Hello and welcome to the third chapter in my series of ‘How to’ comic guides, which covers all aspects of being an indie comicbook creator – from writing, attending conventions and much more.
Missed parts one and two? Have a look before diving into this new guide to brush up on your comic creating skills:
- Chapter one: How to make your first comic (including lore bibles, character bios, story arcs and a strong issue structure)
- Chapter two: How to write your first comic script (including script formatting, shorthand for artists, avoiding plot holes, dialogue and more)
Chapter Three: How to run a successful Kickstarter
I’ll be 100% honest with you here: the moment I pressed ‘publish’ on my first Kickstarter campaign (for our post apocalyptic comic Bust #1) was one of the most terrifying things I had ever done.
All along I had this little voice in the back of my mind telling me that this was a dumb idea, the campaign would fail and I’d look stupid once it did.
But I did it anyway and the Kickstarter campaign was a runaway success. Fast forward to today and our track record stands at four campaigns run, four successfully funded. We simply can’t thank our fans enough for that.
Campaign number five is for Vessels #2 (above) and has been built for months. Why hasn’t it gone live yet? Good question, and a crucially important one.
It’s also a good place to start this guide, which will help you understand what makes Kickstarter campaigns succeed, why they fail and what you need to know before hitting that dreaded/wonderful ‘publish’ button yourself.
So, going back to why the Vessels #2 campaign hasn’t gone live yet – it’s because I made it in October, just mere weeks away from Christmas. Would you give money to an indie comic you may not know that well when you have presents to buy?
Chances are, you wouldn’t, so I’m being patient and holding off until February when people have been paid again after the long festive break and have itchy wallets again.
Well to be fair, you might back it in December if you bought the first issue, enjoyed it and are now part of the Card Shark Comics captive audience, but pitching to the same people over and over (on your Facebook page or circle of friends) alone isn’t enough.
To hit the big Kickstarter targets you need to think about new backers – those people you’ve never even met, but if you pitch to them at just the right time, in just the right way then you raise the chances of them throwing money at your idea.
That’s easier than it sounds of course. So lesson number one is: don’t set up a campaign if it runs over Christmas (unless you’re Alan Moore or someone with real star pulling power like that).
Timing like this is key, and it’s also about the ‘why’ behind your campaign. I’ve seen Kickstarter campaigns that are really vague about what the money will be used for, and with little of the end product on show. These campaigns tend not to do so well.
Be honest with yourself here: what do you, the creator, need the money for, and how can you show your backers – tangibly – that it’s going to go towards a great end product?
Getting your story straight like this is the backbone of a solid Kickstarter campaign, as transparency is key. You’re effectively asking people to trust in your comic, that it’s worth them preordering it with only a few preview images and a pitch video to go on.
Which brings us nearly to…
This is tricky, but so important. Regrettably, I’ve seen great comic creators – actual friends – take to Kickstarter without much of a following and ‘fall short of the mark.’
(I’m loathe to say they ‘failed’ here because I have so much respect for anyone who has the courage and conviction to give these things an honest to god try. So no they didn’t fail, it just wasn’t their time for a plethora of potential reasons.)
But before I launched my first Kickstarter, I did the following (sorry, it’s a big, but very important list. Seriously, follow it!)
- Set myself up on multiple social platforms – that’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
- Set up a website – you’re on it
- Researched comic review sites and YouTubers who actively cover indie comics and/or their Kickstarters.
- Looked at the sites and channels my friends’ comics were getting featured on and asking them if they had contacts. (Don’t be afraid to ask!)
- Compiled a mailing list on Mail Chimp of all the comic review sites I wanted to tell about my work and – eventually – my first Kickstarter.
- Paid my artists up front for the first ten pages of Bust #1 so I could share them on my social channels and site, to show I’m serious about this book, and to start building fans.
- Sent a press release to sites and channels revealing my comic to get coverage/more fans.
- Once I had a decent following on all social sites, made contacts on Facebook comic creator groups, got my preview pages out there and received some preview on comic sites…
- …then, and only then was I ready to launch my first Kickstarter campaign.
The above seems like a lot of work before you even make your first Kickstarter but think about it logically: how will people back your book if they don’t know you, your track record, your work, or your brand? You need fans.
Why? Because fans will back your campaigns every time as they are personally invested in your work. But gaining fans takes time, trust and a lot of effort.
I publish new content or updates on my social channels almost every day, or ever other day at the very latest. This is about cutting through the noise of all the Trump headlines, memes, cute cat videos and a million other updates happening on social.
Think: How are you going to stand out and shout louder than all of those distractions?
The short answer is: post regularly, post quality content, engage with your audience and be both transparent and nice (no one backs a dick on Kickstarter!)
I’ll write a separate chapter on building your comic’s brand online later, but for now, let’s move on to drafting that first campaign.
This is where things get genuinely fun!
So, you have a bit of a following now, you’ve got some completed pages or at least concept art to show to your potential backers on Kickstarter, and you feel ready to build and launch a campaign.
Here’s how you do it:
1. Get your pitch right: Remember, you’ve got a few seconds to convince potential backers that your campaign is for them, so don’t mess about.
Does your book share common threads with something else popular like a film or game? Then write down all the ‘pros’ of your book.
Vessels was inspired by the Dark Souls game franchise, mashed up with the dream hopping of Inception. That’s my elevator pitch, what’s yours?
2. Craft your story: In Kickstarter you have a section called ‘Story’ which is the first thing fans see after they’ve watched your pitch video (we’ll get to the video shortly).
Typically I like to start with some bold text or punchy text that quickly makes clear that’s this is. The (currently unpublished) Vessels #2 campaign storycurrently reads:
Vessels is a dark fantasy saga that chronicles the final days of a Medieval world on the verge of collapse. The realm of dreams – the Veil – has crashed head-first into the waking world, causing the laws of reality and reason to implode.
Our hero – a legendary warrior named Wake – and her companions must travel the land to halt the decay of reality itself, and unravel the mystery of the Vessels – five bloodthirsty knights hell-bent on stopping Wake from completing her goal.
This is basically the whole story distilled into two paragraphs, followed by the following promo art I commissioned before the campaign:
So right away you have a clear understanding of the story and a piece of striking art to show the potential backer what to expect from the visuals. It also shows that we’ve got the skills to actually make the comic too. That assurance is important to paying backers.
3. Sell it some more: Next you want to delve a little deeper but still keep it punchy and broken up with images to show what your team is capable of.
Throw in some more story details, tease big things in the plot (without spoiling them) and drop in any key influences.
4. Include a team section: Backers also want to know who your team are, so I always include a ‘Meet the Team’ section in my Kickstarter story, which has photos of everyone involved (preferable selling at conventions or working on art) and a list of their past releases or relevant achievements.
Show that your team is competent, skilled and dedicated to making this project succeed.
5. Got rewards already made? Then show them. For Vessels #2 we will be giving away exclusive art prints by guest artists, so I included them in the Kickstarter story section, with clear captions that state what reward tier they’re for. Let people see what they can get for their money.
6. Risks and challenges: this is a section at the end of your story where Kickstarter asks your to state what risks may come with your campaign and what makes you qualified to run it. This isn’t to trip you up, so don’t worry.
It’s to make you think harder about your proposition. Have you or your artist run a Kickstarter or had a comic published before? Then say that, it’ll show that you’re experienced. And so on.
How to set sensible Kickstarter rewards
Hopefully by this point your story has been crafted and perfected (seriously, get multiple people to give real feedback on this part using Kickstarter’s preview function before moving on).
Now you can set your rewards and this is my first and most frank piece of friendly advice – don’t bullshit people. That means, if your comic has a convention value of £4 don’t charger £10 for it just because you want to hit your goal quicker.
That’s called ripping people off and they see through it. Trust me: be honest here.
To give you an idea of what you could reasonably offer, here’s a quick rundown of previous rewards I’ve offered in my campaigns:
- Comic PDF – £3
- Comic in print + PDF – £5
- Comic in print + art print – £8
- All the above + two prints – £12
- Comic + back issue – £8
- Comic + custom sketch – £35
- Comic + cameo in book – £50
- All of the above – £75
These are tiers I’ve used before and each one has been backed by fans. Notice how they’re not too expensive (relatively speaking) compared to rewards in other campaigns out there.
They’re reasonable, and as such seem like a better deal. Sure, that means I need more people to back us in order to reach our goal, but that’s where your existing fan base and strong social media presence can really help.
It’s a delicate balancing act that takes hard work to achieve but we’ve found the sweet spot, and you can too.
This is the biggie, and I see it going wrong a lot. In short, ask only for what you need, and if possible, less than that.
I don’t mean short change yourself, not at all, but if you can afford to cover some costs yourself or make pages in advance of the campaign to keep your target down, then you absolutely should do this.
So what do you need to consider? Here’s a quick list of everything you should factor in, then deduct the amount you’re willing to pay for yourself to keep your target down:
- Paying your artist
- Paying your colourist
- Paying your letterer
- SERIOUSLY, PAY THEM AND DONT PULL THE USUAL ‘EXPOSURE’ BULLSHIT!
- Paying artists for guest prints
- Paying for printing costs (shop around printers for the best deal for batch printing)
- Paying for your rewards to get made (remember: t-shirts are expensive to make, they’ll eat into your money)
- Paying for card backed envelopes for sending the comic out to backers
- Paying postage fees (remember the weight and distance when sending overseas)
This is what you need to work out in order to get your base target.
Next: this isn’t a hard rule, but for every £2,000 take off £350 for Kickstarter and Amazon fees. Both sites take a cut of the money you make – Kickstarter take a cut for hosting your campaign, Amazon take a cut for processing each payment.
If in doubt, read up the Kickstarter terms and conditions, or ask other creators. Remember: you’re going to lose some of the money you make due to fees, so creating a buffer by adding more on is advisable.
This is a short section because ideally you want to make your video look as professional as possible – reach out to someone who has a good camera or pay a friend to shoot it if you have cash.
Make sure your audio is clear by using a decent computer or camera microphone and speak clearly.
Ideally you want to tick off the following points by covering them in your video:
- Who you are
- What your book is about
- Why you need the money
- What bonuses backers and expect
- Include imagery in your clip
- Keep it no longer then three minutes
- Don’t waffle
- Keep it punchy
And that’s it!
This is a lot to take in, but if you focus on each point in order before moving on to the next you won’t get overwhelmed or lost.
Take your time, plan smart and I hope whenever you launch your Kickstarter, that it’s a resounding success.
Want to ask me a question direct? Email me direct at firstname.lastname@example.org