‘Mental health and Kickstarters’ Guest Blog by Owen Duffy
A couple of weeks ago I launched a project on Kickstarter. I’m working with a team of fellow authors and journalists to publish a hardback book exploring the year’s best new tabletop games – a combination of original criticism, designer interviews and studio photography. It’s something I’ve been planning and working towards for months, and seeing it go out into the world has been a real adrenaline rush.
It’s also been a major source of stress. I’ve been agonising over backer reports, fine-tuning press releases and responding to questions from potential supporters. I’ve even found myself waking up in the middle of the night, unable to get back to sleep until I check in and see how the campaign’s been doing.
I knew from the start that the crowdfunding process would be emotionally and intellectually draining. While it might look like a simple case of throwing up a campaign page and watching the money roll in, in reality it’s been a whirlwind of preparation and coordination. That’s something I’m pretty well accustomed to in my day job as a freelance journalist, but it’s also something I have to be very aware of as a person with mental health issues.
A few years ago I had a job with a national newspaper that involved processing a high volume of extremely graphic images from conflict zones. The content I dealt with was beyond distressing, and eventually I spent about a year unable to work because of it. Today I have issues with PTSD, depression and anxiety, and while I have it comparatively easy compared to a lot of folks, it undeniably affects how I live and work.
Since our Kickstarter launched, I’ve been relying on some of the coping methods I’ve developed with my psychologist, and while they’ve been effective in preventing the kinds of symptoms I’ve previously encountered, it’s been a tough couple of days. Launching a crowdfunding campaign isn’t just a lot of work, it’s intensely personal. It means taking your ideas and your enthusiasm and putting them out into the world for people to poke, prod and criticise. It opens you up to unexpected problems that can seem like real crises until you work out how to overcome them. And the constant nagging doubt about whether you’ll reach your funding goal can feel like a real weight on your shoulders.
I may be new to the process, but there are a couple of approaches which have helped me stay calm. If you’re considering launching a crowdfunded project, I’d recommend keeping some points in mind:
1: Be prepared for unforeseen setbacks
In the run-up to our campaign, Facebook mysteriously locked our page for the book. They offered no explanation. My attempts to contact their tech support service were ignored. A few days later, they restored our access. I have no idea why this happened – or why it happened again a few weeks later. At the time it seemed like a disaster in our efforts to create some interest in the campaign, but now it seems to be behind us and we’re able to engage with our community on the site.
This morning, though, I woke up to find that my bank had blocked my advertising payments to Google and Reddit, mistaking them for card fraud. It meant we had fewer backers overnight than we might have expected, and my brain immediately leapt to the conclusion that the campaign was doomed. In reality, it’s had a minor impact, and it was all sorted out after five minutes on the phone to my bank.
It’s easy to unthinkingly convince yourself that every minor annoyance spells the end for your aspirations. Stop. Take a step back and a deep breath. Think about how you can address things calmly and practically, and don’t let yourself fall into a spiral of panic.
2: Be aware of the cumulative effects of stress
These kinds of issues may be pretty minor when taken individually, but when they come in quick succession they take a toll on your mental resources. Chances are you already have ways of dealing with stress. Think about what they are – listening to music, going to the gym, taking a walk – and very deliberately do them when you start to feel overloaded. For me, that often means doing something physical, changing my environment and getting away from my computer.
3: Find ways to break patterns of negative thinking
Every time a backer cancels their pledge, or there’s a slowdown in the rate of new supporters, it feels a little like a punch to the gut. It’s easy to convince yourself that it’s your fault. Your presentation isn’t slick enough. Your personality doesn’t connect with people in your video. Your idea is just fundamentally flawed.
The truth is, there’s no way to know why people choose not to back. Maybe they’re having a tough time with their finances. Maybe they’d rather wait to see if they can pick up your product at retail. Maybe they’ve just decided that it’s not for them. None of these are your fault, and none of them reflect on your worth as a person.
4: Take a moment to celebrate your successes
One flaw that I have in my personality – and one that I suspect a lot of people share – is a tendency to dismiss success and focus on negativity. I’ve found that taking a second to internally recognise positive events in the campaign has been incredibly helpful. You’ve hit a funding milestone? Well done, you! You’ve added another 50 or 100 backers? Nice work!
5: Keep negative feedback in context
Not everyone is going to be as enthusiastic about your idea as you are. I’ve had folks tell me that print is dead, that the tabletop space is entirely focussed on video, and that I’m wasting my time with this project. They’re entitled to that opinion, and I hope to prove them wrong.
When you hear something like this about your campaign, ask yourself whether it’s genuine creative criticism, or dismissive snark. If it’s the former, think about whether there’s anything you can learn from it. You might be able to make some improvements to your idea or the way you present it. If it’s the latter, give it exactly as much respect as it deserves. It’s easy to criticise from the sidelines, but you’ve got cool stuff to make!
6: Have a plan to cope with the possibility that your project will fail
Our campaign got off to a great start. We hit more than a third of our funding goal in less than 24 hours. We’re now approaching the 50% mark, and we’ve secured some big pledges from a couple of companies who want to sponsor the book. As it stands, we’re quietly confident about hitting our target. But in the back of my mind, I’m still worried about what could happen if our support dries up.
My way of coping has been to think about what the real consequences of this would be. I’d be out a bit of cash in advertising. I’ve spent some time on planning and preparation that I won’t be getting back. And yes, it would be a big disappointment on a personal level.
But beyond that, the campaign falling short wouldn’t have any drastic effect on my life. And already I’ve gained a real benefit by getting to know my collaborators, Teri, Matt and Richard – three folks whose work I’ve admired for a long time, and who share my geeky passion for games. I’d like to hope that if we don’t make it to our goal this time around, we’ll be back next year better prepared and ready to give it another shot. Although obviously, that’s not my preferred outcome!
I’m not a psychologist, and none of the above should be taken as any kind of medical advice. But it’s what’s been working for me as I try to stay positive during our campaign. If you’re planning a Kickstarter, be ready for some stress, but also for some real excitement. Be happy, be healthy, and go and make your ideas happen!
It’d be remiss of me not to finish with a cheeky plug. We’re working to publish something special for the gaming hobby and the community around it. We’re a team of professional authors and journalists united by a love of games, and we’d love it if you’d check out our work and consider becoming a backer. You can find full details as well as a free 20-page PDF preview on our campaign page, and your support would be massively appreciated.