Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Steampunk ABC Kickstarter, one year later

A year ago this week, I launched a Kickstarter for my children's book, Steampunk ABC. I had the book concept for a few years and Kickstarter was the best platform to get the book printed. I could have invested my own funds as I have done for my previous books, but the allure of sharing my art with a wider audience and help with the costs was decisive. In addition to Kickstarter, there's Indiegogo and Patreon among others for crowd funding options. I chose Kickstarter because I liked the all-or-nothing aspect, the limited time frame, and its popular press.

It took months of preparation before the project went live and I had friends who pitched in with video editing and illustration feedback. I handled all the production of the finished project, marketing, communication, and fulfillment of the rewards. It was a roller coaster experience. I was not prepared for the lull in the middle after hitting over 25% my goal in the first week. With the generosity of my friends, family, and fellow artists backing the project, they helped to share the campaign via their social media contacts. I got online coverage from sites like and which highlighted Steampunk ABC as a project to back. Steampunk ABC was selected as a Staff Pick by the Kickstarter staff. I visited online steampunk forums to promote the project. Geek Girl Crafts interviewed me for their podcast. Whenever I updated the project, I shared it on Twitter, Facebook, etc. to keep interest up and asked backers to do the same. I also distributed flyers promoting the Kickstarter campaign at a local zinefest and gaming convention.

I based my funding goal of $9000 on what I wanted the book to look like: hardback with spot gloss and glossy paper. Two-thirds was for a print run of 1000, including copyright registration and acquisition of an ISBN. I got three different quotes and some book samples from Chinese printing companies with stateside offices before deciding on one. The remaining third covered Kickstarter fees, extra reward items, shipping materials, postage, and taxes. The cost per book, despite the four to six weeks' shipping time from overseas, was the deciding factor over using a US printer or a print on demand service. I didn't opt to have stretch goals because I wanted to deliver the book the way I envisioned it. I added in the coloring book as an extra reward bonus, but I think adding it earlier to the campaign would have been better. The coloring book was printed in the US as it was not in hardback. The print runs of 1000 Steampunk ABC books and 250 coloring books were not all claimed via the Kickstarter campaign. In the end, 276 Steampunk ABC books and 94 coloring books were delivered to the backers.

The reward tiers I offered worked well, barring the higher levels including the art prints. If I shared more completed art work, I could have probably raised more funding from those tiers. For stretch goals next time, I would use the number of backers to unlock more bonuses or project upgrades instead raising a certain amount of funds. I think that would encourage backers to spread the word more. I definitely recommend having a project completed prior to launching a crowd funding campaign, especially if you're an unknown creator. I already had materials for the prints, sketches and watercolors for the rewards. What I didn't take into account how long it would take to finish the black/white sketches and watercolor paintings. Most backers were forgiving of my lateness due to my updates and I answered inquiries within a day.

To mitigate late deliveries, Kickstarter has since requires creators fill out a Risks and Challenges section for each project. Also, I encourage backers to use an email they check regularly. I had several non-respondent backers contact me months after 98% of the rewards were shipped. To date, I have delivered the rewards for 248 backers out of 251. The last ones haven't responded to the Kickstarter survey and/or direct email. I still have their rewards available, but I can't send them.

Due to not completing the book soon enough, I had to pay a higher post rate because it went up in January 2013. Instead of asking for backers to ante more money, I ate the difference and the shipping for replacing damaged copies. The other surprise cost was FedEx shipping from the printing company for extra proofs. I was complicit for not getting the files to print spec and content corrections. Packing and shipping the rewards was made easier by color coding the mailing labels for each tier. I sent out Steampunk ABC rewards to 35 states and 13 countries outside of the US.

Steampunk ABC took about nine months to complete the book, including running the Kickstarter campaign and reward fulfillment. The campaign was set up to pay for printing up Steampunk ABC, not for my time or skills to create the book and rewards or running the Kickstarter. Most book and comic projects on Kickstarter are set up this way. From the Kickstarter funds, I have $152.51 left out of $8642.42, which was the lump sum I received after Kickstarter fees and before taxes. If I hadn't over funded to $9499, I would have to put in another $200 or so at the $9000 goal in order to finish shipping all the rewards. This is even with my hand delivering to local friends and family to save postage. Selling the remaining inventory is where I hope to recoup my time.

My Steampunk ABC Kickstarter was a great learning experience in self-publishing overseas and marketing. I enjoyed sharing my art with backers unfamiliar with my work. In fact, I did receive a couple job offers, but they didn't pan out. I'd do another project on Kickstarter with one much closer to completion and spend more time promoting the project before the campaign goes live. Building up interest and an audience is crucial to making the funding goal. It was rewarding to create a successful Kickstarter campaign. Crowd funding is definitely worth the effort with the right project.


Britgeekgrrl said...

This is extremely interesting. I've shared it with a friend who's contemplating a Kickstarter for a comic book project as he might find it v. informative. Thanks for sharing!

Karen Luk said...

You're welcome!

Joanna L said...

Interesting to read 'the behind the scenes'