Kickstarter lab for writers: working with vendors

laboratory blog

When you order Kickstarter rewards for your backers—be they diploma covers, t-shirts, or even copies of the book itself— you just can’t help biting your nails in anxiety. Will it look as good as the computer-generated mock-up online? Will your backers hate you for a bad product? Will people demand refunds?

Sometimes there’s just no way to tell until you open the box and hold an item in your own (nail-less) hands, but there are some ways you can increase your chances of getting stuff that looks good.

As I asserted in a previous post, you’re better off sticking with improving the core product rather than adding bunches of random add-ons. Still, if you have a good idea for some nifty swag, it can feel too good to pass up—and if you can’t pass it up, there may be some backers out there who can’t pass it up, either.

This time around, I made sure not to have to work with too many vendors on too many things, especially because I’ve already bifurcated my Kickstarter project into both a new novel and an audiobook of the original novel. (I’ve never seen anyone do that before and it’s probably a bad idea, but that’s why this is an experiment).

In a previous post, I discuss what kind of add-ons you might consider. Once you have a few good ideas, however, you have some homework to do because you need to make sure everything is not only affordable but also up to your quality standard

In the past, I’ve been very lucky with hiring third parties to make some of the add-ons for Kickstarter rewards. Full disclosure: a big part of this was dumb luck. This time around I was smarter because I knew a lot more about what to do and who to ask.

Here’s a rundown of how to find reliable, quality third-party vendors:

  • Ask a friend. You might be surprised how many people around you have ordered goodies for their company picnics or t-shirts for their bowling leagues. Word of mouth is the most reliable endorsement for a vendor.
  • Ask a stranger. This doesn’t mean you have to be the crazy person on the subway who mutters incoherent diatribes about crowdfunding and economies of scale, but you shouldn’t be shy about your project, either. Put out an all-call for good vendors on Twitter or strike up a conversation with your barista in the morning or your readers at a book signing. Tell them how excited you are about your project, because you never know where those conversations will lead.
  • Ask people at a convention. If you get a chance to go to a convention such as Comicon, Gencon, or any other geeky gathering, don’t be shy about introducing yourself to the creators of books and games that you admire or seeking out panels where they appear. Many of them will be glad to tell you about their experience with promotional items and recommend some places you can go.
  • Ask the companies. Don’t be afraid to search out a few vendors and email or phone them. They’re there to help you, and any place you want to work with will certainly welcome your questions.
  • Ask for samples. While you’re on the phone with those companies, you might ask if you can get a sample of the product. They may or may not be able to provide free samples for small orders, but you might be surprised. A good friend of mine created fleece sweatshirts for our gaming group and even though he was ordering only a dozen or so, the company 4imprint sent a free sample sweatshirt with our logo embroidered in it. Their customer service was amazing, and most of their items are made in the USA. (Maybe that takes us back to #1: ask a friend, but 4imprint is so good they deserve the shout-out.)
  • Go with what you know. I’m having the t-shirts made at the same screenprinting shop that I once used to decorate lab coats. I know them, they’re very affordable, efficient, and friendly. Nothing beats firsthand experience for knowing who gets the job done!
  • Make it yourself. I’m also making some of the items by hand—well, by hand and with a 3D printer. And when I say “by hand,” I mean by the hands of a bunch of high school students. The hazard symbol lapel pins and earrings I’m offering this time around are designed and created by members of the Technology Student Association at my local high school, and for every one that sells I’m paying $3 that will help them go to their state technology competition. Point being: if you hand-make items, you have ultimate control over quality.

ks add ons jewelry

So that’s what I know. Got any other tips or vendor suggestions? Let us know here in these comments 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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