Countdown to Kickstarter: Things I've Learned on My Way to Launch

A preview of my Kickstarter preview page

Next Tuesday, May 20, barring any unforeseen obstacles, I will launch my first Kickstarter campaign. The intent is to try to raise funds to duplicate and promote the CD for my second ManChildATX album, My Mouse Finger Is Insured for $10M. If you are reading this, there is a very excellent chance you will also hear about the launch of my campaign next week. 

Kickstarter, for those of you living on Mars, is the wildly successful crowd-funding site that I wish I had invented. The way it works is you get an idea; you need money to realize the idea; you create a Kickstarter campaign to raise the money; you offer rewards to your contributors related to the realization of the idea; you have a set period of time to convince people to help out; and if you make your fundraising goal, you get the money (minus a cut for Kickstarter and Amazon Payments—like I said, I really wish I had invented it). If you don’t make your fundraising goal, you don’t get the money, and none of your contributors pay a thing.

Theoretically, it could take someone a couple of hours end-to-end to create a Kickstarter campaign. But I’ve been working on mine, off and on, for months. I’ve remade my campaign video a couple of times, and rewritten my entire Kickstarter page over and over again, with literally hundreds of incremental changes in between.

Part of the reason it has taken me so long to launch my campaign is fear and anxiety. Once I launch the thing, there’s no turning back. If I fail to make my goal, well, I can picture that being a pretty big blow to my always-sensitive ego. And if I do make my goal, of course there’s built-in anxiety anytime you put your creative work out in the world for others to judge. Boo hoo for me.

Fear might slow me down, but I won’t let it stop me. Really, the main reason it has taken me so long to launch is that the more I’ve messed around in the Kickstarter world, the more I’ve learned that there are right ways and wrongs ways to go about it. It’s my nature to want to get something done and put it out there, and I was all ready to do that with my Kickstarter campaign in the fall of last year. But the more I looked at what I’d done to put together my Kickstarter page, the more dissatisfied I felt, and convinced I could do better. That’s when I discovered that there is a virtual cottage industry of Kickstarter advice.

First, of course, there’s Kickstarter itself. They want people to create successful campaigns that will make their goals. The more successful campaigns, the more success for them. Toward that end they offer a Kickstarter School page, to help newbies like me create appealing campaigns. The most useful info I got from Kickstarter’s primer was the importance of creating a lot of appealing campaign rewards, especially at the lower contribution levels. In light of this, I slashed the contribution levels for all of my reward categories, and added a bunch of reward categories to the few I started with originally.

This was hard for me, since my “act,” ManChildATX, is essentially unknown, which is a big reason I’m going the Kickstarter route to begin with—I’m hoping it helps create some buzz as well as raise some money. There are a lot of music acts on Kickstarter who already have significant followings, and many of them offer rewards that only diehard fans would want, like autographed items, personal house concerts, the chance to sniff their underwear, or what have you. (I don’t even want to sniff my own underwear.)

It’s hard for me to imagine that anyone will care enough to up their contribution enough to get an autographed ManChildATX CD or a glossy photo, or a trucker hat. But over and over again during this process I’ve had to tell myself, You don’t know what works and what doesn’t, so listen to the people who do. So, I’ll have many more rewards than I originally intended.

The second thing that’s had the most influence on my Kickstarter strategy has been this study by Georgia Tech researchers on “Kickstarter phrases that pay.” Basically, these geeks loaded a whole bunch of Kickstarter campaigns into their computer and had it spit out common phrases used in successful campaigns and phrases used in unsuccessful campaigns.The top entries (out of bajillions). I didn’t take this list literally, but did let it inform my overall tone.

OK, I skimmed but did not read the entire study. And I didn’t literally seed my campaign with any of their successful phrases. I also didn’t comb through my copy for the unsuccessful ones either. But I did let the study convince me that my tone and turns of phrase mattered more than I was admitting in my initial rush to launch my campaign and be done with it.

The first page I wrote was too earnest and there wasn’t enough me in it. Reading between the lines, it read like it was written by someone who was afraid he wasn’t going to make his fundraising goal—because it was. So my first rewrite was just an attempt to insert more of a sense of inevitable success into the narrative, and also inject it with more of my personality and off-the-wall absurdist humor.

My subsequent rewrites have largely been an attempt to tone down my personality and off-the-wall absurdist humor. Because another thing I’ve learned about Kickstarter is that it helps to have people with a critical eye look at your campaign before you launch. Again, this is advice you get from Kickstarter itself, and they have a preview function built into their interface that makes it easy to send your campaign page to folks, and easy for them to respond with feedback.

And the people I asked for feedback from really stepped up. Which sucked. Because they pointed out a lot of things I could be doing better. That meant I had to swallow my pride, admit they were right, and then get back to work.

Which I did. I pretty much addressed each feedback item individually, and incorporated almost all of them—even some I disagreed with. For one thing, asking for feedback is a tacit admission that it’s impossible to truly be objective in judging our own work. For another, I wanted to show the people I asked that I value their opinions and that I heard them. And maybe as a bonus that will inspire one or two of them to be social media cheerleaders for me. At any rate, I feel much better about the quality of my Kickstarter campaign page since making changes based on their feedback.

The final thing I’ll share was that even though I had originally planned to launch my Kickstarter campaign last October, I learned that it’s OK that I didn’t. In fact, it’s much better that I didn’t. Just yesterday I came across “Kickstarter Lesson #68: You Don’t Need to Launch Today,” on a site called Stonemaier Games, a company that has launched multiple successful Kickstarter projects. The post lists all of the wrong reasons for launching a Kickstarter too early, and I saw myself reflected back in every one of them. So I’m glad I waited and continued working.

But the wait is just about over. At a certain point, there’s a time to fish or cut bait. My Kickstarter campaign may not be perfect—in fact I’m sure it’s not—but it’s much better than it would have been had I launched last fall, and it’s much truer to me as a person than it was.

So, next Tuesday, May 20th, at 10am I will launch. Why Tuesday? Oh, because one more thing I learned is that Tuesday seems to be a good day to launch a successful Kickstarter campaign.

Thanks for reading, and please consider helping me out when my campaign launches. I’ll need it, and it will be much appreciated. You can keep up with how my campaign is going and other ManChildATX goings on at the ManChildATX Facebook page