How I crowdfunded my graphic novel through Kickstarter

Welcome to the Action Tank Kickstarter Highlight Reel

Action Tank is my first graphic novel. It’s pitched at 7-12 year old readers, and took me about 18 months to create. It began as a bit of fun, and was strictly a personal project, living simply as doodles in a notebook as I commuted to my advertising job. The further I got into it, however, the more I started to think I could actually turn it into a real book that real kids might actually want to read.

Why kickstarter?

Having previously contributed art to a couple of successfully crowdfunded anthologies (Kinds of Blue and the Ledger Award nominated Monsters), I already believed in the power of crowdfunding. In fact, for comic and graphic novel projects that are already complete (like Action Tank was), a Kickstarter campaign is essentially a way to take pre-orders for the book. If you get enough to hit your target and cover your costs, you print and send them out! If you don’t… well, after all the hard work I’d put into creating Action Tank, I didn’t even want to think about that scenario.

Now, long story short, I hit my target. You can see the campaign page on Kickstarter, or you can just take my word for it that the below image provides an accurate summary of the end result:

Action Tank smashed it's kickstarter funding goal and became a real comic book!

Why have I written this article?

The whole process taught me a lot, so I thought it might be good to try and capture some of the stuff I did on the way to getting my book funded. Hopefully others might benefit from some of this. At a minimum, it will serve to remind me what happened.

The first thing I did was research.

I found a couple of AMAZING resources that I went back to time and again.

Here they are:

#1 – The Comixlaunch Podcast. This amazing podcast is made specifically for people trying to launch comics and graphic novels on Kickstarter. I am so glad I found this before I started. It stopped me making about a zillion mistakes and smashed through all the assumptions I had about how to plan and execute a successful campaign. Check it out here >

#2 – The Copyhackers guide to writing a successful Kickstarter pitch. Like all the Copyhackers content, this article is packed with insight, research, evidence and ideas. I’m so grateful to writing and marketing genius Joanna Weibe for putting it together. Check it out here >

I also spent waaaay tooooo looooong looking at Kickstarter campaigns for other books, which were essentially “my competitors”. I tried to be objective and ask myself which campaigns made me want to back them (I even backed a few), and which ones didn’t. Browse the current comic campaigns here >

Then…

Then I made my pitch video. About 4 times. And I still reckon it could have been better. But anyway.

Then I made my campaign page. That took ages too. I completely ripped off nice ideas I’d seen on other Kickstarter pages, btw.

Then, finally, I actually started the campaign. 

Here’s what happened.

Let’s start with the graphic I made to announce the launch of the campaign. I thought it would be hard to talk about myself in the third person, but it was surprisingly easy. I put this on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn (being careful to tailor the message to the particular channel).

The image I used to launch the Action Tank Kickstarter campaign on social

This post went CRAZY amongst my friends, who threw incredible support behind the launch via likes, comments, shares, text messages, meaningful looks, and of course pledges on Kickstarter. This really surprised me, I have to admit. I only expected to get a handful of friends actually backing the book, and thought I’d have to rely on curious strangers for the majority of my funding. Turned out I was completely wrong.  

Thanks to so much enthusiasm from my network of friends, the campaign hit 50% of its funding goal within 10 hours.

By the following morning it was at 63%. I was pumped and ready to retire to Tahiti.

Then things started to slow down. This is when I began to think of the whole Kickstarter experience as being like a really high-stakes version of posting a photo on Facebook. You know what I’m talking about. When you post a photo on Facebook, and then compulsively check it every two seconds to see if you got any Likes. (Just me?) Anyway, with Kickstarter, I wasn’t just waiting for Likes, I was waiting for people to pledge Real Cash Money for a product they hadn’t even seen yet. So when the pledges slowed down, I began to get concerned.

In my optimistic heart-of-hearts, however, I had a feeling lots of people were intending to pledge support, so I made the below graphic to speak directly to the “I’ll get round to it” mindset, and guess what? A new surge of backers began!

The image I used to get people off the fence and backing my kickstarter project

Now around this time, an article was published in the local paper about Action Tank. I’d chatted with the journalist a week earlier (thanks to a great hook up from a supportive friend) and was thrilled to see how well that discussion was represented in the article.

Mike Barry appears in a Sydney newspaper talking about the Action Tank graphic novel and Kickstarter campaign

I certainly noticed that a few more people I didn’t know were making pledges, but what I REALLY noticed was how much this article seemed to validate what I was doing in the minds of many of my existing contacts, and even more support surged in as we rapidly started closing in on the $7k funding total.

By around 8pm on Day 6, the campaign was 96% funded. It seemed very likely we were going to hit the goal the next day. So I decided to whip up a graphic to be (for once) ahead of the game. Literally within minutes of finishing it, I got an email from Kickstarter telling me we’d hit 100%!

The graphic I shared on all over the internet when we hit our Kickstarter funding goal

We had hit our target of $7k and still had 23 days to go! Not wanting to lose momentum, I shared the above graphic, and also introduced a STRETCH GOAL (a behind the scenes audio commentary of the book) that would be unlocked if we hit $8k worth of support. We did, 15 days later.

Action Tank also has an audio commentary, recorded by author Mike Barry.

You might think that at this stage of the campaign, with the funding target well and truly achieved, I’d take the foot off the pedal and just start catching up on episodes of the original 1983 He-Man cartoon on Netflix. Believe me, I wanted to. I was tired. My awesome wife got me going again, though, when she reminded me that we were getting 1000 of these books delivered to our living room at some point, and the more we could sell in advance the less boxes we’d have to step over on the way to feeding the cat. So…

Rex Quattricorn thinks you should order your copy of Action Tank

This image generated even more pledges, probably due to a combination of the ticking clock (“5 days left”), the sense of humour (“Weird”), and a super clear call-to-action (“lock in your copy”).

With only 48 hours to go in the campaign, it was time for the final push. I felt I had probably exhausted the goodwill of my actual friends at this point, so I looked for creative ways to try and generate any last minute support from strangers. I tried all sorts of stuff. Messaging a trending, single purpose Twitter bot (below) is a example of one of the many, many tactics I tried…

The Infinite Scream twitter account was one of many gags I used to try and get more backers for my Kickstarter campaign

(Incidentally, this is when my real interest with Bots began. But that’s another story.)

Finally, the campaign had concluded. We had hit 125% of our funding goal! I was obviously thrilled, and very grateful to everyone who believed in me enough to support the book. As an added bonus, I actually learned quite a lot.

So, what did I learn?

  1. Your Kickstarter campaign needs a pre-campaign. You need momentum from the second you launch, so make sure you reach out to relevant websites, influencers, bloggers and journalists BEFORE you launch to see if they can help promote your campaign when it starts. You’ll also need to have a core group of supporters (even if it’s just friends and family) primed and ready to pledge their support the second your campaign goes live. I had mentioned the project to a lot of my friends before I launched, and even put up a couple of posts about it on social with a little countdown to launch day. Definitely do that. It paid off.
  2. Every time I told people about the campaign, I got more backers. It can feel weird to keep talking about yourself and your project over and over for 30 days, but I’m glad I did it, because I saw a direct correlation between promoting my campaign and getting more pledges. Every time I posted something on social, sent an email to a potential group of supporters, or cornered randoms in the street to tell them about my campaign, I saw a spike in support.
  3. 30 days is a long time. I hadn’t anticipated how much maintenance I’d need to apply to the campaign once it got going, but I ended up working on it almost every night (after getting home from my day job) in some way or another. The launch was crazy and exciting, the mid-campaign slump was kind of stressful, and trying to ‘finish strong’ took way more effort than expected – I think 30 days is about all I had in me!
  4. The campaign isn’t over until every backer has their rewards. Once they had been printed, it actually took quite a long time for the books to get to my place. I had to message my backers a few times to keep them updated on progress. I was nervous about telling them their books were delayed, but I was surprised at how supportive and receptive they were to my messages. It goes to show that even if it’s not always good news, people really appreciate clear, honest communication.

And now, here we are.

Action Tank is a real book with real pages that you can BUY RIGHT NOW (please). Our list of stockists is steadily growing, and it’s been exciting to get lots of fantastic feedback from readers of all ages from all over the world.

This was a book created more or less in secret with absolutely zero fan-base, but thanks to the Kickstarter campaign, Action Tank now has a very enthusiastic squadron of supporters.

Still reading?

I know it’s long, but hopefully, for anyone gearing up to launch a comic on Kickstarter, this article has been helpful.

Failing that, I hope it’s been entertaining.

Failing that, I hope it been good for my SEO rankings.

Let me know.

love,

Mike Barry

Sydney, Australia