Studio Musings

Monday, March 23, 2015

Seattle Spring

My garden will never win an award, but I love the blooms!
Seattle gets a bad rap for its weather.  I can't tell you how often I hear "I couldn't live there; it rains all the time."  Well, I've have to say, I much prefer Seattle's rain to the snow much of the rest of country has had this winter.  

While we're further north than Boston, it's so much warmer here.  Spring arrived back in late January with the first of the crocus, and hasn't gone away since. 

Right now, the daffodils are beginning to segue into tulips and my forsythia is finally starting to fade after several weeks of cheery yellow blooms.  The cherry and apple trees lining the streets are beginning to blossom, and grape hycanth are popping up everywhere. 

Yes, it rains in Seattle.  That's why it stays so green here.  It's what gives us our lovely, extended spring.

Walking up to my front door

It's often cloudy - but a bright white sky with high clouds can be quite beautiful, and a lot less glare than when the sun peeks out during the winter.  Anyone living in northern climes knows what I mean. 

Apple buds almost ready to blossom. 

It might rain a lot in Seattle (I can hear the light patter of raindrops falling on my roof as I type this post), but I sure do love the spring show that comes along with the rain! 

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Lessons Learned: The Kickstarter Video

For me, the video was far and away the most challenging part of putting together my Kickstarter campaign.  While I enjoy speaking in a workshop setting, put me in front of a camera and I get the willies, badly.  In this post, I'll share the a few things I learned to make the process easier. 

Planning the Video
Plan what you want to say ahead of time.  Unless you're one of those rare people who are great at extemporaneous speaking, spend some time plotting out what you want and need to share in your video. 
  • Key points - what is your project and why is it cool?
  • Who are you, and why are you the right person for this project?
  • Why are you asking for help?
  • What is your time line?
  • Call to action.  What do you hope people will do once they've watched your video? Remember to share what they can do to help support your project. Be specific.  If you're like me, asking for financial support may be hard.  Remember people really do want to help!  It's fun to help other people achieve their creative goals.  Several friends kept reminding me of that fact. And as a supporter of other Kickstarter campaigns, I have to agree.
Video Length
  • Shorter videos have higher completion rates.
  • Keep your video under 2 minutes.  People tune out on longer videos unless they are truly amazing.  Mine was simply sufficient.  At 1:51, my video had 1,773 views with a 40.44% completion rate.  Doing a Google Search for 'kickstarter video plays completed', it looks like that was a reasonable percentage. 
  • Time yourself.  Once you have your script, read it out loud and time yourself.  How long did it take to read through everything?  
  • If the time was more than two minutes, see if there's anything you can cut or edit.
  • Technology assessment - what equipment will you need?  I shot my video with an older model digital camcorder with an internal mike, set on a tripod.  My husband acted as the camera man.  While the image quality of the video wasn't the best, the biggest problem with this set up was the sound.  
  • An external, clip-on mic could have improved things considerably!  It doesn't have to be expensive.  Runnng an Amazon search for 'external microphone for camera', I found an Olympus Noise Canceling Microphone for under $15 with great reviews.  I've not tried it myself, but I truly wish I had purchased an external mic before filming my video!
  • Location, date and time.  Where will you shoot the video? What time of day? 
  • Will you need supplemental lighting?
  • Check for any external conflicts!  I planned to film my video at my studio, located in an old warehouse building across the street from the Seahawk's stadium.  When my husband and I arrived at the studio bright and early one Saturday morning in January of 2014, we discovered a street party in process.  Since we aren't sports fans, we'd managed to miss the fact that it was the day of the first Superbowl playoffs.  The Seahawks band playing their hearts out just below my window was a lot of fun, but pretty much insured that we wouldn't be filming that day.  We did make use of the time to decide where to film, set up the equipment, and do a quick run through.  We then returned the next day to do the shoot.  Luckily we had the flexibility for that extra day! 
Additional Resources - here are several links to other sites with suggestions for creating a stellar video:
Shooting the Video
  • Consider shooting your video in sections.  Even at under two minutes, I found it very difficult to keep to the script when I tried to run through everything at once.  I kept ad-libbing and 'running into the weeds' until I broke my script into five parts, each shot separately.
  • Mark where you plan to stand/sit.  Breaking the video into several shoots, I ended up marking the floor with a blue X of painters' tape so I started and ended each section in the same spot.  
  • Shoot multiple takes of each section while you have the chance.  You can always trash the extra video later, but it's worth having the extras in case of glitches that you didn't catch in your camera's playback.
  • Shoot any alternative shots that you can think of while you have the camera and crew.  We shot all of the scenes with me speaking while standing in my studio.  But I also had my husband take some video of me stitching a project and working on various aspects of the book design on my computer.  While I had no original plans for them, this footage was very useful in post production. 

Once you've shot all the scenes, you still need to put it together into a finished video.  What video editing software will you use?  I used iMovie, which came with my laptop, so I'll focus on that. I'd never used iMovie before and had a lot of trouble understanding the interface at first.  Once again, it was Google Search to the rescue. 
  • Apple's iMovie Tutorial page was a good place to start, but I found some of the 3rd party videos more immediately helpful.
  • IzzyVideo has an extremely thorough video tutorial that walks you through every step.  I found his Tour of the Interface and Editing tutorials particularly helpful.
Things you can do with iMovie (and presumably other video editors as well) include:
  • Separate the audio track from the video
  • Carefully edit out a couple of glitches in your audio/video.  This is a great way to get rid of 'ums'!
  • Used the software to adjust the audio track to minimize the tinniness from the camera's microphone.  (An external microphone might have prevented this necessity).
  • Combine still shots along with your videos.  You can specify how long you want each still shot to remain on the screen, as well as specify the scene cuts/fades.
  • Video editing isn't fast!  I found it rather like putting together the pieces of a 5,000 piece puzzle without quite knowing what the finished picture is supposed to look like.  Make sure to allow your self time to both come up to speed with the software (assuming you're like me and aren't already familiar with it), and to put together your video puzzle.

Quite a bit of time can go into the creation of your 1-3 minute video, so you might wonder if it's really worth it.  I know I did.   What I can tell you is from a statistical standpoint, projects with videos have a much greater chance of succeeding than those without. 

Perhaps even more importantly, the video gives you a chance to connect more directly with your audience than is possible with either text or still photography.  It's a powerful way of saying 'See, I'm real, my project's real, it's going to be fantastic, and I'd love for you to be a part of making it so'. 

In my next Lessons Learned post, I hope to focus on running a Kickstarter campaign.  I'll talk about my experiences managing updates, social media, stretch goals and anything else that I can think of between now and then.  Have something in specific you'd like me to include?  Let me know!  I love your feedback. 

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Thinking about Peyote Stitch

I've recently received a couple of emails from people who are having trouble with the concept of freeform peyote stitch.  Since I've spent a fair bit of time trying to answer those emails, I thought I'd turn them into a blog post. 

To understand freeform beadweaving, you first need to have a strong understanding of the regular version of the stitch.

The beads in Peyote Stitch line up like bricks in a wall, especially if you turn that wall on its side.

  • Peyote Stitch reminds me of bricks in a wall; each row is offset a half-step from its immediate neighbors.  (Above Left)
  • Turn the brick wall on its side, and the similarity is even more pronounced. (Above Right)
  • With the wall on its side, the gaps at the top show you where you need to place the bricks (or beads) to build the next row of peyote stitch.  

the next row of peyote stitch fills in the gaps left by the previous row.

This assumes you are working with materials (bricks or beads) of roughly the same size.  

What happens if your bricks or beads come in a bunch of different sizes?  This is where Freeform Peyote comes in!

Don't throw out the whole concept of peyote stitch.  You will still be working with rows offset by a half step from neighboring rows to either side.

  • Like the photos of the stone and brick wall above, you will still have very recognizable sections of peyote stitch. 
  • The key is marrying the sections.
  • It can help to organize your beads by size - I find freeform peyote is easier when I group like with like.  
  • Build discrete sections with the different sizes of beads, don't just mix them willy-nilly.
  • Freeform is not random.  It is a more organic melding of different sizes and shapes. 

detail, Winter Blues freeform peyote bracelet by Karen Williams

This example of freeform peyote doesn't have the extreme size variances of the stone and brick wall, but you can see how I've grouped sections of similarly sized beads together.  My larger accent and focal beads are surrounded and supported by peyote stitch.

Last tips
  • Don't try (or expect) to do everything at once!
  • Just like building a wall, you will work one row at a time.
  • With each row, you have the opportunity to make decisions regarding bead sizes, shapes (and colors).

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Lessons Learned: Setting up a Kickstarter Campaign

Today I'm launching the start of a new series of blog posts sharing my experiences in self-publishing.  I thought I'd start with what I learned setting up a Kickstarter campaign.  For those of you who aren't already familiar with Kickstarter - it's a crowdfunding site for creative projects.  Crowdfunding is the process of connecting individuals and small companies with Ideas with others who would be willing to provide funding to help make that idea happen.  It's rather like a NPR plede-a-thon, except you're helping support a specific creative project.  Kickstarter doesn't guarantee that you will ever actually receive anything from the project creator, but most project creators are strongly motivated to deliver. 

As an aside, there are other crowdfunding sites, such as Indiegogo, but I'm focusing on Kickstarter since it's the one I use.

I do not claim to be an expert, but here's what I've learned:

Why I decided to run a Kickstarter
In my case, I hoped to raise seed money towards the production of my latest book.  Raising funds is the main reason people run a Kickstarter.   But I believe that something even more important happens along the way.  You develop a community excited about your project. 

From my previous publishing experiences I knew that I would hit a wall mid-way through the year-long project.  Talking with other creative professionals, I've found this is a common theme.  As artists, our work is solitary.  With projects that last months into years, there's lots of room for doubts, alternate paths and other diversions to sneak in and wreak havoc.  Having a community to which I was accountable made forward movement a necessity.  They also gave me a sense of purpose and support; I was writing the book for them. This made it much easier to stay focused. 

Getting up to Speed
  • Give yourself at least a month to put together all of the details!  Designing a successful Kickstarter (KS) campaign, you are effectively putting together a business plan and a sales presentation.  Don't expect it to happen over night!  It's worth taking some time and doing it right.
  • Read through their Creator's Guide and browse the FAQs - they are fantastic resources. 
  • Learn from other campaigns.  I started by simply looking through other campaigns that seemed interesting.  I read the text, watched videos, read through project updates.  I took notes on what drew me to each project, things I liked and didn't, what information they included and how it was presented, how they set up their funding tiers. How did they handle updates?  What made their updates interesting? 
  • Develop your own 'favorites' list of campaigns and watch them through the cycle.  What did you think they did really well?  Did they reach their funding goal? Many successful campaigns don't reach their goals until the last 24 hours, mine included.
  • Consider joining a group like the Kickstarter Best Practices on Facebook.  It's a great place to ask questions and get feedback as you develop your campaign (but remember to do your homework first!) 
  • If you know someone who has run a successful Kickstarter, ask them to lunch and pick their brains about any questions you still have after you've done your research.  I spent about an hour doing just that with game designer James Ernest; asking him questions about updates, stretch rewards and creating an engaging video (his videos are far better than mine!)   An independent filmmaker I spoke with warned that the Kickstarter would become my job for the duration of the project.  While that was a bit of an overstatement, running the campaign was quite time intensive - writing and responding to emails, developing updates, tweaking the campaign, working with social media.  I spent several hours a day on the project.
  • If you're an introvert, be prepared to put on your extrovert persona for the campaign's duration.  You will be the chief spokesperson for your campaign, and a cheerleader for any community members or friends who decide to take up the cause.  
  • Get the word out early.  (I could have done better with this!)  Start getting the word out while you're still putting it all together.  Not too much at first (you don't want to fatigue people before you've even launched), but a word here and there can go a long ways, especially in the early days of your campaign. 

Setting up your Kickstarter Account
  • Verify your identity and set up a Payments account at least two weeks before you plan to launch.  If your campaign succeeds, money will change hands; they need to verify that you are who you say you are.  This must be completed before you can submit your KS for review!  The verification process can take up to a week to complete. This was the cause of several very tense days as I didn't allow quite enough time before my intended launch date. 
  • Build your KS page at least a week before you plan to launch!  Every campaign has to go through a review process where an actual person from KS looks at it to make sure it meets their internal guidelines.  This can take up to a week, depending upon how many new campaign requests they've received.   You can still edit the campaign after their review is complete, but all of the basics must be there before the review.  

Designing your Kickstarter Package
People may link directly to your campaign page, or they may first see your project thumbnail, and you need to design for both.  Here are the pieces you'll need to put together:
  • One Sentence Summary - this is your elevator pitch. Try to focus it towards your target audience, but make it accessible to others as well.  Don't try to tell it all, just snag their interest. 
  • Video - keep it short - under 2 minutes! Keep it focused.  The video is as much about you, the presenter, as it is about the project, so a little personal is good. 
  • Detailed Description:  what are you trying to create and why should others care?  My goal was to outline my plans for the book and to show how it expanded upon my previous publications.  This was a much more ambitious project on several fronts, with a relatively tight deadline for the amount of anticipated effort. I really wanted that to come across in my description.
  • Pictures:  While the video is great, it's also good to have some regular photos relating to your project.  This can be tricky when you haven't started yet, so it can pay to be a little creative.  For my part, I put together a sample book cover, and used images from patterns I'd previously published to give a feel for what the new book might look like.
  • Reward tiers - what will people receive?  This by far the hardest part for me.  I wanted my supporters received something really awesome for their investment.  But at the same time, I had to make sure that I had funds to support the production process, not just rewards fulfillment.  But more on that later.  I did have a lot of fun coming up with names for my various tiers.  It was something I'd noticed from some other campaigns and enjoyed.
Project Budget
Make sure your budget is realistic, and your reward tiers leave room to cover expenses besides simply filling the rewards. 
  • Production expenses - believe it or not, one of my biggest expenses was printer ink.  It is almost impossible for me to truly evaluate the effectiveness of a page's layout without seeing it in print.  This meant I did a LOT of printing over the course of writing the book and designing the page layouts.  It's almost embarrassing how much I spent on ink!  I also spent several hundred dollars purchasing ISBNs (I'll write more about that in a later post). 
  • Labor (and Opportunity) Costs - while working on this book, I knew I wouldn't have time to develop new tutorials and classes, which meant that my Etsy sales and income from teaching would decline.  I added a small amount in the budget towards general labor costs for this reason. The project might labor of love, but forgoing income for the duration makes it hard to continue.
  • Rewards Fulfillment Costs - How much will it cost to fulfill your rewards?  Remember to include shipping costs, including the costs for packaging.  This can add up fast!  Many of my rewards were in the form of digital files, which helped with costs. But this was still a significant proportion of my budget.
  • Kickstarter's Percentage - Kickstarter doesn't run their site for free.  Expect about 6% of the amount you raise to go to Kickstarter and the Payments Account you set up.
  • By the Numbers:   22,252 creative projects were successfully funded last year through Kickstarter.  Publishing was the third most populous category, behind film & video, and music.  According to Kickstarter' statistics page, the overall success rate is 39.05%; more projects fail than succeed.  Over 70% of the successfully funded projects asked for less than $10,000.
  • Keep it Realistic - Kickstarter is an all-or-nothing proposition.  If you reach your funding goal in the time selected, then you receive the money to continue.  If you do not reach your goal, then no money changes hands.  For these reasons, I set my goal to cover a portion of my  project budget - enough to cover rewards fulfillment, production expenses and a wee bit towards labor.  I could have asked for a larger portion of my project budget, but wanted to keep it as reasonable as possible from an outside perspective.  
 Setting up Your Reward Tiers
  • Rewards - Brainstorm all the different rewards you could offer related to your project.  Look through other projects for ideas.   Ask friends for their suggestions.  Write them all down.  How much would each cost you to deliver?  
  • Not all rewards are monetary.  I thanked my supporters in the Acknowledgements section of the book, and on my blog, inscribed all of the copies of the print edition, wrapped each book in hand-dyed tissue paper to make each package more festive, and tried to find other ways to say 'thank you' as well.
  • Price Tiers - Kickstarter suggests that the $20-30 range is their most popular pledge level, but remember to take your costs into consideration.  I really wrestled with this.  Crunching the numbers, the finished book plus shipping would cost me more than $20 each.  Offering digital tier levels separate from the print edition was my solution. 
  • Delivery Dates - what's the timeline for your project's completion?  Something I did not consider when I set up my estimated delivery dates was the time it would take to put each of the packages together.  I found it took me at least 20 minutes to put together each package - inscribe and wrap each book, assemble and tape the package, type in the shipping information, print, trim and affix the shipping label. That's after I'd purchased and gathered all my supplies, and put together my postcard bundles.  With over 50 packages to ship, it added up.  Developing the Kindle version of my book also took much longer than anticipated. 
Once you've put your package together, it's time to launch.  I'll talk about what I learned running a Kickstarter in my next Lessons Learned post.

In the meantime, I'd love to hear what you think.  Was this post useful?