Friday, July 22, 2011

Children of Fire RPG is Getting Funded!

My friend Erich and I have had this roleplaying game project sitting around gathering digital-dust, and so we decided to Kickstarter it into a proper POD (print-on-demand) product.

As I type this, our project is well-past our funding goal, and I'm so excited:

  • I get to draw more angels. Any excuse to draw makes me happy. :)
  • Erich gets to rescue an ancient writing project and give it new life.
  • We both get to learn more about crowd-sourcing and self-publication.

And when we learn about it, so will you. As soon as the campaign wraps up I'll share some traffic numbers and break down what worked and what didn't. Here's the pitch video...

Friday, July 8, 2011

My First Kickstarter Campaign: The Numbers

I'm fascinated with Kickstarter.

The idea is that ordinary webizens stumble across your idea, be it a book or movie or better mousetrap, then pledge you money if they like it. It's micro-venture-capital for creative projects. In theory, it might grow into a large enough market that creative types (writers, moviemakers, artists) could scratch a living purely from crowd-sourced funding. Super cool potential.

The amount of money folks donate can be big or small, and as the project author you get to set a variety of award levels. Small donors ($1) might get a mention in your blog. Big donors ($1000) might get you to fly to their house in a helicopter and drop rose petals on you. Medium donors ($25) are the most common, and they typically are buying some version of the "product" you're offering.

Since people are voting with their pennies, it's a more interesting market research tool than a broad survey of your Facebook friends or showing your idea to a handful of folks. There's no filter in Kickstarter. Pledgers are stating clearly "If you produce this thing the way you've described it, I will pay you for it. Period." That's powerful. If you have an idea that you'd like to test before you spend a lot of time and money on it, then why not ask the world what they think of it first?

So that's what I've been doing.

"Only One Way To Find Out..."

As I right this I'm a few days into my second Kickstarter campaign (Children of Fire). My first campaign (Rhythmspanker!) wrapped up a few weeks ago and now I'm going to share the numbers.

First of all, the Rhythmspanker campaign failed. That's not terribly surprising to me as I was trying to raise $10,000 for a pretty wacko art project. Ten grand is a boatload of cash for most Kickstarter campaigns, and given that I didn't do much to advertise it outside of the site, it would have been miraculous for me to get funded. Still, I learned a lot, and that was my goal. =)

Now, (as of today) doesn't give you much in the way of analytics. They basically tell you how many pledges you have and how much was pledged. No traffic tracking on the site. No referral lists to tell you where traffic is coming from. BUT, they do allow you to embed images in the project description, and since I hosted my images on my own server, I can get some basic visitation totals from those logs.

    Total pledged over 30 days: $402
    Average pledge: $44
    Largest pledge: $250
    Smallest pledge: $1
    Total supporters: 9
    Total "friends and family" supporters: 6
    Random stranger supporters: 3
    Total visits to the page: ~125
    Conversion rate: ~7% of visitors pledged.

The things that I did to promote it were basically to post once on my Facebook account (~210 friends at the time), make a Buzz post at work (~50 followers, I'd guess), Twitter it once or twice (a whole 14 followers) and then convince a well-followed Twitter friend of mine (~77,000 followers) to mention it for me. It was reposted on Facebook by a handful of friends in my social network.

All in all, none of these paths were obviously valuable. The support that I got was mostly from folks who I spent time personally selling to or a couple of folks who just stumbled upon it, presumably from the project lists.

Takeaways So Far

  • Do a project with as small of a target amount as possible.
    If you don't reach your goal, you get squat. People can always pledge more than your goal.
  • Have a low dollar amount award level that gives them something awesome.
    People won't support you (much) out of the goodness of their heart. Give them something they'd buy anyway if they could. In some cases, you might want to set a low reward that's essentially a wash for you. No, you're not making any $$$ doing that, but you're getting pledges, and that drives you into the Kickstarter "popular projects" leaderboards, which drives more organic discovery.
  • For any given category, there's not much competition.
    The projects that you see under the "more popular projects" links appear to be everything that's active at the moment. So you're fighting for eyeballs with a few dozen projects, not hundreds. That's encouraging.
  • Once you've done a campaign, you're in.
    Your first campaign has to be "approved" by the Kickstarter staff. In my case that was easy. It only took about a day for them to give me a login. Since then I've done two campaigns that didn't require approval. So if you try and fail, you can try again. :)
  • Consider using a "traffic counter" image.
    There are assorted free traffic counter images available online. These are just images that are traffic tickers. I'm hosting my own for my 2nd campaign... it's just another image in your description (you can see it at the bottom of the page.) At least it makes it easier to watch how many people are coming along, which can give you a bit of insight into how your marketing efforts are working.

Once my 2nd campaign wraps up, which is looking like it will be successful this time, I'll post more. Stay tuned!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Here we go!

For the last few years I've been writing fiction. Short to long, silly to serious, I've been dabbling and sweating and experimenting, all with the goal of getting published.

I've had some small successes and a metric poop-ton of rejections. Failure is fantastic, because it means that I've learned from it, and now you can too! The secret to success is to take some lumps. Recently I started showing my bruises at outreach talks and writing conferences, and now I'm gonna throw them onto this blog. Yippee!

The View from Google

Since my day job is at Google, and since I come at the writing "career" with an entrepreneurial slant, I'm always gathering: new software products, new opportunities, new ideas, new data. Now I'll pop them up here for you to check out, too. I promise to tell you everything I know... so long as you're willing to do the same. (Seriously! If you're a writer who'd like to share the nitty-gritty, anonymously or otherwise, drop me a line... scott<zat>

There are a couple of best practices that I've learned at Google that I intend to follow here:

  1. Whenever possible, get the numbers
  2. Set measurable goals and grade yourself

That's right, I'm going to give you actual data. As a seeker of the fabled "truths" about the writing and publishing worlds, I've been a little frustrated with how hard it is to come by hard numbers about things that really matter to starting writers, like...
  • What are my chances of success?
  • How many drafts do other writers spin out before they're "done?"
  • How much money will I make?
  • etc.
So my first goal with this blog is to be "open kimono" and tell you my numbers, and to put these in context against reasonable goals. Your mileage can and will vary, but at least you'll know it varies.

Be a Tool Using Monkey

I also want to point other writers at tools. Tools elevate us over the animal kingdom, and great tools elevate us over the competition. They make us mighty!

Google has a huge pile of free software, for example, that's really remarkable and worth checking out. Stick with me and I'll show you how to get started with it, product by product. I'll also tell you what results to expect, based off of my real-world attempts at leveraging this stuff for myself.

Time for the Lab Coats!

So in the spirit of science, let the latest experiment (Blogger!) begin. As soon as I hit this "publish post" button, I'll be measuring. Just by reading this you're contributing valuable data to the wannabe writer community, so thanks! I hope you'll keep visiting, and I really hope you'll keep writing.