About a week and a half ago, POMEpress successfully funded our second major project: Eternal Witchcraft, a comics spellbook anthology. Now that we’ve had a little time to reflect, we’re taking stock of the lessons we learned along the way.
Part of the reason we’re sharing this wisdom in the first place is because our POME community is mostly populated by other creators. We all toil in this capitalist hellscape and most of us make our living outside of our creative hustles. As a small press powered by four women in our late 20s/early 30s, all with full-time jobs, one of the most powerful lessons we’ve learned is that time can be the most expensive resource to waste.
We hope that this transparent assessment of what worked and what didn’t helps you invest this precious resource as you plot out your next big crowdfunding campaign. So, in the interest of passing along this hard-won wisdom, here’s a look at everything we learned from Kickstarting Eternal Witchcraft.
Super Effective Techniques
In no particular order, here are the things we found most helpful in hitting our funding goal.
1. Featuring each creator in “contributor spotlight” social media posts
Throughout nearly each day in the Eternal Witchcraft campaign, we made Twitter and Instagram posts to promote each piece in the book. We gave each “contributor spotlight” a similar look and included the creator’s Twitter / Instagram and bio.
We thought these spotlights would be a good way to direct some of the Kickstarter traffic back to our contributors to highlight their excellent work. We also figured that scheduling these posts daily would help keep our campaign relevant. Not only did we achieve both of those goals, but we also received quite a bit of cross-promotion from our contributors sharing the spotlight posts on their own feeds. (Our contributors really are the best!)
Here’s an example of one of our contributor spotlights from our Twitter and Instagram:
2. Commenting genuinely and sincerely on social media posts
For whatever reason, comments on our POME posts generally seemed to put them in more followers’ feeds than those without. Once we noticed this happening on Twitter, we tried to interact with our posts more. However, we’re all millennials here; we’ve seen ~brands~ Trying Too Hard Online. We left comments when we had the opportunity to do so (which wasn’t necessarily always true, unfortunately), and when we had something genuine to share.
We learned that when you’re generous with the spotlight, people genuinely want to be a part of that vibe. OR once people start seeing others leaving their two cents, they want to join in, too. Who knows!
3. Asking for advice from other creators with a successful Kickstarter track record
Midway through Eternal Witchcraft, we reached out to our pals at Sparkler Monthly for advice. The Sparkler folks have launched literally dozens of Kickstarter campaigns. One of our Sparkler pals took a look at our campaign page and pointed out a few big and somewhat obvious improvements to our page right away (see Biggest Lessons).
If you know other creators who have Kickstarted something in the past, reach out to them.* Get criticism. Make changes. Put those changes in your to-do list next time. That advice might help you fine-tune your project in a way that helps push you over your goal!
*Reach out to people you know!!! Please don’t be a rando and email strangers for help.
4. Notifying backers from our previous project about our new one
On March 12, we sent a backer update to the folks who helped us fund Group Chat to let them know about Eternal Witchcraft. We emphasized the elements that were similar between both books and let them know where to find it. The next day, we saw an a big bump in pledges.
We also wanted to thank our backers who backed BOTH Kickstarters, so we offered to include a free reward for any folks who fell into that category. This had the dual bonus of incentivizing repeat business while also genuinely expressing our thanks for folks who have supported us again and again.
5. When all else fails, reaching out to people who love us for a signal boost
When we launched our first big Kickstarter for Group Chat last year, we hit 25% of our funding goal on our first day. So we were pretty disheartened to see our second project inch toward our goal a little more slowly. We remained positive about the project, and we did literally every single thing we could think of to promote it. When we seemed to plateau in the final week, the only thing we could think to do was to ask our friends to help spread the word.
We didn’t ask them to buy our book. (Although seriously, thank you so much, friends who bought the book!!!!!!) We asked them to help us share or RT or whatever when they saw our posts cross their timeline. This momentum, paired with our amazing contributors’ push to spread the word, helped us break through that plateau and hit our goal in the final days.
We kicked off Eternal Witchcraft with the benefit of having learned a lot from Group Chat, our first Kickstarter project. Here are a few things we think we improved on the second time around.
1. Growing our social media following
We are so, so proud of Group Chat, but even though it received more backers than Eternal Witchcraft, our social media following barely budged during that first campaign.
Eternal Witchcraft was another story. In addition to our “contributor spotlight” Twitter and Instagram posts, we promoted the book on both platforms constantly using a social media post scheduling app. As the more well-known social media scheduling app Hootsuite no longer makes Instagram posts, we opted to try out Buffer instead. (We found Buffer a lot more intuitive anyway). One thing to note: Buffer can’t post directly to Instagram, but does have tools to help you manually push the post live with minimal fuss!
We’re sure some of our pals have muted us at this point (sorry guys), but we noticed our following continue to grow with each Eternal Witchcraft social media post.
Those “contributor spotlights” seemed like the biggest reason for the follower boost. While we’ve never really used Instagram as much as we probably should have, we shot up from about 100-something Instagram followers to 385 throughout the course of the campaign. We use Twitter to promote POME posts all the time, and we gained about as many new followers in March as we did through the course of the preceding six months. Meanwhile, our Facebook following barely budged during the Kickstarter campaign, even though we still posted about Eternal Witchcraft regularly on our timeline. (And we promise to be better about Insta in the future!!)
2. Giving everyone a chance to proof their own work in the final book
Group Chat was a monster of a book, and as our first big project, we felt tremendous pressure to get it right. So we were mortified that after all our painstaking reviews, we still missed a typo in a contributor’s name. We updated the book for the second printing, and included a correction insert with copies in the first printing. We also swore that we’d build in an extra step in our editorial process to prevent this from happening again.
From the very beginning of outlining our editorial calendar for Eternal Witchcraft, we built in extra time to allow our contributors to get a sneak peek at the book so they could make sure their names, bios, and all other personal plug info looked just right wherever they appeared. This final quality check helped us breath a little easier before sending the final PDF to the printer.
3. Pricing out international shipping
Anybody who uses Kickstarter probably hears that you won’t charge enough for shipping the first time. “Ha!” we thought, so young, so naive; so stupid and beautiful and full of life. “We know about this issue, so we can sidestep it completely!!!!”
But reader, we truly had no concept for how expensive international shipping can be. About half of our Group Chat contributors were located outside of the United States, so we had quite a few international orders and took a hit on shipping expenses. This time, we built in a separate shipping tier for Canada and budgeted out these shipping costs more accurately, with the benefit of lived experience.
Here are some things we wished we’d learned sooner, done faster, or done more of.
1. Put interior pages from your comics and pictures of your rewards on the main Kickstarter page
When giving us advice, our pals at Sparkler warned that that unless you watched our video, you might not know how beautiful our Eternal interior pages were! Always make sure people can see what they’re getting as conveniently as possible. We don’t have any metrics to back us up, as we made this update pretty late in the game, but it’s something we’ll be taking to heart right out of the gate next time.
We also included pictures of our reward tiers, but we did so through backer updates. Next time around, we’ll put as many photos of all the things wherever the most possible people will see them.
2. When planning your campaign, think carefully about what day and time the campaign will start and end.
We launched the Eternal Witchcraft Kickstarter on a Friday morning and it ended on a Sunday morning at 9:26 AM — not exactly a time where most folks are goofing off online. End your campaign at a time where you can post hourly updates leading up to The Final Moment — when both you and your audience can most easily participate in that final countdown.
3. Charms and keychains are not actually all that expensive to produce.
While planning Eternal Witchcraft, we did some research into which items we could make merchandise of. A little ways into the campaign, we learned about UK company Zap Creative. We are not being paid to say this: they do great work and are pretty affordable, even with international shipping. So, we reached out to our wonderful cover artist Annie Lin and worked out an agreement to make charms of the witchy cat from the back of the Eternal cover.
Things we’d like to do next time if we can
Here are a couple of lessons we want to keep in mind before our next big project.
1. Coordinate a big push for launch day promotion
Remember when we mentioned that Group Chat hit 25% of its funding goal on the first day? We planned a livestream and hit the ground running to promote the Kickstarter launch. Because we didn’t notice a huge number of livestream participants, we figured that first push didn’t have that big of an impact. (Also we are self-conscious weirdos who like to operate behind the curtain of our keyboards, and being on camera and LIVE was a little anxiety-inducing!) And once we launched Eternal Witchcraft, we thought the slower start was due to a sophomore slump — that our first big project benefited from being the first, which led to our strong launch.
We’re still not really sure how big of an impact Group Chat’s launch promotion had, but after reading nearly every Kickstarter guide on the internet at this point, we can tell you one thing: each one emphasizes focusing on your project’s first day.
With this in mind, next time around, we’ll reach out to former backers, friends, the employees at our favorite bakeries, our grannies’ shuffleboard leagues, and any other stakeholders in our work right on Day One.
2. Maybe consider maintaining an email newsletter???
Are newsletters great? Or terrible, actually? We’ll let you be the judge, but we can’t deny that our Group Chat backer update gave Eternal a big boost. We’ve given newsletters a shot in the past and found that we lack the cronepower to maintain a frequently updated email campaign. Instead, we’re considering maybe thinking about potentially promoting an email newsletter just so we can more easily notify our friends & readers about really big projects once or twice a year.
We tried literally everything we could to promote Eternal Witchcraft. Here are a few strategies that didn’t quite click for us.
1. Circulating previews on comics news sites
During the campaigns for both Group Chat and Eternal Witchcraft, we carefully curated a media contact list for soliciting reviews. For Group Chat, we even worked really hard to personalize each email to each respective news outlet to demonstrate why our beautiful, beloved book was a good fit for their readers. In total, we spent upwards of 18 hours researching outlets, compiling a tips sheet, and writing these heartfelt emails. From this effort, we received one beautiful review and two plugs. All of which were appreciated, but hardly represented the small scale media blitz we were hoping for.
For Eternal, we streamlined this process and only picked outlets we really thought would want to cover this book. We received one writeup and one blurb. As our pledges plateaued, we reached out to more outlets and offered preview pages instead of asking for reviews, since we figured that this was an easier ask for short-staffed comics outlets. This second push received 0% traction.
Why? Maybe it was because Eternal Witchcraft was one of three witchy Kickstarter comics projects running in March, or that we’ve hit peak Witchy Content (™) in the zeitgeist, or maybe it was bad timing. Who knows?
We are truly very grateful for any coverage our books get. We know that comics critics are stretched incredibly thin and do a thankless job. We want to be appealing to you, comics crits! Let us love you and offer you #content!!!
Regardless, we’ll more carefully consider how much time to dedicate to media going forward.
2. Running Facebook and Twitter Ads
Somewhat early in the Eternal Witchcraft Kickstarter campaign, we put $20 in promoted Facebook posts and $20 in promoted Twitter posts. Thanks to a coupon, we put another $25 into Facebook. These ads had painstakingly crafted target audiences. One promoted post sought out Facebook users who identify as feminists who love tarot OR the zodiac AND Sailor Moon OR Parks and Rec. Our cost per click was phenomenal! Our interactions and reacts were great! In the end, we received a handful of Facebook followers; but because most of our Kickstarter traffic came from shared Twitter posts from our contributors, we’re going to consider that $65 a semi-expensive lesson and call it a day.
3. Retailer Outreach
Everyone in comics Is In Hell and as such, we don’t blame retailers for not necessarily taking a leap of faith on a small press publisher. We focused on reaching out to local retailers both digitally and in person, but we think the timing might not have lined up. We didn’t wind up getting pledges for our retailer tiers, so we’ll be reconsidering our retailer outreach strategy next time.
4. Impact of Blingees
For each Eternal Witchcraft milestone, we created a celebratory Blingee. We’re almost 100% sure this did not have a big pledge impact, but it did make our contributors happy so we’ll keep on doing this in the future for as long as Blingee exists. Maybe the world at large just isn’t ready for the great 2004 Sticker App Renaissance, but our contributors are, which is just one reason why we love them so, so much.
Our final piece of advice to y’all: just remember that Kickstarter is really hard! Be kind to yourself. Maintaining the energy and positivity you need to hit a big funding goal takes a lot out of you!! There is just too much to consider to do everything right in your first (or second) (or third???) run. You’ll mess up, and you’ll make changes, and you’ll do a little better the next time.
We learned a lot from Group Chat, and those lessons helped us make entirely different mistakes the second time around. You’ll also figure out how to make things easier on yourself. We hope this look behind the scenes makes this whole process less mystifying for other small publishers and independent artists. So go forth, fellow baby birds! May all of your projects get funded, may all of your backer surveys be completed, and may all of your shipping estimates accurately reflect the expense of sending 23 books to Malta.