Interview

Episode 149 – Killing it on Kickstarter with Russell Nohelty

In this episode Mark interviews Russell Nohelty about writing scripts, comics, novels, editing, publishing, and his work optimizing Kickstarter campaigns to raise revenue and connect with fans.

Prior to the interview, Mark shares a word about this episode’s sponsor, Findaway Voices.

You can learn more about how you can get your work distributed to retailers and library systems around the world at starkreflections.ca/Findaway.

Mark then shares comments from recent episodes and a personal update.

In their conversation, Mark and Russell talk about:

  • How Russell got into writing because he was never told he couldn’t pursue the things he was interested in doing
  • Russell’s high school work in theatre, writing and working on plays; taking broadcast journalism in college, and his experiences writing and shooting his own short films
  • How getting into a car accident and being unable to do the full film production tasks (except for writing), that funneled Russell into focusing on writing – one of the only things he could do while recovering
  • Being re-introduced to comics after a long hiatus of not reading them
  • How writing and creating comics led to novels and Russell’s production company
  • The difference between writing a movie script and a comic script
  • The difference between writing comics and writing novels
  • How comic writers and comic artists connect and collaborate
  • The significant cost involved in indie comic publishing (especially when compared to indie novel publishing)
  • The long term sales Russell has seen selling indie comics – ie, with strong and ongoing backlist sales
  • How Russell’s production company started because he wasn’t impressed with some of the other companies he’d been working with
  • The origin of the name Wannabe Press
  • Two of the main “norms” in indie comic publishing: Doing Comic-Cons and doing Kickstaters
  • How it’s a lot easier to make the couple of thousand dollars needed to ensure a novel pays off on Kickstarter (with the average spend being between $25 and $30 for about 100 people) – which leads to $3000. As opposed to having to sell 1000 copies of a low priced eBook to earn the same amount.
  • One of the great things about Kickstarter is the access you have, after a campaign funds, to the community that supported you
  • How, in a little over 6 months, Russell has raised over $50,000 from three different Kickstarter campaigns with no advertising spend
  • Messaging daily about his Kickstarter campaigns, and how Russell has never received complaints from people who are actually supporting him and buying his books – he only receives complaints from those who AREN’T buying.
  • The importance of building and leveraging a community before you launch a Kickstarter campaign
  • The fact that many thousands of people buy Russell’s books, but a much smaller number of people actually help him create those books in the first place
  • How, on Kickstarter, people aren’t just buying your book, they are investing in you as a creator and artist they believe in
  • The most common and blatant errors that people make on Kickstarter
  • The importance of starting with the WHY in your Kickstarter campaigns
  • Why you should always have something that people can download immediately
  • The value of always having something that people can offer just a single dollar
  • And more . . .

After the interview, Mark reflects on Russell’s comment that earning $500 on a Kickstarter might look like a failure, but it’s actually a huge success, especially when compared to the typical results of the average book selling on the major retail platforms.

Links of Interest:

Russell Nohelty is a USA Today Bestselling author and publisher at Wannabe Press. He’s written comic books like Katrina Hates the Dead, Ichabod Jones: Monster Hunter, and Pixie Dust, along with more than a dozen novels, including his Godsverse Chronicles. He also edits the Cthulhu is Hard to Spell anthology series. He has raised over $180,000 on Kickstarter across 12 projects, and has a very entertaining newsletter, which you can join at http://www.russellnohelty.com/mail and get a few of his books for free. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife and dogs.


The introductory, end, and bumper music for this podcast (“Laser Groove”) was composed and produced by Kevin MacLeod of www.incompetech.com and is Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0


Below is an automated transcription of the interview segment of this episode.

(The transcription has not been human-verified)

Mark Leslie Lefebvre: Russell. Thanks so much for joining me today.

Russell Nohelty: Thanks for having me.  

Mark Leslie Lefebvre:   So I want to go back to your origin story. Uh, your comic book, origin story, as a, as a writer, where did, where did the creativity, where did the writing all come from?

Russell Nohelty: You know, people have asked me this, I do a lot of podcast interviews and I just, I was never told that I shouldn’t pursue the thing that I wanted to do as a kid.

Like I wanted to be an actor or director or writer or like something I wanted to do something creative and just, nobody told me no. And I always made like just enough money to keep pursuing it. And every time I didn’t. But when I would ask my wife for my mother, someone like, should I just give up? They would always tell me no, don’t do that.

It wasn’t until recently that I really looked back at. Like how many people wanting to be, right. Writers are wanting to be directors that I knew in high school and in college and saw that they were all lawyers or doctors or worked in tech or, or, or something else. And that includes like me and my musician, friends and all the, basically all the people who wanted to be creative people, as some of them were able to retain at least a part of it.

Maybe they’re doing it as a part time job, but so few of them were able to like, Retain that spark, I guess, in their, in their career. And I was just never told no. And I was able to, I guess, just keep doing it over time. Yeah, so it was always that.

Mark Leslie Lefebvre: Did you just migrate from doing it as, as a, as a kid, you were fun.

Russell Nohelty: It was fun. You, you, you wrote stories or scribbled things on the paper and then, and then through high school, Russell Nohelty: whatever, you just kept developing

Mark Leslie Lefebvre: You, you, you wrote stories or scribbled things on the paper and then, and then through high school, whatever, you just kept developing it or did it, did you launch that later in life?

Russell Nohelty: Yeah. So I started wanting to be an actor in high school. I helped write a play and I helped, I guess I wrote some stuff for the local newspaper.

And I guess a little bit of my poetry was published all of this stuff. I forgot until a couple of years ago. Uh, and then I went to school to be a, I wanted to do film, but, uh, the college that I went to didn’t have a film program. So I went into broadcast journalism. And so then I spent four years doing, uh, doing, uh, Photography and, and, and, and, uh, and shooting and writing pieces for our local, a local paper and radio station.

I worked at a place called at a sort of production company in our school that like did videos and did like training things and all sorts of stuff. And so I worked there while I was in school. I worked on Capitol Hill right after school. And about six months after that, I. Just, I bought my own gear and I did, I started writing, I started shooting my own music, my own short films and, and shooting stuff for other people.

And eventually I just said, God, these are all big things that I’m shooting are so bad. I could probably make these myself, uh, like I’m not saying I could be good, but I’m saying I can at least do this level of stuff and then learn for the next thing. And I’d always been. I’m impressed by Kevin Smith and Quinn Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez, people just went out and like, did it.

And especially Kevin Smith. Cause like his movie is so. Average, I got as far as, except for the writing, like the directing, the cinematography, and still like, it was able to connect to people. And it was just some guy from red bank who made a movie and it caught on. And so, um, most of my experience wasn’t right.

It wasn’t directing and. Cinematography and editing, but I sort of got the writing bug and started writing stuff. And 2006, I, I wrote a movie that I directed in 2007, which ended up being a web series called connections. I got that. I got in a car accident and started like, the only thing I could do was write.

And I realized that like, writing was the thing that you can do when you don’t need anyone else. You don’t need a big crew. You don’t need, you don’t need a, you don’t need money. You just blank page and, and, and, and your laptop. And you can basically do anything that comes out of your head. And then that writing, literally moving to Los Angeles, that Los Angeles led us to, uh, to me getting a management team and my management team that interests comics and, uh, I’ve written, I’ve read comics and when I’m the nineties, but I kind of got bored with them.

They all kind of felt the same. They all had just like big, huge muscles. And I don’t know if you read comics in the nineties, but there was a very specific kind of. Art style that was popular then that I was not a huge fan of. Um, and so I kind of, for the next 15 years of my life, didn’t do anything with comics high school.

So 1997 to 2010, and I sort of was, was reintroduced to them with this big stack of independent comics that my manager had. And I was like, wait, I could make this. Do this. And, uh, and, and I was off to the races and I did a bunch of comics and comics like the novels, and that led to my production company about my publishing company and the publishing company sort of led to me being able to do it full time.

And so each step of the way I kind of. I kind of don’t remember where the love of the, of, of, of writing started. But I do remember after that car accident, 2008, I couldn’t shoot, I couldn’t direct. All I could do was write.

Mark Leslie Lefebvre: Because physically you were injured and you could sit in front of a keyboard, but you couldn’t carry equipment and do all the other things.

Russell Nohelty: Because I was in a neck brace for six months.

So all I could do was basically sit on my couch and, and wite.

Mark Leslie Lefebvre: Wow. So, I mean, because you started off with film and film, scripts and shooting and stuff like that, and then discovered rediscovered your love for comics, but the writing comics, how different is the film script compared to like a comic strip script?

Because again, with comics, you’re also collaborating with an artist and probably other people, right? Like there’s the, the artist and the, the inker or the pencils, the ink, the cartoon bubbles.

Russell Nohelty: Each project is different. I tend to work with artists who pencil ink color and letter their own work before.

Uh, so it’s kind of the same. And the big difference is that you can still read a movie script for enjoyment. You know, and understand what’s going on. A comic script is purely a blueprint. Uh, it’s bar, like it’s very hard to read. Uh, it’s hard to get into the flow of whether it’s working or not. It really relies on the imagery.

And instead of trying to write a movie or TV script where you’re still trying to engage and make it a fun story, really. Every panel is broken down in a comic book script. So, and it’s really just between you and if you have an editor and editor or you, and really the artists, and that’s all you’re trying to convey in that.

And once the artist has it down, most of the work. And the script is done until you get to the lettering stage because the aches go on top of the pencils, the colors go on top of the tanks and then the letters come back in at the end. So you, while the script is the blueprint in both, uh, the bigger difference is really between when I started writing comics and when I started writing novels.

Uh, but yeah, it was very, it was those, the second thing that was really nice about doing film scripts is that I understood. Like the hiring process of how you needed to hire the right crew, you needed to hire someone who understood the vision needed to take your time. There’s a saying, when you’re directing movies, that once you’ve cast your job is 80% done as a director.

Mark Leslie Lefebvre: Okay, so, about this process. So it almost feels like the way as a writer, a good editor, it’s like marriage, right?

Where, where you compliment one another and, and it works really, really well. Sometimes the fit’s not so good. So when you’ve got a comic script, is it a case where when you’re, when you’re auditioning or looking to figure out who. Who the optimum artist is, is it like one page where you’ve got six or eight of whatever panels, and then you kind of, you can tell if there’s a flow between the writer and artist?

Russell Nohelty: Generally, what I recommend to people to do is look at the artist’s work, like their existing body of work, make sure that they have finished something and make sure that it is in a style that you want to work in. Don’t hire an artist and then expect them to get a whole new style and definitely don’t work with them and then expect them to change style and have it be professional level because.

Like they’re worked in most artists work in a very specific style and have a voice just like writers do. So I then say you should probably get a test page of your work, like of, of, of their, uh, of what they can do. Um, often I say you should do an anthology project piece together or something. That’s a few pages, but at least, uh, can do five pages or six pages of art and make sure that the, that, that the, the.

It’s a good fit that they can actually do your work, that you’re not committing to doing 80 pages or a hundred pages or 500 pages of work until you are. Uh, you are, you are convinced that they can deliver in the timeframe that you want and that they actually liked the material. You know, the big thing with indie comics is you can’t pay very much.

IndyCar mixes, uh, is, is, is, is, is not, uh, a very. Profitable genre to be in for 99.9% of people, right? It is a huge investment of money and time. And if before I released anything, I had spent $18,000 on two books, just two books. Wow. Uh, other one cost me $13,000. One cost me $8,000 somewhere around there.

Maybe it was a little bit less for the Katrina hates the dead, but yeah, I didn’t release anything. And we had, we were almost $20,000 in the hole. Now. I really, I wrote. Dozens of novels. And I don’t think I’ve spent $20,000 producing novels yet. And the entire time that I’ve been doing novels, maybe close to, to that, to do far less work, to do far too far, fewer projects, a lot of work, but fewer projects.

So you want to really make sure that fit works and that the artist is responding. To your work in a way you want them to, because otherwise there’s a good chance that they will abandon the project when better work comes along.

Mark Leslie Lefebvre: The money invested into a comic. When you’re an indie comic publisher is that’s paying for the artists that’s paying for.

That’s obviously paying for the. Physical production, because I think in that world, it’s, it’s more of a print based thing than w you know, publishing on a ebook too. Like your novel or ebook, right. Where all you need is really good, cover art and, and edit and stuff like that. Is that the, yeah,

Russell Nohelty: I will say that when I do a Kickstarter for comics, it’s about 75% physical books. And when I do one for novels, it’s about 75% digital books. So it’s a huge difference. But yeah, that money that I invested is not for printing the book. It’s only to getting production done all of the books behind me that you see, uh, they’re roughly $20,000 each.

Goes into them to get them to the, to the printing level and all the digital asset work, getting that ready.

Mark Leslie Lefebvre: Okay. So I want to get into Kickstarter soon, but before we go there, I want to understand your publishing company and when, when you founded it and how, how you migrated. Of course, there’s, there’s one other I want to get to cause I’m jumping all over the place here, but I want to figure out.

When you decide that you’re going to write something, how do you decide between this is a comic and this is a novel, like this is prose, and this is going to be a multimedia sort of, you know, visual and, and story together.

Russell Nohelty: How does it really hard? Because, uh, one of our most popular, two of our most popular graphic novels, pixie dust and Katrina hates the dead are also novels are also been novelized.

And so, um, There’s I think it goes into the visual representation of what you want to bring to the, to the work. Um, so comics do some things wonderfully and other things horribly, uh, or not as well. It’s very hard to do first person narration in, uh, in a, in a novel in our comic book, for instance, um, it’s much more.

It’s much easier to do sort of third person the way you would do movies. Uh, so if the book, if the project requires a lot of interpersonal relationships, or if there’s not a lot of action going on, I tend to bring those into novels more. It’s a lot of more internal. Um, the internal fight within a person, then that ends up being usually novels.

Of course I echoed by Jones monster Hunter or most beloved book is like a first person comic book. So I can’t say that for sure. Uh, but, uh, Hey coupons. It’s really about watching the kabaddi journey, not about being inside of his head. In fact, he has very little internal narration. The internal narration of  is a different character.

Who’s near who’s, who’s, who’s, uh, called it’s the voice in his head, which is narrating inside of his head. And, and then, um, and then you’re watching what’s happening as this. This narrator is telling him what to do. And I actually think that exabyte would be impossible to do as a novel, because you would have to show what has happening to ed kabod inside on some level.

And it would sort of break the illusion of whether it’s in his head or it’s, or it’s. In the apocalypse or he’s killing people and thinking that they’re monstrous, it would kill it would, it would, it would change the relationship. Um, but yeah, certainly if something is a, uh, a, a internal story more, so I have a book called the void causes home, which is sort of a meditation on depression and suicide.

And while you. Can do that in a comic. I think those are more effective in a, in a book. Also, you have to know that something’s going to really be able to sell well, you know, like it’s hard to do an avant garde comic book and put it out there and, and recover your money on it. Not that you can’t do it, but, uh, the investment in time, money and resources in a comic book is so much greater that, uh, I even have trouble.

Doing anything in comics right now, because you know, you’re talking about $20,000. Literally you put a book out there, even, even a small book, it’s probably gonna cost you close to 10, 15, if not 20 or more thousand dollars to get it out. So, you know, it really has to be something that you’re willing to live with forever.

And, and each of these books I’ve been around for five to 10 years, and we’re still talking about them, which is not true in a lot of. Novels, you know, kind of the novel mentality is, uh, seems to be, I’m going to write this book and then I’m more the minute, the week after it launches. I’m never thinking about that book again, or the minute that this trilogy launch it is done.

I’m never thinking about this trilogy again. And then like, I’m going to go on where in comics, you know, especially indie comics, I ended up selling these books for five, 10. Maybe 20, hopefully 20 years. And, and, and, and, and it really does part of the, the, the, the, the decision of whether to go to books and comics or comics is, am I willing to really sit with this project for 10 years?

Okay.

Mark Leslie Lefebvre: Wow. So thank you for explaining that. I was always curious about that process. So your publishing company, um, it, it came out of what it came out of. Something you came out of a realization and then it, it’s not like you can just decide, Oh, I’m going to start up a publishing company. I’m going to do comic books.

Do you do comic books and novels? Uh, okay. How,

Russell Nohelty: I mean that, that

Mark Leslie Lefebvre: must have required a significant amount of planning and funding and stuff like that. Right?

Russell Nohelty: So the. The production company, the publishing company started because I had a bunch of books published by other people, and I hated how they were publishing it.

Like they would miss deadlines or they would just be doing print on demand on Ingram spark, or like whatever the thing is. Like they just were not hidden. They’re not doing it for me. And then they would blame me, even though the problem was often with the fact that they just missed deadlines. Completely and, uh, you know, with, but it was especially apparent where they had, they had, they were supposed to release one issue a month for four months and they ended up releasing one issue.

The issue is over somewhere like seven months. And then they told me that they weren’t going to print the trade because like the sales weren’t there. So you don’t have any idea of the sales were there because. Like these books didn’t come out when you said they were going to come out. So like, it totally destroyed any momentum that we could have used.

And any momentum that I was trying to build with the book suddenly, uh, suddenly was dead because the book wouldn’t come out February, March, April, may it came out something like. February may July, August, and you know, can’t really, and the book had been done. Like the book was done for over a year before we like released it.

So I was not super happy with, with, uh, with that process. So I bought all the rights back to my books and, and, and brought them all back to myself. Uh, and then I went to Kickstarter and after we did our kicks first Kickstarter for eco by Jones monster Hunter, we raised about $5,400. Okay. And there was just enough money left over to, to basically incorporate a company.

And so a want to be press is a couple illusion to two things. First, the first book that I ever did that got roundly rejected from every publisher was called the wannabes. Okay. Um, and, uh, also I was basically told that I would never like make it in publishing so many times that like I figured want to be pressed was like, like if I, I might as well own never liked getting, uh, like a PO and to their, to, to their credit, uh, until to this day and from very small books and like working with specific editors on specific pieces, I have not worked for any of the big.

Uh, the big companies and they still roundly rejected to me. So, uh, I guess in one level they were right, but I happened to be at this point, this like nexus point where you could make a living doing independent comics and independent work, and it was not possible before Kickstarter came about really, uh, at least not on a mass level because of the massive investment of time, money, energy, and effort that you had to put into.

Doing a book and Kickstarter kind of allowed you to. Have a community of people and help you fund at least that Genesis of an idea. And so, uh, so yeah, that, I think they probably would have been right in, or maybe they even went right in 2010, 11 and 12, because there wasn’t a big Kickstarter community really then it was just kind of growing and growing and you saw iron spike take off around that time.

And, and a couple of other people started getting in there at the Mo my friend, uh, my friend who owns comic Stripe and a couple of other. Like big names started to make the make waves, but it was really wasn’t until maybe 2013, 2014. And even maybe a little bit later than that, that, you know, releasing on Kickstarter was not just seen as a failure to publish, but as an actual legitimate path to publishing.

Right.

Mark Leslie Lefebvre: So what drew you to Kickstarter in the first place for that, for that project? Was it because you was like, ah, how am I going to come up with the funds?

Russell Nohelty: Well, actually the books were already done. So I had already paid the $20,000 for both Ikebana and Katrina. At that time, what pushed me there was.

So it’s interesting. I work in a lot of different industries and in every industry, they kind of have their deck of stuff that like you do. And you know, like, Oh, you’re going to release a book. So, you know, K U and you know, like mailing list swaps and, you know, like going wide. And there’s like, there’s like a, a stack of stuff that people talk about.

Right. Um, and then not, and then comics, the stack is you go to conventions and you do. Kickstarter. It was just the thing that you did and that’s how you raised money. And so for years, you know, I’d been, I’d been following Kickstarter and, and just told to do conventions and told that this was the way to go.

And, and, and, and really, it was not, that’s what drew me to it, or what stopped me from doing it before was just fear of what happens if you get egg on your face. But, uh, it was always sort of. In the ether of the conversation. And that’s really something that I’ve been trying to do recently is to show novel people that adjust, because this thing is not in the ether of the conversation for novels does not mean that it’s not a valid, legitimate and awesome way to fund your novel, especially because you don’t need $20,000 to fund a novel, you need.

You know, a thousand, maybe $2,000 or $500 to fund a novel. And it’s a lot easier to make the, that amount of money from less people on Kickstarter than it is to go two, two to Amazon and to wide platforms and put your book on there for two 99 and hope that. A thousand people buy your book. Uh, you know, uh, when I do a Kickstarter, uh, the average spend is somewhere between 25 and $35.

And, you know, A hundred people do that. That’s $5,000, you know, the $3,500. It’s a lot of money. And even when I wasn’t doing well, even when I wasn’t successful, like I, as successful as I am now and, you know, doing six figures a year and, and, and, and, and, and, you know, teaching all of this stuff, even when I had just started my third Kickstarter ever, Did a $3,400 on a mystery novel called my father.

Didn’t kill himself 155 people, $3,500. And that’s way more than you could possibly even imagine making. If someone bought the paperback ebook and audio book for your buck from 150 people.

Mark Leslie Lefebvre: Right, right. Wow. So, um, I’m want to get into some of the numbers, if you can share, because the numbers that you have made off of Kickstarter were, you

Russell Nohelty: know, jaw-dropping

Mark Leslie Lefebvre: so are you, you mentioned first one, you know, at 3,500 or $5,000 or whatever it was, but you’ve started there and, you know, with 150 people or whatever, but then you grew that, and obviously the community continued to grow and, and loved what you were doing. So it’s like, Oh, I want, I want in on, I want in, on this next thing, I want early access or whatever it is, how did you, well, what are the numbers and curious how you, how you grew into that space.

Russell Nohelty: So we can talk about the novels and the journey, kind of the, the money and the journey kind of at the same time.

Cause they, uh, they kind of overlap with each other. So the great thing about Kickstarter is. Oh, one of the great things. There’s a lot of great things, but the great thing about Kickstarter is after a campaign is over, ended up successfully funded. You get access to the email list and all of the people, and you see exactly what they bought and why.

And you can talk to them about why they bought it. Like you have access to the community. So you have an access, a list of buyers, which is something you never get from any of the platform, any of the other platforms. Um, so the first book, uh, it could by Jones monster Hunter raised $5,500. From 163 people.

Uh, and that was for this for four issue, uh, graphic novel, but in soft cover, this is now the eighth printing of it. So it’s been quite successful since they’re going through a printings. Um, the second book was called Katrina, hates the dead. It was about a girl who gets sick of living during the apocalypse.

She sets out to help to kill the devil that one raised $8,700 from 290. Four people, I believe.

Mark Leslie Lefebvre: It’s funny, it’s not even 300 people and you’re near $10,000

Russell Nohelty: Absolutely. If I, the biggest campaign I ever ran was 1,039 people and 39,006, $246 is how much we raised you. You,

Mark Leslie Lefebvre: You’re not even at the Kevin Kelly thousand true fans.

Russell Nohelty: Right.

Mark Leslie Lefebvre: When you think about that, that is that’s phenomenal.

Russell Nohelty: And I’ve only done that thousand people one time. Most of our campaigns now end up somewhere between 300 and 700 people. Um, but yeah, I I’ve raised, I’ve raised 50. $3,000 this year on Kickstarter across three campaigns, one of them the years, a little over half over and you’ve already raised.

Wow. And from three campaigns, the first one, uh, was a novel campaign or erased $9,935 from, I believe 260 or 70 people. The next one, uh, was a comic book anthology campaign where raised $31,000 from 750 people. And the next one we raised, uh, 280 or so people raised another $9,500 for another slate of novels.

So that’s total. What. 1200 people raising $50,000. I mean their numbers that you just like staggeringly and that, and that is not even with Amazon. I’ve not tapped Amazon. I’ve not tapped advertising. I’ve not tapped any of that stuff. I’ve made all this with literally zero advertising except for mailing list swaps and backer updates swaps.

Wow. And that that’s, that’s really the power of Kickstarter. You don’t need a huge. Community, you don’t need to be spending 5,000 and that launch to make 6,000 that lodge like you will not  and you don’t have to deal with your exclusivity. So like I know, uh, I I’m, I’m, I’m wide on all of the things that I do now, but theoretically, if you were going into K you, you could do a Kickstarter, raise all of your production funds and then go into K U or any launch that you’re going to do, basically either.

I either even, or making money and already in profit. And you can, instead of being like, is this series going to work? You can know that it’s going to work or at least know that you didn’t waste a lot of money on it. Like getting it to that point. In fact, I’ll give you a great example. Um, I, uh, our last. So first campaign and second campaign were, were, were, uh, were, uh, apocalypse comics.

Uh, the, uh, then I did a, uh, the mystery novel $3,500. Uh, I raised $2,200 or $2,100 from 70 people for a book called I can’t stop tooting a love store, which is the only Kickstarter I’ve ever not like had anything to do with. Um, except I ended it a little bit of it and published it the next one, $1,800 for a book called, sorry, for existing 60 people.

So again, yes, not like I’m always raising $10,000, but like $1,800 was still. $500 more than like the production cost was. Right. Like, I mean, and it’s standalone novel. Like how many times have you heard about someone who launches a standalone novel and becomes profitable on that standalone novel before it’s published?

But even after it’s, but you know, standalones are almost impossible to, to, uh, to, uh, to market because you don’t have the length of time to like, make your money back on your book marketing. Right, right. So like I, with like 60 people raised $1,800. It was profitable on that book from like day one, basically before day one.

And that’s when my big that’s my big realization came in earlier that year I had, I had, um, I had realized that going from 8,700 to 3,500 was not a good, like, that was a doubt. That was it. Is that a downslide? So I had gone to the people that had bought the book again, like I could see exactly who bought the book and who didn’t buy the book.

And I actually emailed them and were like, so like, I’m not mad. I just want to know, like, what, what, what happened? Like what didn’t you like? And the people that did buy it. And I, I went to them, it was like, Hey, so. Like, can we talk because you, you bought this mystery novel is very far off from like my comic books.

And like, I wanted to know why you bought and why you didn’t buy. And it allowed me to construct our biggest hit because the people that didn’t buy and the people that bought most said, you know, we really love when you do your monster comics. And so I did a book called monsters and other scary shit. And that raised $27,000.

And our next book, pixie dust was done in a very light. You can see our, our mascot, Melissa, the wannabe is sort of an invader. Zimmy kind of like cartoonish style. They said that was their favorite style. So book picks our book, pixie dust picked up on that. We raised $25,000 on that. Then we use those two books to again, reformat and re like recalibrate.

Everything and ask them, what did you like about this? What didn’t you like? Because again, we had access, not just the people who said they bought, but we can go back into the data and see, yes, you did buy. And not only did you buy, you didn’t buy for a dollar, you bought for $120. So yeah, your opinion is worth 120 times.

And so it was, it also allowed me to not just send it survey out, but, but survey the people and. Like wait, their answers. So people that I said, you know, like a lot of people complain about like I send daily emails and when I do a Kickstarter launch and a lot of people email me to complain, but there are always people who don’t buy my books.

So, and the people that don’t buy my books that actually do buy my books. Either don’t complain or they say, thank you. Cause I forgot like four weeks later, I can’t believe that I was almost gonna miss this campaign. So like I never get negative planes by people who buy the books because they either put up with it or like it right.

Um, but how often do people come be like, Oh, this person complained that I send emails too much. And because you don’t know whether they’re buyers or just people on your list, uh, it’s hard to know like what to do with that information. Uh, so then we did our through Lewis, hard to spell and that raised 30 and $9,000 from that thousand backers that we talked about.

And like, that was like, we, we, we knew we hit it out of the park. Like Kickstarter comics do not raise $40,000. And like, I was one guy, like I work at my house. So like that amount of money coming into me at one time was. Uh, unbelievable. Right. Um, but then I got, then I said, I’m gonna, you know, I’ve done a lot with Kickstarter.

What I really want to do is like release these books on Amazon, just like, like, or, or wide, or like, just like every other author does. Um, but my books are mythological fantasy and like the first one is an apocalyptic like accurate, uh, sex satirically take on like. Their religion and I’m not the most marketable thing.

They’re also, they’re all standalone stories set in fantasy and mythological fantasy, which again, it’s not super well-represented on Amazon. Uh, it’s not, if someone said that they had. Uh, that, that, that was their plan. I would say. Let’s, uh, let’s figure out different ways. Let’s maybe find a different genre to like, to like skew this, to like romance or thriller or some other thing that we can use to like better market this piece.

Um, and that’s what happened. Uh, so I released like eight books and they went, they ranged from the first book broke even. And the eighth book, I think made $50. Uh, not the way you want to go, but I was doing the rack release. I was doing all the things that I had learned and right. And, uh, and, uh, yeah, it didn’t work.

I was, I was basically like suicidal, like June last year. Cause I had, like, I was like, I just blew it. I just blew everything. Like I just blew everything on this like $20,000 gamble. Um, but, uh, I, I put back into production, our book echoed by Jones, monster Hunter. I put a second to, through the was hard to spell book out there.

And most importantly, I took all of those books and I repackaged them. Instead of doing 12 stories, I did four omnibuses and I really retitled them. I made them all feel like a series and I brought them back to Kickstarter now, 2,500, your dollars across all of those books. When I repackaged them, we made $9,900 off 170 back 270 backers that literally went from a, an absolute abject failure.

To a massive success. And in fact, it paid for the fifth book and I out of my own pocket, just imagine I’m writing these seventh book and then I’m going to bring those back to Kickstarter, even though like, again, These are books that were holding relative. Typically unmarketable on Amazon because they were in a massive, a very niche genre.

And it’s not like 270 people is setting the world on fire, but those 270 people allowed me to recover all of the failure of those launches. And then we just launched in a couple of months ago for standalone novel.  a collection of four standalone novels, which is like, I literally, for two years just looked at these books and like, how am I ever going to release these things?

Like nobody, nobody ever talks about how to release standalone novels. Well, especially when they’re in different universes. So I said, you know, I’m just going to do the Kickstarter. The first one went well, we’re going to see. And that one raised. $9,500, but from even more back from even more backers, 280 backers.

So I though that also broke not only broke even, but made me a profit before. Again, I ever did my launch. Like these were almost prelaunch preorders before I actually took it to do their actual strategy of releasing them.

Mark Leslie Lefebvre: Wow. Wow. I’m wanting to get into some of the strategies that have worked. So I think the one, one of the things that you said earlier on is, um, taking advantage of the fact that you can actually communicate with the people.

Russell Nohelty: So you can communicate with everybody who’s been involved at different levels, understand what appealed to them, what they didn’t like, that, that sort of thing. That’s probably a prime. Tip for people with Kickstarters is leverage the community that that’s in involved. So you actually communicate. I well, the great thing for authors is especially authors.

Who’ve never used Kickstarter before is they probably, we have a mailing list. Uh, they probably have people that like have bought their books and are communicating with them. Um, and so you really leveraging that community is important too, and leveraging the community you’ve built and like building one before, right.

Even launch a Kickstarter is an important thing, but the massive difference. Is the access. Like you can say, you can actually look at the person and say, Hey, I’ve been this. Person’s been like influencing the kind of stuff that I write for years. Cause they’re very vocal. But when they did this Kickstarter, they only gave me $5.

Whereas these 10 people gave me $50 each and they haven’t, I’ve never heard from them ever before. So maybe I should be reaching out to these people who. Are clearly more invested in my career. Maybe not clearly. I don’t want to say that because like different access to money, but theoretically, if someone’s giving you $50 to be written into the book or like whatever, or they want to like get more involved in the journey, it means something.

And if you haven’t heard from those people, those are the ones you should be like, okay. So. How, uh, like what do you think of this people? They should be the ones on your arc team or your beta team, or they should be the ones that you’re building your, your, your Facebook audiences around, because this is the great thing.

You can then take those emails and you can use them to build a Facebook audience. On and if look, alike audience, and if you’re running it ads, which do you think you’re going to convert better? The ones who are built upon a random list of 2000 people you have on your, on your thing, or the 200 people that are actually buying your work.

Mark Leslie Lefebvre: Right. That are actually invested in wanting something. Because again, my impression is that when somebody invests in a Kickstarter, it’s not necessarily that they’re buying the book because they can buy the book anywhere. I mean, when it’s widely available, what they’re getting access to is early access or, something they can’t get on Amazon or Google Or Kobo or something like that.

Russell Nohelty: There’s a couple of things that I tell people every time that I do a Kickstarter, I say, look, Thousands of people have bought my books, but a very small amount helped me create them.

And it is only the people who went to Kickstarter and bought our Kickstarter who helped me create these books. And frankly, I can, I can tell you for sure that it kabod volume two would not exist without those backers who back last year. Uh, the gods verse books, five, six, and seven, literally I’d exist without those people.

Or earlier this year of taking a chance on the gods. First Chronicles are buying the gods first Chronicles. So, uh,  number two, like all of these books that are, that come out, like it is literally because, so the Kickstarter, people who are helping. Me create these things. And it’s a very magical and special thing.

I think like people being better being written into the book are people that, uh, that just helped fund the book. And, you know, I was my, a friend of mine, Tom launched a Kickstarter for one of his books, like one of his novels. And I think he had a thousand people off 18 or 19 backers because what they wanted was like these special edition.

Uh, uh, uh, hardcovers, like having been written into the book and like, so you can offer things that you can not offer anyone else. For instance, I have my monster, my, uh, my, my father didn’t kill himself book and the gods verse, like people were written into the book. Like, I’m never going to offer being written into one of my books again on the comics.

A lot of them can be drawn into the book, uh, or drawn into a future volume of the books. So again, like you are, you are doing something you literally can never do again. And so it’s for really your super fans it’s for them and for the people that really believe in the thing that you do. And, you know, your thing, the thing that you do will never w.

Rarely catch on. I mean, let’s be fair. You know, I know people who’ve written 40 books and like they barely have caught on like, or like they’re, they barely are like breaking even on their stuff. But like, you know, if you’re, if you’re able to like add $4,000 to your bottom line, every time you do like a big book launch before you go and put your new series into, into K U or do go wide or do whatever your other strategy is, it’s just like, It’s just extra money and, and it’s, it’s a place where your super fans can get super exclusive stuff.

Like for instance, I never signed books. We can, we can’t sign books, right? Like, like if you, if something is pod. I can’t sign them. Uh, so the only way really for me to sign them is through Kickstarter. Like I don’t have a lot of them stock in my house. So the only way that you get signed or a personalized note or whatever that thing is, is by backing the Kickstarter.

The only way some of my books are only Kickstarter exclusive, so you can only get them on Kickstarter or you can get a better deal on them at Kickstarter or a lot of people, especially when they have a bunch of books, you know, they just will buy seven books on a Kickstarter to like go back up. And so that’s like 200, $300 of my like back stock books that they are getting at one time.

And, and all of them packaged by main, none by Amazon or Kobo or Barnes and noble, uh, all of them. You know, uh, put into a back channel room that like only they can access all of these things are from our, our, our, our selling points for your most ardent people. Well, and a lot of people want to make really weird books.

Like a lot of like a lot of people make straight to market books, but a lot of people make super weird books that like probably never going to catch on an Amazon. Right. Like, But Kickstarter is literally a self selected group of people who are looking for weird things. Like all the people that are on Kickstarter.

If you think about it, you know, Kickstarter exists to fund things like Lovecraft and board games and things that Amazon and other places, you know, uh, uh, neglected. And so when they are so like, they are literally people that are. Trying to find, to, to build communities or support communities because they can’t find it right.

They want in the mainstream, they can’t find things on Amazon. They can’t find it on Kobo. They can’t find it on any of these places, you know? And, uh, and so they come to Kickstarter. And so these are big group. There are like, self-selected. I want to call them weirdos, but like they’re self selected . . .

Mark Leslie Lefebvre: . . . unique people with eccentric tastes.

Russell Nohelty: Yes. They’re unique people or tastes who will, who like are looking for things that are outside of the mainstream. And sometimes it’s hard to go the other way and like take something that works on Kickstarter and make it mass market appeal because, you know, Kickstarter again makes it seem like this really weird book is going to have a huge.

Following, and that might not be true, but it is a way to test and experiment with things that maybe you really, really want to. My friend does this birthday book every year. That like is just some weird book that you really wants to write. Even though she mostly writes romance and other stuff, she was like, I want to write this.

And she gives herself one or two books a year and Kickstarter is a good place for that. And, and, and again, some people are making hundreds of thousands of dollars, but. Even if it’s $500. Uh, it’s 500 extra dollars that you can go into your launch with. Right.

Mark Leslie Lefebvre: And to be quite honest from the stats, I know is most people publishing books, we’ll never make $500 off of selling their, their books online through retailers.

Russell Nohelty: That’s the majority of it. Yeah. And, and, and I, I, I’ve been working very hard to try and show novelists that they should cause the, the novel area, the publishing area of Kickstarter, uh, is not the shining beacon of. Projects like theirs comics is a really good community publishing less. So there’s a lot of people who don’t even have covers who don’t even bother to do anything who like put a thing at like $40,000 and like draw a stick figure and think so.

I would love it if more like. More like professional feeling and looking projects went into that community. So I do a lot of, not just these talks, but also talks into Facebook lives. And I know I’m talking to a brick wall because it’s just not something a lot of people are talking about. Right. Except, but then someone like Mike Sullivan will come and like, they’ll do a hard cover and like raise $70,000 or someone else will come and raise $10,000 on a book.

And there’s these little. Pockets of people who are using it. Right. But, so I did a talk for a, a, they, a Facebook group. Maybe beginning of this year. And a couple of months ago, I got a tag on a post from this group. And like, I always fear tax. I always fear that, but she’s like, you know, I took your advice, which is unique in and of itself, but it’s just like, and I, I did the book raise $500, but like the first day it raised $250.

And I asked her, I said, is that the most you’ve ever made in a day on Amazon and launching a book before? And she’s like, I didn’t think about it, but like it is. The most I’ve ever made in one day on a book before and like, that’s okay. Good feeling. That’s a good, like that’s, you know, I mean, you can say you can poopoo with the people that approve poo to want you to feel 50 or $500 or whatever.

The, the, the, the raising, not a lot of money. I mean, I’ve never had that experience, but like, I know people who don’t make $250 as you mentioned, or $500, their whole launch, like they for, for a year on Amazon. And so, I don’t know. I mean, I, if a hundred dollars, if it’s a hundred dollars, I mean, I know people that don’t make a hundred dollars on Amazon in a year on a book.

So I, I think that. Saying, like not exploring that sales channel, even if you try once and you’re like, I did not like it, or it’s too much pressure or like whatever. Um, one other thing that’s great about Kickstarter is the sales page that you get, you get 30,000 characters. Like how often do you, as an author, say, God, I hate blurbs.

Cause I hate getting stuff down to 150 to 200 words. Yeah. Oh, the sales page is like, 30,000 characters. Uh, it’s Epic. You can, you can go into, and, and, and the people Kickstarter wants you to go into depth about the book and all of the crazy relationships and like why it’s important and, and like all of the relationships you’re getting and like your character designs that like, nobody cares about on Amazon, but like your, your characters dies.

You paid someone $500 to make, even though, you know, someone wasn’t gonna, no one was going to look at it. Like you could sell those literally. And just like, as a print on Amazon or like extra. In the back of a book and there’s all of these things. You can, you know, one of the nice things about both the two campaigns that I ran this year was like, they’re very weird books.

And like, they’re hard to get into 150 characters, 150 words and not, and I’m a marketing expert. Like my job is doing marketing for stuff. And so like, I mean my own books. And so like for me to say, like, these were just very hard, weird books to like one was narrated by God. Set in the distant future and like dealt with karma.

Another one was like an alternate history as if like, what if Hitler had one and was a magic user, but like, it’s actually, doesn’t take place in that time. It takes place in present. And they’re like, how am I going to get this into 152? Yeah. Hundred 50 character words. But like on Kickstarter, I was able to go into all of the depth that I couldn’t in.

Uh, on, on the kicks on, on the, on my Amazon page. And so there’s another huge benefit to using Kickstarter and a strategy that, um, you know, I, I definitely recommend if you’re going to use it is go into depth, show people why the book is important, show them why you devoted your time to it really answer the question of why it’s important to you because on Kickstarter, they’re not buying, they’re buying the book, but they’re buying, they’re investing really in you.

As the creator of the book and it really makes you feel like more than just a widget seller. No, I, I really problem I have with all of these platforms is I really feel like I’m selling widgets. Like, I feel like, Oh, it’s just a book widget, and this is a thing. But like with Kickstarter, I really feel like an artist.

I like a like, and that the thing that I’m doing is appreciated and not just a. A a, a, like a data point of like, Oh, I sold four widgets today and like, Oh, 10, yesterday. And Oh, look at launch. We did 50 widgets. What a cool like thing. And not only that, but then you get the feedback from the fans. You get the feedback from the people and there, and every book you send out is like addressed to somebody.

It is associated with. Thing. And while that is true, that like every data point is associated with a person buying in your dashboard. It is, it is so far removed from that, that it doesn’t feel personal.

Mark Leslie Lefebvre: Right. Wow. So we’re, we’re getting close to the end here. I was wondering if there’s specific yeah. And blatant errors that you see people making on Kickstarter that, you know, people should just avoid.

Russell Nohelty: Absolutely. So, um, first off is our rambling video. So videos should be two minutes and 50 seconds or less 15 seconds of saying of introduction. So, Hey, this is my book here. It’s kabod uh, about a minute of, this is what the book’s about. Exabyte is about a psychopath skips, a mental summon becomes a monitor, duh.

We are artists, is this for the all it’s like a minute. And then a minute of like, I call it the plea, but it’s like, I’m on Kickstarter for this reason. This is why I’m here. Look, the book’s done. We’ve already edited it. Like, this is really for you guys in the fans. Who’ve been so supportive, dah, whatever the thing is for another minute.

And like, it does not have to be more than that. And it doesn’t, it can be on your phone. I still do videos on. Either this webcam that’s, you’re looking at me now on, or, um, or on my phone, uh, with this exact mic that I have in front of me. Uh, so it does so not rambling there, but get into a nice point. Uh, the second one is, um, always, uh, make sure that you start with the why the, when with the campaign, with the, with the text, why this is important and why you should care.

So I like to say like, What are the three questions? Like, do you love mythology? Do you love this? Do you love this other thing? Then you’re going to love like, whatever my summer slate of books, the gods verse Chronicles, and then explain a little bit. But my real core question that I want to answer is not the what or the, how we all know that it’s a novel.

We all know that like, it’s going to be some out of pages. It’s going to be in paperback. Yes. Does that stuff have to come out? Like you have to put that, but you know, We can go to Amazon for that part. Like what they, what we really want is. What is the creator? Like, what does this mean to the creator? Like, why should I care?

Why should I back it? Remember the, a lot of times the people that are backing on Kickstarter, aren’t getting their, their, their, their, their stuff for a year. Like, or more sometimes in a year than a year. I try to, to not have more than three months go by before I. I fulfill a Kickstarter, but some of these people, two, three years, they’re waiting for like a big video game to be done or something to happen.

So like, these are people who are giving your money without the immediate expectation of being able to get the book and like read it. So they really want to know like, why should I like trust you to give me this book? Um, and, you know, have a cover, like have a story, have a nice blurb, have like a nice like thing.

Have a nice page, like go look at like go to search on Kickstarter for Russell Knowlton. Cause here’s another great thing about Kickstarter. Um, every campaign that has ever existed on Kickstarter that has been successful and also the ones that have been unsuccessful. Are still on Kickstarter. You can look at them exactly what their rewards were.

Exactly what their copy was. Exactly what their video was, how much they raised from how many people, um, you don’t have to wonder, you don’t have to do the analysis of book report and all of the other places. I mean, the data, the data guy, all of these people, like, you know, like it’s all guessing. It’s all like, I think this one was, this one was ranked number 200.

So it probably had a thousand sales, but it could have had 2000 sales depending on like how Mitch competition had had that specific day in that hour.

Mark Leslie Lefebvre: There’s no Kickstarter Rocket that you need for this tool. Right.

Russell Nohelty: And, and, and with Kickstarter. You are, you can literally type in, uh, you can just look up all of them books as most funded, most backed, uh, in any category you can look at like what they did, what imagery they use.

Uh, you can look up a specific creator that you really like, that you respect. You could look at me and be like, Oh, this guy must like, what is he doing? Um, I like to do Kickstarters when I have four books. And what I have found is my camp is, is, is. If I write eight books a year, my audiences that want me to launch eight books a year, they do not have the energy to go through eight book launches.

And they’ve told me this again and again and again. So what I tend to do is I launch four books on Kickstarter at once, and then when it comes on to Amazon or somewhere else, I don’t bug them about it. I don’t talk about it. Really. I tell them that it’s live, but like, Then, like I’m doing ads or whatever other thing that I’m doing for whatever thing, if I’m doing ads for them.

So they’re willing. So now I’m able to talk at length about an amount of books, three or four books and, and like get all of their attention for 10 or 17 days. Uh, the. Uh, the third thing is, um, is, is this is the best time to do marketing. So always in your Kickstarter have something that they can download for free, uh, that like, like the first chapter of your book, the first chapter is to get a sample.

Cause those people. Are then people who are at least interested in your book. It’s not just someone who got on BookFunnel. It’s like someone who came to your sales page and has bought, which means they are more valuable than just someone who randomly downloaded a free beyond book funnel or proliferative works or, or, or books for whatever of those campaigns.

So always have something that they can get and then always have something for a dollar. Uh, because that is the hardest conversion. The hardest conversion is to get someone from not by to giving you a dollar and have something cool for that dollar. It could be an outline of a book. It could be like a cool character design that you did or whatever, but just something.

Digitally that they can get that makes their dollar worthwhile, because then you can take that person and be like, okay, now I can try and get you right. $50. But if you don’t have them, right, if you have no way to capture them during the campaign and you have no way to like convert them to a small, low level backer, then like you’re wasting.

On some level, you’re wasting all of that time because a good campaign should hope to break even on your book production costs. And so you don’t have to do it for Oh and fourth. You don’t do it for a month. You can do it for two weeks. My two novel campaigns, one was for 10 days, one week was for 17 days.

So combined. They weren’t a month for my novels. Um, I do think that novel people tend to be less, uh, Willing to deal with a bunch of emails and, uh, and to have a long campaign, then comic book people are. So yeah, those would be my, my, my, my biggest ones. And. Finished the book, like half the book done, you know, be ready to send it out.

The, the, the nice thing of, one of the nice things about Kickstarter is because people wait up for a year to get there. There are things, if you can just get it and ship it out within like a month, it’s, you’re going to seem like a, like a, like a God. So if you have wow, like you’ve just got it. And yeah, the last thing I’ll say about Kickstarter, just to make sure I have it in is when you are on Amazon or.

Or any of those places you are competing against hundreds of thousands, two millions of books, not just the books that are coming out now, but the books that came out previously, you’re competing against J K Rowling and Stephanie Meyer and ready player two and all of these books. Plus the most, the most profitable books of all time on Kickstarter, you’re generally dealing with somewhere between.

200 and 500 projects depending on the time. And usually it’s about 200 to 300 in the publishing space and they’re all. Even if it’s like Michael Sullivan, you’re competing against and a couple of them, the big name, Indies. It is not Stephen King. Like it is not like you’re not to you’re you’re you’re you don’t have to, no, one’s going to Kickstarter to find a Stephen King book.

They’re all coming to find a new cool book. So it separates you from all of those other launches and you know, on Amazon 2200 books launch a day, I think they said something like that. 2,500 books launch a day. On Kickstarter that many don’t launch in an entire month.

Mark Leslie Lefebvre: Right? Wow. That is, that is amazing. So much food for thought.

So, so many great ideas, Russell. Thank you so much. Uh, well the very last question is where can my listeners find out more about you?

Russell Nohelty: Yeah, sure. So, uh, my novel site is  dot com. It’s very easy to S as in two L’s in Russel. And then, um, I have a free Kickstarter course, uh, which is all email over the course of, I think, seven days.

And, uh, it’s at the complete creative.com forward slash FKC. And that whole complete creative site has dozens of articles about Kickstarter. Uh, about, uh, about how to use it better and as well as interviews that I’ve done through my podcast, the complete creative.

Mark Leslie Lefebvre: Awesome. Thank you again so much.

Russell Nohelty: Thanks for having me.

6 thoughts on “Episode 149 – Killing it on Kickstarter with Russell Nohelty”

  1. Loved the conversation with Russell! Although I don’t plan to go into comic books or Kickstarter myself, his comments are making me consider approaches I could use to make my books less like widgets and more personal and special for my target audience. (As soon as I figure out how to do that, I’ll let you know.) : )

  2. Looking forward to the Anthology Mark.
    Good episode. Learned a bunch about how to dissect a Kickstarter and figure out what works and what doesn’t. His point about all Kickstarters are still on the site and not archived is a good one. Not many sites will give you that kind of history to do your research.
    Mark your point about how unprofitable most books are was very telling. It goes to show that even if you grind the work out you got to work on marketing and finding your fans to really be profitable.
    Thanks.

  3. Good podcast about Kickstarter with interesting information that I could use for nonprofits to raise funds.

    I liked your comment at the end about how not everyone sells a lot of books (or any). There’s a lot to self-publishing.

    Good luck on your Kickstarter project!

  4. To mix my metaphors, this was a barn-burning eye-opener of an interview . I love Russell Nohelty’s description of the democratization of the creative process that Kickstarter allows. In the Renaissance, creatives were at the mercy of patrons like the Medicis to allow them to scrape out a living, and so they had to make art that glorified the Medicis. We still require patrons, but with Kickstarter it’s possible to find them amongst ourselves, which means we can make art that explores our own lived experiences. It’s never easy, but at least it’s now possible. Thanks for this Mark!

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