The End of a Beautiful Friendship: Lessons Learned from a Kickstarter

BB1_front_Aug108_wallWhat a ride! Over $11,500 raised, reaching 77% of the Billi Kickstarter. I even had three $500 backers and one $1000 backer.

Wow! Just… wow! Above and beyond what I expected.

Before people start pounding my Comments with all the things I did wrong, it might be better if I just share some popular thoughts people have already shared on this Kickstarter. It may seem hard to believe, but there was a plan here. Now is a good time and place to review the strategy behind what I did, how I did it, and why I’m okay with the way how all this played out over the weekend.

“You asked for too much.” I’m certain this one is topping people’s This is What Tee Did Wrong lists. So exactly why did I pick $15000 as my goal and was that too much? Am I being cocky?

Pitchers_CoverThe truth is I came up with a number just as a publisher like Harper Voyager or Ace Books would. When a publisher offers an advance to a writer, they are saying “This is how much we’re expecting you to make off this title in royalties.” That’s how I came up with my Kickstarter goal, only I was looking for pre-sales as opposed to royalty earnings. $15000 was right in line with my previous advances, as well as my reputation and my value as a writer.

Additionally, I asked for $15,000 in order to cover the cost of editors, cover shoots, and layouts. I was also compensating for time I would no longer have for contract work. I would be writing full time. Not an easy task. Not an inexpensive one, either. Then, after factoring in all of these costs, I had to consider the cut Kickstarter and the cut our United States government would take.

So no, I didn’t ask for too much. I was asking for what I felt was a duly earned salary for a third book in a series.

“You needed better Backer Benefits.” The benefits are always a tipping point for some Kickstarters. I know of some projects that were pushed deep into the red on account of the tee-shirts, patches, buttons, and other cool merchandise that was produced solely for Backer Benefits. Then you have projects like this one where the Benefits were…well, I guess they were inside jokes into the creator’s webcomic.

He made 645% of his goal. Here was his reaction to that success.

From The Ministry Initiative Kickstarter, I learned that Backer Benefits, if kept simple and kept digital, would keep the costs down. This Kickstarter was solely for a third book in the Billibub Baddings Mysteries, as well as for print and digital (and in the end, audio) publications of the previous ones. From the breakdown of pledges, 59% backers were standing behind either the digital or print publication of The Curse of Dillinger’s Diamond only. (These were Backers at $25 and under.) People knew what they wanted, and it showed.

podcasting_with_coffee“You should have offered to podcast the novels.” This was another one I got from a few people during this Kickstarter: “Would I podcast the second and third Billi novels?” 

I’ve been pretty clear about this on other podcasts, even on The Shared Desk, but I don’t know if I’ve ever said it here on the blog: I will, most likely, never podcast a novel again. I can’t justify that amount of time for such a small return.

If I couldn’t do a podcast on the same level as The Case of the Singing Sword, I wouldn’t want to do it at all. I don’t think it would be fair to those who joined me on that award-winning production. I would have gladly recorded Audible editions of all three; and when I cleared the $10K mark, I offered that as an option to push us closer to the goal. There was a surge of upgrades which, I admit, was exciting to watch.

Giving the mysteries in audio away for free, though? That was never an option, nor will it ever be.

“You relied on the fans too much, and should have promoted it harder.” Now this comment threw me for a loop: “Did I see you comment on Facebook that your Kickstarter will succeed or fail on its own? Are you saying it’s all on the fans to make this happen?” 

Isn’t that the very nature of Kickstarter? How can this be a shock?

Concerning how I promoted this Kickstarter—I grant you that I could have pushed this harder on my networks, but I had to consider the timing. Dawn’s Early Light, a higher priority on account of the royalties off that title, the fate of future books in that series, and our contract with Ace, is coming; and I wanted to keep the signal strong on that, not have my social media channels deteriorate into noise. I had to make a judgment call and hope the fans, those who are asking me time and again when the next Billi mystery would come, would take the lead. Many of them did. I even had one fan send out a tweet to support the Kickstarter with three minutes remaining in the drive.

But Kickstarter, by its very nature, achieves success through fans. This project was a huge risk going in as I was asking for backing on the third book in a series. I did what I could to increase the fan base by reducing the previous Billibub Baddings Mysteries to 99¢, and then making The Singing Sword free, in the hopes of reaching new readers and making them hungry for a third book. Without fans backing a project, there is no success in Kickstarter.

scarletDoes that mean I blame the fans for this failure? Of course not. That’s ridiculous. Billi has fans. Passionate fans.

The problem is Billi didn’t have enough passionate fans.

My agent couldn’t get behind Billi. I approached a Hugo-winning editor who couldn’t get behind Billi. Even with the repeat requests from the core fans, The Billibub Baddings Mysteries were not considered a marketable property; and this Kickstarter was a true test of that market. The fans spoke, and I heard their voices loud and clear.

However, the market made its voice heard as well.

If the digital copies of The Case of the Singing Sword and The Case of the Pitcher’s Pendant had been selling like hotcakes fresh from one of Mick’s Breakfast Plate specials, I would have gladly continued to write more capers with the dwarf detective. Last year, between both books, I sold less than 100 units. I wanted to give Billi one last shot to see if writing another novel was worth the time. This Kickstarter was that shot.

So we are here, at the end of what I consider to be a fantastic run for a third Billibub Baddings Mystery and the end of a series. It was an exciting and sometimes thrilling race for my goal, but now I am done. I am not crushed or despondent. On the contrary, I could not have been more impressed, touched, and yes, humbled, by the performance of this Kickstarter.

This was my Apollo 13. A successful failure. I thank you, everyone, for your support. As always.

As for what’s next, trust me, I am hardly going to remain idle. I’ve got the fourth book of The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences in the works. There’s an urban fantasy I’m working on as well, and I can see it slowly taking shape. And then we have The Ministry Initiative where the ever-awesome P.J. Schnyder is spending the weekend with us and running through a few final details. Oh yeah, and then there’s Dawn’s Early Light coming in less than two weeks. And then there’s the One Stop Writer Shop which, Pip and I are hoping, will take flight.

So this St. Patrick’s Day, raise a pint to the dwarf detective. He’s had an incredible journey and took a Parsec with honors along the way; but it’s time to lock up the office, turn the keys in to the landlord, and move on. If you ever wonder about Billi and his fate, consider the end of Casablanca. Much like the way Rick and Louis wander off into the night, I see a similar fate with the dwarf detective. We don’t know where Billibub Baddings is headed, whether or not he ever made up that date with Gertie, or if the remaining talismans from Acryonis come back to haunt him; but we do know Billi is going to be okay, even as he disappears into the night fog of the Windy City.

casablanca-ending_Billi

Here’s lookin’ at you, Billi.

32 thoughts on “The End of a Beautiful Friendship: Lessons Learned from a Kickstarter

  1. I agree 100%. The best thing about Kickstarter is that it allows creative people a chance to test their market without having to take the risk of putting together a huge amount of work and then seeing insufficient reward for it.

    This is, you’ve said, a productive failure. It answered questions for you and cleared your desk for more rewarding projects.

    Congratulations. Many creative people never get that kind of closure on projects that were left behind.

  2. Tee you offered an ever gracious explanation. And now people can understand there has to be realistic business goals on the part of an author when creating work.

    I think when people recognize there is more to a creative’s work than their passion, we will have come along way.

    I still remember reaching out to you 4 years ago in the second year of #BBSadio. You were gracious and a minx then too. It’s what I love about your personality.

  3. Although I understand your reasons and they make good sense and your reasoning is sound, doesn’t mean I have to like it.

    In fact I don’t.

    Here’s to Billi may he find his home away from home.

  4. Sad that it didnt work out Tee but totally support your reasoning. And really, in an age of “milking sequels for all they’re worth” I dont think it is so bad to go out on top rather than be 3, 4, 5… books in a series and they start leaving a bad taste in your mouth. No, we shall cherish the two books like autographed baseballs.

  5. Ah I feel really badly this didn’t work out. This was a learning experience for me as I discovered book 2! I doubt know how I missed that as I have looked for further books in this series before. Maybe you could whip up a novella in your time to give Billi some closure . Tee hee.
    All the best and I loved Dawns Early Light.

    • I’m bummed, but I agree with your lessons learned. I hope this is just a stay for Billi and not the end. Let’s hope the Ministry can become a raging success and you’ll have the time and desire to write Billi once more. Maybe after the Peter Dinklage show!

  6. Of course it’s your choice as to where to spend your time, but I want to go on record as saying that it stinks that the final decision was made by the Almighty Dollar. Certainly I’m not saying you should let your family go hungry for the sake of a story, but I thought writing was supposed to be about telling stories, not making money. But perhaps this sort of thinking is why I’m spending my Spring Break at my desk, pounding away at a Master’s thesis that I’m paying money to work on, rather than getting paid to do anything. I still think it stinks, though – I love Billi, and I’m not ready to face the idea that there will only be two books in his series just because of money.

  7. I completely understand. I would have to agree with you on Billi. It’s a shame though as I think the world needs more stories like Billi’s. They are different and great to read. But the world doesn’t seem ready for them.

    Tee, just so you know. We will be waiting to read all the stories you have in store for us. We are not letting you slip away. And I don’t think you are ready too, either. 🙂

    *raises glass of green beer* For Billi, and all you have in store for us to come.

    Best to you!

  8. Sorry to hear this. Perhaps things will change in the future and this will become a living breathing project.

  9. Unlurking to comment…
    I think you did the right thing. The industry wouldn’t pick it up. You gave it a really good shot at success; if the market is there to support it at the level you *deserve* to get paid for your work, the project will fund. If not, you are out some work on a Kickstarter and maybe you’re disappointed, but you’re not out a paycheck for the investment it takes to write and produce a novel. You did the calculations. You figured what you were willing to give. Stick to your guns, man. You’re worth it.

  10. Pingback: Sometimes, the answer is “no.”

  11. “This Kickstarter was solely for a third book in the Billibub Baddings Mysteries, as well as for print and digital (and in the end, audio) publications of the previous ones.”

    “From the breakdown of pledges, 59% backers were standing behind either the digital or print publication of The Curse of Dillinger’s Diamond only.”

    I think these two statements could provide the impetus for a relaunch, if you wanted to have another go. Clearly, a majority of the backers were existing fans, who one can assume already have the first two books in one form or another. If the $15k was for the new book AND reprints, then perhaps a somewhat more modest goal, but a focus on just getting the new book made, might get you where you want to be. If you reach that amount, reprints could always be made available as stretch goals.

    I’m not saying that’s what you SHOULD do. You’re the best arbiter of your own work, after all. But it’s something to consider, should the dwarf not want to go quietly into the night just yet.

    • Pip is telling me “Never say never…” (something tells me she really wanted that third Billi book too…), but at present the market has spoken and I am stepping away. If there is a new interest in Billi, I’ll give it another shot. For now, the Kickstarter has the final word on this work.

  12. Bummer! I only found out about the campaign after it had ended. I loved the Billi novels and would have been happy to have contributed. Not that I would have been able to contribute enough to push it to success, mind you, but I’d like you to know that there was support out there that could have would have except for just not knowing.

    I don’t claim to know diddlysquat about the business of making a living by writing, except that like anything in the arts, it’s hard. And I know you gotta eat. So… You made the call. Respect.

    Speaking very personally, I hope you’re not too stuck in the steampunk genre, because it’s just really not my thing. Sorry, but the Minstry has left me cold. I do hope that both your creativity and the reality of paying the bills leads you once again to something as imaginative and enjoyable to me as Billi’s stories were.

    • I’m sorry to hear you didn’t join us (that’s Pip and myself) on the ride with The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences. Steampunk is a great place for me to get stuck, if you don’t mind my taking your phrase and running with it, as I genuinely love writing in the genre. Our last book, Dawn’s Early Light, granted me an opportunity to play with some of America’s most prominent inventors. I’m hoping to still be writing this series for a time; but having Billi in the stable would have been fun as well.

      The Kickstarter had been a great run and taught me a great deal. I’m sorry you missed it, but I appreciate the note. Thank you, Paul.

  13. I ran across the first novel in my library here a couple of weeks ago and reread it recently, then had to get the second novel right away. That prompted me to see what more I could find out and found this – I was not even aware of the kickstarter. Sigh…too late for my contribution. I really did want to know if that date with Gertie ever happened. 🙂

    I had the first novel signed actually at a convention in Calgary a long time ago…good memories…and that how I remember the book and series too.

    • Thank you for the kind words and fond memory. That convention was Westercon and it was the first time Dragon Moon had “a presence” at an event. We wound up making quite an impression on the Canadian audience. It was a fantastic event.

      Thank you again for giving me a read. I hope you’ll join me on other upcoming titles.

  14. I’m coming in a little late on this, since I just finished the Case of the Pitcher’s Pendant, but I have to say that while I understand the reasoning behind this, I am beyond disappointed that I’ll never find out what happens in the final novel. The first book had a nice wrap up, but the second ended on such a cliffhanger. Not a satisfying way to end.

    I hope that you will maybe find time to write the last book someday. If not, well, like others have said, it’s your call. Damn, it’s a heck of a gut punch though. Feels like Morevi all over again. Sorry, just being honest.

    • Thank you for the honest reply to this. I can’t speak for all authors, but believe me, this choice was not an easy one to make. There’s a part of me that wants to continue Billi’s story as even Rafe’s story, but the Kickstarter gave me a very hard reality of the series: those who loved it loved it, but not enough readers loved it to keep the series going.

      I would listen to a Shared Desk that Pip and I are working on this weekend. We’re going to talk a bit about this.

      Thanks again for the comment.

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