Earlier this year, Andrew Fitzgerald started a unique collaborative writing project called Andrew vs. The Collective. He already had a published book in hand (called The Collective), but he was looking for a creative way of raising funds to 1. publish more copies, and 2. get the book out there. So, he started a short-story project in which he would write a new short story each week for six weeks and allow backers to contribute plot lines for him to incorporate. A writing marathon!
Now, 98 backers and 16 updates later, all the short stories have been written and shared, and all the books have been mailed out. How’d it all go for Andrew? Check out his thoughts below.
What advice do you have for future project creators about the project process?
The project was actually designed from watching the way my friend Robin Sloan’s project played out. He had a simple premise (“I’m writing a book”) and one goal (“Raise money by date x”). But what he did throughout the process, both by accident and by design, was regularly invent new reasons to point people to the project. Like different chapter breaks in his story.
The way I see it, each Kickstarter project’s backing period plays out like a story. You have the main narrative arc (“Will this project reach its funding or not?”), but in order to keep attracting new people, you have to build in some subplots. Some story beats.
Andrew vs. The Collective was essentially a seven-act story: the introduction and then each of the six short stories. Each week the narrative was: “Can Andrew finish this week’s story?”
While I don’t think every project needs to take the narrative arc as literally as that, I do think it’s crucial to plan out a timeline of your project’s backing period before you open it to the public. What are you going to do in that time to attract the attention of new backers? What creative ways will you give your existing backers to tell their friends about your project?
What did you learn from the project experience?
I learned a lot about the limits of my own determination and ability. The project was, as a friend termed it, “a marathon of sprints.” Six (long) short stories in six weeks turned out to be quite a lot of work. Around weeks four and five I was having a hard time building up the energy to crank out another story.
Along with the amount of determination it takes to do this sort of endurance writing, it also takes a fair amount of creativity. And that’s where I think I learned the most from a writer’s perspective: that creativity came from my backers. Especially in my final story, when I gave the backers a pretty strong frame to work within — their boundlessly creative entries really made the story interesting.
Did anything unexpected happen?
I think more than anything I learned the surprising number of strangers out there who were interested in taking part in a fun project. Sure, my mother and my friends took part, but I was blown away at how many complete strangers got involved — and what’s more, how generous they were with their backing.
On those lines — for other creators — I learned that you should not be afraid to set your highest reward level much higher than what seems attainable to you. I was very surprised by the number of people that backed Andrew vs. The Collective at the highest level reward.
How did the input you got from backers affect your writing process and/or your style?
Well, from a process perspective, I’d never done anything like this before so I had to come up with an entirely new system. I would collect the different entries into a spreadsheet and then I would brainstorm a rough plot line on a legal pad. As I wrote, I would keep the spreadsheet open and keep looking for opportunities to include different items. At the end, I would always have a few pieces left over and I would have to go back through the story and find ways to work them in. (Any lengthy anecdotes that are completely tangential to the story? That’s where the extra bits ended up.)
A few of my backers took the “challenge” aspect of Andrew vs. The Collective very seriously and did their best to make it as hard as possible for me week to week. It made me work harder than I ever had before as a writer to find ways to work those in without completely blowing off the suggestion (though, trust me, I was tempted a few times!).
Got any photos you can share?
I have a few pictures from the book release party that one of the backers took. (His name is Jeremy Brooks.)
Here’s me with the book of short stories:
And me signing the book:
Some closing thoughts from Andrew:
It was an absolutely awesome and unique experience, and something that would never have been possible without Kickstarter.