This is the first part in a series of articles I am going to write about my most recent Kickstarter for my illustrated novel The Pits. This first article is going to cover what I did in the leadup and pre-launch phase, and the actual running of the Kickstarter. So first, some stats! Also, a note, I did not charge shipping during this campaign and will be charging it later via Backerkit, so those funds will be included in a later part of this series.
Campaign Length: 32 days, launched March 1st at 9am(ish).
Pre-launch marketing length: about a month with the Kickstarter pre-launch page active, but I’ve been talking about this project on my socials for awhile.
Funding goal: $5,000
Final funding total (pre-Backerkit): $11,276
Total Backers: 297, 5 without rewards.
Project followers pre-launch: 90
Project followers at the end of the campaign: 262
Converted followers: 24%
Average pledge amount: $37.97
Goal reached in about 36 hours.
“Project we love” badge earned on the first day.
I want to start off by saying I know I have a bit of an advantage over many other authors in that I can do A LOT of the work myself due to my artistic background. I don’t have to outsource graphics, I don’t have to outsource a book trailer, I don’t have to outsource a book cover, etc.. I can go into a campaign already having the visual stuff I need to really draw people in, and I only have to make a time investment rather than a monetary one.
For the pre-launch period, I started off with the basics: a book trailer, a dedicated page on my website, and a free preview of the first chapter. I diiiiid go a little above and beyond with this book trailer compared to what I would normally do because, well, the hyperfocus hit and refused to let go. I shared that trailer, the website, and the cover graphic across my various social medias and my newsletter, along with the link to be notified on launch. I didn’t pay for any marketing at this stage, just relied on my network. I have about 1,000 newsletter subscribers at the moment, and 13k followers on Tumblr which is my main social platform. I also did a little early bird thing where if people pledged in the first 48 hours, they’d get an exclusive creature sticker, which I think helped draw people in.
I do think having the animated book trailer helped compared to just a simple book trailer. Maybe not quite as much as I would’ve wanted, but it was still a good hook and a lot of people did compliment it. It got about 200 plays on Kickstarter itself, and roughly 50% of those plays watched the whole thing, which is a pretty damn good completion rate! I really wish I could have had the video on the pre-launch page, rather than just an image, because I think that could have helped even more, but that’s not a thing Kickstarter has (yet, hopefully).
Now, let’s talk paid marketing a little. I work in marketing in my day job and I HATE it. I’m actively in the process of trying to switch careers. So when it came time to set up this campaign, I decided to give paid marketing a shot because I just did not have the energy for it. I went with Jellop and, at first, they seemed good. I provided them a big folder of graphics, explained what sort of returns I considered acceptable, and then waited for the campaign to launch since they don’t do pre-launch marketing, just stuff while the campaign is running. I asked for a 3x return on investment, which is a touch higher than what most people do, which is 2.5x. At first their efforts did seem somewhat helpful. From what I can tell, despite their total inability to label their affiliate links properly, their work raised about $1,000 for my campaign. However, I cut them off after about a week. Why? Well, a week in was when they sent me links to the “ads” they had made for my campaign and had been running.
They were HORRID.
They’d chopped up my painstakingly made animated trailer and tried to shove it into a vertical format by having it sort of…slide from side to side? It looked terrible, and you couldn’t read half the text in it. Then, they’d taken a lot of my graphics and spliced them together in weird ways. I immediately contacted them and asked what the hell was going on. Their excuse was that they were just an advertising agency, they didn’t have graphics people on their teams so they couldn’t be expected to make good graphics. When I pointed out that I was well aware of this, and that was why I made a huge folder of graphics for them like they had asked me to, they didn’t respond.
Aside from that, they never even got close to the agreed upon, contractually obligated ROI of 3x. They barely managed to get near 2.5x for any notable period of time. Overall I regret using them, but I’m only out about as much as they supposedly raised for me so while it does sting and cut into my profit a bit, I’m not out of my own pocket or anything. It was a good lesson, too. As obnoxious as marketing is for me, I’ll be doing it all on my own in the future.
Back to the campaign as a whole.
The launch did go really well, funds rolling quickly. However there was a little HICCUP. Specifically, a scammer pledged $1,000 to the campaign for no reward. I didn’t quite catch it at first because it happened overnight, so funding had gone up a fair amount in general, but I did catch it within a few hours of waking up on the second day. It couldn’t have happened at a worse time, honestly, because it made us hit the campaign goal early, but because the pledge was suspicious I had reported it to Kickstarter. Kickstarter agreed it was suspicious (brand new account made that day, connected to a scam Kickstarter marketing service), so they pulled the pledge themselves which put the campaign back to unfunded status. Thankfully backers were super understanding and we managed to get back to fully funded by the afternoon.
I got the “project we love” badge on the first day, but I honestly don’t know how much the badge counts for. It’s nice to get for sure, and it doesn’t HURT, but according to the referrer information I only had 4 backers and $186 that came directly from “project we love.” I got tons of backers from other areas of Kickstarter, but without knowing exactly how “project we love” works on the backend, it’s hard to say for sure how much benefit it actually gives. How much, if at all, does it effect showing up in footers of updates for other projects, for example? It would be nice to know a little more about it.
Now, an interesting little thing happened during this campaign. Shortly after I launched, Kickstarter finally (finally!) released a long asked for feature: images on tiers. I immediately went and set them up for my campaign, but ran into a little bug as I was doing so. For some reason the images took AGES to show up. Days, in some cases. I didn’t think anything of it, it was a new feature and bound to be a bit buggy, so I sent in a report and went about my business.
Here’s where things get a little speculative. Kickstarter responded to the bug report really fast and asked me for some more information, and I happily gave it, saying that it had taken about two days for all the images to show up properly. They apologized and asked if I wanted to extend my campaign by two days to make up for it. I said sure, and they did it immediately. Funny thing is, as soon as they did it, I got a little bump in funding over the next 24 hours. It wasn’t huge, but it was noticeable. I can’t be sure, but I almost wonder if they flipped some little backend switch to also give me a bit more exposure. No way to know for sure, but hey, we finally have tier images and that’s what matters!
Another thing I did this time was use a lot more referral/affiliate links. I wasn’t quite as diligent with them as I could have been, and of course plenty of people use various tools to block being tracked by such things, which is totally fair! But with that said, here’s some data based on those links:
80ish backers came from posts I made on Tumblr, which accounted for roughly $4,355 of pledges. That means 27% of the backers accounted for around 39% of the funding. I only paid for a couple blazed posts (ads) on Tumblr, but that only accounts for a small portion of this (and it only cost me about $100). A lot of the support from Tumblr came from friends with larger followings reblogging my posts and exposing them to a much larger audience. Aside from that, a bunch came from various reveals I did throughout the campaign. Reveals of things like the printed edge design, the foil design, and the sticker designs. Revealing those things slowly throughout the campaign helped keep up and boost interest when things were lagging. Tumblr is a very particular site and you have to know the culture and how to meld with it if you want to do good there, but if you can win its loyalty you’ll get amazing returns.
Aside from that, about 40% of my pledges came from Kickstarter itself. Browsing, being featured in the footers of updates from other campaigns, email reminders from Kickstarter, etc.. Interestingly, 40% is also roughly the profit I’ll make from this campaign barring any weird happenings. I did post some on Twitter and TikTok, but neither of those amounted to anything from what I can tell. Twitter had helped on previous campaigns, but with everything that has happened there, it isn’t useful anymore.
Before we get into some of the tier breakdowns, please note that the funding totals I have access to (without doing a ton more work), include any addons backers at these tiers got. That’s why the price of the tier times the number of backers doesn’t match the funds raised by that tier. For example, almost every backer who backed at the $5 ebook tier also added on the $3 ebook of my other novel. I really wish Kickstarter separated these out, but oh well!
My 3 most popular reward tiers were:
$5 ebook tier: 79 backers (27% of total backers), $529 (5% of total raised)
$35 special edition hardback tier: 75 backers (25% of total backers), $3,082 (27% of total money raised)
$38 special edition hardback+ebook tier: 59 backers (20% of total backers), $2,454 (22% of total money raised)
The book box tiers all together accounted for 32 backers which accounted for 11% of the total backers. They accounted for $3,705, which was 32% of the total funds.
So, obviously, the higher value tiers did account for way more funding even though less people pledged to them. But I am a firm believer in having a variety of tiers at a variety of values so that everyone has a chance to pledge, no matter their budget. (Jellop actually suggested I get rid of the ebook only tier because it was “too low value.” Excuse me for trying to make my book accessible to those who can’t afford shipping. 🙄)
The campaign did lag in the middle, as most do, and I tried a few tactics to revive things. One thing was creating a giveaway where if people shared the campaign on social media, they could get some other goodies from my store. That really didn’t do anything, and only one person entered, lol. Aside from that I tried different configurations of posts on Tumblr, some more effective than others. The general overview posts with the trailer AND blurb AND trope graphic seemed to do best. I think they hit that sweet spot of just enough information but not too much.
I actually had very few canceled pledges this time, less than I’ve had in any other campaign. I did have a handful of downgrades, though, which I think is interesting. When people downgraded they by and large went to the $5 ebook instead of getting the physical copy they’d pledged for originally. I can’t be sure, but I feel like this says a lot about people wanting to read the book, even if they decided they couldn’t afford a physical copy. Another thing that makes me think this is that, towards the end as people were making last minute pledges, my average pledge amount went down slightly. I think people were waiting to see what they could afford and then deciding they at least wanted SOMETHING so they pledged at a low tier. That’s just a guess, though.
Now. Addons. I know some people don’t like having unrelated addons during the campaign itself because they feel like it distracts from the project at hand, but I went ahead and put paperback and ebook copies of my other book up in the addons for this one. I sold a lot more than I thought I would, despite there really being no included info about the book aside from the cover and title. 97 people added on the ebook, and 35 added on the paperback. It added up to just over $1,000 of funding from those two addons alone. That $1,000 will help fund a new run of those paperbacks so that I have enough to take with me to conventions this summer, which is super helpful because I’m planning on doing a lot more this year than I usually do.
Overall, I’m really happy with how the campaign went aside from the few little hiccups. I’d say my biggest takeaways from this one are that paying for marketing isn’t worth it, trickling out reveals of goodies is very helpful, and I need to be better about using affiliate/referral links to track my own marketing efforts going forward.
More to come as I work my way through fulfillment of this campaign!