crowdfunding

This awesome video by Double Fine Adventures, who have just crossed the $3 million mark on their Kickstarter project with just 10 hours to go, provides some useful advice for anyone outside the US who doesn’t have a credit card but still wants to support a project. There are more details on their forum.

Supporting Kickstarter projects requires an Amazon Payments account. For some non-USAians, this can be problematic either because you don’t have a credit card or because bugs in the Amazon Payments system cause problems. For the latter, see if this fix from Jungle Disk works. If you do have problem backing Queen of the May, please let me know!

And, finally, Queen of the May is nearly up to 20 percent funded now, so please do pop over and pledge something and get us heading towards the all important 30 percent mark. Once I hit 30 percent, the project then becomes 90 percent likely to fund, so these early pledges are really, really important!

At last, Queen of the May is up on Kickstarter and ready your support! We have 31 days to raise $10,000, and already have $1071 pledged. Even if you choose the lowest support level, which is $3, please do consider taking part as every little helps!

You can also help immensely by telling your friends about it. No matter how focused your own personal network, every mention of the project helps. Here are a few things you can do:

Use your social networks
Send a Tweet, update your Facebook, MySpace and LinkedIn statuses, or leave a message on any other social network you use. Kickstarter provide a Tweet button that allows you to log in to Twitter and send a pre-written Tweet which says:

Queen of the May by Suw Charman-Anderson — Kickstarter http://kck.st/zv4p1f via @kickstarter

If you think that’s a bit boring, you can always try:

I’m supporting @Suw’s Queen of the May on @kickstarter and you should too! http://kck.st/zv4p1f (please RT!)

Or, of course, you can write whatever you like, just remember the URL: http://kck.st/zv4p1f

Kickstarter also has a Facebook Like button, which you can use to post to your Facebook timeline, but again, an original, personalised message will be more interesting to your friends. 

Write a blog post
If you want to write a blog post about the project, you can quote any of the stuff that I’ve written on the Kickstarter page or here to be part of your post. You can also embed the video if you like. The code is:

<iframe frameborder=”0″ height=”360px” src=”http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/suw/queen-of-the-may/widget/video.html” width=”480px”></iframe>

If you want to ask me specific questions or do an interview, please feel free to email me.

Tell your friends
If you have friends that you think might enjoy Queen of the May, why not just send them a quick email to tell them about it? Equally, if you’re on any mailing lists, forums etc. and feel like they might like to know about it, please do let them know. 

Share the link
If you’re a member of social sharing sites like Delicious, Pinterest, Metafilter, StumbleUpon etc. please do share a link to the Kickstarter project page. The biggest challenge for any crowdfunded project is to reach enough people and social sharing sites can be important sources of new supporters.

Every little really does help
It’s tempting to think that you have to famous to have an effect, but that’s not true and there’s evidence to prove it! Buzzfeed’s Jack Krawczyk and StumbleUpon’s Jon Steinberg recently collaborated on a project to analyse how links were shared across their networks. They said:

Our data show that online sharing, even at viral scale, takes place through many small groups, not via the single status post or tweet of a few influencers. While influential people may be able to reach a wide audience, their impact is short-lived. Content goes viral when it spreads beyond a particular sphere of influence and spreads across the social web via ordinarily people sharing with their friends.

[...] Even the largest stories on Facebook are the product of lots of intimate sharing — not one person sharing and hundreds of thousands of people clicking.

In short, lots of people sharing the link with just a few good friends is at the heart of what makes a project like this succeed, however counter-intuitive that might seem. I’ll write more about this in due course.

In the meantime, if you like the look of Queen of the May, do keep an eye out for updates from me on Twitter, as well as here on the blog and on Kickstarter. And here, for your delectation is the pitch video. Enjoy!

 

 

This is Part 4 in my series of blog posts looking at the lessons I learnt doing a Kickstarter project. See also Part 1: Don’t Go Off Half-CockedPart 2: Rewards, Part 3: Budgeting.

Whilst there is, for me at least, some pleasure to be derived from working out reward levels and toying with Excel spreadsheets in working out my budget, the idea of promoting my own project makes my blood run cold. I never have been one of the world’s natural bigmouths, and in all honesty, I dread the promotional work i’m going to have to do for Queen of the May.

I would love it if the world automatically rewarded hard work and quality, but it doesn’t. You have to get out there and tell the world that you’ve done something worth looking at. Here are few thoughts about promoting your Kickstarter project.

1. You have to do your own promo
Much as it would be lovely to just put stuff up on Kickstarter and let the community organically find you, that is just not how it works. There are lots and lots of projects on Kickstarter and, whilst a few people might trawl through the site looking for interesting stuff to back, you can’t assume that will result in enough people to fund your project.

You have to have a plan to promote your project and be willing to go outside of the Kickstarter community to do so. If you simply put up a project and cross your fingers, you will almost certainly fail.

2. Build your community before you crowdfund
By the time you’re ready to launch your project, it’s too late to build a fanbase around your work. You have to start collecting fans early. Whatever tools you favour, start now, because it takes a long time to build up a following and when your project starts you simply don’t have that time spare. Even social tools like Twitter and Facebook, often erroneously billed as a silver bullet, are not instantaneous and it takes time to connect with those people who are interested in your work.

3. You need a big, big fanbase
A rule of thumb for direct marketing is that between 0.1% and 1% of people that you contact will be interested in what you’re selling them. My mum teaches exercise and no matter what advertising or marketing we try to increase her class sizes, it comes in at around 1%. That means you should aim to reach about 100 or even 1000 times the number of people you need to fund your project.

So, if I think I need 200 people to fund Queen of the May, I need to reach between 20,000 and 200,000 people to find enough who are actually interested in what I’m proposing. That’s a lot of people.

4. Run an opt-In newsletter
One way to reduce the number of people you need to reach is to run an opt-in newsletter that people choose to receive. The idea is that if people are already interested in you and your work, then they’ll be more likely to act when you tell them about your new project. Giving them the ability to get regular news from you is a good way to keep in touch, but don’t expect everyone on your mailing list to read your emails. It’s common for even opt-in lists to have an open rate of less than 20% so if you have 100 people on your list, only 20 will actually read your emails. But, and it’s a big but, those people will be more likely to back your project than random Joes off the street.

5. Engage with social media
The amazing thing about Twitter is not that it’s an easy way to talk to people but that it’s a network of networks. If I send a tweet, someone in my network can send it on to their network, and someone in their network can send it even further. We’re out of the hub-and-spoke model of a newsletter and into the network-of-networks model of social media. That can really help news of your project spread outside of your immediate circle of friends and into the wider community.

Of course, you have to invest time in social media, whether that’s Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or something else, prior to launch. It does take a long time to build up a Twitter following, for example, so get going, get following and be talkative. I’m not going to write a full-on guide to social media in this post, but just remember to give more than you take.

6. Assess your channels
Do you know how many people you can reach, roughly speaking, through each of your promo channels? How many people follow you on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google Plus? Do you know what level of overlap there is? Spend some time working out how many people you can reach directly, and then ask if it’s enough. If you only have a small network, that might have an impact on what makes a sensible crowdfunding target.

7. Time your announcements
Research has shown that there are four key times in the day when people are most active in email: on arrival at work, just before lunch, just after lunch, and just before they go home. Sending an email at one of these times increases the chances it will be opened and read. Equally, sending a Tweet in the UK morning will mean that Americans don’t see it as they will be asleep at the time.

So think about when you’re sending out emails and Tweets and Facebook updates, and try to make sure that you send at a time when your message is most likely to be received. If you have a blog, pay attention to what time people visit by installing a traffic monitoring package like Statcounter or Google Analytics. My blog seems to peak each day around lunchtime, so that’s a good time to post something new.

8. Co-ordinate across your channels
If you have several places you can promote your project, make sure that you think about how they work together.  If you’re writing blog posts about your project, make sure you post them on Twitter and Facebook, for example. Don’t just link to your crowdfunding page, but to discussion about it.

9. Don’t overdo it
I probably underdo it, but really, seriously, don’t overdo the self-promotion. Nothing puts people off a project more than someone who does nothing else but whitter on about it all the time.

10. Make it easy for people to help
When I’ve been promoting Ada Lovelace Day in the past, I’ve noticed that people really do like it when you give them a pre-written tweet to copy and paste, or write an email that they can forward. People are generally willing to help you get the word out, but the easier you can make it for them the more likely they are to take action.

11. Ask friends, but don’t impose
It’s well worth tapping friends up for help, especially if they have bigger networks than you. But if you do, make sure that you don’t impose on them. Give them a heads-up on what you’re doing and the opportunity to help if they want to, but don’t put them in a position where they feel obliged – it might backfire.

Self-promotion for most people is really hard. It’s well worth thinking ahead about how you’re going to promote stuff in a way that you’re comfortable with, and how you can co-ordinate it to make the most of every bit of activity. Whatever you decide, you can’t escape the fact that a good promotion plan could make or break your project.

Lessons from Kickstarter Part 3: Budgeting

by Suw on February 28, 2012

This is Part 3 in my series of blog posts looking at the lessons I learnt doing a Kickstarter project. See also Part 1: Don’t Go Off Half-Cocked and Part 2: Rewards.

Budgeting. For many people, budgeting is the worst part of any project. The tedium of researching suppliers, figuring out numbers, minimum runs, working out overheads, it’s all a massive pain in the neck. It’s also utterly essential if your crowdfunded project is to make, instead of cost, you money. So here are a few tips for making budgeting easier.

1. Use a spreadsheet
I’m in the middle of working out budgets for Queen of the May, which means that I have a spreadsheet with all my costs in one sheet, and three other sheets with my reward levels and backer projections so that I can see how many people I’ll potentially need to reach different targets. The sheets are interlinked so as I refine my reward costs, that’s reflected in my projections. It’s relatively easy to do that in programs like Excel, so if you don’t know to do formulae in spreadsheets then now is a good time to go and find out.

2. Use scenarios
You should explore difference scenarios in your spreadsheet. How many rewards do you need to sell in order to meet your goal? What would happen to your numbers if you saw runaway success? How would that affect the number of rewards that you’d need to make or have made? How would that affect fulfilment and admin costs? If you don’t know what will happen in different scenarios you open yourself up to problems.

3. Know your reward costs
It can be difficult to pin down reward costs without precise order numbers, but you have to do your best. You need to know how much each reward costs so that you set your prices at a level higher than your expenditure. That might seem blindingly obvious, but it’s far too easy to set the reward levels at what you think people will be willing to pay, rather than what you need to earn to make the project at least break even. A miscalculation on your reward costs can end up losing you money, so be very careful.

4. Remember P&P
Don’t just run the numbers on your materials. You need to know the cost of packaging and postage as well, which means knowing how you are going to send your rewards out. In a box? A padded bag? Wrapped somehow?

Many crowdfunded projects ask international supporters to add a certain amount for the extra postage, so make sure you know how much that is. However, please do tell what you mean by ‘international’! You can’t assume that everyone knows where you are.

5. Understand your minimum runs
For many items that you could be ordering, there are either minimum runs or short runs become very expensive. You should know exactly what minimum runs are and how much they cost. Don’t do your calculations purely on the pro rata cost per item.

For example, if you’re buying postcards and the minimum run is 100 for £50, then even if only one person selects the postcard reward you’ll still have to shell out £50.

6. Don’t forget fixed costs
Once you’ve calculated the costs of your rewards, you need to calculate your fixed costs, ie ones that don’t go up depending on how many rewards are ordered. This is stuff like design costs, prototyping costs, or software. Just like your minimum run costs, these costs won’t go down, so you need to make sure that your goal covers them.

7. If you can’t cost something, set a limit
Sometimes it’s impossible to figure out an exact cost. For example, I can’t get a cost for the leather-bound editions of Queen of the May without knowing how many have been ordered and exactly what the design is. I won’t know that until the project is funded and the design completed, so instead, I have set a limit which I won’t exceed. I know I can get them made for less than that limit, but exactly how much they will cost will remain up in the air until the project is funded.

8. Wages
If you want to work on your project full time when your fundraising drive is complete, you’ll want to factor in wages. This does mean having some idea of how long things will take, which is tricky estimate accurately, and then figuring out how much you need to cover your wages for that period. Be generous in your estimates as it’s only too easy for things to take a lot longer than anticipated!

9. Leave some wiggle room
You’ve carefully worked out reward costs, know your minimum runs, understand your fixed costs and have set limits for rewards you can’t cost properly. Sadly, it’s almost certain that you’ll forget something! It’s important, therefore, to leave some room between your combined costs and the reward levels you set in Kickstarter. This wiggle room gives you a cushion in case costs go up unexpectedly, or in case you underestimated something.

With Argleton, my printing costs doubled because the paperback book had to be stitched as well as glued. Luckily, although I hadn’t costed this in, I had over-funded and so had a bit of spare cash. Wiggle room isn’t a luxury, it’s an essential.

As tedious as it is, working out your budget in detail will help you avoid nasty surprises once your fundraising drive has completed. Once the money’s in, you are committed to providing the rewards you have promised, whether you are covering your costs or not. Don’t let a small miscalculation turn your project into a white elephant.

Lessons from Kickstarter Part 2: Rewards

by Suw on February 16, 2012

This is Part 2 in my series of blog posts looking at the lessons I learnt doing a Kickstarter project. See also Part 1: Don’t Go Off Half-Cocked.

Rewards. These are one of the most important aspects of your crowdfunded project and getting them right is essential to your success. Getting them wrong, on the other hand, can not only mean that it’s harder to find supporters, but also that you might succeed with a millstone around your neck. So, a few thoughts to help you think about your reward levels:

1. Understand how much work is required to create each reward
Coming up with ideas for what sorts of rewards you can offer is the easy bit of planning your rewards. But you also need to know in great detail how you are going to produce each one.

One mistake I made when doing Argleton was that I decided to cover some of the hard-backs in silk. It took something like nine prototypes for me to figure out exactly how I was going to make them. It then took hours to cut and bond the different pieces of silk, then to embroider them and add the backing paper ready for binding. It was a huge amount of work and I hadn’t realised before I added the silk covers as a reward that they would be so time consuming.

I should have completed the prototypes and had my manufacturing plans nailed to the floor before I launched the project.

2. Limit handmade rewards
I was lucky with the silk-covered hardbacks of Argleton: Only 14 people pledged at that level, and that was about the limit of how many I could realistically make in a reasonable amount of time. If even another ten people had wanted this reward, it would have caused significant problems.

I should have limited the number of silk-covered hardbacks OR I should have had another way to produce those rewards.

3. Beware the low value, labour intensive reward
For a while, I toyed with the idea of including a hand-made lace bookmark as a reward level, but when I thought about how much time it would take me and how much its perceived worth would be, I realised that it was a bad idea.

I’ve seen and heard of projects where creators have offered beautiful little hand-made trinkets at a price point that actually jeopardises the project. If you offer something that’s low value but labour intensive, you risk firstly not paying for your time (it’s not enough to just pay for the materials), and secondly also risk annoying your supporters because of how long it takes you to fulfil your promise.

4. Prepare for runaway success
How do you scale up your rewards if your project is wildly successful? With some rewards, it’s easy enough to simply order more. But with others, does a bigger order have an impact on your supplier? For example, with Queen of the May, my next project, I will be offering a leather-bound edition. If I outsource that to a bindery, they will have the same scaling issues as I would if lots are ordered.

Check with suppliers about how bigger numbers will affect their ability to fulfil your order. If they foresee a problem over a certain order size, make sure you limit the number available to your backers.

5. Make use of non-physical rewards
One way to extend your rewards is to add non-physical rewards. With books this might be an ebook version, an audiobook version, or some other downloadable media. If you are working with an illustrator or designer, for example, why not give backers high-rest digital versions of the illustrations as well as using them for a physical reward.

I did this to some extent with Argleton, but I could have done a lot more.

6. Make use of exclusivity
Different reward levels aren’t just about different physical or digital objects, but also about the exclusivity of a reward. Again, thinking about fiction, this might include allowing a supporter to name one or two of your characters, or buying a spot on the dedication page. The nice thing about rewards like that are that they add value without adding cost, so they can dramatically increase the amount you raise without increasing the project costs.

I didn’t do this with Argleton, mainly because I didn’t think of it, but I will with Queen of the May.

7. Add rewards if you overfund
One fantastic project that I find myself inspired by is Rich Burlew’s Order of the Stick reprinting drive. One thing that Rich is doing which is very important is that the more pledges he gets, the more he gives his backers at all levels. By adding new rewards, either by asking people to “add $5 to your pledge to receive $new_thing” or creating entirely new reward levels, he is giving his existing backers an incentive to pledge more money. He’s also encouraging new backers to sign up by offering them more per reward level than he previously could have.

I think this is a very clever tactic, and one I hope to be able to employ with Queen of the May. I already have some ideas in mind for new rewards that I can offer people and will soon be researching costs so that if I overfund, I can add the new rewards very quickly.

8. Pricing
It’s really important to get your pricing right. This isn’t just about understanding your production costs, time and admin, but also making sure that your prices makes sense. I’ll cover budgeting in another post, but here want to talk about how prices make sense.

One important aspect of how human brains work is that comparisons are important. If you go into a shop that sells suits at the £200 price point and you see a suit at £500, it seems expensive. In a shop that sells suits at £1000, on the other hand, a £500 suit looks like a bargain. Make sure you have an expensive reward that positions you as the £1000 suit shop, not the el cheapo market stall.

You also need to think about how backers will view the spread of reward prices. Human babies naturally think logarithmically, and as adults we retain that logarithmic sense, so a reward schedule that goes up in a sort of logarithmic way feels right. Reward levels that go up in regular intervals risk feeling cheap.

Kickstarter has a blog post that looks at funding levels, and $50 and $100 levels both account for a lot of the income. But lower levels are more popular, with $25 appealing to the most people. The valuable thing about low-value rewards is that they bring in more backers which means that you have more people to ask for help in spreading the word. (Again, I’ll go over promotion in another blog post.)

Matt Haughey also has a good post with tips on using Kickstarter from the point of view of an enthusiastic backer. He goes into some detail about prices, and I found it particularly interesting when he said “I fund most projects in the $20-40 range, which I consider a “what the hell” level equivalent to a single visit to an ATM”.

Make sure that you have some ‘what the hell’ rewards that people really want. Don’t just fill up the bottom end of your reward schedule with postcards and wallpapers, make them something that people truly desire and can afford.

 

Next time, I’m going to talk about budgeting, an issue that’s close to my heart at the moment as I’ve spent much of the last month doing exactly that for Queen of the May. (And remember, if you want to be amongst the first to know when that project is up on Kickstarter, join my mailing list!)

The last 18 months has taught me a lot about Kickstarter and putting together my own self-publishing project. This is the first of a series of blog posts in which I’ll go through what I’ve learnt, partly in case it’s of interest to anyone else but also to codify it in my own head so that, hopefully, I won’t make the same mistakes again. So, herewith Part 1!

If there was one overarching lesson that I’ve learnt doing Argleton, one thing that I really wish I’d thought of 18 months ago, it would be this:

Don’t go off half-cocked

Whilst there’s some truth to the idea that ignorance is bliss and that if I’d known what I was taking on I perhaps wouldn’t have done so, I think there’s more truth in the idea that I would have saved myself a lot of pain if I’d planned things better. Instead I bouncily assumed that it couldn’t possibly be that much work and that I’d have the whole thing done by the end of the summer. In 2010. Whoops.

So here are a few thoughts on how to make sure you’re fully prepared before you launch your Kickstarter project.

1. Finish as much of your project as possible
I naïvely thought that I could finish writing and editing Argleton whilst the Kickstarter fundraiser was underway, but promoting the campaign took more effort than I had anticipated, leaving me not much time to write. This had serious knock-on effects: Because I didn’t know how long the story was going to be, I couldn’t get accurate quotes for printing and so my rewards were priced by roughly guessing. I’ll go into budgeting issues in another post, but suffice it to say that guessing is a Very Bad Idea.

Another impact of having not finished up as much as I could was that it lengthened the time between people pledging support and my delivering my book to them. My ‘deadline’ for sending out the books just kept slipping and whilst most people were very patient, a couple sent me rather sharp messages questioning my commitment. I have to say that stung, but I could have avoided it if I hadn’t gone off half-cocked.

I should have had the book finished, critiqued, edited, typeset and converted into multiple digital formats, with all my rewards properly designed and fulfilment planned before I even considered launching my Kickstarter project.

2. Understand how much of your project remains
You can’t always finish everything up front. Had I hired someone to design my cover, for example, I would not have been in a position to do that until the Kickstarter money came in. That’s fair enough, but make sure that you know exactly what tasks are outstanding, how you are going to complete them and how long they are going to take. This allows you to be up front with your supporters about what’s left to do and how long they’ll have to wait for the finished thing.

3. Complete the design and prototyping of your rewards
Another really time-consuming part of the project was designing and prototyping my rewards, the books. Whilst they were easy to describe in text, they turned out to be difficult to turn into a reality. I learnt that I am not a natural graphic designer and that my ideas about what would work as a cover in print and in silk were very difficult for me to realise. The silk cover in particular went through about nine prototypes all together.

Had I gone through that process before launching my Kickstarter project, I would have learnt early on that I needed the help of a designer and I could have worked that into the project costs. I also would have realised how difficult the silk cover would turn out to be to actually make and just how long each one would take. I might still have gone ahead, but it would have been with eyes open.

4. Get your suppliers lined up
This is important not just for budgeting, but also to save you time when it comes to getting everything done and sent out. The first printer I looked at turned out to be incapable of doing the job in the way that I wanted: They didn’t have experience making books and didn’t have the right kind of binding technique which meant that when you opened the book, the pages fell out. Not really the result I was aiming for.

Finding a new printer, briefing them, and going through more prototypes was time consuming and set me back by months. In the end Oldacres did an amazing job, and I will be using them again on my next project so the relationship I formed with them is important, but I could have got there sooner. (Especially as they were actually the first recommendation I had had. :/ )

5. Understand your incompetencies
Obviously, I like to think I’m a half-decent writer, so the task of finishing and editing the story was easily doable. I’m also quite good at typesetting, having done that professionally in a different incarnation. But what I hadn’t really banked on was the fact that I’m a shit graphic designer and an even worse puzzle writer.

Not only did my weaknesses slow the project down (I’m still finishing of the puzzle, for example), they also made everything unnecessarily difficult. Had I looked at the puzzle before I launched, I would have realised how much effort it was going to be and might even have questioned whether it was even needed. In retrospect, I think the inclusion of the puzzle or geogame was more a statement of my own lack of confidence than a genuine contribution to the project.

6. Understand your dependencies
I hate to say it, but I should have Gantt-charted the project and thought hard about what was dependent on what. I wasn’t always clear on what could be done in parallel and what had to be done in order, and so I often defaulted to doing things in serial, thus delaying the project further. Partly that was a psychological thing: It felt easier to deal with one set of related problems at a time, rather than trying to solve issues on multiple fronts simultaneously. There’s no doubt at all that drastically slowed me down.

Had I sat down and worked out my dependencies, I would have been able to prioritise my to do list better. I would also have known when I needed to make educated assumptions, and what I would have to find out in order for those assumptions to hold water.

One good example is calculating postage. I hadn’t finished the story, so didn’t know how long it was, so didn’t know how many pages it would be, so couldn’t figure out the weight or find the packaging and so couldn’t make even a vaguely informed calculation as to the likely cost of postage. As it was, it cost a lot more than I had anticipated, as did the printing come to think of it, and I was lucky that I had raised more than I needed so didn’t actually lose money.

7. Don’t overcomplicate things
As I mentioned above, the geogame in the end turned out to be more of a gimmick that I hoped would get people interested rather than integral to the storytelling. Whilst I have done my best to produce something that is enjoyable, the fact that it has only now reached the testing stage shows just how difficult I have found it. I could have done without it and, if I had, I don’t think the project would have suffered at all.

Whilst most of the rest of the Argleton project was relatively simple, if time consuming, I did apply this rule to what was going to be my next project – a story told through the medium of a newspaper, complete with fictional character profiles, classifieds and sports page. I still love the idea, but during the planning process I realised that it was actually a very complicated project that would require collaboration with a number of people. I’m not ready to do that yet, although I will definitely be keeping that on my list of projects to look into when I’ve got a better flow of money coming in from my ebooks.

My aim in all of this is to produce a small but growing body of work, both electronic and in various physical media, which can give me an income. To this end I need to ensure that future projects are doable in a much, much shorter timespan than Argleton. Taking two years to do a novelette is not sustainable, so future projects will be much, much simpler and will hopefully complete more quickly.

Next time: How to think about your rewards.

Taking off my overcoat

by Suw on June 15, 2011

I always used to think that blogging was for the terminally under-employed or the terminally not-very-happy-with-life-right-now’ed. Certainly that was true of me when I started this blog and at various stages throughout its history. Indeed, I often combined both conditions into one great big fugue of skint unhappiness, and was verbose with it.

These days, I seem to only blog when I have something to say. Back in the day, I had a lot less to say but seemed to say it more often. The last few years, since ORG really, I’ve busy with work and, since meeting T’Other, my life is several orders of magnitude happier. Somehow this seems to mean that I’m less likely to blog, due to having a lot less to whine about. Indeed, I am in awe of my friends who still blog enthusiastically despite being both over-employed and deliriously happy.

I still have those little moments where I think “Oh, I could write about that on my blog”, but by the time evening has come, my brain and fingers feel like they have had enough and that what they’d really like to be doing is nothing. I write a lot – a 15k word report here, a 35k word report there – and it can be hard to whip up the enthusiasm to find another few hundred words at the end of the day. It’s easier to say, “Tomorrow. Tomorrow I will blog.”

But I can feel an inflection point coming on. Change is in the air. I can smell it. What’s more, I want it.

I’m wary of talking about plans, because the future is one slippery little motherfucker. Kevin and I have made many plans but the ground keeps shifting under our feet. Actually, we keep making the same plan, over and over again, each coming from a slightly different angle, each one falling over at the first hurdle. The nub of the plan never changes, however, and is this: Leave London. But like a psychotic partner who makes your life hell but who’s still just enough fun to make you pause, London is a bitch to break up with.

For the first time in my life, I have a social circle, friends I see regularly and can just go hang out with. Friends within walking distance (a rarity in London). I have clients both here and at the other end of a flight from Heathrow. Favourite restaurants and pubs. Opportunities. Contacts. Cats. A life. (Compare and contrast my time in Reading, where I lived for three years, knowing no one.)

But the one thing that’s missing is the one thing London can’t give me, not on my earnings anyway. Space. Peace. Quiet. A view. A slower, more considered life. Time to write what I want to write and the money to do so. It would take a miracle for that to happen in London. Specifically, a miracle that involved a very, very large deposit into my bank account.

There are other places that are nicer, quieter, cheaper, with better views, although the downside is that I’ll be leaving my friends behind and starting my life anew in a strange land. (Don’t ask me where, because I don’t know yet.) It’s exciting, but nerve wracking. But the decision is made.

Place isn’t the only thing that needs to change, but meaning too: The meaning of me. I’ve always been someone whose self-identity was tightly bound to what I do. Being a music journalist may have broken the bank, but it was a fun persona to try on for a while. Being a musician or a stand-up comic were interesting and sometimes even enjoyable experiments.

Being a digital rights activist or social media consultant connected a bit more deeply with who I am, because ultimately it was a form of story-telling, the sort of story-telling that involves us creating a better world in our imagination and then fighting to make it come true. But who I really am, who I’ve always been, has been the Suw who wrote Argleton and the Books of Hay and Tag. It’s just that at times, wearing these other careers like coats, I might have fooled you. Or maybe I was trying to fool myself.

A few years ago, after Tag but before Argleton and the Books of Hay, I was having dinner with a writer friend. He’s quite good, this writer friend, and I confess I’m still a bit in awe of him, despite us having shared sushi and he having witnessed my meal fighting back in a most embarrassing fashion. I mentioned something about truly, madly, deeply wanting to write and the words he kindly didn’t say were, “Well, get on with it then.”

That night, I lay in bed, thinking about what I would write about if I was going to write something that no one would read but me. At some time around 3am, I realised that it would have magic, and cats, and probably some scenes in Wales, and dragons if I could crowbar them in. The next day, I started writing the Book of Hay. It was supposed to be stupid, whimsical and just for me, but it turned out to be quite good, even though it doesn’t have dragons in it.

Just before I finished the Books of Hay, which was turning out to be 30k words longer than the short story I had anticipated, I had the idea for Argleton. Egged on by friends, I put down the Books of Hay and focused on what was supposed to be a short story but which came in at novelette length instead. Well over a year later, Argleton is nearly done. Not the story – that’s been done for ages – but the project that the story evolved into. And as part of that evolution, something became very clear to me: I can be, and have the skills to be, the kind of writer I want to be.

I’ve always been somewhat put off by the traditional route that writers used to take. The idea of sending of my works into the cold, harsh unknown and waiting weeks, if not months, for a rejection letter, filled me with dread. I just don’t have the patience for it. I’d rather just put my stuff out there and see what people think. Novelettes are a great length for a piece of work – long enough to be a bit meaty, not so long that they take forever to edit. In fact, I’ve fallen in love with that format, with the idea of a little book not so tiny as to be accidentally inhaled, but certainly bite-sized.

And in the years of my procrastination, of wandering aimlessly through the creative desert, the world changed. Pivoted. In a way that is now essential to my plan. Five years ago, I could have distributed Argleton for free quite easily, but whilst free is lovely for readers, it’s tricky for writers who need to do things like eat and sleep under a roof that’s not leaking and wear clothes that aren’t threadbare. But now we have crowdfunding. Now I have a Plan.

The Plan is this: When I have finished making all the Argleton books and have sent them out, and the backers have had their PDFs for a couple of weeks so that they get to enjoy the story that they funded first and exclusively, after all that, it will go up here for free. Then I will crowdfund the prequel to the Books of Hay, which will likely be in the form of a newspaper. Then I will crowdfund the Books of Hay, which is another novelette. And hopefully, by then, I will have my 1000 True Fans, and I will have, with them, a living.

Because I’m frankly shit at doing this thing that other people manage to do where they balance writing and working and get both done equally well. I need to find a way to do that for now, through this transition, so Dear Clients, I still love you and want you and need you. But this is what I need to do to be me, because I’m not happy when I’m not me. I don’t want to wear a coat anymore. I want to feel the sun on my skin, feel the grass between my toes, and feel everyone staring as I dance through the meadow in my white dress like that chick out of the Timotei advert.

Lessons from the TikTok

by Suw on January 6, 2011

Bryce Roberts takes a look at why the TikTok and LunaTik multitouch watch kits were so phenomenally successful at raising money – $941,718 - on Kickstarter. Bryce boils it down to:

  • Strong personal story
  • Strong product story
  • Attractive rewards
  • Progress reports

He concludes:

I believe we’re moving away from the WalMart-ification of everything. People want a connection to the story of the things in their lives. Investors aren’t excluded. Neither are potential consumers of your physical or digital products. I’m certain the companies that are able to tell their stories in big, compelling ways have an unfair competitive advantage as fundraisers and as scalable businesses.

I can only strongly agree. I’d also add that it helps to have your product, whether that’s a watch or a book, as far down the line as you can before even starting to fundraise. The power of having photographs of prototypes is important to understand. Indeed, I think that the TikTok team would have found their idea much harder to sell without the photos and images, which do a lot of the heavy lifting for them.

From my own experience, I’ll add that it’s important not to start funding drives too early. TikTok have shown the importance of being able to show people what you’re doing, rather than tell them (adhering, possibly accidentally, to the old storytelling adage). If Argleton had been farther down the road before I started my fundraising drive, I would have had a much better story to tell about it, as well as more accurate costs on which to base my reward levels (I underestimated). Furthermore, I would have been able to finish the project up and get the rewards out to supporters much more quickly than I have.

As someone who has at least three more crowdfunding projects in mind for this year, I’m keen to find out more about what makes for a successful drive. I know I have a lot to learn, and i suspect we all do, about this new creative model.

Art Space Tokyo and Kickstarter

by Suw on August 1, 2010

Great piece by Craig Mod about using Kickstarter as seed capital to not only ?fund a book, ?Art Space Tokyo, but also start a publishing think tank, PRE/POST. The essay is most comprehensive – with graphs! – and anyone interested in using Kickstarter to raise money should read it. I hope to be able to write something equally as detailed when my project is over!