But success on Kickstarter isn't always tied to dollars raised. The crowdfunding site can be a publicity machine and one of the best marketing tools on the Web, particularly for up-and-coming filmmakers, musicians and other artists who show a knack for self-promotion.

"What you're trying to do is build a relationship with an audience and build a mailing list," said "Crowdfunding Bible" author Steinberg.

Still, it's true that most successful Kickstarters come from people and companies who are already known quantities. Leveraging the community of fans to donate and then act as evangelists for your product is essential.

Explosm, the makers of the Web comic "Cyanide and Happiness," had negotiated with traditional studios for years about creating an animated series around the strip, but were never happy with the creative control they'd have to give up to do so. After seeing peers achieve success, they turned to Kickstarter, where they raised more than $770,000 -- nearly three times their initial goal.

Derek Miller, the company's business manager, ticked off the factors critical to the Explosm's campaign. First and foremost was getting the established fan base excited. More than one-third of the referral traffic to the Kickstarter page came from the "Cyanide and Happiness" website, with another 20% coming from the site's Facebook page.

Social media is critical, in fact, and can be a good barometer of whether a project will reach its goals. A thesis paper from Alexey Moisseyev at the U. of Nebraska at Lincoln, published this year, studied the effects of social media on crowdfunding projects -- and found a correlation between Facebook "likes" and success, even going so far as to suggest an exact number as critical mass.

"A total of 546 'likes' can be sufficient to fundraise an intended amount," Moisseyev wrote. "Though this number generated through the derived equation cannot be taken as a sort of magic number that guarantees results, it can provide project creators with a benchmark to help them complete the project successfully."

Though thesis papers and the real world don't always make for comfortable bedfellows, the Explosm team also found relevance in being responsive to those who pledge, particularly among patrons who have bargained for something in return. When the design for backers' T-shirts was met with a high degree of negativity, an apology was quickly issued, with a vow to change the design, incorporating solutions to the complaints that had been registered. Just as quickly, positive feedback returned, and Explosm dedicated an employee to ensure any question or comment was answered within 30 minutes for the remainder of the campaign.

"Instead of having to please investors, you have to tell fans, 'We care about you. We love you. You're the reason we can do this,' " Explosm's Miller said.

Because of the potential impact Kickstarter has on independent filmmakers and other entertainers, some have questioned whether it redefines what "indie" is. The answer depends on your perspective.

Most artists have been scraping up money for their projects for years, often finding they still have to compete for funds against those who are more established. In that vein, Kickstarter isn't all that different from other financing sources. It simply streamlines the process a bit.

Where the model changes is when accountability is considered. Since Kickstarter pledges are the equivalent of digital panhandling, artists retain creative control of their projects.

"The big shift here is if you sign with a major production company, your customer is your higher-up," said Miller. "If your numbers are not looking great, they can cancel you."

But some creatives work best when they're being held tight to deadlines and limits, and the freedom to do whatever they like can lead to project sprawl, which makes delivery dates increasingly fuzzy.

Projects that catch the cultural zeitgeist are particularly vulnerable to delays, noted Ethan Mollick, a professor of management at the U. of Pennsylvania's Wharton School.

"The vast majority of (creators) attempt to deliver products promised to funders, but relatively few do so in a timely manner, a problem exacerbated in large or overfunded projects," Mollick said, describing a shortcoming endemic to bloated studio films as well.

There's also the looming threat of an artist's vision evolving over the course of a project, but heading in a direction that backers disagree with. The ethical gray area of promising one thing and delivering another is a weight under which many of the less pedigreed entertainment Kickstarters struggle.

"Veronica Mars'" Thomas is pleased with the process, but plans to use conventional financing for a feature-length revival of his other cult hit, the 2009-10 Starz comedy "Party Down." "In no way do I think this is the new model for filmmaking," Thomas said. "It's not something I would do for everything, but for some things I would."

Any way you look at it, funding for entertainment projects on Kickstarter has only been rising. A U. of Toronto study last December showed the rate of recent growth in film, games and music donations towered over virtually every other Kickstarter category. And projections for future growth show no signs of a slowdown.

"Tastemakers are no longer a select group of individuals," Steinberg said. "Now, everyone can be one."

Kickstarter Alternatives

Kickstarter is the biggest crowdfunding site around these days, but it hardly has a lock on the field:

Indiegogo: The second largest crowdfunding site is sometimes used in conjunction with Kickstarter, allowing artists to double down. Success stories include Project for Awesome, a coordinated campaign by artists to raise awareness of social issues on YouTube, and a new album from Protest the Hero, which eschewed label financing for fan-based coin.

RocketHub: The dollar amounts are smaller here, but the exposure is bigger. A&E has partnered with RocketHub to showcase the more interesting projects on A&E's upcoming show "Project Startup." The network is also providing some of the campaigns with seed money.

FundAnything: Even Donald Trump is jumping into crowdfunding these days. In this co-venture with Learning Annex founder Bill Zanker, the Donald says he will personally invest in some projects, while others rely on more typical methods. Any project is eligible to seek funding on the site, which launched in early May.

Ulule: Europe's first crowdfunding site has a strong focus on entertainment, with films and music among the projects most funded. It has yet to have a Kickstarter-like breakaway fundraising hit, though.

Community Funded: While the focus of this crowdfunding site leans more toward social causes, it has backed small arts and culture titles along the way, and has several entertainment categories.