The Lizzie Bennet Diaries and Thoughts on Kickstarter and Platforms

So you were all around for my epic flail over the Veronica Mars movie kickstarter last week.  This kickstarter tapped in to a very loyal fanbase and surpassed its ambitious funding goal of $2 million in TEN HOURS.  It’s currently approaching $4 million, with another 2 and a half weeks go to.

Yesterday I found out that there is a Kickstarter project for The Lizzie Bennet Diaries.  This hella popular series on Youtube has another big following.  Like over 26 MILLION views.  When new episodes are released, you can see the ripples on Twitter.  When they released the much anticipated episode 98 (where Darcy and Elizabeth finally both admit to their feelings for each other and there is SMOOOOCHING!) on Thursday I was practically DANCING in my office chair, doing fist pumps and flailing (What? It’s my favorite part of all versions of Pride and Prejudice.  I make no apology for my enthusiasm.).  I watched it three times.  There was swoonage.

Anyway, one of my fellow #LBD fans tweeted me a link to the Kickstarter yesterday.  They’re wanting to do a spinoff series based on one of Jane Austen’s unfinished novels, Welcome to Sanditon.  Their goal with this project is to raise $60k for production costs and as I’m sitting here watching the total rise (it’s Friday as I write this), I’m pretty sure that this is another project that’s going to hit its minimum funding level within 24 hours.  It’s jumped from $1,800 to $22k in the last 20 minutes.  Edited to add: Oh yeah.  Totally made it yesterday.  Less than 6 hours.

There are Kickstarter (and other crowd funding sites like IndieGoGo) projects all over the place.  I’d wager the vast majority don’t actually get funded, and there are often sour grapes about it, citing competition and other reasons for why they don’t make it (one of the cool things about Kickstarter is that if they don’t hit their minimum level of funding, you don’t get charged, so you’re not just tossing your money at something you may never see results from).  There was some kind of crazy backlash about the Veronica Mars kickstarter with some nutty people saying that money should have gone to charity–as if it was an either or proposition.  Chuck Wendig has already written a well articulated post about why this is an erroneous assumption.  Totally worth a read.

But what I want to talk about here is what both Veronica Mars and The Lizzie Bennet Diaries have that the vast majority of Kickstarter type projects don’t:

Platform

Yeah, I know, a lot of people find that to be a dirty word.  It’s that thing we’re all supposed to be developing as writers.  But think about this.  Veronica Mars is appealing to a fanbase of 3 million people.  The Lizzie Bennet Diaries to an online fanbase of…well okay we’ll be conservative and say 10 million because a lot of us watched the videos more than once.  But the point is, they built their audience so that when they launched something big, there was a built in group of people who were going to be on board with that.  Because the quality, the awesome, has already been established.

Looking at Kickstarter for writers, I’ve seen too many of them looking to crowd funding to be an advance on a book they haven’t written.  They have not built a reputation for solid work, have not made a name for themselves.  And so…nobody funds them.  This is not a surprise, y’all.   Kickstarter isn’t a means of escaping paying your dues on the traditional or self publishing track.  You still gotta do the work unless you’re one of the .ooo1% of freak success stories who self published the smut they wrote during a 4 day all nighter one finals week on half a dozen rolls of toilet paper and became a runaway sensation.  You can’t think you’re going to be one of those people.  That’s like expecting that Big Foot is going to accept your invite to the family reunion and show up with a Bundt cake.

People decide to fund Kickstarter projects for a variety of reasons–often because they believe in whatever it is the person or people are trying to do, but also because they get something out of it.  I’ll be getting a t-shirt and DVD of the new Veronica Mars movie.  I’ll be getting the full 8 DVD set of The Lizzie Bennet diaries.  Also, exclusive production updates and all kinds of other fun things that make me as an investor feel involved.

How can you use this as a writer?  Well, I’m still kind of wrapping my brain around the idea, so I’m hardly the best person to ask.  So of course I asked Twitter.  Thanks to all the fabulous responders! Tonya Cannariato passed on this link of Most Funded Fiction projects on Kickstarter.

Author C.E. Murphy had a runaway success of a Kickstarter campaign to write a Walker Papers novella (Gary’s story–one fans were really wanting).  She was shooting for $4k, wound up with over $20k.  Again, we are talking about a writer with an established fan base.  Let’s take a look at the kinds of stuff she was offering at the different donation points.:

  • Pledge $5 or more

    29 backers

    a DRM-free e-book of NO DOMINION (.mobi, .pdf, .epub, pod) & your name in the acknowlegments

  • Pledge $10 or more

    124 backers

    as above, & an additional short story

  • Pledge $25 or more

    284 backers

    as above, & a bookmark featuring the NO DOMINION cover art

  • Pledge $75 or more

    11 backers

    as above, & a behind-the scenes chapbook of the NO DOMINION cover art photo shoot signed by CE Murphy & photographer Kyle Cassidy

  • Pledge $100 or more

    54 backers

    as above, & a 9×12″ print of the NO DOMINION cover art signed by CE Murphy & photographer Kyle Cassidy

  • Pledge $250 or more

    7 backers

    as above, & a copy of the CE Murphy 2012 Dublin photographic calendar

  • Pledge $500 or more

    5 backers All gone!

    as above, and your name as one of the characters in either NO DOMINION or one of the companion short stories

  • Pledge $1,000 or more

    0 backers Limited (5 of 5 left)

    as above, & a Walker Papers short story just for you, featuring any supporting character of your choice, to be produced in a signed chapbook limited edition of one. Your name may be used in the personalized short story rather than one of the NO DOMINION/companion stories. Note: I won’t write stories that infringe on the last two Walker Papers novels, so if you have an idea about a story you might want, contact me before making this pledge!

  • Pledge $2,500 or more

    0 backers Limited (3 of 3 left)

    as above (including caveats & notes from the previous reward), & NO DOMINION will be dedicated to you, what with you having funded most of it.

  • Pledge $5,000 or more

    0 backers Limited (1 of 1 left)

    as above (including caveats & notes from the $1K marker), and I will sing “You Are The Wind Beneath My Wings” to you in person within one calendar year. If this is not feasible, I will live stream the same from a public location & send you a personalized copy of the video.

Okay that’s pretty fun.  And obviously as you stretch out, you can get more creative with what kinds of stuff you’ll offer.  Having her sing to you in public? That’s creativity!  In fact, C.E. told me on Twitter yesterday (cue fangirl moment) that as they neared the $20k mark, she promised to sing to EVERYBODY!  And as you can see, the bottom tier is basically like a pre-order of the book.  That makes sense.

I browsed a lot of other ones on the site and the clear thing that linked all the ones I looked at was a PLATFORM.  Whether that was built via traditional publishing as in the case of Matt Forbeck or via social media or self publishing like Michael J. Sullivan.  These people put in the work, they gained FANS.

Take home: Probably this is not going to fly for your first novel.  Maybe not even your first five.  But if you do the time, put in the work, put out the QUALITY, the fans will come.  And someday, you too could be on this list of successful Kickstarter projects.

Edited to add: M.C.A. Hogarth wrote this nifty book about how to run a successful kickstarter.  After 5, she knows a thing or three!

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