MAKING OUR OWN MARKET: JQ Sirls, Illustrator, Author and Founder of Moodi Studios

IMG_0319Why I chose Kickstarter to fund my Children’s Picture Book

by JQ Sirls

There are many reasons why I decided to go in the route of Kickstarter, all of which stem from a common idea about people in my generation (millennials). People of my parent’s generation often claim that we are lazy, entitled, ungrateful, selfish, the list goes on. The truth is that we are a highly observant and instinctual group of people, who have watched how the effects of following certain traditions harmed our parents, grandparents and families in general. 

I witnessed past generations endure jobs that they hated, while missing special moments with their families, only to be laid off later on down the line, for someone younger who will accept less pay. I chose to honor their sacrifice, by using it as a trampoline to aim higher, so that no one in my family will ever have to endure that pain again. I took control of my own destiny by starting my own multimedia company that also publishes books. I would not only publish my own books, but in time, merge multimedia with physical product development to potentially create a whole new market for children’s storytellers.

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JQ paces the story, inks final touches to NO MONSTER NO!

Yes, I could have published traditionally, and done exactly what history’s insanity cycle said was the correct path to comfort and happiness. But I witnessed too many others get burned from following that path. Many authors and illustrators of color follow the traditional path of publishing. They publish to critical acclaim, they win many awards, only to end up wondering why their books aren’t given the same marketing support as fair skinned creators. I did not want to become another goldfish in the same ocean. These are just a few of the many reasons why I chose Kickstarter over traditional publishing. It was my goal to shift history’s insanity cycle, and to create a better path for tomorrow’s children’s book creators. For the children’s book creators who came before me, I want to make them proud.

In 2007, my company, Moodi Studios, wrote and successfully funded our first picture book, No Monster No. The story is about a bold little girl who takes the monster under her bed to school and teaches him manners. I’d heard about Kickstarter through friends whose projects had been successfully funded. I was raised on two core principals: do better than the best you can with what you have and no matter what, keep moving forward because motion itself is a professor. So, without any extra marketing funds or heavy marketing experience, I started a campaign. However, the first campaign failed, and boy-oh-boy, was that an emotionally heavy learning experience. But without that failure, I wouldn’t have learned the steps that allowed my second campaign to soar beyond expectations.

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Here’s what I learned:

1. Focus your fundraising on professional colleagues and social networks. And don’t rule out total strangers who are meeting you and your work for the first time. Imagine going to a department store and being exposed to something really cool. You talk about it, share it, and support it with a purchase. Then after you make that purchase, it’s like you justify it by getting others to agree with how cool it is and have them get one too. It’s kind of like that. They don’t  necessarily know you, just the work you represent. Close friends and family will likely be the last to support you — if at all. Keep them informed, though. When they see your success, they may want to join in at a later time.

2. No one is too little or insignificant. You will need to promote your Kickstarter campaign in various IMG_0279ways — but for now, lets focus on blogs and social networking (Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest etc). When you create a crowd-funding campaign, you are asking hundreds of people to be somewhat tech-savvy and pay for something they can not interact with. That requires trust. Social Media and blog articles create that trust, and trust is equivalent to the rarest stone on earth. Blogs allow you to communicate who you are, what you do and what you are trying to say. Much like what’s happening with myself and this very article. Social media, on the other hand, is like cable television where everyday people are searching for new channels to ‘follow’ for new content. Like television, many people do not want to think. You have to think for them. Your job is to create specific content that cater to the specific needs of a specific audience. You then have to remove the bells and whistles of distraction and communicate your topic simply and effectively. I am still learning this. Once you do that, your following that will come to see you as the foremost authority of a certain topic or product (think Apple and a new iPhone or Oprah and practically anything). Your following will buy whatever you sell and pledge on your crowd-funding campaign through trust. However, If you focus only on big blogs, like Huffington Post, or Buzzfeed, and promote on social media with no clear niche definition, you could miss the golden opportunity to grow outrageously. Smaller blogs (blogs with very little following) should never be counted out as they need content as bad as you need crowd-funding pledges. If the blog grows, you grow. Social media is crowded with millions of people who do millions of things. You will stand out through consistency of posts, clarity of topic, and discipline of work-ethic. If you plan on crowd-funding your book, Trust is your best friend.

JQ sought and received the support of various music and media stars, such as Da Internz and Timbaland, pictured here.

JQ sought and received the support of various music and media stars, such as Da Internz and Timbaland, pictured here.

3. Define it as it is—crowd-funding is pre-ordering. Never look at your campaign as soliciting  for donations. You are selling a product and getting pre-orders for that product. Market or sell it as anything else and you destroy the cool-factor and lose the magic, as you look like your are begging. Your product is amazing and one of kind. When people make a pledge, they are securing a copy of your first edition. I can’t stress this one more.

4. Don’t assume that everyone knows about Kickstarter and what it is. Even though Kickstarter has had millions of dollars pledged from millions of users, you have to assume and act as though NO ONE has ever heard of it or crowd-funding before. Then, you must assume that more than half of your potential pledges are people who think the internet is out to get them and steal all their money. Go with that assumption from the beginning and have a clear, holding-of-the-hand method to address it.

JQ documents his journey

JQ documents his journey


  • 5. Create an amazing video. Luckily for us, we had a cinematographer, video editor, audio engineer, and motion graphic artist on hand to create a nice video. However, with the first campaign, I failed in not having a great shot of me reading the book to kids. I added these features just days before the campaign ended, only reached half of my goal, making it unsuccessful. But I did use the same video for the second campaign that I started just two weeks later that eventually became funded. 

 

Here is what I learned from the second campaign (that succeeded).

1. There is power in happiness and a positive mind. Basic laws of attraction work here. You have to believe and be happy. It’s infectious and people are drawn to it like a magnet. They want what you have. The first campaign I let lack of support and struggle turn me into a stressed out bitter guy — totally the opposite of my own message with Moodi Studios. The second campaign, I approached it with peace and tried to remain childlike and optimistic. My faith changed for the better and I noticed other people noticing it.

2. People tend to help those who help themselves. Many people were moved by my determination to get back up and try again just weeks after the first project failed. If you believe in it this much, then it’s worth pledging in to find out why.

3. Don’t just post, become social. Don’t get on social media and talk at people like a club promoter. Engage in things with them and build a conversation. Let your profile or page say all that is needed to bring them to Kickstarter, with a post or two a day. But engage with people on their topics and ideas. Post a comment and retweet. Being self-centered will not create a following. I highly recommend the book Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook, by Gary Vaynerchuk. Whether or not you choose crowd funding, it’s a must read if you have a product or service you are selling.

4. “Thank you” goes a long way. There is nothing else more to write on that.

5. Like-ability is golden. You have to be likable and charming. If you aren’t, then let your campaign be led by someone who is. Be completely honest with yourself and set your ego aside for the success of the project. No one should want to punch you in the face after watching your video. 

Launching NO MONSTER NO with friends and family.

Launching NO MONSTER NO with friends and family.

And the biggest step of all:

6. Trust your instincts and embrace failure.I cannot stress that more. If you allow it, your instincts will tell you step-by-step what works and what doesn’t work. They already know what you want to do as they are the compass to how you will get there. Kickstarter success is primarily instinctual. It’s entire model is to grab and touch the hearts (and wallets) of people. But you have to embrace fear and failure to hear your instincts clearly. My biggest fear during my first campaign, was failure and the embarrassment of everyone seeing that failure. My ego, pride and hinge of doubt caused me to become deaf to my instincts and walk with panic. Following your instincts involve further risk, and when you are already in the midst of a larger risk, taking another is scary. However, when I eventually saw failure and embarrassment from the first campaign, my greatest fears came to pass and they didn’t kill me. I was just fine. The book didn’t explode and life as I know it didn’t end. I jumped off a cliff, expecting wings, but fell on my face instead. From there I learned that as long as you trust your instincts and jump, you can survive the fall. So keep jumping and embrace the fall. Embrace failure.

Celebrating with young fans at a school visit

Celebrating with young fans at a school visit

http://www.moodistudios.com

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12 Responses to MAKING OUR OWN MARKET: JQ Sirls, Illustrator, Author and Founder of Moodi Studios

  1. tee+d says:

    Wow.
    This business is seriously changing, and look out world!

  2. ednamole says:

    I am soooooo Happy and proud of this young man! He did it. He emailed me a few times and I look forward to working with one day!

  3. An Una Production says:

    I think it would of been better if the child was actually a black girl. I mean no offense, but don’t white girls already have an abundance of material to look to see themselves? Hopefully, black children will get the same treatment soon and this isn’t the same old same old I can get from any publishing company: white faces.

    • Don Tate says:

      In fairness, JQ did address some questions of race in his original post. I asked him to edit the post down, focusing less on race, and more about the successful Kickstarter campaign.

  4. JQ Sirls says:

    An,

    The little girl (Sarah) in ‘No Monster No’ shares the same completion of my beautiful mother and grandmother who are both proud black women. Not only that, but Sarah purposely shares the complexion of an Indian, Mexican, Native American, Asian, Samoan, Brazilian, African (not all are dark), and biracial princess who are also unfairly represented in picture books. But I will forewarn you, the future of my books will not be specific to a race or cultural preference. I am not now nor ever will be that book creator. If a non-black character drawn from my palms offends, I am sorry.

    The answer to fixing a market full of characters drawn with more than one crayon, isn’t to ‘only’ use another crayon. You don’t heal a stab wound with a knife. No, we must use the whole box of crayons and show children how great they look together. This is how we carry MLK’s message in literary form. If we are the David to the industry’s Goliath, then we cannot fight with the same sword and shield. Kickstarter helped me purchase my sling and show every other David how to purchase theirs. But right now, I’m just polishing stones, doing my push-ups and practicing my throw on behalf of everyone.

    By all means, feel free to download the first twelve pages of No Monster No and look closer at Sarah… http://www.nomonsterno.com

    • JQ Sirls says:

      edit: The answer to fixing a market full of characters drawn with ‘only’ one crayon.

    • An Una Production says:

      @JQ Sirls

      So basically you made her lighter (with blonde hair) because you *think* you’ll resonate with more people? And you think that this is MLK’s message?….I’d go further, but it’s pointless considering where your mindset is at. And I’m well aware that not all people of African descent are not darkskinned (please don’t patronize me), but the majority don’t look like your protagonist. And you’re in luck, I too look for books that aren’t race or cultural specific (I also write them and hope to have a publishing house one day), but they must also have black protagonist, because there is more to our lives than the white gaze.

      As for downloading your book, no thanks, but thank you anyway. I’m looking for visibly black female protagonists because my visibly black nieces deserve to see themselves in stories where they too do amazing things. I don’t think they’ll get it with your stories, present or future. That doesn’t mean they can’t read book with protagonists with lighter skin, I just know from personal experience that it can cause children to stop reading and have poor self esteem if there’s no balance. That’s why I come here, to support black authors and illustrators that help me do that. I don’t support black content creators that don’t feature black protagonists out of principle. So again, thanks, but no thanks.

      • JQ Sirls says:

        Blonde hair? You missed the beginning of my response, which makes me sad. Well, I’m looking forward to purchasing your books and supporting you anyhow.

      • JQ Sirls says:

        You’re passionate and motivated. I am too. That’s why I’m making my own market to follow my belief, and can see you’re driven to do the same. For that, I honor and am excited for you. Sincerely. Maybe one day you’ll see a photo of my family as well as my extended family and then take a good look at Sarah and her ‘dark brown’ kinky curly hair – see the core inspiration. If you don’t, no worries.

      • Tiffany says:

        You can never please everyone. My children and plenty other children not just specific to the African-American race love this book, and they are all that matter. Why limit the imagination of any child by focusing on race. Sarah can be whatever you wish for her to be, which is exactly what you did, and that’s wonderful.

        JQ I know you will continue to do great things and cater to the children, despite how the adults feel. I love it!

        Kick starter is an amazing, very useful tool.

      • An Una Production says:

        @JQ Sirls I didn’t miss the beginning of your response. I read it and rejected it. That may be hard to swallow, but you’re going to have to swallow. Maybe she doesn’t have blonde hair, but everything else I said stand, which is why you didn’t refute any of it, which makes me sad because I’m right and I didn’t want to be about you feeding into something dangerous (that I’m not about to go into). Which is more sad than me mistaking simple hair color, which is all you got to go on, but that’s okay.

        And how could I not read the first post when you can clearly read that I did in my first response (you *think* you’re resonating with lighter skin, your stories are not race/culturally specific, you…tried patronizing me on African skin tones) and I addressed it? You know I did, so just stop smh.

        And thank you for your support of my future books, but with all due respect, I don’t need nor want it. Thanks though. And like I said, I’m not supporting the book, no matter the “core inspiration”. So feel free to “not worry.” *shrug*

  5. Thank you for sharing your journey. It is very inspiring and shows the dedication and hard work that you had to do in order to accomplish your goal. I am thinking of sharing this with my students.

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