Welcome back to another Kickstarter Conversation! Today we welcome John Joseph Adams to the conversation to talk about his project HELP FUND MY ROBOT ARMY!!! & Other Improbable Kickstarters. Thank you for joining us today!
Thanks for having me!
Now that’s quite a mouthful for a title, can you tell us about your project?
Sure! I describe the book as an anthology of improbable, futuristic, magical, and alternate-world crowdfunding projects. Which is to say: It’s an anthology of short stories, each of which will be presented as a fictional crowdfunding project pitch, using the elements and restrictions of the format to tell the story. That in of itself is somewhat meta, but then I’m doubling-down on the meta by making an entire anthology of such stories and funding it via Kickstarter.
Wait… so your project isn’t about cats? All I saw in your video was cute cats. Why did you trick me?
It’s surprising sometimes what desperation can inspire.
When I did my Kickstarter for Nightmare Magazine, we ended up not doing a video, even though everyone said we had to. We had every intention to, but then we never quite got our act together to do it, and ultimately we just decided to proceed without one. After all, I figured, people who would back a LITERARY project surely are willing to READ to learn about it, right?
Well, Nightmare funded just fine without a video, but knowing that the video is most of the time considered an essential element of a Kickstarter pitch, I felt like for HELP FUND MY ROBOT ARMY!!! we HAD to include a video--it seemed like if I’m going to do a Kickstarter project about Kickstarters, I couldn’t skip out on having one of the critical components in my own pitch.
The problem was: I’m terrible on camera. TERRIBLE. I tried several times to just talk to the camera and make my pitch, and every take was just awful. So I was desperate and I didn’t know what to do about it. I had the thought, though, that I should be able to record the audio easily and cleanly enough--so I thought: what if I could get some kind of video footage that I could lay an audio track underneath (like a voiceover).
And then it hit me. On the one hand, Kickstarter is on the internet. On the other hand, the Internet loves cats. Then I thought: PUT YOUR HANDS TOGETHER. I don’t know that anyone has ever engaged in such shameless catsploitation in their Kickstarter video, but I’m actually quite proud of it. And it was a lot of fun to put together! I actually had no video or audio editing experience going into it, and, I mean...it ain’t Citizen Kane, but I think it turned out quite well, and it was fun learning the basics of those skills to assemble the video. Luckily we have a cattery (i.e., a no-kill cat shelter) in the town in which I live, so we were able to just go down there and get permission to shoot some video, and that gave me tons of material to work with. We just shot the whole thing with iPhones.
*Chuckles* Seriously though well done on the video. How many authors do you have lined up for this project? Do you need more?
I’ve got about 25 writers lined up. I may end up needing more; it’s too early to tell. I was assuming that for this project most of the stories would not be very long, so that determined the number of writers I wanted to include and what our budget would be.
There was the temptation for a book like this, to make “more stories!” a stretch goal, but I didn’t want to do that because I wasn’t sure how many of these kinds of stories people would want to read all in one volume. I felt like it was better to keep it lean and mean rather than go for a big chunky volume. I think the book will be a lot of fun, but I worried that by making it too long it might wear out its welcome. I suspect that won’t be much of a problem the way I have it all structured currently, though, especially given the wide variety of tones and topics they authors have pitched me for their stories.
That said, I’ve got the author deadlines setup so that if folks end up dropping out, or if I just end up needing more material, I should have plenty of extra time to line something else up, without having to delay the publication date, which we’ve got planned for July 2014.
Where did the idea for this project come from?
It was inspired by a story submitted to me at Lightspeed Magazine, the digital science fiction/fantasy magazine I edit. A writer named Keffy R.M. Kehrli sent me a story on spec called “HELP FUND MY ROBOT ARMY!!!” It’s a humorous story told in the form of a Kickstarter pitch. Basically, it’s a mad scientist looking for funding to, as the title suggests, build a robot army. I’m always interested to see stories that take certain formats and use the restrictions of those formats to tell the story. As soon as I finished Keffy’s story I saw the potential of that concept to spawn many different, fun ideas, and thus I decided to put an anthology of such stories together--which, of course, would have to be funded via Kickstarter.
How do you write a story “in the format of a Kickstarter project?”
Easy! You know what a real Kickstarter looks like, right? It’s got project goals, rewards, risks and challenges, project updates, comments, etc… So you take that format, and then you tell a story. (It’s kind of fitting because when you’re creating a Kickstarter, on one of the creation pages, Kickstarter has the line “It’s not just a project, it’s a story.” In the anthology, we’re just literally making that the case.)
But like I said above, this whole project is rather meta, and I suspect most of the stories will function, to at least some extent, on a metafictional level. Like: The story isn’t necessarily what you’re seeing on the page, but the text itself tells you or implies certain things, and then you fill in the gaps.
Because people might have some trouble wrapping their heads around that, though, I felt like it was important to have an example that you could go read right now. And since Keffy sent me his story to Lightspeed, I thought our best bet would be to publish the story in Lightspeed at the same time we launch the Kickstarter, so that if you were thinking about backing the project, but you weren’t sure, you could just go read Keffy’s story and then decide. (Keffy’s story will be the sole reprint in the book; everything else will be original to the anthology.)
Any hints or previews of some of the other fun projects in store for your readers?
Well, there’s lots of fun and/or good reading to be had every month in the pages of Lightspeed and Nightmare!
But otherwise I’ve got a couple new anthologies coming out next year I’m excited about. In April, from Vintage Books I have Robot Uprisings, which I co-edited with Robopocalypse author Daniel H. Wilson. It is, as the title implies, about robots uprising. (Unlike this book, which, if you somehow miss the subtitle, also kind of implies it’s about robots.)
Then, in May, there’s Dead Man’s Hand, a weird western anthology forthcoming from Titan Books.
I have another book that will probably be coming out next year too, but I can’t announce it just yet. Otherwise, I also recently sold a new anthology to Baen Books, though we haven’t publicly announced what it is yet, so that’s all I can say for now. That’ll be out in 2015, along with Wastelands 2.
I’m glad you explained your budget even if you didn’t use any pretty pictures. Basically after the fees all the money is going to the writers? There’s no fulfillment costs here or anything? I notice you don’t really have many physical rewards was that on purpose?
You know how some authors have a foot both in traditional publishing and in new media publishing, and how they’re sometimes called “hybrid authors”? Well, I’m kind of a hybrid editor. I’ve done several traditional publishing projects, but I also personally publish and edit two digital magazines, which basically uses the same tools as self-publishing, and one of those magazines was launched via Kickstarter.
Given that, I wanted to keep my options open on this particular project, so while it obviously made sense to launch it via Kickstarter, I wanted to keep it digital-only, in the hopes that maybe if it was successful enough, we could find a traditional publisher who wanted to pick up the print rights. But, as you note, that also has the side benefit of eliminating almost all of our fulfillment costs. There are some very small fulfillment costs, for shipping out some of the hardcopy book rewards we have available, but overall those costs will be negligible. If we’re not able to place the print rights somewhere, then I can always release the book as print-on-demand title in the future. Though I suppose that’s a calculated risk, since the place we’re probably most likely to sell this book is on Kickstarter itself; it may not have as much potential in the marketplace otherwise, but I guess we’ll see. Of course, as I write this, we’re still just a few days into the project, and we’ve got 20+ to go; it’s not too late to change my mind and just offer a POD reward as well.
I’ve seen a lot of Kickstarters do a lot of big, cool stretch goals, which is great, but I wanted to try to keep this one a bit simpler, thus instead of doing stretch goals I decided that any money we raised above and beyond our goal would be shared with the writers, just like a traditional anthology would share anthology royalties with the writers after the project earns out its advance.
How did you discover Kickstarter?
I don’t remember! I imagine it had something to do with Twitter. It looks like the first project I backed, though (back in 2010), was a dance project my friend’s sister was doing. I think I must have heard of Kickstarter before that, but just hadn’t backed anything before then.
A key part of successful Kickstarters is backer participation and how to convert a potential backer into a full backer. How are you engaging your backers? What kinds of things do you have planned for updates to give notice to those who just hit the “remind me” button and surf on? Interviews? Videos? Stories from the project?
I’m going to post interviews with a few of the contributors. Plus I’ve got at least one “round table” with the authors I’m going to post. And maybe a few other little surprises!
What kind of media attention have you received with your project? How are you spreading the word? Facebook? Twitter? Google+? Youtube? Advertising? Are you using Kicktraq to track your progress?
I am keeping an eye on Kicktraq; it’s quite encouraging to see the projections and trends it provides.
As for spreading the word, I’ve mostly been doing that via Twitter (and my Twitter crossposts to my Facebook page). I did post my Kickstarter video on YouTube, but that was more just kind of a “might as well” sort of thing. I haven’t quite been able to figure out how to reach the cat-lover audience yet, alas.
Otherwise, I did interviews on the SF Signal podcast and StarShipSofa (another podcast), and I also have a guest post queued up on the SF Signal blog. io9 reprinted Keffy’s eponymous story, and in doing so also showcased the Kickstarter video. Also we talked about the anthology a bit on my own podcast, The Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy, which airs on Wired.com. And, of course, we mention the Kickstarter in the October 2013 issue of Lightspeed, since that’s where Keffy’s story first appeared.
Do you have any tips/advice would you give to anyone looking to start a Kickstarter?
I would just point people to Matt Forbeck’s website, and encourage you to check out the Kickstarter category of posts. He’s covered just about every aspect of the process in pretty good detail. Otherwise, look at Kickstarter projects you liked, and were successful, and see if you can figure out what they did right, and what it was about them that made you want to back them. And definitely, definitely plan to have the vast majority of your free time during your funding period being consumed with nurturing your Kickstarter along. Kickstarters don’t fund themselves!
Thank you for spending your time with us! Do you have any final thoughts for our readers?
If folks are on the fence, I’d just encourage folks to check out Lightspeed Magazine and/or Nightmare Magazine, or any of the mini-sites I set up for my anthologies (links available here: http://www.johnjosephadams.com); there’s tons of free fiction on the magazine sites, of course, but there’s also a bunch of free fiction available on my anthology sites. If all of that doesn’t convince you that I know how to put a good anthology together, nothing will!
Thanks again for having me!
Thanks again and I hope to hear good things from your Kickstarter!