Friday, February 9, 2024

Exciting times on Kickstarter

Hey all, Robin here. I'm taking over Michael's blog (as I sometimes do) because it's a pretty exciting time for Kickstarters. I'm a HUGE fan of this platform. We've backed hundreds of them and even run more than a dozen campaigns, and while each one is a lot of work, it's also a great deal of fun.

I've been shouting from the mountaintops that more authors should use Kickstarters, and I did get some traction, but even so the Fiction Category remained the sleepy little corner of the Kickstarter world (games being the hot spot). It was such a small pond that at one point Michael had 5 of the top 10 most-funded Kickstarters of all time (across the entire world!) 

But then Brandon Sanderson's record-breaking 47M campaign happened and that opened a lot of eyes. That project did more than all my evangelizing, and I'm thrilled that so many authors are now using this platform. In my pitch to other authors I told them, "I hope you knock my projects down a few pegs" — and they did!  I don't have any projects in the top 10 now (my highest is #12), and I couldn't be happier.

But there are a lot of misconceptions when I speak to people who aren't familiar with Kickstarters. The most common misconception is it's a form of charity, where you see a project you like and you give the creator some money.  There are crowd-funding campaigns like that on other platforms (GoFundMe being the most common). But Kickstarter isn't that. What's the difference? Well let me back up and tell you some of the major aspect of Kickstarters.

  1. The creator sets a goal, start date, and end date.  These parameters can't be changed once the Kickstarter is launched, and if the project fall short of its goal, no money is collected from the backers, and no money comes to the creator. In other words, it's an all-or-nothing proposal. This allows creators to test the waters as it were. For instance, at one point I wanted a slipcase for our hardcover set of Michael's Legends of the First Empire series. To create one just for us was REALLY expensive, but I thought others might be interested in such a thing so I ran a Kickstarter for it - turns out there were hundreds of people who wanted them, but I wouldn't have known that if it wasn't for Kickstarter.

  2. You don't "give money" to projects, you purchase something. It may be a physical item like a book or an event like a pre-screening of a movie, but you MUST receive something in exchange for the money you provide. In the case of fiction projects, you are basically pre-ordering just like you would on Amazon or other online stores.

  3. Generally there are multiple reward levels. For instance a single Kickstarter might offer a $10 ebook, a $15 audiobook, a $20 trade paperback, a $35 hardcover, and a $75 deluxe edition. That way there is generally something for people of all budget levels. 

  4. Backers have a better experience than when purchasing through stores. Kickstarters are interactive, and oftentimes the item being received gets better based on feedback of backers. For instance someone might say how much they like sprayed edges, so a stretch goal is created and if that new goal is reached all the books get this cool feature. Also you can give readers things that you can't normally do. For instance, books are usually signed, bookmarks are often included, and it's common to get extra "goodies" like stickers or postcards. 

  5. While not specific to Kickstarter, it should be noted that Kickstarters allow readers to buy direct from the author, which means a much higher percentage of the money you pay winds up in the creator's pocket. Why? Kickstarters fees are minor and all the "middlemen" - publishers, agents, distributors, retailers - are cut out of the process. So instead of the author getting 3% - 25% of your money, they generally keep 80% - 90% of what you pay.

  6. What you are receiving has to be something new. It's meant to provide funding to create something that might not otherwise be produced if the creator had to rely on their own funds. Because of this aspect products generally ship quite some time after the project ends because it has to be made and that can take months and in some cases years. 

  7. I should note that there is a bit of risk when backing a Kickstarter. Despite the creator's best intentions they may fail to produce the item they were trying to create. In that case, there are no refunds, your money is gone. But that is an uncommon occurrence. Generally creators set their goal high enough so a "failed project" is one that doesn't fund. But it can happen.  Generally if you are backing projects by people with a good track record, you won't hit that situation.
If you've never backed a Kickstarter, I encourage you to do so.  We've gotten all kinds of great things from the platform (mostly books but also things like the Ooni Wood-fired Pizza Oven, the Solo Stove, and a great portable desk I use when lying on the couch). All told we've backed 214 Kickstarters (173 of which reached their goal and 41 that didn't fund).  Here are the Kickstarters that are "Live" that we are currently backing (and I think all of them are funded already)

How do we find out about these projects? Well, I spend a fair amount of time just "hunting around" for things to support - and interestingly I'm not the only one who does that because many of the people who have backed our Kickstarters "stumbled upon" them and hadn't read any of Michael's books before.

I also find projects from others.  Kickstarter has a great feature where you can "follow" someone and when they back a project it shows up in your activity feed. So, I generally look at Michael's feed at least once a week and the vast majority of the projects I've backed have been discovered that way.  If you would like to do the same, you can follow Michael (use the "follow button" from this link) and Kickstarter will add a message in your activity log whenever he backs a project.  There are currently 1,841 people who follow him, and we often find comments in various projects that say something like, "I found out about this project because of Michael J. Sullivan."

There is another cool feature of Kickstarter where you can look at projects that haven't launched yet but will soon. Here is a link where you can see upcoming Fiction projects sorted by popularity. Right now there are 237 projects and there is also a "notify me on launch" button, and Kickstarter will let you know when it goes live. Currently Michael and I are setup to be notified about the following:
Okay, so all that is Kickstarter 101 stuff, but what's going on right now that makes it so exciting?  
  • Well there are three projects that launched on the same day from our "must back anything they put out" list:  Queen of Thieves | Dead Stars | The Demon Awakens)

  • For those that are living in a cave, Will Wight's Cradle Animation project ended up funding (it was looking kinda tight there for awhile, and has just 7 hours to go.

  • Our very own Drumindor project will launch in 3 days and 2 hours (noon on February 13th for those that don't want to do the math.

  • Our Riyria Chronicle #1 - #4 Hardcover project will launch on March 13th (sorry no link for it yet)

  • And the most exciting of all - Brandon Sanderson will be launching his next Kickstarter March 5th!!!
I'm sure it's that last item that will be making Kickstarter "blow up," but I'm hoping a few of you will be stoping by the Drumindor project as well.

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