It's no doubt that Kickstarter has been responsible for jump-starting (and in some cases reviving) the careers of several independent comic book creators. Just taking a peek at the stats reveal that Kickstarter comics have been able to raise $47.67 million dollars in funding since the company's inception back in April 2009. Even more staggering is that a total of 3,090 Kickstarter comics have been able to raise $1,000 or more! According to Kickstarter, if you are planning to raise money for your comic, you have about a 50 percent chance. Or is that really true?
I launched a Kickstarter campaign for my graphic novel E.X.O. about three weeks ago and I was very fortunate to hit my goal in one day! It was a marvelous achievement that took a whole lot of work and months of planning. I've been asked so many times by people how I managed to do it, and each time I explain my process, something tells me I need to try to document it somehow -- hence this article. To be honest, it was a combination of two things: One was learning from my first successful Kickstarter and the second was talking to people who had tremendous success with launching their Kickstarter comics and documenting/implementing what worked for them.
I interviewed five people: Anthony Piper ("Trill League"), Marcus Williams ("Tuskegee Heirs," "SuperNatural"), Molly Ostertag ("Strong Female Protagonist"), Jason Brubaker ("Remind," "Sithra") and Eileen Alden ("Super Sikh"). If you haven't checked out their work out, you should. Just to put it in perspective, they've been able to raise a combined $324,158 for their Kickstarter comics. I asked these brilliant minds seven questions I believe would help any creator out there who wants to take that proverbial leap of faith to start creating their own comics.
What are some things you believe you did that brought the most attention/success for your campaign?
Molly Ostertag: We spent two years putting our webcomic online and gathering a readership. The comic is all available to read for free, and that felt like the most important thing in ensuring the success of our Kickstarter -- backers could see that the work was done, and could become fans with commitment. All we needed was money to make a physical book. We ran a campaign that was pretty well organized and had a modest goal -- we just wanted to make a book. I think that having it be professional and simple led a lot of people to contribute. We also asked people to spread the word, being transparent about the fact that word-of-mouth was as important as contributing, and that fans who couldn't afford to contribute could still share it online and help us enormously.
Jason Brubaker: I think the biggest thing was building a mailing list and a following prior to doing the Kickstarter. A lot of people see the success of Kickstarters and then they launch one with a good idea, but they don't have that: They haven't spent the time to build that following first. It's critical to either have a big following that trusts you already, or at least a couple hundred people that trust you, that really want what you're doing. It doesn't have to be millions, you know.
Marcus Williams: I stayed consistent with building my social networks by way of posting art and finding my audience.
What is the one thing you regret doing or not doing as it relates to your Kickstarter campaign?
Anthony Piper: The one thing I regret doing is promising too much. I got a little bit over ambitious with what it is I wanted to do, but once that's out there, you've got to commit to that. That's the one thing I regret.
Eileen Alden: I think it went very well, all things considered, but I think it would have been even better if we fully developed our post-Kickstarter online storefront well in advance of the campaign, to make that transition easier. And it would have also been better if we had developed a way to respond to all the press more efficiently. We had an incredible amount of viral press and tons of unexpected interviews which added so much time and energy beyond the work of preparing the comic. Managing all of the press slowed us down at the beginning. But honestly at the time of pre-launch, I think it would have been hard to imagine working on these challenges too, along with everything else! So maybe there is always something one could have done better in hindsight.
Would you use Kickstarter again for another project? If yes why? If no, why not?
This was a unanimous yes, but I think Marcus said it best.
Williams: Yep. It's a really great way to find your customers if you've already done the work in marketing.
Was there any fear or hesitation before you started your campaign? If yes why? If no, why not?
Another unanimous yes. But each creator did mention that it was more anxiety as opposed to fear.
Piper: Yes. Anyone who is close to me could tell you that I was very nervous. Of course, you're always nervous if you're going to get the money. I think that's the first thing, can I be successful at this, and ultimately as artists or creators we tend to internalize any failure, especially being publicized like that. If it's something that you put out there and it doesn't succeed, it lets people know that maybe people aren't as interested in this project as you thought they were. Especially for the expectations that you're building. I think that people were kind of hyping me up, like, "Aw man, you'll kill that record. You'll kill that, don't worry about that, you'll get the money." OK, you have people saying one thing, but is that actually going to happen?
Ostertag: Of course it's scary to ask for money on the internet -- a failed Kickstarter is so public. But we planned well, looked at similar Kickstarters, and were pretty sure we'd make our goal.
Alden: Well, it was definitely nerve-wracking! There are no guarantees, so you make the best educated guesses that you can, trying to figure out who to reach out to, what kind of perks will people enjoy, and how to deliver a good experience for your fans. Even the order in which items on the Kickstarter page were laid out was something we debated for a while. We also didn't go into our project with a profit motive, we just wanted to cover the cost of our printing, so there was not a lot of wiggle-room in our budget if we were not successful. That also added pressure because we really hoped to make high-quality comics and we were hoping we could raise enough money to afford it.
Why did you pick Kickstarter over Indegogo and all other crowdfunding websites?
The answers here were pretty varied, but you can see from the responses below, the consensus was because of Kickstarter's brand.
Williams: I like the system. There's integrity in the system in the way that we don't get money [if] we don't meet the goal.
Alden: I really love the other crowdfunding websites, and I support creators on lots of platforms. But for us at the time, Kickstarter seemed to be leading the way forward for crowdfunding, and they seemed to be the most well established. We expected many of our fans to be somewhat unfamiliar with crowdfunding, so we hoped that Kickstarter's strong brand identity and credentials would make people feel comfortable using the platform.
Ostertag: It has a robust comics community and has better name recognition. Also, there's a minimum amount of money you need to print a book. Raising less than that amount, like Indiegogo allows you to do, would have meant we couldn't create the product we wanted to.
PIper: Just because Kickstarter is probably the most popular one, in a sense, just the name alone.
Along with its popularity, it has the most ability to get press. It being a more recognized name, I'm sure that it probably has more of an established base of users, and you can get those people who might not necessarily have been following you on social media that might browse Kickstarter on a daily basis to look for a new project to invest into, and you can get some extra money from that. That's why I chose to use it.
What role did social media play and how effective was it?
This was actually the most interesting question. Jason and Anthony had two very opposite view points. With Jason leaning more towards blogging and building a mailing list, and Anthony solely relying on Facebook. Just goes to show there are multiple paths to finding success.
Piper: Everything, 100 percent. I didn't use anything else to promote my Kickstarter, there was nothing, no flyers or anything like that. Social media was 100 percent responsible for the promotion and success of the campaign, it was very important. We live in a world where it's easier to reach people through the Internet who might like the project. If you look around, you know, you could just go around the neighborhood, you might find a few people who would be willing to invest into your project, but online it brings all these people who might like your stuff from all over the world. Social media is definitely important, I don't think you can make a deal without social media.
Brubaker: Well, with "reMIND" I tried different social media things. I never would feel like I'd been an expert at it. I feel like I've focused more on the blog than anything. I've always kind of been annoyed with Facebook. I've always been annoyed with Twitter. I do use Twitter now but I feel like it's kind of a borderline waste of time because I just don't see a whole lot of results from it, and definitely with Facebook I don't see results so I kind of abandoned that.
The one social media thing I do like is Instagram because it's very visual, so that just makes sense to me as an artist. Same with YouTube. I like YouTube. It just takes time to create those videos, but that's visually based, too. Those seem to be the most beneficial for me. I don't focus on those because I focus more building the mailing list, so if I do YouTube videos they're trying to get people to join the mailing list or something because, again, that’s the most powerful tool for me -- having a list of people's emails who are ready to buy something.
Did you spend any money advertising your campaign? If so do you think it helped?
Again, here I found some conflicting but great points.
Piper: Yeah, I did spend money on Facebook ads, I did purchase $50 on the ad. I think basically how Facebook ads work, is you tell them how much money you want to spend and then depending on how many people they reach is how much they charge you. I think I said I wanted to spend $75, and then I think it ended up coming to $50. I think it helped.
Alden: We had very little money to spend, so advertising did not make a lot of sense for us. Social media was not only free, but it was the most effective way for us to reach our audience. People listen much more to their friends and referrals than they do to paid promotions. So we found it much more important to reach out to people personally, and let them help to spread the word.
Ostertag: No, and I'd warn anyone who's about to start a Kickstarter -- your inbox will be flooded with offers from companies that promise you backers or exposure or whatever, and I'm pretty sure they're all scams.
Brubaker: I didn't. I think that's a waste of time because you are in essence spending all your money upfront that you're hoping to get. So you're guaranteed to spend money on advertising but you're not guaranteed to get that money back, and a campaign is already tricky to manage the finances.
The idea with the campaign is if your product isn't strong enough and if your pitch isn't strong enough, it doesn't matter how much advertising you're going to be able to put. People are not going to respond. The problem is in your pitch and your product more than if you advertise because honestly Kickstarter is an amazing advertising platform in itself. If you can put together a good little campaign there then that's a lot of money in advertising that you're getting for free just by having it on Kickstarter because it's all search friendly and it's made to share real easily.
One Thing That Really Helped Me
Get a launch team. Find 10-20 of your most trusted friends & family members and tell them about your Kickstarter two weeks before you launch, which gives them enough time to budget for it. These are people who will support you no matter what. Get all of them to pledge and/or share within the first hour of your Kickstarter launch.
Here's why: Kickstarter is all about momentum. Strangers are more likely to pledge on a project that has already made a significant amount of money within the first couple hours/days. It also helps convince people who may be on the fence about supporting your project.
Hope this helps somebody out there today. If you think I missed anything or would like to add to the conversation, please hit me up in the comments below.
Born in Lagos, Nigeria, Roye Okupe is a veteran creative specialist who holds both a Bachelor's and Master's in computer science from The George Washington University. His passion for animation & superheroes led him to found YouNeek Studios in 2012, an avenue that would allow him pursue his dream of creating diverse superhero comics.
[This article originally appeared on the YouNeek Studios website.]