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Kickstarter is changing the way that self-published authors are raising money (and awareness!) for their books.

Here are some hard lessons we learned on our first project.

What is Kickstarter?

Kickstarter is a crowdfunding website that lets you attract backers for a creative project. These backers help fund your project by pre-ordering it. That project can be a book, movie, or piece of software, but not a Hawaiian vacation.

The idea is that you raise money ahead of time so you can work on the project. Authors are using this to attract traditional publishers and to self-publish a book.

In exchange for money, backers get perks like advanced copies, autographed copies, or even something as big as naming the main character in your next novel. Authors are just starting to see the potential.

For our MyBookTable Kickstarter, we gave away discounts, upgrades, websites, and more.

Authors Who Used Kickstarter Right

1. Ryan North

One of the best examples of how Kickstarter was able to help a self-published author kick off his book is To Be Or Not To Be: That is the Adventure. Ryan North was able to use humor, video, and his quirky personality to raise half a million dollars for his book.

2. Larry Elmore

Larry’s desire was simple. He wanted to create a 336 page, full-color hardback book containing most of his painted and drawn art. His project took off quickly and he was able to raise just under $300,000 toward his project.

3. Laurel Holland

Laurel kept her pitch simple and hit her goal. Kickstarter is not just for people who need half a million dollars. It is also for the author who just needs a little extra money to finish her book.

Who are some authors you like? Post them in the comments and we may add them to the list.

7 Kickstarter Mistakes We Made on MyBookTable

I anticipate that these mistakes cost us about $10,000 in lost backing.

Mistake #1 Not backing lots of Kickstarter projects beforehand.

There are some people out there who are really good at Kickstarter. The best Kickstarter projects I have found are in the Kickstarter games section. These guys are raising hundreds of thousands of dollars and have Kickstarter down to a science.

I should have started backing gaming projects months before our launch to learn how to do it right from the masters.

Mistake #2 Not setting up Amazon Payments Sooner.

You can’t launch your Kickstarter project without Amazon Payments set up. Kickstarter walks you through the process, but it takes a week (or more!). Kickstarter advises you set this up ahead of time. We ignored that good advice.

Mistake #3 Not Putting Enough Personality into our First Video.

Our video feels super-corporate, which is not the Kickstarter style, or our style, frankly. We are a start-up, not a stodgy company. I may not be that interesting of a guy, but I’m more interesting than is conveyed in our first video. The best Kickstarter videos convey personality and often humor. They don’t just convince viewers to back the project, they convince viewers to get their friends to back as well.

Mistake #4 Not Making the Early Bird Discounts More Clear.

People were backing the full priced levels that still had early bird bonuses available  While we are happy for the extra money, it was a sign that our backing levels were unclear.

If we had made it more clear there would have been a greater sense of urgency and thus more money raised. Speaking of urgency, as I write this, there are a few early bird specials left. So don’t everyone grab them all at once!

Mistake #5 Not Explaining What Kickstarter is – in the Video.

Most of our backers have never backed a Kickstarter project before.

One of the things I noticed about super successful Kickstarter campaigns is that they explain how crowd funding works to make the project approachable for everyone, not just Kickstarter ninjas. If we had done this we could have raised more money.

Mistake #6 Setting the Funding Goal too Low.

I was nervous about Kickstarter’s all or nothing model, so I set a low goal. The problem with this is that as soon as we hit our goal we lost all our momentum.

Donations that were in the $100s every day dropped to almost nothing. We raised more in the first week than in the second two weeks combined. Our internal goal was $15,000 and we hoped that the stretch goals would help us get there. Fail.

Mistake #7 Setting Lame Stretch Goals.

We picked stretch goals that did not motivate our backers to keep promoting us past our initial funding goal. What made the problem worse was that most of our backers were new to Kickstarter and did not understand how stretch goals worked. Our best stretch goals were too far away to motivate.

Even with these mistakes we’ve already funded our project to 200% complete and it is still climbing. So you don’t have to do it perfectly to succeed.

8 Steps to To Launch A Successful Kickstarter Project

Here are our tips on launching your own Kickstarter.

1. Back Other Kickstarter Projects

Had I backed more projects ahead of time I would have avoided a lot of the mistakes above. Since launching MyBookTable, I’ve backed many projects and learned a ton.

In fact, Kickstarter requires that you back at least one project before you can post your own. I think they should require you to back five projects.

2. Twitterize Your Project

What’s the gist of your project in 140 characters or less? How would you explain it on Twitter?

For our project, we boiled it down to the basics:



 3. Set Your Goals

How much money do you need to get your project off the ground? This isn’t the time to get greedy and go all Scrooge McDuck on your friends and supporters. But is also not the time to get scared like we did. Create realistic goals.

Here is our advice: Outline a realistic budget for how much it will really take for you to successfully launch your project. Add 20% for unanticipated costs. Now add another 10% to cover the cost of launching a Kickstarter (both Kickstarter and Amazon take a cut).

Stretch goals are amounts of money you’d need to hit bigger goals. Try adding goals where you make the project better as you hit higher levels of backing. Make these the levels that will get people excited, like bonus chapters and whatnot.

4. Tell Your Story

The key to a successful Kickstarter is to tell your story behind your project. Why does the world need what you are selling? For MyBookTable we used a Problem/Solution approach. We first outlined why selling books on your website is so hard, then explained how MyBookTable would make it easy. This approach is great for nonfiction.

For fiction you need to tease your story. Practice teasing your story on your friends and strangers. The key is to give them enough info where they say “tell me more.”

5. Make a Video

Your Kickstarter video is one of the most important pieces of the puzzle. A video can make or break a Kickstarter. Figure out if your book’s story can be told with a voice over or if you need something higher tech. Look around at the other videos on Kickstarter before you make your decision.

The key with the video is to make it fun and add personality. It doesn’t have to be super professional. There are Kickstarter projects with very amateur videos that have raised $100,000. Keep it short or keep people laughing.

That said, it doesn’t hurt for the video to look good. You can work with videographers in your area who are just starting out. Just ask to see clips first. Remember, you are the writer. It’s your job to tell the story. It’s the videographer’s job to make it visually stunning.

Our First (Lame!) Video

This video is too long and too boring. It explains our project, but I was shooting from the hip and not working from a script. This made it hard for our video guy to edit and too long to hold anyone’s attention. Only 25% of people who started watching the video finished it.

Our Second (fun!) Video

Notice how this video is one minute long and still captures the essence of what MyBookTable is. Behold the power of a tightly edited script.

6. Create a Promotion Strategy

Expect about 20% of your backing to come from the Kickstarter community and the remaining 80% to come from your community. So if you are trying to raise $5000, $4000 of that needs to come from your friends and followers.

Plan ahead of time how you are going to reach them. If you follow us on Facebook or Twitter you heard about this plugin nearly every day. We also hit our email list with several reminders. The number one source of donors for us was Facebook, due in part to the sponsored stories we ran to our existing fans.

Also try borrowing platforms from other leaders in your industry. We were blessed to have Steve Laube feature the plugin in his News You Can Use post,  Randy Ingermanson to feature it in his e-zine and Rachelle Gardner feature it on her blog.

7. Budget Time To Answer Questions

The more popular your Kickstarter, the more questions you will get. For folks behind projects that raise millions, answering questions becomes a full time job for the duration of the project. I’ve been getting questions from potential backers constantly. I estimate about 10% of people want a question answered before they will back the project.

8. Use Kicktraq

klicktraq logo

Kicktraq is like Google Analytics for Kickstarter. It is also free. It gives you projections and trends on how your project is going. I found myself turning to the Kicktraq report more often than to Kickstarter’s dashboard.

You can find our our Kicktraq report here.

The Rest of the Story – How We Hit 250% 492%

I originally wrote this post a week or so before our campaign ended. Then I had a realization. “Thomas this campaign is not over, why don’t you take your own advice and renovate the campaign.”

So we did.

We re-did the video, reworked the stretch goals to be less ambitious, rewrote the campaign page and reached out to more friends to help us promote the campaign The result is that we raised as much in the last week as we did in the whole rest of the campaign combined.

Want More Help?

We took everything we learned on this project as well as the many projects we helped with afterwards and combined it all into the Ultimate Crowdfunding Guide for Authors.

Ultimate Crowdfunding Course for Authors

What do you think?

  • What Kickstarter projects have you backed?
  • Do you have any questions on how Kickstarter works or how to use it?
  • Are you doing your own Kickstarter based on these tips? If so post a link in the chat.
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