This past February I started a Kickstarter to raise $52,000 in order to launch a new online magazine of neo-noir, speculative fiction with a literary bent called Gamut. It was a crazy rollercoaster ride of a month and I definitely learned a few things. Here is some of that insight.
I had no idea how difficult it was going to be. I should have known that with the main reward being $30 for a year of Gamut that we were going to have to get about 1,700 people to sign up—I mean, I KNEW THAT going in, but I don’t think I realized how slow and painful that would be our total creeping up $30 at a time. I worked 12-18 hour days the entire month, and my mood swung with the contributions. I had a lot of headaches. I spent a lot of time on social media reaching out to individual people, since sending out mass emails rarely works. I posted up in Facebook groups on a very limited basis, and tried to only hit my page or Gamut’s once or twice at day. I was all over Twitter, which responded well, too. In the end about 45% of the pledges came from Facebook, and 15% from Twitter, so I think it was worth it. But yeah, be prepared to cry, to be exhausted, but also to be inspired.
I think that was one of the most surprising and rewarding aspects of the campaign. Sure there were a lot of friends and peers that didn’t chip in, but I expected that. I mean, it still hurt, at times, but what can you do? I mean—I did take it very personally. But on the other side of that coin there were several friends that stepped up big time to toss in money on top of their pledge—$50 more, hundreds more, even thousands more. It really humbled me. And even total strangers, saying simply, “Make it happen” as they added in $2,000—that was shocking, and truly memorable. I held onto those moments when the days were slow and the crickets were chirping. And there were a ton of authors and presses that offered to contribute books—all you have to do is look at our rewards and understand that all of those book packages were DONATED. They didn’t ask for anything in return. Which was touching, for sure. I saw many people step up and take this campaign personally—posting on Facebook and retweeting, making personal pleas for people to get involved. That was something that put a smile on my face. I wasn’t in this alone, I had my staff working their butts off, and thank God for that, but so many friends and peers jumped in—that really motivated me.
I learned that you have to be flexible, too. We sold out of many rewards early on and had to add in new ones. People asked if a certain reward could be added back in, or if something could be offered, and so we did it. I rarely said no—only if I literally did not have the books in hand. I had to think outside the box and add in rewards that were not the typical reward of books and editing packages. I don’t think I turned anybody away that wanted to contribute. It’s difficult sometimes to delegate, to hand things off, but I had to do that too, and trust that it got done. And nobody dropped the ball.
But I think the most important lesson I learned was how important Gamut really was to me. I had to fight tooth and nail for every inch I got. Even though it started out as a concept nearly 20 years ago, the day I actually made the announcement on social media was the day it finally became real. And the response! Wow. My blog has never gotten a ton of traffic, typically getting about 50 visitors a day, but we got almost 900 visitors to my blog on the day we announced that Gamut was happening. It was risky sticking my neck out like this, and we’re right in the middle of developing it all as we speak—website, banking, LLC, editing, sending out rewards, etc.—but it’s moving along nicely. I didn’t know if we’d make our goal, and at the end there, it was pretty intense. We did get over the $52,000, raising $55,303, so it’s going to happen, which is exciting.
Would I do anything differently? I don’t know. Maybe get more books on hand, some of those sold out pretty fast and I didn’t have time or resources to get more. I read a book on Kickstarters and that was essential, Jamey Stegmaier’s A Crowdfunder Strategy Guide, so I’d be sure to do that again, but I think looking at examples of Kickstarters that raised a million dollars in one day really skewed my perspective on what Gamut might do. We had a great first day, but I think I was being unrealistic. I might reach out to other publishers and get them involved from day one. I think I really had trouble asking for help during this Kickstarter, I guess my ego and pride getting in the way, but I’m so glad I did because that made all the difference.
I think the bottom line is go after your dreams, but make sure you do the work ahead of time to set yourself up for success. Crunch those numbers again and again, that’s really important. But where there’s a will, there’s a way.