Guest Post: How to Chisel a Project Down to a Manageable Size

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The first time you take an idea to Kickstarter, you might be tempted to cram every element of it (and then some) into your campaign. But if you look through projects that were successfully funded, you’ll see that most of them have funding goals between one and ten thousand dollars. Many successful project creators — some of whom you may know of, admire, and emulate — scaled down their initial ideas; others may have failed in a first pass and revamped by focusing on one piece of their idea, or even by breaking their idea into a series of separate projects.

Of course, some projects will blow well past their targets, but you can’t predict that will happen. Dave Kellett, co-creator of Stripped, a documentary about cartooning,, has run three campaigns: two for phases of the film and one for a hardcover collection of issues of his comic, Drive. Dave says to start as small as possible, but have a “plan to blow past that goal.”

From talking to Dave and many other people who have run Kickstarter campaigns, the most common advice they shared is to ask for the smallest amount of money with which you can achieve the most expensive and difficult part of your project. Here’s how they decided which parts of their projects to launch as a Kickstarter campaign.

What parts should you fund?

Part of picking the right piece of your project to start with is outlining all related tasks and expenses. Break down what has to be done, and in what order. Note which are gating items: things you need to complete in order to move on to the next step. You can’t lay out a book before the writing is done; you have to order wood before you can carve it; and so on. For each task, and sequence of tasks, develop a budget with generous leeway.

Danielle Corsetto, creator of the comic Girls with Slingshots, advises only offering the main thing you’re trying to create as a reward. She says, “Do the math and figure out the bare minimum you’ll need to make it (plus Kickstarter and credit-card fees, shipping costs, and a little pillow of extra ‘just in case’ money), and make that your goal.”

By picking a smaller target, you’re more likely to hit it. “Backers are going to feel more excited to back your project if they really think you can make the goal number,” Corsetto says. This is echoed by cartoonist Lucy Bellwood who notes, “When it feels like $20 can really make a difference, people are going to want to back that project.” 

Let’s look at some practical examples of how to chisel down your scope:

Books: Making a book involves developing the content, which might be writing a novel, researching a subject and writing nonfiction prose, taking photographs, drawing cartoons.... Backers don’t tend to fund that first stage of development. Campaigns tend to focus on production: hiring a book designer or getting help with templates; arranging for copies to be made digitally or printed and shipped. If you can do everything the project would require except printing the book, trim your budget to what it costs for printing and use funds raised above your goal or stretch goals to hire production help.

Crafts: Many creators who make things rightly covet better gear to make those things. But setting a goal to buy, say, a 2D laser printer for cutting and engraving might outstrip your ability to raise the funds you need to actually make a thing, depending on the size of your community. Look at what you can send out to be made, and whether you can rent equipment or rent time on equipment. This could end up being cheaper than purchasing your own equipment, and help you set a more attainable goal.

If you plan cost-effective production, thereby lowering how much you need to raise, you may be able to soar past your goal and bring in enough to acquire the equipment you need to handle your own production. That makes a good story, too: “You all supported me so much that I can buy my own production equipment, produce rewards faster, and sustain my business in the long run.”

Narrative Films: Unless you’re already a well-known screenwriter, funding the writing of a script is unlikely, as the reward wouldn’t be a movie — just a script. The campaign could, instead, cover making a short film, with stretch goals that allow for more run time, locations, casting options, score, and other elements. Rather than offering special versions or a variety of swag rewards, a simple DVD edition plus a digital download and intangibles like putting backers’ names in the credits can dramatically reduce effort and costs.

Documentary Films: Beyond labor, the primary costs of documentary filmmaking are often traveling to sites covered in the film or to interview subjects, as well permits for on-site shooting and rights’ clearance fees. Stripped’s makers set up a separate campaign a couple years into production to add copyright clearances and enhance the movie they’d already mostly shot. The makers of the documentary film Honor & Sacrifice first created a complete seventeen-minute cut and then launched a campaign to turn it into a broadcast-ready half-hour version.


 


You can glean a good lesson from Erika Moen and Matthew Nolan who’ve funded three volumes of their comic Oh Joy, Sex Toy as separate campaigns at Kickstarter. For their 2014 project, Matthew wrote that despite knowing that $30,000 was the total needed to break even and have books leftover to sell, “a large [funding goal] for a seemingly simple product can be unappealing to potential backers.” They opted to be prepared to cover part of the cost themselves and set the goal to $18,000. The campaign passed that quickly and closed at over $69,000.

Jamie Gambell took a lesson from his first campaign to create a comic series. He set a high target of $3,500 and funded it at $3,670, but had so many rewards and so much complexity, he had to work extra hard on getting the word out and getting people to pledge. The second time around, he simplified rewards and set just a $500 goal. but funded at $1,178. 
Art from the Hero Code #1
Art from the Hero Code #1

Of that second go round, he explains: “I funded within the first 48 hours and found the whole process enjoyable. Instead of worrying about the possibility of failing, I sat back and interacted with backers in a much more lighthearted manner, and was able to extend the print run on the book and add higher reward brackets after the fact.”

A campaign is more like the start of a process, not the end.

Whether a project is small or record-breakingly large, many Kickstarter campaigns aren’t intended to fund the entire creative project. Filmmakers and product makers who have raise smaller sums on Kickstarter often go on to find distribution or manufacturing relationships that let them leverage the work they did for backers into something much larger.

Robert Bettmann of the non-profit arts organization Day Eight, says that after a successful Kickstarter campaign, his group launched a second campaign with a $10,000 goal. A week in, they found they’d hit just 10% of the goal. They canceled the campaign, reworked the budget to just over $6,000, relaunched, and funded. Bettmann says, “That led directly to funding from the National Endowment for the Arts to publish an expanded ebook.”

Using Kickstarter lets you tell a story about your project and find a community that helps to fund it. Breaking off and fulfilling a portion of a bigger project gives you the opportunity to build trust with your community and set yourself up for bigger things in the future.

Glenn Fleishman is a trained typesetter and graphic designer. He's also a five-time Kickstarter creator and currently working on a project to create a collection of reporting on type, printing, and punctuation.