With that in mind, we wanted to jot down a little bit on how we went about building our second Kickstarter for Skies of Fire -- our thought process, the lessons we learned, and how we would do things differently.
The main topic for this first post is how continuing an ongoing series influenced the construction of our crowdfunding campaign.
Here we go...
An Ongoing Series
During our first Kickstarter, we created an FAQ shortly after launch because we got a lot of messages from people wanting to know what our plans were for the project. This was one of the questions we kept on getting:
Not much has changed since then. We’re glad we decided to release issue by issue, and frankly I'm not sure we would've been able to handle it if we did get the 50k or so it would've taken to get the entire project produced. Focusing on one issue at a time has allowed us to learn how to make comics as we go.
So Why Kickstarter Again?
Our initial plan was to just release issue two independently outside of Kickstarter through our webstore. We decided to do this primarily because we made the decision to sell issue two to our existing backers at-cost when we announced our final stretch goal, and didn’t see a viable way of making that happen without damaging the overall business model of a new KS campaign.
In the meantime we had established our website, including digital store, so figured that utilizing what we built (and paid for) was for the best . In hindsight, it was pretty narrow-minded thinking.
As we were making our plans and wrapping up issue two, we began to realize we had a serious cashflow problem. We were near out of stock for issue one, and had two huge line items coming up: printing issue #2, and producing issue #3.
It seemed like we had to make a choice: we could either pay for an offset print run of issue #2 and reprint issue #1, or keep paying our artists to produce issue #3. We didn't have the money for both, at least not all at once. The only other solution (we saw) was if we put in a considerable amount of our own money to pay for one or more of the things we needed. Both Vince and I were resigned to doing this; there just didn’t seem like any other way to fulfill all of our promises while keeping the project going.
The more we discussed internally, the more obvious it seemed. Why would we not go back on Kickstarter, if that's what helped launch us in the first place? The problem now was how to run a Kickstarter while keeping the at-cost promise we made in our first campaign.
The Early Bird Special
To some extent I think stretch goals are the demons of crowdfunding campaigns. A lot of projects promise too much and don't factor in the costs because stretch goals complicate the math. We sort of fell victim to this too, but in a way neither of us expected.
Because we promised to sell issue two at-cost to our original backers, we had to figure out a way of doing that without splitting our fanbase across multiple platforms. We knew we wanted to use our existing fans to help push the new Kickstarter, but we didn’t know how to do that without reneging on our final promise from the first campaign. We considered using our webstore behind a password for one price point and Kickstarter for another, but splitting our fanbase seemed really unpleasant. Without the support of our old fans would we be able to reach new ones on KS?
Eventually, we figured out a solution: the Early Bird Special. For the first 72 hours, we would fulfill our promise and sell Skies of Fire #2 at cost, notifying our backers via our initial campaign and a mailing list. Sure, other people could buy it, but we reasoned those that did would mostly be those who had already bought issue one. That seemed fair. The only two places we really sell are through Kickstarter and Conventions, anyway, and all it made sense if both got a chance to get the next issue at the cheapest possible price.
For new backers, we introduced the Early Bird Bundle. This offered both of our existing books at a very reasonable price, about the average cost for a single print issue for most comic KSers:
I don’t have any math to prove this, but I think that there are three main factors that affect Kickstarter’s visibility algorithms: amount of money donated, speed of donations, and quantity of backers. A lot of places talk about the first two items but not the last. If you think about it it’s easy to ‘cheat’ the system with the amount of money or speed. You can very easily set up a second account or have an aunt or uncle donate on your behalf. Quantity, or number of backers, is a little harder to fake. I’m sure there are still unethical people out there trying to do it because people going to people, but it would take much more effort and probably be easier to catch.
Basically, in the first 48 hours we think it’s important to build a critical mass of support. We always aim to hit at least 25% of our initial goal on the first day, and think it’s better spread that out among many backers rather than just a few. If you’re able to do this, I think your chances of having the ‘system work for you’ are much greater -- ie, bringing in new backers from Kickstarter itself.
The Mailing List
Another huge factor in our early success was the contribution of our nascent mailing list, which had around 200 names we had jotted down from conventions. For now we’re using MailChimp but we’re reaching the free limit and will have to decide soon how to best continue.
Frankly, I don’t know any other mailing services besides those two. I did a little research, but MailChimp seemed like it was a good service and plus it was free at our size, so I just decided what the hey.
Boston Metaphysical Society's Madeleine Holly Rossing was also the one who stressed to us the importance of a mailing list. She runs a Kickstarter Comic Class in LA and just wrote a How-To Book - seriously, if you're thinking about doing one of these things, you should check it out. We owe a lot of our best practices to her and the knowledge she's so generously shared.
When we're exhibiting at conventions now we make it a point to get names on the mailing list. It's so, so important - I mean, you really need some way to keep in touch with your fans, and e-mail is the purest, most direct way. We try to honor the trust of our fans by only using it for big announcements. It's also cool seeing it grow on its own, too, as people sign up through the website. In terms of priorities, I put it right underneath selling books when exhibiting.
Selling Like New
One last factor that I think contributed to our success was the way we specifically presented our project in Kickstarter. Instead of focusing on the second issue, we tried to lure new readers in by presenting the project as if it were a new series. We had a brief summary, plot synopsis, and a lot of the same material from the first Kickstarter. The title was even designed with that goal in mind: Skies of Fire Issue #1-2 Print. It was true given that we were reprinting issue one and printing issue two.
We did this because we reasoned that a huge portion of Kickstarter users have the same habits we do when browsing: they come onto the site for a specific project, back a couple of other things, then lose interest after a while. I’ve been on Kickstarter since the beginning and that’s always been my habit of shopping.
In total, our first Kickstarter only had 525 backers. That’s a lot, but how many people browse the Comic section each day? Probably way more than that. Probably a lot of those people have never heard of us before. And if I were in their shoes, I’d be less inclined to check out something that seemed right in the middle rather than in the beginning.
With that in mind, the written copy and video were designed for new readers instead of old. Our goal was to make the project seem fresh and approachable. We didn’t want there to be any barriers of entry. I think it worked out, and plan on designing future Skies of Fire campaigns with the same philosophy in mind.
The First Few Days
...were nerve-wracking, as they always are. We had an internal number in our minds we needed to reach in order to hit all our goals, and we weren't sure we were going to get there. The biggest thing we were worried about was the new project fall-off. After the first three days, Kickstarter boots you out of the new spotlight zone and at that point you're basically out there on your own. New projects are coming in to move yours down, and what happens in the first week has a huge knock on effect for the rest of the campaign.
The best advice I have for Kickstarter is to try and design your campaign like a snowball. You want to start off with a lot of mass and then let inertia carry you towards the end, getting bigger rolling down the hill all the meanwhile.
We were able to do so with our Early Bird Specials, Mailing List, and the Design of the Campaign. After day five, however, we noticed that our numbers were flatlining at a dramatic rate. Part of that is just the natural flow of a campaign and Kickstarter, but I think the quality of comics coming through on the platform at the time was also a factor.
During March-April 2015, it seemed like there was a big new project launching every couple of days. Competition isn't always a bad thing as it brings new users to the platform; on the other hand, you don't want to be buried into the middle of the comic category, where nobody will find you. I think a little bit of the latter was happening, and it looked like it would adversely affect the overall outcome of the campaign. In lieu of that, we decided to try something we had never done before...
Read Part II: Analytics, Research, and Ads
Read Part III: Digital vs. Offset Printing
Read Part IV: Shipping
If you found this information helpful please be sure to check our comic, Skies of Fire. If you're already a fan, don't forget to sign up for our mailing list, follow us on twitter, and like us on facebook!
- Ray and Vince