Kickstarter: What makes you so special?

B.J. Keeton is currently running a Kickstarter campaign for Birthright, the first book in The Technomage Archive series. He is is a writer, blogger, and teacher. When he isn’t trying to think of a way to trick Fox into putting Firefly back on the air, he writes science fiction, watches an obscene amount of genre television, and is always on the lookout for new ways to integrate pop culture into the classroom. B.J. lives in a small town in Tennessee with his wife and a neighborhood of stray cats, and he blogs about pop culture, geek media, and awesomeness at www.professorbeej.com.

These days, everyone has a Kickstarter. You have an idea, and no money? No problem! Just Kickstart it, and all your creative woes fall by the wayside. People will see your genius and rush to give you money hand over foot. You’ll go from eating ramen to eating steak-and-shrimp in literally 45 seconds.

Or, at least, that’s the idea. That’s the dream. It is not, however, the reality.

Right now, I’m in the middle of a Kickstarter project for my trilogy of novels, The Technomage Archive (the first book in the series, Birthright, being the primary focus of the campaign), and I have to be frank with you: Kickstarter is hard.

Not only is it stressful–I can’t even describe the nervous tick I’m developing from rushing to my phone every single time an email comes through, hoping that it’s a new backer notification–but it’s also incredibly populated. Like California in 1849 was populated.

Kickstarter is fast approaching gold-rush territory, with everyone with even a fraction of an idea fighting for a piece of the crowdfunding money pile.
If you’re looking for backers, if you’re looking for people to support your project by giving you their money, you’re going to have to be able to answer one question better than anyone else: “What makes you so special?”


Finding a Way to Stand Out


Let’s face it. Everyone and their brother has a manuscript tucked away in a drawer somewhere. And if my experience is any indication, the majority of those manuscripts are science-fiction or fantasy.

Wait, so is yours? You’re kidding! No way! What a coinky-dink!

Kidding aside, so is mine. Birthright is a hybrid-genre SF/F novel, part of a trilogy set in a greater universe, and I am a relatively unknown debut author.
Good luck to me, right? How in the world are people going to find my project amid the sea of similar ones?

Well, because it is different from other SF/F novels. First of all, it’s a hybrid-genre novel and not just run-of-the-mill, elves-and-dwarves fantasy or pew-pew, I-am-your-father science fiction. It has a fantasy-like narrative set in a sci-fi world. Think Ender’s Game meets The Lord of the Rings.


Highlighting Those Differences


Now, every novel, film, game, or whatever is unique in some way. But it’s not enough to just recognize that, and it’s certainly not enough just to say it. You have to show it.
It wasn’t enough to talk about hybrid-genre narratives and settings. Because not everyone knows what that means, and even if they do, they probably won’t care.
But you know what people do care about? World of Warcraft. Or more generally, MMORPGs.

So, on the main page of the Kickstarter project, I talk about my 14 years of experience playing MMOs and being a part of their communities, and I posted up a sample of the novel for folks to read so they could get a feel for the universe and how MMOs influenced not only the setting, but the narrative as well.
But that still wasn’t enough.

So I went to a few friends of mine on the interweb here, and I spoke with them about writing guest posts about the heavy influence that MMOs had on Birthright (and the entire Technomage Archive universe). I wrote about how I use Instancing as a foundational technology, and how the characters were brought together as a MMO-style Holy Trinity before evolving into the people behind the avatars. I even revealed my super-secret rules that govern worldbuilding.

So now I have a few thousand words I can share with potential backers on how Birthright stands apart from the scads of other SF/F projects on Kickstarter.


Recruiting Others to Champion Our Cause


I can’t remember where, but I read somewhere that launching and maintaining a Kickstarter campaign is like working a full-time job. So I waited until summer, when I would be on break and not teaching, thinking that would allow me to handle the load.

Thank goodness for that. Because as a one-man job, this is tough. It’s getting up early in the morning, writing, posting, Facebooking, Tweeting, networking, writing, networking, writing, and then networking some more. Then, add in periodic refreshes of your campaign page just often enough to make you go a little crazy.
Like I said earlier, Kickstarter is hard.

Which is why, thankfully, it’s called crowdfunding and not mefunding. You have access to the whole internet, so use it!

What really surprised me the most about crowdfunding through Kickstarter is that people have already been all about spreading the word and supporting the campaign without me even asking. Blog posts and Tweets and requests for articles and interviews have been coming in at a pace I’m struggling to keep up with.

And that’s just awesome!

It means that people, of their own volition and choice, have taken a vested interest in my project. They have taken it on themselves to spend seconds, minutes, hours of their time blogging about it, Tweeting about it, or somehow otherwise getting the word out.

Because something about Birthright struck a chord with them.

So when setting up your project and figuring out what makes it unique, you also have to think about its draw. You have to think about why other people will care about your project. Will they care that your book needs good cover art? Will they care it needs professional editing? Will they care that your film requires a specific kind of camera to shoot according to your artistic vision?

Maybe, maybe not.

So you have to make them care about the project, not the details. You must have a hook.

For me, my hook was highlighting the hybrid-genre aspect of my novel as well as the online-gaming influence. For yours, it might be a subversion of reality TV tropes, or writing a dozen novels in a single year. Sure, you have to include details about where folks’ money is going, but don’t highlight it above all else. Highlight your super-cool concept.

Whatever it might be, your job as a creator is to make your potential backers care about the concept behind the project. You need them to want your work to exist as much as you do.
And once you have a few vocal supporters, the real heart of crowdfunding opens up. Because that’s what it’s all about: getting out there and finding fans.

So figure out what makes you so special, highlight it any way you can, and get people on your side. It’s all downhill from there.

Make sure you check out BJ’s Kickstarter and show some love for the next Game of Thrones in the making. 


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