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One author’s Kickstarter experience

Find your 1,000 true fans by catalyzing your 100 true believers

David Lang is working on a book project for O’Reilly called “Zero to Maker: A Re-Skilling Guide for New Makers”. Like some authors these days, David is using Kickstarter to get the project off the ground. I was recently introduced to David and thought it would be good to share his Kickstarter experience with the TOC community. Here’s what he had to say…

JW: First off, can you tell us a bit about why you decided to write “Zero to Maker”?

Well, to be honest, I got incredibly lucky.  After losing my job, I was really concerned that I didn’t have the right skills to build a creative, fulfilling life. My maker journey changed me in a very profound way. I looked back over the entire Zero to Maker series – all the classes, lessons, and advice that I received – and knew that it could be refined and expanded into a useful resource for any other reluctant maker watching from the sidelines. And as I started to get emails and questions from others who wanted to get involved it seemed like a book would be a good idea.

JW: Plenty of authors have used Kickstarter as a way to launch their project. Most of those authors are going the self-publish route though. You, on the other hand, are working with a traditional publisher. How has the Kickstarter experience helped you with a traditionally-published book?

First off, I wouldn’t call O’Reilly a traditional publisher. I was straight-forward about wanting to use Kickstarter from the beginning, and everyone at O’Reilly was really supportive. I’m approaching Zero to Maker, both the book and the Kickstarter project, as a process. It’s really an invitation to join the maker movement. I’m really focused on doing whatever possible to help the next 1,000 makers get their feet wet and their own projects off the ground.

To me, it’s not about traditional vs. self-publishing, it’s about finding the best way to serve the readers. Book writing is a lonely process. I’d rather make the entire experience something the readers can participate in. Sure, it’s going to be harder to write a book in public, but I think everyone who’s along for the ride will get more out of it. And I actually believe the end-product will be of higher quality.

JW: Do you have any advice you’d like to pass along to other authors who are considering a Kickstarter campaign?

Take your time. Don’t rush into a Kickstarter project. Focus on finding 100 True Believers – the people who are excited about reading the book – and figure out how to create an experience that they will love.

Keep your focus on those folks. Don’t worry about media, or blog coverage, or any of those other “How to Run A Successful Kickstarter Campaign” guides. All that advice is useless if you don’t know who your target audience is. It’s all about creating value for other people.

Seth Godin almost had it right in his reflection on the Kickstarter process: “Kickstarter appears to be a great way to find fans for your work. You put up a great video clip and a story and wait for people who will love it to find you. But that’s not what happens. What happens is that people who ALREADY have a tribe, like say the “punk cabaret” musician Amanda Palmer, use Kickstarter to organize and activate that tribe. Kickstarter is the last step, not the first one.”

Unfortunately, this is only half true. Done right, Kickstarter is not the last step. It’s the beginning of something new – having a community to co-create with. It’s a huge opportunity. As Yancey Strickler told me, “What people often forget is that money gets spent, but a community can stick around forever.”

The very first Kickstarter project I backed, “Robin Sloan Writes a Book”, is still my favorite Kickstarter experience. Robin took us all on an incredible ride for those few months, and I’ve continued to follow him around the Internet ever since. He won me over as a fan. I read most of his blog posts, and bought his latest novel, Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore, as soon as it came out. That’s the genius of Kickstarter: finding your 1,000 True Fans by catalyzing your 100 True Believers.

JW: How did you determine the various pledge levels you’re offering for the book and how pleased are you with the results?

I tried to think about the pledge levels in terms of how eager people were to get involved. If people really wanted to get immersed in the maker movement, I thought the Maker Fellowships would be an ideal option. So far, though, the book has been the most popular choice.

Also, I spent less time thinking about the monetary goals, and cared much more about the number of backers. I’d very much prefer to raise $30k from 1,500 people than $200k from 20 people. We’re creating a community of people that are navigating this new maker world together. In the long run, that’s more valuable and important to me. I couldn’t be more excited to be sharing the experience with this group.

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