Kickstarter Campaign vs. Kickstarter Reality

Back in August of 2012, after the end of my first (and only) Kickstarter, I wrote about the experience and offered some advice on how to run a successful campaign. Now that more time has passed, and all the emails have been sent, the rewards have been mailed, the packages have been shipped, and the credit card has been thoroughly exercised, where do things stand? Did I make any money? Did I love it or hate it? And most importantly, would I do it again?

THE STATS

Thanks to the campaign I had just over 700 people receiving digital copies of The Girl Who Would Be King. They received those the last week of September 2012. Of those 700, about 525 people were also receiving hardcopies and various other rewards ranging from bookmarks and magnets to original artwork and high-end prints. That took longer. A lot longer. I began shipping the first week of December with the hopes of getting it all done within a week. The last round of international shipments went out on December 14th. Now, over a month later, there are still packages (mostly international) unaccounted for – most I hope are just held up in customs – but a few will surely have to be replaced. So much for priority shipping!

So how were my sales beyond that first 700? Digital copies were available to the public via Amazon, Lulu, and later via iTunes and Barnes & Noble. Between the end of September and now I sold about 275 digital copies, all but 30 via Amazon. I also gave away some 2,100 copies for free via an Amazon promotion in December. The paperback version has only been available via Amazon for about three weeks and I’ve sold a dozen. I’ve also sold another 15 of the limited edition illustrated hardcovers, plus a lot of swag and prints.

THE DOLLARS AND CENTS OF IT ALL

If my goal was to make money…I failed miserably. I am easily $5,000 in the red.

Had I not gotten greedy in ordering cool swag, and had I not been too generous in what I tried to deliver to my backers, the royalties from the additional sales might have actually pushed me into the black, but reaching for the stars on extras plus underestimating shipping costs across the board has definitively kept me in the red overall.

So where were my overages? Though they are embarrassing in some ways, I will share them with you in the hopes you can avoid some of my mistakes.

While I stayed mostly on target with my book printing costs, when it came to the extras I had so many gorgeous illustrations that I wanted more of everything. I ordered twice as many over-sized postcards as I had planned and twice as many bookmarks, not quite doubling my costs for both. I also ended up giving away a lot of product, both to the artists that so generously donated artwork as well as attendees at several cons to help generate publicity. Again, nothing wrong with these costs, but they added up quickly. I also miscalculated on stickers, giving away too many too early on, forcing me to order more partway through my shipping process. Approximate cost of these unbudgeted overages? About $900.

When time became an even bigger issue than money (and trust me, that happened very quickly, even with the financial overages) I opted for a cool printed thank you card rather than writing out hundreds by hand. A good decision, but one that cost me more $$$ I hadn’t accounted for. I included a reminder for people to please write reviews and provided links to the website and store, all good things that hopefully are paying off from a PR standpoint. Still: $250.

When I upgraded everyone that was receiving print copies to the illustrated hardback it ultimately saved me money, but in typical me fashion I found a way to spend more money. Not wanting those that had paid more than others for a hardcover to feel shorted, I ended up investing another $850 in an additional illustration by my cover artist, specialty cards, envelopes, and stickers. This “blue envelope” as I ended up calling it also proved to be perhaps my best PR move in the whole campaign, so again, a good idea, but one that cost me big bucks when the hardcover printing cost volume should have actually saved me money. Cost: $850.

Like a rookie, I didn’t figure anything for packaging costs, and even though I opted to use USPS Priority Mail for the bulk of my shipping  - which meant all my envelopes were paid for - there were still serious costs that added up. For starters, in order to protect my books and wrap them together with the swag I opted to wrap them in Kraft Paper. At $5.00 per roll it was not so expensive, but times 10 it added up. You know what’s really freaking expensive? Good mailing tape. You know what you need a lot of when you have to wrap over 550 books? Good mailing tape. I went through more than 9 rolls when all was said and done. I needed tubes for the posters I was mailing and the first tubes I ordered were inadequate and I had to upgrade to something sturdier. I needed about 15. I didn’t want to roll my prints (and wasn’t thrilled/convinced the tubes were going to work) so I needed special boxes for mailing prints.  The boxes I decided on came in bundles of 25. The prints also needed to be packaged individually in bags and boards before they were boxed. For 13 x 19 sized prints I had to order specialty bags and boards – 100 of each. Total cost: $475.

Because of my four-flight walk up, my lack of a car, and my post-office (positioned up a giant hill) I had to hire movers, both to help me get the books into the apartment (here’s a tip, don’t count on UPS for anything, even delivering your packages correctly) as well as back out of the apartment and to the post office on three separate occasions once the packages were ready. Cost? Nearly $1,000, including tips.

I decided early on that I did not want to send my books via media mail (bad experiences!) and I priced my Kickstarter levels accordingly. I thought I built my shipping conservatively and accurately, but in the end it was almost triple the cost of my estimate for an overage of about: $2,100. Brutal.

Total overages? About $5,570.

Yeesh.

So, if my goal was to make money…I failed miserably. I am easily $5,000 in the red and my credit card does not think very highly of either Kickstarter OR my budgeting capabilities. Although, let’s face it, it’s much more MY problem than Kickstarter’s, and I’m sure my credit card knows that better than anyone else.

But what DO I have?  I have my book in the hands of more than 1,000 people, and all in the span of a few months. I have 40 great reviews on 3 different Amazon sites. I have 45 Goodreads ratings and my book in the hands of some awesome and powerful people. I even have quotes from a few of them. I get fan email nearly every day, orders every day, and I have a good amount of product still on my “shelves” to sell, and that could in theory get me into the black.

INSIDER TIPS

The positives, even if I didn’t make a lot of (any) money (yet), have been incredibly positive. Kickstarter gave me more than I ever could have hoped when I first thought of self-publishing.

My biggest problems were budgeting and shipping, so here are a couple things I encountered that might help you avoid making the same missteps.

When budgeting, build in extra padding no matter what. As I said in my previous Kickstarter piece, don't ever put up a reward that you think has too small (or no) profit built into it as that is the one that everyone will decide they want. Similarly, be careful when building your rewards. There needs to be a good pocket of "profit" in each reward as there will always be overages that you cannot foresee and the last thing you want to do is not deliver on something you promised, or give your credit card an unexpected work out. 

It's a good idea to set up a Business Mailing Address/PO Box so you're not sending hundreds (or thousands) of packages out to strangers with your home address. But if you're going to do that and are considering using any kind of Post Office "Pick Up" service, keep in mind that the requirements of the service are that they are picking up from the address listed on your prepaid label. That means you either need to forgo getting the pick up service, or forgo the Mailing Address, or arrange to have all your packages at the Mailing Address location (which in some cases defeats the purpose as it's the post office anyway!).

All that said, using pre-paid shipping labels made this process infinitely easier. Not only did it allow me to manage the cost in advance of showing up at the post office, it allowed me to do all my prep work so that once I got the packages to the post office, they could just be taken directly to the back for processing. No time-consuming weighing or stamping.

But there was no way to speed up international, at least not one I found. Every single package needed a customs form and had to be weighed and stamped individually. The day I did my International mailing I was at the post office for five hours straight and that doesn’t even include the hours upon hours of prep I did to get ready for those five hours. In retrospect, I would certainly break up the international shipments over the three post office trips I made, rookie mistake. One you should avoid! But definitely make sure to get all your customs forms in advance so that you can fill out the forms and attach them before you get to the post office. It will save you tons of time, and much postal worker glaring.

WOULD I DO IT AGAIN?

Yes and no. If I was not living in New York and in a four-flight walk-up, then yes, I probably would. The positives, even if I didn’t make a lot of (any) money (yet), have been incredibly positive. From amazing reviews on Amazon to fan mail coming in, as well as continued orders and general awesomeness about the book everywhere I turn, the experience has been exceptional. The only downside (other than the ongoing money question) was the headache of shipping, and it was a HUGE headache. Beyond the added expense of employing help to aid me in getting the packages out the door in a timely fashion there was the post office itself, which is no small headache on its own. I was lucky and made a connection with someone there who was interested in helping me and was quite kind, but it was still not anyone’s idea of a good time. 

So yes, I would do another Kickstarter, if I moved first. If I stay here in New York and in the same apartment? No. No, it’s just too much to do again. Some of what gave me the strength to get through the shipping the first time was simply not knowing what I was in for. It would be too much to go into already knowing the complications I had ahead of me. Even if I could minimize some of those issues by learning from my mistakes it’s just too hard.  Having hired assistance would help too, but again, without a move and the ability to more easily get to and from the post office on my own and for free, it’s just not a challenge I’d want to take on again.

I’m crazy grateful though. Kickstarter gave me more than I ever could have hoped when I first thought of self-publishing – a huge audience; large funding to a make not only a print run, but a gorgeous illustrated hardcover edition a reality; a good stock on hand to sell after the fact; a huge jump on my reviews; exposure to so many people I never would have reached without it; as well as a great way to frame my story from a PR standpoint. I doubt I’ll ever regret doing my Kickstarter, but it’s also recent enough in my memory that I don’t have rose-colored glasses on about the experience. It’s not for the faint of heart…but fortune favors the brave, right?

Image of The Girl Who Would Be King
Author: Kelly Thompson
Price: $13.49
Publisher: 1979 Semi-Finalist, Incorporated (2012)
Binding: Paperback, 368 pages

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Comments

Greg Kerr's picture
Greg Kerr January 17, 2013 - 2:19pm

as someone who has a lot of experience shipping internationally, regardless of your item, i would suggest using shipping software like endicia.  i mail about 30-40%(30-50 a week) of my packages overseas and used to spend 5-6 hrs a week at least in line at the post office.  now, i print my labels, even international(first class) with full customs forms on them by just copy/pasting their info and printing the label onto shipping labels on a cheap one color laser printer.  

i have been debating a kickstarter for another project i am working on and appreciate your honest breakdown of what went well and what were unforseen issues.  thanks for sharing it.  

Jamey Stegmaier's picture
Jamey Stegmaier January 17, 2013 - 2:35pm

Thank you for taking the time to write this--it's a fascinating look into the fulfillment process for a Kickstarter creator.

Given that shipping was your #1 headache, have you considered any fulfillment services? I ran a Kickstarter campaign for a game called Viticulture this past fall, and after shipping all the wine glasses and corkscrews I owed to domestic backers, I decided for sure that I would use a fulfillment center to ship all the games in the spring. It turns out that Amazon has a surprisingly cost-effective option for domestic shipments. For my game, which I'm sure is much heavier than your book, it's $5.50/shipment for everything--postage, labor, and packaging.

International shipments are more tricky and expensive, but there are fulfillment centers to take care of that too. Fulfillrite is not far from New York.

Using Amazon would work even if you had to sign all of the books--you would simply sign the books and ship them via freight to Amazon's fulfillment center.

Then again, there's something to be said for getting your hands dirty as a project creator. But I'd rather get my hands dirty interacting with backers, making the project itself particularly great, or working on my next project than on shipping. :)

Kevin M. Scarbrough's picture
Kevin M. Scarbrough January 17, 2013 - 7:17pm

Regarding the packaging tape (I feel your pain madam), Uline is a great source. Their shipping costs leave something to be desired, so if you are moving (or have friends who are moving, or in general are an office--industrialsupply-needing-person), buy as much of everything you'll need at once.

Joshua Chaplinsky's picture
Joshua Chaplinsky from New York is reading Flicker January 17, 2013 - 7:39pm

So that's what the apartment I've never been invited to looks like. Seems big enough to host a modest game night, sans books.

1979semifinalist's picture
1979semifinalist from California but living in NYC is reading Joe Hill's NOS4A2 January 17, 2013 - 10:45pm

@Greg: Thanks so much for the tip - I will most certainly look into something like that for any future projects!

@Jamey: Fullfillment centers are not a bad idea and certainly something I would explore if I did another project, but there was a ton of personalization going on in each of my packages - what people were getting, books that had sketches, and/or personalized inscriptions - seems like it would have been really complicated for anyone that wasn't me (or working next to me) - also it certainly wouldn't have solved my cost issues if I had to ship 700 books (even via freight) anywhere after the nightmare of getting them to my apartment. Still, great advice for anyone looking to do a Kickstarter.

@Kevin: Uline is great. I used them for some of my very specific packaging I used. They were great - though I hope they'll stop sending me giant catalogs now that I've asked them not to.

@Josh: There's plenty of room...so long as nobody wants to sit down. ;)