“You learn more from failure than you ever do from success…” That’s how the old adage goes, right? Well, comic creator Wes Locher has had quite a week, in which he experienced both the agony of a Kickstarter failure…and the ecstasy of a Kickstarter success just a few days later. I invited Wes to share his experience with the Tribe so that we can learn a little something in the process.
I’ll be back with a few additional comments at the end, but for now, enjoy:
Turning Failure into Success: A Kickstarter Story
by Wes Locher
In my experience, some people are quick to accept failure and walk away in defeat, while others glean insight and use that wisdom to strategize for success. The latter rings true for me because it was my recent experience running a Kickstarter campaign.
August saw the launch of the campaign for my sci-fi/humor comic book, UNIT 44, which answers the question, ‘What happens when Area 51 employees, Agent Gibson and Agent Hatch, forget to pay the rent on the facility’s off-site storage unit, and the super-secret contents are sold at public auction?’
I sought $9,000 to fund the four-issue miniseries and collected graphic novel. Armed with the completed first five pages of the book, concept art and some awesome rewards, the campaign went live. It looked great, had a solid video and was generally awesome, but it ended in failure. At the end of an agonizing 30-day funding period, the ticker had settled at just below the $3,300 mark with 104 backers.
Always one to have a Plan B, I re-launched a new version of the campaign three days after the first one ended, and subsequently reached my funding goal in less than four days. In fact, the project still has a few days remaining and I’m currently headed toward my first stretch goal that will net additional goodies for the backers as well as help fund the remaining three issues of the series.
After the first campaign hit the wall and broke into a gazillion pieces encased in a fiery, slow motion explosion, I knew I was going to re-launch and try again, but first I had to figure out…
Kickstarter Fail: 5 Things I Did Wrong
1. SCOPE – The initial project was too big for my britches. As an up-and-coming comic writer whose numerous titles are all in the pipeline playing Bingo until their scheduled release dates, there was no one chomping at the bit for my work, especially not four issues worth of it.
2. MONEY – Similarly to number one item on this list, people didn’t know who I was and thus the masses weren’t magically drawn to my campaign to shower me with funds (regardless of how some Kickstarter projects make it look). I was asking people to collectively drop $9K on a guy with limited credibility in the field. Not a good look.
3. AUDIENCE – The five completed pages of Unit 44 debuted alongside the Kickstarter campaign. I gave myself no time for people to see it or spread the word to build up buzz and anticipation for the campaign launch. Instead, I put potential backers in the awkward position of, “here’s a new comic book, now please make a monetary commitment to it.” Instead of backing the project, viewers slowly backed in a different direction.
4. WORDS – While my campaign details displayed lots of great art from the book, it also had a lot of words. The Kickstarter Gods encouraged me to “tell my story.” So on my first time out, I did just that, but it cluttered up my page with blocks of text and it’s likely that I was the only person to ever read a majority of it.
5. VIDEO – I worked really hard on my video, once again, trying to tell the story of my project and its secret origin. It had a run-time of a mere three minutes, but in the stats section, I could see that less than half of the people who clicked play finished their viewing. Looking it with fresh eyes, it didn’t really bring anything fun to the table or add to the brand that I was trying to build for a sci-fi/humor comic book.
As we all know, hindsight is perfect and doesn’t have to wear glasses at age eight and get made fun of by the other kids and whatnot, but about a week before the first campaign ended, series artist Eduardo Jimenez and I knew we’d be revisiting the campaign after making some minor adjustments to the presentation. By then, I had a grasp on where we succeeded and where we failed and when I launched a new in the final days of August, I felt confident about…
Kickstarter Success: The 5 Things I Did Differently
1. SCOPE – I had to scale back the campaign. If I didn’t fund four issues the first time out, I surely wasn’t going to do it the second time. Ed and I decided that if we focused on just the first issue of the series, it would give us a tangible product that we could use to start building buzz online and at conventions. By having something (even if it wasn’t our ideal vision) we’d be able to build awareness of the Unit 44 brand and bring in more readers who could help spread the word and thus help the series reach completion.
2. MONEY – Since I scaled back the overall project, the goal could also be cut significantly. After tossing on my transparent green visor and crunching some numbers, I came to the conclusion that $2,000 would be the bare minimum to cover the freelance art fees, printing of the book, reward shipping costs and Kickstarter/Amazon fees. This was by far, a more appealing and realistic number to everyone involved.
3. AUDIENCE – This was the biggest hurdle I faced. Unit 44 is not what you’d call a “mainstream” book. It’s drawn in a cartoony style and is full of humor and thus requires a certain audience for full appreciation. The first Kickstarter received a lot of great press from myriad comic news sites and I amassed a small group of people who were hungry for the finished product. Since I’d raised just over $3,000 the first time out, I was counting on my 104 supporters to back our new campaign as well. I knew that we’d lose some backers in the transition, but I had created a $1,300 window for myself and in the end, about 70 percent of them re-backed the new campaign and we easily achieved 53 percent funding on our first day.
4. WORDS – I loaded up the text from the first campaign and started hacking away at it. After much darling-killing, the only details that appeared on the Kickstarter were the book’s logline, a brief explanation of how the money would be used, short bios for the creators and I filled out the remainder of the page with the glorious praise that notable websites had given the project. The final display for round two allowed for the first five pages of the book to do all of the talking (and selling).
5. VIDEO – I wasn’t sure what to do with the new video. I couldn’t use the same one because it proposed the project with outdated info. I decided to stick with the old adage and keep it simple. The new video showed some art, explained the basic plot and used humor similar to that found in the book. Over the images I recorded a fast-paced voiceover and the final presentation clocked in at one minute long. In the first five days of the campaign, it had twice as many completed plays as the first video and had something that I considered to be a better representation of the product.
While I would have loved to hit my goal the first time out and swam around in a vault full of gold doubloons, this process showed me that without proper creator clout and a built-in fan base, one must aim low and shoot for the bare minimums. The awesome part? There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. If a project is successful and it pleases the masses, the clout and fan base will follow.
In addition to UNIT 44, Wes Locher is the writer of NEW LIFE, a 4-issue comic book miniseries coming in 2014 from publisher 215 Ink. Visit him online at www.weslocher.com.
Great self-analysis from Wes. He may have set the record turning around a failed campaign into a successful one, and I think he teaches us some valuable lessons…at least three more of them.
3 More Lessons Wes’ Experience Teaches us About Kickstarter
1. Kickstarter CAN Work for Creators with Any Sized Audiences – One thing I hear all the time from creators is “Oh, well, sure, Kickstarter works for creators who already have a big following, but it would never work for me, because I don’t have a huge audience.” That’s bunk. While it is true that it is very hard to raise a ton of funds on a crowdfunding platform like Kickstarter without a strong track-record of delivering quality content and an existing audience of true fans who will rally to the cause, that doesn’t mean Kickstarter can’t be a tool for the every-man. Last time I checked, there’s no dollar minimum on the goal you need to set, so as long as you set a goal that is attainable for your level of audience, Kickstarter can be a great tool. Wes found out with his failed campaign that his current platform simply wasn’t big enough to support a big 4-issue venture. But the lesson he took from that wasn’t “nobody wants my book” or “Kickstarter isn’t for me.” Rather, it was the correct one…raising 9K for a large, long-term project, was out of reach. So he throttled down his campaign, and succeeded on his second go round.
2. Learn What Is and Isn’t A Selling Point – Definitely worth putting Wes’ two campaigns side by side, and comparing the changes Wes made from one to the other. I think Wes learned a lot about what was and wasn’t a selling point, and how best to use a judicious mix of text and imagery to put together an attractive Kickstarter page.
3. Area 54 Is in a Much Stronger Place With a Narrow Campaign – I know Wes would have liked to raise that $9K the first go around, but from experience, I can tell you it’s a good thing he did not. Washington warned us to “Avoid entangling alliances” and I’m going to warn you to avoid entangling Kickstarter campaigns. Raising money for a large project, of which you only have a few pages done, enters a TON of risk into the equation. Collaborations fall apart, deadlines get missed, projects go over budget. And if this is one of your first projects, the chances that any of those things (or worse) will happen skyrocket. It’s very likely that Wes would have had to spend a lot more than $9K to fulfill his first Kickstarter, had it been successful, and that pressure has broken more than a few promising creators. Far better to fund a single issue, and build from there. As I’ve said before, Kickstarter CAN be a renewable resource, if he creator delivers on his or her promise to backers.
I appreciate Wes sharing his experience, and hope you did, too.
If you’ve found this article informative, please share it:
If you found this article useful, you may want to read one of these three articles next: