You have run two successful campaigns for Fireside Magazine, your fiction and comics magazine, to fund the first two issues. What do you think you were able to do to make those campaigns successful? And why include the selected writers as part of the campaigns?
I think that the success of the Kickstarter is based on a concept that Amanda Palmer wrote about during her wildly successful campaign: “You can’t crowdfund without a crowd.” Now, I’m not saying I have a fan base like hers, or even what I would call fans. But I have been blogging and tweeting as Talk Wordy to Me for years now, and I do have a small but substantial group of friends that I have made by doing that. And a lot of our success was due to those friends, who saw my crazy idea last year and backed it and promoted it to their friends.
Another factor of our success follows the same idea and answers another of your questions, about why I chose specific writers before starting the campaign, and why I included them in the campaign. Each of these writers has their own crowd, their group of fans and friends and followers, and they wanted to see a new story by that person. If I had just put out there that I wanted to do a magazine with an undetermined group of writers, I don’t think we would have generated the enthusiasm that we did.
And finally, I think the other thing that made us successful was that there is a small but very enthusiastic subset of readers (including me!) who love short stories and were excited to see a new place to indulge their love.
Did you consider other platforms besides Kickstarter? If so, what led you to choose to put your campaign on Kickstarter?
I did take a look at IndieGoGo, but I had read the most about Kickstarter, and I had the impression that Kickstarter had the most name recognition. I thought that was important, especially for a brand-new out-of-nowhere magazine, that people would know what Kickstarter was and be able to trust that they could turn over their credit card information to it.
As the organizer of a campaign, what’s your approach to designing the rewards for backers?
At its most basic, the Kickstarter is a way to let people preorder an issue of Fireside. The price of the eBooks is the same as it is on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Weightless Books. But I also wanted to be able to offer things just for the people who threw their support behind us in the Kickstarter. That’s a big reason we only offer print copies to our backers, it’s something limited and exclusive just to them. Same thing with getting autographs, prints of the cover art, and the mosaic keychains and coasters my wife has been making for backers.
The idea of doing Tuckerizations (which is when a real person’s name is used for a fictional character in a story) is something I had seen on other Kickstarters, and I thought that was a really fun way for people to have their support of Fireside recognized. And Adam P. Knave, one of the co-writers of Issue One’s comic, took that a step further and suggested we also use likenesses in the comic. Those have turned out to be popular and tend to go fast, so I think that people really like seeing their names up in lights, as it were.
What have you learned through these two campaigns that you might apply in the future?
The big thing I learned from Issue One to Two is that it is possible to run a shorter campaign and still be successful. The Issue One Kickstarter was, I think, 32 days long and raised $7,017 from 254 backers, which was $517 above our goal. But the middle weeks of the campaign were very slow, with only a trickle of money each day, which is common in Kickstarter campaigns. I’d read about several campaigns that were shorter and still met their goals. So for Issue Two, we had a 21-day campaign, but we still hit our goal with time to spare, raising $6,314 from 273 backers, $314 more than our goal. The middle of the campaign was still slower than the beginning and end, but it was only one week instead of two. And during that week, the money came in at a higher rate than the middle two weeks of Issue One. My theory is that if we had that extra week, the contributions in that middle period would have just been more spread out, not higher.
So I think that is the big lesson, at least for a campaign like mine, is that you can trust your crowd and not drag things out in the hopes of getting a few extra dollars.
What’s your plan for the future of Fireside Magazine? Do you plan to run a campaign for Issue #3? Or do you think the magazine will be self-funding by then?
I think we will be Kickstarting each issue for the foreseeable future. Fireside is expensive to make. An eBook-only edition, without printing costs or anything like that, would cost nearly $5,000. (Once we throw in the printing and rewards and everything else, it is nearly $6,500.) This is largely because of our commitment to paying our writers and artists at a fair wage. The cost of buying four 4,000-word short stories at 12.5 cents a word is $2,000. The cover art, comic writer, comic artist, and letterer are another $2,000, and we also have to pay our designers. We could cut the short story costs to $800 by paying the minimum professional rate of 5 cents a word, and I could find people to work on the comic and cover art for less, but fair wages are a core component of Fireside. If I can’t sustain Fireside at those rates, then I don’t want to do it.
So Kickstarter is critical to us. Subscriptions to Fireside cost $8 a year, or $2 per issue, on Weightless Books. I get about $1.50 per issue from that. So for Fireside to break even, it would need 3,333 subscribers. Right now we have about 60, which is fantastic for a brand-new niche magazine like this. But it will be a long time, if ever, before we have enough subscribers to sustain the magazine without supplementing it with Kickstarter.
And that’s OK. Kickstarter gives people who believe in storytelling and fair pay for creators a way to support that and to help us make Fireside available for sale to people who just want to buy a magazine. Between Kickstarter and eBooks and all the other emerging funding and publishing technology, it is really a cool time to be working on a project like this. And it is exciting that we are able to create a community around a magazine and see where we can take it.
Fireside is edited and published by Brian White, whose day job — well, it’s actually a night job — is on the copy desk of the Boston Globe. A committed word nerd, he is also the proprietor of Talk Wordy to Me, a blog about words, editing, and other oddities. (He tweets @talkwordy.) He lives near Boston with his wife, a theatrical lighting technician, and their cat, Bast, who is most likely asleep or shredding their couch as you read this.