Of his four Kickstarter campaigns, the latest, for his prose novel REBELLION, was his worst-performing.
He did not reach his stretch goal.
It’s the first time he didn’t earn a Project We Love badge.
He lost quite a few email subscribers during the campaign.
And he had very few returning backers.
In fact, his fans REALLY did not respond to this campaign at all across social media.
So why did Tom feel like this campaign was a success?
REBELLION was never meant to be a high pressure campaign for Tom.
He deliberately set a low bar for the goal, and he capped the campaign at 15 days, both of which allowed him to bypass a lot of the previous campaigns' stress.
“This particular project was a ‘desk-clearer.’ I’d been sitting on the story for a long time, and there was some resistance [from publishers] to a female-led science fiction novel, particularly when it came to younger readers. I still have my doubts about that, but the Big 5 are fairly immobile when it comes to these arguments until someone else proves there’s money in it. So I wanted to get the story off my hard drive and out of my head to ‘make room’ for new projects.”
Tom took inspiration from guitarist Peter Buck of REM, who said of releasing B-sides and raw recordings, “I don’t want to die with all this stuff in a drawer, let’s put it out there for the people who want it.”
Tom shared that feeling about some of his prose work: It’s not all suitable for a major publisher, but are there 50 or 100 people who’d dig it?
With his expectations in check, Tom adjusted his marketing plan accordingly.
“I honestly don’t believe (but cannot prove) that more marketing effort on my part would have resulted in a stronger campaign. Perhaps. But I did post almost every day, across a lot of platforms, with some great art, and most of it just didn’t get engagement. Part of me thinks now that maybe those Big 5 publishers were right, and that a story about a young girl and giant spiders just wasn’t ever going to sell.”
For that reason, he considers his experiment a success: he got his work out there in a low-risk way... and received hard-core feedback on what his audience DOES NOT want.
Over the course of several campaigns, Tom has a pretty good idea of where his traffic comes from.
“I have learned, and I don’t know if it’ll be true for everyone, that Instagram is just not a seller for me. Generally speaking, neither is Twitter. In terms of engagement for this project, those two spaces did very little.”
But Tom didn't take advantage of a simple tool Kickstarter provides on the user dashboard: the ability to generate custom links for every place you share your campaign. This way, you don't have to guess which sites are driving the most traffic.
"Perhaps many backers did come from Twitter or IG, but I wouldn’t know, because I could not track links back to the Kickstarter page. So lesson learned: use trackable links. But if likes are any indication of backer numbers, then very few if any backers came from either of those platforms. I think I gained more backers from Facebook, where a lot of my current fans tend to engage with me."
For his next campaign, Tom has hired a PR firm to help him find better leads and is studying other creators to see what is working for them on social media.
“Jack Harris, for example, did this social media blitz for his debut, and clearly it worked! I’ve been studying him and other creators who seem to have tapped into something on socials and figure out how and if I can replicate it.”
And with trackable links next time, he’ll be able to measure exactly how those efforts pay off.
Tom started out with a mailing list of roughly 700 subscribers. And when he began pushing this campaign, he saw a flurry of unsubscribes.
“That’s always hard to experience. On the flip side, shedding emails is good. It means the real fans are there. Even if they aren’t opening or clicking links, they haven’t dropped off, and some of them might take a year or five or ten to support something, to come out and support just the right thing for them. It’s worth the wait, and it’s worth losing those other casual subscribers.”
Tom is a big believer in the Kevin Kelly “1000 True Fans” theory: that 1000 people who’d pay, on average, $5 a month for something you create is not a bad take-home.
“It’s not about casting a wide net and hoping to gain a huge email list and then selling to maybe 10 or 20% of them. I want a relationship with 1000 or 2000 people who will support anything I put out there.”
For that reason, he’s building his mailing list one campaign at a time. Tom asked his REBELLION backers if he could add them, and most said yes.
“So by the time the campaign ended, I’d actually GROWN my list. But the size is not nearly as important as the engagement. Ultimately, I’d built a stronger list than when I tried using a King Sumo giveaway and similar tactics, which netted email addresses, but very little actual demonstrable support.”
Following the campaign for REBELLION, Tom decided to focus on comics moving forward.
"Simply that prose does not seem to have the same support system and success rate yet that comics do. Before anybody who’s as cynical as I am tries to say it: it’s not ‘writing to market’ or ‘writing to trend.’ I have the skill set to write romance novels and put them out on Kindle, for instance. I could do that. I could study the tropes, spend a few months reading as many romance novels as I could, and over the course of a year, probably make a decent amount of money in that space. I would also go batshit crazy.”
For Tom, it’s not about jumping into a “hot category,” it’s him taking stock of what he loves doing and seeing where it fits in the extant market.
“I’m still learning about writing comics, for sure, but I’m a horror short-story guy from way back, and writing horror comics doesn’t feel like a huge leap for me. I love the art involved, I love the creative challenge of brevity, and of articulating to an artist what I see in my head.
“My next launch, EXORCISTS, is a horror comic scheduled for October, and I’m already doing outreach, revealing covers and samples of an 8-page reader magnet that will be available for free. Which is to say, I’m doing a 180 on how I’m approaching this campaign compared to the last one. I will still consider other low-pressure prose campaigns in the future, but for comics, which are so much more expensive to produce, I wouldn’t go that route.”
Finally, Tom learned the value of building and participating in communities online.
“A lot of my backers were fellow ComixLaunchers, backing for the first time, and I can’t express enough appreciation to all of them. That’s not 'social media,' that’s SHOWING UP. Going to livestreams and live podcasts, etc., asking questions, supporting other creators…that pays off a lot in the long term, and I’m putting a lot of effort into that right now for EXORCISTS.”
The support from ComixLaunch vets underscored for Tom the value of a network and genuine relationships.
“There is something about the caliber of creator that ComixLaunch attracts, and it’s great to be a part of that community. If I had to drill down from that, I’d absolutely say my Mastermind group lifted me up. Those creators are so selfless and supportive. I’m looking forward to joining again."
Besides issue #2 of his Genx-X YA comic, BECKETT'S LAST MIXTAPE, and issue #1 of his new horror comic series, EXORCISTS, Travis Gibb invited Tom to participate in the latest CTHULU VS. anthology.
“I said yes without even considering if I’d get paid for it, because I still get thrilled by being asked. I say yes to damn near everything that comes my way, because I like being asked. That’s part of scaling up to me: being recognized as someone reliable, who tells a good story, and who an “acquiring editor” (to use prose publishing parlance) would reach out to because of my reputation.
“My friend Mike Stackpole, who wrote I, JEDI and a million other books, said about himself and me, ‘We don’t hit home runs, but we get on base every single time.’ I love that analogy. He’s been working for decade after decade, he has a great reputation and a strong fan base because of what he does and how he does it. That’s all part of scaling up to me.”
Lessons learned, Tom.
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