10 Project Tips from Ted Rall of Comix Journalism
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Our project creators make good teachers. Once a week, we ask one post-success project creator to take a break from the packing and shipping, put pen to paper, and give us their best lessons learned for making and running a great Kickstarter project. Today we talk to Ted Rall of Comix Journalism, a project to fund his return to Afghanistan as an independent journalist.
The most exciting part about launching my Kickstarter project was the sense of potentiality along with the democratization of the media. I've been working in print and online media since the early 1990s and throughout that time I've only really had a few customers: the editors and producers who approved or denied what I pitched them. Back in 2001, when I went to Afghanistan I met with newspaper editors and TV and radio producers to cobble together the funding for war correspondency, which is very expensive. By 2010 there were few if any media outlets willing to pay for independent, unembedded war reporting, especially by a radical political cartoonist. So I brought my idea to the public: a daily cartoon blog in real time, using satellite technology to transmit finished cartoons within hours of the events depicted. This time, it wasn't up to gatekeepers but to the public at large. If enough people were interested in my attempt to go to Afghanistan and find out what was going on there, they would pledge, the idea would get funded, and I would go. If not, I wouldn't. It's a more efficient system, really, because one recalcitrant editor can't stop a project people want to see from being greenlit, and on the other hand one overly enthusiastic editor can't approve something that few people are interested in.
My approach to making a project video was to ask a friend to make it for me, which worked because I'm the worst possible judge of myself. She filmed and edited me. It also worked because, quite frankly, I found the idea of learning how to edit video daunting. From what I hear, however, it's not very difficult. If and when I do another Kickstarter project, I'll try to do it myself. My point is, however, that even if you don't want to do it there's probably someone you know who would be happy to help if you take them out to lunch or something.
I started to experience some anxiety when the pledges remained static about halfway through the time frame allotted. At first they came in regularly. Then they trickled off. Then I was about two-thirds funded. I thought it would be kind of silly to have so many pledges without making it all the way, but then bloggers helped publicize the project during the last week or so, pledges began coming in, and that was so great! In the end I was actually over by $1,000.
One thing that I really didn't expect was how many people I didn't know directly or indirectly would make generous pledges toward this project.
The one thing I wish I had known before launching my Kickstarter project was how much more fun it would be to be accountable to the public than to traditional media gatekeepers. The public wants me to be me. Gatekeepers want to crush any sort of edge or opinion.
When I reached my goal, I felt happy and scared. On the one hand, I was going to Afghanistan. On the other hand, I was going back to Afghanistan. I had nearly gotten killed there in 2001. What if I'd just talked my way into an early grave?
The toughest part post-funding was issuing regular updates, since my tendency is not to say anything until there's something new and exciting to say. So my advice to future creators is to put a tickler into your smartphone organizer or whatever reminding you to issue updates regularly. It is important and it helps you remain focused on your project.
My plans next are to complete a book about my trip to Afghanistan for Farrar, Strauss & Giroux. Publication date is currently scheduled for spring 2013 so I need to turn it in soon. After that I'm beginning a book on what revolution would like in the United States. I'm also thinking about doing a series of trips to places where revolutionary forces are ruling discrete areas.
My other tips are to use social networking ferociously. Without regular tweets and Facebook posts I doubt my project would have been funded.
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