by Ron Garner of Silence in the Library Publishing

“Let us make a special effort to stop communicating with each other, so we can have some conversation.”

-Mark Twain

Let me just start off by saying that Silence in the Library Publishing’s first Kickstarter video was not good. It wasn’t absolutely horrible, it just wasn’t good. Our project, the Time Traveled Tales anthology, was strong enough that it was still very successful, but the video did not particularly add to that success. Everything that we could have done wrong, we did. It was too long. It was too static. It didn’t introduce you visually to any of the creators involved in the project.

The real problem with our first video was that we didn’t understand either the importance of the video to a publishing Kickstarter, or how a video for a publishing Kickstarter should look. The first deficit was perhaps the most grievous. Before we launched the Time Traveled Tales project, we made an in depth study of publishing Kickstarters in general. We looked at dozens of successful and failed projects, and tried to map out the characteristics that were common to those that were successful and, conversely, those common to the failures. We even went so far as to create diagrams and charts to display our findings. We did this for every element of a Kickstarter…except for the video. Maybe it was my lack of background in film, maybe it was our innate bias as a company toward the written word. Whatever the reason, we didn’t really get the importance of the video to our Kickstarter.

Ultimately, we learned the hard way. When it became clear that some where around three percent of the people who viewed our video were actually watching the entire thing, and that only about 20% of the people who viewed the video wound up contributing to the Kickstarter, we realized we needed to apply the same amount of diligent research to this area as we had to every other part of our project. As we progressed through a series of Kickstarters for different publishing projects, seven successful projects in all now, we got better and better and learned more and more about what we should be doing to hold the attention of our backers.

My goal with this post is to pass along some of the lessons we learned along the way. Now, at this point you may be asking yourself why. If I make it easier for other people to be successful, won’t I just be creating more competition for Silence in the Library? Well, in some respects, that may be true. But I think the publishing field, and in particular the fiction publishing field, on Kickstarter is one of those places where making others more successful will make all of us collectively more successful.

Our experience through seven crowd funding projects suggests that a publishing project can generally count on about 25% to 35% of its funding coming from backers who find the project through Kickstarter. The other 65% to 75% of the backers are going to be people who were brought to Kickstarter specifically by the project they are backing. They are part of the network of people who follow the authors, artists, or publishers involved outside of Kickstarter. Of those who are brought to Kickstarter by a specific project, some portion find they like the community, and become regular backers of other projects. So, by helping to make others successful, we increase the size of the potential backer pool for our own projects. The creator/Kickstarter relationship is symbiotic, as is the creator/creator relationship.

So, what are those lessons learned I keep talking about?

1. Have a Video

Okay, this one seems like a no-brainer, and I won’t spend too much time on it, but you need to have a video for your project. I can’t tell you the number of projects I’ve seen that don’t have a video, and they do statistically much worse than those projects that have a video. Not everyone will want to watch your video, but there is a large subset of backers that will not pay attention to a project without a video, and a smaller but still significant subset that will back or not back a project based solely upon the content of the video.

2. Talk With Me, Not At Me

I started this post off with a quote by Mark Twain, and I think that quote is appropriate to this point. Often, we spend so much time trying to say what we want to say, trying to think about and communicate whatever point it is we have to make, talking “at” people, that we miss the fact that a conversation is not about making points, but about establishing relationships.

When you post a video on Kickstarter, you’re not trying to make a point, you’re trying to establish a relationship with the backer that will communicate to them that they can trust you enough to accept that you are telling the truth when you say that they will want your product and that you will deliver it. You can do this by entertaining them, and by informing them, and by letting them have a glimpse into you.

I think many project creators get confused, and think that their video is an old-fashioned sales pitch. It’s not, at least not with publishing Kickstarters. I have no background in technology projects, or design projects, so maybe the same rules do not hold true in those areas. In publishing projects, though, my experience is that backers want to feel like they can trust you enough to get a great project complete and delivered.

So, this sounds like a great general idea, right? But how do you go about implementing it? Well, I’m glad you asked!

2(a). Be a Part of Your Video, But Don’t BE Your Video

There are a number of successful ways to portray your project on video, but I’ve found that if you want to establish a relationship with your backers, one very effective method is to actually be in your video. Backers want to be introduced to the project creator, particularly if the project is a single author book. They want to know not just what they are backing, but who.

The key is that you have to find a balance between being in your video, and being the only thing in the video. If all you do is set up a camera, stare into it, and talk, you’re going to lose the attention of backers quickly.

2(b). Incorporate Movement

You don’t want your video to be static, and if you’re the sole focus of it, with absolutely no perspective changes, it will be nothing but static. Generally, we like to have cut-aways to artwork, landmarks that play prominently in the story, the book cover, add-ons, or other elements related to the project. That said, I’ve seen several publishing videos that consisted solely of the author talking to the camera that made it work by shifting perspective (i.e. camera angle) cleverly.

We like the cut-aways because we feel like they give the backer a break from staring at the creator. They get to see some cool artwork or something, and when they come back to their conversation with the creator (who has continued to talk in the background), they are re-energized for the conversation. Also, using other things you have created for the project shows the backers that you’re far enough along that they won’t have to wait for the rest their lives to see the product.

2(c). Have a Conversation, Not a Staring Contest

I cannot count the number of Kickstarter videos I’ve seen that involve the creator sitting or standing center screen unmoving and staring at the camera the entire time. Don’t do it. It’s creepy. Have you every had a comfortable conversation with someone in person in which they perfectly centered themselves in your field of view, leaned forward, and stared at you almost unblinking the entire time that they were talking to you? My guess is that you haven’t because it’s not a natural way of conversing. When we do have conversations like that with people, we automatically assume that they are socially awkward.

In normal conversation, we look away from the other person on a regular basis. We generally use our hands and arms in conjunction with our mouths to talk. Our bodies are moving in a hundred little ways. Don’t be afraid to do that just because you’re in front of a camera. Realize that the camera in front of you represents a few hundred or a few thousand human beings who need to feel like they’re having an individual interaction with you.

Don’t sit in the center of the camera’s field of vision. Sit noticeably off to one side or the other. It’s more natural. It feels like you’re sitting at a table with the other person, talking over a cup of coffee.

Finally, be conversational. A script is a great starting point, but you don’t want to be so intent on sticking to it that you sound clinical. You want backers to get a sense of your personality so that they can connect with you.

2(d) Think About What’s In The Background

One way to establish the relationship with the backer that I talked about at the beginning of this is to make them feel like you’re letting them get a glimpse into your life. An easy way to do this is to do your filming in front of a background that says something about you. For authors, my suggestion is generally that they do the filming in front of their bookshelves. For people who have centered their lives on the written word, their bookshelves are generally windows into their souls. This is true of me, and it is true of most authors that I know. By looking at our bookshelves, you can see our interests not only through what we read, but also through the thousand knick-knacks with which we have cluttered our shelves over the years. That’s the kind of insight that makes backers interested in you and your project, whether they know it consciously or not.

If you can’t or don’t want to film in that personal a setting, do it in front of some landmark that has significance to you or your project. In our Elected Kickstarter, we had the author, Rori Shay, filmed in front of the White House, because it plays prominently in her story.

The point is to make it interesting. Don’t just give the backer a blank wall, give them something to capture their attention.

3. Video Length

There is a point at which your video is so long that most backers will just ignore it. While I can’t tell you exactly where that is, what I can say is that I know it exists somewhere above three and a half minutes. We’ve tried videos of different lengths, and looked at videos from other successful projects, and the optimum time for a video seems to rest somewhere between 2:00 and 2:30. After that, you slowly start to lose the backer.

What’s the reason? Well, I don’t know for certain. A common argument is that people have a shortened attention span due to television, etc. My personal belief is that the issue lies not with the backers, but with the person being filmed. Basically, given more time, we all feel the need to fill it up. And we fill it up with information that really isn’t necessary. Anything that you need to say about your publishing project can be said in two minutes. Everything else is just fluff.

4. At The End, Remind The Backers What They’re Here For

At the end of your video, make sure to remind the backers to take a look at the reward tiers to the right of the screen and decide how they would like to become a part of the experience. Not because they have forgotten that they’re there, but because it pulls them back into the purpose of the video.

5. Thank the Backers For Their Time

Also at the end of the video, thank the backers for their time. We’re all busy, and it’s nice to have someone recognize that you’ve taken time that you could be using for something else to decide whether or not to back his or her project.

6. Never Beg

Never, ever, ever use words like “every dollar helps”, or “without your help”, or anything else that sounds like begging in your video or anywhere else in the body of your Kickstarter. Those words don’t engender sympathy or a desire to help, they just make you sound desperate.

7. Be Honest

Be absolutely honest about what you can and cannot do. Do not attempt to promise anything in your video or any other part of your project that you are not reasonably certain you can fulfill.

8. Be Clear

Make sure that your video conveys to the backer exactly what it is that you want to do. Confused backers don’t contribute. A common mistake I see is that project creators have a “gimmick”, or some interesting way that they want to present their project, and they get so caught up in their delivery method that they lose track of the message. At the end of your video, the backer needs to know exactly what she is getting for her contribution.

9. Practice

Make sure that the video that goes on your Kickstarter page is not the first one you shoot. You wouldn’t try to win a baseball game without ever having caught a ball, or hold a violin concert without ever having pulled a bow across strings. Once you know what you want to say and how you want to say it, practice. Practice several times. Record those practices so that you can watch yourself and adjust as necessary.

Please let me reiterate that the formula I have described above is not the only way to have a successful Kickstarter video. Some projects have shot actual project “trailers” that have been very successful. Others have hired professional voice talent and even celebrity on-screen talent. But the fact of the matter is that most of the people launching publishing Kickstarters don’t have the contacts, money, or background to make professional-level trailers. Even for those who do, I’m hesitant to say that the money and effort they put into them has made a huge difference.

I think that backers on Kickstarter want to know more about project creators and what drives them. I think they want to understand that they are partners in making something important happen. The video is a perfect place to give them that insight. If you are not utilizing that tool to the maximum extent possible, you are leaving contributions on the table.