Unspecified – Kickstarter fundraiser

I meant to post about it here sooner, say, a week and a half ago when I started the fundraiser, or last Thursday & Friday when I was having a bit of an emotional breakdown (visible here and there, depending on whether you’re my friend on Facebook or Google+, or happened to see me in person) which related directly to the experience of running a Kickstarter fundraiser… the emotionality of which led directly to my not posting anything about it over the weekend. Then something began to come together (more on what, below) which led me to not post or say much about the whole project until today. Anyway, here we go:

The new poetry collection, Unspecified by Yoshira Marbel, which I’ve been posting about for the last couple of weeks, is currently trying to raise funds to cover the costs of creating a print edition of the book. I posted a little bit about the costs involved in that (setup, proofs, initial printing, shipping to me, shipping to South Africa, ISBNs, et cetera) and in running the Kickstarter project itself (shipping rewards to backers, Kickstarter takes 5%, Amazon takes a few % to process payments), but I guessed I’d need $330. I decided to run a shorter Kickstarter fundraiser than average, since statistically most pledges come in the first few days and on the last day, only about two weeks long, ending at 9PM MST, Friday September 16th, 2011.

As of last night, we reached our funding goal. (This is presuming no one removes their pledge in the next two days.) There are still two days for you and your friends and family and pets to pledge to the project, knowing confidently that the book will have a print edition which should be delivered to me by the first week of October and then forwarded on to you post-haste. Knowing that Yoshira’s dream is coming true and her poetry and message will be reaching people who never would have had a chance to have contact with it otherwise, and that as a backer, you are contributing to that dream fulfillment (and you’ll have your name in the book’s Special Thanks section in acknowledgement of that).

Here’s how we reached our funding goal:
On the first day we had one person pledge $30 (Thanks, John!). I was posting about the fundraiser on Facebook, on Google+, on Twitter, I’ve been running a 30-second ad on every episode of all 13 of my Podiobooks which gets downloaded during the course of the fundraiser, and I posted an episode of the Modern Evil Podcast with info on the book, the fundraiser, and containing a few of the poems. Over that first week we got one more pledge of $2. Which is part of why by the end of that first week I was having an emotional breakdown. (More on that, below.) My semi-public emotional breakdown led to another $51 in pledges on Friday/Saturday.

Around the same time I added a couple of new reward levels offering any piece of original artwork (see wretchedcreature.com); $50 for the book, eBook, and any piece of art 8″x10″ or smaller, and $300 for the book, eBook, and any piece of art (including an original commissioned piece). Those offers are still available, by the way. If you’ve been looking at some of my art (some of which is priced significantly higher than $300, which includes shipping) or want to commission something, this is a great opportunity, which will help support the publishing side of my business, too. You have two days to take advantage of this offer via the Kickstarter fundraiser.

One person has already taken advantage of it. Bill Jonas Jr., someone who has bought a couple of pieces of my artwork in the past, was moved by Yoshira’s notes (see the Kickstarter page) and was thinking about pledging most of last week. He was thinking of pledging at the $250 level, to support the project (that would have put us over our goal) and because he really likes the piece of art I used to create the book cover… and then he saw the offer re: getting commissioning a new piece and he contacted me about that. (For reasons I won’t go into, rather than pledging directly, he preferred to give me cash – I had my sister use her Kickstarter account to put the pledge up on the site on his behalf.) We met last night so he could give me the cash and his thoughts and ideas for the painting he wants (and to hang out and chat, which was nice (and about the limit of the social I think I can take right now; it was just my wife and Bill and myself chatting at a coffee shop); we were friends before Bill became a fan of my art). That $300 put us at the $383 pledged we’re at as I write this post. Enough to publish the book in print, and depending on how Yoshira and I feel about it in a year, the rest either to keep it in print for a while after that, or which can be used toward the publication of my future books. (ie: Probably the next time you see me post a Kickstarter fundraiser for a book, the goal will be ~$50 lower than it otherwise would have been. (Or not happen at all, if someone else pledges at the $250 or $300 reward levels in the next two days.))

Which brings us around to a long, long ramble about what’s been going on with me, emotionally:
I’ve been quite depressed for some long time, actually. About a month ago my stress, anxiety and depression reached a point where I could no longer handle even relatively low-key social gatherings exceeding about 8 people. (For about half the summer, Mandy and I had been attending a weekly (well, mostly weekly) game night at a friend’s house, where we played board games (mostly of the strategy variety, though they’d been admirably enduring my unusual collection of Scrabble variations, one a week) with a handful of friends.) I’ve managed to avoid acting on my suicidal thoughts, to avoid attempting to numb/poison myself with alcohol, and mostly to avoid emotional overeating. I have stopped strength training in the last two or three weeks, and I’m not sure whether that’s mostly because of the depression, mostly because I’ve run out of Podiobooks I want to listen to (and keep starting Podiobooks I don’t enjoy, which puts me off my exercise a bit), somewhat because the worst of my depression induces a sort of constant, all-over bodily pain/soreness which makes strength training even more painful, some combination of factors, or just because I don’t enjoy exercise for its own sake. Of course, at its worst my insanity drives me out of doors on long, long walks (usually in the middle of the night), so I haven’t been entirely without exercise, or been entirely cooped up in the house; I suppose that can be counted as good. Anyway, to sum up: I’ve been feeling quite poorly of late.

Getting a submission, a good and appropriate one, was a bright point. Working with the author to create a publishable book from that submission was something which could take advantage of my occasional manias or give me something to focus on and distract me from the darkest of my depression. Getting an eye exam and being prescribed eye glasses for the first time (right around the time I launched the Kickstarter, a week and a half ago) feels pretty dark, and I’m sure I’ll begin feeling even worse when the glasses arrive and I actually have them as a constant reminder of my own slowly decaying body; I don’t cope well with disorder, disease, aging or the reality of what our physical bodies go through as they approach death and I expect I’ll take my life in a decade or two (at the latest) rather than suffer the indignities of that end of the experience of life; getting glasses is like a precursor, and I have repeatedly thought, in the last 10 days (and in recent years as my eyesight has degraded) that I ought to kill myself now, rather than even begin down that slippery slope of decay toward death.

Then there’s the Kickstarter itself. What it feels like it represents. As I said on Facebook, most of the time it’s easy to believe/pretend I’m successful, because I’m doing what I love. I’m writing the books I want to write, I’m creating the art I want to create, I’m telling stories, reading books, living my life, loving my wife, worshiping my God, and most of the time I can believe I’m successful. Once in a while I have to do bookkeeping (at least quarterly, when taxes are due), and once in a while I become involved in something like this fundraiser, and once in a while I look at the number of people reading/buying/responding-to my books in the context of other creators’ work, and when I do it becomes easy to try to measure my success with numbers and contexts and comparisons. It becomes almost impossible to avoid feeling that I’m unsuccessful. Other indie authors, who consider their books to be less successful than they’d like, usually posting from a context of “this isn’t close to where I want it to be, but I can see how, if I were just doing ten or twenty times better, I could consider myself successful”, make off-handed remarks about how many eBooks they’re selling (this week it was “only averaging 18 copies a day” when they raised their price from $0.99 to $2.99) and the perspective it throws my own eBook sales into feels like they’ve physically thrown me down the stairs. Down an infinite spiral staircase, and I’m tumbling all the way down in increasing pain. (I don’t think I’ve ever, in over three and a half years of selling eBooks, sold 18 eBooks in a month. Right now I have 27 or 28 eBooks available; novels and short stories, collections of short stories and even collected novels, ranging in price from $0.99 to $9.99. Eleven novels priced $5.99 or less. I don’t have my spreadsheets in front of me right now (and don’t care to look at them, which I’m sure would make me feel even worse, a countering of “Yay! The Kickstarter is funded!” I don’t really need), but I don’t believe I’ve ever gotten within an order of magnitude of the sales other authors bemoan as “not making it”.) At some point after I launched my Kickstarter fundraiser trying to raise $330 -this was while I still only had $32 in pledges after most of a week- another Podiobooks/indie author launched a Kickstarter to raise funds for a print edition of one of his books, looking to raise $4000, and he surpassed his goal within about 25 hours. This was around the time I began to have a major emotional breakdown. I spent a few hours curled up in bed crying, I tried to find things to do to occupy myself, and I ended up posting something about how I felt on Facebook… which is when a handful of people pledged a bit more, but I continued to be less than 25% of the way to the goal.

I hate marketing. I loathe promotion. I’m not fond of sales. Working on any of those things, especially to try to market/promote/sell my own creations, tends to induce physical symptoms such as nausea, headaches, and worse… and emotional responses including grief, intense self-loathing, and anger. I believe in this book, in Yoshira’s poetry, and I believe that it deserves to be published, or I wouldn’t be putting my name and the name of my company behind it. Yet writing copy for it was just about as uncomfortable as writing copy for my own work. Promoting the fundraiser has been … very bad. Worse, in light of how the last Kickstarter I attempted turned out. Bad, in knowing that most pledges for most Kickstarter fundraisers come in the first 24-48 hours, and I hadn’t even reached 10% of our admittedly modest goal. Imagine I’d set a $4000 goal, or -like another indie author I know who was raising funds for a strictly eBook release– an $8000 goal; my “success” would have been obviously “none” (while both of those other projects were fully funded within a matter of hours or days). Those successful authors certainly did more to promote their fundraisers than I did, but even just the little promotion I was doing felt like too much to me, like SPAMming my social network and my readers, like I was going to make myself sick with all that goddamned promotion. I just couldn’t take it, couldn’t face it. Thousands of people download my books, possibly tens of thousands (it’s hard to know how to count), and hundreds of people follow me and my work or call me a friend, and dozens of people have called/written/txt’d or otherwise reached out specifically to tell me they’re fans of me and my work, and yet …

…and yet, only a small handful of people buy my books, only 1 of my friends (friends and fans combined, really) had pledged anything to show their support, and it felt like their not pledging (or sharing the link, even, or commenting), not even $1, was a refutation of my success. It felt like every one of the hundreds of people who would self-identify as my “friend” on Facebook but hadn’t bought a book, eBook, or painting, hadn’t donated to a Podiobook, hadn’t pledged toward any of my 3 Kickstarters, that every one of them was outing themselves as someone who doesn’t believe in me, doesn’t like or support my work, doesn’t care about what I’m doing or who I am or what I believe in. I know I have real friends, and I know I have genuine fans, and I know there are people who care about me, even if they aren’t saying so with their money; those people actually say so, and then usually spend money even after I tell them it isn’t necessary. I also know that when hundreds or thousands of people purport to be your friend or fan and neither say they support your work nor spend to support your work, the one or few who do are easily overshadowed. Especially when I’m already really, really depressed. And once it begins, measuring self-worth with dollar-signs is a difficult paradigm to break free of. When I’m trying to raise funds, or when I’m trying to sell books (say, at comicon), or when I’m launching a new/finished project, it’s too easy to fall into that trap and too difficult to find my way back out again. In between, while I’m working on creating things and not thinking about whether my past projects have made money and whether the things I’m creating are going to be able to make money, when all I’m thinking about is the work of creation itself, I feel fine. As I said, I feel successful to be able to be doing that work, and to be able to not be thinking about money. I suppose I ought to add to my earlier list: I really, really hate money. I wish I never had to deal with it or think about it at all. In a way, I think that’s a large part of how I measure my success; the less I have to think about money, the more successful I am. I can imagine that, if I were to suddenly start making millions of eBook sales and I had to start dealing with all the financial bullshit that comes along with financial “success” I might see myself as less successful than I am now… though… there must be a balance point somewhere, where the increased income means less time spent thinking about my family’s money (food budgets, clothes budgets, how we’re going to afford glasses, medical procedures, new tires, et cetera), in excess of the increased time spent thinking about bookkeeping/accounting/taxes/etc. I can almost guarantee you that point is still lower than would put me in the top two quintiles of American income. (Stupid rich people.)

To wrap things up a bit, I’m glad we’ve reached our funding goal and that I don’t really need to do any more promotion (in a traditional sense) or fundraising for Unspecified. The process of getting there has been painful and difficult, and has made me question the value of my life and the measure of my success. I’m depressed enough right now that I don’t know whether my misgivings and self-doubt are real or are symptoms. I suppose I haven’t quite reached a point where I’ve been able to sufficiently decouple my business from its reliance on money… Ugh. I suppose that’s something else I need to work on, another money thing I need to think about before trying to launch my next project. Sigh.

I’ll post again when I’ve got books in hand; possibly even when I get a good-looking proof copy. Ooh, or if/when my mood changes; better or significantly worse.

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Author, artist, romantic, insomniac, exorcist, creative visionary, lover, and all-around-crazy-person.

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