My name is Wells Thompson, I've run two successful Kickstarter comic book campaigns for MechaTon issues #1 & #2 and will be running my third campaign for Frankenstein the Unconquered #1 starting late March with plans for 3 more campaigns in 2022. I am, by no means, the most successful crowdfunder of all time and I do not present this article as an absolute authority on the subject; rather, I wanted to gather a curated list of information that I wish I would have known when getting into this business of crowdfunding.
If you're thinking of doing the same (or if you've done it a few times and want to see how others approach the task), I hope that this helps you avoid some of the missteps I took when starting out. Finally, this article is specifically about Kickstarter because it's the platform I've used, but it's based in a lot of sales knowledge applicable to any platform, so if you're on Zoop, I'm sure there's a lot here that you'll find useful.
Finally, I apologize that this is going to be a bit of a bear to read, but it really is as lean and concise as I could make it, so take it in chunks if you need to, I won't tell. Ready? Me neither, let's go!
1. Do I Even Have a Comic to Pitch?
So let’s start with the basics, what is your comic? What are you trying to sell? How much is complete and what do you have to actually show at the moment? You need to know your pitch forwards and backwards, act like you’re pitching to a publisher and treat the start of your campaign page like it’s the breakdown of your comic that will convince Image to put their logo on your corner box. Here’s what you should have prepared before you even start thinking about building a page:
A title - Yeah, no duh
A logline - a one sentence hook that gets people invested in what the comic is
A brief summary of the plot of the comic - be able to explain, spoiler free, what your comic is and what makes it unique
A paragraph explaining who your main characters are and what they want
Between 3-6 finished pages - inked and lettered, if your comic is in color, these pages should be too
A cover - This is probably going to be the face of your comic and campaign, so put some thought into it
Bios - Information about everyone on the creative team including your artist, colorist, letterer, editor, designer, and whoever else might have worked on the book. People deserve credit for their work!
A media comparison - "my comic is [popular film] meets [popular comic]" it can feel weird and derivative to make this kind of direct comparison, but it helps orient your audience for what they can expect from your book.
Curtis Clow and Kat Calamia are really good at getting these basic elements across, so take a look at some of their campaigns to get a sense of what this looks like in action! This is, coincidentally, everything you need to pitch to a publisher and that's very much on purpose.
2. Calculating My Funding Goal
How much money do you need to ask for? How much is too much? I would say that, if this is your first campaign and you’re building an audience for a comic that doesn’t strictly speaking exist yet, aim low and be willing to take a small hit. A first project should look at 2k USD or less, maybe 3-4k if you really need it (a writer paying for everything out of pocket for example). You can ask for more if you’re very well connected and a bit mad, but take it from someone who overshot and was miserable for it, it’s better to shoot low and potentially be surprised with how much you overfunded than barely scrape by at the last second or, worse, not get funded at all.
The other side of the coin is how many backers do you need to hit your goal? This can be a big mystery going in and not knowing can hamstring your ability to make a plan of action when it comes to marketing and PR. Let’s look at some metrics that will help to demystify what all that means.
The average comic kickstarter spends its budget thusly (assuming it only hits its goal): 55% cost of art, 15% printing, 10% shipping, 10% kickstarter fees and processing, 5% taxes, 5% flex (could be anything). So, if your comic costs ~$2k to make, you’ll probably spend a little more than $4k on the project as a whole. Keep this in mind when making your goal. This doesn’t include money spent on the kickstarter itself or PR.
The average backer spends about $25-30 per pledge. This means it takes about 100 backers to reach a $3000 funding goal.
You should expect about 1% of your funding to not go through. Sometimes people’s credit cards get canceled or they put in their information improperly and you can’t reach them about it. You don’t get that money, sorry :/
People will cancel their pledges equating to about 1% of your goal. Who knows why, don’t take it personally.
Only 30% of people who “follow” your project will actually pledge to the campaign. This doesn’t mean you need 500 followers to get to 150 backers, just that, if by the end of the campaign you have 100 people following, only 30 of them will actually back by the time the “this project is about to end” email goes out.
20% of your backers will account for 80% of your funding goal. This means most people will opt for the lowest reward tiers while the majority of the campaign will be carried by a few people who really believe in the project and, perhaps more pointedly, you.
3. Who Are My Backers and How Do I Get More?
If you take literally nothing else from this article, PLEASE, pay attention to this section, because it’s extremely important. In a perfect world, we would be able to thrust our project out into the internet and strangers would immediately see it and recognize it for the work of genius that it is. For many reasons, this isn’t how it works in practice, particularly when you don’t have previous successful projects to refer to and an audience to get the word out. Some strangers will see your project (free advertising is one of the big benefits of being on Kickstarter), but you need to come into the project with an audience that knows what you’re trying to accomplish and who you are already. The momentum these initial backers bring to the project will dictate how many strangers will even get to see your project. Who are these initial backers in order of importance?
FAMILY!!! - Look, I get it, it sucks to have to call your dad and ask him to support you. We all want to strike it out on our own and say we never had a helping hand in anything and it was the sweat of our own brow that got us where we are and all the other capitalist propaganda we’ve accidentally internalized. But that myth about Jeff Bezos starting Amazon in a garage? It leaves out the part where he got a $300k loan from his parents to start the business. You need initial investors who know you well and the people who know you best and believe in you most are often (biological or otherwise) your family members. Do the hard thing and ask them to support you and do it as soon as you launch.
Personal friends and Coworkers - These are the people you’ve probably talked to about making your comics the most (even if you don’t realize you’ve been doing it). You’d be surprised how much they’re already invested in your project and want you to succeed. If you ask them to support you, they will very often go above and beyond for you.
Fellow comic creators - We know what you’re going through and what a talented creator needs to get started and we all want to see us succeed. If you have a relationship with a comic community or some high profile friends in the comic world, ask them to support you! They may not throw a lot of money at the project (at the end of the day, we’re a pretty poor group), but they’ll share your project with their friends and following and help get the word out for you.
Your mailing list and audience from previous projects - If you have these, great, they’ll show up for you. Let them know ahead of time as often as you can and when you launch and you’ll see a good turnout from this group.
Social media followers - Wherever you’re present on the internet, you can expect about 2% of your following to actually follow you to your Kickstarter and spend some money on it. Social media is a great tool, but converting people to spend money from it is difficult to say the least, so make sure you’re not relying on it for the bulk of your funding.
A quick note on how to ask for money from people: Be direct, but don’t be hawkish. No one likes a bad car salesman and no one is going to like it if you try and hard sell them on your comic. At the same time, if they refuse or don’t show up, that isn’t a betrayal and if you view it that way then you’re thinking about your relationships with people as transactional (which is a big yikes from me, dawg). Obviously you should temper your pitch to the person your asking from (you talk to your brother differently than you talk to a coworker or fellow comic creator), but the way I ask, which is fairly successful, goes something like this: “Hey, I’ve been working on this comic and I’m planning on crowdfunding to make it a reality. If you like the project, I’d really appreciate it if you'd support it by following the page and backing it and helping me spread the word. If not, it’s no big deal, thanks for taking a look.”
4. How Do I Figure Out My Reward Tiers and Add-Ons?
Rewards are more straightforward than add-ons, but both can be a bit headspinning to think about initially. What do you offer to your backers? What will make them spend their money on your comic and what would entice them to spend more? Let’s look at what people expect to see and what you could add to make your project unique.
A digital tier - A high quality PDF of your comic. This is typically your lowest reward tier.
A physical tier - The comic in physical form as you would buy it in a comic shop sent to their home. You’ll have to start thinking about shipping with this one, but we’ll get to that later.
A signed copy tier - The same as the physical tier but you sign the cover. This is honestly little more than an excuse you’re giving the backer to give you more money, but that’s completely fine, if they order it, it’s because they want to give you more.
One or more variant covers - Hire a high-profile artist to make a variant cover for your comic. Don’t spend more than $200-300 here, but you’ll find it quickly pays for itself and gets more attention on your comic.
A foil cover - Something shiny and unique that gives them a reason to throw $50-80 at your campaign.
You can and should add some more stuff unique to your project, but this is a good place to start. I’ve added things like family recipes and D&D one-shot campaigns as reward tier incentives with varying degrees of success, but as with a lot of things, I recommend you scan other successful Kickstarters to get an idea of what works and what doesn’t.
What about add-ons? These are nice because they give people more opportunities to throw money at you, but you need to be careful! Spending a bunch of money on assets for add-ons can be counterproductive. Ideally, an add-on will be small and easy to ship, cheap to produce, and low effort on your part. Stickers, small prints, annotated comic scripts, previous comic books you’ve worked on, keychains, and enamel pins can all make potentially good add-ons.
5. What Can I Expect During the Campaign?
A heart attack, for one. It’s easy to get stressed during the campaign, but hopefully this guide will help you understand what the average 30 day successful campaign looks like (note, this presumes you’re doing your best to constantly promote the project to anyone that will listen in your present life and on social media. Also that you don’t get the “PROJECT WE LOVE” badge from Kickstarter, which makes things easier, but not guaranteed):
First 24 hours - Notification emails go out, some of the people you know well are paying close attention and pledge early, Kickstarter puts you on their “just launched” column. About 20% funded.
First 72 hours - A good amount of family and some friends realize it’s live and pitch in. Other people running Kickstarters start to notice your campaign. Early adopters start to take notice. About 30% funded.
Next 3 weeks - The slowest, most painful trickle of pledges. You may have a few spikes from friends and family that are lagging behind, but ultimately you’ll see barely any movement at all no matter how much you promote or get PR on your comic. You will see quite a few people following your project but not pledging; they’re waiting for the “about to end” email from Kickstarter. This is the drought period and everyone goes through it.
Last week - a slight uptick in attention from people who have been somewhat paying attention and people who, somehow, someway, have only just now heard about your campaign. 75% funded.
Last 72 hours - Your campaign gets on the “About to end” column on Kickstarter, the laggards and FOMO crowd start coming in, and it’s looking a little more like your first 72 hours. 80%-100% funded
Last 24 hours - You’re getting the word out to the last few people that you know should have backed by now that haven’t, people are increasing their pledges to make sure you make it over the finish line, you’re possibly looking at making a stretch goal to incentivize more backers and pledges. 100% + funded.
Maybe you get funded in the first 24 hours. Maybe you get a big spike in week 2 and hit your funding goal early. If that happens, awesome, but for the most part, this is what the flow of your campaign will look like.
6. What Should I Do During the Campaign?
Manage your stress, get a support group, and have faith in the metrics. If you get 20% of your funding goal, there is an 80% chance you get fully funded. If you hit 50% of your funding goal, it’s closer to 95%. People want to see you succeed and you should lean on them as much as possible. It’s not weakness, it’s how you get where you need to go. Other than that, here are some practical things you can do to be and feel more productive during your campaign.
Post everyday on social media - I said earlier that social media is the hardest place to get backers, and that’s true. That doesn’t mean you don’t try. You should be posting about your campaign at least 3 times a day on twitter and once a day on Instagram. You can do Facebook too if you’re fool enough to go to that wasteland.
Post updates on milestones and certain time intervals - Kickstarter has an internal update feature that allows you to communicate directly with people who have already backed your campaign. Communicate with them frequently, but not so much that you become spam, this will build trust and transparency and give you the opportunity to express how grateful you are to your backers (which may result in higher pledges down the line). I try to make an update two or three times during the first and last 72 hours of the campaign and once a week during the dead period.
Arrange update swaps with campaigns running at the same time as yours - Find other comics that you like on Kickstarter and message the organizer if they’d like to shout out your campaign in one of their updates in exchange for you shouting out there’s. I’m gonna be honest with you, I don’t know how effective this is in terms of getting new backers, but it’s a show of good faith and lets people know that you’re invested in the indie comic kickstarter community.
Back some Kickstarters - Again, it’s a show of good faith and involvement in the greater community when you support other people’s Kickstarters. I’d recommend creating a small budget of $30-60 specifically to spend on other Kickstarters during your Kickstarter. Remember to share their campaigns on social media and generally behave the way you’d want your backers to.
Talk about it constantly - Whether you’re at work or with friends, make sure the people in your life know that you’re doing a kickstarter and how it’s going. That’s not to say you should be a salesman or an evangelist, but let them know how it’s going and how you’re feeling. They’ll want to know if you’re stressed and they’ll want to celebrate with you in your successes.
Reach out to people from college or high school - Okay, maybe you should evangelize a little. At the end of the day, you are your PR firm for your Kickstarter, so do everything you can to reach out to as many people you know and get as many backers as possible. You don’t have to email everyone you’ve ever met, but if you think to yourself, “I remember them, they seemed cool, they might like this,” then reach out, you never know.
Reach out to comic review sites and podcasts - This may seem like an odd choice for the last thing I mention, but I do legitimately think this is probably the least important. Mostly what you get from this is pull quotes and bragging rights. The sad fact is, comic sites don’t have massive pull and most people don’t care about a review for a comic they’ve never heard of. Sounds counter-intuitive, but trust me, I’ve worked for one of these sites for years (your currently reading this article on it). Don’t waste too much of your time and energy trying to convince a bunch of websites to do articles on your campaign, but a little exposure never hurt.
7. What Kinds of Services are Worth It?
There’s a lot of things that you can spend your money on that claim to help your campaign in some way, whether it’s design, PR, advertising, or counseling. I’ve tried quite a few of these and I feel I have a good grasp on what you should and shouldn’t consider spending your money on. So let’s start with what’s worth it to varying degrees. Note: NONE and I do mean none of these are necessary for you to have a successful campaign; they may help, but it is fully possible not to take advantage of any of these and have a successful campaign.
Video Editing - Making a simple video for your campaign page can be super helpful and if you don’t have the skills to do it yourself, you should absolutely get someone to do it for you. I don’t have a go-to recommendation for this because most of my friends in college were film majors and they all owe me a lot of favors.
Design - There are quite a few services that will help you to make your Kickstarter page look sleek and professional. They aren’t strictly speaking necessary, but if your goal is to keep eyes on the page for as long as possible and convince strangers to spend their hard earned money on YOUR kickstarter comic, this will never be a bad investment. I personally use Brant Fowler’s design services which range from $25 - $300. You can find him on twitter @Brantfowler
Counseling - If you want someone to hold your hand through literally the entire process and make sure your campaign page looks good, your social media strategy is solid, and your messaging is as appealing as possible to the broadest possible audience, hiring a personal coach as it were might not be a bad idea. Kat Calamia (Twitter: @ComicUno) runs a counseling service for $250 and their track record is nothing to sneeze at.
BackerKit - I don’t personally use this, but I’ve heard that this takes a lot of the headache out of backer surveys and fulfillment while also offering a sort of storefront for people that didn’t quite make the deadline for your campaign. I don’t like it because it can be abused to squeeze more money out of backers on accident which can annoy your audience and hurt your chances of future success, but if you use it responsibly, it’s a great tool to lighten the load.
PR - I don’t think this is worth it unless you’ve got a big flashy Kickstarter that NEEDS a massive audience to succeed, like a 200 page anthology that’s going to cost $25k to make, but if you need a liaison to get you on the front page of CBR and a lot of money to spare, consider getting a PR specialist to help you out. I recommend Melissa Meszaros (@DontHidePR) and Jazzlyn Stone (@JazzlynStone). They are NOT cheap, but they’re professional, they love indie comics, and they do a hell of a job.
8. What Shouldn’t I Spend My Money On?
Advertising is the short answer. There is no amount of paid advertising that will move the needle in comparison to how much you spend on it. Targeted ads on social media are hilariously ineffective for the cost and accounts that promise to share your project to tens or hundreds of thousands of followers on Instagram are hollow bot factories looking to make a quick buck. The other thing to look out for are predatory services that will email you or message you through Kickstarter’s messaging center. Especially on a first campaign, you will get HOUNDED by accounts claiming to have access to “Top quality backers” and “guarantee a successful campaign.” These are scams, do not even entertain paying for them.
9. What Do I Need to Know About Shipping and Fulfillment?
What I know is from a U.S.-based perspective, so if you're international, take what I say with a grain of salt. There’s a lot in this section, so strap in, I’m going to try and get through all of it as concisely as possible.
Surveys - Get out your surveys as quickly as possible and remind people to do them frequently until they get done. All you really need from them is their 1) email, 2) shipping information, 3) name for the “thank you” page. This is also a good opportunity to ask them to join a mailing list if you have one.
Communicate - Whether you’re finishing up the art and are headed to printing early or hit a snag and won’t be able to deliver on your estimated timeline, make sure your audience knows about it. If you don’t, they’ll think you’ve ghosted them and taken their money for nothing. Use the update feature and make sure they’re in the know.
Shipping Materials - You need gemini mailers or rigid envelopes to send your comics in and bag and boards to protect them; this will shake out to an estimated $1.30/comic for packaging.
Paper quality - This is weirdly personal and everyone has different preferences, so here’s a couple of websites, all of which are quite good, that offer free samples of their paper and good quality printing services: mixam.com, comixwellspring.com, printninja.com. Which one you go with will ultimately depend on what you need for your project, but you should decide early because many will give you a discount for advertizing their printing service on your kickstarter page.
Stamps.com - Get a subscription to stamps.com, a thermal printer, a digital scale (you can get this off of stamps.com for $10 with their promotional offer), and thermal paper. This will streamline the process significantly.
Media mail - Use media mail for domestic shipping. It’s both cheap and consistent in price across the country (though it does have a reputation for being rougher with packages which is why I recommend gemini mailers). To ship a comic it will be $3.19. Combined with the packaging cost, this means you should charge $5 for shipping a single comic with maybe a $1 additional fee for add ons.
International shipping - Charge $20 for shipping to Canada and $25 for everywhere else. It sucks, but it is that expensive and you will thank me when you start sending these things. Use the globalpost feature on stamps.com for international shipping, it’s by far the simplest option.
EIN/ITN numbers - Get an EIN from the US government by registering yourself as a sole proprietor and use that to get ITN numbers for each individual package being shipped internationally. START ON THIS PROCESS RIGHT NOW!!! It is a massive pain in the ass and can take literal months to accomplish. Detailed instructions are available on stamps.com and google.
VAT numbers - This is complicated and I'm still not sure I fully understand it, but to my knowledge, you don't need a VAT number to ship packages to the European Union unless you're shipping a sizeable amount per year (something like $10,000 of product). Most people are able to get away without needing one, that said, I would love someone that knows what they're talking about to educate me on this topic because it is dense. Tax codes, amirite?
10. Any Final Thoughts You’d Like to Share?
Just a few.
Remember that you will always be your biggest advocate and that the best tool you have to promote your project is yourself (and your art). People love a good project with a cool idea, but they also love connecting with a person that’s trying to make their dream a reality. You don’t have to have a full parasocial relationship with your audience, but be available, be vulnerable, be yourself.
Credit your artists and the rest of your creative team every step of the way; they may not be doing the hard part of managing the campaign, but without them none of this would be possible.
Use your head and exercise common sense. I’m giving you as many tools as I can, but I can only give you a blueprint, you have to figure out what makes your project special and how best to show that to the world.
Don’t give up! This is hard and, especially during that dead period, demoralizing. It can take a lot to keep going, but it’s important that you do. Keep plugging, keep promoting, and trust that at the end of it, you’ll have something great. Even if you fail to meet your goal, you learn a LOT about marketing and sales just by doing this and you have a good springboard to try again: those backers didn’t lose anything by pledging and 9 times out of 10 will come right back for the next attempt.
Finally, be kind to yourself. This thing we call crowdfunding is stressful and long – a marathon, not a sprint, as they say. Don’t check the page every five minutes, take some time for yourself, don’t implode under the stress. You’ve got this and you need to trust that you do!