Around April of 2020 when the full extent of how bad things were getting with the pandemic was slowly dawning (and basically looked like the apocalypse had begun) I made a decision that amidst the chaos I’d try and get something positive done. Primarily as a selfish way of distracting myself from the insanity going on outside but also as a means of completing a book I’d had in the works for the past couple of years.
The book itself, Early Haunts was a graphic novel of seminal ghost stories but retold in a graphic novel format to open up its readership. Each of these tales helped inspire A Christmas Carol, Ring, Sleepy Hollow and Frankenstein. I’d spent months researching each of the stories in question along with a stack of others, which in some cases were translated from their original languages into English. It was an arduous task but also for someone who’s a fan of old folklore and unsettling ghost stories it was equally hugely rewarding finding out more and more about how these famous ghost stories came to be.
I’d long felt passionate about the book and was confident that there would be an audience eager to read it. Previously I’ve not appeared at any major comic cons with my work which I realised would be an instant handicap against other creators who’d built up connections within the circuit. But in the end this proved irrelevant against the campaign gaining attraction and finding a large audience online.
So in September 2020 I launched my first Kickstarter. Previously I’ve released five other books, all of which had been self-funded. But with the scale of Early Haunts I knew it would be too costly a process to produce to EH to a high standard taking the self-funding route. I wanted to produce something of quality that people would return to time and time again. Paperback would have been the cheaper option (far cheaper in fact.) But I wanted to produce a hardback that people would value on their bookshelf, show to their friends and enjoy poring over.
At the time of launching the campaign I asked for £5k (in truth that wouldn’t have been even enough to fully break-even) but amidst the pandemic I appreciated people were losing jobs and didn’t want to appear eager for a big campaign pay out.
I figured If I could get the funds together to get a print run completed it would still be satisfying to get the book out there
By the end of the book’s campaign in early November, Early Hauntshad raised £25, 928 with 799 backers. The campaign also hit both stretch goals. This included an Augmented Reality goal which meant readers would be able to scan certain panels within the book via a free app and then watch as each panel animated into life.
On top of this the campaign total meant a further ‘Early Haunt’ story could be told. A story which is currently being finalised by illustrator Brian Coldrick.
But, for me most importantly, Early Haunts is now up there as one of the most successful horror anthology campaigns on Kickstarter. Certainly the most successful ghost story graphic novel anthology. Something which is still mind-blowing.
I was (and am) still utterly blown away by the support the campaign received. In such a turbulent year it was so gratifying to see an audience engaging with the campaign and putting their hard-earned cash into a project that’s been a passion project of mine for so long. I’m still utterly grateful. Especially seeing established publishers crowdfund their own book campaigns and struggling to meet even a sixth of Early Haunt’s overall campaign total.
It’s fair to say in the run up to Kickstarter I did a large amount of research into different campaigns, seeing what worked and what didn’t necessarily pay off for other creators. It amazed me just how many campaigns had launched and yet hadn’t succeeded with a great product to sell, but barely any support.
It would be unrealistic to say that ‘luck’ doesn’t play a factor into any crowdfund campaign. But like everything, you can always do what you can to improve the odds. Since finishing Early Haunts I’ve had a notable amount of people get in touch to ask for any tips or advice from my own experience in getting the book funded and published.
So what follows is a list of some of main takeaways from running the campaign which really helped it’s promotion and delivery.
I’ve got to say this is by no means a definitive list. Undoubtedly there will be factors I’ve missed and I’m sure some elements will work betters for some creators than others.
But for me the below list all really helped. I’ve listed their order from preparation through to delivery of the final product. I hope it’s of some use to anyone crowdfunding.
Preparing Your Campaign
Calculate Your Final Costs In Advance :
It would be easy to look at some crowdfunded campaigns and gape in awe at the final amount made. But after you take out the platforms’ cost, print, postage, tax and any other fees it can be shocking how low that amount can drop to. Triple check your costs well in advance, then check ‘em again to make sure you’re able to make money on your final product.
Calculate your Postage :
This comes up time and time again, but it’s worth repeating. Postage is a HUGE part of KS if you’re selling a physical product. I forced myself to do a ton of research ahead of launch so I knew I wouldn’t be losing out when the final costs came round to posting Early Haunts. Ensure you price postage fairly but also so you’re over covered and won’t be making a loss at the end of your campaign.
Work With A Great Team :
The team of illustrators I worked with for Early Haunts are people I’ve all been honoured enough to have worked with previously. Artists Brian Coldrick, Bri Neumann, David Romero, Mike O’Brien and colourist Bryan Valenza are all huge talents and it was so great to have a chance at working with them again on such a rewarding project.
In comparison I’ve heard some real horror stories from other crowd funders who’ve taken on illustrators to handle artwork on a project only to find out they’ve over-promised with no experience and thus have delivered artwork at incorrect sizing, without bleeds and at low resolutions. Something which has instantly trebled the production time to rectify.
Whatever you’re producing I would highly recommend you find a group of people to work with who share the same passion for the project and who you know you can rely on.
Calculating Stretch Goals :
These are a fantastic addition to any Kickstarter campaign. But make sure you take into account creation times and also fulfilment of the stretch goals compared to their costs. Bearing in mind meeting certain targets can look great, but might mean you’ll have X amount deducted from your final costs dependent on the cost of the stretch goal.
Work With A Reliable Printer / Manufacturer : With Early Haunts I was lucky as I’d already locked down a printer well in advance of launching the project (a handy consequence of working in graphic design.)
However I was approached by another printer early on (Via Kickstarter) who promised they could do the job in half the time for a fraction of the cost. Intrigued and knowing they were a smaller outfit which would be benefiting over a larger company I asked the printer to send over a hard copy test run of the book.
The printer ended up sending two books, both of which arrived late, incorrectly printed, scratched, with the pages (quite literally) falling out.
Evidently I stuck with my original printer.
If you’re using a printer shop around, get costs but ensure you work with an established company who knows their stuff. The risks just aren’t worth it.
Setting Up Your Campaign
Something worth considering is that once you launch your campaign, it’ll be up in the crowdfunder platform site indefinitely. So it’s worth making it look as effective and memorable as possible.
I’d long been personally impressed with campaigns that carried their own distinctive own signature style. My day job is a designer so it’s something I instantly latch onto when I can see a campaign has got an aesthetic applied to it. Be that as something as simple as using the same font style for your headers. I would 100% say it’s worth considering implementing an overall ‘style’ or colour scheme to your campaign.
A High Quality Campaign Video :
I checked out a lot (and I mean A LOT) of different Kickstarter campaign videos prior to running Early Haunts and a big takeaway was just how many people had poorly performing campaigns with videos. Some of which straight up looked like they’d been filmed on a potato.
If you’re going to sell your own product to your audience it’s well worth making that video as eye-catching and polished as possible. It’s often the first port of call for people accessing your campaign so investing some time (and potentially money) to make it look amazing is always good call.
Show Customers The Final Product : It’s a no brainer that potential customers want to see the finished product. In my Kickstarter research, campaigns which visualised the individual reward tiers with graphics did really well. So I’d absolutely recommend using both a full mock up of your final book and a breakdown of your rewards in visual form showing your audience what they could walk away with after signing up to the campaign.
Breaking Up Your Campaign Story With Engaging Graphics:
Your campaign story is key, but at the same time people are naturally turned off huge blocks of texts. Where you can keep your campaign interesting with images of the final product or even animated gifs / videos so your audience can engage with what you’re selling.
Setting up your Kickstarter Page Early :
Something which I overlooked was just how long Kickstarter takes to clear some campaigns just to get a ‘pre-launch’ page up and running. Even though I jumped through all the hoops and ticked all the boxes mine took over a week to clear. I would highly recommend setting your campaign and launching for review as soon as possible, then editing if necessary afterwards.
Time Your Campaign :
I purposefully ran my campaign to coincide with Halloween with the topic of Early Haunts. (Admittedly this led to a stressful run up to Christmas.) But it still definitely helped with momentum, especially with shares on social media. Topical hashtags such as #halloween really benefited the campaign.
Running your Campaign
Backer swaps :
This was something I was unfamiliar with prior to Early Haunts, but undoubtedly helped with the campaign. For the uninitiated backer swaps are when a campaign recommends another campaign in their own campaign update. It was a great way to connect with similar creators and definitely led to me finding some great campaigns to back myself. I’d recommend keeping these to the end of your updates so if people aren’t interested they can always ignore them.
Social Media :
This proved invaluable for getting the word out about the campaign. Using Instagram, Twitter and Facebook (in particular Facebook groups) meant the campaign got maximum exposure and hit a lot of people who otherwise might not be aware of it. Don’t feel ashamed about plugging your campaign on social for a month or two. Especially bearing in mind that all the social networks each have strict algorithms running meaning only a small percentage of your followers will be glimpsing your posts at a single time.
If you’ve got followers then undoubtedly they’re following you because they like your output. If someone loses interest because you’re plugging your own campaign, then arguably they’re not worth worrying about.
Mailing Lists :
What’s even better than social media for reaching your audience? A mailing list. Mine proved invaluable for contacts who I knew weren’t on social media but would be interested in the campaign. I’ve long used Mailchimp for mine who are great (and cheap.)
(Also you’re not at the mercy of a social media platform’s algorithm).
I was lucky enough to get several opportunities to plug Early Haunts amidst the campaign on both written Q&A’s for comic and horror websites alongside appearing in a few YouTube and podcast interviews. They were another great way of connecting with other creators and hosts and being able to share information on the project.
Celebrity Support :
If your content matches a well-known person’s own interest it’s worth reaching out to them. I’ve been lucky enough before having a few well known authors and creators share my campaigns on social media and it really helped again with Early Haunts. Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask, they can only say no. Again if it’s the kind of thing they might be interested in, then there’s never any shame in asking.
I’d recommend collating your backer information for fulfilment well in advance of dispatching parcels. I labelled up all my Jiffy bags in advance (with the relevant reward extras) so when books arrived it was simply a case of sealing them in Jiffy bags and ticking them off before hitting the post office post office. That way you can always track back if something goes missing in the post.
Also, ensure you keep certificates of posting. I definitely had more than a handful of copies of EH disappear into the void of the US postal system over Christmas 2020 due to the general chaos with their mail.
Thanks to postal certificates I was able to claim on any missing books without losing money and ensured backers received replacements.
Calculate Your Time For Dispatch :
It’s easy to underestimate the logistics of dispatch for your KS campaign. I did my best to streamline the whole process as much as possible in advance of posting books (e.g. purchasing art prints, packaging, etc well in advance of receiving the final books) but regardless there’s always a myriad of unexpected factors which come into play.
I would highly recommend adding at least a couple of days onto your estimated dispatch time (If you’re dispatching your own product rather than outsourcing logistics). Also for UK crowd funders I highly recommend checking out the Post Office’s own ‘Click and Drop’ system which allows you to set up an account and (in some cases) leave post in the post office to be franked and dispatched by the staff. This has been a lifesaver for my previous releases and came into its own for Early Haunts. For overseas crowd funders I’m sure there’s similar options.
Updating Your Customers :
Once your campaign if fulfilled, updates are great for engaging with your customers and showing them that the whole process is going smoothly. It definitely helped with Early Haunts and also sets up a handy dialogue with your backers if they’ve got any questions.
I wouldn’t want to sound negative to anyone planning their campaign. However there’s two exceptions I’ve encountered with crowdfund campaigns which made me think it’s probably worth mentioning these all the same.
So, for the sake of decency, I’d politely request for anyone to think against the following.
Don’t : Demand Backing.
“ Hey, I couldn’t help notice that you haven’t backed my campaign yet – are you going to?”
Very pleased to say I’ve only ever had this one once for an Unbound campaign who just straight up asked when I was backing their campaign.
This really shouldn’t need to be said but DON’T ever just straight up ask people back your project. You never know what situation people are in financially and puts a weird dynamic between you and the backer, especially if you know them personally.
If people want to back your campaign, by all means share the campaign with them.
But c’mon, be polite – it’s not the 18th century and you’re not a highwayman.
Don’t : Offer unsolicited advice.
“I know you haven’t asked my opinion on this…”
Again amidst my campaign I only had this once from an indie creator working on a children’s art book. The creator offered some unprompted advice on the design of Early Haunt’s cover. In comparison their cover was clearly based for a totally different audience, but all the same, the artwork wasn’t spectacular and they’d decided upon a simple google font as their title with startling amounts of garish colours.
Now, whilst I’m always open to feedback, unless you’re an established professional in a relevant field, have a killer cover with a devastating effective campaign video, then it’s arguably always good advice to keep quiet.
That’s it! I’m sure I’ve missed a lot of stuff out but regardless I hope it helps
If you’re about to self-publish and run a crowdfunded campaign or maybe just toying with the idea, I wish you the very best of luck.