Shop Talk:Understanding Kickstarter and why small press thrives off it (especially webcomics)
22 Oct
Shop Talk:Understanding Kickstarter and why small press thrives off it (especially webcomics)


Understanding Kickstarter and why small press thrives off it (especially webcomics)

I want to talk about Kickstarter. Why I am for it and how people can make it work for them… I realize that a lot of you might not know me or my comic. You probably wondering where I get off talking about Kickstarter and why I think it is fantastic for the industry or how to make it work.

My name is Travis Hanson. I am a fantasy illustrator. I write and illustrate a webcomic called Bean, which was nominated for an Eisner in 2011, it is a black and white epic fantasy tale of a dishwasher. I also do fantasy illustrations that focus on the power of imagination. I have been at it  for 15 years. Now, what does that have to do with Kickstarter? Well, in the last two years I have put together three successful Kickstarter campaigns for the bean and now I have finished successfully my 4th campaign, which reached it’s target goal in 4 days of 11k.

Since then I have been asked how it works and have people suggest that they need to do a kickstarter. I am excited for them- but at the same time I caution them. Kickstarter is a rough exciting road. So be prepared for the emotional roller coaster that comes with it. Also it can be a successful way to get projects off the ground and if you use it the right way it creates many opportunities for creators that were not always there.

So how does a small press, unknown, indy creator, like myself be able to make Kickstarter work? Why do we thrive off of it?

Well that is because I understand what Kickstarter really is. It is a funding platform for creators who want control over their work. Anyone, who has a creative project dealing with the arts, can use it and it doesn’t matter who it is, as long as you follow their guidelines. They encourage you to do as many projects as you want… yet you can only do one at a time…. which is cool. So with the understanding of what Kickstarter really is, it’s hard for me to get upset at the movies, big games or big names that want to use it as well to fund their ideas. Kickstarter  allows creators to connect with their fans in a way that was not present before, produce work they want full control over and hold creator responsible to finish his plan if the project funds.  This is understanding is crucial to making this platform work. It is important to note, Kickstarter is not a publishing house, distribution center or marketing firm. That is the sole responsibility of the creator. It’s your idea so you need to take ownership of it.

A fan, or pledge, chooses for themselves if they will back a project or not. There is no force and if you don’t like a certain project, for whatever reason, than you don’t have to back it. That means if people want to support indy guys, like me, and small press, or maybe their favorite artist they can find us and back us. Honestly I can’t blame the million dollar campaigns because they have an established fan base… all I can do is find a way to make Kickstarter work best for me.

As a funding platform Kickstarter has  made it possible for creative people to get their works out there and give their dreams a start. Not all projects will fund and most reasons for this  deal with rushing the project out there without preparing on how you the creator will market it to your fan base. Especially if you don’t have one from the beginning.  Some projects catch fire and shoot the moon and some, like mine and many others just make our goals and allows us to continue to follow our dreams. There are people uncomfortable with this work model. Established artists and designers that are afraid that the market will be flooded with subpar work, maybe the true fear is they are afraid their own fan base will diminish. I doubt it. In fact I have found that some incredible work is being produced and that I am finding a lot of hidden talent that needs to be noticed, that would have otherwise not been,  through the world of Kickstarter. The world is changing on how ideas are be found, be willing to change with it. This is not print on demand, this is about funding a project, which takes a huge burden off creators.

So in reality I am writing this for the indy creator, the one that has a dream and wants to see that dream become a reality. I hope that you take to heart what I say. It could probably save you some time and money and a little heartache. I hope you realize that all Kickstarter is is a way to crowd fund your books, music or other art projects, effectively taking off the burden of having to have funds to do something.  The catch is that you still have to do all the rest of the work involved in seeing it to completion, which can be a lot of hard work, but in the end so worth it…  Now if your planning one, here are some guidelines that have worked for me. Mind you there’s a lot more to talk about and we can chat all day long.

1. READ and LEARN all about Kickstarter. A lot of people talk about this crowd funding platform and have no idea how it works. Kickstarter has a very easy question and answer system.  They lay it all out there and remind you it’s an all or nothing platform. You either make the goal or not.

2. Plan it out. Don’t just jump into it thinking your idea is so fantastic, that people are going to leap at the chance to fund you. This is why people fail. They jump in without preparing. They have no fan base, or trust that social media will do the job. It helps, but you can’t rely on it. FB alone will only allow about 7% of your following to see your posts. When I did my first Kickstarter the book was nearly finished, and it had been online as a webcomic for almost two years before I even considered crowd funding. I planed it out from the beginning and made sure that I could deliver what I promised.

Creating the fan base was crucial. The webcomic allowed for that, as well as going to cons, and constantly posting art. People knew it was coming and were on the look out. At the end in my questionnaire I asked if they would be willing to support another one and 98% said yes. So in 8 months when we did 2nd one and I prepared it just like the first one. If you want to have a successful Kickstarter make sure you are prepared, I cannot stress this enough.

Webcomic creators get this. We know the audience builds over time and if you look a lot of very successful Kickstarters were webcomics. We also know that our audience can be fiercely loyal, when we are loyal to them. Something small press needs to get through their heads and that our audience is world wide. We would love to be in stores, but at the same time are figuring out our fans do not mind buying direct. The game is rapidly changing.

Understand your audience… some audiences have a very narrow appeal, while others have mass appeal. Zombie eating cheerleaders work well for some but probably don’t work for people wanting a book for their 4 year old. NSFW material narrows the field a bit and some stuff is so far out there that people just cant connect to it. So, figure your audience out and market to them.

3. Make it look presentable. Take time in the design. Be upfront and make the updates worth it. Look at other successful Kickstarters and see what they did to make the goal. Look at their layout on their pages. They took the time to make it visually appealing. I back projects that take the effort to make it look nice, interesting and clean.  Make it clear on your dates and make sure you are upfront about everything that involves this project. Your fans and pledges are supporting this and want to feel that they are apart of it as well. Be open about struggles and timetable. For an indy the more info you give, the more people are likely to support you.

4. Make a realistic goal. If you can get your book printed for 5k and shipped for another 1.5 k than ask for 8k (covers the Fees you pay as well) and not for 30k. This is to fund your project not a lifestyle. If you make your goal that is awesome, if you blow it out of the water that is fantastic. Only look at stretch goals once you achieved your initial goal. Seriously, don’t get greedy when you plan it out. If it goes viral that is an added bonus… but look at funding your project first.

5. Honesty- It’s all about honesty…. Your pledges come first. Not second after you get it into book stores. Your backers are the most important thing about your project. One of the reasons I have had four good projects fund, is because I am upfront and my backers know they will always be first. They also know that I personalize the rewards for them, I want them to have an incredible experience.  I understand they are taking a risk and so I make sure I honor that risk.

6. Prepare yourself for an emotional roller coaster and if it doesn’t fund how to get back up and try again. It’s one wild ride and not all projects fund, so be ready for it.  If it doesn’t fund reevaluate it, how do I tweak the idea to make it marketable and better, refocus the presentation or fix the reward system. Just because it does not fund, dose not mean it is a bad idea. It means it just needs to be reworked.

7. Remember – Kickstarter is a platform for crowd funding art projects. It’s not a publisher, not a warehouse, not a production house, not a marketing firm,  it is just a platform. You are all of those. You are using Kickstarter to see if there is enough support to help get an idea off the ground and take the burden of production costs.

8. You are the marketer. Blog it, Share it, Tweet it… you are the one responsible to letting people know that it is out there. You will be up against a lot of of projects trying to do the same thing. Enjoy their success and support them. Supporting others is good karma and don’t beg for successful projects to promote yours while theirs is still going. They are focuses on trying to make theirs work. Ask them after theirs is done to promote yours. You are the one at the end of the day that will push you project. If you find champions, they will help. Also if your project is appealing enough, it begins to push itself.

Kickstarter is a great program. It really does give small press, indys, creators, pros, a chance to follow their own ideas and see their own dreams and stories to completion. It opens doors and makes creates artistic freedom and ownership to those designers that feel that it has been taken away from them or that might not have ever had the opportunity to succeed before.

It’s not for everyone. It scares some people and companies, so they try to discredit it. Yet it also empowers and like I said before I have found some of the most incredible stories, incredible projects, and incredible dreams being accomplished through this platform. Not by seasoned pros but small press and indy/webcomic creators. Some great projects are out there. I would encourage you to search through them. Find ones you like, find new talent out there waiting to be discovered and most importantly support them.

Sure big name artists and companies will be there, but  if you look a little you will find what really makes Kickstarter special and will be pleasantly surprised.

Keep creating.

To see my finished kickstarter project go to TRAVIS ADVENTURE KICKSTARTER PROJECT!


Susan Levy » 17 Mar 2013 » Reply

I appreciate your insights. I am new to Kickstarter and so far am loving the experience. I would love for you to check out my project. let me know what you think

    Trav the bean » 22 Oct 2013 » Reply

    it looks good and it seems you funded as well- that is awesome

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