Two and a half years ago, I left a fantastic job to pursue a creative project. I took six months off to write a children’s book about bantering sandwich condiments. Before starting my current job, I launched a successful Kickstarter fundraising campaign, got the book printed through Blurb, shipped over 900 copies in time for the holidays, and learned a ton of lessons.

While the whole project seemed indulgent at the time and I often questioned my judgment, the experience proved to be incredibly valuable—and even though I'm working again, those lessons keep on coming. The thing I’ve learned most recently is that voting is a powerful way for kids to express themselves.

It started with a simple question.

I self-published my book, Peanut Butter or Jelly, with the goal of creating a story that kids AND parents enjoyed. One that doesn’t make you want to poke your eyes out each time your kid begs to read it.

My book asks an important existential question: Why do we call the lunchbox staple Peanut Butter & Jelly and not Jelly & Peanut Butter? I decided to turn the two condiments into googly-eyed characters and have them argue their case. But let’s face it, Peanut Butter was never going to give up top billing, and Jelly would never be satisfied with second place.

Peanut-Butter-or-Jelly-Kelson

Since it’s a story for the 21st century, I (Spoiler Alert!) let kids decide what to name the sandwich by voting online. At the time, asking kids to vote made sense for the story arc, but it’s had a bigger impact than I imagined.

The opportunity to vote for the answer struck a nerve with kids.

Over 1,500 kids across the country have already gone online to cast their vote in this heated debate over sandwich naming rights. I deliberately didn’t use pronouns in the story because I didn’t want any gender bias to creep into the results. But I’ve noticed an interesting voting pattern among my young fans. As the challenger, Jelly gets most of its votes from younger siblings and girls. Changing the system by putting Jelly first tends to resonate with kids who literally, or figuratively, tend to come second. Voting for Jelly gives them a sense of hope. A sense that they can be first for once.

Sentiments like these have played a big part in the last few grown-up elections, too, but according to the Census Bureau, a measly 41.2% of 18-24 year-olds voted in 2012. That’s down from 48.5% in 2008. As adults, we need to do something to reverse this trend. Voting young has many benefits including feeling a sense of belonging, forming a good lifelong habit, and increasing overall family voting participation.

The future of their favorite sandwich isn't the only thing on the line.

As of September 2016, Jelly is clearly winning the battle with 57% of the vote!

I’m not going to get into the current presidential election other than to suggest that adults can use it as an opportunity to talk to kids about voting. In an election year with so much apathyon both sides we need to send the message to kids that voting is not only our right, but our responsibility.

My kids are only 6 and 4, and they have so many questions about the upcoming presidential election. We’ve had truly riveting conversations about deep things like how we make choices, and fact versus opinion.

This summer at the California Primary.

This summer at the California Primary.

By getting kids engaged in both the conversation and the process, we can teach them to vote FOR things, not just against them. We can teach them to stand up for what they believe and that the world is bigger than what they experience every day. And most importantly, we can teach them that they have the power to make a difference.

I challenge you to introduce these concepts to kids in your life. Explain to them what’s going on with the electionwhatever your views. That it’s something important and that we all have a say.

If slogging through the 222-page Official Voter Information Guide with kids is daunting, listen to this 4-minute video of me reading Peanut Butter or Jelly instead. It will give you an opportunity to talk about two (sandwich) majority party candidates. You can ask who they would vote for and why. And then kids can actually cast their vote online.

Polls are open through lunchtime on November 8, 2016 (at which time they will reset for the 2020 election). If early votes are any indication, the sandwich we all know and love may no longer be a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, but rather a jelly and peanut butter sandwich.

By voting, they no longer just have an opinion about this great debate, they have skin in the game. And they’ll grow up knowing their vote counts.

Posted
AuthorDeborah Kelson

This interview was originally posted on Blurb.com.

 

Kickstarter Interview: Deborah Kelson

Meet Deborah Kelson, a marketing executive in Silicon Valley and mother of two adorable kids, who always had a dream—to make a children’s book about taking turns called Peanut Butter or Jelly.

In order to make this dream come true, she created a Kickstarter campaign and joined forces with Blurb to seamlessly make it all happen. She used our free desktop publishing software to perfect the layout and took advantage of our volume order and did an offset run to keep her costs down.

Because she’s awesome, she put together an amazing page of Kickstarter Best Practices that we think are must-read for anyone thinking of putting together a Kickstarter campaign—before you start your campaign.

We think she’s a great inspiration since she made her book and left her mark.

In her own words…

How did your project begin?
I wrote the original manuscript for Peanut Butter or Jelly about a decade ago while living in New York. I was taking a class on writing and illustrating children’s books through NYU and came up with the idea. After the class was over, the manuscript sat untouched for years. Fast forward five years and I have two kids, and we read together every night. After reading dozens of creative, smart, clever books—and dozens of uninspiring, repetitive, boring books—I thought I had something good on my hands. I decided to take a break from work to finish what I started.

What was the purpose of the project? What did you want to do with the book?
When I decided to publish Peanut Butter or Jelly, the goal was to make it exist. I decided to self-publish to make sure that it saw the light of day rather than the bottom of a slush pile. As author and illustrator, retaining creative control was also important to me. I didn’t want a publisher to love the story OR the photographs. I wanted to be responsible for the whole shebang.

What made you use Kickstarter?
I worked with the good folks at Blurb to set up a bulk printing for the book. The cost per unit was reasonable, but it was a significant cash outlay (about $12K). I used Kickstarter to drive pre-orders to fund the bulk printing and distribute financial risk.

What was it like to set up and run a Kickstarter campaign?
I had no idea the Kickstarter campaign was going to be the most rewarding part of the self-publishing process. After months of writing and rewriting the manuscript, taking hundreds of photographs, and perfecting the layout, I felt fulfilled. But then I launched the Kickstarter campaign and the experience was magical. Kickstarter provided the ideal platform to reach out to everyone I ever knew to ask for their pledge. I am still humbled by the generosity of friends and strangers. I wrote a blog post about Kickstarter best practices in the hope of inspiring other creators.

How was the reception?
It was like a dream. Peanut Butter or Jelly was selected as a Kickstarter Staff Pick within an hour. I was fully funded in 10 days. I beat my fundraising goal by 39%. And I reconnected with friends I hadn’t heard from in years.

How did you find Blurb?
Good old fashioned Google search.

What made you decide to go with Blurb?
The design software. I was ready to teach myself inDesign but didn’t have to because of BookWright. I also thought that pricing was competitive, especially given the quality of the books.

How long did it take you to complete your project?
It depends on when you define the start/end date! I would say I spent about four months from first rewrite to ready for production.

What was the hardest part?
Fulfillment. I had over 900 order to fill in about 48 hours. Due to port strikes, I had a very narrow window to fill orders prior to Christmas. I never worked so hard, but never felt so satisfied. I also wrote a blog post about fulfillment, so others don’t repeat my mistakes: http://www.peanutbutterorjelly.com/blog/2014/12/17/signed-sealed-and-almost-delivered

Was there anything that surprised you about the project?
The outpouring of support from people I barely knew.

What would you do differently next time?
Allow more time for fulfillment!

How did you promote the book?
During the Kickstarter campaign, I relied on email and social media. After Kickstarter was complete and I had the book on hand, I launched a dedicated website (www.peanutbutterorjelly.com), joined Amazon’s Advantage Program to sell the book online, and canvassed neighborhood bookstores in San Francisco. I’ve also done a series of readings at schools.

Was distributing the book to places like Amazon something that you wanted to do?
Amazon was gravy. I just wanted to see the book on my friends’ kids’ bookshelves.

Do you have another book project that you’re thinking of making?
I have three other drafts in the works. I just need to find the time to complete them. I would love to have the experience working with a publisher so I can weigh the pros/cons of traditional publishing versus self-publishing. I certainly wouldn’t mind relinquishing the envelope stuffing to someone else.

Posted
AuthorDeborah Kelson

You know you've made it big when people send you gifts of hosiery.

This gift knocked my socks off

This gift knocked my socks off

I cannot begin to express how touched I was to receive this surprise delivery in the mail. Way, WAY better than bills and junk mail.

Posted
AuthorDeborah Kelson

I am thrilled to report that all Kickstarter orders were delivered BEFORE Christmas. All of the hard work and sleepless nights paid off! A merry Christmas, indeed.

Happy under the tree
Posted
AuthorDeborah Kelson

The last 48 hours have been nuts. When I launched the Kickstarter campaign for my book, I really, really wanted to get Peanut Butter or Jelly to backers before the holidays. I know a book isn't as cool as a toy, but people gave me their hard-earned cash and the least I could do was get them the books they ordered.

Creating the book was fantastic, the Kickstarter campaign was a blast, but fulfillment was brutal.

I thought that fulfillment wouldn't be that big a deal, but it ended up being quite a production. Here are the things I learned through trial and error:

  • Your tax dollars at work: You can order free supplies from USPS including priority rate boxes and envelopes. I figured this out after buying boatloads of packaging from Staples which I will now return.
  • Your local post office is not built for scale: When you're sending 300+ packages you can't walk into the post office with 300+ packages that don't have pre-printed labels and postage. You actually shouldn't walk into the post office with 300 of anything. Luckily, I found out that I needed to pre-print all of the labels and postage before I arrived with a carload of packages, but not before I handwrote 300+ address labels. Wah, wah.
  • Postage is expensive: Stamps.com is pretty awesome, but printing labels for several package permutations is a rather mind-numbing experience. Apparently you need to pay attention when you're printing postage labels because you're essential printing money. And it sucks when you load your labels backwards and print $11.30 of postage on top of another label you already printed for $5.70. Thank goodness for the request refund button!
  • My husband is awesome: He spent time with the kids all weekend while I organized packaging supplies and ran up the credit card bill printing postage AND THEN he stayed up with me until the wee hours of the morning (two nights in a row!) stuffing boxes and taking inventory. But I already knew that he was awesome. No trial and error there.

Fulfillment status Monday morning:

BookPallets

Fulfillment status Wednesday morning:

USPS

I'm trying my best to just relax and enjoy the moment, but here I am blogging and setting up a Facebook page for Peanut Butter or Jelly when I should be sleeping (or setting up sales on Amazon.com). 

And with that, I'll say good night.

Posted
AuthorDeborah Kelson
2 CommentsPost a comment

Several people have asked for tips and best practices for running a successful Kickstarter campaign. I had a fantastic experience and hope that these tips and tricks will inspire you to create your own project.

Background:

Five Tips and Best Practices for Kickstarter

  1. Get organized first: It's tempting to hit launch and then get everything in order, but I strongly recommend that you organize everything related to your campaign before you make your campaign public. See tips below for exactly what you'll need to pull together.
  2. Create a video, but keep it under a minute: People are short on time and have even shorter attention spans. Get to the point as quickly as possible.
  3. Keep your rewards simple and relevant: My campaign was for a book, so all of my rewards were books (1, 2, 3, 5, 10 and 20). I didn't include stickers or other crap that most people don't want.
  4. Line up first day (ideally first hour) backers: Ask 20 people to make pledges within the first hour of your campaign. Make sure you give these wonderful, generous, kind people a few days notice with instructions about how and when to make their pledges. For example, send them a preview link to the campaign via email and tell them you plan to launch on Tuesday at 6pm. That way, when you actually launch on Tuesday at 6pm, they are familiar with the campaign and ready to pledge. The early backers create momentum for your campaign and demonstrate interest before sharing it with the rest of the world.
  5. Be persistent but not spammy: I emailed my contacts 3x during the campaign: launch announcement, reminder, and last chance. I included updates on campaign progress in each email with a link to the campaign and request for them to share. I posted to Facebook 4x since it's not as invasive as email. I asked Backers to post to FB as well.

Things To Organize Before Launch:

  • Kickstarter page content
    • Copy: Be concise and use image headers or pictures to break up text.
    • Rewards: Include a range price points and offer things people actually want to buy. Keep descriptions short and accurate.
    • Video: iMovie has templates that make you look like a pro.
    • Imagery: Try to tell your story through pictures instead of just words.
  • Contact list
    • Sources: Export your contacts from your email client to get your list started. Only include people you actually know. If there are individuals/businesses/press you plan on contacting, organize that info as well.
    • Spreadsheet: Include email addresses/names for everyone you want to contact and column headers to track info including contact frequency, pledge status, pledge amounts.
    • Tracking: Update your spreadsheet regularly. The last thing you want to do is ask someone to pledge if they already backed you.
  • Non-Kickstarter content
    • Email: Compose the email you plan to send and include a link to your campaign (duh). Decide whether you are contacting people individually or as a group. Consider bcc if the folks on the email don't know each other.
    • Facebook: You can share on FB via Kickstarter. I recommend writing what you want to say beforehand.
    • Twitter: Get your 140 characters ready.
    • Social media (in general): Decide whether you are contacting people as yourself or you want to create a separate account for your project. I launched a Facebook page for Peanut Butter or Jelly after the book launched.

That's about it. I loved everything about the Kickstarter experience and hope that you do, too.

Good luck!

Posted
AuthorDeborah Kelson
2 CommentsPost a comment

Hello, sandwich fans!

Now that the Kickstarter campaign is over, I will be using PeanutButterorJelly.com to post updates about the book as well as accept preorder inquiries.

I expect to receive physical copies of the book in December and provided they arrive on schedule, I will send them to Kickstarter Backers before Christmas.

PeanutButterorJelly.com will relaunch in December to support a plot twist in the book. Curious? You should be.

Is it December yet?

Deb

Posted
AuthorDeborah Kelson