The Kickstarter Blog

Interview: Josh Bayer's Rough, Weird, and Raw Comics

  1. What is a Nonvella?

    Vancouver-based creators Tyee Bridge and Anne Casselman coined the word "nonvella" to describe the kind of work they like to read: timely, interesting nonfiction that falls between 5,000 and 20,000 words. It's an umbrella term, but one that has helped them hone their mission statement. 

    Now, as Nonvella the publisher, they aim to put out six of these works, complete with simple, timeless, and compelling cover designs, every year. We asked them a few questions about design, nonfiction, and where the two meet. 

    You describe yourselves as "the craft brewing of publishing" — it's a wonderful description that brings to mind the aficionado, as well as an appreciation of nuance. Can you talk a bit more about what it means to you?

    It sort of came off the cuff and then, inevitably, stuck. Especially in Vancouver right now there are all these great microbreweries. They're fresh. They're local. They're good value. They're smaller. And best of all, they're actually influencing and shaping our taste buds for the better.

    The more we struggled with summarizing what Nonvella Publishing was about to people, the more we realized that yes, we really are the craft brewery of publishing: local, small-batch, community-oriented, taste-makers.

    Why longform nonfiction? What draws you to that length of writing?

    As we say on our KS page, longform hits a sweet spot of heft and brevity. You'd be surprised (as we consistently are) with what you can do in 10,000 words. Some of North America's greatest writers — from Thoreau to Krakauer, Baldwin to Ackerman — have used 'nonvellas' as we call them to take readers everywhere you can imagine, from the Himalayas to the Florida swamps, from the exalted realms of mystic theology to the dive bars of San Francisco.

    Thanks to pioneer publishers like The Atavist, the nonvella form is getting the attention it deserves, and we're thrilled to be part of that literary resurgence. It's an exciting time to be a literary craft brewery!

    How does your design aesthetic inform (or work with) what you choose to publish?

    When we worked with our graphic designers (shoutouts to Grey Vaisius and Justin Alm) on our graphic assets, they really understood from the get go what we were after with Nonvella: substance with style (a straight up, clean, timeless style to be exact).

    In many ways that mantra applies just as readily to what we publish. Yes, we want our nonvellas to be contemporary and relevant but there has to be an evergreen quality to them. They have to weather and age well. As for substance, writing without substance is like cooking without salt. We'd never dream of it!

    What's your team like, and how are you organized?

    The two of us, Tyee and Anne, are the cofounders/publishers of Nonvella (for more about us, go here). Outside of that we have drawn on the talents of a wonderful group of designers, marketing professionals, videographers and volunteers (Team Nonvella!).

    We also have relied on the good graces of Vancouver's greatest nonfiction writers (somehow this city is a hotbed for top tier narrative nonfiction talent!) and publishing professionals to help us navigate these new waters. You can see a list of our advisory board here.

    Form or function? 

    Ooh. You'd make us pick?! On this front, we believe that you can have both. The very best form, always, should serve function first and foremost. That said, with a book that function can change, and there's where the fun comes in. Maybe that function is to be a beautiful book series that you can display on a shelf as well as dip into for a good read.

    Maybe that function is to transport the reader away into the world of the author's insights and thoughts, in which case the form can be any variation of words on a page, whether it's an epub for a kindle, PDF for your laptop, or print edition in your eager hands.

    Can you judge a book by its cover? No. Of course not. But can you judge a publisher, even a micropublisher like us, by their covers? Yes.

  2. Cats vs. Dogs! A Statistical Analysis

    Here at Kickstarter, we have an incredible data team — people who spend their days assembling intricate queries, digging deep into Kickstarter’s data-guts, analyzing what they find, and helping build the very best platform possible. (If that sounds like a blast to you, then you’re in luck, because they’re currently looking for a new member to join them.) These people are very smart, very busy, and very rigorous about their work, which is why we try not to bother them when we get curious about less pressing questions, like whether there have been more projects involving pirates or more involving ninjas.

    But such questions deserve answers, don’t they? (Answers like: it’s pirates.) So welcome to our department of amateur data-wrangling, in which non-data people take it upon ourselves to investigate matters the data team doesn’t normally have time for, and then we bug them for help when we get stuck.

    Today’s question: Is it possible that Kickstarter is one of the few places on the internet where dogs are more popular than cats?

    To answer, we pulled the numbers for projects that used words like dog or cat (or puppy, or feline, or a few other related terms) in their main data fields — the project title and the short descriptive blurb. Is this method super-rigorous? Well, no. It means that something like John Vanderslice recording a full-album cover of David Bowie’s Diamond Dogs will wind up in the dog column. But is it spiritually sound? Vanderslice could have recorded a full-album cover of Harry Nilsson’s Pussy Cats, Poison’s Look What the Cat Dragged In, or The Very Best of Cat Stevens, but he chose not to. He invoked the spirit of the dog, and for our purposes that makes him Team Dog, forever.

    Which is good news for him, because by many measures, Team Dog is winning. Here are the stats for total number of projects launched, and total money pledged, for cats and for dogs. (You’ll have to take our word for it that, at a quick glance, the bulk of these projects really did seem to be related to actual cats and dogs, not David Bowie — projects like a documentary about dogs who ride in motorcycle sidecars, a film starring James Cromwell as a veterinarian, and a cat-shaped candle with a terrifying secret.) Voila:

    So: is it possible there’s a place on the internet where people are more into dogs than cats? Like, besides and this Yahoo! Answers question? Some signs point to yes!

    Dig deeper into the stats, and things get more interesting:

    You’ll notice two things here. One is that Team Cat projects were more likely to be funded — their success rate lands at 44%, pretty much the same as Kickstarter projects as a whole. The other is that the average number of backers for Team Cat projects was significantly higher than the average for Team Dog. The Kickstarter data team has warned us about drawing cavalier conclusions from limited information, but hey, does it not look at least possible that the world of cat-related-project backers is … underserved, as a community? Look at it this way:

    See, when it comes to the number of people pledging to Team Dog versus Team Cat projects, the difference isn’t huge — dogs are up by just under 20%, whether you’re counting overall pledges or unique backers. But when it comes to the number of projects they were supporting, and the amount of money pledged, the difference is much bigger — around 60%. As a whole, Team Dog backers would seem to be spread more thinly across a larger number of projects, getting more ideas funded, while Team Cat backers are clustered around a smaller number of projects, with higher pledge counts and success rates.

    Which brings us to a sensitive issue. We love dogs, and dog people. We also love cats, and cat people. The last thing we’d ever wish to do is sow discord between these two communities. (We are not instigators, and if we were going to instigate, we’d probably try and get ferret people into the mix.) But if you couldn’t already guess, here’s one way Team Dog is getting all those projects funded:

    Does this mean dog-type backers are more generous than their cat-type counterparts? Not at all! Given what we see above, it could just be that the larger number of pledges per cat project meant each individual backer didn’t need to contribute as much to ensure a project reached its goal. Or maybe dog projects tended to offer substantial rewards at higher pledge levels. Or maybe a really rich dachshund made some huge pledges. There are lots of possibilities! Don’t hold it against cat-lovers. Or, you know, lovers of projects with “cat” in the title or blurb.

    What have we learned from all this? Very little, to be honest. But if you think cats deserve as much space on Kickstarter as dogs, maybe now is the time to rally your people, start your project, widen the Team Cat project pool, and perhaps follow in the footsteps of our most-funded cat-and-dog projects to date:

    Stay tuned for more amateur data-wrangling — and some actual serious analysis from our actual skilled data team — in the months to come. Next time, we’ll be tackling ZOMBIES vs. ROBOTS.

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