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Katy arrived at college in L.A. expecting sunshine, all-nighters, and bad dining hall food. Playing lead guitar? Not on the list.
Katy arrived at college in L.A. expecting sunshine, all-nighters, and bad dining hall food. Playing lead guitar? Not on the list.
114 backers pledged $3,608 to help bring this project to life.

About this project

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$3,608

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Unlike her bronzed and capable classmates, Katy isn’t good at anything…or is she?

Katy is an Oregon girl who arrives at college in 1994 unprepared for California culture shock—and stunned that her classmates seem to have their entire lives figured out. Her studies take a back seat when she meets Megan, a fast-talking drummer, and Travis, a computer geek with a surprising talent. Together, they're going to butt heads with a creepy jam-band singer, wage war on generic cereals, write a classic song, and sort of invent the Internet. But when the band threatens to fall apart, can Katy keep a promise, even if it means facing her worst fears?

Our Secret Better Lives is a novel for anyone who’s ever fallen in love with a song.

From the book:

Years later, Katy could remember not only which song was playing—Screaming Trees, “Bed of Roses”—but the exact moment in the song where the needle came off the record. The house lights clicked off, and a row of stage lights came on, blinding like L.A. daylight. No wonder so many people wore sunglasses on stage. She blinked her eyes and tried to bring any object into focus, but Megan was hissing, “Now!”

Katy’s lips brushed against the head of the mic. “We’re The Laundry Room, from Los Angeles, California."

"Matthew has nailed it with this debut novel. Our Secret Better Lives made me want to go back to college (or, barring that, a rock show), but instead, I went back and read it again.”

Molly Wizenberg, creator of Orangette and author of Delancey: A Man, a Woman, a Restaurant, a Marriage

Questions and answers

Who are you?

I’m Matthew Amster-Burton, author of three previous books, including Pretty Good Number One: An American Family Eats Tokyo, which was funded on Kickstarter and went on to sell over 25,000 copies worldwide. 

Also, totally coincidentally, I went to college in L.A. in the mid-90s and have sung and played guitar or bass in five bands you’ve never heard of.

I think this is my best book, but I need your help. My previous book couldn't have succeeded without its Kickstarter campaign, which brought the book to the attention of a major publisher and led to a film option. Pledging to this project gets you more than just an early copy of Our Secret Better Lives: It makes you one of the indie kids that help a fledgling band (er, book) reach a national and international audience.

How will you spend our pledges?

Your pledges will cover professional editing, book design, promotion, Kickstarter fees, and reward fulfillment. (You know, the book equivalent of mixing, mastering, and pressing CDs.)

Is the book done?

Almost. It's current off with the line editor, Elayne Morgan of Serenity Editing Services. She'll point out inconsistencies, clunky language, and the like—the small stuff worth sweating. After that, I revise again, then it's off for the final copy edit, formatting, and production.

The book cover is in progress and I'll be revealing it to backers during the campaign.

Who's the intended audience?

Let's start here: If I say "Green Day, Offspring, Sleater-Kinney, Nirvana, Weezer, Pavement, PJ Harvey, Oasis, and the Breeders" and you experience mental karaoke for the rest of the day, this book is definitely for you.

On the other hand, if you're too young to remember the 90s—or were already a grownup by then—you're still going to love Our Secret Better Lives. As one 18-year-old reader told me, "I really liked the college setting and how it was depicted...honestly what I expect to find at college myself... The characters felt real and I was really, really glad that you had such a diverse group of characters."

Did you enjoy Rainbow Rowell's Fangirl, Leila Sales’s This Song Will Save Your Life, Jennifer Egan's A Visit from the Goon Squad, or Curtis Sittenfeld's Prep? How about the recent memoirs by Kim Gordon and Carrie Brownstein? Our Secret Better Lives is for you.

Why should I pledge now instead of waiting to buy the book later?

You'll be thanked in the acknowledgments, and you'll receive the book at least a week before it goes on sale. After the campaign ends, I'll send out an additional preview chapter to backers only, long before the book is released.

You'll also get the first look at the cover, and you can get shirts and stickers that won't be available at all after the campaign is over.

Will Our Secret Better Lives be available as an ebook? How about paper?

Yes to both. The ebook and paperback will be released as close to simultaneously as possible.

Can I read an excerpt from the book now?

Absolutely. Here’s the first chapter.

How long is it?

One academic year, or about 270 pages.

What does the title mean?

Well, it means everyone is secretly a rock star. Yes, even you. It’s also a lyric from one of my all-time favorite songs, “Where They Go Back to School But Get Depressed,” by The Loud Family. Have a listen.

What else did you listen to while writing the book?

So glad you asked. Among many others:

  • Hole, Celebrity Skin (especially “Boys on the Radio”)
  • The Geraldine Fibbers, Lost Somewhere Between the Earth and My Home
  • Stars, In Our Bedroom After the War
  • The Stone Roses, The Stone Roses
  • Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin, “Oregon Girl"
  • Camper Van Beethoven, Key Lime Pie
  • Beach House, Thank Your Lucky Stars
  • Letters to Cleo, Go!
  • Tokyo Police Club, Forcefield
  • Lush, Lovelife
  • Laura Stevenson, Cocksure

Here’s a Spotify playlist I made to go along with the book.

Photo credit: Damon Garrett on Flickr

All rewards include sales tax for Washington state buyers.

Risks and challenges

The manuscript is currently in its third draft and ready for line edits. I have an editor in mind who works fast. However, any of the following steps could take longer than I expect:

• Line editing and revision
• Final proofreading
• Ebook and paperback design
• T-shirt production (although this won’t affect the delivery of the book)

I’ve built some time into the delivery schedule to account for unexpected delays. And I’ve self-published two previous books in ebook and paperback form, so I don't expect to run into any technical issues that would delay the project.

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  1. Select this reward

    Pledge $7 or more About $7

    21ST CENTURY DIGITAL PERSON

    A copy of the ebook, DRM-free, in PDF, EPUB, and Kindle formats. Plus, your name in the acknowledgments (of both the paperback and electronic editions).

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    Pledge $25 or more About $25

    BOOKSHOP CASANOVA

    A copy of the paperback book and the ebook (DRM-free, in PDF, EPUB, and Kindle formats), and your name in the acknowledgments.

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    Pledge $50 or more About $50

    HIT UP THE MERCH TABLE

    A Laundry Room t-shirt, a Laundry Room sticker, a copy of the paperback book and the ebook (DRM-free, in PDF, EPUB, and Kindle formats), and your name in the acknowledgments.

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  4. Select this reward

    Pledge $125 or more About $125

    STEP UP TO THE MIC

    An invitation for two people to the exclusive 90s karaoke book launch party in Seattle, February 2017.

    The ebook (DRM-free, in PDF, EPUB, and Kindle formats), and your name in the acknowledgments.

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  5. Select this reward

    Pledge $175 or more About $175

    I WANT IT ALL

    An invitation for two people to the exclusive 90s karaoke book launch party in Seattle.

    A Laundry Room t-shirt, a Laundry Room sticker, a copy of the paperback book and the ebook (DRM-free, in PDF, EPUB, and Kindle formats), and your name in the acknowledgments.

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  6. Select this reward

    Pledge $250 or more About $250

    HARD CORE LOGO

    Limited edition hardcover first printing, personally inscribed by the author. This edition will never be for sale to the general public, and let's be clear: it exists only for those who already like my work and want to be especially generous. (Thank you!) Ships free worldwide.

    Also includes the ebook and your name in the acknowledgment of all editions—in a special elite backstage pass section.

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Funding period

- (14 days)