sullivan who, no matter how well his previous Kickstarters have done, will always set his goal to $30k. This last go round he met it in a little over 5min and with nearly 3k backers has already crossed $200k. But he didn’t get to that point overnight. This was years of building a fanbase where he knows he’ll meet the goal but it’s not about that for him. It’s about knowing he has “at least” 3k superfans and even more who continue to buy his books on Amazon long after his Kickstarter ends. That’s pretty cool.
If you can’t tell already, I’m a HUGE Michael J. Sullivan fan and I hope one day my career in writing is at least half as successful with fans as his is right now.
KICKSTARTERS ARE AWESOME
I want to make sure I end on this note in case what you just read made me sound like a Debby-downer. I’m not. I’m just being cautious and realistic. That doesn’t mean I’m not trying to set myself up to be in a position where creating my own Kickstarter isn’t impossible. I want to one day create a limited run edition of my next great novel. It’s a goal I’ve had for myself long before I started backing projects. If for no other reason than it’s quite extraordinary to create something that is one-of-a-kind and knowing only a few people in the whole world felt it was worth every penny.