May 292013
 

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.

  11 Responses to “Kickstarter: Gauging Your Novel’s Chances”

Comments (11)
  1. I participated in the following Kickstarters:
    01. Brave New World trilogy: $13,276
    02. Shotguns & Sorcery trilogy: $12,800
    03. Living in Threes: $6,212
    04. Tales of the Emerald Serpent anthology: $12,417
    05. Wollstonecraft series, $91,751
    06. The Warlock’s Curse: $12,090
    07. Dangerous Games trilogy: $18,001
    08. Futuredaze: $12,630
    09. The Girl Who Would Be King: $26,478
    10. Monster Academy trilogy: $16,231
    11. Forgotten Suns: $8,551

    I’m very pleased with 01, 02, 03 and 09.
    Very good stories and well on time.
    Btw, 09 didn’t feature interior artwork, but the levels included additional artwork based on the book.

    Pleased with 07, 10, 11.
    Even though 07 and 10 are well behind schedule I have faith in the author (who you might know…).

    Haven’t read 04 and 06 yet.
    But they were delivered in time.

    05….. well…. Once it does get published (IF?), it has a LOT to make up for.
    The original release date for the book (before it turned into a series) was estimated for June 2012.
    To me it seems the Kickstarter was so successful that it attracted a publisher, which caused the author to switch his focus from fulfilling the obligation to his Kickstarter pledgers to kickstarting his career through a publisher. And he’s very slow with updates.
    A prime example of how not to do things.

    • Thanks for being understanding about 7 and 10. They’re coming! :)

      As for Jordan Stratford, who created Wollstonecraft, I understand the frustration, but in the long run I hope it’ll be good for both the books and him.

  2. I would like to see your calculations. How can the cost on a novel go that high? I understand a bit of travelling and research, but Kickstarter should cover risks, not man-hours. I write games, not novels, but I do not think I have ever spent more than, say, $300 in research materials and freebies to people who helped me. Add in whatever sum you want to pay for a cover (say, $1000 for a good pro level), $10 a page for layout (I’m generous, more likely it’s 7), 4c a word for editing, and $2.15 for each print copy on Amazon. Using a print on demand/ebook system will take out most of the risk.
    Maybe people are factoring in warehousing/offset printing and marketing costs?

    • I haven’t shown any of my cost calculations here, but I will at some other point. Still, I don’t concur with your basic premise. Kickstarters can cover whatever the creator wishes them to. Moreover, I don’t think the backers particularly care about what the money goes to. They’re far more concerned with what they get out of it in the end.

      For me, most of a Kickstarter drive goes to cover my effort. I write full-time, and I consider my time my biggest investment in a book. It’s how I feed my family. If I cannot cover the bare minimum cost of my time with the Kickstarter, I won’t write the books. I can hedge that a bit by considering the time a long-term investment, but there’s only so far I can go.

      If you hired freelancer writers or designers for your game, I think you’d consider that part of the costs. There’s no reason not to pay yourself for your efforts as well. I’m going to write a novel as a stretch goal for the Exalted RPG Kickstarter, for instance, and I can guarantee you I didn’t agree to do it for free.

    • To be clear, I’d be surprised to see the costs of a novel go past $12,000. However, I’ve seen some authors set their minimum goals much higher than that. For instance, Nancy Collins — who’s a well-known writer — shot for $27k for her next Sonja Blue novel here: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/560256515/kill-city-the-new-sonja-blue-novel?ref=live

  3. @JHG: So glad that #09 (The Girl Who Would Be King) makes your “very happy with” list! :)

    Also, just for clarification, while the paperback and digital versions did not include interior illustrations, the limited edition hardcovers of the book DO include 16 pages of full color illustrations.

    @Matt: Thanks so much for this great piece – I always appreciate seeing data breakdowns like this – and was especially happy of course to see that TGWWBK made the cut based sheerly on hard numbers!

    - Kelly

  4. This is an amazing breakdown. Thank you for going through the time and effort to put this together. I’ve made a run at trying to find my limits when it comes to comic publishing, but stopped far short of your results. I bit off too much, tried to cover too many factors (such as types of rewards offered, quality of video, etc, etc).

    My first Kickstarter was for a novel and it went bust. I quickly re-planned a second “Kickstarter blitz” and only ran it for a week with a revised goal, and hit it. The next Kickstarter is a much larger undertaking and I’m not sure where to run it – under publishing or comics, as it contains both. I’m most likely to put it under comics as I think it will gain more attention there.

    Really enjoying your blog, just discovered it!

    Chris

  5. Though $12K goal is probably a safe recommendation from Matt’s experience, it really is more important to take a deeper look at comparable projects (throw out any outliers). Figure out the average amount raised across the comparable projects and note the average number of backers and average pledge per backer (most likely $30-40/backer with $20-25 the most common backed level). This average will be a guideline and reality check: How does the average across these projects compare to your funding goal? Why would your project raise more or less? Can you personally handle the potential number of backers or do you need help or a fulfillment service? Take into account the fees for Amazon Payment and Kickstarter as well as the cost of producing and shipping rewards to the backers. Does the amount left over fund your project? If you’re going to be short, can/how would you make up the difference?

  6. Another interesting and useful article, Matt.

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