Kickstarter 3 – Getting Backers for the TenNapel Sketchbook Archives

February 11, 2013


I got this question from a pal on Twitter about my Kickstarter campaign:

 But may I ask how you were able to get so many backers? It’s incredible! How did you promote, advertise and spread the word about your project? What’s the trick? I would really like to know how this works.

Any help would be hot. :)

I didn’t go into Kickstarter knowing anything about the process. I was in contact with a few friends who had successful kickstarter campaigns: Kazu Kibuishi, Jake Parker and Jason Brubaker. They didn’t make it sound easy, but they made it sound possible. That was all I needed. At the time that I launched my own campaign, I looked up every project that launched within my category of book making and comics and I looked at what failed and what succeeded. The problem is that most of the things that succeeded weren’t necessarily the kind of project I was thinking of, while the projects that fail are from every type and style of book imaginable.

There’s one great thing about Kickstarter, which is that it doesn’t cost anything to fail. There aren’t a lot of things in life that are like that, so all I had was my pride at stake to get kicked if it didn’t work, and my pride has a lot of scar tissue on it by now, so why not?

My backers aren’t entirely from my list of Kickstarter friends (4,000) or from Twitter (5500), but that gave me a good head start. About 500 of my donors came from those lists. One thing I didn’t anticipate was that I would gain about 1,000 followers on Twitter from having run my Kickstarter campaign! It was the new people that spread the word to their own networks that I didn’t have access to. They did it, not me.

The project itself is what ends up driving the donors, because people don’t buy things from me they don’t want. I could just as easily have made a different project and the exact same bidders would have said, “We don’t want this.” I’ve thought of doing a board game, a card game, a video game and an animated short, and it didn’t seem like the right timing, the Sketchbook seemed like the best idea… and my audience confirmed my hunch.

The launch of the project is when it’s at its greatest risk of failing, because after one day I might have only had 50-100 or so donors. You have to get those donors to be proud enough of the project to think their friends would also want to buy into the project. That’s why Kickstarter is just like any other free market idea… people don’t spend their money on well wishes and good intent. They really do want to be excited about something and they can’t fake their interest in something they don’t want or need.

I’d like to pause for a second and offer a consolation for projects that don’t work out. Don’t be discouraged. I have a ton of projects and ideas that I try to launch that fail or fizzle out. I’ve read enough about all of our great inventors and idea men that their past is littered with more failures than successes. The one attribute that separates successful people from failures isn’t creativity, but perseverance. Are you the kind of person to try something even after failing in a big way? 

Let me get back to answering your question. I don’t consider 1,725 people that many donors. Other guys like Jake Parker and the Creature Box guys had many MORE donors than I did and they didn’t even have the notoriety or fame of making Earthworm Jim and Neverhood in their corner. That’s how you know it’s the actual project that people want… it’s not based on the fame or marketing, it’s the thing itself that gets the donations. There are lots of great people making projects and I just don’t really want the project. Guess what? They still can’t get me to donate. It’s the project, it’s the project, it’s the project. Ask yourself if you didn’t know you, what would you buy from you?

While you can advertise your campaign, you don’t have to because Kickstarter already is a marketplace. Hot projects float to the top because even Kickstarter gets a cut of projects so that if they want to remain profitable, they want popular projects to rise up. They don’t want you to fail. If a project fails, it fails for very good reasons.

So the trick ends up being what all of us in mass media stay up at night thinking about… what do I want to make that enough people want? I’m still baffled by this and I’m the author of 14 books that haven’t lost money. My most popular projects aren’t necessarily what I would bet money would have been popular and some of my favorite “sure fire” projects were my biggest market failures.

Like everything in mass media, Kickstarter doesn’t lie. Give your best project your best shot and let the audience of donors educate you about your tastes. That’s what I did, and I was completely surprised (and humbled) by the response I got.

5 Responses to “Kickstarter 3 – Getting Backers for the TenNapel Sketchbook Archives”

  1. paul kindschi Says:

    To-the-point. I enjoyed the read. Trying to figure out this ‘crowdfunding’

  2. Elliot Says:


    I think one of the biggest things that draws a lot of people to kickstarter is that it gives each person something. In your case, it allowed you to publish a book. For the donater, it allows them to not only get the book, but often also added perks. I feel that even if the item on kickstarter is very nice, a lot of times its the tiers and what they provide that can often make or break a project.

    In your case, you were selling a gross number of items which were pivotal to the creation of numerous of your past projects and drove up the interest for some of your die-hard fans. To me, this is where a lot of the donations come in from. If you were just selling the book, it would take you a LARGE number of donations to pay for the book. When you offer things on top of the book is where all the profit is found. I.E., if you pay X amount more than the cost of the book, Ill make a drawing, throw in this, etc.

    Often I have seen projects fail only because what they were providing on top of the main project wasn’t much. Their product may have been strong, but the advanced tiers didn’t contain enough for people to part with more money. Their main product was the only thing that people saw as worthwhile. If you had only offered your book, it probably wouldn’t have been successful, but since you had the book and tiers with items people really sought after, it was grossly successful.

    Social media does undoubtedly account for a large number of trafficking on kickstarter, but as you mentioned, its the product themselves that cause people to pull the trigger. Sadly its often hard to find out about a kickstarter campaign until after its over as well. Unless you know what you are looking for or are tipped off by someone that it is happening, often its easy to come into the game a little bit later.

    The sad thing is, there are probably still a large number of people who would purchase your kickstarter book, but still don’t even know that you are producing one. Unlike a book being placed on a bookshelf, a kickstarter establishes a finite timetable in which your fanbase has to find out about it. Had your book instead been offered in a store, it would have allowed for limitless time for someone to stumble upon it. The nice thing about this though is that you know upfront how profitable your project will be and gives you the capital to pay expenses immediately instead of praying for success. Though prayer could be involves either way.

    Undoubtedly in your case, had you picked something other than the book to make at this point, I feel that it would have been successful. Honestly, I hope that you will have another kickstarter and I truly feel that it would be successful. A lot of this is due to that you have a solid fanbase, if not proven by your kickstarter participation. There are people who are still following you from the beginning of your career along with people who have only come to find about you from your recent graphic novel ventures.

    Here again though, I cant stress enough that a good portion of the success was still due to what you offered in your advanced teirs. The people paying for the book alone only accounted for $18,535 of the total $116,144 or about 15% of the final amount. The rest was found in more advanced tiers. To me this is a good indicator to where success is found on kickstarter campaigns and where failures can often be attributed.

    Just my 2 cents

    • tennapel Says:

      Ah, but I wouldn’t have offered those tiers if I didn’t offer commissions to drive up the donations, and instead of a floor for a hard bound book of $18k I’d have done a soft-bound book with a floor of $5k and still done fine.

      There’s a lot of books by unknown authors getting funding for 5k so there’s no excuse!

      • Elliot Says:

        My point is that any project can be successful, but the more that is offered to purchase, the easier it is to make a profit. The tiered system is the heartbeat of kickstarter and used correctly can make or break a product. This being said, of course the product itself needs to be a good one.

        Your sketchbook archive was clearly something people were looking for, but a large portion of your profits were found in the advanced tiers. This allowed for your end product to be higher quality. Unknown artists can find funding with the right marketing and offering the right products.

        People just need to ask themselves, will people want the product I am offering? Then ask themselves, what things will people want beyond my initial product. And most importantly, be realistic with their tiers and not over or underestimate the worth of things.

  3. andrewbatter Says:

    Doug, if you ever want to do a boardgame I’d love to help playtest. I have a group of gamer friends and have been in the miniature wargaming/board gaming hobby for 15+ years. Also, I’d really be interested to hear more about what are your most popular projects that you didn’t expect to do as well and which of your sure-fire projects didn’t do as well as anticipated.

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