A Tree Could Be—Gina Stevens Raises $9700 in 3 Weeks on Kickstarter

a tree could be mockup

$9700 in 3 weeks on Kickstarter

Gina Stevens knew it would be difficult to crowdfund her book on Kickstarter during the COVID-19 pandemic, but she had already put in too much effort to ever consider quitting.

After 3 weeks, Gina raised $9700 in 3 weeks from 250 backers and totally crushed her original $6000 goal.

Find out how she did it in our interview below. 

What crowdfunding/marketing techniques do you think worked best for you?

9 things worked really well for me:

1—Running a shorter 3-week campaign

As everyone that runs a campaign knows, you have to be “on” 100% of the time that your campaign is running.

I am not a huge fan of social media in the first place but forced myself to be active prior to and while my campaign was running. Running it for 3 weeks was manageable compared to the usual 4-week campaign.

2—Getting the word out ahead of time

I told everyone that I was “illustrating a book” and that was exciting to my peers.

Some even came and visited my studio to see the progress.

I kept a buzz and people were always asking “how is your book coming along?”.

I really didn’t have a launch date until January or February which was just in time for the pandemic to take off.

People were itching for good news and something to make them excited.

It was a tough balance of not ignoring what was happing in the world and really being excited about my work.

3—Facebook was my best platform

I joined many groups that were related to my book “ nature groups, moms, etc.”

Once my campaign launched I went back and personally responded to EVERY SINGLE person that said they were interested in my book with my campaign link.

It ended up in me writing the same style message OVER and OVER but it seemed to really work.

I didn’t feel like I was bothering them if they already expressed interest.

4—Limiting messages to backers

I tried not to message my backers through Kickstarter too much during the campaign. Since they had already pledged, I know people get WAY to many e-mails as is.

They don’t care to see multiple emails about where my campaign is.

I might be excited, but they have their own lives and victories to be celebrating. I tried to be very modest when it came to communicating and not over-communicating.

(Lisa’s interpretation: Basically, try not to annoy your biggest supporters.)

 

5—Sharing my progress and behind-the-scenes work

I did post all of my progress work on my Facebook page during my campaign.

MOST of my backers were friends from Facebook or friends of friends of groups I was in so it gave me a spot to “dump” all of the creative work.

If people were interested, it was a landing place they could choose to look and not have it thrown in their face in an update e-mail.

As an artist, my favorite part of seeing artwork is the process and seeing how images evolve.

Because of that, I chose to use that as my basis of what I was sharing.

Admittedly, my book was successful not because of the storyline but because of the images.

I made sure to not share any of the “full” spreads on social media until I started posting my “artist updates”.

In way, it wasn’t old news for people.

The only people that saw the spreads were friends and family who lived close and came over to see them personally.

6—Planning all of my posts ahead of time

Planning all of my posts and updates ahead of time.

Lisa’s tracker was life saver (and it was only $27!!)!

I did alter and move some things around as things worked better on different days, I stuck pretty close to my initial plans.

I had to keep reminding myself that even it I was excited about wanting to post some more artwork sooner than planned, I had to remind myself of my plan and not get to ahead of myself in overposting.

tree could be expenses
Photo credit: Gina Stevens, Kickstarter page

7—Knowing my expenses

I’ve kept a really accurate list of my expenses and had a mental goal in mind as I reached my set goal of $6,000.

Once I saw that I was moving past my goal, I worked with my printer to increase my print quantity to accommodate the extra money (no, I didn’t just pocket the over).

This way my back stock of books will be covering following my campaign to set me up for future print runs or a a second book.

I made a point to not share my printer or specific costs with my backers because most of my backers are not familiar with self publishing so they don’t understand all of the extra costs associated.

Anyone who asked, I would tell them I will be lucky to break even. Honestly, with my method of increasing the quantity of books as I went, it was the truth. I needed to get the funds in my pocket before I could increase the quantity of the print run.

It was all about finding a balance of what that right number was to maximize the spend and quantity of books.

8—Expressing gratitude

I made sure to comment and thank EVERY single person that commented on my book.

9—Starting the printing process early

Because I hit my goal so early in my campaign (within a few days of launching), I was able to start the printing process early and my printer sent my proofs very quickly.

I was able to share that with my social media and it really got people excited.

Some people commented on the quality of the pages and others were just excited to see it as a whole.

It created a great buzz in the mid-campaign lull. I saw quite a bit of traffic as I shared that post.

What didn’t work as well as you had hoped?

a tree could be mockup
Photo credit: Gina Stevens

1—Printed business cards/promo cards

I made up business card sized “promotion” cards to hand out before my launch just telling people where they could follow my artwork (Instagram) as well as the dates of the campaign.

Obviously, this didn’t work as the cards arrived at my house right as the quarantine began so I wasn’t “out” in the community to hand them out.

Granted it only cost me around $20, but still, it didn’t work.

2—Instagram was a flop

I tried to create more of a following on Instagram the past 6 months prior to my campaign launch, but I don’t feel it drove much of ANY traffic.

First, Instagram (which I didn’t realize) doesn’t let you hyperlink your posts, so pushing people to your pre-launch page didn’t work well.

People don’t copy and paste a URL these days (it take too much work) so if a post isn’t clickable they won’t go to it.

3—Facebook ads also flopped

Though I am not a pro and was new to Facebook ads, I ran about $25 worth of ads over the three weeks.

Facebook said there were a certain amount of links and click-throughs but those days I didn’t see much traffic outside of my network at all.

Granted, even if I got one or two pledges from there it would cover my $25 cost but really wasn’t the best bang for the buck.

(Lisa’s note: you really need to experiment with Facebook ads before you launch so you can see what works and what doesn’t. It’s hard to get it right the first time.)

4—Cross-promotion with other campaigns didn’t work

I had multiple people reach out during my campaign (some I was familiar, most I was not) that wanted to cross promote.

As I mentioned earlier, I was very cautious on spamming my current backers as I know how I would feel receiving those types of messages if I backed a campaign.

Because I reserved my communication with my backers, maybe selfish, but I wasn’t willing to push others campaigns on my backers.

I just didn’t feel it was appropriate. I posted one or two on my Instagram but even then it seems odd with my Instagram being all about my process then throwing in someone else’s pages.

I don’t know, it may work better if it was planned ahead of time to cross-collaborate, but I didn’t have time to entertain the idea after the fact.

5—Processing post-campaign orders

To be honest, I wasn’t planning on taking additional pre-orders after my Kickstarter ended.

I’ve had multiple people reach out post campaign asking where they can get my book since they missed the campaign.

I just now set up my website to take post-Kickstarter orders, but didn’t have a plan before I launched.

6—Backers surveys are a pain

I am a big planner and I don’t want to be tracking down shipping addressed 6-8 months from now.  Although, I don’t want to keep spamming my backers to more things.

Like I mentioned before, they were already generous enough to support my project and everyone is busy and I don’t want to overwhelm them with messages about their address.

I did leave that feedback for Kickstarter that maybe they collect addresses when they pledge.

Many of my backers were first time backers and Kickstarter sends A LOT of emails.

So many lessons learned, Gina, thank you!

What would you like to say in summary?

It really was a fun experience and to be 100% honest, it has gotten me though the quarantine so far.

Having something to look forward to and dive into was a really great distraction as we have been stuck as home.

Timing wise, it really was perfect as we have been stuck inside with not great weather.

Photo credit: Gina Stevens, Kickstarter page

Gina’s Bio

Something is always growing in Gina’s world. Plants in her sprawling garden. Her son. Her own design business, Nine18 Creative.

In the rare moments she gets to herself, you’ll find her barefoot probably trying to grow some exotic plant from a seed. Also, not running.

An artist to the core, she earned a degree in Fine Art – Graphic Design from Western Michigan University, then spent six years in corporate communications at Kellogg Company.

She and her husband share their log home in Michigan with their son, medium-sized dog and cat.

Buy her book on her website and follow Gina on social media.

Website: https://www.nine18creative.com/

Facebook

Instagram

Kickstarter campaign 

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Remember that $27 crowdfunding planner Gina said was a lifesaver? 

You can download it for yourself here: https://lisaferlandconsulting.vipmembervault.com/

Should I Run a Kickstarter During a Pandemic?

5 Things Crowdfunding Authors Want You to Know BEFORE You Launch

Why Your Book Sales Numbers Tell Only Half the Story

book sales analytics lisa ferland

Book Sales Don’t Tell the Full Story

Indie authors, mainly, love to focus on SALES as a measure of success. Authors must understand that there are many models and paths to publication.

How many books did you sell? What’s your Amazon Best Seller Ranking?

A great benefit to social media is that we can connect with fellow authors around the world and learn what they are doing.

However, there is a dark side to seeing too often what our fellow authors are doing.

It can feel a bit disappointing to think that your well-written, professionally edited, and beautiful books are super successful only to see a Facebook post by another author with better book sales numbers.

It is hard not to allow doubt to creep into the picture if your amazing book isn’t selling as well as the rather mediocre books that claim to be “bestsellers.”

“Comparison is the thief of joy.”—Theodore Roosevelt

couple having a dialogue

Think back to the pre-Internet era where writers could keep their heads down and clack on typewriter keys until something slightly publishable emerged.

Professional comparisons and rivalries still happened to the likes of Hemingway and Fitzgerlad, sure, but they weren’t reading daily claims of literary success by their peers in closed Facebook groups.

Perhaps that’s why Thoreau isolated himself on Walden Pond.

He was probably tired of seeing others’ books sales and massive book tours plastered all over his Facebook newsfeed.

“I find it wholesome to be alone the greater part of the time.”

Henry David Thoreau

Maybe we should all find a virtual cabin in the woods. A place where we are insulated from Facebook notifications, and indie book sales brags.

If you find yourself peeking over at other author’s shoulders more often than writing your work, it might be time to turn OFF all social media notifications until your writing is solidly underway.

Comparison Can Be Useful

Sometimes, what we don’t know does hurt us. Knowledge is paramount to remove fictitious barriers we construct that block us from success.

For example, before I met children’s book authors Laurie Wright and Diane Alber, I had no idea that it was feasible to sell 50-100 books/day per title.

I had no idea.

After hiring them as mentors and learning from them, I discovered how much effort and marketing dollars go into getting those numbers. Without that knowledge, I wouldn’t know it was possible.

While knowledge is vital, we’ll still make mistakes even with those expert insights from mentors plowing the field before us.

Authors Don’t Usually Discuss Their Marketing Spend

One thing that many authors keep close to their vests is the amount of money they put into marketing.

Authors are thrilled to share their sales numbers, but they remain reluctant to share their ad spend. Why?

Well, it’s a lovely thought to believe that our books are selling well because they are wonderfully written, well-edited, and professionally illustrated or designed and NOT because we’re spending tons of money to market them.

But in many cases, mediocre books with large marketing budgets will routinely outsell beautiful, well-written books with smaller marketing budgets.

That’s how marketing works.

It takes a lot of money to stand out in front of potential readers in a crowded market.

For example, to market my Halloween book, I spent $5k on Amazon and Facebook ads over a six-week marketing blitz. I had studied, planned, and added fuel to the fire when my return on advertising was optimal. My SALES were terrific.

However, sales are only half of the picture.

If you looked at my balance sheet and saw all of the expenses I incurred to achieve those sales, you’d have a different story. You’d have the whole story.

comparison book sales apples to oranges

Don’t Let Comparison Steal Your Joy

So, in summary, comparing your progress to others’ can be a learning experience.

It’s important to be inspired by other authors’ success, but you can’t dwell in that space for long.

If you can’t help comparing yourself to someone, it’s better to become a measuring stick yourself. Compare your book sales with your previous years’ book sales.

If you have a seasonal book, use your first year as a baseline to compare future sales so you can see where you can improve.

Keep track of your monthly sales and marketing efforts so you can try to identify what techniques or marketing outlets were fruitful and which ones to drop for next time.

We are fortunate to be working in a medium that never expires, and books that are over 30 years old can be at the top of the bestseller charts.

Remember, it’s never too late to be a bestseller, so don’t let comparison rob you of your joy.


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The Adventures of Lily Huckleberry Raises Nearly $40K on Kickstarter

It’s not every day that a children’s book raises nearly $40k on Kickstarter, but that’s exactly what Audrey Smit and Jackie Knapp did with their first book, The Adventures of Lily Huckleberry in Scandinavia.

As we all know, or should by now, fundraising is a full-time effort and the end result of months or years of audience building and engagement.

I spoke with Audrey about all of the preparation and work she and Jackie did to garner such stunning success.

Note: Whenever somebody makes something look easy and effortless, understand that a TON of effort and work went into it on the front end even if you can’t see it. There are no shortcuts to success.

Let’s go under the hood of their Kickstarter campaign and find out what worked and what didn’t.

You raised ~50% in the first 24 hours—can you describe a bit of the pre-launch work you did to make that happen? We all know it’s not easy to generate that much energy on launch day.

Yes, the first days are everything!

Before the launch we reached out to influencers that we thought would be interested in the concept of Lily Huckleberry – travel influencers, book influencers etc.

I contacted people I already had a connection with (that’s always the easiest) but also reached out to tons I didn’t know at all that I thought would be interested in our idea.

We got maybe 7% positive responses back when we reached out. It was a lot of work but every person we could find to help spread the work made a difference.

You have to be shameless, talk about what you are doing with pride + passion— it’s contagious. And keep knocking on doors, you’ll get a LOT of no’s but keep reaching out to new people.

Another thing did as we launched: Jackie (my co-author) and I had made a bet with my husband (which we included at the end of our Kickstarter video) that if we funded under one week, he would have to let his Viking beard grow to be a foot long so we could braid it for the book release party.

For some reason that got a lot of people fired up to pledge early, haha! I guess lots of people (including many of our friends) wanted to see him do something a little ridiculous. I think it really helped people connect with our campaign from the beginning in a genuine way.

It’s all about thinking outside of the box. In the end you never know what is going to stick so you have to try a lot of different approaches.

“In the end, you never know what’s going to stick so you have to try a lot of different approaches.”                – Audrey Smit

It looks like you have a very large audience already established from your design business. What types of outreach would you recommend to authors who may not have a large audience already established?

Yes, a bigger pre-established audience definitely helped,  but you can definitely make it with a smaller audience.

Use what you’ve got and again, think creatively!

Start with friends and family, of course, but don’t stop there.

Promote to whatever audience you have on social media and try to reach out to the press ahead of time about your project/idea.

Very often local newspapers are happy to run an article/interview about you and or your book—you will just have to do a little research on how to best approach them and how you can make them look good with your amazing story.

Other ideas:

    • set up a booth at local events during your Kickstarter
    • team up for giveaways with other influencers on social media to increase your reach,
    • and if you have a little bit of marketing money to play with, consider things like Facebook/Pinterest ads.

What would you say surprised you the most about running your Kickstarter campaign?

It takes SO MUCH time and energy! Ha!

Setting up the campaign is only the tip of the iceberg, you have to put a lot of effort into promoting it along the way, getting back to people, etc.

BUT it is so amazing to see people gather around your idea and put their weight behind it, and the work is completely worth it. It’s truly amazing.

Are you planning additional campaigns for future books in the series?

Absolutely!

We are in the process of writing our second Lily Huckleberry book and we’ll be doing a Kickstarter campaign for it.

Having the ability to raise money for editing, printing, marketing is game changing.

We would not be able to self-publish without Kickstarter. 

I also find that Kickstarter campaigns to be an incredible marketing tool —people love getting behind ideas they love and it helps build a community around your book. 

What unexpected opportunities have resulted from running your Kickstarter campaign? 

We were stunned that we raised well over our initial goal—nearly $40K!

That allowed us to invest more in the book, to make a stunning products that people are raving about. That also allowed us to invest in marketing a little more, have a book trailer made etc.

Also unexpected: my husband was quite stunned he lost his bet with Jackie and me.

Being a sales manager in the corporate world, he couldn’t believe he had to let his beard grow for months on end.

Quite a few of his clients asked him about it, and he had to boast about his wife beating her funding goal on Kickstarter. 

Anything else you’d like to mention? Future book plans?

Well, as I mentioned, our second Lily Huckleberry book will be coming out later this year!

After wandering in Scandinavia with her Viking friends, Lily will be going somewhere in Asia to solve another big mystery…but I can’t tell which country yet, it’s still a secret.

We LOVE self-publishing—it is so much work, but also gives us  so much creative + business control.

We are really excited to do another Kickstarter campaign and see if can turn our dream of a series into reality! Our goal is to release one new Lily Huckleberry book every year, and have her travel to all the continents so our readers can dream far and wide with our brave Lily.

Bio

Audrey Smit is the founder of This Little Street, a design company whose colorful and happy aesthetic has built a following of nearly 20K. She has worked as a pattern designer since 2015, recently launching several successful product lines of her own. 

Originally from France, Audrey lives in Berkeley, CA with her Danish husband and their four adventurous little girls, who are constant sources of inspiration for her work. 

Follow her on Instagram: @thislittlestreet  

Click here to buy the book on Amazon

Click here to check out her Kickstarter campaign for The Adventures of Lily Huckleberry in Scandinavia