Aside from working in a bookshop for a year, and working as a journalist for a decade, the only proper job I’ve ever had was the couple of months I spent working in a porn shop in the middle of Leicester Square, about twenty years ago. Quite presciently, given my later career as a horror writer, the shop was called ‘Lovecraft’. Sadly, the last time I was in Leicester Square I saw that it had long since gone.
It was a memorable couple of months, not least because, on my second day, the rest of the staff quit and I was made assistant manager by default. Along with demonstrating sex aids to the giggling tourists who visited the shop, my duties mainly consisted of turfing out the drunken couples who tried to use our discreet back entrance for a quickie, and shooing away the homeless who used our main entrance as a toilet.
Lovecraft stayed open till eight, but the owner also had other duties for me to attend to, after hours. This was the 90s and Ann Summers parties were all the rage. In order to compete, the shop’s owner used to send me out, several nights a week, with a whole bag full of our bestselling sex toys, to do demonstrations to giggling hen parties, and other female gatherings, in the back rooms of pubs and clubs.
As I also worked as a stand up, at the time, I would deliver most of my sales patter as a comedy routine. I’d found that not only is laughter the best aphrodisiac, it’s also a pretty good sales lube too. I’d start the demonstration by getting out some of our most outlandish and outrageous items and then, once the ice had been broken, and the laughter died down, I’d move on to the more salable items: the rabbits, the massage oils and the handcuffs.
For a while, as I was on commission, these after-hours parties proved more profitable than even my best paid stand up gigs. The last call I went on, however, convinced me that it was time to look for a new job. The owner had called and given me the address that morning. The women I usually sold to were all in their late twenties or thirties, but this was for the 21st birthday party of a pair of twin sisters. Even more unexpectedly, it wasn’t in a backroom in central Soho or Holborn, it was in a private house in a well to do area of Kensington.
Not many houses in Kensington were numbered at the time, and this was in the days before Google street map and smart phones. So I had to make do with a battered A-Z that I read by street light. I was running quite late when I finally found what I thought was the right private mews. I wasn’t sure which of the large, imposing houses it was, so I decided to knock on the door of the one I thought most likely, and see if I was right, fully prepared to apologise and politely ask directions if I was wrong.
There were no downstairs lights on in the building and I could hardly see the door as I rang the bell. I waited for ages on the doorstep, stamping my feet to keep out the cold night air, and I was just about to try another house when a light came on in the hallway. The huge door creaked open and I was confronted with a grey haired woman in a flowered apron. She couldn’t have been taller than four foot five and she had the thickest glasses I had ever seen. Even with the thickness of their prescription, I’m not sure she could actually see me as she squinted up at me on the doorstep.
“Sorry to bother you,” I said, trying to be as discrete as possible about my reason for calling. “I’m expected at one of the residences in this mews, but I’m not certain which. You weren’t expecting a … err, caller, were you?”
“You’re late,” the lady said.
“Oh, so this is the right address then?”
“Come on in,” said the lady, ushering me inside. “The sisters have been waiting nearly an hour for you.”
“Yes, I’m sorry about that. I don’t know the area and you’re not easy to find.”
The tiny lady took me down the long hallway, which was tastefully, but demurely decorated and up the fully carpeted stairs. At the top of the first flight was a stained glass window that must have been a full storey high. It showed Jesus on the cross in the centre, surrounded by scenes from the days leading up to the crucifixion. Even in the streetlight, the colours it threw on the wall opposite were impressive. This must be a very well to do Catholic household, I decided. The twins must be typical Catholic girls gone bad, throwing a sex party while mummy and daddy were out of town.
The tiny lady led me to a door on the first floor of the house.
“They’re expecting you inside,” she said. “Will you be wanting any broth before you begin?”
“No thank you,” I said, thinking this a strange question. “I’m fine.”
“Suit yourself, there’ll be tea and biscuits when you’re done.”
With that she shuffled off. I waited until she’d gone and then reached into my bag for the icebreaker. This was a huge vibrator that was longer than my forearm and thicker than my wrist. When you switched it on, the top third of it would thrash back and forth in concentric circles. I fired up the beast, opened the door and strode into the room with a flourish.
“Ladies,” I said. “Which one of you is ready for the Punisher!?”
None of them, as it turned out.
As I stood in the centre of the room, holding a sex toy that would have put a prize stallion to shame, I looked out, for the first time at my audience. All of them were middle aged, or older, and wearing sensible tweed skirts and cardigans.
As the Punisher writhed and squirmed worse than a government minister who’s been asked about offshore tax havens, I took in the bafflement and disgust on the women’s faces. Each one of which was framed by a nun’s habit.
“Sister Perpetua, Sister Perpetua,” one of them whispered. “That’s not Father Brian from the seminary.”
“No,” said a hardbitten nun in the front row, who could only be Sister Perpetua. “It’s not.”
“Remind me again,” said another of the older nuns. “What was the topic for today’s lesson?”
“Acts, Chapter 9 Verse 5,” said Sister Perpetua. “And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.”
I’m not a Catholic, but if the gates of hell had opened in the floor of that room, at that moment, I would gladly have crawled in. Even still, as bad as I felt in that moment, I felt worse at certain points during the Indiegogo campaign I ran last year, to raise funds for my graphic novel – Beyond Lovecraft (I told you the name of that shop was prescient, didn’t I?).
You may not have gathered, from my long intro, but this month’s column is all about crowdfunding. There are a host of articles online that are full of practical advice on how to run a campaign and get the maximum number of contributions, but almost none that tell you what it actually feels like to run one. The highs and the lows you’ll experience and the limits to which it will push you. That’s what this column is all about, the emotional journey you’ll undergo when you launch a crowdfunding campaign, and why, at times, you’ll probably feel like a sex toy salesman in a convent.
Social media has turned most of us, with creative careers, into the cyber equivalent of door-to-door sales people, or Jehovah’s Witnesses. There’s hardly a day goes by when we aren’t banging on the door of someone’s account asking them if they’ve heard the good news about our latest project. This is especially the case when you’re launching a crowdfunder. Never forget that crowdfunding makes whores of us all.
The first thing everyone feels before they launch their campaign is a mixture of fear, doubt, hope and excitement. These conflicting feelings will most probably cause you to prevaricate for anything up to a month before launching. I know I did. You might find yourself hovering over that launch button for days on end, like a novice swimmer standing on the highest diving board, hesitant to take the plunge.
When you do finally launch, the first few days will be full of excitement, elation and surprise at how easy it all is. Most of the money any crowdfunder makes, is raised in the first and last few days of the campaign. Within the first couple of days of launching you can expect to have raised anywhere between a fifth to a whole quarter of your final target, perhaps more if you’re only trying to raise a $1,000 or less. If you carry on at this rate, you tell yourself, the whole thing will be funded before the end of your first week.
That’s when reality sinks its fangs into your unsuspecting butt. Once all your close friends and family have done their bit, and reached into their pockets, the gushing flow of contributions slows to a trickle, and then a drip, and then nothing at all. Whole days will go by when the amount you’ve raised doesn’t increase by a single dollar or even a cent.
The sheen will have gone off your once brand new campaign, and you’ll probably find yourself falling in the rankings of whichever platform you’re using. You’ll also find your inbox filling up with messages from companies offering to revive your flagging campaign with their extensive list of potential donors. If you weren’t so worried about your campaign, you’d probably think it ironic that you were getting spammed so much by spammers offering to spam for you when they’re principally spamming activity seems to be spamming other potential spammers.
One of the single most effective means of raising funds is through private messages and e-mails. Studies show that contributors are 20% more likely to donate if they’re contacted personally. This means you’re most likely to be sending out the same carefully worded message to hundreds of people. This will be tedious, time consuming and mind-numbingly boring. At times, you will be absolutely astonished by the kindness of passing acquaintances and people you’ve haven’t seen in years. On other occasions though, you will lose friends and alienate people.
The sad fact about crowdfunding is that, no matter how carefully worded your updates, posts, tweets or messages are, a certain proportion of your friends and associates are going to see you as an entitled scrounger waving a begging bowl under their noses. They’ll tell you to stop asking them for money and simply work harder at what you’re doing in order to succeed. It doesn’t matter how politely, tactfully or thoughtfully you answer their outrage either, many of your detractors will unfriend, unfollow and even block you. Some of these people will even have run their own crowdfunding campaigns.
This will be very dispiriting and probably leave a very nasty taste in your mouth. However, you must continue to remain polite and upbeat in your dealings with everyone. Try to avoid going on the defensive or lashing back at anyone. This will only harm your campaign. Remember, your detractors probably have their own reasons for acting this way, and you may not know the full story. The real cause of their anger probably has nothing to do with you or your campaign. Give them a bit of space and work on repairing the relationship when the campaign is over.
According to statistics, the most successful campaigns are always run by more than one person. Teams have a better chance of meeting their funding goal than campaigns run by single campaigner. This can bring added complications though, because some people on the team are going to be more committed than others, and some people are also going to be better at fund raising. This can breed irritation or resentment if you’re not careful, particularly if someone starts accusing someone else of not pulling their weight. Bear in mind, at all times, that everyone who helps out on the campaign is giving their time as a gift. It’s as big a gift as your most generous backers. Not everyone may stand to benefit from the campaign as much as others, and everyone will try and contribute to best of their ability, in the time that’s available to them. So make sure to cut your team mates some slack.
As you struggle through your campaign, your mood will probably swing between elation and despondency. The flow of contribution to the Beyond Lovecraft campaign were never enough to make us think it was a done deal, at any time. However, they were also high enough, throughout the campaign, to stop us giving up hope, it still looked possible right up to the bitter end. This was actually a rather stressful place to be in, but we hung on in there.
I remember stopping up all night as the final hours of the campaign ticked away. Contributions came in at a steady rate, but no-one was giving more than 20 bucks, which meant we were inching towards that finish line at a slow but steady pace, like the determined turtle in the Aesop’s fable. Slow and steady did eventually win the race but with minutes to spare. The final contribution, that pushed us $1 dollar over our goal, came in only five minutes before the campaign closed. At no point was it in the bag, but at no point was it a lost cause, that’s a tough campaign to run, believe me.
The final feelings were one of satisfaction, but utter, utter exhaustion. We fought hard and earned every single penny of the $8,000 we raised. Don’t let anyone ever kid you that crowdfunding is an easy option. It isn’t. In fact, when you’re raising funds over $1,000 dollars, for the duration of the campaign, crowdfunding is effectively your full time job, even if you have another career. You’re going to have to put in eight hours a day, and fit it round your day job, or any other work commitments you have. I’m still not sure if the money I got paid from Indiegogo was for running a campaign, or to write the comic for which I raised the funds.
It’s also worth noting that the final feeling you have is one of slight anti-climax. This is because you don’t actually get all the funds you raised. A proportion of them goes to the crowdfunding platform, which is only fair as, without them, you wouldn’t have raised a thing. It’s a bigger bite than you might think though. What’s more, as a big part of your backers probably live overseas, there are also banking charges to pay, and transfer fees, and paypal fees, so that pot of money is somewhat diminished when it finally gets to you and your collaborators. Plus, you still have to use a certain amount of it to fulfill all your pledge promises too.
Nonetheless, if I was to choose the one overriding feeling that I take away from having run a crowdfunder, it would be gratitude. Over 200 kind people, many of whom I’ve never met, and don’t even know, showed faith in my talent and were prepared to donate their time and money to allow me and my close friend, Rob Moran, to work on a dream project. That kind of kindness and generosity restores my faith in humankind. That, more than anything, is what I take away from my crowdfunding experience, and it’s a wonderful thing.
Trust your Uncle Jasp on this, you know it makes sense.