Many comic creators now use crowdfunding as a means to raise funds to bring a dream project to life, but there are highs and lows to this, as award-winning horror author, comics writer and stand up comedian Jasper Bark relates of Beyond Lovecraft, run with artist Rob Moran, by way of a very funny story about his life in, er, retail…
We’ve all heard the stories of people who make so much from their crowdfunding campaign, they get to quit their proper job. Most of us aren’t that lucky.
I’ve only had three proper jobs my whole life. I worked in a bookshop for a year. I was a journalist for a decade, and I worked in a porn shop in London’s Leicester Square, for a couple of months, in my early twenties. I guess it was prescient, given what I ended up doing, that the porn shop was called Lovecraft.
(Sadly, last time I was in Leicester Square, it was long gone).
It was a memorable couple of months. On my second day, the rest of the staff quit and I was made assistant manager by default. My duties mainly consisted of demonstrating sex aids to giggling tourists. But I also had to turf out the drunken couples who used our back entrance for a quickie, and the homeless who used our main entrance as a toilet.
Lovecraft stayed open till eight, but the owner had after hours duties for me. This was the 1990s, and Ann Summers sex parties were all the rage. In order to compete, the shop’s owner used to send me out, several night’s a week, to hen parties, and other gatherings, in the back rooms of clubs with a bag full of our best selling sex toys.
As I also worked as a stand up, I would deliver most of my sales patter as a comedy routine. Laughter is not only the best aphrodisiac, it’s a pretty good sales lube. I’d start the demonstration by revealing some of our most outrageous toys and then, once the ice was broken, I’d move on to the saleable items, the rabbits, the massage oils and the handcuffs.
For a while, as I was on commission, these parties proved more profitable than my stand up gigs. The last call I went on, however, convinced me that it was time to look for a new job.
I was going straight to Hell
The owner called and gave me the address that morning. The women I usually sold to were in their late twenties and thirties. But this was a 21st birthday party for a pair of twins. Even more unexpectedly, it wasn’t in a backroom in Soho, it was in a private house in well-to-do Kensington.
Not many houses in Kensington were numbered at the time, and this was in the days before Google street maps. So I had to make do with a battered A-Z. I was running late when I finally found what I thought was the private mews. I wasn’t sure which of the imposing houses it was. So I decided to knock on the most likely door, apologise and ask directions if I was wrong.
No downstairs lights were on and I could hardly see the door as I rang . I waited for ages on the doorstep, stamping my feet to keep out the cold. I was just about try another house when a light came on in the hallway. The huge door creaked open and I was confronted with a grey haired woman in a flowered apron. She couldn’t have been more than four foot five. She had the thickest glasses I had ever seen. I’m not sure she could actually see me as she squinted on the doorstep.
“Sorry to bother you,” I said, trying to be as discrete as possible. “I’m expected at one of the residences in this mews, but I’m not certain which. You weren’t expecting a … err, caller, were you?”
“You’re late,” the lady said.
“Oh, so this is the right address?”
“Come on in,” said the lady, ushering me inside. “The sisters have been waiting nearly an hour for you.”
“Yes, I’m sorry about that. I don’t know the area and you’re not easy to find.”
The tiny lady took me down a long hallway, and up the stairs. At the top of the first flight was a stained glass window that must have been a full storey high. It showed Jesus on the cross in the centre, surrounded by scenes from the crucifixion. This must be a well to do Catholic household, I decided. The twins must be typical Catholic girls gone bad, throwing a sex party while mummy and daddy were out of town.
The tiny lady led me to a door on the first floor of the house.
“They’re expecting you inside,” she said. “Will you be wanting any broth before you begin?”
“No thank you,” I said, thinking this a strange question. “I’m fine.”
“Suit yourself, there’ll be tea and biscuits when you’re done.”
With that she shuffled off. I waited until she’d gone, then reached into my bag for the icebreaker. This was a huge vibrator, longer than my forearm and thicker than my wrist. When you switched it on, the top third would thrash back and forth in concentric circles. I fired up the beast, opened the door and strode into the room with a flourish.
“Ladies,” I said. “Which one of you is ready for the Punisher!?”
None of them, as it turned out.
I stood in the centre of the room, holding a sex toy that would put a prize stallion to shame, and looked out at my audience. They were middle aged, or older, and wore tweed skirts and cardigans.
As the Punisher writhed worse than a politician asked for their tax returns, I took in the bafflement on the women’s faces. Each one framed by a Nun’s habit.
“Sister Perpetua, Sister Perpetua,” one of them whispered. “That’s not Father Brian from the seminary.”
“No,” said a hardbitten nun in the front row. “It’s not.”
“Remind me again,” said another of the older nuns. “What was the topic for today’s lesson?”
“Acts, Chapter 9 Verse 5,” said Sister Perpetua. “And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.”
I’m not a Catholic, but if, at that moment, the gates of hell had opened in the floor, I would gladly have crawled in. Even still, as bad as I felt in that moment, I felt worse at certain points during the Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign I ran for the graphic novel – Beyond Lovecraft (I told you the name of that shop was prescient, didn’t I).
Finally, we get to the crowdfunding campaign!
So, this post is about the highs and lows of running a crowdfunding campaign. There’s loads of content online with practical advice on how to set up a crowdfunding campaign, and get the most contributions. But there aren’t many that tell you what it feels like to run one. The highs and the lows you’ll experience and the limits to which it will push you.
That’s what this post is all about. The emotional journey you’ll undergo when you launch a crowdfunding campaign. And why you might often feel like a sex toy salesman in a convent.
Social media has turned many professional creatives, into the online equivalent of Jehovah’s Witnesses. There’s hardly a day goes by when we aren’t banging on someone’s door asking them if they’ve heard the good news about our latest project. This is especially the case when you’re launching a crowd-funder. Crowdfunding makes whores of us all.
Before you launch
The first thing everyone feels before they launch is fear and doubt, mixed with hope and excitement. These conflicting feelings can make you prevaricate for anything up to a month. They did with me. You find yourself hovering over that launch button for days on end. I was like a novice on the highest diving board, hesitant to plunge in.
When you do finally launch, the first few days are full of excitement and surprise at how easy it all is. Crowdfunders make the most money in the first and last days of the campaign. Within the first couple of days you can expect to raise anywhere between a fifth to a quarter of your final target, maybe more if your target is around $1,000. If you carry on at this rate, you tell yourself, the whole thing will be funded by the end of the week.
That’s when reality sinks it’s fangs into your unsuspecting butt. Once your close friends and family have reached into their pockets, the gush of contributions, slows to a trickle, and then a drip, and then nothing at all. Whole days will go by when the amount you’ve raised doesn’t increase by a cent.
The sheen will have gone from your shiny new crowdfunding campaign. You’ll probably fall in the rankings of whichever platform you’re using. Messages from companies offering to revive your campaign with their extensive list of potential donors will fill your inbox. If you weren’t so worried about your campaign, you’d probably think it ironic that you were getting spammed so much by spammers offering to spam for you. Especially when their principally spamming activity seems to be spamming other potential spammers – like you.
Kiss your friends goodbye
One of the single most effective means of raising funds is private messages and e-mails. Studies show that contributors are 20 per cent more likely to donate, if they’re contacted personally. This means you’re most likely to be sending out the same carefully worded message to hundreds of people. This will be tedious, time consuming and mind-numbingly boring. At times, you will be astonished by the kindness of passing acquaintances and people you’ve haven’t seen in years. On other occasions, you will lose friends and alienate people.
The sad fact about crowdfunding crowdfunding campaigns is, no matter how carefully you word your posts, tweets or messages, a certain number of your friends and associates are going to think you’re waving a begging bowl under their noses. They’ll tell you to stop asking them for money and simply work harder at what you’re doing. It doesn’t matter how politely, tactfully or thoughtfully you answer their outrage, many of your detractors will unfriend, unfollow and even block you. Some of these people will even have run their own crowdfunding campaigns.
This will be dispiriting and probably leave a nasty taste in your mouth. However, you must continue to remain polite and upbeat in your dealings with everyone. Try to avoid going on the defensive or sniping back at anyone. This will only harm your campaign. Remember, your detractors probably have their own reasons for acting this way, and you may not know the full story. The real cause of their anger probably has nothing to do with you, or your campaign. Give them a bit of space and work on repairing the relationship when the campaign is over.
According to statistics, the most successful crowdfunding campaigns are run by more than one person. Teams have a better chance of meeting their goal than single campaigners. This can bring added complications. Some people on the team are going to be more committed than others. Some people will be better at fund raising. If you’re not careful, this can breed resentment. You don’t want your team thinking someone isn’t pulling their weight. Bear in mind, that everyone who helps out is giving their time as a gift. It’s as big a gift as your most generous backers. Not everyone will benefit from your crowdfunding campaign, but everyone will contribute to best of their ability. So make sure to cut your team mates some slack.
As you struggle though your campaign, your mood will probably swing between elation and despondency. The contributions to the Beyond Lovecraft campaign were never enough, at any point, to make us think it was in the bag. However, they were always high enough to stop us giving up hope. It still looked possible right up to the bitter end, as we inched towards our final goal, a dollar at a time. This was a stressful place to be in, but we hung on in there.
The Final Furlong
I remember stopping up all night as the final hours ticked away. Contributions came in at a steady rate, but no-one was giving more than 20 bucks, which meant we were inching towards that finish line at a slow but steady pace, like the determined turtle in the Aesop’s fable. Slow and steady did eventually win the race, but with minutes to spare. The final contribution, that pushed us $1 dollar over our goal, came in five minutes before the campaign closed. At no point was it a done deal, but at no point was it a lost cause. That’s a tough campaign to run, believe me.
Our final feelings were one of satisfaction, but utter, utter exhaustion. We fought hard and earned every single penny of the $8,000 we raised.
Don’t let anyone ever kid you that crowdfunding is an easy option. It isn’t. In fact, when you’re raising funds over $1,000, your crowdfunding campaign is effectively your full time job. Even if you have another career. You’re going to have to put in eight hours a day, and fit it round your day job, or other work commitments.
I’m still not sure if the money I got was for writing the project, or running the campaign.
When the dust settles
When it’s all over, you might find it a bit of an anti-climax. You don’t actually get all the funds you raised. A proportion of them goes to the crowdfunding platform. This is only fair as you wouldn’t have raised a thing without them. But it’s a bigger bite than you might think.
What’s more, as many of your backers probably live overseas, there are banking charges and transfer fees, and Paypal fees, that you may not expect. So that pot of money is somewhat diminished when it finally gets to you. Plus you have to use a some of it to fulfil all your pledges.
Nonetheless, if I was to choose one overriding feeling that I took away, it would be gratitude. Over 200 kind people, many of whom I’ve never met, showed faith in my talent. They were prepared to donate time and money so my close friend, Rob Moran, and I could work on a dream project. That kind of kindness and generosity restores my faith in humanity. That, more than anything, is what I take away from my crowdfunding experience. It’s a wonderful thing.
Trust your Uncle Jasp on this, you know it makes sense.
Jasper Bark is an award-winning novelist, children’s author and comic book writer. Famed for his imaginative story telling he’s published four novels, twelve children’s books and countless comics and graphic novels. His work has been translated into nine languages and is used in schools throughout the UK to improve literacy. He regularly performs his work all over the country, on the radio and through regular podcasts. You can read more about his career and work here
Rob Moran is a multi award-winning illustrator/comic book artist/writer based in the UK. As a writer he has created various comic titles and wrote a nationally syndicated American newspaper comic strip. As an artist he has been a magazine illustrator, newspaper cartoonist, computer game designer and has created posters for the Scottish Opera. As a graphic artist, he has been published in the UK, Europe and the United States with such companies as Marvel, Dark Horse, Image Comics, Silver Phoenix Entertainment, Classical Comics, 2000AD and many others.
This article first appeared on Jasper’s own web site and is republished on downthetubes with full permission
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The founder of downthetubes, which he established in 1998. John works as a comics and magazine editor, writer, and on promotional work for the Lakes International Comic Art Festival. He is currently editor of Star Trek Explorer, published by Titan – his third tour of duty on the title originally titled Star Trek Magazine.
Working in British comics publishing since the 1980s, his credits include editor of titles such as Doctor Who Magazine, Babylon 5 Magazine, and more. He also edited the comics anthology STRIP Magazine and edited several audio comics for ROK Comics. He has also edited several comic collections, including volumes of “Charley’s War” and “Dan Dare”.
He’s the writer of “Pilgrim: Secrets and Lies” for B7 Comics; “Crucible”, a creator-owned project with 2000AD artist Smuzz; and “Death Duty” and “Skow Dogs” with Dave Hailwood.