Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Advice from a Successful Kickstarter Novelist: Don't Use Kickstarter!

    That's right, I said it. And I successfully Kickstarted my first novel, Kali - Destroyer of Worlds.
    Nevertheless, my advice to aspiring novelists is this: just don't do it.
    So why would I, an aspiring author who succeeded at it, tell others to avoid crowdfunding their work through sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo? Because I feel that paints an unfair picture of what it really means to be a writer, much less a novelist. Not to mix metaphors.
    Let me explain.
    Firstly, my back story; I've only written one book. But I have dreamed and lived the idea my entire life. Some of my earliest Christmas and birthday presents were things like an electric typewriter (back when they first came out with onboard memory; you could type for 10 seconds, then wait as it clacked away, then type 10 seconds again and again) or a Steno notebook and Cross pen... my family always knew I wanted to write. I bought the Writer's Market for forty dollars plus every year, and concocted plots and planned entire universes over the years.
    But the drudgery and immediacy of real life intervened; I found myself working long hours at minimum wage jobs, just to get by. I found myself in the United States Air Force deployed to Turkey for Operation Northern Watch, or deployed to Kadena Air Base in Okinawa shortly after September 11th, 2001. I got out, got married, had kids, and the dream of being a writer trickled away year after working year. Sure I continued to write, but each listless piece got lost, or forgotten on some long-degraded floppy disk (yikes!) as life rolled ever onward.
    Then I found myself in my late thirties as a stay at home Dad, while my wife worked as a professor at KU. A window of opportunity presented itself; maybe I could find the wherewithal to really write, after all.  So I wrote. I wrote a 90k word science fiction tale that lost its legs (I still have my eye on that one) and a couple of intriguing short stories. From one of these Becky Wilder/Kali was born. Before anything good came of that time, aside from a beautiful baby boy (talking good creatively here!) I was back to work again. No sellable product emerged from all that work, so I packaged what I could as short stories, put it out on Amazon sans any kind of marketing, and moved on with a heavy heart.
    The little girl from one story written during that time started haunting me shortly after I learned my second child would be female. I starting thinking of all the male characters throughout science fiction and fantasy I had read, Robert Howard's Conan, or Doc Savage, or Pug the Apprentice, the list was as along as... well, the list. All of the best stories were helmed by men, or boys becoming men, and they shepherded and guarded the poor womenfolk on all the old book and magazine covers, cowering on the ground with torn clothes and clutching the leg of the man who saved them.
    I realized my daughter would have a remarkably different view of scifi, horror,  and all the genres I love in general, without real heroes like herself to look up to.
   Some of you will trot out the Twihard, romance-laden books to me as evidence of good feminine heroes, or the current crop of beige-uniform wearing, dystopian borefests, with lock-step, automaton-like populaces and marginally well-written female leads. Yes, those appeal to a lot, but I have a feeling my daughter will be more of an under-the-bleacher kid than an over-the-bleacher-kid. Chucking around little knives like Divergent, or hopping through virtual jungles with a bow may not appeal to the darker set, like I came from.
    When I was coming up what I came to think of as the over-the-bleacher set were all the letter jacket-wearing normals who gathered for the games above the bleachers, and shook the pompoms and yelled because, hey, everybody else was yelling. Let's yell!
    As for me and mine, we were below the bleachers, down in the dark. We didn't care about the game, and the herd mentality of the onlookers above. We were the kids who played D&D back when it was thought to be Of The Devil. We were the kids who read Heinlein and Asimov and Stephen King. We listened to (TRUE) punk rock and flipped off the establishment with a sneer, and with safety pins in our ridiculous 80's trenchcoats.
    Even though I have since assimilated, I have never lost the idea of being apart from the herd. I have always known that the separation was a way to inspire, to lead. Conformity has its place, but we would have never come down front the trees without some true non-conformists amongst us.
    That's what I hope my daughter will be, when all is said and done. An eccentric, a non-conformist.
    So, I wrote a novel for her.
    Kali was born. I successfully Kickstarted it, abusing every relationship in my entire life to scrape enough scratch to stay afloat for two months. During that time I lived and breathed the book, typing 12 and 16 hours a day. I wrote a hundred-thousand plus words in two months flat. But I digress...
   As to the subject of this essay, the reason I am suggesting others seeking to follow my path do anything else is because of what happened after the book was written. It was a bitter, poignant lesson, and by these words I hope to pass it on to all the other dilettantes out there, scratching and straining to get published.
   During the course of writing Kali I met quite a few other authors, and learned that my view of "the craft" was really only partially committed, by comparison to my new friends. They slaved away, typing every minute they weren't getting by, just like me, but quite often sacrificing personal lives and family to do so. Some had dozens of failed books; others had some success. One and all, they had worked their asses off compared to me. I did not feel like an author at all, and the meaning of the word "dilettante" grew in my mind.
    The idea that being an author was some kind of lottery process, some way of culling the creatives from the herd, tapping them with a magic wand... it was a fiction in my head, born of the 1980-1990's mindset that a good book was a thing you could really sell. The truth is being a writer is a slaving, laborious, obsessive-compulsive nightmare process in this modern Amazon-laden world, more like a curse than some boon. I compared it to zombies, in that much like them, writers are cursed to seek the minds of any and all to devour.
    In summary: if you want to write, WRITE. Throw it all out, all the other normal human desires, and, like a cop or a member of the Armed Services, devote yourself to it, body and soul, night and day. Long for the keyboard clicks, long for the empty pages. Long for the real unrequited passion you will develop for your totally-made-up characters, and do it every waking minute of your life. Just don't confuse writing in the old world for writing in the new; there is no comparison. It is no longer a paying job but for a select few, the ones crazy enough, committed enough, or even lucky enough to claw their way to the top of the bestseller piles of dead author corpses.
    Kickstarting something like a novel sets you up to think that every book will have a price tag of some kind on it you can count on. That is simply not the case any more. This may sound cynical to some, especially since I only wrote one 104K novel, and only spent a year and half attempting to find an agent or publisher for it before going indie, but the truth is truth.
    That truth is the world is different now, and seeking to live in the old ways as a writer is as dumb as the print industry not preparing for the digital age.