kickstart your career in writing

Let me be the first to suggest a novel piece of Kickstarter advice: aim low.

Yes, I know. Most crowdfunding experts are all about helping you rocket-power your Kickstarter campaigns into the stratosphere, propelling you to media stardom and landing you, at the end of the funding period, with a project so high profile, so enormous, and so complex that you need a third party to help you with fulfillment. Or worse, you skip that step and are suddenly saddled with the need to learn a project manager’s specialized skills—immediately. Some people rise to that challenge. Most don’t.

Big is not necessarily better.

Aim Low and Deliver High

Here, then, is my subversive suggestion: aim small. Think sleek, fast, and nimble. And most of all, plan long-term, not short.

All my campaigns are built with two goals in mind. The first is to create carry-over. The second is to prevent author fatigue. What both of these goals have in common is they’re not focused on this campaign, but on the idea that crowdfunding is a consistent part of your quarterly revenue-generating toolbox. If you run a $50,000 Kickstarter, you’re going to be fulfilling that thing for a year. But if you run a $2,000 Kickstarter, you can be done in a month, using the profit to seed the next campaign…and you’ll have enough energy to run it.

Why do this instead of running your $50k campaign? Because that $50k campaign almost never makes more profit than the $2k one. Especially when you add in your time and effort—which, after all, is valuable! If your goal is to make and distribute swag, that $50k Kickstarter will do you. But if your goal is to write, then the campaign that lets you pay for the packaging of your creative effort is a side job, and it had better be worth the effort.

Basically, running lots of little Kickstarters is almost invariably a better strategy than attempting to execute one monumental one—particularly if you have a small fanbase and are too obscure to draw people with your name alone.

Create a Kickstarter Chain Reaction

Here, then, is my recipe for chaining Kickstarters.

  1. Have the product ready already.
  2. Ask for a small amount.
  3. Run for a short amount of time.
  4. Don’t overdo the stretch goals.
  5. Deliver quickly.
  6. Clone your campaign and do it again.

Let’s take a look at each of these in a little more depth.

Have the Product Ready Already

A lot of authors start their campaigns too soon. Wait until you’re done with the book before launching. In fact, if you can pay your layout people and audiobook people to start those processes in advance, do that, too. Your goal is to have the book ready to go out to backers the day their payment processes.

You might not be able to swing that in your first campaign, but by the second, you should be socking away profit for “carry over” for the next book. Use the amount you make from Campaign #1 to start paying the contractors for the work on Campaign #2 before you launch. You’ll be surprised how much less stressful a campaign is if you have everything ready in advance.

Ask for a Small Amount

Always ask for the smallest you can swing while still making a profit on every backer. That means you need to understand the cost to deliver every reward thoroughly and you can’t go crazy on amazing prizes. (Or if you do, limit the number you make available.)

And when I say small, I mean under $2,000. If you can’t buy everything you need for under $2,000, you need to either find a way to pare down your expenses or split off pieces of your project and save them for their own, separate campaigns (audiobook separate from print, for example).

Run for a Short Amount of Time

Kickstarter suggests running your campaign for a month. I think two weeks is already too long. You don’t need a big media push to succeed if you’re asking for a small amount. Plus, the less time you spend on your campaign, 1) the less likely you are to get exhausted by the amount of cheerleading you have to do, and 2) the more time you have to write.

Don’t Overdo the Stretch Goals

Stretch goals are a great way to build excitement into long campaigns. In short campaigns, they are a surefire recipe for overreach and overpromises.

Plan for maybe one (modest!) stretch goal in case you attract more attention than you’re planning on. Don’t get roped into pie-in-the-sky possibilities that will cost you more than you get back. Remember: make small promises and overdeliver.

Deliver Quickly

The moment your campaign looks like it’s going to fund, start on the rewards you’re going to do anyway (like ebooks). If you’re already chaining your Kickstarters, you can use your slush fund from earlier campaigns to buy the swag and pay your contractors before the campaign ends.

If you don’t have carryover yet and need to wait, then wait… but the moment the campaign ends, move like your fur’s on fire!

Once you have some practice, most fulfillment can be done in under a month. Sometimes under two weeks, if you’ve already got everything delivered. Most backers don’t expect quick fulfillment (some of them don’t expect any fulfillment), so you will pleasantly surprise them.

Clone Your Campaign and Do It Again

If you’ve done your math right, you should have some profit to put away for the next campaign. Take your existing campaign, clone it, and change the details to fit your next book. Pay your contractors, order some swag, and once you’ve got it in hand, go for launch!

There’s a lot of nuance to this system, more than a blog post can encompass (I wrote an entire book about it). But the gist of it is: stop thinking of crowdfunding as a singular apocalyptic event and start thinking of it as a regular sales activity, another tool in your business and marketing kit.

Go small. Be quick. Do it again.

Give it a try. If you fail, you won’t have spent much time on it. If you succeed, you still won’t have spent much time on it, but you’ll also have some cash on hand. Either way… profit.

For more on how to use crowdfunding to boost your author career, check out our three-part series:

  • Part 1: What, Why, and Where
  • Part 2: Creating a Profitable Campaign
  • Part 3: Building on Momentum