Lessons about crowdfunding from ComicsGate

A collection of the lessons learned by ComicsGate creators while funding their books

In the beginning, you should have either:

  • A completed script; or
  • An outline from which a complete script can be written in a timely manner.

Don’t make promises you can’t keep. If you think you will only sell 500 books, then you can promise to sign every one. But what if you sell 1,000? 2,000? 5,000? You have just committed to signing all those books, and you cannot back out of that. If you aren’t sure, you can promise to sign only a fixed quantity to reward early backers.

Try and under-promise. Give a realistic time frame for how long the book will take to complete. It’s better to promise a time frame of 8 months and deliver in 6 than to promise 5 and also deliver in 6. You still delivered in 6 months in each case, but in the first case, you under-promised and over-delivered.

Understand the crowdfunding platform that you have chosen. If you are not sure which one to choose, Indiegogo is the default choice. Understand the fees, returns policy, and what kind of content is not allowable. Use clear language, especially for your logline. Make sure you can describe your story in one sentence if you need to.

The ‘gold rush’ mentality will make you miserable when you discover that you can’t just put up a campaign and expect the crowdfunding gold to just pour in. Doug TenNapel made over $750,000 for Earthworm Jim: Launch the Cow. Jon Malin made almost $175,000 for Graveyard Shift Vol. II. But these, and other creators like them, have established a reputation. Sometimes you can strike it lucky, just like winning big money in a lottery. But you should never count on that happening. Being creative is challenging, and creators should want to embrace that challenge, even knowing that they might fail from time to time. Clint Stoker, owner of the Sweetcast channel on YouTube, talks about this and related issues here:


In Hollywood, there is an open secret: producers are not only interested in the next big idea, they’re interested in the next big character. If your story doesn’t have a great character, perhaps try and find a way to make that character a little more interesting. However, not every character has to be Charles Foster Kane or Don Draper or Laura Palmer.

Itchy and Scratchy are good characters. Poochie is not.

If you are considering a sequel, have a good plot outline ready for that, too. Do this before you launch, even if you don’t know if your goal will be reached. It’s like homework: it’s better to finish it before the weekend. In Hollywood, the common wisdom is that you should have a second script ready if your first one is produced.

Good stories have several key elements, such as conflict, character arcs, protagonists, antagonists, foreshadowing and so on. You don’t need to be conscious of these elements if you are naturally good at telling stories. But if you find that your script doesn’t quite have what it should, maybe it’s missing a key element. Above all, your story must not be boring.

Create a legal entity like an LLC, even if you only want to create one work. If your budget allows, ask a lawyer specializing in IP and defamation to read your final product. If worst comes to worst, your LLC or S-Corp will protect you. In law, there is a lot of leniency when it comes to works of art, but you are not creating art works, you are creating a commercial product that happens to include art.

You will have legal obligations, from starting an LLC to declaring its income. Keep your receipts, and do everything via your LLC. Be organised.

If you are starting a publishing company as well as launching a book, make sure you have at least purchased a domain name and that you have set up social media accounts. You should also set up a Web presence if you plan on making a series of books under the same title.

Ask your accountant if they can also handle small business accounts. If not, find one that can. You, or your LLC, will have to pay taxes.

It’s not illegal to use brand names in stories, but it is advisable to not have those brands associated with negative connotations in your story. It’s a grey area, so try and use a fictional product where the connotations involving it might be negative. This is apparently more of a problem in cinema than in literature.

‘Mad Men’ often referred to real products such as Lucky Strike, Leica and Jaguar. It’s safer to use fictional ones if you can. (Note that all characters in this show are solid, and the writing and structure are excellent. ‘Mad Men’ is a masterclass in storytelling if you are creating serialised content. It is perfection.)

If you can, hire a pre-press professional. Your printer may very well be able to provide such as service. Either way, ask your printer what they need from you regarding pre-press.

Find an artist unless you want to draw your book yourself. When you do, you will have to commission them to do preliminary artwork for publicity and your crowdfunding campaign. If you are an artist who wants a writer, you will have to agree on an outline to work from if the campaign becomes fully funded. Commission a completed script before you launch your book if you and the writer can agree to terms.

Do not promise that your book will be a limited item. There can be limited variants or editions but the book itself should be able to be reprinted. You don’t have to allow the campaign to go into demand, but leave your options open.

Do not offer more than two tiers for the campaign. If you have to offer more than two, try and offer one less than you really want. Be clear as to how you label your tiers. ‘Book + Ashcan Prologue’ is preferable to ‘Double Deuce’. Just because Ferrari makes the grave error of offering 27 colour options for their cars doesn’t mean that you should follow their example.

Ferrari offers no less than 27 colour options. This is a bad idea. Nobody should be offered British Racing Green as an option for any Italian car. Do not offer more than two tiers in your crowdfunding campaign if you can help it.

Each campaign should feature only one book. Naturally, you can include supplements like posters and stickers. It’s great that you want to offer choice to your customers by offering them more than one book per campaign. But you have two problems: one, your campaign will have no focus; and two, you will have to multiply the number of tiers by the number of books, in addition to even more tiers which offer two or more books in the same package.

Mike Miller offered three books for this campaign, when it should have focused on one: ‘The Meg’. The number of tiers was no less than 25. This campaign earned half as much as ‘Lonestar: Heart of the Hero‘.

Do not lose one moment of sleep over the likely probability that people will release your book on the Internet. It is not your concern.

If the public takes a special liking to your characters, share fan art on social media if you see it. Only take legal action over serious copyright violations if any occur.

Cyberfrog fan art shared on social media by his creator, Ethan Van Sciver.

If you are criticised online, you are not required to explain yourself. And, if you have done nothing wrong, do not apologise, ever. You can have fun with antagonists, but be restrained and never be cruel. Even full-blown SJWs are children of God. If people have questions, answer them. You might already have a steady job, but a creative project is no less than a second full-time job, albeit a temporary one. Take it seriously, and be professional. Never be an antagonist.

If you don’t have a presence online, ask as many small channels as you can for interviews and air time. If they like your work, they would love to have you on their show. Bigger channels might like your work, too, but don’t expect them to promote your work just because you are ComicsGate. In Hollywood, relationships come before business. There’s a good reason for that. Give as much as you can, and you will receive later.

Let people know about your project before you launch your campaign. Don’t launch your campaign before you are able to promote it.

You can keep some things secret. But in general, share as much as you can. Don’t be precious.

Once you know the break-even point on your project (usually a book, but it could be something else like a video game or an animated cartoon), set your minimum goal to that break-even point. Some will disagree, but it’s better to not print the book than to print it at a loss to a small audience. Set your break-even point a little higher than you think it should be, to cover unexpected problems such as late cancellations.

Avoid using more than one crowdfunding platform. It might be tempting for you to put your project on Indiegogo as well as Kickstarter. But think very carefully about this. Let’s go back to your break-even point. If you set your break-even point correctly and you are on one platform, and if that point is met, then you can start producing the book. But if you want to put your book on two platforms, you have a choice: split your break-even point in two, or double it, by setting either of those goals on each platform. If you split your break-even point in half, and it succeeds on one platform but not the other, you are in trouble. If you double it, you might meet your goal on one platform, which is great, but you may not meet it on the other, which means you cannot claim those funds. There are other issues, covered in this video by Richard Meyer:


You have the right – even the duty – to make a profit. Crowdfunding does not entail a limit on your financial or creative reward. Crowdfunding is a tool to establish demand before you produce your book.

You are not being generous by undercharging for shipping. You are walking into a wasteland of regret. It is not for you to worry about saving your readers a few dollars. They can look after themselves. Your job is to make sure that your book either breaks even or turns a profit. Making a loss is not a hallmark of virtue. The reader who buys your book at a loss at $15 will still buy someone else’s book for $25 + shipping.

This is what Australia Post charges for postage from Australia to Great Britain for single parcels. Different services may offer cheaper rates for bulk orders. Do your homework!

If you feel that merchandise is appropriate for your book, your strategy will depend on what the item is. A t-shirt should never be bundled with the book. It will cost more to post, and it will also cause you trouble if you send the wrong size. You will have an insufficient amount of one size, and too much of another. Let a dedicated merchandiser handle your t-shirt orders on demand (basically, this is dropshipping). Make the t-shirt separate from the campaign.

An editor will see problems where you can’t. So hire one if it’s within your budget. You want to present your book as perfectly as you can. Otherwise, ask a few friends to give honest feedback. The point here is to seek an independent, detached opinion of your writing. The lettering will also have to be checked.

An editor can help you refine your writing. At the least, find a spelling Nazi to examine your letterer’s work.

You can hire a different artist to do the cover. This will add a touch of sophistication to the book. As a bonus, you have given work to one extra person. You can also offer a limited variant cover for early backers. Offer limited bonuses to reward early backers which will not be offered once your book goes into demand (i.e. when your campaign ends and becomes a store).

Downcast‘ by Clint Stoker. The campaign for this book offered two covers, one of them by the interior artist. The creator ran a very successful campaign despite having a small primary audience.

Make it a condition that no refunds will be issued once the campaign has concluded. This will prevent sabotage, whereby malignant actors support your book before asking for a refund, which puts you at risk of a financial loss. You may apply more lenient conditions once the book goes into demand.

Comic books are for everyone. If you wish to run a gentlemen’s or ladies’ club instead of a business, by all means do so, but make sure that the asking price matches the exclusivity.†

The Cosmos Club in Washington DC.

Make use of your email list. The people who bought your book will not mind an occasional email after they have received their books. You should use your email list to announce new projects, if you decide to launch them. Engage your readers. Include polls or surveys in your emails if appropriate. If you can afford it, you can send promotional material to customers’ postal addresses on rare occasions. This can be a simple postcard. Physical mail gets the most attention, but it’s not cheap.

If you are suffering from hardship, do not use this as a selling point. You can bring it up later, once the book has been produced, and you can thank your customers for helping you overcome it.

Provide regular updates once your campaign’s goal has been reached. Even if you know you will deliver early, customers want to be assured that you are on the job. Post updates at least once a week.

Avoid turning your book project into a clown car. You need up to four people to create a comic book: author, artist, colorist and letterer. The cover art can be made by a different artist. The creator will take the profits, but they must pay everyone else first. You can have a co-creator on your project, but each creator will take an equal share of the profits. Too many creators dilutes the profits.

Do not offer ‘tip jar’ tiers. Your lowest tier should always include the book. If you want to create low-cost merchandise, do so separately from the campaign. For example, you can offer a poster along with the book, but if you also want to sell the poster separately, it should be sold via a dedicated merchandiser.

Dead Beats‘ is a 160pp graphic novel. The premise is a great idea – it’s a horror anthology, a refreshing break from the superhero genre. However, there were over 40 contributors! Each contributor will probably take home less than $500 or so. This project offered a total of 19 tiers, which nonetheless failed to break Mike Miller’s record-breaking 25. One tier was a tip jar. Some tiers included t-shirts. A big mistake.

You might find that you are more creative with a partner. You will have to split the profits, but you will be able to create more projects. Bouncing ideas off someone is a great catalyst for good writing.

Co-writers catalyse each other.

Make sure of your postage strategy early. Will you exclude certain countries? Will you charge different prices for different regions? Make enquiries with either your post office or a courier service, and know what to do when the time comes.

Separate the postage fee from the price of the book when it comes to estimating production costs. The cover price will cover production, and include a profit. The postage fee will cover postage. They are separate totals.

Insufficient postage fees should never be compensated from the cover price. Borrowing from Peter to pay Paul is not advisable. But if you made a significant profit from postage fees, you have charged too much. Thankfully, there is good data on what postage should cost.

Understand your packaging options. It doesn’t matter whether you wrap the book between two sheets of chipboard, or whether you put it directly into a strong, cardboard envelope. Be upfront as to how your book will be posted. Do make some effort to ensure that the book arrives in good condition. If you sell a large amount of books, consider using a fulfillment service.

An example of suitable packaging for books and posters. You don’t have to go all-out, but don’t skimp.

You are more likely creating a graphic novel (48pp+) than a comic book (32-36pp), due to the economies of scale. But what makes comic books great also makes graphic novels great. Hold a comic book. What makes it so attractive? It’s more than just the story or the character. What is it? Can you tap into that essence?

There is a wide variety of paper stocks and cover bindings. Figure out what you want early on. Your colorist will especially want to know what kind of paper you intend to print on. There is no rule that says that graphic novels have to be printed on high quality paper. Newsprint is a valid option, and there are several grades. Alterna Comics uses newsprint and readers are very happy with that choice.

Newsprint is a valid option for your paper stock. Many readers will prefer it. You might be surprised at how good it can look. This panel is taken from ‘Gen 13’, second series, #8, by Choi, Campbell & Garner.

Ashcans cost more per unit to produce than regular sized books do. Keep this in mind before you decide to include an ashcan in one of your campaign tiers. If the number of backers is not too large, you can produce your ashcans by yourself, either at home or at a self-service print shop. However, if you do that, these ashcans may not be seen as collectable, as they can be easily reproduced by anyone with a good photocopier. Also keep in mind that the more pages you have in a home-made booklet or ashcan, the more that they will protrude at the edge. A professional printing press is always preferable.

Avoid politics, and especially avoid lecturing your readers. If you know what you’re doing, or if there is a good reason, you can make a part of the story political. A conservative reader will not have an objection to reading a book which features Clement Attlee or Barack Obama. A liberal reader will not have an objection to reading a book featuring Nixon or Thatcher. Are those characters there to serve the story? If they are central characters, perhaps your audience will not be as broad.

Most comic books feature superheroes. But comic books, and particularly graphic novels, do not need to have anything to do with superheroes. Several ComicsGate books go in a different direction completely. Some of the best stories ever written feature normal people who face extraordinary, yet realistic, circumstances. If you have seen a film by Hitchcock, you have seen that kind of story.

‘Rear Window’ was made in 1954. It will be watched and talked about long after trendy superhero films are forgotten. You don’t need superheroes to tell good stories in a captivating way.

You do not need to have any knowledge of comic books or their history. You don’t need to have any experience in the industry. You don’t have to care about established characters, publishers or titles. You do have to deliver a good product, though. Hopefully, you will also have a deep appreciation of the comic book as a medium.

The Case of the Littlest Umbrella‘ is a Lovecraft-inspired horror story which is suitable for young readers. Like ‘Dead Beats’, it offers something other than a superhero story. A welcome development. The book was created by That Umbrella Guy, who had no experience in the comic book industry.

Michael Crichton has probably not read Thomas Hobbes. Dan Brown has probably not read John Buchan. You are not required to be a connoisseur in film, TV, comic books, art or literature. You don’t even need to be a good writer, although you should try to be. Dan Brown is not a good writer, but he is a terrific storyteller.

You cannot generate more excitement in society than these two novels did. Dan Brown in particular is not a good writer, but you never noticed. You might not create the next ‘Jurassic Park’, but you can learn from these two authors.

You don’t have to be a part of ComicsGate to be successful with a crowdfunded book. You don’t even have to like anyone in it. But you would be very wise to follow their advice. If you make your choices in spite of ComicsGate, you only punish yourself.

If your book is successful enough, you can consider foreign language versions. If your book is written in Portuguese, you might test interest among English readers. If your book is written in English, perhaps Japanese readers might like a Japanese translation. In general, don’t think about foreign language versions until after you have successfully delivered your book. Keep your campaign focused. In any case, a publisher may want to sell your book in foreign markets, and they will take care of translations.