When I send a story out into the world, I know it’s going to meet different readers who want different things from it.
Everybody wants a fun read.
Sometimes you also need a story that can lift you right out of the day you’re having and take you somewhere else, someplace you couldn’t get to any other way.
The stories I write are wild rides. They also have strong enough bones to carry for a while whatever burden my reader needs to lay down. That’s what fantasy literature has given me as a reader, and I’ve spent most of my life learning how to give that back.
And Then the Universe Surprised Me with a Book Award.
A couple of months ago, something astonishing happened: I won the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award. In the small world of fantasy literature, it’s a pretty big deal. I thought maybe ten years further into my career I’d attract enough notice to make it into the company of authors who’ve won the Aslan – people like my childhood heroes Ursula Le Guin and Peter Beagle, and authors at the forefront of the genre now, like Neil Gaiman and Catherynne Valente. I just didn’t think I’d get there with with my peculiar small-press book, Tales from Rugosa Coven.
For My Next Trick...
Friends have asked me, Why would you self-publish now, when you have the award? Don’t you want the big time? The answer is yes, indeed I do. And I’ve got another project that make sense in traditional publishing’s business model. But this project I’m crowdfunding is different.
For starters, it’s a novella. I was working on a giant epic fantasy manuscript and accidentally produced a little spin-off, something self-contained that was just right at 17,000 words. If you think in pages, that’s about 60 pages.
It’s too short for book, too long for most magazines unless you’re routinely on the bestseller lists. I considered for a long time what to do with it.
Until I saw the amazing art of Kate Baylay, and then I knew exactly how I wanted to send this story into the world.
When I first saw her work, I thought she must be a master from the golden age of illustration who’d been lost to history. But it turns out she’s young, just out of art school. She’s a rising star in London’s publishing world whose work is still mostly unknown in the U.S. If you look closely at her images, you can see a subtle undercurrent of very contemporary edginess under all that classic detail. I could follow the lines and movement in any of her illustrations for half an hour and constantly find new things to delight in. (The image I'm using for this campaign is her illustration for the Russian fairy tale "Aliosha Popovich," by kind permission of the artist.) Her dynamic balance of gorgeous detail and subtle menace was the perfect match for my novella.
The Imlen Bastard tells the story of a seven-year-old adopted into a royal family so the ruling monarch can use her as a weapon against her birth family. Stisele knows she’s in trouble, but she can’t begin to grasp how much. If she didn’t have the protection of two ghosts she’s been told are imaginary friends, she’d be toast. We figure out who those ghosts are and what their tragedy is, but it’s a longer journey for Stisele. As much despite the ghosts as because of them, she makes a way to start the life she wants in a society that’s definitely not ready for her.
You can read an excerpt here. And take a look at this preliminary sketch Kate did for the cover art. It's such a pleasure to have a cover that both faithfully and beautifully captures what's in the actual book.
To make sure the story shines as much as it possibly can, I’ve engaged a World Fantasy Award winning editor, Betsy Mitchell. Betsy was a senior editor at Del Rey, a famed science fiction and fantasy imprint of Random House. She’s worked on books by major authors like Naomi Novik, Michael Chabon, William Gibson, and Octavia Butler. Now that she’s retired from Del Rey, she freelances, taking only projects that interest her. The Imlen Bastard made the cut, and she says it’s very close to ready. When an editor i09 describes as a superstar tells you she can make your book ready for prime time with two hours of her concentrated professional attention, you find a way to make it happen.
So: the Kickstarter campaign’s starting goal of $4,500 is enough to make the story shine, give it a gorgeous cover, hire a book design house to make the text easy on the eye, and to format the book for electronic and print-on-demand editions. I am so excited at the prospect of bringing this project into being.
I won’t be coy, though. My illustrator blows my mind, and she and I would both love to be able to publish a fully illustrated version of this book. We envision adding interior illustrations
Go look at Kate's website and let yourself imagine the how glorious such a book would be. She and I are having a great time going over the manuscript together to figure out which moments in the story would make the most awesome, most iconic images.
[***EDIT: Stretch goals were resequenced on November 2nd.***]
How about an Audiobook?
I’ve lined up a great voice talent to do an audiobook version. The up-and-coming writer C.S.E. Cooney, author of the acclaimed Bone Swans, does podcasting and audiobooks for her day job. She has classical theater training and a stunningly versatile voice. Claire has agreed to create an audio version of The Imlen Bastard as part of the first stretch goal.
If we can beat the starting goal by just $400, reaching a total of $4,900, the audiobook will be added to every level of reward package, right down to the $2 level.
[***EDIT: We reached this target, and the audiobook will now go to all backers at all levels. Kickstarter won't let me edit the text of the descriptions in the rewards sidebar for packages that already have backers, so I'm putting this information in lots of other places.***]
More Art! More Art!
In addition to the obvious increase in payment to the artist for her time and for the rights and permissions she's agreed to, interior illustration increases the costs of book design and printing. Here's how the next three waves of goals break down:
If we can beat the audiobook stretch goal by $1,500, for a total of $6400, I will commission Kate to do three half-page black and white illustrations.
If we make that goal then, we aim for three full-page black and white illustrations in addition to the half-page ones. That would add $3,200, bringing us to a total goal of $9,600.
And then things get a little crazy.
Surprisingly, full color illustrations take as much of the artist's time and effort as black and white ones, so Kate's fee per image remains the same.
Here's the money side of printing: Although print-on-demand (POD) can handle black and white interior illustration, to do color well, we would need to use offset printing, which means hiring a local commercial printer. POD costs more per copy, but you can make the print run as small as you like -- even as small as one. Offset printing can bring the cost per copy down a lot, but only if you commit up-front to a larger print run.
Because offset printing presses do things in multiples of four -- if anybody wants to know more, I can add the technical stuff to the FAQ, and I talk more about printing down in the Risks and Challenges section -- we'd be adding four full-color illustrations.
For Kate Baylay to produce full-color illustrations would cost $4,200. The cost of upgrading from POD to offset printing would depend on the print run. I'm still talking to commercial printers, looking for better numbers. At the moment, it looks like even for a print run of 500 copies, after Kickstarter fees and shipping are taken into account, $1,500 would be a low number. So for adding four full-color illustrations to the six black and white ones, we'd be looking at a $5,700 jump, to a goal of $15,300.
As of this update,14 days into the campaign, I'll be surprised if we hit that.
In fact, if we beat $9,000, not only will I eat my proverbial hat, I will knit a literal hat for the occasion from black string licorice just for the purpose of eating it. I will record my knitting misadventures — which will probably involve a lot of snapped licorice and bleeped-out profanity —and whatever process I devise for eating it, and I'll post the video's most ridiculous moments on YouTube.
***Update with 10 hours to end of campaign: The hat-eating clause now kicks in at $9,000!***
On the upside, for every set of illustrations we add, we also add backer reward packages that include prints of those illustrations.
For those of you unfamiliar with Kickstarter, it's possible to adjust the level of your pledge and your preferred reward package right up until the end of the campaign — in this case, noon EST on November 19th. That means you can pledge now to make the basic project possible, and later if you want to switch to a reward that just got unlocked, you can.
If we send The Imlen Bastard into the world with a face by Kate Baylay, a voice by C.S.E. Cooney, and a diploma from Betsy Mitchell, we’ll have given the book its best chance to go out there and find its readers. It’s first readers, of course, would be you guys. I can’t do it without your help.
Check out the backer rewards I’ve come up with to thank you. In addition to the book itself in print and electronic form, and my personal thanks to you by name in the acknowledgments, there are reward packages at various pledge levels offering things like limited edition prints of the cover art, trade paperback copies of my other books, or manuscript feedback from me on your novella draft. You can get a character named after you in my next contemporary fantasy book, the sequel to Tales from Rugosa Coven. And if we make the stretch goals, even more reward packages become possible.
I’m so excited to find out what we can create together. Check the project out, ask me anything, come back to see future developments, and please, consider pledging.
Risks and challenges
This is my first Kickstarter campaign, and my first self-publishing project. To manage the learning curve for Kickstarter, I took a crowdfunding course called Launch and Release. Levi James and Ian Anderson designed their course for musicians, but my research suggests that their model would suit publishing projects just as well. And as their student, I can get their help with troubleshooting. Their tough love about the first draft of my video has already been worth the price of the course.
The manuscript itself is complete. In fact it had already been through the editorial process at a respected magazine, but that magazine stopped publishing fiction before "The Imlen Bastard" reached the front of the queue. I'm engaging the services of a top-notch editor to make it the best possible version of itself. It's one thing to be the centerpiece of a magazine issue, and another to stand alone as a book.
For book design and ebook formatting, two aspects of self-publishing that really benefit from hiring professionals, I have a quote from Design for Writers that covers all the likely levels of the project, from print-on-demand paperback to offset-printed hardcover with dust jacket. Whatever we have the resources to do, we know how we'll proceed.
To prepare for the process of commissioning art and working harmoniously with an artist, I studied noted artist and illustrator Randy Gallegos's excellent how-to document, which can be downloaded free at his website (http://blog.gallegosart.com/2012/10/how-to-commission-illustration.html). I recommend it to anyone in small press or self-publishing who isn't already an artist or art director.
For unforeseen crowdfunding and self-publishing issues, I can call on the collective experience of Broad Universe, a professional association devoted to promoting science fiction, fantasy, and horror literature by women. And my longtime critique group, the Writers of the Weird, includes some self-publishing and crowdfunding veterans, too -- one of them is the first guy you see on Kickstarter's video tutorial series for publishing projects.
One thing you may wonder when you look at the delivery date on the backer rewards page is, why May 2016? Why so long for a manuscript that's so close to ready for print? Part of the answer is the art. When you look at Kate Baylay's illustrations, you know work like that doesn't get made overnight.
The other part of the answer is that I want to preserve the possibility of getting into brick-and-mortar bookstores.
Bookstores absolutely require two things: they must be able to return for refund any books they don't sell (so print-on-demand books are right out -- that's one reason our stretch goals get us from POD to offset printing), and the book must be reviewed months before publication by a review source like Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, Booklist, or (for science fiction and fantasy) Locus. As soon as a book is published, readers will start asking for it at bookstores and libraries. So book selectors need to know about a book before it's released, and the review sources they rely on need review copies even earlier.
Getting into bookstores may or may not happen. (Heck, getting to the stretch goal that makes offset printing possible may or may not happen.) But being able to send review copies out four months before releasing the book could end up making a big difference.
So, May. I know it's a long time to wait. This book will be worth your while.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
- (30 days)