Friday, 30 July 2021

Kickstarter AAR: The Pamphlet of Pantheons

In February 2021, during Zinequest 3, I Kickstarted a small project called The Pamphlet of Pantheons. This was something that came to me on the spur of the moment in late January when I was reminded that Zinequest was happening. I'd been thinking about the concepts behind it for a long time, and I decided that the resulting project would be a good size for Zinequest. I wanted to try out a Kickstarter before launching a possibly larger one for The Magonium Mine Murders, and the limited scope of Zinequest made it seem like this was a good opportunity. 

In this post, I'm going to go over lessons learned and look at some of the things I did right and wrong. Let's start with what I did right: 

Keep It Simple

This was the first thing I decided when I started planning the Kickstarter. I had no stretch goals, and only two reward tiers: digital and print. I knew that the more complex the project was, the more opportunities there would be for me to make a miscalculation somewhere. 

Do It Yourself

I did everything for this project apart from the cover art, which had both good and bad effects. On the one hand, I think you could call the graphic design and layout "functional," but on the other hand I learned a lot and saved some money. I also did all of the shipping and fulfilment myself, which did wind up costing me extra money and time at a time when I really needed to be focusing on other things. 

Be Lucky

Probably the best thing to happen to the Pamphlet was an offer, out of the blue, from a friend who arranged for my Tim Molloy cover art. In addition to just being a cool cover, this did several things for the project: 
  • It let me have a B&W cover but still look great, saving me some money. 
  • It gave me a great image to use on social media to promote the book. 
  • It added a little buzz and credibility -- cool Old School types recognise Molloy from Knock! 
Appeal to an Existing Audience

I would characterise myself as a "minor gaming community figure." I have about 900 followers on Twitter and a core podcast audience of probably fewer than a thousand people, of whom about 150 back me on Patreon. In absolute terms, that's not a huge number, but it's a lot better than shouting into the void, and it does mean that I have a platform to hawk my wares. It's possible that the Pamphlet would have done as well without Monster Man to promote it, but given the number of my listeners' names I recognised among my backers, I have my doubts. 

Benefit from Community Expertise

There's a growing number of RPG zine makers out there, and a lot of them have been through the bits you're struggling with. I received great advice about paper stock, cover weight, postage, and more. I'm very grateful. 

Of course, not everything went perfectly. Here's the thing I will definitely do better next time: 

Postage, Postage, Postage

Postage was by far the biggest expense of the whole Kickstarter. I did not anticipate how many orders would come from the US (over half of my print backers were in the US), and I calculated the postage a little too low on those orders considering that if you do postage through Kickstarter, it's counted as part of your Kickstarter and therefore Kickstarter takes a slice. I still made a profit on those US backers, but I could have done much better. 

Seriously, postage alone -- exclusive of packing materials -- cost more than everything else put together. 

Next time, I'm working out a separate US print run and getting myself a North American fulfilment partner. It will also save the nice people at the post office a lot of aggravation and I bet it won't be that much more expensive. 

Also, I ordered the wrong size of envelopes at one point, which cost me some money. Anyone want to buy some capacity book mailers? Going cheap!

Pricing

I have a bad habit of selling products at very low prices. This is partly because of, I don't know, low self-esteem or something, partly because I myself am very frugal, and partly because my mental index of what something costs in dollars is fixed at the last time I lived in the US, which was nearly 20 years ago. 

This was a bit of a mixed bag: I do think that there were a lot of people who shelled out for the digital edition of the zine because it was only £2, and since my overhead there was essentially nil, that's a good source of profit for me. But I bet almost all of them would still have backed it at £3 and been happy, and I would have made 50% more. And this low price was much more of a problem for the print edition, where there were real expenses to cut into my profit margin. 

Adding it Up

So here's a rough calculation of how the money went. Some of these expenses are functionally lower -- I'm registered self-employed and do report the income, so I'll be claiming the expenses as deductions. 

Kickstarter (after fees etc.): £1378
Direct and distro sales: £90
Online sales: £270

Total: approximately £1738

Software: £24
Packaging and stationery: £75
Printing: £140
Postage: £385

Total: approximately £624

That leaves me with a profit of about £1114, which is better than a slap in the face but not exactly retirement money. 

Now, the good thing is that at this point a lot of my main expenses are done but there's nothing to stop the book making more money. At present, I'm not promoting it very hard on DTRPG, but I still get a steady little trickle of sales, essentially money that I don't have to do any work for. Same goes for digital sales on Itch. It's also definitely done a lot for my follower count on social media and on Itch. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that some of my new Monster Man patrons came to the show via the Pamphlet

Also, while it seemed to me like I never shut up about the project, that doesn't mean that much outside of the communities I belong to. Big boosts to my sales post-KS always came from posting in relevant FB groups or having other people talk about the Pamphlet on social media (one Instagram post in particular got me a pretty substantial sales spike). Do more of that next time. 

So, for next time: 
  • Price more realistically 
  • Work with partners for international shipping 
  • Be as loud about the project as I thought I was this time
  • Explore new avenues for promotion
Overall, not too bad for a first Kickstarter: the backers got their books on time or close to it, I didn't lose money, and I learned a lot. 

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