My successful Kickstarter campaign

BAKS Kickstarter imageI recently ran a successful Kickstarter campaign to fund the self-publishing of my first cookbook.  Want to know how I did it? Here’s the scoop:

Writing and publishing my cookbook, “Bad Aunty’s Kitchen Smarts” has been at times a dream, several coalescing ideas, a work in progress, and now a reality, for going on 8 years.  I wrote the book as something of a lark and had one copy published, for myself, on Blurb.  Just so I could say I did it and have something to hold in my hands.  But I received such overwhelmingly positive feedback on the book that I wondered what it would take to print more than just one copy. What would it take to actually publish the thing and release it to the world?

My first thought was to go the old-fashioned route – write a proposal, send it to publishers, get an agent, collect rejection letters, try again and again and again, and maybe someday someone would buy the rights to my book and publish it. Certainly no guarantees there, and a lot of waiting, wondering, rejection and lack of control in the process. Even if a publishing house bought the cookbook, there is no guarantee that it will ever actually be published and offered for sale to the public. If they do decide to publish it years could pass before they do so.

Mmmm. Not my style at all. I want and need control over the content and all elements of the book, including the timeframe for publishing. So what were some alternatives, I asked myself? What was involved with self-publishing?

Well, a lot of research. A lot of decisions. A lot of money. Was it worth it to me to potentially max out every credit card I owned to get the thing published? Yes, I decided.

The great thing about the internet is that an ordinary person has an extraordinary amount of information and technical expertise at his fingertips. Literally everything is on the internet. Anything can be googled. So my husband Gary (my #1 champion) and I took to the web to find out about book binding styles, marketing, digital options, amazon.com, printing houses, etc. Amid all this mind-numbing research I caught a story on the news about a guy in Oregon who invented a new style of camp cooler. He called it the Coolest.  ‘Cool’, I said. But what really got my attention is that this guy somehow raised over 13 million (MILLION!!) dollars to support the making of this cooler by a process called Screenshot 2016-05-12 17.33.41

I had to know more.

I had never heard of Kickstarter, or the concept of crowdfunding, before late August of 2014. But my eyes were opened in a hurry, and it was immediately clear to me that this might be a way to raise funds for my project. So I spent an afternoon exploring all the nooks and crannies of the Kickstarter website, perusing all the rules, regs, and tips for launching a project. I studied several different projects to see what their creators envisioned, and how they put a project together.  I found a section of ongoing cookbook projects and studied that extensively, the successful projects AND the unsuccessful projects, where, honestly, I learned so much more about what to do and what not to do.

The successful Kickstarter campaigns were intimidating; how could I possibly equal their effort? Make a video? Write a compelling story? Figure out enticing rewards? Gulp. I almost threw in the towel right there, but I told myself that if ‘they’ could figure all this stuff out, so could I.  If I know anything in this world to be true it is this:  if you don’t know how to do something, just START, and the way will become clear.

So I chose a recently completed Kickstarter cookbook campaign, one that I liked and looked great, to be my model. This campaign had already met its funding goal, so I knew that it was successful. I even learned of the printing house that I will use from this earlier cookbook campaign. 

Then I sat down to write the project story.  I struggled through a raging case of writer’s block until I realized that I had written the ‘story’ before; in my book proposal, and in the book itself. So the Kickstarter project story was actually a no-brainer.  What was tough was the video.  How, exactly, does one go about making a video without spending bucks deluxe on a videographer? In my case I went to the internet, downloaded iMovie onto my iPad, and started learning.  The way became clear, and even though I’m no videographer, what I produced I created entirely by myself and, ultimately, it was good enough.  

Another thing you could, and should, do is create a website for your project. Something really simple. If you don’t have the good fortune of sleeping with a web developer (like I do) you can google something like ‘create a new website’ and you’ll get tons of hits.  While you’re at it, create a Facebook page for your project, too. It’ll give you street cred.

Don’t worry if you don’t know what to do. Just START and the way will become clear.

What else do you need to think about?

Other considerations for me and my project were editing – who would do it and how much; photography – same; printing and binding styles – again, who and how much.  I’m sure I missed some vital expenses or fees that will bite me in the butt later on. Your project will have its own particular elements that you’ll have to plan for. My point is this – take a good, hard, unsentimental look at your project and count up everything you can think of that you will have to purchase. Include those expenses in your Kickstarter goal.

Speaking of goals, fees and so on – Kickstarter and Amazon will each take a cut of your funds if your campaign is successful. Kickstarter will take a straight 5%; for my project Amazon took 2.9% plus 30 cents of every pledge.  Here’s how it all shook out in my case:  my goal was $20,000.  I raised $20,260. Kickstarter took 5% – $1013.00.  Amazon took 2.9% – $587.54, plus 30 cents for each of the 72 backer transaction-$21.60. I netted $18,637.86. All told, the fees for my project totaled $1622.14, or around 8%. If I absolutely needed to net $20,000 I would have had to set my monetary goal at somewhere around $21,800.00.  Of course you won’t know how many backers will support your project until it is done, but you can figure on 8% +/- in fees when your campaign ends, assuming you make your goal.  Of course if you don’t make your goal you won’t have any fees.

Before you push that button…

A word of advice – make double damn sure you post the correct money goal on your project before you push the launch button.  I was playing around with 2 different goals – 20K and 25K.  I wrote my project draft with 20K, and then changed my mind in mid-stream and referenced $25K on my video. I never changed the posted goal of $20K  to $25K on my project page, and didn’t notice the discrepancy until about 5 seconds AFTER I pushed the ‘launch’ button.  Doh!  I found out real quick that you can edit anything on your project page after you launch with the exception of the goal amount and the duration of the project.  Double Doh!  I felt so incredibly dumb. The only way I could correct the mistake was to either cancel the project entirely and re-launch after making major changes, or post an immediate update copping to my stupid mistake and simply moving on.  Which is what I did. But it left me feeling strapped before the project really even started. I knew that if the campaign was successful I was going to get substantially less money than I had hoped for, and all because I’m a poor proofreader.  Don’t make my mistake.

Now the REAL work starts!

When you have your story, your video, your rewards and everything else completed, go ahead and LAUNCH your project! Exciting! But, this is when the work starts. The world will not flock to your project unless you tell them about it! And tell again, and retell, and then tell them what you’ve already told them. Again. And again. This was the hardest thing for me. 

I recently took one of those Introvert / Extrovert personality tests, like the ones that are all over Facebook. The results didn’t surprise me – it indicated that I have a sociability index of 26% out of 100. What that means, in a very unscientific nutshell, is that I’m not a people-person. I’m not shy, but I like my alone time. A lot. If I had a choice between ‘rich’ and ‘famous’ I would take the money and run. And hide. I am not a person who seeks the spotlight, and I hate the thought of ‘hitting people up for money’ which is how I saw asking people to support my cookbook campaign.  I wondered just what the hell I thought I was doing, getting so far out of my comfort zone.

But you absolutely have to promote yourself if you are going to have a successful Kickstarter campaign. On their website Kickstarter brags about having a 44% success rate.  Well, bully for them. What that also means is that more than half are NOT successful. You want to be one of the winners! Here’s what I did: I started by emailing everyone I knew with my Kickstarter link and a short explanation of what I was doing. I set up a Facebook page and had a website built just for the book. I posted updates with pictures on each site at least twice a week and with each posting I included the link to my Kickstarter page.  You have to work your project each day, over and over again. You have to literally ask for the pledge. You won’t get if you don’t ask.  And you must ask everyone. Now is NOT the time to be shy.

…ask and ye shall receive…

Don’t assume a person won’t or can’t pledge to your project. Ask them! I was amazed that people I hadn’t heard from in years (and total strangers) pledged money to my cookbook, while some people I was sure of ended up not pledging at all.  Try not to be disappointed in people; you’ll end up being amazed by others.

Asking for the pledge gets easier with practice. In fact, one thing that worked for me was to go back to some people that had pledged early on in the campaign and ask them to ‘double down’ on their contribution. Again, I was amazed by the response.

It’s not easy, especially for a committed introvert like myself. But if I can do it, you surely can!

To sum up…

If I could encapsulate this glut of words into a few short succinct phrases, it’d look like this:

  • Study. Read the entire Kickstarter website. Look at other Kickstarter projects like yours. See what works, and especially, what doesn’t.  Find a project you like that is successful and use it as a model for yours.
  • Plan. Total up your projected expenses. Figure out your Kickstarter goal amount. Take into consideration that Kickstarter and Amazon will each take their cut of your total pledges, if successful.
  • Learn. Download iMovie and start playing around. In no time you’ll figure out how to make your video, because you don’t want to pay someone to do it for you. 
  • Create a simple website for your project. Also, create a Facebook page for your project. It will give your project legitimacy, and tell the world you’re for real.
  • Write.  Write your story, include photos, graphs, charts, anything useful that will illustrate your story.
  • Update. Update your contact list and send EVERYONE notice of what you’re doing. Send your initial message right after you push the ‘Launch’ button.
  • Proofread! Make sure your $$ goal and duration are accurate because you can’t edit those after you launch.
  • Work. After you launch your Kickstarter project, work your contact list and ask, ask, ASK for pledges! Include your Kickstarter link on each and every update and post.

Finally, get a bottle of champagne and keep it chilled. You’ll want to celebrate your successful Kickstarter campaign and the fact that it is over!

Thoughts? Questions? I’d love to hear from you, and I assure you, I read every comment. You can do it!

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