Last year writer/artist Jane Irwin executed a successful Kickstarter for Clockwork Game: The Illustrious Career of a Chess-Playing Automaton, a historical fiction graphic novel. I was curious to learn about her experience in getting the project successfully funded, and she was kind enough to answer my questions in this brief interview.
Tim O’Shea: How did you decide that you wanted to go the Kickstarter route?
Jane Irwin: Clockwork Game marks my third time crowdfunding a major project: I took pre-orders from fans to pay for the printing on both Vögelein Issue 1 in 2001 and the first printing of the Vögelein: Clockwork Faerie trade paperback in 2003. Kickstarter seemed like a logical progression – and I’d also seen some other creators I know have good success with it – so I thought I’d give it a try. It turned out to be a really smart decision, and I can’t say enough good things about Kickstarter and the tools it offers its users.
Were there lessons learned from past Kickstarter experience (yours or others’) as well as during the process? Were there new lessons from this go-around?
Oh, yes, absolutely. The biggest lesson I learned was that I didn’t charge enough for international shipping, despite having people warn me about it up front. I’ve shipped books overseas for the last 10 years, so I figured an extra $10-$15 would be enough, but it turns out the USPS [United States Postal Service] has raised international rates significantly, and most of my overseas packages cost between $20 and $30 to ship. My biggest advice to anyone planning a Kickstarter is to take a set of objects weighing the same amount as your rewards, package them as you intend to ship them, get the post office to give you estimates for the most expensive international postal code, and base your international rates on those. I had to eat a lot of the extra shipping cost, but I have the pleasure of knowing that I have readers enjoying my books in many other countries, including Chile, Sweden and the United Arab Emirates.
OK, as we are friends I know about your post office fun recently. Please tell me the fun (a term I use loosely) for your post office experience?
It was definitely a trip – I spent over a thousand dollars, shipped about a 140 packages, and the receipt was four times taller than I am! I was trying to get as many possible rewards shipped before the end of the year, and I ran into a super-long line filled with people returning holiday presents and taking their kids to get passports while they were out of school. Fortunately for me, everyone seemed to be in good humor, and nobody keyed my car for hogging one of the three stations for three and a half hours. Maybe it was because I played peek-a-boo and folded origami birds for the toddler in the stroller next to me to keep him from crying? All kidding aside, though – the next time I do a project of this size I will definitely consider buying a postage meter and scheduling pickups.
Do you think you will pursue a Kickstarter when it comes time for your next project?
If I’m self-publishing it, definitely. Kickstarter’s built-in tools (surveys, sorting backers by reward levels, public/private updates) made my life so much easier, and the process of transferring funds from Amazon Payments to my bank account went perfectly. I also was lucky enough to be a Staff Pick and even the Project of the Day, so I got an enormous amount of free publicity I would’ve never had if I’d crowdfunded the book on my own. I can see from Kickstarter’s built-in analytics that 51% of my funds came from backers who found me via the Kickstarter site, which means they’d probably never heard of me before, but saw the project listed there and decided to take a chance on it. There’s no way I could have ever afforded to buy such effective advertising;the amount of extra visibility I got was easily worth the 5% fee, and my backers, both old and new, were remarkably generous. It was a fantastic experience from start to finish.
What’s on the creative pipeline for you, after finishing such a major project like Clockwork Game?
I have several ideas I’m toying with at the moment, but nothing set in stone yet. I’m looking forward to having some time for experimentation before I start another full-length book!