My First Kickstarter Campaign: The Untold Story

12 September 2016

I’m on a crowdfunding panel this Wednesday at a St. Louis Publishers Association event (full details are at that link in case you’d like to attend). It’s a unique event because we’ll specifically be talking about crowdfunding campaigns for books.

So in the spirit of this upcoming discussion, I thought I’d let you in on a little secret (readers of my book already know this): My first crowdfunding campaign did not raise $66,000. It wasn’t for a game. Rather, it was for two books.

The first Kickstarter campaign I backed and followed was in 2009. It was a book project called “Robin Writes a Book (and you get a copy).” I was absolutely fascinated by every aspect of the project, and it sparked a desire in me to do something similar.

I was in a writer’s group at the time, and I started talking with a few members in the group about publishing. As it turned out, two married writers, Jason and Kristy Makansi, were just as interested in testing the market as I was. So in January 2010 we formed a company called Blank Slate Press.

The idea behind Blank Slate Press is that we would focus on discovering and publishing the work of local novelists. The whole thing was an experiment–one of the benefits of being small is that you can try a lot of different things to see what works and what doesn’t.

One of those experiments was to put our first two books on Kickstarter. And the experiment within that experiment was that backers could pay less if they committed to spreading the word about the campaign on social media.

That was a mistake. I should have focused on authors, the mission of the company, and the content itself, not a marketing gimmick. I had the misguided perception that Kickstarter itself would think it was clever and would feature the project, which is embarrassing to admit. There are so many better motivators than “Kickstarter might like it!”

The campaign ran for 30 days, starting on June 1, 2011. 28 days in, we had only raised $125. A few generous pledges over the final 2 days brought the funding total to $305 from 17 backers, surpassing our goal of $250 and technically making it a “successful” campaign.

It certainly didn’t feel that way.

But I’m grateful for the experience. You have to start somewhere, right? Looking back, I’m glad there was so little at stake for my first campaign. I wanted the best for our authors, but barely funding didn’t ruin us as a company. It was the epitome of a “humble” campaign.

Plus, it makes for a nice story to tell people that my first campaign raised $305 and my last campaign raised $1.8 million. :)

I look forward to talking more in detail about book campaigns at the event on Wednesday. If I come up with anything clever to say there, I’ll make sure to share it here too. If you attend, please come up and say hi. I’d love to know about what you’re creating and how you’re thinking about bringing it to life.

Also, have you ever backed a Kickstarter campaign for a book? What was it about that campaign that compelled you to back it, and what made it special?

Also read: It’s Not Kickstarter’s Job to Give You Backers (It tells the same story as written above, but in a different way.)

33 Comments on “My First Kickstarter Campaign: The Untold Story

  1. I did back a KS campaign in the last year for a book, because I had read other things the author had written (in his blog) and I wanted to support what to him was a dream project. The author has since written a serialized novel for a newspaper, so clearly the KS campaign gave him the boost he needed to do more of what he loves.

    1. That’s really cool! It’s great to hear that the author had already built up content and loyalty through his blog, that he shared his dream and passion on Kickstarter, and that it was the start of something bigger for him.

  2. Hey Jamey,

    I’ve had my head under a rock lately (new kid, new school, etc…). I just saw your new book. I scooped up a copy and posted my praise to all our social media. It’s inspiring to see your humble beginnings and your insane amount of drive in building your success.

    Keep up the great work, sir!

    Chris, TROBO

  3. I backed Girls on Games: A Look at the Fairer Side of the Industry, which arrived a little prior to a conference I was at recently, and it made for an excellent train read on the way there. Backed it because most of the loudest voices within the tabletop gaming industry are men, so… Seeing the opportunity to hear from women in the tabletop gaming industry was something I wanted to engage with.

  4. Jamey,

    Believe it or not, when I first started looking into your book and conducting some research about you, the first place I checked were the other KS campaigns you had launched, so I’m actually familiar with your first KS. Again, congrats!

    I have recently backed a KS campaign for a book, namely, Autumn Cthulhu which is a compilation of renown writers delving into the genre made famous by H.P. Lovecraft and others. There were two things that compelled me to back the KS campaign. First, the individual running it is also the editor of Lovecraft E-zine (https://lovecraftzine.com), Mike Davis who is a phenomenal guy and while he suffers from a fairly debilitating disorder, he’s incredibly engaging and hosts a weekly vid-cast with a number of influential authors from around the country. Second, he’s a man, by my estimation, of integrity. He communicated extremely well with Backers, kept us abreast of the process and delivered on-time a book of great value to those who enjoy good horror.

    Cheers,
    Joe

    1. Joe: Indeed, it’s not actually a secret–it’s just something I don’t think much about or talk about, so I figure few people know about it. :)

      It’s interesting to hear those reasons that compelled you to buy the book. I’m noticing a common thread that authors have some body of work going into the project–that seems important.

  5. They say that “if you’re not embarrassed about your minimum viable product, it’s not an MVP.” The first experiment, however small, is more about learning than making money. Your tiny book campaign seems like a good experiment in retrospect, so I’d say you did things right!

    1. Tyler James of ComixLaunch talks about how for KS you need a ‘Minimum LOVABLE Product’ and I think that’s very true. If you’re wanting folk to get behind and back your project (and not just because they know you personally) then it does have to be something that some folk will actually fall in love with. :-)

  6. Hi James, I backed in 2015 a comic “Comme Convenu ” from Laurel on the french crowdfunding platform Ulule. I backed this artist because every day for more than a year she published on her blog a full page of her creation and I enjoyed her work. She collected 262 253 euros. In France, comics are very popular and work very well on Crowdfunding platforms. I’m sure your presentation will be wonderful!

  7. Maybe I’m overestimating the due diligence that folk do, but I’d have expected at least 17,739 folk to be aware of your 1st campaign.

    I’d be really interested to know how you think the experiment went (cheaper price if you’re willing to do some promotion). I love the idea that someone on a serious budget could spend time rather than money to get your thing.

    Do you think that everyone who pledged did what they promised?
    Did it generally prove more confusing for backers, rather than a fun/pleasant opportunity?
    Would you ever do it again?

    I understand (from here and your book) that you were trying to get promoted by KS and that didn’t happen. But there may still be something worth salvaging from that idea. :-)

    1. Bez: I wouldn’t say the experiment went well for that particular item. In fact, in general, I think it’s much more compelling for people to share something because they love it rather than because they’ll get a small discount.

      I do think people who pledged to the lower levels did what they promised, but most people pledge at the $10 level. Then again, it was a very small sample size. There was really no sense of community around the project.

      So no, I don’t think I’d do it again. :) I like to experiment, but sometimes experiments fail and I move on.

  8. To answer your closing question, I have backed to receive 4 physical books and 1 digital collection of comics.

    My motivations were combinations of:
    – supporting a friend
    – an exciting, unique thing I might not ever see (something similar to) otherwise
    – ‘free’ shipping/good price (due to being based in UK)

  9. That’s a lovely post, Jamey! I remember when for the first time I went on Kickstarter website to see your account. And your first campaign made me laugh (positively). That’s encouraging that if someone fails in the first time don’t mean he will fail again. Thank you!

  10. Belated comment. Yes, I backed a baseball book because 1. I support just about anything baseball-related and 2. I have a vast library of baseball books to which I am always adding.

    In a strange twist, I recently won an eBay auction for a baseball book and the seller turned out to be the fellow whose book I backed on Kickstarter. It’s a small world online.

  11. I buy a lot of roleplaying books, especially the ones that are available in editions that won’t be available after the Kickstarter, like hardback in some cases, or superpremium editions with sewn-in bookmarks and the like. (There’s one company that offers $4000 editions of their books with the covers done by a blacksmith. I don’t have that type of cash, but I think it’s a good example of a high-end pledge that no one will take but everyone will talk about and think about.) I’m also a sucker for small Kickstarters; if a book sounds interesting, and it’s $10, I’ll often spring for it, even without digging deeper.

  12. Narrative is everything. The untold story really is that Jamey learned the ropes of telling a story well before he took those amazing talents to the board game world. His real backstory is he’s always had the drive and passion to tell stories in any medium. I have little doubt his narrative talents could make any product succeed. I hope if he ever writes a screen play and navigates the Hollywood scene that he writes 200 blog posts about that as well (living vicariously through him is fun!) Which reminds me, I’m pretty sure one of his games is going to get made into a movie someday.

    1. Thanks Dale! That’s very nice of you to say. I’ve loved to write from the same age (7 or 8) that I started to realize my love for board games, so they go hand in hand. I don’t know how good I am at it, per se, but I’m fascinated by the concept of narrative, and I try to build it into anything I create. I appreciate you seeing that.

    2. Dale

      You made me tear up. You may have been talking about me (minus Jamey’s success and insights).

      In 1992 I came up with an idea for a new interactive story word game. Since then I haven done about 30 versions, self published it as a book, made it my purpose in life. It has been a tough journey with many failures (though I have had some successes ie – when I self published, I sold about 10 copies, but the first one was stolen from a bookshop! Gotta laugh at that). But recently I realised the game was never what my purpose in life is – my purpose in life is to be of service, and bring joy and laughter to people – and the game was just another means to that end.

      But back to your post and the opening ‘narrative is everything’. In the course of the above I have learnt I have been blessed with a gift for words and a passion to tell stories and share my journey – but until this post – have not done so publicly from the heart. Reading Jamey’s book made me realise to do a Kickstarter campaign I need to speak from the heart – speak from my passion – speak from the place that shows I want to be of service to others and make a difference in their lives (on this last point – though this game is about giving people a laugh, it also encourages reading in children and teens. This is one of the reasons I have persevered).

      Anyway, thanks for your post. You touched me with it and moved me to respond, made me make this tiny first step (writing this slightly rambly post) towards a Kickstarter campaign.

      Oh, on the tear thing, happy to do that these days – I never cried for about 10 years.

      1. Philip, I often make people tear up, though it’s usually tears of frustration. But seriously, Jamey’s blog is the best for Kickstarters and human beings of all blood-types. If by some crazy coincidence you live in the Denver area I have a Kickstarter meet-up group you can join and talk KS.

        1. Dale, your Kickstarter meet-up group sounds awesome – if only Denver was a hop skip and jump from Melbourne Australia… I’d be there in a heartbeat!

  13. Perhaps its me, or perhaps ive, perhaps its the way the 1.8 is phrased, perhaps its a character flaw or OCD obsession with fairness; or perhaps its a halicinatory gorilla in the room, but i have to vent my view on this. Jamie is the one with his name on over the project, but what about Jakub. His art style goes back to 2013, 2014 before scythe. But its the ‘scythe art’. So to me yes $300k & $450 for Jamies’ previous projects is good – it is good; its in the top 1/3 of the well thought out kickstarter veteran projects with an existing backer group. There are though a lot of projects hitting those numbers. So to me the gorilla in the room is that the jump to $1.8m is, to me, not due to Jamie specifically its the main image and art of scythe, which is from Jakub Rozalski. now the thing that dwells on my mind is i saw his art style myself way before scythe came out, and right or wrong now have the notion Jakubs art style pre-dated scythe, perhaps Jamie may know more. to me a lot of that projects extra success is jakub, and that credit should be Jakub’s. To me people should be praising Jakub, his style, and his art vision, again which ive become convinced pre-dated scythe, at least in a more raw form, and perhaps have the notion jamie attached a game to that style. Indeed there are 2013 and 2014 images ‘scythe like’ images if you do a google search, artstation or pinterest search. Is not not then Jakubs vision that made the game have that ‘star factor’ ? For the the visual style gives it the star factor. dont get me wrong the main image is breathtaking and i did indeed verbally say, hats off to that, when i saw it, but who really has the moral credit for it.

    1. Mike: Sure, I’ve discussed this in a number of interviews and podcasts (see the Scythe media page). Jakub had been working on the Scythe world for a few months in 2014. It was then featured on a website called Kotaku. It really captured my imagination, and I contacted Jakub about forging a partnership to allow me to design a game in that world.

  14. Be good to hear jamies view on this. did he instruct the style , and design it? or did he spot jakub in 2013-2014 and attach a game to it.

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