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Crowdfunding the Creative

by Missy Sheehan & photos by Turner Photography Studio

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Local artists and authors are using online platforms like Kickstarter to find financial support for their creative projects.

While the term "crowdfunding" has become part of the general lexicon in just the past couple years, following the rise of online crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo, the idea of requesting contributions from fans to help fund creative works is not a recently developed tactic. In fact, composers, writers, and artists have been doing it for centuries.

Websites like Kickstarter have taken this fundraising concept to a whole new level by giving independent creators of books, films, works of art, and other products a platform from which they can connect with fans and supporters all over the world to raise money and bring their projects to life. Rather than just requesting donations though, many of these platforms are rewards based, meaning those who pledge funds are eligible for certain rewards based on their contribution level. Rewards can range from a personal thank-you email, to a copy of the final project, to behind-the-scenes footage of the project’s creation.

Several artists and authors right here in Washington County have caught on to the unique benefits that rewards-based crowdfunding offers, and have successfully raised funds for their projects using Kickstarter. Comic book writer and illustrator Rafer Roberts turned to the platform last year to help cover printing costs for a newspaper collection of his “Nightmare the Rat” comic strip series, which appears in the Washington, D.C.-based comics newspaper Magic Bullet and online as a weekly web comic.
Rafer’s 30-day Kickstarter campaign raised $3,944 from 147 financial backers, well exceeding his $999 goal. He used the extra money he raised to print additional copies of the collection, ship rewards to pledgers, and fulfill stretch rewards (rewards for meeting stretch goals beyond the original fundraising goal).

It wasn’t Rafer’s first time running a successful Kickstarter campaign. In 2012, with a goal of $2,000, he raised $4,704 from 109 backers to cover printing costs for “Plastic Farm: Seasons of Growth in the Fields of Despair,” the second collection of the ongoing comic series Rafer has been self-publishing since 2001. Despite exceeding his initial fundraising goal for both campaigns, Rafer says he didn’t make any profit after printing the books and fulfilling rewards. Kickstarter also keeps five percent of the funding from every successful campaign. “The profit, for me, came afterwards,” he says. “I continue to sell and profit from the books and merchandise that I was able to get made through Kickstarter.”

David Zyskowski and his wife, Christi, ran a successful Kickstarter campaign last year to raise funds for professional editing and illustrations for the third e-book in David’s “Sir Knighty and Friends” series for children. “I wanted to see what the feeling of the public was when I launched this book — to see if there was anyone interested besides my boys,” says David, who’s also the children’s pastor at Emmanuel Baptist Temple in Hagerstown. “My boys get excited about it because I’m their dad, but I wanted to know if other kids would be, and if other parents would be. And it turns out, they really were.”

David and Christi had run a campaign for four “Sir Knighty and Friends” e-books previously, but failed to meet their $2,500 goal despite backers pledging more than $1,500 toward the project. “We saw that there was definitely an interest, so we lowered our next campaign to just one book and decided to let them vote on which one they wanted,” David says. As part of the rewards for pledging, each financial backer was allowed one vote per dollar pledged.

With 66 backers pledging between $1 and $50 each during the 30-day campaign, the Zyskowskis exceeded their goal of raising $660 by $1. They used the funds to pay for editing and illustrations for the e-book with the highest votes, which was “Sir Knighty and the Bright Idea,” and to send rewards to backers.

David says Kickstarter helped significantly expand the fan base for his books. “We have people over in London, Canada, California, and all across the country who we’ve made connections with,” he says.

Painter Tara Fly used Kickstarter last year to raise funds to print a 2015 wall calendar featuring 13 of her paintings of cats in costumes inspired by history and classic literature. “I couldn’t afford to print them myself without knowing how many would sell because calendars have a shelf life,” she says. “So this was an easy and risk-free way for me to get a feel for what the interest would be.”

Tara promoted her Kickstarter campaign on social media and at craft shows where she sells her artwork. She reached her $700 goal within 48 hours of kicking off the three-week campaign, with 24 backers pledging $1,200 total by the time it ended. “I was blown away,” she says. “I didn’t realize my fans would buy 4 to 5 calendars each!”

After covering costs for printing the calendars and fulfilling rewards and stretch rewards, Tara says she had around $50 in profit leftover, which she used to order supplies for making and selling more art. “I didn’t use Kickstarter to get rich or make wild profits,” Tara says. “As an artist, it’s about being able to support yourself doing something that you love to do.”

Tara says she already has plans in the works to run another Kickstarter campaign later this year for her 2016 calendar.

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