My Kickstarter Experience

As promised, I’m giving an intimate breakdown of my Kickstarter campaign. What I did, where I learned from and some of my personal takeaways and a few buyer psychology tricks I used.  

I can’t talk about Kickstarter without addressing the dragon in the room. Before Brandon Sanderson’s monumental campaign, Kickstarter had been on my radar as a launch platform for about six months. It started with Monica Leonelle and Russell Nohelty’s campaign for Get Your Book Selling on Kickstarter. I didn’t back and regretted it but at that time I was very absorbed in trying to finish Dragon’s Deception and decided Kickstarter was a future me problem.

Fast forward to April, I’m finally wrapping up Dragon’s Deception and my friend Jeni (JR Frontera) launched her Kickstarter campaign. I watched in amazement as Jeni raises nearly $3000 on her first day. Not long after that, Brandon Sanderson too launches his massive secret campaign and suddenly the world is abuzz with Kickstarter Publishing talk.

I’m not the type to dive into things without research and, as luck would have it, Monica and Russel released their book on Kickstarter during peak buzz of Sanderson’s campaign. I bought their book, quickly devoured it, took their free course, then invested in their Accelerator Course. I won’t break down anything I learned from them just because they deserve to be paid for what they taught me. If you want an in-depth step by step to set up and insights from someone with much more insight into Kickstarter, I highly recommend checking out the book (if you’re just curious) or if you’re serious buy their course.

That being said, here is my personal experience. What I think I did right, and what I’d differently for future campaigns.

What Worked Overview

These are my speculations and assumptions. Based on my knowledge of marketing principles, I think these things all contributed to the campaigns success.

  • Unreleased Book One
    • Dragon’s Deception is a series starter, book one in a brand-new world, which means it appeals to existing fans and new potential fans.
  • A Clear Pitch
    •  Last year I read Seven Figure Fiction, and it taught me about universal fantasies. Knowing what universal fantasies were in Dragon’s Deception, I was able to communicate them clearly in my blurb. But I also ran it by fellow authors and their reactions helped me tease out the most tantalizing elements of my pitch. The ones I leaned into for this campaign were: a fake engagement, were-dragon, stabby heroine. (These aren’t necessary to success but knowing yours helps a ton)
  • Scarcity
    • Kickstarter campaigns are finite. (Mine was 17 days)
    • An exclusive edition of the book.
    • I included early digital access plus bonus material not available anywhere else.
    • I offered special merchandise sold nowhere else.
  • My Newsletter
    • Early promotion: Four weeks of prelaunch, starting with a cover reveal, then introducing my readers to Kickstarter. I launched with 66 campaign followers. I can’t track for sure but every week I emailed about the campaign the follower count rose. Of those, 66, 12 back at launch raising $1075
    • Daily Newsletters: you’re reading that right, I sent an email almost every day for the entirety of my campaign. Each time I sent a newsletter within two hours, I would have 2-4 backers, which equates to about $200 in pledges most days. (For more info on how I planned my newsletter launch campaign, check out How to Get Your Book Selling on Kickstarter, I literally took their template and made it my own)
    • According to my back-end analytics, half my backers and funding came from my newsletter/author platform, the other half came from Kickstarter’s discovery algorithms. I’ve estimated my list/author platform earned me about $3,345 of my total.
  • Premium Products
    • 40% of my funding was from 7 people. Meaning seven big pledges made up the bulk of my funding.
    • The entire project was funded by 123 people, averaging about $48 per pledge.
    • Signed, personalized, and exclusive content had the greatest appeal because it had more inherent value for its uniqueness. When I revealed the special features of the luxe edition book (alternate cover and undercover illustration), about 7 people switched from lower tiers to get the better version.
  • Early Bird Discounts:
    • During the first 8 hours of the campaign, I discounted a select few tiers. What I chose were meant to deliver value and entice a bigger spend. (Thanks to JR Frontera for this idea)
      • EX: Personalized Hardcover with special credit, normally priced at $50, lowered to $43. Just three dollars more than the regular signed hardcover.
  • Comparative pricing:
    • I offered a signed hardcover three different ways. Backers were almost twice as likely to choose option two. (10 signed hardcover backers vs 16 personalized hardcover backers) I believe this is because option two provides a lot more value for not much more money and doesn’t affect my bottom line as the personalization only takes a little more time.
      • EX:
        • Option one: signed $40 w/ free shipping and some paper swag (10 backers)
        • Option two: PERSONALIZED $50 w/ free shipping paper swag and a special thanks in the book’s credits. (16 backers)
        • Option three: Personalized, $75 w/free shipping, all swag, special thanks, and free shipping. (7 backers)
  • Backlist Bundling:
    • Offering my older series as add-ons and separate bundles yielded a lot of extra funding from backers and adds value to higher level tiers.
      • Additionally, my backlist bundles were priced lower than retailers. (Both digital and physical) Some of them had significant discounts giving incentives to buy from me directly and have the option of having it signed.

What I’d Do Different

Overall, I am very happy with the results. However, there are things I would change for future campaigns.

  • A longer pre-launch with more time spent overcoming Kickstarter as an obstacle. I expected a bigger response from my newsletter and while I have nothing to complain about; I wish I had spent more time priming my readers/subscribers to explain Kickstarter and how it works to get more of them to convert to an unfamiliar platform.
  • More Swaps with other Kickstarter authors. While I had lined up, a lot of traditional swaps ‘backer swaps’ are much more powerful. They’re people already familiar with Kickstarter and who are primed to back Kickstarter campaigns as opposed to cold leads.  
  • Better planned stretch goals. It’s a good problem to have, but I surpassed my stretch goals in the first couple days of my campaign, and I hadn’t budgeted thought out more stretch goals and therefore was without a secondary incentive after we funded.
  • More Flash Sales/ Incentives. In the future, I would include more short-term sales (special bundles etc.) throughout the campaign to keep momentum going. I had a huge start, I think, thanks in part to the initial interest for my early perk’s sale, but it tapered off after that.
  • Lower Priced Tiers. Ideally, I’d have more nested tiers aimed at different price points/buyers. (i.e. three digital options, three paperback options, three premium hardcover options.)


Let’s talk money

I know it’s a bit taboo sharing details about expenses and earnings etc. But for me personally, I wanted to be 100% transparent about the money portion of this. Which is also the spirit of Kickstarter because your backers are essentially your investors helping get a product off the ground.  Here is a detailed breakdown of costs. (Some numbers are estimated since I haven’t ordered certain items yet.)

Total Backers: 123

Total Pledged: $5,947

Errored Pledges* -$132

Total:  $5,815

Fees

Kickstarter fee (5%): $290.75

Credit Card processing fees (5%): $196.60

Backer kit** $118.94

Total: $606.29

Production Costs:

Editing: $250

Original Cover: $300

Alternate Cover $100

Undercover Illustration: $210

Formatting: $100

Map: $150

Character Illustrated Bookmarks: $160

Total: $1,270

Printing/Manufacturing Costs***

Paperbacks: $425

Hardcovers: $762

Bookmarks: $96

Postcards: $68

Stickers: $41

Ribbon Bookmarks: $25

Pins: $300

Total: $1,717

Shipping***

Shipping Supplies: $100

Shipping: $750

Total: $850

Remainder: ~1,371.71~

Things of note:

I designed my own pin & stickers, and my production costs are lower than typical for most people. (My editor, for example, gives me a friend discount and my formatter is also my PA.) I also had some extras on hand: bookmarks, bubble mailers, shipping labels, surplus paperback backlist books, which spare me some costs. I’m also in the United States and 95% of my backers were in the US, which means I can cover shipping for my backers. This may not be an option for international authors.

*errored pledges are pledges that the credit card on file didn’t process. I lost one person because their card didn’t go through.

**Backerkit is an optional additional service which helps send out surveys to collect addresses for physical rewards and help deliver digital rewards. I am using it to help upsell items to existing backers and use it as a temporary pre-order store before I complete my webpage to sell products directly from my site.

***These are estimates and subject to change. I will do a fulfillment round up when that’s complete and give final numbers.

Takeaways

My biggest takeaway is the power of a few. If you’ll indulge me for a moment and make some assumptions. My original launch plan was to release to all retailers at full price.

If in 17 days of launch, I sold 123 e-books at $4.99, I would have made less than $500, a third of my take home from this Kickstarter campaign.  It wouldn’t have even covered my baseline production costs.

Kickstarter for me, is a prelude to great control over my intellectual property. As I touched on briefly up above, over 50% of what I earned was driven by my newsletter. That wasn’t an accident. It’s what I’ve been planning from the start. Even before I decided to launch with Kickstarter, I KNEW my newsletter would be integral part of my launch plan. I’ve spent months teasing this series, pulling in readers with a prequel lead magnet, and hyping them up for this release.

But it’s not over yet! Kickstarter earned me my production cost back and then some. It also introduced me to new readers who’d never heard of me or my books before. But I still have thousands of potential readers on my list who haven’t bought the book yet. Which means, my list is still ripe with opportunity as I enter phase two of my launch…

What’s Next?

I’m not releasing Dragon’s Deception to Amazon for another three months. In part because I told my backers, they’d get early access but also to attempt selling directly from my website. Over the summer I’ll be launching an online store and directing ALL my newsletter traffic towards selling Dragon’s Deception direct. After my experiment is over, I’ll share my take-aways from that and launch on retailers. I’ll also be sharing my launch email templates and automation sequences etc. with Book Queendom subscribers. If you haven’t already, be sure to subscribe to the newsletter to get access to my launch email templates and my automation templates.

Leave a Comment