(I’m about to launch a comic book Kickstarter (check it here) and the first step on my Kickstarter journey is admitting I know nothing about running a Kickstarter.
Sure, I’ve backed a few (thirteen so far) but that’s not the same thing is it. I need to bow the head to people who have put the hours in and nailed it. Enter Fraser Campbell.
Fraser is the award-winning writer of comics Sleeping Dogs, Alex Automatic, Black Cape and Mothwicke and he has also worked in social media, radio and the theatre. He recently finished running a successful Kickstarter campaign for issue #2 of Alex Automatic, with artist James Corcoran, which will debut at the Thought Bubble International Comics Festival on the 23rd and 24th September 2017. (You can find Fraser at Table 35 at the Cookridge Street Marquee.) He and Cocoran also successfully Kickstarted the first issue of Alex Automatic, which won best single issue comic at Edinburgh Comic Con.
M: So, Fraser, what’s the best thing about doing a Kickstarter?
F: Just that it gives you an opportunity to raise the funds to make something you’d otherwise be unable to do. As you’ll know, comics cost a lot to make, even a low print run as there’s lots of people to pay, printing, etc. Kickstarter and other crowdfunding sites get you past that financial hump. Back in the old Xerox zine days, indie creators weren’t really able to make stuff that compared to professional comics. That’s changed now. Now it’s down to you.
M: What Kickstarter pitfalls did you encounter with Alex Automatic #1 and #2?
F: The biggest headache with a Kickstarter is working out postage. Postage counts towards your total, so you have to bear that in mind when you’re working out what you want to set as your target amount. If you’re a first time creator, that’s not easy as you’re basically being asked to project postage costs based on how many people you think will back you – essentially you’re plucking a figure out of the air.
M: I just saw a respected creator online say he had to spend £750 of his own money to cover Kickstarter postage across two of his projects. But I thought you added on the amount to cover postage after the reward is selected? So if everyone from America chooses a £10 reward, and then adds £4 postage when they check out, doesn’t that £14 cover the cost no matter how many people order from overseas? How are people getting caught out?
F: People often get caught out by not realising that what backers pay for postage forms part of your total. So, if you set your target at say 2k and that’s what you need to make your book, then you SHOULD be setting your target at maybe 2.5k because that’s what it will cost to make and post. As I said, this makes coming up with a target figure as a first time creator on Kickstarter educated guesswork at best because you’ll have no real idea of how many backers you’ll get. Plus, you never know how many of your backers are going to come from overseas, and if it’s a lot that’ll bump up your costs.
Conversely, someone might make more than they expected, over-order stock and leave themselves short for postage funds.
Most common though will be over promising on stretch rewards, free add-ons after target is met. You have to make sure that any stretch reward you offer isn’t too costly and doesn’t impact on your postage costs. I’ve seen people screw themselves by upgrading from soft to hardcover for example because they haven’t thought about that massively increasing postage costs.
You have more of an idea second time around obviously. My advice? Much better to overestimate costs than under. Just be very careful not to over-promise on rewards and delivery times.
M: Wise words. What do you think motivates people to back a Kickstarter campaign in the first place?
F: I think with comics, a lot of people are tired of mainstream stuff and want to see something fresh and maybe a bit raw from new creators. Also I think there’s a genuine sense of people picking out creators they like and want to support. Once you deliver on a Kickstarter, it builds a bit of trust that you can start trying to build into a “fan base”, for want of a better expression.
M: What advice would you give anyone prepping their first Kickstarter?
F: First, you can totally do it.
Secondly, work out your costs and set an achievable target. Be careful not to promise a reward that turns out to be difficult to make and costly to post.
Thirdly, don’t ignore the free tools in your box, like Twitter, Facebook etc. I got about 80% of my customers via social media campaigning.
Fourthly, it is a campaign so plan it like one. You’re looking to publicise the Kickstarter well before it starts and you’re trying to find ways to keep interest up while it’s ongoing. You’ll hear people talk about “slump” or “sag” periods when nothing much is happening during your campaign – it’s up to you to keep the interest going.
Finally, it’s best to make sure your project is more or less done going in and be honest with backers about when they’ll get their comics/item/whatever. If you hit a problem, let them know – most will not have an issue so long as you keep them in the loop.
M: Are comic shops at all interested in Kickstarter comics? And if so are they interested in the comic or the badges stickers, prints and other ephemera?
F: I think many campaigns offer comic shops levels where they can take a batch of comics at a good price but I’ve not done that so far. It’s an area I need to greatly improve on being honest. I don’t have my stuff in a lot of shops mainly because it’s dauntingly expensive to post stuff around and then a fair amount of work to keep track of your stock. The upside of course is better reach, so if your priority is to get your book into more hands, it’s worth some thought.
M: What kind of rewards work best? I see a lot of people doing badges for example.
F: I find the most backed rewards tend to be just the basic item. People like badges and prints, but not in the same numbers. The really successful add-on rewards are the ones that offer something truly unique, like original art or a chance to appear as a character in the next issue, for example.
M: Is it important to limit the number of rewards available?
F: It depends on you I suppose. For me and my sanity, yes. You have a lot to do, so for me, it’s best to have a clear and limited amount of tasks.
M: Is it common for people to order multiple reward tiers, or just one? And does that bring any problems?
F: It’s not uncommon for people to make special requests and to want various permutations of rewards. It’s easy enough to organise, as Kickstarter allows you to make notes against a backer’s order.
M: How much should I charge for UK shipping for a US sized comic and a few A4 prints?
F: I charge £2.00. That covers the cost of postage and your mailers.
M: How do you become a ‘Project We Love’ on Kickstarter, or otherwise get them to pimp the project?
F: You tell me! We haven’t had that honour yet. I’m not sure how much of a difference it makes being honest. I’m sure it has some impact as it will place your project within certain search parameters that people will look at when browsing projects. One thing you can do is regular updates. That takes you back to the top of the pile for browsers who are searching new comic projects. Of course, you can’t just post updates for the sake of it as you’ll bore your backers, but if you space out your news, it should keep you towards the front of the general pack.
M: What kind of updates work best?
F: Any kind of solid news on the project, really: WIP art, a review, stuff back from the printers. As long as it’s not just an update for the sake of itself, really.
M: What service do you use to send the stuff overseas?
F: I’ve just used the good old PO.
M: In my case I can see Kickstarter comics getting mailed from the UK to Australia, Hong Kong and the USA. For a comic and few prints is £4 the right amount to charge for shipping anywhere in the world?
F: I charge £4 for overseas postage. You can work it out more accurately but that will cover most of your customers for something simple like just a comic. Just make sure your mailers conform to large letter size and not parcel, because that jacks costs up. Of course if you’re sending something bulkier than a comic, that requires a rethink too.
M: How easy is it to do customised stuff – comics with different covers, or have people choose their own prints rather than just send them a set?
F: It’s easy enough to do variant covers and to allow a certain amount of mix and match of existing rewards, but I’d shy away from allowing a customer to ask for something I’m simply not offering.
M: Did you open a bank account just for your Kickstarter? What’s the best way to organise the financial side?
F: No, but maybe I should have. You do have to bear in mind that it’s taxable income.
M: Is it wise to have a contingency amount built into your finding goal? Say 15%?
F: It’s wise to know your costs going in. It’s also wise to overestimate how much you’ll need for postage and to be aware that postage will end up being around a quarter of what you make. You can get suckered into spending any additional money you make on stretch goals that can leave you with very thin margins. People like stretch goals, but don’t require you to promise the moon.
M: If you raise a grand, how much do Kickstarter take off you?
F: It ends up being about 10% of what you raise, another thing you really have to be careful you remember.
M: How much time does it take a) Set up the Kickstarter b) Run the campaign and answer questions from backers c) Make and send everyone their stuff?
F: A lot. The back-end of Kickstarter is a bit clunky but there are good tutorials if you are stuck and you can ask questions, so set up isn’t that hard. It’s the publicity campaigning that you really have to put thought and time into for me. Depending on how many backers you get of course, the final bit of sending out rewards is actually pretty straightforward. Kickstarter produces very good backer report information which you can pull to make processing your orders quite smooth.
M: Finally, what can we expect from you in the future?
F: We’ve just finished issue #2 of Alex Automatic, which is a psychedelic spy adventure comic about an agent who believes he’s the cyborg hero from a 70’s TV show. That’ll be launched at Thought Bubble in a couple of weeks and we’ll be sending out Kickstarter rewards shortly after that. Next thing on the slate is a new action/adventure story called Heart of Steal with Irish artist Katie Fleming. I also have a couple of things coming up in the Comichaus anthology comic.
M: Cool. Looking forward to it, Fraser. Thanks for the sage advice.