Kickstarter and the comic book industry have shared a close, sometimes complicated relationship since the crowdfunding platform launched in 2009. In that time, there have been some major success with creative projects that far exceeded their original goal -- and three of them involved Greg Pak.
The writer, who recently wrapped his run on "Action Comics" at DC Comics and is currently on board "Totally Awesome Hulk" at Marvel, first took to Kickstarter in 2013 for "Code Monkey Save World," a graphic novel based on a song by Jonathan Coulton and illustrated by artist Takeshi Miyazawa. The same team returned in March 2015 with the children's book "The Princess Who Saved Herself," also based on a Coulton song. Then in June of last year, Pak and Miyazawa reunited for another children's book, this time an original concept titled "ABC Disgusting." All three outpaced their goals, with "Code Monkey" raising $340,270 off of a $39,000 goal -- the highest-grossing original comics project in Kickstarter history.
Pak now looks to pay it forward with "Kickstarter Secrets," an instructional e-book sharing the lessons he's learned from those three campaigns -- funded through, you guessed it, Kickstarter. The campaign launched on Monday morning, and within four hours is already in striking distance of its $2,000 goal. CBR News chatted with Pak about "Kickstarter Secrets," and got his thoughts on the power of crowdfunding in general.
CBR News: Greg, let's talk about the decision to write "Kickstarter Secrets." Obviously, there's a bit of a jump between getting a lot of questions about how to run Kickstarter campaigns, to committing to write a book about it. At what point did it become clear that this was something that you wanted to do?
Greg Pak: I've always been a big believer in independent creators sharing information. For all my projects over the years, I've benefitted hugely from practical advice from more experienced creators. So years ago I ran a website of detailed no-budget filmmaking tips called FilmHelp and more recently wrote a how-to book with Fred Van Lente called "Make Comics Like the Pros." Since running the "Code Monkey Save World," "Princess Who Saved Herself" and "ABC Disgusting" campaigns, I've gotten tons of questions from folks about crowdfunding, so "Kickstarter Secrets" felt like the right next step. The goal is to be as specific as possible about what it takes to prepare for and run a Kickstarter with concrete examples and numbers drawn from my previous campaigns. Find out what I did right -- and learn from my mistakes!
In the video -- and just now! -- you discuss the importance of sharing knowledge among fellow creators. I that's an interesting thing, because in a broader sense, I feel like that's evolved in recent years -- maybe because of social media, etc. -- where there's more of a sense of community and sharing ideas and experiences and less gatekeeping and keeping secrets of success, well, secret. How much do you see that process as having evolved?
I'm old enough to have started my career in filmmaking before social media, and the indie film folks I knew were all about sharing incredibly detailed, practical information. So I think it's always been part of the culture of indie media. But the internet absolutely makes it possible for folks to find a lot more information from a lot more people a lot quicker. The digital age also means that the means of production of creative projects is much, much more accessible. And all that is great.
Let's talk about the campaign -- $2,000 feels like a modest goal (and surely one that will be quickly passed), but makes sense if there's no physical release. How did you land on that number?
My last Kickstarter, "ABC Disgusting," was a children's book. Just about everybody either has a kid or knows someone with a kid. So the potential audience was practically unlimited. But "Kickstarter Secrets" is a specialized how-to book. I think I'm in a pretty great position to reach the folks who would most want something like "Kickstarter Secrets," but it's still a narrower potential audience than ABC DISGUSTING. So I wanted to keep my ask as low as possible. "ABC Disgusting" had a target of $24,000. We needed about 500 or 600 backers to hit that mark. To reach the "Kickstarter Secrets" goal, I figure I'll need about 100 to 150 backers, which feels reasonable. (Knock on wood!) And since I'm doing "Kickstarter Secrets" as an e-book, a small budget like $2,000 is enough to cover the writing and production and digital delivery as well as the delivery of the additional physical rewards.
Was it more of a challenge to figure out some of the higher-dollar incentives given that the campaign is focused on a digital book?
Since "Kickstarter Secrets" will delve into the concrete details of the Kickstarters for "Code Monkey Save World," "Princess Who Saved Herself, and "ABC Disgusting," it makes good sense to offer physical copies of those books as rewards. So that helps add a variety of higher dollar rewards to help the project reach its target.
Of course, you're best known for writing about fantastic fictional things, but you've also got experience with instructional writing -- I'm thinking of the aforementioned "Make Comics Like the Pros" book you and Fred Van Lente collaborated on. How much did that experience help shape your approach to "Kickstarter Secrets"?
Yeah, I guess I've been doing this kind of writing for a while. I mentioned my FilmHelp website, and right now I'm also remembering my "Robot Stories and More Screenplays" book, which includes introductions that dig into the writing process of my various screenplays. I spent so much time over the years reading other creators' how-to articles and books that I guess I've internalized the form. I actually really enjoy this kind of writing, probably in part because it's a way for me to put my mistakes to practical use. If others can learn from my goof-ups, my goof-ups don't sting as much. [Laughs]
Given your history in visual media, are you looking to visualize the book beyond text? Perhaps a stretch goal of having some artistic collaborators join to provide illustrations in certain sections? (Just thinking aloud...)Â
I'll definitely include photos of different stages in the process and screenshots of webpages and spread sheets. And I've actually thought a bit about including some cartoony drawings of my own, when appropriate. I can't draw like the incredible folks who draw the comics I write. But I grew up cartooning and still do it for fun on the side. I drew the image of myself with the laptop in the main "Kickstarter Secrets" image, for example. So this might be a chance to dive back into that more seriously. We'll see!
I will say that I do have some awesome stretch goals in mind that involve some tremendous comics creators and that will make the "Kickstarter Secrets" book even more useful in some amazing ways. So please do feel free to make with the clicking and help push this thing over the top!
Not looking for you to give up any of the actual secrets in the book, but from your perspective as someone who has ran three successful campaigns and backed 100 more, what's the most common Kickstarter mistake you've seen over the years?Â
Probably underestimating shipping and handling costs -- both in terms of time and money. USPS rates go up in January, sometimes by a substantial percentage. And foreign shipping somehow consistently bites people harder than they expected. I'll go over how to budget for shipping and handling with tons of concrete details and examples to help folks avoid those kinds of nightmares.
This project seems like an opportunity to opine a bit about Kickstarter itself. It's clear it's had a positive impact on your career -- as a whole, how do you see its influence in shaping comics and other creative mediums in terms of making projects happen that may not have ever been possible?Â
Kickstarter has indisputably changed the landscape for independent comics. It's not for everyone and it's not for every project. But many, many creators have found ways to use it for a huge variety of projects that might never have been completed otherwise. And some creators are finding ways to make crowdfunded projects a regular part of their ongoing careers and business plans. It's a tremendous tool not just for getting money but for building an audience and distributing work that simply didn't exist a few years ago. But running a crowdfunding campaign is a huge undertaking that requires some very specific planning. I'm hoping "Kickstarter Secrets" will help demystify the process and provide folks the very practical, concrete information and tools to put together a campaign that makes sense for their projects at this point in their careers.
On a related topic: Kickstarter has been around since 2009 at this point, and seems as viable than ever. Despite some negative sentiment towards crowd-funding that occasionally pops up, it's clearly more than a short-term trend. Are you surprised by the staying power the platform has had? Is there anything stopping Kickstarter at this point?
I think crowdfunding is here to stay. A few years back, when things were still pretty fresh, I think there was the feeling in the air that a few really badly run crowdfunding projects could poison the well for everyone. But at this point, thousands of people have backed projects on Kickstarter and had great experiences -- and continue to back new projects. Maybe there's an eBay analogue here. Folks may have a bad experience with an individual eBay seller, but they continue to buy and sell through eBay itself. That being said, it's still incumbent on individuals launching projects through Kickstarter to do their best to run solid campaigns and deliver as promised. Here's hoping that "Kickstarter Secrets" can help with that.
The "Kickstarter Secrets" campaign will be live through May 18.