I decided to self-publish a children’s book I’d written and illustrated and was excited about building a campaign on Kickstarter, the crowdfunding platform, to raise the money to fund my project.
I’ve actually written a separate blog post on self-publishing my book here, so check it out if you want the full back story.
Like many other creative people I’ve always wanted ‘to do a Kickstarter’ so I started reading a wealth of articles on how to make a successful Kickstarter campaign, as well as why some campaigns fail. This article highlights some of the key things I’ve learnt during this process.
Invention or promotion
At first I had some concerns that my campaign was not particularly unusual or unique. After all I didn’t have a new invention to share, my primary goal was simply to tell a good story and publish a children’s book. Was this enough?
I began to brainstorm ways to make the project more exciting, but soon realised that I was deviating from my core idea. My story had a clear purpose and deeper meaning woven into it, and the book was in fact a very effective vehicle for executing this idea.
I didn’t really need to reinvent the medium to achieve my goal.
So did I really need a Kickstarter campaign to make the book?
If I printed the books on demand there would only be some small up front costs for things like purchasing the ISBN numbers and buying the font etc., but how would anyone know the book existed?
Over the years I have made all sorts of creative things, but have had a tendency to quickly move onto the next project as soon as one project sees the light of day, skipping the job of nurturing and building an audience to use the things I’d created. I wanted to do it differently with this book.
I wanted to spend as much time building my audience as I had done creating my book.
The Kickstarter platform still seemed like the best tool to help me do this.
The elevator pitch
Kickstarter have cleverly designed their campaign pages to encourage creators to clearly and simply define what they are doing and why. Just like when you pitch an idea to a client, you need a title, a one liner, a good image and the ability to visually explain what you’re doing succinctly, as well as make it clear what your client will get in return.
I had been working on my children’s book for quite a while, living in that creative space where you meander around ideas, playing with different combinations until something feels right. But building my Kickstarter campaign really helped me define my pitch, get to the point and cut out the fluff.
Initially I struggled with the video and what I should put in, it so I decided to write a script for myself to read.
As I rehearsed the script in front of the camera my partner noticed that I didn’t seem as natural as usual and suggested I just talk to the key points in the script without reading it word for word.
This helped immensely and gradually the video started to take form.
Know your limits
Let’s be honest, whole startups have focused their energy, full-time for a month, on a Kickstarter campaign to launch a new product, often to great success. But I was doing this alone, with a brand new baby in my life. I worked hard in the evenings when the baby was sleeping and my partner was home to help, but in the daytime my baby came first. I made a conscious decision to do what I could within the constraints of my situation, in order to make sure I really enjoyed the whole process.
My goal was to publish my book, not to burn myself out.
When defining your rewards it’s important to have a range of options to accommodate the different amounts of money your backers may have to spend. I’d read that it’s useful to have one larger reward that can help you reach your goal quickly with less backers, so I offered an ‘Author Visit’ to those willing to contribute £150 pounds to my campaign. I would go to a school of the backers choosing and read the book to a class of kids, as well as provide 5 copies of the book for their school library.
On all these visits the children listened attentively and were very engaged, asking lots of inquisitive questions like ‘What kind of creature was Quibble?’ and ‘How did I make Hearty’s wings?’ Some of the kids even drew pictures of the characters for me. I loved doing these visits, far more than I could have anticipated. After hours of making prototypes and launching the campaign and telling every adult I knew about what I was doing, these visits reminded me exactly why I’d made the book in the first place, to share a story with little kids!
During this process I’d come up with lots of other formats I could offer the book in, like an audiobook, an ebook or an animation. So when I reached my first goal in 36 hours I nearly got swept up in the rush of trying to achieve even more and considered offering the book in other formats as a stretch goal.
Luckily I spent an evening doing some light research into making an interactive ebook and quickly realised I’d really be taking on a whole separate project, so I decided not to commit to this part right then. In hindsight I’m really relieved I didn’t, as inevitably the printed book turned out to be more work than I had anticipated, and I can always do other formats at another time.
Give and take
Like so many things in life, a Kickstarter campaign is all about give and take. What can you offer? What can others give?
I liked the idea that the key themes from my story of sharing and caring for the world around us could be reflected in the rewards I offered.
So I created the ‘give one, get one’ reward option. Backers could either take two copies of the book for themselves, or they could donate one of their copies to Book Aid, a charity that sends new books to libraries and schools in Africa. In the end just 16% of the backers chose to send one of their copies to Book Aid, so I topped this up a bit with some of the additional funds I raised.
In addition, as my campaign was running during Earth Day, I posted messages on Facebook and Twitter, to let people know I’d plant a tree for each pledge I received that day. I got a small uplift in pledges for the day, and again added my own top up.
It’s hard to determine if these ideas were really successful or not, but at the very least planting trees and giving books for free, made me feel happy about what I was doing.
Whilst I was busy trying to give stuff away, I also received an overwhelming amount of kindness in return. I was on maternity leave from my full time job, and the joy a baby brings to one’s life during this time also brings new challenges, sometimes loneliness or suddenly feeling a bit useless. New parents stop playing the role they did at work and temporarily sign out of their social lives, exhausted from long days and nights caring for the amazing new little person who has suddenly taken over their lives. Well, I can honestly say that I didn’t ever feel lonely or useless during my maternity leave, and I reckon this had something to do with me doing this project.
I’ve been lucky enough to live in a lot of places throughout my life and have made many friends over the years, but also lost touch with some people each time I moved. One of the unexpected gifts of doing this campaign, was reaching out to old friends to tell them about my project. I reconnected with old colleagues, comrades I’d studied with, other friends and even some family members and was completely overwhelmed by their responses.
People I hadn’t talked to in years, were excited by the project and made a pledge, often sending me a personal message too. I felt totally loved and supported.
In the grand scheme of life, perhaps this was one of the best and most unexpected outcomes of the whole campaign.
Projects ‘they’ love
Whilst Kickstarter offers every creator the same tools, they have a special little trick up their sleeve to boost the number of backers to ‘projects they love’. A team of silent curators from all different backgrounds, working at Kickstarter, keep their eyes open for projects they decide are exceptional, and then add a special Kickstarter badge to those projects in their system. Backers coming to the site can browse projects from this category and they’re also more likely to appear in the Kickstarter newsletter or on their Facebook or Instagram feeds. Usually the result is a very significant increase in backers to your project. But more importantly it’s an increase in backers who you haven’t targeted yourself.
I didn’t really have the resources to do a big marketing push around my project. I’d already made long lists of everyone I knew who I thought maybe interested in my book, but I wasn’t sure how to reach other people I didn’t have any direct, or even indirect connection with. It is in fact very competitive trying to get a project featured on Kickstarter, according to crowdfunding expert Ian Anderson only 3 projects out of every 4000+ get featured each week, but I decided I’d give it a go anyways.
I followed all the advice Kickstarter post on their blog about how to do this, and read what other successful Kickstarter creators had done to be featured. I discovered that some people line up a team of friends to make a pledge within an hour of the project launching. Apparently if you get lots of people active on your campaign quickly it’s more likely to get noticed by Kickstarter and then possibly flagged.
So I made my own team of ‘early adopters’ mostly people I’d already told about the book and shown the prototype to.
On the day I launched my campaign, my early adopters really got the ball rolling and I think they were one of the key reasons I reached my target so quickly.
But sadly, my project never got ‘loved’ by Kickstarter. I’ve tried to think what else I could have done to make this happen, and have wondered if it comes back to one of my original questions about using Kickstarter… was my project ‘unique’ enough for them to feature it? Who knows?
The bottom line is the project was funded, the rewards have all been shipped, and my book is now for sale through booksellers online. In fact, I smashed all my original targets, doubling my fundraising goal with 114 backers ordering a total of 162 books.
However, I honestly don’t think I really ended up reaching the crowds in the way I’d imagined a crowdfunding campaign should. But I did reconnect with some very lovely people in my life, and for this reason I‘ve decided the campaign was a success.
Find out more about the process of self-publishing my children’s book in this blog post here.