Kickstarter is a fantastic place for creatives to find funding, but you do need to use it for the right projects and understand how it works.
In this interview, I talk to Ben Galley about his graphic novel adaptation Kickstarter campaign, as well as his tips for getting the funding right, attracting backers and more. Full transcription below the video, or you can watch it on YouTube here.
Ben Galley Interview Transcription
Joanna: Hi, everyone, I’m Joanna Penn from TheCreativePenn.com and today I’m here with Ben Galley. Welcome, Ben!
Ben: Hi there, Jo, how are you doing?
Joanna: I’m good. So, just as a little introduction, Ben is the best-selling author of the dark fantasy Emaneska Series, as well as advising indie authors through his site, Shelf Help. Now, Ben,
Start by telling us a bit more about you and your writing background, and what you’re up to these days.
Ben: In a nutshell, I’ve been writing since I was a kid. I wrote my first book aged 11, maybe 12, and to date it is still the longest book I’ve ever written! So, writing, as you can imagine, was in my blood since I was a young boy, and I’ve always been raised on a diet of fantasy, so after I wrote my first book, at that age, I went through school and college, and got distracted. So I only got back into writing about 2008, 2009, and it felt natural for me to just jump back into fantasy. I was studying music at a college called ACM and working in a number of dead-end jobs, and I wanted to get out. So books seemed the best option for me, and so I went straight back in to writing, straight back into fantasy, and five years later, here I am.
I’ve got four books out in the Emaneska Series, I’ve just launched a self-publishing guide called “Shelf Help: The Pocket Guide to Self-Publishing,” I’ve launched an e-book store Libiro, I run Shelf Help, my self-publishing consultancy, and have a graphic novel on the way, as well.
Ben: So a lot can change in five years!
Joanna: And just so everyone knows, how old are you, Ben?
Ben: I’m only 26.
Joanna: Ahh! It’s lovely!
Ben: The baby.
Joanna: I feel like such an old woman next to you!
Joanna: It’s funny, because I get emails from teenagers, asking about writing and publishing and things, and it makes me really excited, and I think, “Gosh,” because I started when I was 35: if I had started … well, except that when I was 26, there wasn’t Kindle, these things didn’t happen, but we’re living in such an amazing time, aren’t we.
Ben: We are indeed.
Joanna: And the opportunities are there.
Ben: I agree. A lot of my clients are teenagers, and yeah, even for a 26-year-old, when an 18-year-old, 17-year-old gets in touch with me and says, “I’ve written a book,” and they send it over and it’s a great time to be an author, you’re absolutely right. I wish I’d started even younger.
Joanna: I know, exactly. I wanted to talk to you about Kickstarter, because I get a lot of questions about it, and I have quite a lot of barriers around Kickstarter, which we can go into. But I think there are a lot of misconceptions about it, a kind of free money misconception which I think is wrong.
So, first up, tell us what your Kickstarter project was for. Describe what it was about.
Ben: Essentially, the Kickstarter project that I ran last year was to turn my first book, “The Written,” the first book of the Emaneska Series, into a graphic novel, a 120-page graphic novel. So, it was very, very straightforward, it was a simple adaptation from a book to artwork, that’s what I did.
Joanna: And why did you want to do that particularly?
Ben: Well, it’s always been something I’ve wanted to do: I’ve always been a bit of a comic book geek. I don't know if you can see the poster behind me with all the comic book art on it! As you can tell, graphic novels and comic books are something that I’ve always been into. That, combined with the tagline for the Emaneska Series, which is “Lord of the Rings meets Sin City,” I wanted to fulfil the Sin City aspect of it. As you said, it’s dark fantasy, it’s epic fantasy, and so the fantasy market and the fantasy genre is seeing graphic novels surge in popularity at the moment. So it’s a good bandwagon to get onto. Those two things sort of combined, and that’s why I really wanted to do it. I think it’s also just important to move into a different market, as well, and grow a different sort of fan base that would add to a pure Emaneska book series fan base as well. So it was also a business decision, as well as just something I really wanted to do.
And why did you go for Kickstarter? Why didn’t you just save up your royalties, and pay for it all outright?
Ben: Well, essentially, this was a year ago, I didn’t have that sort of cash lying around. I mean, I needed £5,000-6,000. To just dump that straight into a project, that’s the thing. I’ve got, like you, loads of different projects on the go, so that cash probably would have been repurposed elsewhere, and would have been chipped into, unfortunately. For me, it actually seemed like a good business decision to use a crowdfunding platform, mainly because it’s clever in the way that it gets people invested at the very, very start of the project, at the roots of the project. And that’s something you can’t really do with books. I know you can do crowd-reading, and you can use Wattpad, essentially, but a project like this, it gets people in at the very, very ground level, and keeps them through to completion. So, when you launch, you’ve already sort of marketed to a group of people, and you’ve already got buyers as well. So it made sense to me.
So, just explain, if people don’t know, how does Kickstarter actually work?
Ben: It’s actually very, very simple. What you do is, you basically come up with a concept, you log on to the Kickstarter platform and you set up a project. And this project consists of a time, the amount you want to raise, and also just your description, and you can basically put loads of different media into that – it’s advisable to do so – such as videos. For instance, for my graphic novel project, I had a video of myself talking about the graphic novel project and why I wanted to do it, I had an excerpt of the book, I had, some artwork that I had already produced for it, so there was a lot to get your teeth into.
Once you build your project and your pitch to your backers, essentially, what happens is, it goes live for a period of whatever you set, so it can be anything from 20 days to 60 days, that sort of thing. And then people just come along, they browse through Kickstarter, you drive them to the Kickstarter page. And they, essentially, back your project, in return for a reward. And the reward can range from 1 dollar, 1 pound, up to, I think I had a 500 and a thousand dollar reward. There are loads of different reward tiers, and backing tiers, so people can choose how they want to support, and in return they get rewards.
So, one of my rewards for 60 dollars was the chance to actually get your face into the graphic novel, which I thought was quite a novel idea. Essentially, it’s, it’s all about using the rewards to, not convince, but encourage people to invest in you, and hopefully reach your goal. And mine was 5,000 – I hit 5,600 at the end of 50 days, which I was really chuffed with.
Joanna: That is very, very good. And you mentioned there, you have to drive people to the Kickstarter page.
Ben: Absolutely, absolutely.
Joanna: Now, that is a misconception, I think.
People believe that when they just put up a Kickstarter and money appears. But what do you mean by driving traffic to the page?
Ben: Well, the idea behind Kickstarter is that it acts as a hub for your project. So, yes, Kickstarter gets a lot of traffic in general, a lot of organic traffic, and a lot of the users of Kickstarter will browse for projects that they want to back, again, because the rewards can sometimes be really, really clever, and exclusive, as well. But, it is a huge amount of work: it does take marketing, just like an actual book will, or an actual website will, if not even more work, because essentially, you’re trying to part people with their money, before something’s even been created.
So it’s a strange concept for people to get their head round. That’s why it takes a lot of marketing. So I did some paid marketing, a huge amount of social media marketing, and it’s a full-on job. I underestimated how much work it would be, or how much work it would take, and for those 50 days that the project was live, it was constant, every day, emailing people, using my mailing list, chatting on Facebook and Twitter, driving people to it.
Because otherwise you simply don’t reach your limit, and if you don’t reach your limit, the concept behind Kickstarter is, you don’t raise anything. It’s hit your limit and exceed it or nothing. So those two months of work that I put into it beforehand would have simply gone to waste.
And what about the fees? Because you don’t get all that money, do you?
Ben: You don’t, no. There are fees involved. The Kickstarter fee is 5% of the total funds raised. 5% doesn’t sound a lot, but if you raise a lot, it can be quite a large chunk for Kickstarter. So it’s wise to look into the fees and how Kickstarter works, before setting up a project. And there’s also payment fees involved. There’s 3% plus, I think it’s 20p per pledge, which is taken out of your funds, so the actual backers don’t have to pay anything. If your pledges are under ten pounds, there’s a micro-pledge fee, which is slightly less. And there is also, in the UK, VAT to pay on the payments as well. It’s not charged on the actual funds raised, but it’s charged on the fees as well, so that 5% plus VAT. So yes, you do have to learn to be aware of these, and do the math beforehand, essentially.
Joanna: Yes and that doing the math seems to be the downfall for many people. I’ve heard stories of people who’ve saved, done 5,000, then realized that they actually needed 10,000.
So how did you the math for a graphic novel?
Ben: I worked it out all ahead of time. And again, that’s a very, very important thing to do. So, for instance, I worked out how much I would need to pay my artist, Mike, and then I put into that equation all of the rewards. Let’s say if, for some reason, everyone went for the most expensive reward – I don’t mean the most expensive reward in how much they give to me, but he unit costs of the reward that I would have to give to them, and then you’ve got to factor in shipping costs; you’ve got to factor in packaging costs, things like that. You have to add all of these things up and then add that to your golden amount for, basically, what you want to raise, and then factor the fees in, as well.
So you just have to do a lot of math beforehand, to make sure that you’re aware of the chunks that are going to be taken out, your costs to facilitate the rewards, and also do the project, as well. So those are the three aspects, essentially.
Did you add a contingency fee?
For example, I’ve backed a Kickstarter before, and ended up having to pay extra for the postage between the US and the UK on a very heavy physical object that the person didn’t work in. So, how did you do that, because you obviously have fans all over the world, and you’re in the UK?
Ben: Absolutely. Well, most of my fans are in the US, so what I did is factor in, if I’m going to send a couple of hardbacks out, the most expense or the most it would cost me, and then basically figured out, if loads of people go for that particular reward, how much am I likely to be paying out here? And sort of developed a worst-case scenario. Also, Kickstarter facilitates shipping fees, as well. So when you actually back, there might be a $2 or $1 extra fee, depending on your country. So I actually set an extra amount for those backers in the US or Australia, etc. So, if you are a backer in the US and you’d fund my project, you’d see an extra little charge on top. Which isn’t much, compared to most of the actual backing or reward amounts.
Joanna: That’s fantastic, because I actually had a graphic artist on the podcast recently, Nathan Massengill, who’s awesome, and we talked about this, and I’m very keen to do this graphic novel kind of Kickstarter, too, for my ARKANE books. But I’ll tell you my biggest issue is having all of those people: being an author’s great, because you can write what you want, and then see if people want to buy it. No one’s telling you what to do; no one’s saying, “Where’s my book, where’s my book?” like they do to George R. R. Martin! You know, nobody can tell me what to write. And that’s part of the reason we’re indies, right. So, with Kickstarter, what you basically do is have all these people, I mean, with £5,000, I don’t know, how many people did you have in total backing?
Ben: Off the top of my head, I think 156.
Joanna: OK, so you now have 156 people who want something from you, within a certain time frame: I’m sure they’re emailing you and asking questions.
Ben: Oh yes. Absolutely.
Joanna: Now, that’s what puts me off.
So, how are you dealing with that and what are the pros and cons of that ‘having a lot of bosses’ idea?
Ben: Well, yeah, you are right: it is a scary concept to have that many people chasing you for something that you’ve potentially never done before. I mean, this is my first graphic novel, it won’t be the last. However, what you have to be honest about is the amount of work it will entail. So, Kickstarter guides you through setting up a project, and at the end of your main project strip, there is a section, I think it’s called “Challenges.” And I recommend being completely 100% honest in that section, and saying, “This could take a year, this could take a year and a half, it’s something that my artist and I have never done, however, we are keen to do it, we have the skills, you can see that from the artwork.”
That’s exactly what I did. I said, “The project itself will take a year.” It’s taken over a year now. But also Kickstarter facilitates updates as well, so you can actually go on and update your backers privately or publicly. You can keep people updated as the project goes on, and I do that with artwork from Mike, with concept art, with updates in general, publishing news, things like that. And every time, people are very, very keen to know more, but also very happy that you are updating them. So it’s a back and forth relationship. It’s not like you suddenly get your money, and you start getting emails from people going, “Where’s my reward, where are my things, where are my signed photographs” or whatever. It’s an on-going project. People realize that Kickstarter is getting up to that start point, and then it’s the Research and Development and fundraising, and then it’s the actual creation. So they realize that they are coming in at a really early stage, and there could be one or two years until they actually get their rewards, or the project is completed.
Joanna: It’s interesting, and I’m sure you get these emails, too – people say, “Oh, I’m writing my first novel ever, and I can’t afford editing fees or cover design, so I’m going to do a Kickstarter for my very first book.”
What is your advice to those people?
Ben: I wouldn’t use Kickstarter. Nor would I use other crowdfunding platforms such as Indiegogo. The reason being is, like I said, it takes a lot of work, and it takes a lot of marketing to make a Kickstarter project successful, and to reach that target of yours. And so you do need a bit of an existing platform, i.e., you need fans, you need Facebook contacts, you need Twitter followers. And the reason being is that those are the troops that you muster to either fund you or to tell people that you can now fund my graphic novel.
So, essentially, you do need a bit of a platform before you do it. If you are a new author with a brand new book, the likelihood is that not many people will have heard of you, or your fan base will be very, very small, so actually the amount of troops that you can muster, aren’t that many. What I would recommend is doing it later on, for later books. So also, with Kickstarter, you are relying solely, as a newbie author, without a fan base, on the concept and making that as attractive as possible to the browsers, to the organic visitors to your page. And that’s a hard job. You know, you do need to drive people to it: organic browsing is not enough with Kickstarter. So, for a newbie author, it’s difficult.
Joanna: Yeah, I think so too. And I think about what I’ve funded on Kickstarter, I’ve recently helped to fund the Morbid Anatomy Museum in New York, which is an awesome project, making a museum, I love that. And I’ve funded a font based on Sigmund Freud’s handwriting, which is just a very cool idea. And then I did help with Seth Godin’s big project which he did. He produced a massive hardback book, really, really huge. I was thinking, the things that I would pay for on Kickstarter, I’m either a real fan of, or they’re kind of quirky, unusual things.
Ben: That’s it.
Joanna: So, those are some examples of mine, but in your experience and your research,
What are the types of things that do amazingly well on Kickstarter and what doesn’t?
Ben: Well, essentially, there are plenty of books on Kickstarter, as well, so it’s not just the fact that you, as a new author, might not have the fan base, or be prepared for the workload, etc., essentially the concept needs to be very, very strong, and that’s why I mentioned, if it’s a brand-new concept, a brand-new book from an unproven author, it, it might be difficult to get people to invest.
So, essentially, a concept, like you said, could be quirky, it needs to be interesting. It needs to be shareable, as well: it needs to be engaging, and something that someone feels compelled to support. So for mine, mine was an adaptation from a successful novel, so, yes, I used my fans, but the concept is pretty strong, because I’m saying to people who haven’t even heard of me before, “This novel sold very, very well. It’s now being turned into a graphic novel. If you like graphic novels, here is some artwork.” So, it’s different: it’s not a book by an unknown author, and books, essentially, are commonplace. There are books all over the place. Everyone can write a book, or everyone seems to be writing a book, at least. So, for a graphic novel, it’s something slightly different, especially as it’s a fantasy graphic novel: even though they are rising in popularity, a lot of people still haven’t seen a fantasy graphic novel. So, again, those are the quirkinesses that I had there that really, really helped me.
So I think, yes, your concept needs to be different: yes there have been successful book Kickstarters, but it needs to be slightly outside the box to really get people interested.
Joanna: Yeah, I think so. So some, some angle of originality I think is important. And not just a basic thing around editing. I just don’t know why anyone would necessarily pay for editing on a book, with a Kickstarter.
Joanna: Well, I guess a graphic novel might have some editing involved, but-
Ben: It will do, yeah, absolutely. I mean, that was part of the cost, but it was mainly for the creation of the art. And Mike’s a brilliant artist, and I think his art really, really inspired people to fund it as well. And if you get a chance, if any of you have seen it on Twitter and Facebook, I know, Jo, you’ve seen a bit of it as well, the artwork is absolutely great. He’s an incredible artist. So I think if I’d perhaps had a different artist, I might not have been successful.
Joanna: That’s a very good point. And visual stuff is critical, isn’t it.
Ben: Oh, yes.
You have to have a really good video.
Ben: Yeah. Kickstarter really recommends that you use a video. It’s something that I wasn’t really keen to do, because videos can sometimes be a little bit daunting, back then I wasn’t doing as many videos as I do now. But, yes, absolutely, you do need to do a video, because you need that personal touch with a Kickstarter. Essentially, it’s the digital version of approaching someone in the street and saying, “Sorry, have you got a couple of quid for this thing I’m working on?” and you have to sort of convince them with that conversation, but it’s a very one-way conversation with a Kickstarter project: you basically put your project on the page, and you let people browse it, and the people that you drive to it have to browse it and go at the end of it, “Yes, I’ll fund it.” So it absolutely has to be as compelling as possible. And personal.
How did you find your artist, by the way?
Ben: That, again, was crowdsourced. As you can tell, I’m a bit of a fan of crowdsourcing and crowdfunding in general: anything crowd. I used a site called PeoplePerHour.com, which is a very, very good way of finding many graphic designers, but, again, there are a lot of editors on there, a lot of freelance professionals in general. So what I did is, before I went to Kickstarter, I held a People Per Hour project, and basically used that to find a graphic artist.
And Mike is a strange character. Not personally, but his circumstances are very strange, in the fact that he was born in the West Country, but then decided to go and live in China for no apparent reason, without speaking the language, and not even in a big city, in a rural part of China. So, came to me via People Per Hour and I realized, suddenly, even though he had this West Country accent, that we wouldn’t be able to work face to face on this, that it all would be based on email. But that’s the thing: the scope of crowdfunding and sites like People Per Hour, you can find anyone across the world, so you’re not limited to your territory at all. And again, it’s another one of the beauties behind the digital revolution.
So, yes, I work with a West Country designer in China, while raising the money here in the UK. It’s great.
Joanna: That is great. And I use People Per Hour as well, for different things. I highly recommend it, especially authors like us who are entrepreneurs, doing all kinds of stuff, we do need to outsource sometimes, and, of course, you’re a writer, not a graphic artist!
Ben: Not at all. I can’t draw at all!
Joanna: So just tell us about more,
Where is the graphic novel right now? Where’s the project?
Ben: Well, there you are: those are the people chasing for it! The graphic novel will hopefully be two to three months away. Again, I’m saying two to three, just to give myself that space. But essentially the process is on-going. We are at the stage now where we’re sort of 90 to 95% finished with the artwork. It’s been a long planning process, and, of course, the actual production of the artwork from Mike takes a long time. He does a lot of work regarding actually painting the pages before digitally designing them as well. So, he’s a very true artist.
So, for us at the moment, it’s getting towards the last few pages: I think we have about six left to create. And then it’s the coloration, the tweaking, it’s the editing, like you said, and it’s also basically combining these pages into a book file, and then publishing it. That’s going to take about a month or two as well. But, essentially, we’re really, really close. It’s been a great, great process, and I can’t wait to get it finished. I can’t wait to get it out there: for me, and the backers.
Joanna: That is exciting. So, what have you actually learned from the process of doing the Kickstarter?
What would you do differently or what are any mistakes?
Ben: That’s a good question. I would allocate more time to it. As I said, I think the amount of time that it took from me, I underestimated. Mainly because, like I said, there’s a lot of marketing, there’s a lot of emailing to do. So I would allocate more time to it. I wouldn’t necessarily make the project longer, there’s a certain aspect with Kickstarter where projects with long timetables can actually sort of get lost in the mix and the interest dies away. And there’s also that sort of urgency with shorter projects with shorter timescales. So, I wouldn’t change that aspect, but I would give myself more time: more time to market. I’d do a lot of marketing ahead of time, as well, to create a bit more buzz around the project.
Essentially, I think I went into it with an open mind, which I think was good, so, for me, I think that was the main thing I learned. I think I was very lucky with Mike, as well: I was lucky that he came across my project, because he’s been great as well. After the Kickstarter project itself, once we were successfully funded, he’s been a great person to work with. So I think a lesson that I would share with you is that you do, you do need to find that right person to work with, if you aren’t a graphic artist yourself, that is. If you are working with a freelancer, a professional, you need to find the right one, someone who suited my style, someone who you can work with, worlds apart, over Skype and over email, very easily, who can understand you, understand your feedback, essentially, as well. So, that’s a key point to take away.
Joanna: That’s fantastic. And because the thing with Kickstarter is you do need to use Amazon Payments, don’t you, to actually pay the money? And some people don’t like that.
You mentioned Indiegogo. Tell us a bit more about the other options for crowdfunding.
Ben: Yeah, there are quite a few options, especially the fact that there are now some literary-focused crowdfunding sites, as well, which are really, really great. But Indiegogo is a UK-based version of Kickstarter, they are very similar, it is growing all the time. It started after Kickstarter, so it doesn’t have quite the punch that Kickstarter has. That’s not to impugn it in any way because, like I said, it is up and coming, and it is good for UK users, as well. It’s used more in the UK, whereas Kickstarter’s more of an American-based platform. They are both good. The fees are slightly different between each, so definitely go and research and have a look at what suits you better. Some of the functionality is different.
But one literary-focused crowdfunding platform is one called Pubslush, which is a newer platform on the scene. And what it does is essentially work exactly the same as Kickstarter, even the way that the projects are displayed and the rewards are very similar to Kickstarter, but it’s focused on books, so people actually pitch a book idea. It could be a completed manuscript, or it could be a manuscript, that’s basically just a scribble on the back of a packet: an idea, a concept! People who are using Pubslush understand that this is where books are funded. So, it’s actually a really good step, because it’s focused on books.
So, for newbie authors, while Kickstarter might not be the best platform, Pubslush might be. Again, your concept needs to be strong: you need to put in a lot of work, etc. So, the concept’s the same, but just focused on the books.
Joanna: Wow, fantastic. Just on other things, you’ve recently put out this “Shelf Help Pocket Book.”
Ben: I have indeed.
Joanna: And I’ve got to ask you, because so many of us have these books out on self-publishing: there seems to be a little crop of them right now.
Tell us what makes your book on self-publishing stand out, in case people are interested.
Ben: So yes, “Shelf Help: The Pocket Guide to Self-Publishing” came out just last month. What stands out about it for me is it’s designed to be a one-stop shop: it’s an end-to-end guide from, as I say, manuscript to royalty check, so it’s designed for brand-new authors primarily: designed to give you an introduction to the industry as well as the concept of self-publishing. And not just any type of self-publishing: I’m a DIY self-publisher, which means I take all control into my hands, I am an authorpreneur, and essentially it’s what I believe is the best and most beneficial way of self-publishing. Like I said, because it gives you all the power, it gives you maximum royalties, and you are free to do Kickstarter projects and basically be the master of your own destiny.
So “Shelf Help” is a guide to DIY publishing. It does have something for everyone: it covers a huge amount of aspects, from what I call the polishing process, the publishing process, and also then the promotion process as well. So, basically, polishing a manuscript into a professional product, then actually the act of publishing an e-book and paperback, and then selling it as well. So, like I said, an end-to-end solution almost.
Joanna: Fantastic. So you are a busy man.
Ben: I am indeed, yeah. It never stops!
Joanna: Tell me where they can find you and your books online.
Ben: You can find me at www.bengalley.com or you can find me on Twitter, @bengalley, or you can find me on Facebook at /bengalleyauthor – and all my books are regularly talked about on my website, Twitter and Facebook.
Joanna: Fantastic. Thanks for your time, Ben.
Ben: Thank you, Jo. Cheers.
If you have any questions about Kickstarter, or any experiences to share, please leave a comment below.