In this interview, he discusses his previous failure on Kickstarter and how that shaped his second attempt and his advice to children’s authors looking to crowdfunding as a solution.
How much research did you do before launching your Kickstarter?
I was aware of Kickstarter for a number of years and had backed a few campaigns over time. In 2012, I created a time management app for kids but since I didn’t know anything about marketing or crowdfunding, the campaign failed and never came close to my $5k goal. I didn’t nurture the campaign and it showed.
An old student of mine helped people with Kickstarter campaigns and he pointed me in the right direction.
I used MailChimp to manage my emails and segment my messaging based on who opened and clicked on my emails and who did not. I really liked that because I didn’t feel like I was bothering people with the same messages over and over again.
What types of behind-the-scenes work do you think contributed most to your success?
I tried to do high-value special art offerings with a lot of art that was done years ago (and I funded myself). That lead to some big rewards that people were interested in and complemented the book.
If you’re using Kickstarter to produce a tech gadget, there’s an understanding that the Kickstarter campaign involves a discount of some kind as an early-adopter.
But, my research indicated that those who supported children’s book campaigns did not seem to be motivated by discounts like the people who want mass-produced tech gadgets. Aside from those in your personal network who have a desire to help you achieve your goals, there has to be something in the book that makes them want to buy it. I found that $35 for a hardcover children’s book seemed to be about the market rate.
As a teacher, I have summers off from school, so I planned my entire campaign during the summer and put together different mailing lists in MailChimp for different audiences. Altogether, I had about 900 people on my email list.
How many people do you think you emailed during the campaign. What was your biggest source of backers?
I had about 900 emails on my list and tried to think of as many people as possible who would be interested in a bedtime book.
My goal was to make an authentic and personal connection with potential backers.
A big tip is that if you don’t do anything with your campaign, nothing happens.
The campaign will not run itself and you can see that in the daily pledges.
If I had to do it over again, I would explore working with ConvertKit as I have heard that their audience segmentation tools are more powerful. It can allow you to reconfigure your email messages based on if they opened it or not.
You can feel more comfortable emailing someone you know hasn’t opened your first email and the messages should be different than people who have already backed you.
What was the most surprising aspect of your Kickstarter campaign?
You have to have thick skin. It was surprising to me to see who unsubscribed from my emails.
On the other hand, it was surprising to see the people who reached out to me and offered help to make it happen. I knew that getting help was a necessary step in the book’s production but I didn’t want it to be a charity effort.
The most exciting thing was receiving support from every chapter of my life—backers from elementary school, high school, workplace friends, family, students who would kick in $5, and some faculty and administrators who ended up supporting the project.
I’m glad it had a limited timeframe and I’m happy I found my voice with it.
Did you have to change your strategy mid-campaign?
Not really. It’s all about trying to find a balance between presenting a polished product and keeping it real.
I always led with the messaging, “If you find this to be meaningful, I’m hoping you’ll support it and validate it in some way.”
What advice would you give a fellow author who is looking to crowdfund their book?
When you work with talented human beings who understand their craft and put them all together, you will have a great book.
You have to know what success means to you. It’s ok if you just want to make a little book for your kids but that person shouldn’t necessarily pursue a large publishing effort.
Success for me meant creating the book and sharing it with the people who supported the campaign. I felt like my words deserved to be read.
Respect your audience. Someone reading your book is taking time out of their day, so respect that.
I don’t want to be manipulated by marketing schemes and I’m sure my readers don’t either. Take the time to hone your craft, learn from the greats, be open to criticism and learning.
(Side note: If you’re not sure if crowdfunding your book is right for you, watch this quick video)
Join SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) for lessons on craft and inspiration. You’ll have access to a diverse community of people who are all striving for excellence.
Think hard about what success means to you before going through all of the effort and expense.
If you ask people to support you, be prepared for them not to support you at all. It sucks but it’s what happens.
If your goal is to make your book a business, you need to prepare, research, and take your time.
Advice: If someone offers you help or advice along the way, then take their help. I met with a parent who was an Amazon marketing expert and he made himself available to share what he knew. As I was so focused on my campaign, I never followed through with him and only later came to realize how valuable his help would have been in the sales and marketing efforts after I completed the campaign.
Listen to the advice of people who know more than you.
Could you see yourself doing another Kickstarter campaign in the future?
I would do an IndieGoGo campaign instead of a Kickstarter.
And I would only do another campaign if I could reach my audience and not tap the same friends and family who backed my first campaign.
You mentioned that you worked with a museum-quality printer for your book. Can you specify and would you recommend them?
Absolutely. I work with US-based Four Colour Print Group who has relationships with printers in Korea and China. I have found them to be competitive with other printers and the price for shipping is included in the quote.
It’s a good idea to have some clue as to what you’re going to do with the book after your campaign is finished.
Next time, I’ll leverage the campaign to generate more reviews on Amazon and plan a proper book launch. I learned a lot from your interview with Julia Miles Inserro. I have been using the resources she suggested and recommend them highly.