Kickstarter White Paper Part 2

Part 2 of our Kickstarter White Papers. We hope you find them helpful! Additionally check out the intro and Part 1.

Media

PR and Promotion

You should have at least a basic PR kit set up (and much of this can come from your Kickstarter description itself) to use to promote yourself online. Create a basic 140-character line for Twitter for people to retweet. Create a longer paragraph for Facebook and prepare interesting updates for both the Kickstarter and your Facebook. Don’t make others come up with brilliant lines about your Kickstarter, do the work for them. That way if anyone wants to promote you, they can easily reuse your lines and description.

Depending on how big your Kickstarter is (if you are aiming for over 100k and major industry exposure) you may want to put out an official press release on a known site about your project.

You need to build momentum for your Kickstarter BEFORE it starts. Tell industry publications about your Kickstarter before it launches so that they have time to plan the announcement. They will need a head start to get your story. Otherwise, even if you get a tremendously useful media endorsement, you run the risk of it coming at an awkward time or even well after your Kickstarter has ended.

Media Sites and Cool People

You will want good media contacts to promote your Kickstarter throughout its entirety. If you know cool people who want to promote your Kickstarter personally, that’s great. There are people whose Twitter followers exceed a million and if any of the really big names in your field promotes you, you are golden. But these really cool people do not need your project. You need them. If they mention you, they are spending their personal capital at their own risk, in the hopes that you really are as cool as you say you are.

The media on the other hand, does need you. They need stories and if you give them a good one, they’ll give you some love in return. For Doom we got a lot of attention from Coilhouse, io9, and Wired, as well as mentions from personal friends who have large online presences but none of the really big names in our field tweeted about us at all.

So in setting up your PR image, make sure you have a good story that you can easily give to the media. And try to, politely, promote yourself to the big movers and shakers in hopes that they will find your project interesting and want to mention it to their followers.

Family and Friends

Get everyone you know, friends and family, to share your Kickstarter on their social media sites. It doesn’t matter if the person you are telling about your Kickstarter is actually in your target audience, they don’t have to back your project to share it. Make sure you have an active presence on all the major social media platforms: Facebook, twitter, google+ etc. While Amanda Palmer raised almost 1.2 million total with her Kickstarter, she actually met her goal of 100k within the first 6 hours or so from the start of her Kickstarter due to her mailing lists which she has been cultivating for the past 10+ years. There are many great projects out there that people would love to support; the trick is getting to your audience. So share it with everyone in your personal range.

Promotional Updates

You will need to constantly keep sharing your Kickstarter. It is a full time job to promote it for the length of the Kickstarter. You need to keep sending out updates (they should be full of real, important information not just filler to spam people’s inbox) and continuously promote it on your social networking sites. It may seem repetitious to you, but after the end of the Kickstarter we kept encountering friends who never even heard about Doom despite our many emails and even though we were mentioning it almost every other day our Facebook sites.

Branding

Know your audience. You are selling and marketing a product through Kickstarter and you need to think about what your brand is. What is the main image that starts your video? If you made t-shirts or other branding items (bags, posters, magnets, stickers, cards etc), what images are not only cool enough for your backers to want to wear but will also show off you and your product? The Portland Kickstarter Cheese and Crack is a great example, because who doesn’t want a shirt that says “Cheese and Crack” on his or her chest?

Supporting Other Kickstarters

Make your Kickstarter profile ahead of your actual Kickstarter campaign and start backing cool/relevant projects. People will look at and consider what you have backed and you may get viral spread through the campaigns you have backed. It makes you look like you are a real part of the Kickstarter community – one of them. Because you are.

You don’t have to back projects for a lot of money, even a low dollar donation shows that you have backed that project and can garner good will in the community.

Additional Tips

Loving Your Backers

Understand that your backers are your friends. They are special, smart, clever people who figured out how interesting and cool your Kickstarter project is and therefore they deserve your respect and attention.

You can show your appreciation of your backers by being attentive to what they have to say. Pay attention to the comments section of Kickstarter and answer questions promptly and respectfully. Your backers are also your evangelists, if they are invested in your Kickstarter and want it to succeed, they will be out proselytizing to their friends and social networks on your behalf. So give them your love wherever possible.

This Will EAT YOUR LIFE

Running a Kickstarter is full time job. You will NOT have time for much else during this time period. You will be monitoring the site, working on PR, handling questions asked by your backers, honing your tiers and stretch goals. There is an immediacy to Kickstarter that cannot be underestimated.

Kicktraq

Kicktraq is brilliant. Kicktraq is a site that basically tracks your Kickstarter from start to finish and shows you the whole overall scope of your project. While this is enormously fun for tracking your project’s funding history, it is also incredibly useful to display the trending goals that your project is heading for. We found it very helpful for visualizing the overall scope of our Kickstarter. It helped us understand the patterns of funding for our particular project and we were able to figure out from it where we needed to make new initiatives to continue getting support.

Alpha Tests

Show your Kickstarter to smart people. Send them a spreadsheet of your tiers and ask for feedback. USE THAT FEEDBACK. This is the time to make the changes, and don’t ask for advice if you are not going to take it. You can also share your Kickstarter page with said smart people before it launches. Set up the entire Kickstarter page with video, tiers, main text, and send it to your smartest friends. Make sure you have plenty of time to implement their comments before your launch date.

Other Great Writings On Kickstarter

We hope you have found some useful tools in these white pages to consider with your own Kickstarter. We would also advise you to check out other sources as well. Research other successful and failed Kickstarters similar to your own and think about how you can model or improve what they did.

Additionally we used these resources in planning for this Kickstarter:

http://craigmod.com/journal/kickstartup/

This is a fun and useful analysis of Kickstarter data and pledge amounts. He does a step-by-step analysis of his own Kickstarter (the fun data starts about a third of the way down.) It is definitely a good article to read thoroughly.

http://www.demimonde.com/2012/05/14/what-is-running-a-kickstarter-really-like/

M. K. Hobson recently successfully funded the publication of her third book and wrote down some of her important reflections.

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/dmeconis/the-dylan-meconis-library-2012?ref=card

Dylan Meconis is currently (as of June 20th 2012) running a successful Kickstarter to fund the republication of her books. Her Kickstarter follows all of the ideals of interesting and elegant and she includes a useful breakdown of exactly how she going to use the funds from the Kickstarter.

We hope you find this white paper useful. We will be offering it as a PDF download soon.

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Kickstarter White Paper Part 1

This is Part 1 of two parts of our Kickstarter White Paper. You can view the intro here and Part 2 here.

Recognizing Your Value Proposition

Kickstarter is a value proposition. You are offering people, your “backers,” a product or service in exchange for their support. In the majority of cases on Kickstarter, you are essentially offering people the opportunity to “pre-order” your product before you actually produce it. Backers of Kickstarter projects are not loaning or “donating” money to you, they are buying a product from you and therefore they expect to receive value for their money.

That being said, some people will in some cases actually want to give you money. This is a beautiful thing. We recommend you take it. But understand this is the minority position and not something you should expect or rely upon.

Acknowledging Your Backers

Your Kickstarter backers are special. They are the first people to support you. These customers are recognizing the inherent goodness of your project and joining in early, before the product is even out, to ensure your success. You will want to treat your backers as if they are special and extra-smart (because they are) and make sure that they feel your appreciation of them. Offering discounts on your products in the Kickstarter itself and having limited edition rewards just for the Kickstarter are some of the ways that you can show your appreciation of their early support.

Setting Your Goal and Planning Rewards

Right at the start you will want to figure out the exact value of your rewards in order to create your tiers and the monetary goal you are setting for the project.

The basic question is: How much will it cost you to make the product?

You should start your Kickstarter with solid quotes for the actual cost what you need and the cost of production for all of the rewards you will be offering. While it is fun to think of all the gewgaws and trinkets that you can put your logo on, you need to make sure it is affordable to produce those stickers and temporary tattoos. Doom had some amazing initial ideas for rewards that we quickly realized were completely cost prohibitive and would have actually put us in debt to produce.

As an example of this planning process, t-shirts are a common reward (and great marketing for your brand, every person who gets a t-shirt will become a walking ad for you, especially if you have a great logo.) You should have quotes on how much it will cost to print the t-shirts in all their colors and sizes (will your printer charge you more for an XXXL or XXS) at various price breaks. Find a printer that can create the kind of t-shirt you want and make sure you check specifics with them to make sure the art you want to use is feasible.

The point here is to do your research. You don’t need to have all the production lined up and ready to go – though that would of course be ideal – but you do need to have some solid numbers of exactly what you need to raise to make a successful product. For example, for Doom we needed an absolute minimum of $35,000 to produce the base game. Therefore, that was the number we chose as our goal. After reaching that goal, every additional dollar we earned meant that we could make a better, higher-quality product with extras we had previously dropped due to cost. At a certain point we could even afford to offer new cool rewards to our backers because we had gone so far past our production needs. But we had to know what those extras cost as well and whether they made sense to produce or were just fantasies arising from our high-spirits in reaching our goal.

Other Factors in Setting Your Kickstarter Goal

Kickstarter will take 5% of the total you raise. Amazon will take between 3 and 5% for credit card processing. You will of course have to pay taxes on the money, which will vary depending on the state and what kind of business you have. And of course it would be nice to make a profit (though we must wonder how many “successfully funded” Kickstarters actually end up in the red.)

Shipping

Consider your shipping costs and how you are going to handle getting your finished products out to people. Will you be personally shipping out the rewards to every backer? Will your fulfillment center do that, and at what cost?

In designing your tiers and final goal, calculate your shipping costs and decide whether to charge for shipping. This can be decided in part by the scope of your project. If you are running a small local business, you might offer to personally deliver the product to those in your area and charge everyone else shipping. If you are working on an international level, it is common practice to NOT charge shipping for USA backers. Depending on how much it will cost you, it may also be a good idea to offer free shipping to Canada as well.

Generally, people do not like being charged for shipping. It is a low-level kind of seething anger that people feel at being charged shipping. This is not a feeling you may wish to cultivate in your backers.  Due to practices by Amazon and Ebay – Ebay recommends to its sellers that they increase the price of their products so that they can offer free shipping to customers and Amazon offers free 2nd day shipping to it’s Prime members – people expect to get shipping for free and may become quietly outraged when you do not meet their expectations.

If you do decide to charge for shipping, make sure you make a point of mentioning that somewhere in your kickstarter. Doom, and other projects, mentions it in the tiers by saying, “For international shipping add $25.” Doom did not charge international shipping for tiers over $200.

When to Start and End Your Kickstarter

When you end your Kickstarter is even more important than when you start it. Make sure you end strong. People love to be the last person to donate, to put that final piece in the puzzle and get you to that ultimate goal.

The last day of Doom saw the 3rd highest number of pledges of entire campaign, HOWEVER we did make the big mistake of ending the Kickstarter at 4am in the morning, Pacific time, and that cost us a lot of money. Even then, Doom still made about 3k in the last 6 hours of the Kickstarter, only a thousand dollars less than the daily average of pledges for the entire month. Amanda Palmer had the right idea when she ended her Kickstarter at midnight on the East Coast. There was a giant countdown party and people were donating right up to the very last second of her Kickstarter. She made 100k the last day of her Kickstarter, the majority of it in the last few hours.

Choose a time of the day (and 12am Eastern time is pretty ideal) when people can be sitting at their computers watching the end of your Kickstarter. Not all of us can or would want to throw a block party in NYC and strip naked on livestream, but make the end exciting. Add some ultimate stretch goals, do one last intense PR push, get those final people who might still be on the fence all the way in. Incentivize those who are already committed to be still more committed. You are never going to have a better moment to upsell than this one, so make it count.

The start time of your Kickstarter, and the period of time it will cover are also important. Weekends will be slow; therefore Friday, Saturday and Sunday are not advisable. People travel on the weekends, and during holidays and that means they will not be in front of the computer looking at your Kickstarter. Similarly, the start of the week and early mornings when people are getting back to their desks and seeing what is happening on the internet in their absence are key times. Send out your updates early in the week to most profitably catch peoples’ attentions. Early Friday could be okay, but remember that by noon most people are going to be thinking about the weekend and considering skipping out of work early. Also factor in the holidays that will happen during your Kickstarter. Memorial Day weekend was an extremely slow point for Doom.

Structuring Your Tiers

In structuring your reward tiers, be as clear, concise and brief as possible. You can elaborate on what the rewards are and how they are entirely made of win in the main body of the page, or even in an FAQ, so simply listing them out in tiers themselves makes a better presentation. At the same time, however, be alert to keep from being dry and repetitive.

One good way to think of the tiers is that each one is a SKU, so you need to be clear about what distinguishes it from the next. Why would a backer want to pick that particular level? How is it interesting and unique? Don’t be boring.

Stacking

Many Kickstarters stack their rewards. Personally, we’re not fans. We find them to be cumbersome and do not think they are clear or efficient. We think it leads to confusion and undue effort in trying to sort out exactly what your backer is getting in a particular tier, and your backer may not even want the rewards offered in all the previous tiers. Besides, it’s expensive. Moreover, upselling becomes more difficult if everyone is already getting everything there is with every “choice.”

We prefer tiers that specifically tell the backer what they are getting. Listing out all the cool things you are offering adds to the excitement of backing at that particular tier level. We think that NOT stacking tiers gets everyone to be more discerning about what they want and are going to get. Stacking also limits the potential of being creative with themed tiers to make things more interesting.

Additional note: You can’t add any kind of formatting to the tiers (bold, underline, italicize etc.) so it is good to have your own set format for how you are going to list the rewards and to stick to that for every tier. Make sure you use the same descriptor words for the rewards, in our tiers we accidentally went back and forth between “figures” and “figurines” which didn’t look stellar.

Low Level Tiers

We believe that a large number of low tier levels is not worthwhile. Sure you might want to have one or two – for people who want to donate to the project itself but aren’t interested in owning your main product – but don’t clutter up your reward tiers with a bunch of small, diffuse rewards that distract your backers before they get to the really meaty tiers.

Never forget, you are the one on the hook for fulfilling every reward you offer. So think carefully before promising everyone a personally delivered singing telegram.

Sweet Spot

Ideally, what amount do you want the majority of backers to pledge? Kickstarter says that the average pledge is $70, but the common pledge is $25. Figure out the level you most want people to pledge, then pick the higher target or targets that hope you to reach through stretch goals and additional rewards. For example, in Doom, the product that we wanted people to buy was $75 and that is indeed where most went (600 backers at $75 with roughly 150 at the $50 and $100 levels respectively.) Our stretch goals, however, were for backers who had pledged $100, which meant that people were constantly moving up tiers throughout the Kickstarter as they realized the $100 tier was becoming a better and better value proposition for them. Our final stretch goal, however, was for people who had pledged at $200 (as well as a smaller reward for the $100 level) and because the $200 level had previously sold out, we offered a special $205 level just so that people could get the new stretch goal reward.

Production Date

Kickstarter asks for an Estimated Delivery date of when you will be shipping rewards out to your backers. Not much to say here, just that you’ll want to add this into your calculations when considering fulfillment of when exactly you can expect to be sending out rewards. Obviously you want to get things to people in a timely fashion but be aware of the actual production schedule. For example, printing almost anything from a CD to a book can take several months.

In some cases, peoples’ Kickstarter projects begin and end with their campaign. In other cases, as with Doom, the campaign is only the first part of an ongoing production cycle. Therefore, we want to make sure that our product is available commercially before the holidays. There are many other variables of course….

Changing Tiers

Once someone has backed a reward tier, you can no longer change it. You can change a reward level ONLY IF NOBODY has backed it yet. And yes, you may want to change your tiers mid-Kickstarter. If no one is pledging at a low level after a significant amount of time, you want to figure out why and change/or get rid of that level. Obviously higher tiers may never get backers and sometimes those should be left as aspirational targets, but more commonly they should be changed if they are not providing value. A large list of dead/inactive tiers is a sign that your project is not doing well and perception is always critical.

Adding Tiers

Try to keep your Kickstarter as simple and elegant as possible. Having more tiers is not better. You can, however, add new tiers at any point during the Kickstarter. (If you are worried about them looking too similar, you can put the new tiers in at +1 or +5 so $101 or $105.) We believe it is better to start with a smaller level number of tiers and add to them, than to start with too many and not have people bite. Adding tiers makes it look like you are responding to your backers’ requests for more levels (especially if you are!) Paying attention to comments is crucial and we were fortunate with Doom to have well-spoken backers who gave us very helpful feedback. This lets you more easily upsell people once they are supporting the project, and it means that you don’t have a lot of empty tiers at the beginning.

Limiting Rewards

We suggest you limit some, if not all, of your higher level rewards. It makes them look more exclusive and desirable. If a tier sells out, that looks good and you look successful. There is likely a natural limit to how many of those rewards are even available anyway; with Doom we had a limited amount of original art and that determined the limits for those particular tiers.

Remember that you can later add more tiers if you do sell out of your limited rewards. Further, your new tier could be a dead ringer just sold out. We think this looks a little gauche but it had been very effective in some campaigns. Creating limited rewards can be a useful and simple tool for upselling. For example, Doom sold out of the $200 tier fairly quickly which meant that people who were interested in a similar set of rewards had to move up to $250 to get those rewards.

The reverse of this, is do not limit tiers that should not actually be limited. Just because it’s a higher monetary amount does not mean it needs to be a limited rewards. Limited rewards are things that are exclusive and can’t be replicated easily; setting all of your rewards at limits of 200 just looks silly.

Thanking Backers

Thanking backers is a common reward and often offered for $1. Backers are promised that their name will be listed on the website or in the finished product. Our thoughts differ from that paradigm in that we believe it would be better to save the reward of “your name in the credits” or “a special thanks to” for a high tier. (Doom started offering thanks at $200.) This way you are genuinely thanking the most helpful people and it is more meaningful since you are not diminishing the thanks by offering it to everyone at a buck.

Stretch Goals

Stretch goals can be an extremely fun and dynamic aspect of Kickstarter. Once your initial production goal has been met, you get to add stretch goals with cool extra rewards if the project funding reaches your newly stated goal. Ideally, you should plan to have stretch goals in any Kickstarter because your basic goal should be the only the production costs of the game (and ideally a small profit). Should your backers find your project worthy, your stretch goals will allow their further support to add delicious frosting to the cake they already love.

Stretch goals are used to upsell existing tiers as well. Most stretch goals are only offered to people backing the project at or above a certain tier. For example, Doom offered stretch goals at $100. That meant that a lot of people moved up from $50 and $75 to the $100 tier because they would get more rewards there.

Example of a successful Kickstarter with great stretch goals here. They also have lovely banners for each stretch goal, making them appear clever, professional, and desirable.

Stretch goals should be actual stretches to pull the backers forward. With Doom we set the first two stretch goals too low as we already had the momentum to easily reach the “stretch” amount with or without a new goal (we met the 1st stretch goal at almost the same time we announced it).

Kickstarter Video

The Movie is Key

The movie is a key piece of your Kickstarter. It is the first thing people will see when looking at your page. There are lots of articles around about how to create the perfect Kickstarter movie. We just have two important points to make about the movie.

1) Keep it short, under 3 minutes. There’s a reason pop songs are three minutes long and your Kickstarter pitch needs to be similar in both brevity and entertainment. We think you’ll be surprised at how much information you can convey in such a seemingly short period of time.

2) The first image in the movie is the image that will appear on your Kickstarter and will be your branding image. So make it a good one. We changed ours half way through when we realized this and it made a world of difference.

Part 2 continued here.

If you missed the intro, you can find it here.

Kickstarter – What does it all mean?

Ever since the conclusion (actually long before the conclusion), of our recent Kickstarter campaign for The Doom That Came to Atlantic City, I’ve been receiving congratulations of one type and another. When I seemed momentarily startled by their kindness, people asked me why. And when I came out of my fugue state, I told them the simple truth: “Mistakes were made”.

With a little prompting, I went on to explain some of these mistakes. And I told all my friends to please let me know before they began their own Kickstarter campaigns, to help them better prevent the mistakes we made. But I soon realized that rather than repeat myself over and over, I should simply write a white paper on the subject, so that I could more easily disseminate the facts without forgetting crucial information with each repetition.

Before I get to practical matters however, there is no shortage of more diffuse and impractical thoughts to get out of the way from my month-long addiction to Kickstarter.

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1. Kickstarter is the best thing ever.

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2. It’s Kickstarter’s world. We just live in it.

Kickstarter is an amazing font of crowd-sourced capital, yes. But where does that crowd come from? Our first supporters had already supported between 2 and 178 other Kickstarter projects. In short, they were already “of the body”. They knew and loved Kickstarter for allowing them to help create products they wanted, for helping to change the playing field, for telling them about projects they would never otherwise have even heard of, and perhaps most important of all, for changing, deepening, and strengthening the relationship between Creator and consumer. They understood the paradigm and paid attention to the site’s many categories and recommendations.

As our month went on and we got stellar press, Kickstarter habitués gave way to people who’d never used, or in some cases even heard of, Kickstarter. I don’t know what the workers at Kickstarter Central call these wonderful people – Newcomers? Virgins? Noobs? Lambs to the slaughter? But this was the most surprising point to me. Not only were we using Kickstarter to fund this game project that no game publisher would touch, Kickstarter was using us to bring them more users. And the larger the user base grows, the better for everyone involved. Especially, Kickstarter shareholders.

Because Kickstarter makes its money on the success of projects, it is deeply incentivized to assist clever campaigns. As a result, we were featured on Kickstarter in a couple places: as Portland, Oregon’s top campaign for most of the month, and as a top pick in the Games category. In fact, during our tenure in Kickstarter’s Staff Picks, they restructured the “Games” category to include both “Board & Card Games” and “Video Games”, ensuring Doom’s status as a top pick for an even longer period of time.

I had initially guessed that our project was getting love from Kickstarter because it was graphic, we presented it well enough, and that the resumes of the 3 creators were pretty impressive. That may be true. But were we also a likelier candidate for success by virtue of the creators’ pre-existing social networks? Was our old-school board game meets HP Lovecraft vibe more likely to ensnare Kickstarter Virgins? I don’t know, but what I do know is by the end, few if any of our new backers had supported even 1 other Kickstarter project, and that may have been the really important part for Kickstarter.

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3. Kickstarter is the best PR other people’s money can buy.

I had never heard of the Pebble watch until masses of our backers proved to be supporting their Kickstarter. The word of mouth and feeling of involvement a strong Kickstarter campaign can generate is phenomenal, and all without traditional Venture Capital or Angel Investors to pay off! It’s a funding platform that sells you rather than one that buys you. Sure, you’re giving them some of your supporters in perpetuity, but isn’t that transaction more agreeable than selling them a whopping percent of your company? And besides, each backer can use the wonders of the Internet to get you more backers! To get Kickstarter more! To get your next project more! To… well, looking forward, things get mighty interesting.

Does the current boom go bust as all the cool kids exceed their Kickstarter budgets and the whole thing shuts down? Or do projects get better and better the way evolution should work? This is an interesting point to me as I’ve watched actual capitalism wither and die in some parts of the economy. Yes, there’s been no shortage of shoddy product on Kickstarter – projects born of pity or in reaction to the dominant paradigms, et al. – but will such campaigns continue?

Will they be allowed to?

Will the marketplace of ideas become more discerning, and the bar for projects that Kickstarter will even approve be set much much higher?

Will Kickstarter self-censor strongly and effectively?

What will make them leverage their power more specifically, and control access more tightly?

Will some projects be so successful that Kickstarter finds itself paying for their virgins?

We can’t know at this juncture, but it’ll be fascinating to find out.

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4. All the cool kids are doing it.

As 2012 dawned, I had never done a Kickstarter project. By the end of the year, I’ll have done half a dozen. A few with young, largely untested talent, but the vast majority with award-winning authors like M. K. Hobson, sculptors like Paul Komoda, and top-tier game designers like Keith Baker, Rob Heinsoo and Jonathan Tweet. And that’s just a hint of what I’m doing. Most of the Creators I know are currently working on some level of campaign (thus the white paper to follow)!

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5. Creatives and Corporations – why can’t they all just get along?

I worried a little before Doom that ours would be the project with which Kickstarter would officially jump the shark. But that was apparently just nerves. It had, however, happened once before. The wonderful Z-Man Games (publishers of Pandemic, see above) purchased Doom, but then Z-Man was sold to a European game company right before our publication date, and the new owners didn’t want our game. And neither did anyone else. How is that working out for those publishers now I wonder?

When we took in 122k in a month, an old colleague suggested that, “The market was clearly ready for your game.” Maybe so, but the game companies were not. At all. The Creators’ willingness to market their game, the public’s desire to see Lovecraftian Gods trash Atlantic City, the pedigree of the creative team (games, novels, films, posters): none of that mattered one whit. They didn’t see a return that showed any kind of clear profit for them, and they passed.

In the decline of the working and creative class that we’ve all weathered these last 30 years, major monopolist corporations have intentionally made Creators the lowest people on their totem poles.

The odious work-for-hire contracts, the hierarchical apple-polishing, the constant cancellations of green-lit projects to protect their jobs at the expense of others and to “bolster” their bottom line: it’s all been designed to maximize their profits and strip Creators of their chance for licensure, and the passive streams of income Creators might otherwise have enjoyed. There are still plenty of artists who need corporate paychecks, but many artists are viewing this as a long-overdue sea change. In Portland, many people suggest that the only way to move up the ranks at Nike is to go to Adidas. And vice versa. In New York, people leave DC for Marvel. And vice versa. Does Kickstarter mean that Creatives will be getting more respect from the big players now that they can set their own terms elsewhere? Or will the big companies simply ignore them when they ask for more respect? As exciting as Kickstarter is now, what will it be in the future? Will it morph over time like the massive powerhouse whose informal corporate motto was “Don’t be evil”? We shall see.

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6. Make no mistake. This is an addiction.

The shots of dopamine that accompany every new dollar the Refresh button reveals are the most obvious example. But the fact is, we Creators are on the line here. Every mistake or miscue is now on us. And that’s not the sort of responsibility that leads one to sleep like a baby. Kickstarter is not for the faint of heart. Can you imagine working a month or more (more really, even for a “30 day” campaign) only to have that campaign stall and fail? Many of the best and brightest Creators have already experienced that very thing. Sobering. Kickstarter will take every ounce of energy you can give it and want more. Believe it.

Every mistake we made weighs on me, and I suspect it’s the same for many others. So, with this prologue, I hope you’ll enjoy (and be informed by) the paper to come.

Part 1 of Kickstarter White Paper

Part 2 of Kickstarter White Paper

Nom, Nom, Nom.

This morning I awoke slowly, adjusted the bed and grabbed up the iPad, as is my habit.

When I groggily checked my mail, I found this kind note from John Picacio, whose A Song of Fire and Ice calendar tore the roof off that category this year:

“Congrats to all 2012 Chesley Awards finalists! Honored to be a finalist in the Best Product Illustration category… Fellow finalists in the category are Lee Moyer, Stuart Craig, Michael Raymond Whelan, Michael Zug, and William Stout.”

Blink.

What? My work being considered in the same breath as John? As Stout? As Zug? As Whelan? And why is Stuart Craig’s name familiar? Oh yeah! He’s the frickin’ OBE designer of Harry Potter.

And all because of my little charity calendar for Worldbuilders.

Picacio isn’t one to err, but seeing is believing.

So naturally, I nipped around to look at the awards, and sure enough:

Best Product Illustration

  • Stuart Craig for production design for the Harry Potter films, Warner Brothers, 2011
  • Lee Moyer for Check These Out, 2012 Literary Pin-up calendar, Worldbuilders, 2011
  • John Picacio for George R.R. Martin: A Song of Ice and Fire, 2012 Calendar, Random House, July 2011
  • William Stout for Zombies 2012, calendar, Andrews McMeel, 2011
  • Michael Whelan for Gift from the Sea, Dragon*Con 2011 promo art & program book, 2011
  • Mark Zug for IlluXCon 2011 promo poster, 2011


But that wasn’t all.

That wasn’t even the half of it!

Best Cover Illustration: Magazine

  • Facundo Diaz for Clarkesworld July 2011
  • Laura Diehl for Fantasy, August 2011
  • Lee Moyer for Weird Tales, Winter 2010/2011
  • Carly B. Sorge for Apex Magazine, September 2011
  • Dariusz Zawadski for Fantasy, May 2011


Best Cover Illustration: Hardback Book

  • Tom Kidd for Deathbird Stories by Harlan Ellison, Subterranean Press
  • Stephan Martiniere for Prospero Regained by L. Jagi Lamplighter, Tor Books
  • Lee Moyer for Two Worlds and In Between: The Best of Caitlin R. Kieran, Subterranean Press
  • Cliff Nielsen for The Tempering of Men by Sarah Monette & Elizabeth Bear, Tor Books
  • Greg Staples for The Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard, Subterranean Press

Somehow, my wildly different work in diverse genres tied me this year for most nominations with the brilliant Dave Palumbo, nominated for Unpublished, Art Director, Paperback. 3 nominations each, and not sharing a single category. Neat!

And as this curious information came in, all the remarkable and wildly disparate trails that led here were lit up in my mind.

Maybe it’s true that one’s life really does flash before one’s eyes….

Just cataloging all these facts, considering all the relations and coincidences involved, and putting all these pieces together will take me the rest of the day. Maybe the rest of the month.

Hugo-winning author Mary Robinette Kowal chose and designed the Weird Tales cover. And all because of an unexpected conversation over dinner at her home. When she lived across the street from here. Before I lived here. Before she moved to Chicago. When Liz Argall and her delightful husband Mikey lived in my basement. Before the cover I’ve done for Mary that remains almost completely secret and unseen (Link hidden for security purposes). ;)

I’ve known L. Jagi Lamplighter for years, but only met her brilliant cover artist Stephan Martiniere when we were guesting at Baycon this year. I met Caitlin R. Kiernan at Portland’s own HP Lovecraft Film Festival several years back. I’d admired her in Frank Woodward’s wonderful biography of HPL called Fear of the Unknown (for which I’d done the cover and several illustrations), and I wanted to familiarize her with the work of Henry Clews, Jr. She, of course, immediately understood why. It’s almost funny how little time I spent with her there, considering how much time we’ve spent working together since: on the cover above that Bill Schafer was kind enough to publish uninterrupted by cover type, and on Confessions of a Five Chambered Heart. It amuses me that her name appears larger on the Weird Tales cover than on her own book.
I’m very excited to see her at Readercon this July!

But I digress….

What does it all mean?

I’m not sure it means anything really.
Other than a very surprising and happy day for me.
To have my name listed among the best and the brightest is deeply validating and much appreciated.

My most sincere thanks to everyone involved!
Lee

Nothing Exceeds Like Success

Rambling shambolic thoughts.
You know. The usual….

The recent death of Robin Gibb has led me to consider the Bee Gees (they were the Brothers Gibb to you youngsters in our audience), Patrick Nagel, and… Papyrus.

What do these three have in common? Why, mad skills, catastrophic success, and my impressionable youth, of course.

The Bee Gees were boy singing stars starting in 1960:

I didn’t know that until Robin’s death, but it makes perfect sense.

I did know the older Bee Gees of 1967 who were quite successful in Australia and England.
On this ancient LP, Side A found geeky, adenoidal brother Robin singing his heart out on what are to me curiously American themes: Massachusetts and New York Mining Disaster 1941.

If I could explain what I love so much about Robin’s voice, I would be a professional rock critic. Suffice it to say I, like most people, found Robin more Tiny Tim than Tom Jones, and I found him all the more captivating for it – whether singing lead or harmonizing with his siblings.

If they’d stopped at Side A, most of us would never have heard Robin at all. Side B would change that forever.

Success flowed when Barry took his voice higher than Robin’s (a notion so absurd that it forms Disco Inferno version of a Robert Johnson Crossroads mythology, with Robert Stigwood filling in for Lucifer). Barry’s gaudier falsetto was the soundtrack of 1979, and the tall handsome hirsute brother more or less took over his band of brothers. And other bands as well: The Rolling Stone’s Emotional Rescue anyone? Hell, they were tapped to play The Beatles on film – they were bigger than Jesus’ body double!

If Arthur Fonzarelli had never “jumped the shark”, the Bee Gees’ “Sgt. Pepper” might have become a catch phrase for “so-big-it-MUST-fail” today. Their success was a musical and cultural Tsunami, and when the waves receded, no one wanted to be seen with them. And their Saturday Night Fever Soundtrack would be featured at numberless yard sales for years to come. Ah, success!

Patrick Nagel died many years ago now and left a comparatively small body of work. But what a body!

His freelance career began in 1971, but it was 1976 that brought him his most important client – Playboy Magazine.

His work and the work of his numberless naked imitators still adorns unfashionable beauty salons and dress shops from Hoboken to Oxnard. And why? Because he was damned good. He had a simple stylized approach of strong design, tapered lines, and an addiction to Payne’s Grey that was instantly identifiable – a brand.  And that brand meant sex and sophistication. As with Side A of the Bee Gees, I’m a big fan, and as with Side B admitting this on the permanent record that is the internet may not be such a good idea.

I sometimes wonder, if Nagel hadn’t come along at the same time as cheap backlit mini-mall signage and fading mass-market decorative poster art, would he be remembered today? If he was remembered, would it be with fondness? Or will these constant reminders of outmoded style be like the poor: always with us.

Has this sort of backlash happened with other artists and illustrators of the past? My guess is no – not to the extent the global media allows. Yes, Alma Tadema paintings were considered completely passe and going for peanuts (Candid Camera’s Alan Funt held the mass of them at one point), but except for an especially garish slice of hell in Nevada called the Peppermill, few people today even know his work. And those that know it through the nightmare looking-glass probably think the imperfectly painted and endlessly repeated Alma Tadema paintings (probably painted en masse by an entire Chinese village) are simply part of their Fear and Loathing in Reno hallucination. I think few artists have had a big enough platform to become so thoroughly declassé to the public.

I wonder what Nagel would be painting today if he had lived long enough to see Lady Gaga And Katie Perry. Would he be a retro relic? Forever trapped by his ancient style? Or would he have grown and changed? Too bad we’ll never know….

Papyrus

“But why not Comic Sans?” I hear you cry. “Why Papyrus?”
And the easy answer is that Comic Sans is the Rob Liefeld of fonts, while Papyrus is an astonishingly good and beautiful one (Michael Kaluta? Dave Stevens? No, Neal Adams. Definitely Neal).

I have strong feelings on this subject because back in the Letraset days, I bought sheets of the stuff (the scan above was taken tonight from the old Letraset sheets that I still own) and their cost was pretty dear to a starving artist like me. My friend Dawn Wilson had been the first person I’d seen to use it and it had all the hallmarks of her work ~ elegance, grace, sophistication. I remember our early business cards and program covers. Turns out they were fifteen years ahead of their time and that eventually the world would learn that Papyrus had a million and one household uses. These days as I travel the world, I am saddened by Papyrus’ overuse even as I wonder whether it’s creators feel similarly. I hope they love their creation still, even as everyone I know rolls their eyes over it.

This year is a year of long-gestating projects. Of doing the things I’ve wanted to do for decades in some cases. Doom and 13th Age and Literary Pin-Ups to name but three.  I will never have the astonishingly epochal successes of the Brothers Gibb, or Patrick Nagel, their appreciation and their opprobrium, but I wish I could have spoken to the talented super-successes of my lifetime; they deserved their success as I hope to deserve my own.

And I’m going to keep using Papyrus, just to show ’em.

THANK YOU!

Image

I haven’t written a word here since the Kickstarter campaign for The Doom That Came to Atlantic City went live. There are plenty of reasons for that, and I strongly advise anyone I know who is planning a Kickstarter of their own to contact me before they set out on beautiful but mysterious the waters of crowdsourcing! It’s obviously an amazing venue that can yield spectacular results, but it might just eat your life in the process.

We were successful, and I want to thank everyone who helped spread the word! It was always a delight to see the names of my friends and colleagues join the list of backers. And watching that list grow was like watching the beans your Mom said were worthless (Don’t have a cow, Mom!) sprout and grow and reach their green tendrils up to the heavens.

The wonderful Nadya at Coilhouse led the way, and io9, Wired’s GeekDadQuarter to ThreeThe Gaming Gang, Geek.com and Nerd Approved followed thereafter. BoardGameGeek.com was also helpful, even when their members couldn’t wrap their heads around the idea that we’d come not to praise Monopoly, but to bury it.

With their help, we not only have the bare-bones game, we got to add several features we never thought we could afford (Tomes, Hotels, Gate markers, custom dice, et al.) that the wild success of the Kickstarter campaign made possible. There’s a lot more work for me to do, but it’s going to be amazing!

Thanks again,

Lee