It's been a week since we launched a Kickstarter campaign for my first book, and what an interesting week it has been. As expected, I'm learning a ton about myself, about Kickstarter, about living on two hours of sleep, and about how amazing it is to have people that you don't know or have never met before support you right here and now in real time.
You'll never be truly ready for your first Kickstarter project. You can do all the prep work that you can possibly think of, but when it goes live, that all goes out the window. Like I mentioned in the last post of this series, it's exhilarating, scary, exciting, you name it. It's pretty much one of the most exposing ways of publishing your work as an artist; it's out there naked on the internet for everyone to see, and judge the value of it with their wallets. Doesn't get any more real than that.
While the last week has been a bit of a rollercoaster, on the whole it's been an amazing week that has surpassed my expectations. There has been an outpouring of support from the Los Angeles community that I never expected. My biggest concern was getting the project out beyond my personal connections, and I'm happy to say that LA has come through bigtime. I'm not sure what else to say other than that it's incredibly validating to get support from a community of people who all feel the same way about a city, and heck, even feel strongly enough to spend over $100 on a book about the city. It's just an amazing feeling - and for that I am truly grateful. It's one of the best feelings I have ever experienced, and I've experienced a lot of great feelings (as well as a lot of not-so-great ones already during this Kickstarter campaign).
I'm writing this at midnight, just about delirious from the events of today and yesterday. Sending tons of emails, replying to tons of emails, and generally not seeing the sun at all.
Before starting the campaign, I tried to gather as much information as possible with regards to creating and finishing a succesful Kickstarter campaign. You can read all of the advice that's out there, and try to prepare yourself as best as you can, but each campaign will have significant differences than any campaign that came before it. Different subjects, different geographical locations, different languages, different personal biases and problems to solve. In the case of this Kickstarter, we have a not-so-cheap photo book being sold to a very small niche community. There's really no instruction manual out there for doing this, and that's the bottom line, so I'll try to pass off some of the more practical tips that I can in this article. What I'd like to discuss is how you can best prepare yourself for doing a Kickstarter of your own if that's something that interests you.
Still with me? Here's what I've learned in a short week of running this campaign.
It's impossible to do a Kickstarter campaign alone. Well, let me qualify that - it's impossible to do a Kickstarter campaign of significance alone. We want to raise $35,000 (!) to produce a very high quality book of fine art aerial photography. Creating the book in itself is a year's worth of work for a single person, and keep in mind that I still need to pay the bills while working on this project, so I've got to pursue other business opportunities and keep shooting as often as I can (I'm an architectural photographer by day) to make ends meet and make the money to finance this whole project. I worked with a graphic designer to take the load of designing a book off my shoulders, and honestly it was a great move - I would frustrate the hell out of myself by trying to design this thing, as, well, I'm just not a designer at all, plus it would take me far longer and cause way more grief than just hiring the right person to do it the first time.
I'm fortunate to have a ridiculously understanding girlfriend, who has put her career as a UI/UX designer on hold for this entire month - to help with everything from the filming and editing and scriptwriting of the campaign video, the design and layout of the campaign page, and not to mention overseeing the design of the book itself. Without that help, I wouldn't have gotten very far. Things as small as getting me food when we've been sending emails for 8 hours are unbelievably underrated, and we're much better able to delegate tasks and stay focused when we're in it together. Not to mention the constant emotional support and neverending "it will be okay!" that has been coming out of her mouth (contrary to popular belief, I'm not that cool under pressure).Take my advice on this: whether it's a best friend, family member, or significant other, don't even try to pull this off without help.
You'll need a month off of work. There's no way around this. Running a kickstarter campaign is a full-time job, and I totally think you should treat it as such. I think I've honestly left my house a total of three times in the past week, for a couple of lunch meetings and a massage to get the knots out of my back. Don't forget the week-or-two that you'll need to prep the campaign, film the video, edit the video, etc. Even if you want to pay someone to take care of this for you, you need to be heavily involved with the script writing (you thought you could do this without a script!?), location scouting, and editing.
Bottom line is this: there's honestly no way that I could continue to be a working photographer while continuing to run this project. Not only do I have to be on call to answer any questions coming in on the Kickstarter page (they're endless) but I'm on a tight deadline to do so. It would be impossible to focus on actually taking good pictures otherwise, and even though it would probably behoove me to get out of the house a little bit, like I said, I'm totally committed here.
Make sure you stock wherever it is you're working with plenty of food beforehand. Ever get in that funk where you've been staring at the screen for so long and you somehow become irritable and cranky but you don't know why? Or that state-of-being where you become so tired, too tired to get food, but your tiredness is a result of lack of food? That will happen every single day to you. I recommend having someone check on you on a regular basis and force feed you during the process.
And I hope you like writing emails, because that's the name of the game. Every day since the campaign started, we've been sending out a slew of emails. Each one of them personalized, touching base with an old friend, and letting them know about what's going on. And you know what's awesome? It's honestly been a great way to re-connect with people I haven't talked with in a few years. Most of them are supportive, happy to hear from me, and in many cases, plans have been made to meet up and catch up (after the campaign is over of course!). It's been a pretty pleasant surprise. I've always been a fan of the personal touch, in business and friendship, preferring the handwritten note to the email blast. I have my mother to thank for that - and I truly believe that the path of least resistance is always the one most likely to be ignored, whether in friendship or business.
One of the more annoying things that you'll be faced with is the constant onslaught of Kickstarter marketing campaign scams that show up in your inbox. I've apparently got buddies in every country under the sun telling me how much better my campaign could be, and how I'm getting no press, and how I need to buy their analytics package now, or how I need their PR support now to get on the front page of the Podunk Press. Don't fall for any of this bait - with a little research you'll find out that it's all smoke and mirrors. And what did I say upthread? Sweat equity is the best equity. I'm almost batting a thousand when it comes to writing personal emails to news outlets and press contacts, who are all glad to help when they get a personal email and me touching base with them instead of a PR company blasting them with spam.
But the biggest thing I've learned, which is something that none of the Kickstarter blogs or advice columns prepare you for, is the absolutely amazing shows of support that we've received from the least likely places. If you ever needed evidence that support of the arts is alive and well, do a Kickstarter campaign for a project you've been working on. I'm so proud to say that I've truly got some amazing people in my life, from friends I talk to daily, to people that have fallen out of touch over the past few years, who have come out with messages of support and thank-yous for inspiration. It's so great to go to sleep at night knowing that you've got all these people in your corner on a project of this scale. It's even better knowing that not only do I have their support, but also the support of people that I've never met who think my work is good enough for a book that belongs (hopefully!) on their coffee table or office.
So far, we're just a little bit shy of $25,000 of the total $35,000 needed to begin production. We've got 26 days left in the campaign, and here's where it gets dicey. You know how up above I said that you need a month off from work to properly manage this? Well, I'm about to go to Brazil on assignment for a week. It will be an amazing trip, that is for sure. But managing the travel, campaign, and headaches involved will be the biggest challenge of this Kickstarter, and it's one of the reasons we've been absolutely working our tails off to get this as far off the ground as we can. Wish me luck...the next report will come from from out of the cacophony of Sao Paulo.
To visit the Kickstarter campaign, click here.
This is part two - to read part one, click here.