As Dark Lord was wrapping up its real content generation and entering the editing, proofing, printing, and shipping phase – all of which require some direction from me, but not a lot – I started thinking about what my next move should be, and I realized that I wasn’t really building any momentum. Almost nobody realized that the Petals and Thorns guy and the Dark Lord guy were the same person, because those Kickstarters were over a year apart and neither of them were so apocalyptically massive that anyone was still thinking about them after that much time had passed. Likewise, whatever new Kickstarter I was going to launch, even if I had it ready within a month, wouldn’t benefit much from the success of Dark Lord.
I needed projects small enough that I could launch a new one within six weeks of when the old one finished, so that people who’d been browsing the tabletop category on Kickstarter or who had seen it linked in a Discord or whatever would still remember the last one when they saw the new one. Due to the small scale of the projects and because the middle two weeks are often disappointing anyway, I decided to go with a fifteen-day schedule, and as per standard Kickstarter wisdom, I decided to make sure I was starting and ending in the same month, because having an end date in the same month as the current date makes the project seem more urgent and encourages people to back immediately, which helps build momentum in the early days.
What all of this added up to is that if I ran every other month, I’d be pushing the limits on the six week news cycle, the amount of time it takes for people to forget something’s relevant. The alternative was to run a Kickstarter for fifteen days out of every month, to be running a Kickstarter about as often as not. And the content I had was, when broken into the smallest reasonable chunk, a ‘zine-size sourcebook with about 30 minimum pages of content, plus wrappers (cover, table of contents, backer acknowledgements, etc. etc. – stuff that needs to be added but isn’t in my Google Docs draft). And it’s not like I’d have the whole month just two write the content. I’d also need to leave time for formatting in order to ensure that backers received the .pdf version of one book by the time the second one was launching, because no way would anyone back my second project if the first was still outstanding on even the digital version. Plus I’d need to assemble the actual Kickstarter campaign for the book on top of writing the content for it.
Is that rate of content generation even possible?
Natalia’s Guide to Necromancy started crowdfunding on February 12th, 2021, and finished on February 28th (this one was actually sixteen days, because I hadn’t totally sorted out the long term plan at this point). It was digitally fulfilled on March 13th, the print versions were sent out March 26th, and signed copies were sent out April 5th. The .pdf version was 39 pages long, although this includes wrapper content like the cover, table of contents, etc.
Irena’s Guide to Intrigue and Illusion started crowdfunding on March 16th, 2021, and finished on March 31st. It was digitally fulfilled on April 14th, and the print version was sent out April 30th. As of the writing (May 1st), I’m still waiting on copies to arrive for signing, but that part’s not hard, just time consuming. The .pdf version was 44 pages long.
Bianca’s Guide to Golems started crowdfunding on April 15th, 2021 and finished on April 30th. The .pdf should be delivered no later than May 22nd, due to a planned delay during which Megan Bennett-Burks, my formatter, is attending some kind of family function. Bianca’s Guide is easily the biggest book yet, and although I won’t know a final page count until it finishes formatting, it will likely strain to remain within the 64 page maximum I’ve imposed for shipping reasons.
The draft for Brac’s Guide to Piracy is completely written and edited, the Kickstarter is complete except for the intro and update videos, which have all been scripted and are waiting on cover art for recording and animation. I’ve intentionally kept it from bloating out as much as Bianca’s, to try and maintain a final page count of somewhere around 40-50 and avoid pushing up against my limits.
And Brac’s Guide to Piracy was on a subject I had mostly not even thought about until the project was already underway. None of my campaigns had done anything resembling piracy for years, and the one that did briefly flirted with the idea before giving up on it long before I had to actually do anything. The writing for Brac’s Guide to Piracy was finished over a week ahead of schedule, and it was easily the hardest book so far, and will probably be one of the hardest for the entire series. The future is always uncertain and it’s possible one of the other eight books I have planned will end up being the one that derails the series, but right now, the train looks unstoppable.
So I’m committing to the plan publicly. Twelve Kickstarters in twelve months, digitally fulfilled within 30 days, physical copies shipped within 60 days, and signed copies shipped within 90 days – and those are maximums, the standard plan is half that.
Since the goal of the Kickstarter marathon is to get people to remember who I am, the measure of success is backer count, not money. So let’s talk about how many backers is a decent amount. I’m Kickstarting a tabletop project, so we don’t care about non-tabletop projects, and I’m Kickstarting sourcebooks for the most popular system on the market right now, so my upper limit shouldn’t be any lower than the cap of what the category can accomplish (the top decile is usually dominated by first party releases from brands started in the 80s or 90s, but if MCDM (established 2018) can break through that, then in theory I can, too).
So let’s look at some data from 2019, because that’s the last time someone gathered it all up and sold it for like $10:
Bottom decile: 0-77 backers
Ninth decile: 79-115 backers
Eighth decile: 117-170 backers
Seventh decile: 173-234 backers
Sixth decile: 235-318 backers
Fifth decile: 323-448 backers
Fourth decile: 457-622 backers
Third decile: 625-858 backers
Second decile: 865-1273 backers
Top decile: 1281-21735 backers
From these numbers I derived some goals:
0-99: Total failure. Only niche projects should be getting numbers this low, otherwise either the project itself was bad or it was presented poorly.
100-199: Poor. Hovering around eighth decile, this is firmly under average. Broad appeal projects like 5e sourcebooks should not be getting numbers this low (except from first-time creators with no reputation, at least, but that’s not me anymore). If a single book in the series hit this low, that might just indicate that specific subject was unpopular, but if it two in a row hit it, that probably means the project has no momentum.
200-299: Mediocre. Covers seventh and sixth decile, this range starts mediocre and tops out fairly average, but I gave it the “mediocre” label because I don’t like to settle. I decided early on that if this was all I could sustain then that wasn’t great, but it might be something to work with, especially if the series wound up having a long tail – maybe the original Kickstarters would be only mildly successful, but I’d end up getting a lot of passive income once I had 10+ books on the market. This bracket was my initial goal for the first project.
300-449: Good. Mostly conforms to fifth decile, this is high-average and suggests a successful project. This is the highest bracket I’ve ever reached as of the writing, and it may theoretically be my limit.
450-599: Great. Mostly conforms to fourth decile, this is firmly above average. A single project spiking upwards to this number would probably just indicate luck with the Kickstarter algorithm or the memosphere, but if the series gets this high on a steady upward trendline, that would be definitive success for the momentum building plan.
600-899/900-1199: Amazing. Mostly conforms to third and second deciles, respectively, and has clearly broken away from the pack. Far enough ahead of where I am right now that I haven’t much thought about what their implications would be (the graphic I commissioned to mark progress doesn’t even have a divider between these two, though I’ll probably have one added if we ever threaten to actually reach it), but the ultimate goal of the series is to get at least one book to this level.
1200+: Crazypants. I’m rounding down to get the start of this bracket to be exactly twice 600, for the sake of the graphic I had commissioned to measure progress. At some point in this bracket things transition to absurd numbers where the success of the project is clearly built off of some other project, usually an existing RPG that’s been around for at least fifteen years and often thirty or more, but sometimes it’s something like the Root RPG based off of the fairly recent Root board game, or the MCDM Kickstarters that draw their success heavily from Matt Colville’s YouTube channel.
If the nature of the production pipeline didn’t demand I have the cover for Irena’s already paid for by the time the Kickstarter for Natalia’s Guide to Necromancy was finished, I might have quite foolishly called the whole project a failure after Natalia’s and called it off. Natalia’s made money, but not enough to justify the effort, and it only brought in 158 backers, a poor showing. I expected it would do better and at least get very close to 200 backers, but the final 48 hours were very disappointing compared to the standard explosion as Kickstarter sends out reminder emails to everyone watching the project (and also I think the algorithm boosts projects in their final 48 hours more maybe?). Since I already had Irena’s mostly ready, I decided I may as well put a bow on it and get some return for the investment and effort, even if the project was now perilously close to going no further than two books.
My hypothesis at the time was that there’s not very many people on the fence about a project whose core product is $5. If they’re not sure, they back $5 for the .pdf immediately rather than coming back later. Thus, no final 48 hours explosion.
This hypothesis has been pretty thoroughly falsified by the final 48 hour explosions for both Irena’s Guide to Intrigue and Illusion and Bianca’s Guide to Golems (the latter is just entering its final 24 hours, but there’s clearly been a boom already), so I have no idea what was up with the final 48 in Natalia’s.
Regardless, Irena’s scored 210 backers, mediocre in absolute terms but very promising in that it was 30% growth over Natalia’s, while Bianca’s ended with 278 backers, which was 30% growth over Irena’s. Recklessly extrapolating these three data points into a fundamental and inviolable law of the universe, I would reach the crazypants bracket by book nine. I figure I’m very likely to hit a saturation point sometime before then, but who knows when it will be.
Maybe necromancy is actually unpopular, and people are dying for content for the social pillar and magic item crafting. Maybe the plan to build momentum is working really well. I’d say by the fifth or sixth crowdfunding project, we’ll know.
At this point, I have Brac’s Guide to Piracy totally drafted and the Kickstarter set up and ready to launch as soon as the cover art is finished, which it mostly is, so that’ll be going off on May 16th as per the schedule. Piracy seems like it’ll probably be another popular subject, so if the growth so far has been driven mostly or completely by subject choice, this one might continue that trend even without indicating any long term growth at all.
I’m never committed to the next book in the series until I start fleshing it out properly, which I don’t do until I’m sure the previous book will be a success (usually about halfway through the crowdfunding), but right now the June book is probably going to be Thaemin’s Guide to Gods and Outsiders. The last book I anticipated being a hard sell wasn’t, especially, but I’m even more confident that Thaemin’s is going to reveal how much people like the series as opposed to this one book, which I imagine would do pretty mediocre by itself. Thaemin’s Guide to Gods and Outsiders is going to have some new classes like the Summoner and the Healer, but you can tell the second one is basically intended as a replacement for Clerics, and while I have an argument as to why the Cleric is bad and you should replace them, I doubt most people will want to hear it (both classes are still fully compatible with having a Cleric and the Healer is also way better for new players).
I have no firm plans for the other seven books in the series. I do have a list of probable subjects picked out – I wouldn’t be committing to twelve ‘zines if I hadn’t already picked out twelve subjects I’m confident I can write 30+ pages on – but I don’t have outlines or pagecount estimates or anything, so I don’t even have a particularly good guess as to what books past Thaemin’s will contain besides “something to do with fiends and warlocks” or “something to do with dragons” and so on. This makes it hard to guess what books might be more or less popular, but the data should be fairly clear by the time we get that far, and if it isn’t (if, for example, Brac’s follows the 30% trend but Thaemin’s does about as well as Brac’s – I’d be unable to tell if I’ve hit my limit or if Thaemin’s has an unpopular premise that’s canceling out growth) then I’ll have the next book or two outlined and hopefully at least one mostly outlined by then, which means I’ll be able to make new predictions.
Overall, the future remains uncertain, but current indications give reason to be optimistic.