Kickstarter lab for writers: design your page

laboratory blog

Here’s another problem particular to novelists on Kickstarter: they have a lot of text to offer but not much else.

You need to be able to grab the attention of a backer at a glance, but text requires more attention than many backers are willing to give. You can take two graphic novels, open them to any page, and anyone can see the difference from across the room. With novels, all you see is, in the immortal words of Hamlet, “words, words, words.”

A great project page should hook readers before they read a single word, and that means getting visual. It can be challenging to even imagine what it should look like, so the first step is to check out other Kickstarter projects for ideas.

If you want to start with a great example, check out one of my favorite graphic novels, The Adventures of the 19XX. The creator, Paul Roman Martinez, always sets up his Kickstarter graphic novel projects with a distinctive and killer look, and it’s no coincidence that he’s grossed the better part of a hundred thousand dollars over the past few years with his various projects.

But Martinez has an advantage: he’s an artist, so he knows how to create and manipulate art. Most novelists have only their cover image to work with, and you can’t milk that forever. So what’s an author to do?


Get Artistic

I wish I could say I planned it from the beginning, but I just got a little lucky—and I define luck as when chance meets preparation. I decided early on to invest in a copy of Photoshop (way back before it was subscription-based). Then I got Photoshop: the Missing Manual by Lesa Snider, which I highly recommend for the Photoshop noob (and I’m sure there are other good intro books out there, too). For a year, every morning at breakfast I would read a page or two and occasionally I would try to use what I was learning to do something for fun—strictly high-brow, original material like pasting a friend’s face on Pamela Anderson’s body.

You’d be surprised at how easy it is to do some impressive things, and often you don’t need to go to the expense of Photoshop if you don’t want to (more on that below). I had planned to use these skills for creating cover art for my book—which I did—but when the chance to illustrate my Kickstarter page met the preparation of my limited Photoshop skills, I had created some good luck for myself.


Get ‘Er Done

There are several options for making art for your Kickstarter.

Hire someone to do it for you:  $$$$ , Time x 1

The easiest way may grant the best results, but it will also cost the most. A professional graphic designer will be able to make some killer images for you, but be ready to shell out as much money as you did for your cover—and that might not be worth it, especially if this is your first campaign. You might be able to get a good deal if you find an art student or a talented amateur looking to prove him- or herself, so it pays to network and ask your friends (besides, asking around helps raise awareness of your project).


Learn Photoshop $ or $$$, Time x 4

If you happen to have a copy of Photoshop, even an old one, this is probably the best way to go. Alternately, You might keep it cheap by doing a subscription for just a month, although a month is probably not enough time to learn the skills you will want. (Also, you may become addicted to the fun and power of image manipulation!) You can learn it like I did, self-taught with a big manual, or you can probably find a class at a local community college that will help get you into the action most quickly. If you think you’ll be manipulating images often (for covers or other reasons), then this is probably what you want.


Learn GIMP $, Time x 4

There’s a free image manipulation program called GIMP (Graphic Image Manipulation Program) that can do almost everything you’re likely to need from Photoshop. It’s a bit more limited and clunky to use—but did I mention that it’s FREE? You will need to teach yourself, but there are ample online tutorials and videos. If you are just dipping your toe in the image-management game, this is definitely the place to start.

Even with all the technical skills, you may still find it difficult to equal an artist’s insight into colors and design. So, now we go back to the beginning of this post: check out successful campaigns and see what works for them.

If you want to start with a good one, check out the Adventures of the 19XX: Shining Skull.  It’s simple, easy to read, and showcases the items beautifully. Incidentally, if you missed the Kickstarter for the new 19XX book, you can still pre-order.

I wanted to take that idea and run, and I had some doodles of my own (nowhere near his quality) so at first I aped his example, right down to a similar color scheme:


But then my video guy, Andy Gill, suggested that I make the blueprints blue. It takes a genius to see the obvious. So, a few more tweaks gave me this:


Design professional I ain’t, but I don’t think you need to be one to come up with a decent Kickstarter layout that’s more than text. Yes, it took me hours to pin these images down the way I wanted them while a real pro could have done it in a few minutes, but I had fun along the way and honed my Photoshop skills in the process.

For the full effect, check out the preview of the Ghost Storm Kickstarter! This project won’t go live until May, but you, gentle reader, can see the preview and leave me some comments about the design.

Got some design tips? I’d love to hear about them in the comments here, or on Facebook or Twitter.

About Sechin Tower

Sechin Tower is a teacher, game developer, and author of MAD SCIENCE INSTITUTE, a novel of creatures, calamities, and college matriculation. He lives in Seattle, Washington.
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