Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Reflections on a Kickstarter Campaign

 

So in today's post I'm going to talk about the Kickstarter campaign I started at the beginning of the month and my general thoughts and reflections on the entire experience. Hopefully if you're considering doing your own Kickstarter campaign then some of these tips may help you with your campaign. 

 I spent two months planning the campaign out before hitting the launch button. I understood that it might be a heavy lift. I've self published books before, but I'm brand new to the world of comics. I had been doing a web comic for a few months and had a modest audience.This leads me to my first tip.

Tip #1: Have a clear goal

I had started reaching out to comic book stores to stock a few issues of Journey to the Middle Kingdom. I also wanted to have books on hand to sell online. I also wanted to start promoting the comic and to figure out which marketing techniques work and what kind of people would be interested in reading about 3 teenagers and magical calligraphy brushes. With all these goals in mind, I thought doing a Kickstarter campaign would hit all these notes.

Before you start you need to clearly define all your goals, not just the monetary ones. Do you want to expand your readership? Do you want to develop new promotion techniques? Think about this clearly because it will guide where you put your energy.


 

Tip #2 Prep, prep, prep

The amount of prep work a Kickstarter requires is not obvious. It's not just getting your project page to look snazzy. You need:

  1. A project video. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. 
  2. Images that are share-able on social media. 
  3. Press releases. 
  4. A list of influencers: people who have podcasts or blogs that you can reach out to. 
  5. Local events you can participate in.
  6. BUDGET!

I kept information in an Excel spread sheet and would have it available as a Google Doc so whenever an idea popped into my head I could easily add to the list. I also had to scour Twitter and the Google Webs to try and find who to reach out to. Always remind yourself that there is NO deadline for you to get started. The best day to launch is the day you're ready. I had all emails, images, everything ready to go for after I pressed the launch button.

How to Create an HR Department Budget | Talent Management Blog | Saba  Software

Tip #3 You better know your budget

I reached out to 5 different printers and talked with some local comic book store owners to talk about how they handle sending comics to their customers. I didn't know about comic mailers, boarding and backing, and how much shipping cost, but I learned fast. You need to know every detail of your costs. Get a clear quote from the printer and order a proof to make sure you like the look and feel of the final product. Budget for shipping, but also budget for the materials needed to ship everything out. What about advertising? I set a maximum limit I would spend on advertising because I figure new things would pop up and I didn't want to have to pass them up because I hadn't initially budgeted for them. 

After you budget you can plan your reward tiers accordingly. For me, my main idea was to make everything affordable. After all, I am a new writer for a new product that doesn't have a track record. Few people are likely to pay $20-25 for a comic that no one knows anything about. Budgeting helped me get a target of $10 for the print version which I figured newcomers might shell out for an indie comic.

I also figured out shipping to Europe and general international shipping so those costs wouldn't sneak up on me. There are plenty of websites that help you estimate shipping costs, but nothing beats going down to the post office with the actual comic in hand, weighing it, and knowing the exact cost.

Tip #4 Your Comic Isn't For Everyone

As a creator you have a special relationship to your own work. You put your blood, sweat and tears into it. You saw it come into reality from the ether. The thing is, if you were to simultaneously show your comic to every human being on Earth, a huge chunk would not be interested. This is normal. There are few things that are universal, like bacon. This is tough for newcomers because you don't have a group of dedicated readers, but thinking about other things people might be interested is a way to narrow down your audience. And you need to do this, because your energy needs to be focused so you're getting the most return for your time.


 

Tip #5 Get Used To The Idea of Promoting Yourself

I am a highly introverted person. Promotion doesn't come naturally to me. I hate to think I'm being annoying or overly aggressive about an idea that other people may or may not be interested in. But at the end of the day, no one is going to know what you're doing unless you tell them. Yes, in our current media climate people are inundated with ads for stuff they don't need, with a huge choice of entertainment media delivered to them across dozens of services. There's a ton of noise out there. That doesn't mean you will be ignored and it doesn't mean your work won't be a hit. You need to practice your elevator pitch, your interviewing skills, and your technique to connect with people and the only way you're going to do that is by well, doing it. Also, you'd be surprised at who really supports your idea and can help move you along.

Tip #6 Execute On Day 1

First off, the first 24-48 hours of your Kickstarter are crucial. You've heard that one before. But it's true. People like to back a winner. Part of the fun is to feel the momentum as people are pledging and it gets closer and closer to the goal. It's why people love when a team wins in the last minute in basketball, when one of the players makes a throw from half court with only a few seconds left and hits it. The crowd goes wild. It's the same thing with crowdfunding; there has to be an element of fun and adventure. 

I had developed a modest mailing list. I sent an email out around 2-3 weeks before the campaign was live to share my preview page. I wanted people to sign up to be alerted when the campaign went live. This would give me a barometer as to how interested people were. I joined Twitter months before, despite the fact I'm not a huge personal fan of the platform, to try and start building an audience. I already had a Facebook page, and an Instagram account. I printed out flyers to hand out to local game shops, with snazzy QR codes, because I figured people who enjoyed RPGs and board games might also enjoy fantasy and fairy tales. I reached out to friends and family individually.

So when Day 1 of the campaign came, I had already prepped my potential audience that the campaign was coming, and gave them a taste of the cool things they'd get for backing it. It worked, because we hit 85% of our funding goal by the end of day 1, and also got "Project We Love" status on Kickstarter. 

Tip #7 Cross Promote
 
Reaching out to people to ask for things is nerve wracking for me. I never know what kind of response I'm going to get back. Especially other creators. I noticed that folks on Kickstarter would shout-out each others projects. I felt there must be some special club hidden away in the mountains where all the successful folks on Kickstarter met like Greek gods. Instead, I just started reaching out to people who did comics that had a similar style and audience as mine. Family friendly, cartoony, Calvin and Hobbes-esque type folks. They were more than happy to shout-out my project to their audiences and for me to shout-out theirs. Get over any negative thoughts you have about reaching out to other people. They want to promote their work just as much as you want to promote yours, and most people see cooperation as a plus.

Tip #8 You Are Going To Make Mistakes. Get Over It.

Launch day probably won't go perfectly. You'll forget something. You'll overlook a detail. You may not hear back from people you reached out to. Your press releases may sit in the dark recesses of someone's Outlook. Your sentences may not be worded with just the right amount of pizazz to win over that reviewer. You are not perfect. You are not a robot.

These are just some of my thoughts that have been whirling around in my mind as the campaign comes to a close. I plan on doing another Kickstarter for the second issue once it's complete later on this year. I feel like I'll be even more prepared, with new ideas on how to promote myself and how to connect. The biggest lesson I've received from this entire experience is that building a community is about individually connecting with each and every fan. There is so much big impersonal media out there that people appreciate getting to know a creator and gaining an understanding of their work they would not otherwise get.


Wednesday, June 16, 2021

What's the deal with Chinese characters?

 Chinese characters have this mystique about them. You see them emblazoned on T-shirts and there are unfortunate people who get tattoos with characters with...interesting meanings. Today I'm going to pull back the curtain and explain a little bit about how they work. Chinese characters are central to Journey to the Middle Kingdom. Jason, Sabrina, and Michelle are each given a magical calligraphy brush that whenever you write a Chinese character in the air, whatever you write, becomes real. Here they are in action:

Here Sabrina is using her brush to write the character for "Light" which, as you can see, has quite the effect on the monsters that were chasing them! The key thing here, is that the character is connected to its meaning, not its pronunciation.

To anyone who speaks English or any other language with an alphabet, this is a weird idea. In English we have letters which make sounds, and we combine the letters to make words. Of course in English the spelling and the pronunciation don't always follow the same pattern, but the main idea is there. There are tons of other languages that use the same strategy, Spanish, German, Russian, Korean, you name it. 

Chinese on the other hand is written with characters, and each character has some concept or idea associated with it. So that means whenever you see the character 光 then the meaning is always "light." The cool thing about this is anyone else who uses Chinese characters can understand the meaning. Japanese people use Chinese characters as part of their writing system. A Japanese person would look at the character 光 and pronounce it as "hikari" whereas a Chinese person would look at the same character and say "guang." Not even close to similar right? But even though the pronunciation is totally different, when it's written, a Japanese person and a Chinese person could understand.

In the comic the main characters will have to increase their knowledge of written Chinese to use their powers. And hopefully after reading this, you've leveled up yourself!


Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Kickstarter Launch!

Today is the day folks! I launched Issue #1 of Journey to the Middle Kingdom, "Legend of the White Snake Maiden" on Kickstarter today and I am psyched to see this project come to fruition. This comic has been my passion project and it's just in the last year that I decided come what may I was going to see it done. I remember when I got the first proofs made. I felt so proud but also felt that there was going to be a lot more work ahead to do. 

Jason, Michelle, and Sabrina

The first issue is called Legend of the White Snake Maiden, which is a tale I've talked about in this blog. The story is about how the main characters, Jason, Michelle, and Sabrina gain their new powers. Michelle begins having dreams of a mysterious woman calling out to her from across a lake. The children learn from Jason's grandfather that the woman in Michelle's painting is Bai Su Zhen, the White Snake Maiden, and that she was trapped in a pagoda for all eternity by a monk named Fa Hai. 

The first issue is not just an introduction to the world and to the main characters, but speaks to their personal struggles we're going to learn as the series goes on. Jason immigrated to the United States at a young age and his grandfather worked hard to instill Chinese culture in him, but did Jason learn to appreciate it? Michelle has great artistic ability and dreams of one day becoming a professional so that she and her mother can live better. Sabrina is driven and hard working, but is that always going to get her out of situations?

The first 50 backers to the project will get their names immortalized in the back of the book. There's also great backer items like posters, bookmarks, stickers, and other fun stuff! Visit us on Kickstarter and help see this dream come true!


Thursday, May 27, 2021

Writing a Comic Strip for Newbies

Writing your first comic strip? Script writing is fun but time consuming. It takes a lot of gumption to sit down and to try to make your stories real. You'll find that the act of actually writing out your script helps to distill your thoughts. My creative process tends to be more chaotic. During the day, scenes will come to my head. I'll imagine what I want the heroes to do, what emotional notes I want to hit, and what cool lines do I want to deliver. The problem is that in my head it's all just a swirl and to any other human being it would be a jumbled mess of ideas.

Scripting is not just vital for planning out what you're going to draw. It helps you to process the story you want to tell and to nail it down concretely. You must have a guidepost to where you want your characters to end up physically and emotionally. Today I'm going to talk about how I write the scripts for "Journey to the Middle Kingdom" and compare what I wrote to the final product.

In my case, there is an added layer of complexity because the artist I work with, Dimas Yuli, must interpret my writing. It's easy for me as a writer to just assume the artist can read my mind and understand the mental state of a character, or what I'm going for. Believe me, sometimes Dimas and I are totally in sync, but sometimes not so much.

The way I order my scripts is to spell out panel by panel what is going on. Then, I write 2-3 sentences about what is physically present in the panel, and any notes about how the characters think or feel. If there is dialogue, I write the character's name with all caps and what they say. Here's an example:

Friday, May 7, 2021

The Princess of Yelang (夜郎公主)

Today, we're going to talk about the upcoming Issue #2 of Journey to the Middle Kingdom and the story behind it, the Princess of Yelang!

China wasn't always China, the country with the borders we see today. In the past, there have been various kingdoms with different names that controlled different regions. Yelang was one of those kingdoms, way back during the Han Dynasty. And by way back, I mean 300 B.C. Yelang was situated near modern day Guizhou. I've never been to Guizhou. The closest I got was Chongqing. 

This area is of China is interesting in that there is a wide variety of geography in the area, and honestly it's just pretty. The "Princess of Yelang" (夜郎公主 Yelang Gongzhu in Chinese) is a story that originated from this area of China. The story goes like this:

The Princess of Yelang was a talented young woman. She was a skilled archer and understood affairs of state from a young age. Her mother passed when she was young, and her father married a woman who grew jealous of the princess and the adoration she earned from the people. The queen hatched an evil scheme. She tricked the princess into drinking a poison brew, robbing the princess of her voice and covering her in hideous boils. The queen convinced the King that the princess had an infectious disease and that she should be banished for the safety of the kingdom. 


The princess is kicked out of the kingdom and forced to wander the wilderness for survival. The princess wanders the forests outside the kingdom for years, hunting game and living off the land. One day, she saves the life of an eagle. The eagle is grateful, and tells her of a cure for her illness on Mt. Lao. The princess journeys to find the cure to the poison brew, gets it, then is healed. The princess returns to the kingdom of Yelang and the peasants are with her. She overthrows the Queen and recovers her father, and becomes leader of Yelang.


 The story has elements of Snow White and the Little Mermaid, in my opinion. The story has an evil stepmother who is jealous of the princess. Snow White and the Princess of Yelang were both forced into the wilderness. I am reminded of the Little Mermaid in that the princess has her voice taken from her and cannot communicate her plight to anyone. 

It's a story about maintaining one's dignity even in the face of adversity, and believing that life will be better one day. The princess is saved because of her good heart. For each issue of JTMK, I choose a Chinese character I think best exemplifies the meaning of the story. In this case, I chose 尊, which means respect. Having respect for oneself I think is so important in life, and the Princess of Yelang exemplifies that.


Thursday, April 29, 2021

Legend of the White Snake (白蛇傳)

The Legend of the White Snake Maiden is one of China' four great folktales, the other three being The Cowherd and the Weaver Girl, Lady of the Great Wall, and Butterfly Lovers. The story was put into print form in the Ming Dynasty in 1624 by a guy named Feng Menglong, but probably existed long before that. That's just how old stories go. The story has many renditions, and there was even a movie with Jet Li which I think more Americans are actually familiar with.

The Sorcerer and the White Snake : Shakefire.com
Jet Li doesn't give in to temptation.
The core of the story is a human scholar, Xu Xian, and a snake spirit, Bai Suzhen, fall in love. Their love is forbidden by the laws of nature, and a Buddhist monk named Fa Hai uses his power to separate them. Fa Hai eventually succeeds in trapping Bai Suzhen in Leifeng Pagoda, separating her from her husband and child. Eventually, Bai Suzhen's friend and spiritual confidante, Xiao Qing the Green Snake Maiden, heads to the arctic to train. She eventually becomes more powerful than Fa Hai, defeats him, and frees Bai Suzhen from captivity.

央视电视剧《白蛇传》的宣传海报
This version came out in 2006.
What's interesting is that this story has been retold with different interpretations and aims. The most popular version is the love story version. Bai Suzhen and Xu Xian fall in love and their love for each other is pure and sincere. Fa Hai is portrayed as inflexible and driven by a desire to force his interpretation of Buddhism on the two lovers. There was a live action version of Legend of the White Snake that took this angle. Fa Hai was deeply in love with Bai Suzhen, and caused deep seated conflict between Fa Hai's devotion to ridding the world of "evil" spirit beings and his love of the White Snake Maiden. The 2006 live action show uses this angle. Fa Hai is played buy Liu Xiaofeng who I think gave an excellent performance.

 

When stories are this old we get so many interpretations and remakes of the same characters you would be forgiven for forgetting the original tale. Some versions of Legend of the White Snake portray the White and Green Snake Maidens as temptresses and seducers, and that Fa Hai must overcome them. In other versions, Bai Suzhen and Xu Xian's love is a distraction from the main focus of their lives. Bai Suzhen is training to achieve enlightenment and become an immortal in heaven, and Xu Xian is a scholar who should focus his energies on medicine and improving himself. Their love is a distraction from their duty. Fa Hai represents the order of the state, setting the two away from that which distracts them. In other versions, the emphasis is on how good intentions can lead down dark paths.

Stories are malleable. They reflect the standards and needs of the time they are told. The fact that this story has endured for more than 400 years speaks to the fact that the themes and ideas at the core of the story appeal to people across generations. I felt it was the perfect backdrop for the first story arc of Journey to the Middle Kingdom, and I hope you enjoyed reading about its background.