How We Succeeded At Kickstarter, And Why You Should Do Something That Scares You

Nathan Graham Davis write for Bleeding Cool:

Promo ColorIt’s December 9th, 2013.  I’m sitting in the dimly-lit Brass Cat, in Easthampton, MA, thinking, “what the fuck am I doing here?”  I’m a screenwriter with some success but no credits, I’ve only been into comics for a year or two, and across the table from me is Jack Purcell, a dude who’s inked pages of Batman (and a hell of a lot more).

If you want to do anything worthwhile, you’re going to hear a lot of people say, “No.”  It’s not personal.  It’s just that, if you’re trying to do something cool and exciting, and you need the help of other people who are also doing things that are cool and exciting, their priorities won’t always line up with yours.

I lost track of how many managers declined my queries when I was first looking for representation.  Most didn’t even write back.  Dozens of producers and studios turned us down before I landed my first option.  We went through a plethora of movie stars before we finally attached — no, wait, that hasn’t happened yet.

But for whatever reason, when I e-mailed Jack, telling him I had an idea for a graphic novel and would he please let me buy him a couple beers, he said, “Yes.”  And for whatever reason, when I pitched him that idea, he said it again.

Maybe if you look at the broader picture and realize that more and more artists are getting sick of bowing to corporate interests, choosing instead to take the creator-owned path, none of this is that surprising.  Jack was looking for more creative control.  I was looking for a way to write an idea I loved, but that my manager had said no one in Hollywood would touch, due to its high budget and dark subject matter.

m&mp3-v3-copyBut I wasn’t thinking about the broader scope of things.  I was thinking, “What the hell have I gotten myself into?”  Over the course of three or four beers, I’d gone from a dude with a general interest in comics, to a guy who was suddenly pairing with a bona-fide comic artist to create one.  Up until now, I’d never even read a script for a comic.  Would this be impossible?  No.  Terrifying?  Certainly.

Thankfully, Jack’s been a godsend of a collaborator.  He shot me over some comic scripts, I realized the form wasn’t all that scary, and we began putting together a library of outlines and concept art that had us pretty fucking excited.

This cycle of accidental yesses, trepidation, hard work, and eventual success has been a constant theme with Malice and Mistletoe.  Sometime in July, Jack texted me to say that he’d gotten us on a panel at ComiConn.

“You mean with some other creators?”

“No, just us.”


A month later, I was speaking in a conference room at ComiConn, with no comic credits, no movie credits, an unfinished book, and an as-of-yet unfunded Kickstarter.  It was fine.  We did another panel in November at Albany Comic-Con.

Given the nature of our book, we recently e-mailed a distillery asking if they’d be interested in partnering with us to make a Mistletoe Whiskey.  Much to our surprise, we were on the phone with them a week later.  We’re heading out there to do some “tasting” next month.

eldontorturedAnd then there’s the Kickstarter itself.  Early on, we realized we had two very good reasons for crowdfunding this thing:

  1. We wanted complete creative control. More than anything, that’s what Malice and Mistletoe was about for us.
  2. We were way too broke to print it ourselves.

We weighed the options.  We could do it on Kickstarter, which has a pretty good track record, but where we’d be forced to make our goal or get nothing.

We could also do it on IndieGogo, where we’d be able to keep a good portion of the money no matter what.  Or, put another way — we could promise our backers a certain reward, but if we didn’t make enough, we could still take their money and just give them an inferior product.  Fuck that.

If we were going to ask people to believe in our book, then we needed to believe in ourselves.  Doing it on Kickstarter, and asking for enough to print a large number of quality books and rewards, may have forced us to put our balls out there a bit.  But we were getting pretty used to that, anyway.

Sometime in early spring, we set a launch date of August 7th.  That would allow us to attend three cons within those 30 days, and give us a few months to build pre-awareness.

We recruited Davin Pasek to the team.  Like me, he had no comic credits to his name, but he was a hell of a designer.  Davin would letter and color the book (which has a palette of black, white, red, and green), and he’d also do the design for our social media and Kickstarter campaign.

10570469_330232710472275_8465240036636366691_nTogether, the three of us launched headfirst into the campaign, and after an incredibly stressful 30 days, we reached 110% of our goal.  We learned a ton, and although I’m sure your experience will be different in some ways, my hope is you’ll find some of this helpful:

  • Ask your doctor if you’re healthy enough for a Kickstarter. No joke — I averaged under 5 hours of sleep a night for those 30 days.  I was much less healthy at the end of the campaign than when we started it, in more ways than one.  Prepare yourself.
  • I’m not the first to say this, but I’ll confirm it: Running a successful Kickstarter is a full-time job.  We only succeeded because we gave it everything we had.  I didn’t write a single page during the entire campaign – I had no time or energy.
  • Research Kickstarter. Read and watch everything you can on how other people were successful.  Check out the campaigns themselves and see how their videos, rewards, and pages were designed.  Learn what you need to do to be successful.  One of the things that kept us going was learning that 90% of projects that hit 40% of their goal wound up funding – and it didn’t matter when they hit that mark.  We didn’t get there until we had 9 days left, but we made it.
  • Pre-brand yourself. Get your project out on social media, and develop a decent following before you launch your campaign.  If I could go back and do one thing differently, I’d have tried to get more out of things like Twitter and Instagram.
  • Prepare to put some skin in the game. We spent over $500 on print materials for cons and facebook ads.  Of course, if we’d been smart about it, we’d have built that extra $500 into our Kickstarter goal.
  • Get people to write about you. We must have e-mailed well over a hundred websites, bloggers, journalists, and facebook group owners to ask for shout-outs and interviews.  We wound up on two podcasts, did four or five interviews, had a local news outlet write about us, and picked up a few more shout-outs on top of those.  Most people declined or didn’t even respond, but it was still time well-spent.  Also, please don’t be the spammer who copies and pastes the same message to everyone you contact.  If you land a good interview or article, it’ll be well worth the effort you put into writing them a few custom-tailored paragraphs.
  • Put together a good video. The first video we tried was something cute and semi-hilarious where Jack and I had our kids pretend to be us, talking to the camera about our book.  Our family and close friends dug it; everyone else moved on.  Thankfully, my good friend Mike Haas came to our rescue about halfway through and put together the video you can see there today.  We’re putting his face in our book and giving him pretty much every reward for free.
  • Show up at cons. Work with local comic and gaming shops to gain some awareness through print signings and appearances.
  • Offer contests. Jack drew three original pieces of art that we offered at different points in the campaign to gain new backers.  “Back us by 10 PM on Friday and have a chance to win this!”  We also offered up Book 1 of 1500, which kills us, but hey – we funded.
  • Thank your backers. Take the time to e-mail everyone who supports you, even if it’s for just a dollar.  And for people who go the extra mile to help you gain more support, make sure they know how much you appreciate it.  You can never have too much good will.

I could offer a lot more, but this is already long-winded.  If you’ve got questions, hit us up at  We’d be happy to hear from you.

It’s almost exactly a year since that first meeting with Jack, and the book should be out in mid-to-late spring.  Jack’s furiously working his fingers to bloody stumps to ensure that happens.  And then we’ll deal with fulfillment.  Terrifying?  Sure.  Worth it?  Totally.

Get out there and scare yourself.  Risk failure.  See what happens.  It makes you a hell of a lot more interesting than the next person, and you might just surprise yourself.

Want to know more?  We’re constantly releasing new art and information through facebook, twitter, and our website.  Like us, follow us, and join our mailing list so we can keep you up-to-date!  Pre-orders for Malice and Mistletoe start in early 2015.

About Dan Wickline

Has quietly been working at Bleeding Cool for over three years. He has written comics for Image, Top Cow, Shadowline, Avatar, IDW, Dynamite, Moonstone, Humanoids and Zenescope. He is the author of the Lucius Fogg series of novels and a published photographer.