Pike’s Peak Writers Conference

This week I will be appearing as a faculty member for the Pikes Peak Writers Conference in Colorado Springs, CO. This will be my first time appearing as faculty at a multi-genre writers conference, and I’m excited to share my experience and ideas with up-and-coming writers.

Here are the workshops I’ll be teaching at the conference:

BE THE RISING TIDE THAT LIFTS ALL BOATS:  Networking in the Book World

Writing compelling work is the most important factor in succeeding as a writer, but who you know makes a big impact as well. This workshop will describe and explore methods of networking and building connections in your industry/genre in order to benefit others as well as yourself.

FROM WORLD TO STORY: Science Fiction and Fantasy World Building

Science Fiction & Fantasy are famous for their settings – imagined futures and fascinating invented worlds. Many writers get bogged down in worldbuilding or struggle to move from setting to a specific story. This workshop will provide tools and example processes for developing a setting in a way that will enrich character, support plotting, and help avoid falling down the hole of endless worldbuilding.

HOW TO HAND-SELL YOUR BOOK

Author and publishing professional Mike Underwood shares lessons from seven years of hand-selling books to readers, booksellers, and sales reps.  Learn how to put your work into a market context, showcase what makes it special, and connect with readers when selling at conventions, festivals, and more.

Read Geekomancy for Free!

From now through February 16th, you can read the entirety of my debut novel Geekomancy for free on XOXOAfterDark!

About Geekomancy:

Ree Reyes’s life was easier when all she had to worry about was scraping together tips from her gig as a barista and comicshop worker to pursue her ambitions as a screenwriter.

When a scruffy-looking guy storms into the shop looking for a comic like his life depends on it, Ree writes it off as just another day in the land of the geeks. Until a gigantic “BOOM!” echoes from the alley a minute later, and Ree follows the rabbit hole down into her town’s magical flip-side. Here, astral cowboy hackers fight trolls, rubber-suited werewolves, and elegant Gothic Lolita witches while wielding nostalgia-powered props.

Ree joins Eastwood (aka Scruffy Guy), investigating a mysterious string of teen suicides as she tries to recover from her own drag-your-heart-through-jagged-glass breakup. But as she digs deeper, Ree discovers Eastwood may not be the knight-in-cardboard armor she thought. Will Ree be able to stop the suicides, save Eastwood from himself, and somehow keep her job?

Praise for Geekomancy:

Geekomancy is a glorious blender of genres, like a sweet candy shell filled with pop culture and high heroism. Absolutely stellar.”
– Seanan McGuire, New York Times bestselling author of Discount Armageddon

“Magic in geekery, mysticism in celebrities, the Ree Reyes series by Mike Underwood is a celebration of everything that makes being a geek cool. Can’t wait to read what he has in store next.” –Stephen Blackmoore, author of Dead Things

“If Buffy hooked up with Doctor Who while on board the Serenity, this book would be their lovechild. In other words, Geekomancy is full of epic win.”
– Marie Lu, author of the Legend trilogy

“If you took wish-fulfillment, ground it into a powder, and shot twice the recommended dosage into your eye socket, the result would look a lot like Geekomancy. I want to live in this world, where all the books and shows and movies and games I love are a source of power, not only in psychological terms, — which they already are — but practical, villain-pounding ones.”
– Marie Brennan, award winning author of A Natural History of Dragons

“Modern, sleek, and whip-smart, Geekomancy is a wonderful blend of geek and pop culture — you’ll find yourself grinning knowingly at least every other page. And Ree is the perfect protagonist to navigate Geekomancy’s world — geek enough to hold her own, yet human enough for me to be deeply invested in her struggles. I can’t wait to read the next one!”
– Cassie Alexander, author of Nightshifted

“Underwood’s Geek Fu is strong-and he’s not afraid to use it. Geekomancy is fun, fresh and full of geek culture references that will have you LOLing to the very last page. This book is one hundred percent pure awesomesauce and totally FTW.”
– Mari Mancusi, award winning author of The Blood Coven Vampire series

r/Fantasy “Stabby” Award Finalist!

 

Genrenauts Season One cover - art by Thomas WalkerI’m very pleased to share the news that Genrenauts was a Finalist for the r/Fantasy “Stabby” Award for Best Serialized Fiction. The winner was the amazing comic series The Wicked + The Divine, so I’m very happy for them, and honored for Genreauts to have gotten enough support to be a finalist.

Also, a reminder that you can still get the Genrenauts omnibus for $6.99, $3 off from the original price. And if you bought a paperback copy on Amazon, you can get the ebook edition now for $2.99 with Kindle Matchbook.

Next up is the audiobook edition of The Cupid Reconciliation (performed by the amazing Mary Robinette Kowal), coming very soon.

A Very Geekomancy Christmas

Hello, all!

Here’s a special present from me to you – a short fluffy return to the world of Ree Reyes and the Geekomancers.

 

“A Very Geekomancy Christmas”

By Michael R. Underwood

Most days, Rhiannon Anna-Maria (aka Ree) Reyes (Strength 10, Dexterity 14, Stamina 13, Will 18, IQ 16, Charisma 15 – Geek 7 / Barista 3 / Screenwriter 3 / Gamer Girl 2 / Geekomancer 3) slept in. Since she lived a co-running-a-magic-game-slash-bar-while-protecting-the-city-as-a-magical-superhero life, which came with late nights as standard. That meant sleeping in whenever possible. Though there were a lot of days where she’d be woken by some magical alarm Drake had posted around the city, or when her dad would call early about something weird or wonderful, claiming to have forgotten that yes, Pearson was still three hours behind Indiana.

But today was Christmas, and on Christmas, there was a damned good reason to wake up early. The earlier she woke up, the longer she could make the day in order to stuff in as much joy and love and peace as she could manage. Because on the 26th it’d be back to the magic and mayhem.

Ree snuck out of bed, leaving Drake snoring under the covers, muttering formulae in his sleep. She tip-toed through their apartment (lovingly dubbed “The Shithole,”), which was done up with lights and tinsel and the best in gaudy seasonal decorations that money could buy from the Dollar Store and use for years and years until they became a fire hazard. Sandra had outdone herself with the tree, decorated not just with Ree’s geeky ornaments but with papercraft snowflakes, houses, and more.

Approaching the tree, Ree smelled coffee. Glorious coffee.

Already used to waking up at six each day for her office job, Sandra Wilson (Strength 15, Dexterity 13, Stamina 13, Will 12, IQ 13, Charisma 13 – Geek 3 / Scholar 3 / Professional 3 / Dancer 1 / Teacher 1 / Waitress 1 / Chef 1) leaned against the kitchen counter, holding a steaming mug.

“Merry Christmas,” Sandra said at a whisper. She slid to the side and gestured to an empty Grognard’s Grog & Games mug, over-sized for maximum caffeination.

“Merry Christmas,” Ree answered. She picked up the coffee pot and poured herself a massive cup. “Darren up?”

She nodded. “He’s been writing for an hour.” Sandra’s boyfriend’s dissertation was due on the first day of the semester, and he had only just now started his bibliography. So his and Sandra’s holiday had turned into a series of writing dates. Shopping and writing, wrapping presents and writing, baking and writing.

“He is going to stop long enough for you to shower him with food and presents, right?”

“That’s what he promised,” Sandra said. “Drake still out?”

“And deconstructing the principle of special relativity in his sleep, from the sound of it.”

Ree and Sandra chatted for several minutes over coffee as color returned to Ree’s world thanks to the power of java. It’d be the first of many cups today, but not out of necessity for fighting back-alley monsters or tromping through the sewers after homicidal gnomes, but because she could. And the lack of urgency made the drink all that much sweeter.

***

An hour later, Drake had emerged from slumber and Darren finished his writing quota for the day. Anya and Priya arrived with armfuls of presents and food, and the six of them crowded around the tree on couches and tables and the expandable ottoman that Drake had made Priya for ease of crafting anywhere and everywhere.

Anya gestured to the tree, present-lust in her eyes. “Presents first! I’m tired of waiting to find out what’s in that huge box,” she said, pointing to a box Drake had secreted away the morning before. Anya Rustova (Strength 7, Dexterity 12, Stamina 16, Will 15, IQ 16, Charisma 15 – Musician 5 / Geek 2 / Scholar 4 / Opera Diva 3) wore a gloriously gaudy Christmas sweater in green and red and gold, her one fashion concession to the season.

“Can we eat first? I might have been up late finishing this coat. You know, hypothetically.” Priya Tharakan (Strength 8, Dexterity 13, Stamina 12, Will 16, IQ 17, Charisma 15 – Geek 3 / Professional 3 / Seamstress 4 / Steampunk 4 / Goth 2) had gone all-out, sporting a green leather Christmas elf costume, complete with a jingling sonar bell on her felted hat.

“I’ve got enough food to feed an army, and unlike the presents, this stuff will get cold,” Sandra said.

“Let’s do both,” Ree said, taking charge like she was back at Grognard’s and directing traffic. “Drake, you and Anya divvy up presents, Darren and I will serve food. Priya, can you take notes for thank you cards?”

“Certainly.” Priya whipped out her tablet, which she carried in a gear-laden carrying case, which she dubbed the “Portable Babbage Engine” model. It had become the most popular non-clothing design on her shop, copies shipping across the country and around the world. Her business was so bustling she’d hired an assistant-slash-apprentice to help with the leather-work.

“Hosts go first,” Drake said, setting the massive box on Ree’s chair, then depositing a long rectangular box at Sandra’s spot on the couch. It was heavy. Like, What the Hell Is In Here and Is it Going to Explode? heavy.

Ree speculated as to the box’s contents as she returned to the kitchen to grab the rest of the food. She emerged with three plates full of scrambled eggs, sausage links, re-heated pasteles from last night’s Nochebuena dinner, and Sandra’s picture-perfect hash browns, all stacked on her straight arm, using Veteran Server Skills. Sandra followed with a tray full of drinks – mimosas and lambics from Grognard’s new line.

Drake Winters (Strength 12, Dexterity 15, Stamina 14, Will 15, IQ 16, Charisma 15 – Inventor 6 / Gentleman 2 / Steampunk 7 / Fae-Touched 3) accepted a plate and sidled up next to her, preparing to bask in her appreciation. Drake was a thoughtful gift-giver, but most times, it seemed like he got as much joy out of the giving as Ree got out of the receiving. It was a pretty handy arrangement, especially since Ree took about as much joy figuring out weird and wonderful gifts to give him.

They were still an odd couple par excellence, Ree all hyper-modern and esoterically geeky, Drake all propriety and otherworldly tech magic, but they’d found the tools they needed to work with one another’s faults and foibles, which meant that real fights were infrequent, short, and just about always ended with laughter. And other fun things.

Ree sized up the box, lifting it (which took some effort). “Is the shakey-shakey kind of box?”

Drake’s instant look of horror was hilarious, even if Ree knew she shouldn’t torture him so. “Please no. You’ve repeatedly said that you have renter’s insurance, but it’d hardly be fun to spend the day in a hotel after the resulting fire.”

“No shaking, got it.” Ree set the box down and proceeded to tear the wrapping to shreds, revealing a carved wooden box.

“It’s a box. Presumably with a thing in it.”

“Did you carve that?” Priya asked.

“I did, in fact. Berian Balsam, procured a few months ago at the Midnight Market. It is quite sturdy and might serve well as a container for any magical implements you wished to store at Grognard’s. Though the true present lies within.”

Ree beamed, and opened the box with a flourish.

Inside was a chrome-and-brass contraption that looked like a cross between a chemistry set, a wand, and a fireplace poker.”

“It’s beautiful,” she said. “What is it?”

Drake smiled. “It is a phlogistonic flat iron. Calibrated to drastically reduce the time necessary to achieve the desired straightness of hair. Its heat is only transferrable to hair, so there should be no random burns. However, the preservation of forces means that the central chamber it’s attached to does get very hot, and should only ever be used with the chamber properly secured.”

It was bizarre, but thoughtful. And incredibly useful, considering the awesome burn she’d given herself on her ear trying to flat-iron her hair for a super-fancy dinner out with her mom two weeks previous. “It’s awesome, thank you.” She leaned in and kissed the man-out-of-time, who looked like he was the cat that had caught the canary in an elaborate Rube Goldberg machine.

Darren got Sandra fancy paper for her newfound papercraft hobby, and then the rest of the crew tore through a round of presents. For Priya, heavy needles for her leatherwork (from Sandra). Anya got a new scarf (enchanted to let her mimic voices), a present from Ree and Drake, part of their ongoing experiments in combining Ree’s geekomancy and Drake’s Fae-powered magical engineering. Darren got capacitive touch gloves from Sandra.

“So you can keep reading even if we get another ridiculous winter like last year,” Sandra said. The same winter of the blizzard and Lachesis, the second of Lucretia’s Fate Witch sisters, who’d tried to kill Eastwood. In the end, Eastwood had sacrificed himself to save them all, mostly Branwen, aka Sionnan Reyes, Ree’s mom.

Who was due to arrive in about an hour. Ree had invited her to join them for Christmas first thing, but Sionnan wanted Ree to keep her traditions, “to let the younger generation keep your fun without an old lady around to embarrass everyone.”

Ree had argued that there would be no embarrassment, but she also guessed that the play might be for her mom’s sake as much as anyone else’s. Sionnan’d had a long, hard time, imprisoned by the Thrice-Retconned Duke of Pwn, and was still getting back into the swing of the whole Living Around People and Not Demons thing.

And finally, Drake opened Ree’s present, which she’d made with her mother’s help. Drake produced a pair of rubber gloves. But not thick, clumsy rubber gloves. These were doe-skin thin, fitted perfectly.

“These are remarkable!” Drake said. “They are non-conductive, I assume?”

Ree smiled. “Not just that, they’re also temperature-proof. Mom helped me with the enchantment, and Priya cut the material with the instruments we made. This way, you can do repairs in the field, work without a ground, and whatever else you can think up on the fly.”

“They’re fabulous, my love. Thank you.” Another kiss (chaste, because company), and they were back at the top of the gifting rounds, with a break for food.

There weren’t too many presents for each person, since even as a partner at Grongard’s, Ree wasn’t swimming in money any more than her other friends. The real gift was a day free of magical interruption, free from dark magic, and spent with the people she loved most in the world. Her mom would be over later, and then they’d all head down to Grognard’s for the Christmas Day Tournament & Banquet. Ree imagined Grognard in his festive apron, the one item he wore at work that wasn’t basic black.

A few minutes later, her phone lit up with a call.

Ree stood and walked over to the kitchen to talk.

“Merry Christmas, dad.”

And it was, in fact, Merry. The whole day.

That night, as Anya led a few of Grognard’s irregulars in some caroling while Ree’s Eldar (including Harlequins in Christmas colors) Ree reflected on the day, which had turned out even better than she’d imagined. She took pictures in her mind, and thought,

 

Dear Geeky Jeebus,

               Thank you for a real, honest-to-goodness break of a holiday. A+ navidad-ing. Would Christmas again.

 

“Hey Ree,” Grognard shouted from the bar, still wearing the festive apron, sporting a leather-clad but still jolly Santa. “Looks like we need to tap another keg!”

“On it!” Ree answered, humming a song and getting back to work.

THE END

Upside Down is here + Genrenauts discounts

I have a new story out today!

 

“Can You Tell Me How To Get To Paprika Place?” appears in Upside Down: Inverted Tropes in Storytelling, out today from Apex Publications.

As you might be able to guess, it’s a riff on a beloved children’s show. But it’s mostly an anti-corporatist cyberpunk story that ruminates on childhood, friendship, and re-working beloved characters into something very different. It’s the darkest short fiction piece I’ve written, but one that is ultimately hopeful.

There are a bunch of other stories and essays by fabulous writers in the collection, so I hope you’ll check it out.

 

Additionally, I’ve marked down a couple of Genrenauts ebooks. You can get The Cupid Reconciliation for just $.99 right now, and the Season One Collection is marked down from $9.99 to $6.99.

Genrenauts Season One cover - art by Thomas Walker

2016 eligibility post

It’s the most wonderful time of the year – awards eligibility season!

Yes, some people hate awards, and some people think it’s tacky to put your work forward for awards consideration. I disagree with the idea that being confident in your work and reminding people what you’ve done is anything to be ashamed of.

Here’s what I’ve done this year. If you’re only interested in reading one thing from me for award consideration, I’d recommend The Cupid Reconciliation – it’s designed as a jumping-on point for the series, and I’m very proud of it.

Novellas

The Absconded Ambassador
The Cupid Reconciliation
The Substitute Sleuth
The Failed Fellowship

The Absconded AmbassadorThe Cupid Reconciliation cover   The Substitute Sleuth - Genrenauts Episode 4 cover

The Failed Fellowship cover

 

 

 

 

 

Collection

Genrenauts Season One cover - art by Thomas Walker

Genrenauts: The Complete Season One Collection (contains all six episodes from season one)

 

Short stories

There Will Always Be a Max cover (by Goñi Montes)

“There Will Always Be a Max” (A Genrenauts story) – at Tor.com (read for free!)

“Can You Tell Me How To Get To Paprika Place” – in Upside Down: Inverted Tropes in Storytelling (Apex, December 2016)

 

Podcasts

I’m on the staff of two podcasts.

The Skiffy & Fanty Show – I mostly take part in the TV/film episodes, and the occasional interview.

Speculate! The Podcast for Writers, Readers, and Fans – we do in-depth analyses of individual works, plus interviews and chats about the state of the industry.

 

GenCon 2016 Schedule

Prepare your dice bags, shuffle your decks, and practice your Rock-Paper-Scissors.

That’s right, it’s GenCon time.

I’ll mostly be running the Angry Robot Books booth at #3044 in the Dealer Hall, where we’ll have convention specials, brand-new releases, and author signings!

AR Logo with Lettering

In addition, I will be participating in the GenCon Writers Symposium and appearing on some panels, as well as reprising my How To Hand-Sell Your Books talk that I gave at the Nebula Conference.

My books will be available at the Indy Reads booth, and you can come by the AR booth to say hello. If I’m not around, the folks that are will know when I’m going to be back.

Continue reading

10 Things I Learned From Running My First Kickstarter

It’s been a bit over a month since the conclusion of the Genrenauts Kickstarter, and looking back, here are some things I learned/verified during the campaign.

It’s Best to Bring Your Own Crowd…

When people talk about crowd-funding, we can’t forget the crowd part. One of the best ways to ensure success is to have an existing base of readers/supporters/fans ready and excited to back your campaign as soon as it launches. Thanks to newsletter mailings and some social media activity, people knew about my Kickstarter and backed very quickly. Here’s a chart of the first few days:

Kickstarter funding first few days - high # of backers and pledges

In the first day, the campaign got 56 backers for $1,497, which was 29% of the original funding goal.

The second day got us to 82 backers, $2,398, 47% funded.

And day three brought the total to 100 backers, $2,758, and 55% funded.

In those first days, friends, readers, and family mobilized to get the ball rolling in a huge way. Existing fans of the Genrenauts series jumped at the chance to be a part of the next step, and friends from all over pitched in to help me reach my goal.

Based on my experience following Kickstarter, if I had been a brand-new creator — launching a brand-new series with no track record — there’s basically no way I would have seen 100 backers in the first 72 hours.

…but Kickstarter will help, too.

A full 28% of the pledges (for $2,287) for the campaign came from Kickstarter links. This means that it’s very likely that those backers did not know me or Genrenauts before funding. Instead they found the campaign through Kickstarter’s own systems, from editorial spotlights to their search engine. That was notably higher than the 15-20% I was expecting, since Fiction projects aren’t at all the hottest geek-related category on Kickstarter (games are far hotter).

The Middle-of-campaign Doldrums are Real

Looking at the full funding chart, we can see that things really slowed down in the middle of the campaign:

Full chart of Kickstarter backers and funding by dayAround the 16th of May, things slowed down some. An then after the 26th of May, the campaign really slows down, getting less than 5 new backers a day for over a week. I was still putting out updates, hitting blogs and podcasts, but not at the same rate, and even so, we were still very far from our first stretch goal (more on that later).

This was the chunk of the campaign where I was getting kind of frustrated. I was having problems getting promotional hits confirmed, and I ended up having more sparse programming at BaltiCon, my local SFF con, than I had expected. And the items I did have didn’t seem to end up moving a lot of pledges. I did have a great time there, and recorded two interviews, which will me grow my reach over time.

Get Excited in Your Video (but don’t go on too long).

I spent a fair amount of time on my video. I wrote a script, rehearsed it until I could perform it mostly without visual reference, and did some work on setting the scene for better composition, as well as the time editing.

But the video was still too long. My video got 1,238 plays (so if no one re-watched the video, that means about 1/4 of the people who played the video backed the project. I think it’s far more likely that the video got re-played several times, so it’s harder to know the conversion %). But only 17.21% of the plays completed. Some might have cut off half-way through and just backed, and some might have watched 99% of the video and cut it off as the credits were rolling. But if I were to go back, I’d probably make the video about 1/3 shorter.

Lock Down Your Promo Schedule Early

Thanks to having a lot of connections in SF/F, I was able to get a lot of help spreading the word about the campaign – guest posts, interviews, podcasts, etc. But despite starting that process around 6 weeks before the campaign launched, I did not do a great job of locking down all of the go-live dates for those promotional hits. This means that I was sending follow-up emails, chasing schedules, and writing promo content during the campaign.

Stretch Goals Should be in Small Increments and be Broad-Reaching 

I was pretty confident that the campaign would be able to hit $5,000, the original goal. And due to the cost of producing audiobooks, my three main stretch goals were to create audio editions of episodes 3, 4, and 5&6. The trick there is that despite being a growing segment of the book industry, and despite Mary Robinette Kowal being an amazing audio performer with her own audience, it seemed like the promise of audio alone was not quite enough to carry momentum forward for another $4,000 very quickly. The campaign finished at $8,247, and thanks to Mary Robinette’s generosity, we will be able to have audio for Episode 3.

But I think I made an error in spacing out the stretch goals the way that I did. In addition to the stretch goals, I also had backer # goals, including a goal at 150 backers, one at 300, and the whimsy goals. If I’d set the first backer goal at 200 or 250 backers, that would have positioned the carrot of the bonus content more effectively to keep excitement up after hitting the initial funding goal but before reaching the audiobook goal.

The difficulty with the audio stgoals is that due to the cost, it wasn’t feasible for me to have intermediary stretch goals which required a capital cost. I needed all of the $ to pay for the audio production. Which means all I could do was offer goals with a labor cost – my labor. And because I was busy during the campaign on both keeping up the energy and in making promotional hits happen, I wasn’t in a good place to create additional labor-only stretch goals that would be feasible.

If I could go back, I’d definitely have smaller goals at $6,500 or $7,000, then at $10,500, etc. This would mean that there was always a stretch goal within $1,500 to $2,000 at any point once the original goal was hit. Having watched a lot of campaigns, the framing of “Only $5,16 dollars left until we hit <Small Goal #2!>” is really strong at converting. And for me, after hitting the original goal, it was $4,000 more until the first stretch goal. No one’s fault but my own, but I think with better-spaced goals, the campaign could have hit $12,000 or even $14,000.

Graphics are Key

This is something I got feedback on from Kickstarter-veteran friends, including Jay Swanson, Bradley P. Bealieu, and Gregory A. Wilson.

Originally, I had the covers of episodes 1 & 2 as my title card graphic for the campaign. My friends urged me to use a section of the amazing “There Will Always Be a Max” art, and they were of course right. I mean, look at it:

KS Crop

it’s got storytelling, it has bold colors, it’s just stunning. Goni Montes is amazing, and I have been plotting to get more art done by him for my work since I saw this image the first time.

Additionally, I used apps like Canva and WordSwag to make social media cards for the campaign to help mobilize whatever engagement I could get:

Genrenauts Kickstarter cardGenrenauts Twitter Card #3

and Jay Swanson very helpfully turned some of the blurbs for early episodes into image cards:

Marie Brennan blurbMatt Wallace blurb

all of these, plus adding the cover images from the episodes and short to the campaign description, gave the campaign a very strong visual appeal. Even the small preview card for the campaign was compelling, with solid copy and catchy art:
Campaign preview card

Don’t Expect To Get Anything Else Done

It was about all I could do to run the Kickstarter and stay on top of my day job. Thankfully, my wife Meg was 100% supportive of the campaign, and took on more of the household day-to-day during the Kickstarter in order to leave me with the time and energy to be the 24/7 cheerleader that a campaign requires.

Every day, I was writing thank you messages to backers, coordinating promotion, keeping in touch with my publishing team (since I was also getting Episode 3 ready to publish during the campaign), boosting on social media, revising projections, working on updates, and generally running around with lots of nervousness trying to keep my energy channeling into useful places instead of just fretting. Friends who had run Kickstarters told me about the exhaustion, and I believed them, but being in the middle of it running a campaign is a whole different thing.

Celebrate Success and Be Generous With Gratitude

The campaign had a lot of help, from friends giving me advice and support ahead of launch, Kickstarter staff (especially the amazing Margot Atwell) advising me on how to strengthen my campaign page/video/etc., and the colleagues who gave of their blogs, podcasts, and social media platforms to support me.

And most of all, no campaign can happen without backers. They are your Super-Fans, your colleagues, your family, and the wonderful people who have come to you through the joyful happenstance of algorithmic searching and are taking a chance on you. A Kickstarter is a way to re-connect with old friends, to strengthen your relationship with long-time readers, and more. A Kickstarter is the 21st century version of a Barn-Raising. At the end of the day, one person gets the barn, but everyone who helped make it happen has a sense of ownership, a sense of pride and accomplishment. That amount of support is a huge gift, and like any gift, it is not to be squandered.

Here’s what I’ve already with some of the Kickstarter funds: Paid for cover design, editorial development, and more. Most of the costs are still ahead, and will involve producing and shipping the physical editions for the campaign. But a Kickstarter doesn’t end when the campaign closes, nor does it end when the result is delivered. A Kickstarter forges a bond between creator and backers that continues for years to come, as I’ve learned by being a backer. One month after the campaign, I’m still deep in the production process, and even after fulfillment, I know that I’ll want to communicate with and draw upon the incredible support of my 321 backers as I continue the Genrenauts series and keep them appraised of my other projects. A successful Kickstarter is a gift that does, in fact, keep on giving.

And now the bonus lesson:

Folks out there that have run Kickstarters – what did you learn during your campaign that surprised you? Or if you’ve backed Kickstarters but not run one, what surprised you as a backer?

Kickstarter Countdown

Genrenauts Twitter Card #3

The Genrenauts Kickstarter has just over 48 hours to go, and as of writing this post, has 251 backers and is $2,414 away from the first audiobook stretch goal. That is still possible, especially considering the final 48 hours of activity I’ve seen in some other Kickstarter campaigns. A lot of people will hit the star button on a campaign (next to the funding button), which then prompts Kickstarter to remind them when the campaign is 48 hours away from ending. Kickstarter’s search engine also has a ‘campaigns ending soon’ category, which we’ll be in starting later today.

The campaign’s success is already paying dividends – I published THE CUPID RECONCILIATION last week, and have commissioned the cover for THE SUBSTITUTE SLEUTH. I am also assembling notes and ideas for the cover for the omnibus edition to discuss with Sean Glenn, the designer for the campaign.

So now is the time for one last round of signal-boosting, word-spreading, and holding out the hat. With your help, I’ll be able to make Genrenauts bigger and better.

As a reminder, here are the basic reward levels:

RECRUIT ($10) – You can get the entire season one collection in ebook.

GENRENAUT ($25) – You get the print omnibus edition of the season one collection PLUS the ebook.

GENRENAUTS FIELD OFFICE ($50) – This is the reward level for retailers (bookstores) and libraries. Only applicable if you are a retailer looking to sell the book or are buying for a public/academic/school library. You’ll receive five signed paperback editions of the Genrenauts Season One Omnibus, PLUS the ebooks, PLUS eARCs of every episode of GENRENAUTS Season Two.

SPECIALIST ($75) – You get a limited signed and numbered hardcover of the season one collection, plus the ebook.

VETERAN GENRENAUT ($100) – You get a limited signed & numbered hardcover, the ebook, eARCs of episodes 3-6 as they’re available, and ebook editions of Episodes 3-6 as they publish. You also get access to a limited high-level-backers-only Google Hangout at the end of the campaign.

There are still some high-level backer rewards available that would help the campaign reach the stretch goals. They are:

NARRATIVE TRAINING ($250 – 1 available) – A detailed critique of up to 10,000 words of fiction. You also get the $100 reward.

GENRENAUT CONSULTATION ($500 – 2 available) – A detailed critique of 25,000 words of fiction, plus everything from the $100 level, and an up-to-one-hour video conference with me to talk about the story and/or publishing/etc.

DINE WITH THE GENRENAUTS ($500 – 1 available) – Everything from the $100 reward AND a quality dinner at a convention with me sometime in the next year (exact con to be mutually decided on), where we’ll talk about publishing, writing, fencing, geekdom, etc.

HIGH COUNCIL ($1,000 – 2 available) – Everything from the $100 level, and you will be credited as an Executive Producer on Genrenauts Season One, AND when I begin writing Genrenauts Season Two, you will be credited as an Executive Producer, and we will work closely together to determine the genres, plots, and tropes used in the second season. Like the High Council and the Genrenauts, you will help guide the team and their missions. As the author, I will have final say on narrative choices. You will also receive signed & personalized paperback copy of SHIELD & CROCUS, PLUS signed & personalized copies of THE SHOOTOUT SOLUTION and THE ABSCONDED AMBASSADOR, PLUS ebook copies of every Genrenauts story ever published (past and future).

And don’t forget the whimsy goals!

These are stretch goals not to unlock more Genrenauts content, but to get me to do fun and ridiculous things. Just another way of getting people excited about the campaign.

YOUTHFUL EMBARRASSMENT – If the campaign reaches 300 backers, I will record a reading of some of my early fiction, including stories written in college. It will be embarrassing, and it will be awesome.
HAMILTON COVER – If we sell out of the NARRATIVE TRAINING ($250) OR GENRENAUTS CONSULATION ($500) backer levels during the campaign, I will post a video of me covering “You’ll be Back” from the Hamilton musical. Backers will see the video first. If we sell out of both levels, I will cosplay as Balmer King George III for the performance (Balmer King George = Kitschy as hell, because Baltimore)
LIVE-TWEET OF SUFFERING – For every audiobook stretch goal we hit, I will live-tweet a ridiculous SF/F movie. Options include CLASH OF THE TITANS, STARCRASH, and LADYHAWKE. Backers will vote on which movie(s) to watch.

So again, if you haven’t backed but intend to, now is the time for action!

 

The New Landscape – Platforms, Crowd Funding, and More

Last November, I wrote a post called The New Landscape – Access, Discovery, and Media De-centralization. I’ve decided to call that essay the first in a series (The New Landscape), and today I want to take the topic in a new direction, jumping off of this point:

Here’s what I see as the dominant progression for a creator trying to make money from their work (visual art, music, prose, comics, video, etc.)

Level 1 – Start small, give stuff away for free, sell some stuff. At Level 1, a creator is almost totally reliant on big systems, for both discovery and fulfillment/delivery. Basically no one knows who they are, so they join larger infrastructures and services to get the word out about their material through algorithmic and organic discovery.

Level 2 – Building Audience & Relationships — At this level, it becomes viable to diversify their portfolio, maybe by selling some merch (T-shirts, mugs, stickers, patches, etc). Here, a creator can bring dedicated fans onto a growing mailing list. This level enables direct sales and stronger performance on retail sites, but the creator may still be largely dependent for discovery-enabled growth and a lot of fulfillment/delivery.

Level 3 – Big Creators – Here, creators have a dedicated audience large enough they can get a living wage directly from their base, either totally direct or through Patreon/Kickstarter. Maybe they supplement their income speaking/appearance fees etc., having a large enough platform that they are in demand not just as creators, but as entrepreneurs/thought leaders in their field. They may still use large systems, but if they do, they do so from a far stronger position – they are less dependent on any given system, since their supporter base is strong, a base that is specific and mobilized, not platform-dependent.

This three-tier system is a bit reductive, as I said in the original post, but it provides a framework for what I’d like to talk about today: the differences between services/systems for Platform Building and those for Platform Mobilization.

At the Nebula Conference, I got to meet with a representative from Patreon, who helped answer some questions I had about their company and business model. Their rep confirmed what I’d already seen from being a patron on that platform – that it is more of a Platform Mobilizing system rather than a Platform Building one.

(Note – a number of writers I admire have found some success already using Patreon to support their other writing-based income, including Saladin Ahmed, Kameron Hurley, and most recently, N.K. Jemisin, who hit and easily passed the goal she’d set to allow her to quit her day job.)

Defining Terms

Here’s what I mean:

Platform: a creator’s established body of work, professional networks, and the way that they present as a creator. A creator with a small platform may just have started releasing works, or they may not have reached a very wide audience. A creator with a large platform may be well-known for some other work before they entered a creative field, or they might have built it as their career developed. A large platform tends to come with and from a large supporter base.

Platform Building: A system or process that is Platform Building is one that includes discovery systems – good ways for people that have never heard of the creator to find them and engage with their works. Producing content is Platform Building, as every work creates the opportunity for someone to find and engage with your creative efforts. YouTube, Twitch.tv, and any retail system where a consumer can follow a creator can serve as a Platform Building system. Platform Building enables creator and consumer/reader/fan to engage through the work as well as enabling other forms of communication to strengthen those relationships.

Platform Mobilizing: A system or process that is Platform Mobilizing is one where a creator can send or bring their fans/readers/viewers/etc. in order to make a project happen or to allow more direct financial support for a project/creator. Kickstarter and Patreon are both Platform Mobilizing companies, though in different ways, to different degrees.

Example – Mobilizing for Genrenauts

I’m running a Kickstarter right now, and as of the time of writing this essay, the project is less than 10% from hitting the $5,000 funding goal (yay!) When I launched the project, I was a bit worried that $5,000 might be too high for a first Kickstarter, that maybe I needed to aim lower and then try to build momentum by over-funding.

But in reality, I hit 50% of the goal in two and a half days, largely based on existing fans and strong signal-boosting from friends and colleagues. Based on how things are going, I’m likely to hit the funding goal about halfway through the campaign, and then spend the final two weeks pushing for stretch goals. That seems like a perfectly solid way of going about things in a single-creator project.

What has surprised me is that according to Kickstarter’s dashboard analysis tools, around 27% of the pledges made to the project have come from Kickstarter’s own discovery systems. Those include their search engine, their Projects We Love recommendations, and so on. I had not expected Kickstarter to provide so much discovery. I’d estimate that close to a third of the backers on the project had not heard of me before launch. This, in my opinion, means that I’d substantially under-estimated Kickstarter’s utility as a tool for not only Platform Mobilizing, but also Platform Building. There are going to be notably more people invested in the Genrenauts series when this campaign completes than when it had started.

Given the opportunities involved, any Platform Mobilizing system that uses a crowd-funding approach like Kickstarter will likely be working on building in some discovery systems. The company benefits if people come to trust their system as a way of discovering amazing new content, and the creators benefit from crowd-funding with a system that helps do more than just facilitate a direct mobilization of existing fans/readers/viewers/etc. And it definitely works for me as a consumer, too – I’ve backed a fair # of projects that I only heard about through Kickstarter’s search system. Patreon’s discovery tools, in my experience, are more nascent, and have a ways to go. The company is also much younger thank Kickstarter, so this is to be expected.

The Inevitable So What

Here’s why I think this is a useful framework: I’ve been following Kickstarter and Patreon each since pretty early in their public histories, and trying to study what they can and do offer to creators. In publishing we have this idea of The Discoverability Problem, which is that it is getting harder for individual creators to have their work discovered, which makes it harder for new creators to find a following and build a sustainable career. There are so many books being released (largely due to digital self-publishing) and more releases means that there are more works to choose from. In publishing, the loss of shelf space from the closing of Borders and the lessening number of indie bookstores in the USA (a trend that has thankfully reversed, as we’re seeing new strong indies doing a great job around the country) means that writers are posed with discovery being an ever-greater problem.

One of the best ways to be discovered is to build your platform. The more people know you and have positive associations with you, the more chances you have to sell your work.

With the proliferation of social media, there are ever-more places creators can go to try to build their platform. You can be on Instagram, Tumblr, or Snapchat, as well as older systems like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, etc. Social media channels are a well-trod way of building platform – incrementally growing your readership/tribe/etc. by consistently entertaining, informing, or whatever you choose to do. This form of Platform-Building tends to take time and a lot of effort. The first few people to any platform will be far more likely to benefit from it, growing their profile as the platform grows.

But any one media company can come or go – the fortunes of a social media company rise and fall. LiveJournal and MySpace are mere shadows of what they once were. Facebook lists on, and Twitter is harried by largely-unchecked abusers and the continual frustration of not being able to edit a typo out of a tweet that’s raking up RTs.

If a creator gets in deep with a single platform, their ability to connect with their fans/readers/etc. is bound up in that company’s fate. This is why people have been harping on and on about email lists/newsletters – if you bring you audience to a system that is much more directly under your control, that ability to connect is much more robust.

And from a mailing list, you can then direct your fans to a new platform, mobilizing them in order to help make a project happen.

This is why I see Platform Building systems as mostly being oriented toward Stage One and Stage Two (see the framework from the earlier post), and that Platform Mobilizing systems are more effective for later Stage Two and Stage Three. It doesn’t seem terribly viable (at least right now) to start a brand-new creative career by going directly to Patreon as your main way of interacting with fans/readers/etc.. For the most part, the people succeeding on crowd-funding/crowd-patronage systems are those with proven success and/or an existing fan-base. But once you have those connections and have earned that support, systems like Patreon and/or Kickstarter can let a creator provide an opportunity for fans, and especially super-fans, to go the extra mile in supporting a creator.

21st Century Creative Economics

Here’s another way we can express this:

Most of my books are available digital-first, from $2.99 to $5.99 per book. I also have paperbacks for $12.99 to $14.99. I don’t have any books out in hardcover, so $15 is the highest price for any of my books. If I have a super-fan who absolutely adores my works and will buy anything I publish, but I only ever ask $2.99 to $15 for my work, then they’ll buy as many of those as I can produce, but maybe I won’t actually provide them with an opportunity for them to support me to their satisfaction.

Then I launch my Kickstarter, with a $100 backer level, and they pick it in a heartbeat. They get a lot out of being able to directly support me and the extra rewards I offer above and beyond the book. And I get a big chunk of $ toward my project, plus a way to engage directly with a major supporter.

This is, I think, the source of one of the big appeals of Kickstarter and Patreon: With those company’s business models, I can offer a wider range of commercial interaction possibilities, and find places where the existing mix of products doesn’t satisfy a fan/supporter’s interest. If I have a fan who makes a really good living and wants to be able to help support me, if I make it easier for them to get more out of supporting me, we might both be able to win – me from greater financial support, them from getting more content from me, more direct interaction, and/or more insight into how I make my art.

This is another way to diversify your portfolio as a creator – offer a lot of different ways for people to support you – ebooks, paperbacks, audio, crowdfunded support, large-ticket experiences (critiques, Google Hangouts, etc.), and so on. And offering that wider mix you may find that you’re not only making more $, you’re giving readers/fans/etc. more chances to connect with you and your work. The perfect overlap of Platform-Building and Platform-Mobilizing.


Speaking of that Kickstarter, please check out the campaign and see if you’d like to join over 180 people helping me realize my creative dreams: