The Kickstarter Mindfuck

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Kickstarter is making my head spin to the point I might chunder my lungs out soon.

I’m currently commissioning art for two of my comic scripts that is being drawn up as you read this. The first is Bust, a 30-page comic that will get a follow-up if it proves successful enough. The second is Seventh Circle, an ongoing series that I’ve been writing for about three years now.

Both projects are comics, but are each different in the way they will be made into an actual thing you can sit down and read. The varied formats really do make a difference, and I didn’t realise quite how difficult creating a comic could be, say, five years ago when I first started toying with the idea of writing one. But today the process is much clearer, although no less arduous, and certainly still fraught with danger.

It *seems* less intimidating now because I’ve been doing my homework on the matter for a very long time – literally years – I’ve spoken with people who have gone from other jobs who now make their money selling comics, and I’ve reiterated all my scripts during late night sessions, after work and at weekends to make damn sure they read well enough to warrant a purchase. This isn’t something you can do in a weekend, or even 12 months. It takes time, and it’s still intimidating.

Were my scripts formatted in the specific house style of a publisher? Did they conform to short-hand used by editors (“OP” – “Off-Panel”)? Had I stuck to the 25-word per panel rule? Was I using captions to explain scenes when the imagery did all of the work for me? Do the characters feel believable? Do the rules of my world work? Is this mega-whopping plot twist too easy to figure out ahead of the reveal? How do I make money out of this? How will the art look?

I could go on for many, many pages. The thing is, I wouldn’t have known all of these things had I not done my homework, and I wouldn’t have had this insight without my small, but growing list of contacts within the comic scene. It’s a minuscule contact book, totally anorexic, but the point is, it’s there and getting fatter by the month.The process is exactly the same as when I first started trying to be a games journalist, and it took me four years before I got a paid salary for my writing.

But just like games journalism, you have to do a lot of work off your own back if you want to break into the industry – working for free, doing freelance gigs and so on – and back then the big sites like IGN, Gamespot and Eurogamer felt like impenetrable walled fortresses to me. Their walls could not be scaled, not then, not ever.

That’s how trying to go down the publisher route in comics feels, but I’m now writing about games as a full-time career so I realised that I had to walk before I could run. I decided to make Bust and Seventh Circle independently, and if a publisher wants to buy or host it down the line then so be it, they can pay me for it. But for now, I’m going solo.

Why not? After all, Kickstarter and IndieGoGo exist and I’ve read articles that suggest the success rate for crowd-funded comics is very high. Few of them fail, and I think that’s because many of them are already written. The product already exists, which makes it easier to sell, rather than some phantom product that you’re asking people to imagine, and then ask them for £1-£100+ to back.

This analogy will only work on UK residents I’m sure, but imagine a Big Issue seller busking you to buy a copy of his or her magazine, except their hands are empty. There is no magazine because it’s still being written, but they assure you it’s going to be the best thing you’ve ever read, and to just trust them. That’s – to me – what Kickstarter is often like – a gamble, promises and a question of immense trust.

Now that two of my comics are actually being made, as in, they will be actual *things* at some point down the line, I’ve decided that one day I will take them down the Kickstarter route as I’ve been warded off the comic publisher method. My contacts have assured me that the indie route is perfectly viable *if* you’re able to show that the project is happening, has legs and will be worth the backer’s time and money.

So this got me thinking: how can I convince absolute strangers to part with even a small amount of cash on something they can’t yet see or sample? I can’t. I’m not a known name in comics, I have one published six-page short under my belt, and I’m still new to this gig. I can’t approach these people for money unless they can be assured that I know what I’m talking about, and that the projects are worth investing in.

I’ve interviewed many game developers that have gone down the Kickstarter route, so I’m under no illusion that it’s an easy campaign to orchestrate. So currently I’m thinking about so many separate things that will help me boost the project’s visibility and create financial components that make sense. The big question is, “What am I raising funds on Kickstarter for?”

This sounds really dumb but it’s not. For Bust I’d be raising funds for printing costs, to pay for the remaining art (as I’m currently self-funding art for the first ten pages at £50 per page, to give people a sample and to show them that this is an actual thing), postage of comics once completed, stamps, envelopes, posters (for reward tiers), money to attend comic conventions (a possibility), license fees for the iTunes, Kindle and Android editions, and more I probably haven’t thought of yet. Oh yeah, and both Amazon’s fee and money for the tax man.

Then I have to think about reward tiers. How much should each tier be worth based on the extras I’m providing? How many of each tier can I afford to ship given the amount raised? Are the reward tier extras even worth investing in? Where do I go to have the bonus extras created? How much will they charge me to create – say – posters? How much more will they cost to ship given the additional weight?

When I started to think about all of these variables a little bit of brain matter dribbled out of my ear. This is a minefield, and I have much more respect for anyone who has successfully funded a project via crowd-funding, and even less for those who just fashion a campaign without any consideration given to the above. You can’t just one day decide to start a Kickstarter on a whim. You will fail.

After all, beggars annoy many of us by their very nature, and that’s – in a weird way – sort of what users of crowd-funding routes are, but with better hygiene and an actual product at the end if successful. The best advice I could give so far is to just sit down and start writing down your ideas and gameplan. It’ll come in time, but that first time you sit down and start racking your brain is painful, and again, intimidating.

I’m still working it out, and it’ll be at last another 6-10 months before I’m ready to think about funding Bust. Seventh Circle is another year at least as it’s an ongoing series, but it’s never too early to start thinking about these things as they will honestly come back and bite you in the rear if you’re unprepared. Either that or you’ll launch your campaign, fail and look very silly indeed.

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