Kickstarter: Gauging Your Novel’s Chances

2228832-2203520_kickstarter_badge_fundedI’ve seen a lot of Kickstarters succeed, but even more of them fail. One of the reasons is that the people running them don’t bother to do basic research about the category in which their project belongs. If you’ve never run a project before and you set a goal that would require you to break all records in that category, for instance, you’re setting yourself up for some bitter disappointment.

Without full access to Kickstarter’s data broken down by category, there’s no way to figure out what the average final number is in any given category, but even if you could calculate it, the result wouldn’t be all that useful. The totals skew hard based on reputations of the people involved, polish of the pitch page, and lots of other hard-to-quantify criteria. However, with a little bit of study, you can figure out what aligns with your project well and give yourself at least an upper boundary against which you can hope to smack your head.

I’ve run four Kickstarters for novels so far, and my next one may well be for a novel too — although perhaps a single book rather than a trilogy — so let’s take a look at that category. Kickstarter kindly provides a page for each category and subcategory that shows the “Most Funded” projects. So let’s check out Discover/Publishing/Fiction/Most Funded.

Title Amount Funded
The Numinous Place $74,457
Regretsy’s Big Book of Fabricated Folktales from Finland $64,823
Plympton: Serialized Fiction for Digital Readers $56,588
Steampunk Holmes $42,877
Spirit of the Century Presents: The Dinocalypse Trilogy $42,769
Arena Mode: A Sci-Fi/Superhero Novel (plus an RPG) $35,353
The Hogben Chronicles of Henry Kutter $33,745
Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History $31,597
Hollow World $30,857
Replacing the N-Word with Robot in Huck Finn $30,030

 

The top project is The Numinous Placewhich cracked $75k. Before you get your hopes up though, dig a little deeper. You’ll see the project funded almost on the nose at 100%. Also, the average backer kicked in over $450. Two backers kicked in over $10k each.

I watched that one finish up. It looked like it was going to fail, and someone swept in and rescued it at the end. Unless you have a relative, lover, or dear friend with deep pockets, I think we can discount that as a good example.

The Regretsy book is really a fundraiser for the author — who runs Regretsy.com — to travel to Finland. Good for her for having such a fun, rabid fanbase, but we can throw that one out too.

The Plympton drive isn’t for a book so much as a publishing house.

The Steampunk Holmes book is great. I backed it. However, it’s an enhanced book developed as a multimedia app. I love that, but it’s not a straight novel, so for purposes of this analysis, we can discount it.

The Dinocalypse series beat all expectations and funded a full seven novels by five different authors by the time it finished. If you just want to write a single book, you could probably toss this one aside, but I’d count it as the first successful novel(s) project on the list.

Arena Mode states right in its title that it’s not a novels-only project.

The Hogben Chronicles and Long Hidden are a collection and an anthology respectively, not novels.

Hollow World is the first single-novel project on the list.

The Huck Finn project is an elaborate protest joke. It’s hilarious, but it doesn’t belong on this list.

So, if you’re looking at writing a straight novel or series, only two of the top 10 compare well, and if you’re a single person writing one book, there’s only one. And that caps your goal at $30,857.

However, we’re not done yet. Checking the rest of the publishing categories, you can find other projects that might line up well with what you’re doing. It’s kind of odd, but the best-funded publishing project of all time is actually a T-shirt from Planet Money, which cracked $590k. The best-funded narrative is To Be or Not to Be: That Is the Adventure, a pick-a-path book based on Hamlet, which raked in over $580k. Similarly, The Maze of Games — which is listed under games but described as an interactive puzzle novel — took in over $171k. The Geek Love anthology — full of great stuff but not all narrative fiction — racked up $32,707.

The best-funded pure narrative is Wollstonecraft, a middle-grade series that wound up being four books long, which brought in ($91,751). It’s in the children’s book category, which is mostly filled with picture books.

In any case, we shouldn’t set a goal by checking out only the top entries in any category. Moving down the list of fiction projects, and tossing others out based on the criteria I used before, I’d come up with the following top ten list.

Title Amount Funded
Wollstonecraft $91,751
Spirit of the Century Presents: The Dinocalypse Trilogy $42,769
Hollow World $30,857
Pwned: A Gamers Novel $42,877
Through a Glass, Darkly: A New Delta Green Novel $27,032
The Girl Who Would Be King $26,478
These Days: A Novel $23,810
No Dominion: A Walker Papers Novella $20,560
The Enthusiast $20,159
Bride of Death: A Marla Mason Novel $18,181

 

To toss another wrinkle in, Kickstarter doesn’t seem to differentiate between pounds and dollars on its list. Mostly Harmless — An Elite: Dangerous Novel, for instance, took in £17,005, which at today’s exchange rate is $25,711.56. That would put it at #7 on the list above. It’s a tie-in based on a video game though, so you could be forgiven for throwing it out as a good comparison point.

If you did that, though, you might want to toss out the Dinocalypse books, which are based on a tabletop RPG. And Pwned, which is based on The Gamers films. And Through a Glass, Darkly, which is based on the Delta Green RPG. So, if you focus the list to original novels for adults — which is what I’m most interested in Kickstarting myself — it looks more like this.

Title Amount Funded
Hollow World $30,857
The Girl Who Would Be King $26,478
These Days: A Novel $23,810
No Dominion: A Walker Papers Novella $20,560
The Enthusiast $27,032
Bride of Death: A Marla Mason Novel $18,181
12 for ’12: Dangerous Games Novels $18,001
12 for ’12: Monster Academy Novels $16,231
Penpal $15,946
Pirate & Hoopoe: Grand Illustrated Adventure Novel $15,724

 

I tossed out a few other suspicious projects that fell inside this range. As a rule of thumb, any drive that took in over $100 per backer and funded by less than a 10% overage got the boot.

Note that two of my own projects (the two 12 for ’12 drives shown) made this list. However, those were drives with multiple novels. Let’s go even farther and toss out projects that launch with multiple books.

Title Amount Funded
Hollow World $30,857
The Girl Who Would Be King $26,478
These Days: A Novel $23,810
No Dominion: A Walker Papers Novella $20,560
The Enthusiast $27,032
Bride of Death: A Marla Mason Novel $18,181
Penpal $15,946
Pirate & Hoopoe: Grand Illustrated Adventure Novel $15,724
Robin Writes a Book (and You Get a Copy) $13,942
Stabbers $13,690

 

Now, some of these drives wound up giving their backers more than a single novel or story. The No Dominion drive actually started out with just a novella, but it wound up rewarding backers with more than a novel’s worth of fiction.

Two of the drives above — The Girl Who Would Be King and Pirate & Hoopoe — also featured a lot of illustrations, blurring the lines a bit. If you like, you could toss those aside too, but I’m inclined to leave them in for now, mostly because the numbers start to compress at the bottom end as we fall into the $12,000 range.

Notice that the top entry has wound down to $30,857, and the bottom level has fallen all the way to $13,690. That’s a far more realistic bracket to plan for than to get suckered in by the larger list.

To sum up, if  you want to launch a Kickstarter for a single original novel for general readers, you should set your goal at $12,000 or less. If your total costs add up to more than that, then you need to step back and reevaluate. If your plan relies on you shattering all records to succeed, it’s probably not a good plan.