Kickstarter :: How it is being used by writers

No longer the new thing, crowd-funding is still going strong and many are finding its values – and faults.  I reached out to fellow writers that have been using Kickstarter to see what works, what doesn’t, and what they learned.  Here’s the scoop:

The Players:

Susan Price, (writer/editor/wrangler of ferrets and fellow member of Missing Dwarven Phaser writers group)

Susan’s writing was in game development for her son’s strategy card game, which achieved 126% of their goal ($5000).

Greg Stolze, (writer, game designer and fellow en-wiggee)

Greg holds a prestigious record with Kickstarter, 29 campaigns with only 3 did not make their goal!

Alan Bollinger, (writer, game designer and fellow g+‘er)

Designed the card game Cavern Crawl that funded to 80%.

 4th Added April 3rd / 2014 

Ryan Ferguson (filmmaker)

485 backers |  $36,340 | pledged of $35,000 goal

I reached out to Ryan when putting together this article, but unfortunately our schedules did not mesh. He did in fact get back to with the two specific questions I had for him, and they are listed at the bottom.

If found Ryan through a Cinemajaw, a Chicago film podcast where he was guest talking about the documentary he was making, Skate or Die. I donated what I could and have followed his updates for the past two years.


The Game: I asked 7 questions of the three to get an idea on their marketing secrets. What follows is from their responses:
1: What are you selling on Kickstarter? Is it in campaign, or has it finished? Was it successful?

Susan:  We were selling a strategy card game [tabletop game]. Campaign ran Aug 12-Sept 11, 2013 and we got 126% of goal [goal $5000, raised $6251].

Greg:  I’ve run a total of 29 Kickstarter projects. 26 have succeeded, 3 failed. Of those, the three failures were for one short story, a drive to raise funds and print a novel, and for the continuance of an online novel. Of the successes, I’ve released 18 short stories (or really, stories and bundles, as many of the projects have more than one story involved), one novel, five games or supplements for games, one audiobook and one print collection of short stories.

Alan: I did a card game last year, Cavern Crawl.  Did not fund – 80% only.

2:  Do you grow your network in Kickstarter, or monetize your existing network?

Susan:  A little of both, but mostly, we were building a new network. Of our 84 supporters, only a dozen or so were existing friends/contacts.

Greg:  It was definitely a matter of monetizing the existing contacts, especially in the beginning. I may have picked up a few new fans on KS, but mostly it’s been word of mouth from people who were exposed to my work in traditional avenues. On the other hand, the practice of releasing stuff free and hosting it online forever has some definite upsides. I don’t have to tell people, “I’ve written this story and I’m very, very good, trust me!” Instead, I can say, “I’ve written all these stories you can read for free right now. If you like those, you’ll probably like the next one.”

Alan:  Both.  The only way to even get it to work at all is to really work the forums and social networks. Don’t expect to post it and just get funded.

3: Do you find donors to be more engaged in your network once there is a KS campaign? Before or after donating?

Susan: We located most of our donors by play testing/demo-ing our game at scifi and anime conventions, and GenCon. The online networking serves as a way of staying in touch with donors and others, most of whom got on board because of playing our game and meeting us in person. A handful, maybe 6 of the 84, donated to the KS solely on the basis of what they saw online.

Greg: Once the campaign is up, definitely, and after donating. Then they’re with you in that breathless, “Will it or won’t it work?” phase. Then, of course, when it completes, they’re with you for the “Where’s the stuff you promised me?” phase. Because I’ve relied heavily on intangibles, “Yeah, you only get a story on the internet, but you don’t have to pay much for it,” I’ve avoided many of the fulfillment issues that plague successes.

Alan: No. Maybe because it was a smaller project, but I only had a few backers even reach out to me at all.

4: How prepared is your pitch? Do you prepare your network before crowdfunding, or are crowd-funded campaigns becoming more expected?

Susan: We did communicate to friends and family pretty extensively before the KS went live, but we worked very intentionally on building our network as the KS went on. And we continue to attend conventions and work to gain supporters of the game even with our KS over. In fact, we’re introducing, in person and to our online network, the idea that we will have more games coming, and more Kickstarters to help launch them.

Greg:  Usually, my pitch is me in front of my computer talking to the screen, but if I’m asking more money and have more to show off, I work the video a little harder. That’s more true for games, where I’m more likely to have art ready, which I can use over some open-source music while explaining the project with onscreen text. I don’t just throw it together. As for preparing the network, I usually make small mentions here and there as I’m building up towards the project, but nothing too huge.

Alan: I ran the kickstarter twice. There first was with a demo version of the product and it went nowhere. I went back, made a production version of the game, then created a video and the graphic art for the stretch goals. That made a huge difference in the uptake.

5: Do you pitch differently for the different social medias?

Susan: Somewhat. We have a blog associated with our website, which handles mostly news of progress on fulfillment of KS rewards as the game becomes available for sale, progress on alpha versions of upcoming games, what conventions we’ll be at, etc. Facebook, and to some extent Reddit and Twitter, have funny fox-related photos, photos of us/the games at conventions, etc. A few others have also posted fox-related fun on the FB page, or sent us stuff to post. And I mention our own KS on LinkedIn group discussions of crowdfunding.

Greg: Not really. More often on Twitter because it’s shorter and flows so much faster. But usually just a mention here and there, then mention it when I have an update or something new to share.

Alan:  No. I did groups on both Facebook and Google+ and messaged everyone I could think of.

6: What marketing channels do you see the greatest ROI?

Susan: Not yet really able to measure ROI, as we’re still in preorder sales, product still about 6-8 weeks from actually existing for distribution.

Greg: I don’t spend money on marketing my KS. Going by their breakdown, I get a lot of pledges internally, more than I suspected, now that I examine it. Here’s the percentages from my last three projects.

41% from KS
31% direct
12% Twitter
8 % Facebook

42% from KS
26 direct

53% from KS
30% direct

I imagine the ‘direct’ segment is people I’ve emailed directly. I’ve got an email list of people who’ve requested to be updated about my projects, and I’m careful to use it only for that.

Alan: Direct traffic … word of mouth. Followed by Kickstarter’s discovery tools.

7:  If you could give one piece of advice for someone doing their first Kickstarter, what would it be?

Susan: Do your homework: have a business plan and a realistic goal based on your existing [or not] network of supporters. And don’t depend solely on online communications to get the word out and/or convince people to support you.

Greg: Wow, it’s hard to pick just one. My top two would be (1) don’t expect this to be effortless, because KS does not create demand, it only monetizes the demand that you create (or have already created) and (2) DO NOT over-commit.  Promise only what you know you can deliver, and be very, VERY conservative with your fulfillment estimates, both in terms of money and time. Don’t offer t-shirts as a reward tier.

Alan: Don’t go into kickstarter expecting to just get funded. When you post a proposal you need to make sure that you have all of the marketing assets ready to make the pitch.


Ryan Ferguson 

Do you pitch differently for the different social medias?

– I guess so. I’ll start by saying that I’m really not a big social media person (in terms of standard social networking platforms). I used Twitter and Reddit a lot for the Kickstarter campaign, but not so much since. I had a pretty big strategy which consisted of casting the widest net possible. I probably emailed around 400 people personally, I posted on facebook and sponsored those posts for money nearly once a day, I used twitter a bit more strategically where I actually tried to find people with large followings who would be interested in our subject matter, ie. celebs or minor celebs, who were obviously active on twitter that second and then I’d tweet to them. On multiple occasions this resulted in retweets pointing to our project. Kickstarter and twitter actually warn you against spamming celebrities, but I can say firsthand, if it’s done properly it works. On Reddit I was even a little more shady as it’s not a terribly kind platform for self promotion (I tried that first). So I actually made anonymous accounts and promoted the kickstarter as something I either stumbled upon or was helping promote for a friend. This seemed to give me a pass in terms of the promotional element and I actually got some good traffic and feedback on there. Reddit was the platform I was able to see the psychological effect that raising certain amounts have on people. I’ll explain more what I mean as this actually speaks to a piece of advice I’d give someone and that is to have a chunk of money on standby for when you need a push (a stimulus package basically). In our case it was about $3k total which we had friends and family hold back until we gave the word. We had consistent growth until about the $18k mark and things plateaued for a day or two. All of a sudden, commenters on Reddit would say things like “Great project, but you’re only at about 50% so it sadly looks like you won’t pull it off”. Basically, 18 out of 35 looked bleak with about a week to go. We immediately put in the $3k and suddenly we had $21k out of 35 which isn’t ALL that different, but psychologically, getting above $20k did mean a lot. Suddenly people’s eyes just saw the 2 and the 3. Suddenly, even though we were still just over 50%, it went from looking doubtful to the strangers on Reddit to inevitable. Within 24 hrs of that stimulus, we raised probably another $5k and it was pretty smooth sailing to the finish line.

My main piece of advice for someone doing their first kickstarter is simply to not underestimate the labor involved. I raised $35k for our project and I can say that the process from the point I started working on the campaign to the day we made our goal was a solid year. That began by tracking a lot of other projects for several months and one of the first things I noticed was that there were awesome looking projects that were not making their goals and really average looking projects that were making their goals. What this taught me was its not really the project itself that drives successful crowdfunding campaigns, but the networking, labor, and effort put forth by the project creator. Basically, it’s a TON of work. After months of preparation, the 30 day campaign itself involved working on the campaign all day every day.


Though all three come from different backgrounds, and I am quite sure none have met each other before, there are some strong similarities in their campaigns. They are conservative in their expectations and bring in their own social network to bolster their campaign. They measure what they are doing and take note of what works and what doesn’t. They are proactive in their marketing, priming their social network with anticipation. They understand that Kickstarter is just one tool in their marketing toolbox, and while they leverage it as best they can, they do not solely rely on it.

Have you ventured into Crowd Funding? How does your adventure compare?



6 thoughts on “Kickstarter :: How it is being used by writers

    • michalsen says:

      I have not done a KS (yet) but have been thinking about it. The input from these three veterans have really helped me refine my goals. Meg, I too saw the need to bring the momentum of a network into a campaign from the Q&A. Perhaps I was nieve in thinking I didn’t 🙂

  1. Thanks for the great article. We are about to launch a new project on kickstarter as well and still having a hard time how to get the word out. After reading this, I know have a better idea on how to approach this to get funded. Thanks again.

    • michalsen says:

      JR, please keep me in the loop on your campaign. I would love to do a follow piece seeing how these take-aways work for you.

  2. Thanks for the article. It was helpful to see someone talking about their experiences, instead of just ‘in the air’, as it were. I’ve always wondered about Kickstarter campaigns for authors, and what we could offer as rewards, so thanks for answering that question!

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