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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    3. Alan Corcoran on

      I love your stuff, but I am jealous of the fact that you are already a Well Established Commodity. For the vast majority of us that toil in relative obscurity, I think the Kickstarter experience is going to be a bit different (for example, my guess is bloggers could give a rat's ass about my client's new CD.) My surprise was that even the most unlikely project can be lifted up to funding heaven by one well-heeled backer. - A Relatively Obscure Toiler

    4. Melissa Giovagnoli on

      I love what you said about it is so much more rewarding to talk directly to the pubic instead of tailoring, dumbing down or making everything so "nice" for the media gatekeepers. You are so real and authentic and that is so powerful in our noisy world. Thanks!

    5. Jeff Lafferty on

      Some great advice here, thanks!

    6. 3Bit on

      I took these tips to mind with my First Person Shooter project, thanks!

    7. Ted Rall on

      No doubt, it's much easier if you have a fan base (as I do). Without one I think it boils down to the idea. Many of my supporters had never heard of me but liked the pitch.

    8. Naomi Christie on

      This is awesome! Great tips! I am feeling some anxiety myself! Hopefully I'll make it. Persevere.

    9. US Deployment Dolls (Gina Boulton) on

      This is AWESOME LOVE IT!! i agree with you on social networking !! its amazing how far you can go without having to travel.

    10. Randy W. Hunt on

      Thank you very, very much, Ted. This is really helpful, particularly the advice to "use social networking ferociously."

    11. Joseph Bell on

      Ted, Thank you for the advice. The anxiety is definitely killing me. The Hand Glider started off great and it has been slow for the last 3 days. I just want to keep the momentum up. Social media has definitely been key. On that note, I'm heading back to trying to reach the masses.

    12. Ceric Lasentri on

      I don't know why I didn't think about the blogger idea. DUH, but thanks for the advice.

    13. Susan T Lee on

      Thank you for the insights, Ted. We're about to launch a project and have high hopes and fears, so your candor is appreciated. Best of luck on your trip.

    14. Ted Rall on

      Thanks, Susan. I went, I reported, the book comes out next year. Good luck with your project! I've just uploaded a new project myself.

    15. Sati Faulks on

      Cool project thanks for sharing your experience and advice.

    16. gary zenker on

      I also have that wonderment on what I am doing wrong? Is my project not that attractive or have I just not reached enough people. I enjoy reading your post and those of others commenting.

    17. Jo Scott-B on

      About to step into the Kickstarter world. This is a good boost. Thankd

    18. Kelly Hervey on

      Thanks for sharing this, as I am experiencing some of these things myself. My campaign is only 3 days old and not moving very much...I appreciate your words of encouragement. Once you launch the work really begins.

      Kelly/Riley and Vine

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