Tuesday, October 23, 2012

School for Adventurers Interview

Today it is my pleasure to be interviewing the creative force behind School for Adventurers, and now their Kickstarter, Kara Loo and Jennifer Young!  Thank you both for joining us today.

We’re delighted to be here!

So let me start by saying that I’ve spoken to these wonderful ladies before probably way back in 2007 when they first started up School for Adventurers.  It’s great to see you are still doing what you love and working on getting your story out to more folks.  

We’re so happy to be back up as well! We had to take a break due to some tragic personal issues, but we’re back and better than ever!
So you’ve had the story online since 2007, you’ve been working on releasing it as a novel for seven years, what brings you to Kickstarter?  

Working in the gaming industry, we’d heard of Kickstarter as a place where indie games were getting launched. When we checked it out, we saw there was a contingent of novelists there as well. Inspired by their success, we decided to try Kickstarter for our novel series School for Adventurers (SFA).

While it’s true that we launched the website for SFA in 2007, we recently took a two year hiatus to deal with personal issues and while we were waiting to see if our book would get picked up by a publisher. When it didn’t get picked up, we had the option of continuing to revise and attempting another round of queries, abandoning the project, or finishing it out.

We knew we had fans of this series, and we didn’t want to leave them hanging. But after you hear for two years from publishers and agents that your book isn’t going to work out, you start to wonder if they’re right. We came to Kickstarter to see if our story was something that people would believe in or if it was time to find something new to write.

As a fan of the story, I personally never really liked the “tales” version of your story where the tale was focused on just one character at a time.  Why did you go through the effort of creating that alternate way of reading the story?

In the way that people generally have one or two favorite characters in movies or TV shows, we figured people would naturally gravitate towards certain characters in SFA. With that in mind, we created Tales so that people who wanted to follow one perspective could have the option of only following the character they liked. Part of it was just that, thanks to our online format, we had the option of doing it, and we wanted to experiment. Of course, as the story continued and the characters became more involved in each other’s lives, we realized it didn’t make sense to keep up the Tales version.

So even after you did what they asked, the publishers wouldn’t pick you up?  

No, unfortunately. It’s kind of a long story... Which we will now tell you!

We worked with two different (and both equally wonderful) agents in the course of two years. The first was concerned with the multiple perspectives in our story. While an ensemble cast works great for television shows, comic books, or movies, and while you certainly see ensemble casts in fiction (Game of Thrones in particular stands out as an example) the agent was concerned that younger readers might have trouble following different characters. So we did a revision that stripped down the story to Averi’s point of view. But that still didn’t quite work for the agent we were working with at the time.

A couple months later, we were signed by another agent and after polishing up Averi’s story, that went out to a round of editors at major publishing houses. The feedback we got from them was that Averi didn’t quite carry the narrative. So at the heart of it, we knew we should go back to the multiple perspectives that we’d fallen in love with writing, telling a well-rounded story of a diverse cast and hope that readers would be able to follow it!

So what does your agent think of the Kickstarter?  

We haven’t told him yet, but we have been working up the courage to let him know. Since we’re no longer working with him, we haven’t kept in close contact, but we hope he’ll be excited to see how much support we’ve had so far.

Everyone knows that writers tend to be “Starving artists” as it were, how have you two been feeding yourselves while working so long on this project?  

Writers do tend to be ‘starving artists’, and it’s not easy for people in our line of work. We are lucky enough to both have full-time jobs as writers in the video game industry, which raises us from ‘starving’ to ‘modestly hungry’. We used to work at Electronic Arts, but we’ve recently begun working at a start-up together, which has definitely encouraged us to run this Kickstarter. Additionally, we’ve had the wonderful support of our families who would help us in the form of meals for nights we worked late, editorial services and read-throughs for final drafts of our book, and general emotional support in helping us put ourselves and our story out there.

Looking at some of your higher level rewards I have to say I wish I could give you $3,000!  Are you really going to work a fan-made character into your story?  Even as just a “walk-on” type role?  

Yes! If someone wants to give us $3,000, we’d be so overwhelmed by their generosity, that it’d be our pleasure to put them into our narrative as an upperclassman student. For $7,000, you can be a world hero that will appear throughout the series an important and legendary character. Of course, we’d work with the backers to make sure their characters fit with the tone and theme of the world, but barring that, we take those two top-level rewards very seriously.

How much new artwork is the Kickstarter paying for?  The pictures in the Kickstarter seem to be the same ones from the site and your previous release of the book.  

We would love to get a cover for Book 2 and some portraits of new characters. KMRicker has been incredibly generous with us in the past, donating her art and always perfectly capturing the spirit of our characters. With the Kickstarter money, we’d be very excited to actually pay her for her talented work.

So why should adults support a book that is a “young adult” fantasy novel?  

It might surprise you to know that most of our readers aren't in the young adult demographic--they're in their twenties or older. Which isn't to say that we don't have younger readers, because we've definitely heard from teens and pre-teens as well. We like to think that our novel has universal appeal, that it's appropriate for younger readers but that older readers will also love it. People have very kindly compared us to Harry Potter in the past, and we like to believe that it's true. We classify ourselves as young adult because our story doesn't have hard core violence or "adult" content. But that doesn't mean it isn't relevant to older readers in the way that some coming of age novels are. Our story still deals with engaging and timeless themes. It's a fun world and the story is fast-paced. To reach for another excessively flattering comparison, the original Star Wars trilogy has a PG rating, so you could consider it as being meant for a younger audience, but that doesn't stop people of all ages from falling in love with the story.

Have you ever submitted the story to competition?

Not... yet... But that’s a good idea.

(Laughs) How are you getting the word out for this project?  Besides your own website and fans, how else are folks finding your project?

We feel this interview is a good start! We’re also forcing our families and close friends to donate and spread the word. What else is there? No really, if you have any other ideas, please let us know.

Besides donating how can fans and supporters help out your project?

The biggest thing people can do to help us is to tell their social networks about our Kickstarter and recommend it to friends; in addition to posting a link, what’s even more helpful is thinking about who would actually be interested in our project and extending a personal invitation. Every person you tell makes a huge difference to our campaign. Or if you know anyone famous, like the Penny Arcade guys or Ryan Sohmer, tell them about what we’re doing. =)

Our home page: http://www.schoolforadventurers.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/23949773142/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/klandjly

Additionally, we’re certainly not Kickstarter experts, so we’re more than happy to receive any tips or advice that people are willing to offer, whether it’s sending us ideas for awards and merchandise or asking us questions about things we’ve been vague on.

What has been the hardest part of running this Kickstarter?  Have you learned anything this early on?  

The hardest part for us has been the social anxiety of publicly putting ourselves and our idea out there. When we started the website, we used our initials, didn’t have up any photos of ourselves, and so we were able to hide even while we shared the project with thousands of readers. Kickstarter really forces you to introduce yourself to the internet, which is a terrifying prospect for two introverted writers. The other thing that’s been hard is the constant monitoring of what’s going on and trying to respond quickly to questions or changes that people want.

What we’ve learned so far about process is that people seem to be very kind, encouraging, and also, patient. The Kickstarter community is a really positive place that seems to have all the best parts of the internet so far.

Well you certainly did a great job of putting a “personal touch” on the project, even if you’re naturally shy about it!

That’s good to hear! It’s easier when it’s something you love. Also, we’ve had some practice these last five years... But being shy is difficult for this medium. (We certainly have a lot of funny video outtakes from the Kickstarter video as a result...)

A big part of successful Kickstarter campaigns is supporter interaction and updates.  How are you interacting with your backers and what kind of updates do you have in mind?  

We try to answer all of our comments and messages within twelve hours of receiving them. As far as updates, we plan to brainstorm some stretch goals and extra tiers tonight. We’ll see how that goes... Kickstarter is such a flexible platform that it seems like you’re really only limited by your imagination.

Well thank you very much for joining us today, it was such a pleasure to speak with you again!  Do you have any parting thoughts for our audience?  

It’s really exciting and terrifying to have our ideas out there for people to see. Thank you to everyone who’s believed in us so far. We’re excited about this project, and we’re so glad we get to share that excitement with everyone, and we hope that we can all work together to build this into something amazing!

Thank you, James, for talking with us today! We’re really grateful for the opportunity. And thank you to everyone who’s donated for being a part of this with us. And for anyone who hasn’t donated yet, you’d better hurry up. If you wait too long, people will just think you’re jumping on the bandwagon! ;)

You’re quite welcome! Kara, Jennifer, it was a pleasure talking to you again after all this time!  I hope everyone takes time to check out your story and back the Kickstarter!

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