Interview: Catherine Warren – A Creature

I recently had a skype chat with Catherine Warren, who successfully crowdfunded her book A Creature.

Catherine wanted to create a children’s book about an animal being an animal (rather than the usual anthropomorphism).

You can have a look at the video at the bottom of this post. Please excuse the sound and video quality, it’s early days! You can order the book at: acreature.com or follow at: facebook.com/acreaturebook

It was a enjoyable interview, maybe because Catherine and I had a lot in common. Both of us crowdfunded for a children’s book idea that was filling a gap that we saw in what was available.

My Crowdfunding Failure

My campaign for Sophie Feels Big, Volume 1 & 2 closed a little under 20% funded. It wasn’t much of a suprise by the time it came around.

I don’t think I can say with certainty why it failed. My biggest regret is getting impatient and launching without enough preparation. I’ve got a full time job, and I should have had more stuff planned and prepared so that I could get it happening as I went. There were a lot of stones left unturned. Though, I’m not sure there were 80% worth of stones.

I think I overestimated the value of my mailing lists (past backers and people who’d signed up to get free resources from my website, about 100 on each). It seemed like a huge number compared to my mailing list from the first campaign (zero). But I guess I should have been comparing the mailing lists to the number of people I contacted in the first campaign (about 400 facebook friends).

My main thought was build a bigger crowd and aim a little lower for the next campaign. Changing the goal to just 5 new stories with Sophie will make it a lot more reachable. By the numbers, I’d still need to triple my mailing lists though.

I called Kat Jenkins of Multitude for some advice just before the campaign closed. She identified my messaging / marketing as something that could use work:

Not only were the numbers not as big as they seemed in my head, half of the people I was reaching out to were a very different crowd. I think most of my support in the first campaign came from friends and family who were supporting my idea. This time around, I was targeting a lot of strangers, but my message was probably not adjusted enough. I needed to put more time into understanding marketing. I have an awareness that its important to tell people what the product can do for them, but I think in practice I ended up just talking about what the product was.

The first (successful) crowdfunding campaign has meant that I do have one book already (Jack Feels Big). I can use that to try out some different marketing and to build my following more. I’m not giving up on creating more books, but I think I’ve got a lot of work to do before I try a third campaign.

Disappointed

One of the cool things about crowdfunding is that you can build a community around the project. Get them really involved. People who pledge in the crowdfunding campaign for Sophie Feels Big will get to choose which five feelings go into vol. 2.

When we reached 10% I took a poll and so the first feeling to be selected was Disappointed.

Because that milestone was reached at day twelve rather than day two, Disappointed also describes how I’m feeling with myself right now.

I’m asking myself a lot of questions. Should I have waited to build more of a crowd? Should I have waited to prepare more content for during the campaign? Have I made things too complicated with the re-cast + new stories? Did I set too high a goal trying to get both of those books in one campaign? Is what I’m making even good?

In all this, I’m being persistent (another word taught in the books) and I keep on promoting. I took a drive down to New Plymouth and visited six primary schools and ECE centres. A journalist who wrote about the first book wrote an article for this campaign on Stuff.

Even though I’m not where I wanted to be, I know that the first time I crowdfunded I spent a lot of the campaign despairing and not knowing where I’d find more backers too. So now, like then, I’ll just keep trying whatever I can. I had a teacher ask about a recording of the stories from the first book being read, for use with her special-needs kids. That’s something I can probably do this weekend in one form or another. I’ll take any opportunity I can to share the campaign, and with some help from Kiwis who think that teaching kids the names for their feelings is important, I think we can get there.

Part of me dreams of someone helping me make a connection to a morning TV program or a parenting blog. But I think the reality with crowdfunding is that those sorts of broadcast aren’t what gets you there. It’s the individual, personal, word of mouth referrals and pledges. If you know someone who has kids with feelings, please tell them about this book 🙂

My to-do list, post launch

I have been posting my list of the things that I need to get done for my second crowdfunding campaign. I’ve now actually launched, so here’s how the list looks:

Stuff That I’ve Done:

  • Send out another update to people who signed up for the campaign-specific mailing list confirming the launch date and explaining how to do multiples of the early bird reward if they want to
  • Record some B-roll for my campaign video – I managed a school visit and recorded in most of the classes. The results were not ideal, but there was enough to put a snipped into the final video, which was all I needed. I couldn’t believe how often kids pick their noses. Really spoils a shot!
  • Make up an A4 flipbook – I managed to squeeze this in and get double duty out of the school visit. That footage will be helpful at a later date.
  • Put together copy for the campaign and load it all up onto pledgeme – This wasn’t trivial, but it was largely based on last year’s effort, which made it easier.
  • Write a press release. I actually based large parts of this on the script for the video and it wasn’t so bad to do. I’m sure it doesn’t really meet professional press release standards, but its a lot better the one I had before I had this one (I didn’t have one). My press page is here.
  • Organise visits for New Plymouth – I have a schedule and it is packed. I’m visiting five Bubbles centres (I know the owner and he was super supportive last campaign, they have had my book since then and a couple of the parents have them too). I’m also visiting the Montessori Casa (one of my backers from last campaign has a son there and connected me with the principal) and two other classes (via a friend’s mother, who is also a backer from the first campaign). I contacted the journalist who wrote about me last year, but haven’t heard back.
  • Record the main line of my crowdfunding video – This took so many tries and fails, but its done.
  • Find my wide angle lens! – I did not find the lens until after the school visit, but I found one that sort of did the job.

Stuff That I’ve Done, but will need to keep doing:

  • Build more crowd – Now that I’ve launched, I’m beginning wonder if I went too early. Ah well. Crowdbuilding sort of continues. I’ve been saying thank you to each person who pledges (where I can) and that’s had some very nice responses. I’m heading off to a bunch of school visits at the end of the week, so that might help too.
  • Get content lined up for posting – My schedule is empty at this point and I don’t have any easy content handy, but I really need to get the post-mill running again to keep my stuff popping up and noticed.

Stuff That I Totally Haven’t Done:

  • Re-photograph the book – I might get this one done tomorrow night. This is to bolster the press release. It won’t be so useful until later in the week anyway.

If you or someone you know would be interested in supporting the production of a book for teaching kids the names for their feelings (and especially girls) you can check it out here: www.pledgeme.co.nz/projects/4783-sophie-feels-big

Thank Your Backers Immediately – 4 Reasons Why

I thanked my backers as they pledged on my crowdfunding campaign. Here’s the 3 reasons I did it and a bonus reason I discovered. That last one is important.

I’m at the first stage in my campaign and I know who a lot of my backers are and I can contact them directly, so I’ve been sending out thank you emails and facebook posts.

Each time I get a pledge, I get an email. That tells me how much was pledged, but no other details. It would be nice to know what reward level they pledged at (for planning and promotional reasons) and it would make a lot of sense to at least have the name that they used. But this information doesn’t come in the email.

So I head over to my campaign page and I have a look at the pledgers. Some people choose to remain anonymous, and some people use just a first name. If it’s an uncommon name and I’ve just sent out information to someone with that name, I’ve just been assuming that it’s them.

If they’re my friend on Facebook, I’ll hit the share campaign button (I’m on my campaign page, remember, the share button is right there). I select “share on a friend’s wall” and select that friend. I write in the post telling them how much I appreciate their support. Here’s why I do it:

  1. I think they deserve the appreciation, and by posting to their wall they’ll be seen publicly supporting a good cause
  2. Of course, I’m also hoping that their friends will see the post
  3. I’m also hoping that me expressing my gratitude will encourage my friend to continue supporting the campaign by spreading the word

If they aren’t my friend on Facebook, but I have a way to contact them directly I go that way. Just a quick email, thanking them for their support and telling them how much it means to me.

The first half of reason 1 above applies, though I can’t publicly thank them.

Number 3 applies too, possibly even more so. The people who aren’t my friends on facebook are past customers or people who I’ve gotten onto mailing lists by offering free resource downloads. Sending that thank-you email is going to be either the first or second personal connection I’ve made with them. Zero-to-one or one-to-two are both actually pretty big steps. I reckon that this one little email can make a huge difference in the chances that this person will talk to someone else about my project.

4. Their replies (but this one needs some explanation)

The first three reasons are the reasons I thought it would be worth taking the time to send out emails. But I discovered an extra one after I did it. My launch hasn’t gone quite as well as I’d hoped. I’m into my third day and only just over 5%. I put a lot of weight on these first few days, and I’m not sure that I was ready to launch. I’m questioning whether I got too impatient. Maybe I should have waited to pre-build a bigger pre-crowd of backers.

But more than that, I’m starting to wonder if my idea is even actually any good. That’s where the extra reason may be the most important:

Sometimes they reply and say nice things about your project

And that’s worth a lot.

Video issues – I don’t know what I don’t know

TL/DR: This week I learned just how far from pro at video production I am.

I’ve had photography as one of my more serious hobbies since university. I branched out into video a few years ago, editing together video of my brothers and friends I getting up to all sorts of adventures in the outdoors. A couple of years back I bought some sound gear too.

But after sitting down to edit my first video shoot for this campaign I found the audio was no good. And I couldn’t get it right. I ended up doing multiple video shoots plus trying to record audio by itself a couple of times. One of my issues has been the lack of studio lights. In order to get good video, I’ve been limited to shooting during the middle of the day or early afternoon. That’s when I get good light in the only space in the house that’s got the right dimensions for me to shoot in. And I have a day job, so mostly this means weekends.

There are all sorts of ways that I could address these issues. I could rig up some cheap DIY video lights. Some people might even have suitable lamps at hand. I could find a better location, or put together a backdrop so that I can use a part of the house that I would otherwise consider unsuitable. All of these would have taken time though. Too much time with my launch date looming.

The audio from the first shoot (on a Thursday I took off work) was ok in some parts, but other parts were plagued by rustling (I was using a lav mic and I think the sound was caused by the cord brushing across my clothes). I cut it all together anyway, since the parts where I would be onscreen had ok audio. Then I tried to re-record the audio. I really should have used exactly the same set up and just stuck with it, but that arrangement had resulted in a hiss in the audio. I was able to eliminate the hiss using audacity, but it actually only cleared the hiss between words. There was still a hissing noise behind each word.

So I tried everything I could. I changed the settings on my camera (power to external mic on, power to external mic off, internal mic volume down, external mic volume down, external mic volume up). I recorded with the lav mic connected to my Zoom. I took the foam cover off the lav mic and recorded that way. Then I held a piece of fabric (a shirt) between my mouth and the lav mic to try to prevent blowing on it.

At the same time, my video editing software started crashing. I use Openshot running on Ubuntu. I’m actually not very good at Ubuntu and tend to just make a fresh install every year or so. After a while it starts getting crashier. It’s probably my fault. I probably have the wrong drivers or a video card that isn’t really fully compatible. But I don’t know enough to even work out what’s wrong, so I don’t know what to do to fix it. Each time I reinstall I try a different configuration. Provide dedicated partitions for more things, less things, bigger partitions. Nothing seems to have much impact.

I made a desperate attempt to find free video editing software for windows so I could use a borrowed, newer, laptop. I found HitFilm 4 express and the discovered it didn’t like the MOV files that my camera used. It handled the MP4 files from my phone though, so I spent half the evening converting my main video from MOV to MP4. I think it turned out that I had encoded into MPEG2 when I needed to encode to MPEG4. Possibly the other way around. I went back to using Openshot, since the new files were substantially compressed and Openshot was happy again. I also discovered that using WAV files for the voiceover, rather than MP3s made a big difference. I don’t really know why, but it worked. Call me superstitious, but I just didn’t have time to ask more questions.

I reshot the video again on the weekend and told everyone I’d be launching the campaign next weekend. I went through the process of editing and managed to get it to a passable level. There was still some obvious changes to the audio quality – it suddenly sounded different when I went off screen. I didn’t really like it, so I shot a third time on the Friday before my Saturday launch. It meant rushing home to catch the afternoon light (thank goodness for the lengthening days), but it worked. I used every audio recording device I could get my hands on. Glad I did, since it seems I left the lav mic turned off for the two takes that worked. I had my cell phone and the Zoom recording as well. The Zoom was the best and I ran with it. You can see the final video here.

Argh. Pushing outside of your comfort zone is supposed to be good for learning and growth and stuff, but sometimes it gets really frustrating when you don’t even know why things aren’t working, leaving you with no idea how to begin to find a solution. Maybe I should have outsourced. I did have someone recommend http://90seconds.tv/.

Progress on My Second Campaign

It’s been two weeks since I posted my list of the things that I need to get done for my second crowdfunding campaign. This is the second, weekly update. Here’s how I’ve been going:

Stuff That I’ve Done:

  • Correct my facebook page header
  • Send out an update to people who signed up for the campaign-specific mailing list
  • Finalise the campaign details – I’ve put together my rewards list now, pretty happy with the changes. I should probably post about what I went with and why. I sent out an update about that to the people on the mini-mailing list for the new campaign.
  • Talk to possible big supporters – Done.

Stuff That I’ve Done, but will need to keep doing:

  • Build more crowd – I created a mailing list specifically for the upcoming crowdfunding campaign. I haven’t gotten far with it in the last week, but I think I could probably start sending direct FB messages to friends and family, make sure all the folks who might be interested have heard.
  • Get content lined up for posting – I continued running my notes for the stories to go into the book. I’ve finished all the pre-written ones that fit in the right category (not in volume 1, feelings not virtues) for posting at this point in time. I might spend some time this evening writing a couple more up.
  • Make up an A4 flipbook – I’m going to have another crack at this. It isn’t actually for this campaign, but I’ve got a school visit lined up for Thursday and if I can take it with me, that’s double duty.
  • Record some B-roll for my campaign video – I still haven’t launched, so the plan B school visit will be an opportunity and I got in a visit with my cousin and her daughter, and that’s got me some good b-roll.
  • Update campaign specific mailing list – I sent one about how the backers will get to choose feelings (at intervals during the campaign). I sent a second one about the rewards I’d chosen. The next one will probably be on Thursday with school footage and an announcement of launch on Saturday (if I can make it happen).

Stuff That I Totally Haven’t Done:

  • Re-photograph the book – Still haven’t done it.
  • Record the main line of my crowdfunding video – I’ve got Thursday off work for the school visit and I’m planning to make the recording for the rest of the video when I get home.
  • Put together copy for the campaign. A lot of this will just be updating last year’s stuff.
  • Load it all up onto pledgeme – ties in with the two above. Maybe I need to make that must-do-Tuesday evening.
  • Write a press release. – put this off, still a daunting task.
  • Book visits for New Plymouth – Need to contact that Childcare centre that bought a bunch of book, plus the journalist who wrote about me last time.

Stuff That I’ve Now Added to the List:

  • Find my wide angle lens! – This one I need to do before the school visit on Thursday. That was the biggest lesson I learned on my first school visit, classrooms need a wider lens than my usual!

If you know anyone who’d be interested in supporting the production of a book for teaching kids the names for their feelings (and especially girls) you can send them here to sign up to hear more: www.jackfeelsbig.nz/sophie