Kicking a Kickstarter

I’ve wanted to write something about how the 12 for ’12 Kickstarter drives have been going — and what’s made each of them different — for a while. Then I woke up to find out that Steve Jackson had personally plugged the Dangerous Games Kickstarter in an update for his phenomenally successful Kickstarter for his Ogre Designer’s Edition. Last night, we stood at 84% funded and 196 backers. As I write this, we just ran up to 238 backers and cracked our funding goal!

So, I’ve been spurred. The main point is that social media has made a huge difference for my drives, and this latest drive has highlighted that even stronger than before. Let’s take a look at the funding curves to see what I mean. (Warning, this gets long and involved.)

For each drive, Kickstarter offers you a dashboard to keep track of how it’s going. The top of the page features a graph that shows you how the funding level rises over time. In most Kickstarters, you get a fast start, a lull in the middle, and then a spike at the end. That’s because lots of people jump in as soon as it begins, while others only leap on board when they see that time is running out.

This is one reason why Kickstarter advises creators to keep their drives short. Making the drives longer tends to only extend the lull.

The drive for the Matt Forbeck’s Brave New World trilogy has a curve that looks a lot like the typical model. It starts out strong, is mostly flat in the middle, and finishes strong too.

(The one bump during the lull came from fellow game designer Matt James, who chipped in a large chunk of change for a premium backer level. He has a great character who figures large in the BNW series now.)

By contrast, check out the curve for the Shotguns & Sorcery drive. It starts out strong, but the lull isn’t quite flat. It starts to pick up at the end, but not at the same rate. Then it skyrockets on the last day.

Honestly, I was worried at that point. For the first two drives, I’d set a low funding goal for the first book and put the next two books as stretch goals. The idea was to plant a flag in the fast success and use that to build momentum toward the final stretch goal. It seemed to work well for the first drive, but not so much for this one.

When I went to bed the night before the last day, it looked like there was no chance we’d reach that last stretch goal up to $12k. We had 205 backers who’d pledged $7,644, which wasn’t nearly enough. Up to that point, the best funding day I’d had brought in $1,961, and we were $4,346 short — more than twice that best day — with only a day left.

This meant I’d probably be faced with a hard decision. Do I write the last book anyway to make sure the people who backed me for the omnibus editions (all three books) didn’t feel ripped off? Or do I stick to the stated deal and just write two books, which was bound to annoy the people who’d put the most faith in me?

All right, I couldn’t do that, I admit. I would have found a way to write that third book and get it to the backers, much as it might have hurt my pocketbook. Still, I didn’t want to let it get to that point.

I pulled out all the stops. I lowered the top stretch goal from $12k to $10k. I poked and prodded everyone I could to ask for help. And what do you know? They came through.

That last day (it shows two on the graph, but that’s because the changeover to Daylight Savings Time pushed my midnight deadline into the next day), we brought in 127 backers and $5,156. We blew past the lowered stretch goal and cracked the one I’d originally set. I was stunned.

How did that happen? First, Michael Harrison ran an article about the drive on Wired.com’s Geek Dad blog (to which I occasionally contribute too). This brought in a lot of new backers, just when I needed them most.

Second, social media came to my rescue — and I got lucky. Many of my friends tweeted about the drive and how much help it needed, including my pals John Kovalic, John Rogers, and Scott Sigler, each of whom has far more followers than I do. Top of that list is Wil Wheaton — and his staggering two million followers — who retweeted John’s tweet.

Meanwhile, Brian White of Fireside Magazine (who, by the way, has a new Fireside Kickstarter of his own) caught me on Twitter and suggested I ping Neil Gaiman with a request for a retweet. Now, I’ve been a fan of Neil’s work since he wrote Don’t Panic: The Official Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Companion. (Man, I loved Douglas Adams’ work.) But I don’t know him. We run in some of the same circles (fiction, comics), but we’ve never met.

Still, I figured it couldn’t hurt to ask. We both live in Wisconsin. That’s got to count for something, right?

(Neil’s wife, Amanda Palmer, by the way, recently shattered the Kickstarter record for music projects. The drive for her new album, art book, and tour is up over $1,115,000 with nine hours left.)

Except Neil has 1.7 million followers himself, most of a literary bent, and I’m sure he gets flooded with requests all the time. He might have ignored me and moved on with his Sunday, but for the efforts of John Kovalic, who’s our mutual friend. John not only vouched for me but also explained to Neil that although it looked like I was doing fine (we’d smashed through that first goal, remember), I really did need to reach that last stretch goal.

(John’s a true gentleman who’s happy to quietly do things for his friends with no credit. I would never have known about this but for the fact he accidentally made one of his intended direct messages to Neil public, and I spotted it.)

So, together with my friends — and all my wonderful backers! — Neil helped push the Shotguns & Sorcery Kickstarter to a record-breaking day for me. We more than doubled my previous best day and saved the drive. Many thanks to them all, as I literally couldn’t have managed it without them.

For the third drive, I decided, as I mentioned, to set a higher goal for the whole trilogy rather than set the second two books as stretch goals. I wasn’t sure if this would work, but I thought it would bury any question about whether or not I’d start a series I couldn’t finish if we failed to reach the final stretch goal. Let’s see what happened.

As you can see, we got off to a fantastic launch. The first day brought in 79 backers and $3,883, by far the best start yet. I attribute this to a number of things.

First, the first two drives gave me a built-in audience of people who have already signed on for 12 for ’12. That doesn’t mean they’ll be interested in every trilogy, of course, but if they’ve come aboard once, they’re more likely to join me again.

Second, I do lot of different kinds of projects, and that means I have a number of different streams in my fan base. (That seems odd to use that term about the people who enjoy my work, but it fits.) People who like my novels might not care much about my games, and vice versa. There’s a lot of crossover, but it’s not complete.

Dangerous Games, however, can appeal to both gamers and readers. It crosses the two main streams in my fan base in a fun and intriguing way.

After Day 1, the drive levels off a bit but doesn’t fall into that typical lull. Instead, it grows at a steady pace, right up until May 22. I think the spike here comes from a mention on the Gen Con community forums. Maybe I should have posted there myself, but it didn’t occur to me. Either way, coming from an active member of that community added made it that much more valuable, I’m sure.

That burst lasted for two days, and then the curve starts to level out again. It’s almost flat on May 30. Then Steve Jackson plugged it in an update for his Ogre Designer’s Edition drive. So far, in less than 12 hours, that’s been good for 45 new backers pledging a total of $1,660, which hit the funding goal!

So you can see what a few good, well-placed plugs can do for a Kickstarter. It’s amazing.

Meanwhile, we still have 17 days to go until the Dangerous Games Kickstarter ends on Father’s Day, June 17. So, do me a favor?

Don’t be shy about spreading the word.

Thanks!