The Economics of Lucy Smokeheart

They say that running a Kickstarter is a full-time job. That's a pretty big overstatement as far as I can tell, but running a Kickstarter does in fact take a big investment of time, and sometimes of money, as well. Since I'm all about transparency all up in here, I thought I'd lay out for you all the time and money I've plunked down just to get the Kickstarter for The Daring Adventures of Captain Lucy Smokeheart up -- and where the cash will go if and when it funds.

Anchors Aweigh

Before the Kickstarter even launched, I already had about $140 of skin in the game. That money went to the illustrator for her brilliant rendering of Lucy Smokeheart, registering, and that beard for my promo video series, 30 Days of Piracy.

That's not including the time sunk into it, which was pretty significant. Here's a rough estimate:

14 hours - breaking story and some experimental writing and sketching
10 hours - writing Kickstarter copy and asking for feedback
 6 hours - planning a promotion strategy, administrative tasks
 8 hours - planning, recording and editing video 

In total that's about 38 hours of thinking, planning, soliciting advice, writing. This isn't including all of the time I've spent in the shower, on airplanes, and staring out train and car windows, unable to get Lucy out of my head, nor the time I've spent enthusing about Lucy to hapless victims who asked me what I'm up to these days.

Lucky me I had that time available, huh?

All Hands on Deck

Now the Kickstarter is up, it would be easy to ignore it, but that's a bad way to fund and a bad way to go over goal. And I really, reallllly want to at least hit my $7500 stretch goal, so I can afford to commission cover illustrations from Heather for each episode (and maybe a few extras, too!)

That means a steady stream of promotion during the Kickstarter. I've already spent another $15 or so on props for future videos; I'm not 100% sure what else I have planned, but I'm hoping I won't be laying out much more than another $15, so let's call it $30 cash.

As for time: I'm spending probably six hours a week recording, editing, and uploading video and Tweeting links. (It may get faster as I get better at video editing; or it may be that I get progressively more ambitious and spend more time on video. Time will tell!)

I'm also identifying and emailing people who I think I can con into shilling Lucy for me, to the tune of another, say, four hours a week. People such as the legendary Ron Gilbert, creator of Monkey Island! Alas, in that particular case, I was unsuccessful. 



(But if you have a blog and I could persuade you to let me do a guest post on Lucy Smokeheart... I'd be extremely appreciative!) 

In all I'm spending probably another ten hours a week -- around two hours a weekday -- working various promotional angles. By the end of the month, I'll have spent another 40 hours running the Kickstarter.

That brings us up to a total of 78 hours of work and $170 of investment... even if I never fund. I figure that comes out to -$2.18 an hour.

Battery - Fire!

But let's be optimistic around here and say that I do fund. Huzzah!

In that case, the work is only beginning. I still have to write the episodes, design puzzles, set up the answer payoffs online, edit and proof it all, design covers, turn the episodes into ebooks and send them out, publish to the various e-bookstores, do the Google Hangouts. Assuming I can write 1,000 words an hour every hour I work on Lucy Smokeheart (hah! as if!) the hours break down like this for a 10,000-word episode:

10 hours - writing 
 4 hours - editing/requesting feedback
 6 hours - puzzle design and testing
 2 hours - cover design
 3 hours - ebook conversions and uploads
 4 hours - modifying the website for puzzle payoffs (creating assets, etc.)
 1 hour - notifying mailing lists/emailing episodes to backers
 2 hours - Google hangouts per episode (the hangout itself plus prep for it)

So I estimate each episode will take an additional 32 hours of work to turn around. Given that writing a slam-dunk thousand words per hour is exceedingly unlikely... this is extremely optimistic. Forty or even 50 hours per episode is more plausible. It's also possible that each episode will wind up shorter than that aimed-for 10,000 words, though, and things like the ebook conversion process may become much faster in later episodes, so let's call it a wash for now.

And then the requirements of fulfilling the Kickstarter: Every hardcover book being ordered will probably cost about $20 to print, plus another $5 or so to mail out again. I'll also have to make some more investments to make a hardcover book happen -- though hopefully not a $700 purchase of InDesign. I'm tentatively confident I can use a free trial or else persuade a friend to let me use their computer to make the book happen. (No, I will not pirate a cracked copy, because principles.)

The layout process will probably take a solid two work days -- call it sixteen hours -- if not more, simply because I'm out of practice with laying out print pages and it's going to take a lot of fiddling to get it right. Signing and mailing will probably take another day, so we're up to 24 hours just fulfilling that one reward level.

Let's do a little forecast here: Let's assume that I fund at exactly $5,000. Let's assume that includes 20 orders of the hardcover but none of the higher rewards, or about the ratio we're seeing already.

That $5,000 isn't actually $5,000, of course. I'll immediately lose 5% to Kickstarter, and another roughly 2.5% to Amazon Payments. I'll also owe the composer about $200 -- he graciously did the music for my videos as spec work for me.

I'll also be paying self-employment taxes on that money, so I'll have to send about 25% of it in to the Feds come June. But everyone pays income taxes, so let's not include all of that.

However, because I'm self-employed, I have to pay both the employee and employer's share of FICA (that's what you pay into social security programs). That means I wind up paying about 7.45% more in taxes than someone who's drawing down a salary.

So let's shave off 15% straightaway for taxes and fees. That $5,000 is now $4250.

Those 20 hardcover books at $25 a pop will cost $500. That brings us down to $3750.

Minus the cost of music, the illustration, and what I spent in the promotion phase: Now we're at $3380.

That $3380 is covering my wage for at least 32 hours of work for 13 episodes -- the 12 routine episodes plus the extra backers-only origin story. That's 416 hours. Plus the 24 hours fulfilling rewards. Plus the 78 hours of work just running the Kickstarter, independent of the project. 518 hours of work to make Lucy Smokeheart happen.

Optimistically. There are always fires to put out.

That works out to $6.52 an hour, which isn't even on par with the New York State minimum wage of $7.25/hour. If I were a full-time worker at the wage I expect to get from Lucy Smokeheart, I'd be bringing down a whopping $13,040 a year.

We've Been Hit

It's a good thing this is just a side project, huh?

Don't get me wrong, this isn't a complaint -- I just want to lay out the plain facts for someone else who might look at my funding target and conclude that it's a good way to turn a little cash around. Trust me, you'd do better dropping off your application at Starbucks. That way can even get you health benefits!

When all of this is done, I will still be left with a tangible product -- the Lucy episodes will be available for sale basically forever online. However, given my experience with Shiva's Mother... I don't really expect much in the way of sales of ebooks after the Kickstarter is over. Maybe enough to afford a nice dinner out at a national chain restaurant once a month. Maybe.

But my reasons for doing Lucy aren't all about money, anyway. Part of it is a cunning career move to establish a wider audience; I'm really hoping Lucy sounds awesome enough that I get funded by people who know nuts about transmedia and have never heard of me a day in their lives, and that these people love Lucy enough to stick around and see what I do next.

That's not it either, of course. This is also about doing something for the joy of it, something that's just between me and an audience. I don't have resources, but what I do have is creative freedom. That's not just something that money can't buy -- it's something money can actively take away from you.

Up sails, amigos. We're going on a long, long journey. I don't know about you, but I'm planning on making the most of it.

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