Rich Burlew crossed the $1.2 million mark on his Kickstarter campaign for his Order of the Stick books. Forbes asked the question that we already knew the answer to: what makes Burlew’s Kickstarter campaign so successful?
So sceptics should put aside their cynicism: Kickstarter, and sites like it, are now incontrovertibly capable of funding a diverse array of creative projects at very high levels. As an author, it’s exciting to see Kickstarter raising money at a level that competes with some of the biggest advances that you’ll see on offer from traditional publishing. Those advances are usually reserved for celebrities or established best-sellers, but Kickstarter now brings that sort of funding within reach of almost everyone.
The devil is in the details, however, and Burlew’s project provides some interesting insight into where the challenges lie for anyone wanting to replicate his success.
The most important thing, I would argue, is that Burlew has a huge fanbase. He’s drawn the Order of the Stick (OOTS) comic strip for the last nine years, producing over 800 strips in the process. He’s already got a number of books in his back catalogue that he wants to get back into print, and his fans very clearly want that too. He has lot of people who are not just willing to stump up their own money, they are also very happy to spread the word outside of their own community.
In short, Burlew has reach.
Looking at the fiction section of Kickstarter, few ask for those kinds of sums. In fact, when I looked at a selection of the most recent successful fiction projects, the average requested was $3,000, and the average raised was $3,600. Modest, yes. And doable, certainly. But not ambitious.
I think that’s because authors and small publishers don’t have communities big enough to support more substantial book publication projects. I know I don’t. My next Kickstarter project is likely to ask for $5,000 with the hope that I overfund a bit. If my success rate is 1 percent (equivalent to a direct mail campaign), and let’s say I need 150 backers, then I need to reach 15,000 people, which is about doable given my network.
Social media, of course, makes reaching that many people technically simpler but it certainly doesn’t make it quick or easy. Indeed, when I look at my author friends on Twitter, I’m struck by how few followers many of them have, even the ones with critically acclaimed books on the shelves. The few exceptions are already best sellers and their fans simply migrate to wherever they can gain access to their favourite writers.
But to really explore the opportunities that authors have in this online, networked, social world of ours, we have to rethink the very basic. It’s not enough to write good stories. You need to manage a mailing list of fans, be on Twitter and/or Facebook, have a blog, and be willing to put in the hard graft required to build an audience. Only then can you take advantage of the opportunities provided by revolutionary new business models like Kickstarter.