It’s no secret that the comic book projects that seem to do best on Kickstarter are the ones with creators who already have big names or properties that have been building up huge followings for years. But what about the part-time creator who doesn’t have the brand equity that these other Kickstarter giants do? Is Kickstater a viable way to fund, produce and distribute a regularly produced comic book? I wanted to find out so I cornered a few guys who were putting out KS books on a regular basis. Their answers were quite insightful.
For this informational interview, I spoke to Joe Badon of Terra Kaiju, Terrell Culbert of Bam & City Hood, Bob Salley of Salvagers, Russell Nohelty of Wannabe Press, Jaydee Rosario of Unstoppable Comics and Tyler James of ComixLaunch.
What percentage of your total cost per book would you say comes from crowdfunding?
JOE BADON: 100 percent of the printing cost comes from crowdfunding.
TERRELL CULBERT: I am not as popular as a lot of creatives who kickstart so my funding goals are set pretty low. Meaning, I still end up coming out of pocket for many expenses (such as supplies). My funding is mostly so that I have some creative liberty away from my full time job. However, all printing cost comes from crowdfunding.
BOB SALLEY: I’m not sure about percentages, but it seems that even with Kickstarter, a lot of expense comes out of pocket. The funds that come through crowdfunding will always go toward my project; meaning, anything extra will go toward bonus material and other rewards. I’ll pay an artist to do a pin-up, which gives the artist a little income and the fans something extra in their packages.
JAYDEE ROSARIO: I don’t look at crowdfunding to cover my production costs. That is usually covered from sales of the actual units at cons, digital and stores. By the time I launch a kickstarter, production on the book is done, I am only looking to cover printing costs from crowdfunding.
RUSSELL NOHELTY: I try to raise all the costs for the book through crowdfunding, along with production, printing, and distribution, and end up with anywhere from 500-1500 additional books left over which will be my profit on the book. However, it doesn’t always work out that way. My last four campaigns have been able to break even through their campaigns alone. However, my first two campaigns were massively in the red even years after the campaign launched. I’ve since broken even on them, but it took seven print runs to do so.
I feel the need to mention that I deficit finance all the books until they are completely done, and only then do I bring them to Kickstarter. So even if a book becomes profitable, it is still often a $10,000-$15,000 commitment upfront before it earned out any money.
TYLER JAMES: Interesting question, and it’s going to vary greatly from project to project.
To be perfectly honest, “% of total cost per books” isn’t really a metric I’m too concerned about because most Kickstarter campaigns involve costs that are a lot more than just the book costs.
But crowdfunding, and Kickstarter specifically, makes up a significant portion (30-35%) of ComixTribe’s publishing revenue and is a key component of our business plan.
Is that for printing or creative? If both, what’s the split?
BADON: About 25 percent for creative. 75 percent for printing.
CULBERT: Again I work a full time job so it is most likely About 50-50. I for sure have to put personal time aside to produce a genuine product.
NOHELTY: It is for everything, and it depends on the project. Out of the $27,630 we raised for the monster anthology, we estimated $22,000 would need to go back into the project, with 10% being residuals, another 10% being creative, and the rest of the money being spent on printing and distribution. Given that we would have an additional 10% buffer in case anything went wrong, and be left with 1500 books at the end of the campaign to sell to make our profit. At $40 per book, that is a significant potential profit on these books.
JAMES: One of the keys to success on Kickstarter is setting attainable goals.
Because Kickstarter is an all-or-nothing platform, reaching for the moon is terrible advice, because if you don’t hit the moon, instead of landing in the stars, you’re still stuck on the ground.
So, when it comes to setting your Kickstarter goal, I usually limit what we’re asking for for the printing alone.
That said, internally, I’m always looking to blow that goal out of the water.
If a Kickstarter breaks even on campaign, printing and creative costs and then leaves you with additional stock to sell at conventions, online, on Amazon, and in the direct market, that’s a huge win.
Writer Rick Remender Tweeted a while back, “In my day, we had something like Kickstarter. It was called a high-interest credit card.”
Creators going into Kickstarter campaigns thinking that the campaign will pay for all creation costs, printing, advertising and other campaign costs, supply their inventory for the next five years AND put a healthy profit of cash to spend freely… will usually be disappointed.
But, when you compare the alternative… incurring all those costs and using personal savings, loans, or high interest credit cards, it quickly becomes clear how valuable Kickstarter is, even if it doesn’t show a profit.
It’s called KickSTARTER. Not KickFinisher.
One of the reasons I’m putting together a BEYOND KICKSTARTER program is that many creators are starting to have success on Kickstarter… but aren’t sure what to do next.
How often do you Kickstart a project, what’s the time gap?
BADON: About once a year.
CULBERT: About once a year, I don’t try to over use it. I feel as though when my fan base is ready perhaps I can initiate more then one project a year.
SALLEY: I would say twice a year. I usually have a project ready to go in the beginning of the year (February) and then around September.
ROSARIO: I try to launch a comic every 3 months. A number of reasons can go into this like a freelancers schedule being full, I don’t want to overwhelm my customers, production on the issue isn’t finished, etc.
NOHELTY: I’ve Kickstarted projects as quickly as every three months, but I didn’t really like that process. I thought it was just too quick. Now, I try to do no more than two a year, spaced out at least six months from each other. However, I’ve known people to do projects every 4-6 weeks successfully. The biggest challenge is fulfillment. If you are ordering thousands of books from overseas you have to wait for them to come into port, and you can’t really run a new campaign until those books are shipped to backers.
JAMES: I’ve averaged a little over two campaigns a year for the past five years. I’d recommend two big launches a year for most creators.
I sometimes wonder if there’s a formula based on how many friends/followers one has. How do you decide how much to ask for?
BADON: I figure out how many books I want to print and how much time it will take me to complete the project and then figure the fundraising goal accordingly.
CULBERT: I don’t think I have a formula. I figure out how much time it will take me to complete the project and then figure out the goal. Each year, my fan base kind of grows so I attempt to ask for more funding in order to reach more people. More funds equals more time off my day job so that I can create and market myself.
SALLEY: There’s no formula. Each project comes with a different price tag. In the Indie Comic world, where Diamond Distribution is hard to achieve, Kickstarters have become the distribution… when done right. If you have a following, and you can keep the prices per reward tiers fair and reasonable, then it’s simple a “pre-sale” where you’re offering exclusive rewards.
ROSARIO: That is all based on my printing costs. It costs me around $1,795 to print up 3,000 units. I set my crowdfunding goals to about half of that. I remember reading an article one time that said when you set a kickstarter goal shoot for half of what you are asking for. That has stuck with me even as I am about to launch my 10th kickstarter.
NOEHLTY: I have six projects under my belt, and over 1,000 buyers from those products, so I can easily go to them and ask what they want and judge that way. However, a good way to judge is to see how much you raised on your last campaign, and then measure how much your network has grown since that time. If you’ve doubled your network since the last campaign, and you filled it with similar people, and you’ve nurtured them so they know, like, and trust you, then you can expect that you will be able to raise almost double from those backers.
The big factor, though, is whether you filled your network with similarly enthusiastic fans or people who don’t care as much/at all. If you filled your network with people who don’t care, it doesn’t change the ratio at all. Your goal should be to move disinterested fans to rabid ones.
JAMES: Setting your Kickstarter goal is an artful science.
Your goal should be at the cross-section of the bare minimum you need to make the project happen and what is actually possible for you to raise, given your project, your existing fan base and the campaign you’re willing and able to run.
I’ve built a project calculator for the creators in THE COMIXLAUNCH COURSE program and community that has proven surprisingly accurate.
What kind of marketing or promotion do you do and when do you do them?
BADON: Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram. Online magazine and podcast interviews.
CULBERT: I usually utilize Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Instagram as often as I can even when I’m not campaigning. Fun fact: many of my followers found me on Kickstarter and they are such fun individuals that I engage with them regularly.
SALLEY: I blast it all over the Big Three (Facebook, Twitter and Instagram). I like to create an Event Page on Facebook a month before the event. Each week, I post an image with details of the upcoming reward levels. If you can generate a little buzz, get people excited, then you have a good chance of hitting your mark early.
ROSARIO: I take out ads on Facebook/Instagram, not so much twitter. I use emails and keep updating past backers, along with posting in groups on social media.
NOHELTY: I do a lot of newsletter and social media promotion. Sometimes I run Facebook ads but I don’t find them very effective. Additionally, the ads I’m running don’t end up actually putting money in my pocket. They help the project get funded, but that’s still a net loss for me until I can recoup the investment I already made.
One thing I do a lot of is influencer marketing. I try to find people in comics or publishing with similar audiences and get them to share my projects with their audience through newletters or backer updates. Then, I do the same for them. It’s an excellent way to leverage your existing network and get backers for free, as long as you have something to offer.
JAMES: The key to a bigger launch is a bigger pre-launch.
So, the best time to start marketing is before your product is even created.
In my free READY FOR LAUNCH workshop, I cover the importance of building an engaged email list of fans and how to get it started long before you hit the green Kickstarter launch button.
And once the campaign is running, I employ a variety of strategies, including free (social media, interviews, podcasts and other PR) and paid strategies (Kickbooster, Facebook Ads, contests and giveaways.)
Do you find that most of your backers are personal contacts or people who just like the work? What percentage?
BADON: About 30 percent personal friends and family. 40 percent fans and 30 percent new customers.
CULBERT: The majority are people I already know. About 50 percent are personal friends and family. 40 percent fans and 10 percent new backers.
SALLEY: I would say a large percentage are now personal contacts due to the fact that, through these crowdfunders, I’ve become friends with a lot of my backers.
ROSARIO: At first it was personal contacts, and people that came from my network. It has become something else now with a lot of repeat crowdfunding customers. About 25% of those that back me on kickstarter were from my original network (before kickstarter) 50% are repeat customers and new customers fill up the last 25%. The thing is I have made personal contacts with a lot of my backers. I’m not saying I go out for beers ever Friday with them but I do communicate with quite a few of my backers. Not just about my work but about our shared love of comics. Now if you mean do I have family members backing me on crowdfunding projects, I will say yes there were. The first 2 or 3 projects, I did I have cousins from all over try to back the projects. It took a while to convince them not to spend money on me, that it was more important to me if they could share the links on social media that I put up. Now they do that instead.
NOHELTY: Almost everybody that will back your project is from somebody you already know, either as a fan or as a friend. People finding your work and backing it on a whim are rare. It happens, but it’s rare. Maybe 20% of people who find my work for the first time back it. 80% or more of my money is from people I know, either through my fan network or through my friend network.
JAMES: Often your first campaign will have the highest percentage of person contacts. And there’s nothing wrong with that, at all.
Your personal contacts are kindling that get the fire started.
But on a platform like Kickstarter, with over a million credit cards on file and people actively “shopping” for new projects to support, once your fire is burning, you can and will attract lots of new true fans for you work.
Do you collect any marketing information from your backers? Like why they backed? If so, how has that helped?
BADON: I haven’t. I probably should but I’m just not that organized.
CULBERT: I don’t usually. A lot of my campaign advice comes from fellow creators or experience.
SALLEY: The only thing I like to see is where each backer saw my campaign. Facebook is the big one, usually 80%… then Twitter and Instagram is lower. Kicktraq.com is a useful tool, as well. There are some out there who seem to use it as their online comic book shopping guide.
ROSARIO: I used to, but I am not an analyst. Business minded and creative yes, but I can’t create spread sheets based on cross referencing this, that, and the other. I’ll get info from some of the personal relations that I’ve made on what they like and don’t like. I’ll look at the macro but don’t have time to study the nuances of a project on the micro level.
NOHELTY: I don’t collect why they backed. I just collect their emails. I talk to people individually to see why they backed, but it’s pretty clear why people back my stuff. It has monsters. They like monsters. Either that or they like me personally.
JAMES: One of my favorite things to encourage backers to do is to leave a comment on the Kickstarter page sharing why they’re backing the project.
This serves two great purposes:
It tells you what’s attracting people to your work, so you can do more of it.
It provides social proof of real people who are supporting your work and more importantly why, which can be used to encourage people sitting on the fence to get off it and back your campaign.
I’ll also encourage backers to get on our email list after the campaign is over.
Do you think crowdfunding comic book projects is going to be a viable means of funding for a long time?
BADON: No, I think that eventually the crowdfunding bubble will burst for whatever reason. Like all good things, it will eventually come to an end. But that just means we, as creatives, always have to be adaptable.
CULBERT: I hope so. It is an awesome way to meet new people and for creatives to learn who their audience is. It is for sure an effective way to distribute your brand.
SALLEY: I do. I think it’s trending to be the best and most effective way to distribute on an Indie level. Again, we can’t use Diamond like Marvel, DC and Image do, so we need to put it out there on a platform that targets our audience. Kickstarter is becoming that very platform. It’s an online comic shop.
ROSARIO: Why or why not? Crowdfunding is a tool and can be one of the keys to success, but it is not the only one. Look at it like this, if you have a car you still need gas, oil, transmission fluid, brake fluid, anti freeze, etc. Your comic book is the car and crowdfunding is just the gas, you still need the other stuff for it to run. In time it will probably evolve beyond what it is right now, but people should not depend on it alone. You still need to work the cons and shops.
NOHELTY: Yes, because comics is a medium that has a high delivery rate and a good fan base. People understand that in order to make independent comics there’s really no option but to raise directly from people. If comics didn’t have crowdfunding, there would be almost no independent comics, as witnessed by the fact that the recent indie comics book tracks almost perfectly with the rise of crowdfunding. Unless Patreon or some other system evolves to take over for crowdfunding, it will be here for a long time.
JAMES: Crowdfunding, patronage, pre-ordering… none of these concepts are new.
The only thing that’s changed is the technology platforms around them. So, while the platforms may change or evolve, crowdfunding and pre-ordering is here to stay.
If you’re waiting for the bubble to burst, don’t hold your breath.
What’s one piece of advice you would like to give people who want to Kickstart a comic book project?
BADON: Start with a small, easy to reach goal with not a lot of overhead (like maybe only a digital download comic with a low page count). Do something like this at first so you can get the hang of running a successful campaign. After that, dream a little bigger on your next project. Then after that, dream a little bigger than the last one. With each campaign you’ll pick up a bigger fan/support base and you’ll be able to tackle a more extravagant goal.
CULBERT: Build your audience! Go online and be a part of the social media atmosphere. Marketing ourselves is a creator’s biggest problem. You have to communicate with supportive people online to expand your fanbase. Support other creators on Kickstarter as well, everyone needs a helping hand.
SALLEY: Fund the first one or two yourself while you build your audience and expand your fanbase. Also, get out there and support others who are launching Kickstarters. It’s a two-way street.
ROSARIO: Never say “no” to yourself. You’ll never know what you are capable of achieving if you stop.
NOHELTY: If I have to pare it down to one thing it’s to focus on giving value to your network for a long time before you ask anything of them. Good will is like a bank, and you have to make deposits before you make withdrawals.
There is so much more to talk about though. I have a book coming out next month called Sell Your Soul: How to Build Your Creative Career, that has a whole chapter about launching products, and it’s full of advice. You can download the first chapter free at www.gosellyoursoul.com
Until then, If you want to learn more, go listen to my podcast, The Business of Art, where we interview creators and give advice about this topic. Specifically, www.thebusinessofart.us/kickstartertoolkit has everything I have ever said on the topic.
JAMES: First, and foremost, join the Kickstarter community.
That means start by backing some projects and engaging with some creators who are doing projects similar to the one you have in mind.
I put together a free checklist of 5 things creators MUST do before launching their first comic book Kickstarter campaign at ComixLaunch.com/5things.
And after you’ve checked off the basics, I’d encourage you to look at some of the savvy cool new strategies comic creators are having success with now found in my free 2017 Kickstarter Strategy Guide (PDF and Audio version available.)
ABOUT THE CREATORS
Joe Badon is an illustrator, comic book artist, noise musician and filmmaker. He resides with his wife and two kids in Slidell, Louisiana. He has been working as a full time artist since 2009. He has worked on such comics as Terra Kaiju, Memoirs of the Mysterious, Outside the Lines, Pirates, Zombies and a Cowboy, Frankenbabe and on many other commercial and private projects. His experimental noise band (THE BAND THAT WOULDN’T DIE) occasionally plays in and around the New Orleans area. And He is currently working on his directorial debut on the feature film THE GOD INSIDE MY EAR. You can check out his portfolio at: joebadon.blogspot.com
Terrell Culbert. Illustrator, photographer and director of Breathe Again Magazine, a pop-culture magazine created for comic book fans and all who are awesome! With a focus in film production. Terell has been producing comic book related stories and images for some time now. You can find him at www.bamimagery.com
Bob Salley has been writing and drawing my stories as early as he can remember. After graduating from the University of Pittsburgh, Bob started writing as a hobby has been publishing his Salvagers series of comic book ever since. As a huge Sci-Fi fan and someone who doesn’t like to follow the rules of writing, he always wanted to have a universe of his own where he didn’t have to keep to anyone’s guidelines or restrictions. His books can be found on http://www.dirtyplanet.bigcartel.com and Bob himself is at @Bob_Salley on twitter.
Jaydee Rosario started writing comic books under Unstoppable Comics back in 2008 with titles like Stormchasers and Dragonstorm. In 2013, he launched his first kickstarter and failed. In 2014 he succeeded with his second kickstarter and has continued to do so since with my most successful title being Shield of the Interceptor.
Russell Nohelty is the founder and publisher of Wannabe Press and host of the Business of Art podcast. I’ve written comics like Ichabod Jones: Monster Hunter, Katrina Hates the Dead, and Gherkin Boy and the Dollar of Destiny. I’m also a novelist. I was also the editor of the Monsters and Other Scary Shit anthology. I’ve raised almost $50,000 on Kickstarter over six campaigns, and doubled my company growth every year since 2014. I make cool things. You can find him online @russellnohelty on Twitter/Instagram. Or visit www.russellnohelty.com or www.wannabepress.com
Tyler James is a writer, artist, award-winning game designer, educator, comic book publisher, husband and step-father living in Newburyport, MA. Tyler shares the lessons he’s learned managing eleven successful Kickstarter projects supported by 7,000+ backers and raising more than $325,000.00 in funding on the weekly ComixLaunch podcast. There, he and his accomplished guests teach writers, artists, self-publishers, and creative entrepreneurs the mindset, strategy, and tactics to crowdfund their dream projects on Kickstarter…and beyond!
Tyler is the writer of Kickstarter-funded comics and graphic novels including (The Red Ten, Oxymoron, Epic), and the co-creator and publisher of ComixTribe, an internationally distributed comic, graphic novel publishing company. He also runs the C is for Cthulhu Lovecraft-themed children’s book imprint that was successfully launched on Kickstarter and whose latest book SWEET DREAMS CTHULHU finished in the top ten all-time most funded children’s book projects in Kickstarter history. Contact Tyler via email at email@example.com, follow him on Twitter (@tylerjamescomic) and subscribe to ComixLaunch at ComixLaunch.com or on iTunes or Stitcher Radio.