The Five Stages Of Kickstarter: One Man’s Foray Into Public Creativity

You’ve head of the Kübler-Ross model, right? “The five stages of grief”: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Well let me introduce you to my own personal Wellnitz-Writing model: “the five stages of Kickstarter”.

Stage 1: Exploration / Excitement

So, I had one week. I’d just gotten back from an epic family vacation and was giving myself one more full week off work to write.  I had one! week! my brain was telling myself. To do something. To make a splash. I had to make that one week count!

I’d intended to keep working on a novel I’d been writing (working title: Gravity) but after a discussion with my wife (read: a discussion with myself with my wife looking on bemusedly) I decided to change track. I’d had an idea for a series of novels, one set in each state so I decided to pursue that instead. Instead of not finishing a longer novel in one week I could at least complete the intro to the series. So I did that. On Sunday July 7 I came up with the idea and by Wednesday I had a mostly complete draft and a cover. Now how could I launch this baby to the moon?

Kickstarter! I’d heard of it but never really played with it. I made an account and started messing around. The Kickstarter site is very nice. They ease you into the water and before you know it you’re boiling with excitement over the launch. And that’s what I did. Rewards. A video. Write copy. Re-write copy. Tweak. Tweak. Ready to go!

My little series intro is a rocket and Kickstarter will be the rocket fuel!

Stage 2: Frenzy

The idea behind the Kickstarter was, in essence: “get people bought into this series at the beginning so they’re invested in its success, thereby propelling me and the writing of the series forward”. Or: a public pre-commitment strategy to force me to keep writing via early success of the intro.

I paid for a press release. I built an email list (using MailChimp which is very good). I set up some marketing (here and here). I posted on Facebook and Twitter. I researched successful Kickstarter campaigns.

Stage 3: “Oh Crap”

Frankly none of it worked. I don’t know if it was the services I used, the way I set up the Kickstarter, the book’s cover or the whole idea itself but it was clear within the first ten days that the Kickstarter wouldn’t reach its funding goal.

[Two good things: Craig Manning at Independent Publisher wrote just an excellent article about the project. It explained the whole thing far better than I was able to. And I reconnected with Rosie Amber who is doing a year of good things on her blog, one of those being posting about me.]

Stage 4: Night Terrors

So this was the point where I stopped sleeping. I’ve been in a dysfunctional relationship with sleep most of my adult life. But now it was bad: I’d planned on writing at night after the kids went to bed and I just wasn’t. I was stressing over the Kickstarter. I was back at work and – predictably, the post-vacation euphoria had worn off and I was back to the daily tired. About 9pm the space between my stomach and chest would start tightening and that would be it for sleep until after midnight. I hated it.

Stage 5: Realization / Acceptance / Determination

Tuesday August 6 was rock bottom. Two or three hours of sleep max. At about three am I decided that this would have to change and I had a few realizations:

1. The first step to writing a good book was WRITING A GOOD BOOK! I would stop with the gimmicks and marketing and just write a good book. Starting the following week I would get up at 4am each day and write. And I would write until it was good, no rushing. Two weeks into that I’ve managed to get up at 4am almost every day. And when I write in the mornings I feel better all day. I’m sleeping great.

2. The idea for the Kickstarter was flawed. The idea was to get people involved in the creation process. But when people read a novel its because they DON’T WANT TO WORK. In fact, they want to ESCAPE from work. (Maybe they want to participate in a world you’ve created but first you have to create that world). It my job to write the book and hopefully people will just enjoy it. I actually (very emphatically in hindsight) don’t want people to give me money to create. I want to create and have people love it. Period. No gimmicks.

(Though I am very grateful for the conversations I’ve had with people about how to make the book better and possible plot points.)

3. Utter and total gratitude. All 25 times I got the email that a person had backed me I felt gratitude to my toes (plus one person pledged outside Kickstarter via email). Here were people – who probably realized the idea or its execution was flawed in some real ways – but backed me anyway. And putting yourself out there publically, creatively, opens you up with huge empathy for all those people trying to do stuff. My backers included people trying to change careers, people leading organizations, fellow authors, parents, etc. My favorite part about my writing has been how its opened me up to all sorts of people that I  wouldn’t have interacted with / appreciated otherwise. “Successful” or not my writing has caused me to grow intellectually, creatively, spiritually, & socially, That’s purely a good thing.

So, after all the stages, was the Kickstarter successful? From the point of view “did it reach its goal”? No, it was not. But from a broader point of view it was. It “kickstarted” me into realizing I just had to work harder in a certain way to get this creative thing done. Two weeks of 4am have worked well so far. I’ve got 6722 words and half of a plot that I like. You’ll see it in this space when its done and only when I think its good enough to honor those 25 great people who backed me.

Oh yeah – I changed the title (dropped the “fifty”). I’ll be fiddling with the cover eventually. And here’s a hint about where (and when) the first novel is set: IA 7 ND 6.


Update: I missed this little piece of coverage in the Des Moines Register when it came out:

“50 novels, 50 states

You’ve heard of those people who run a marathon in each of the 50 states? Well, Jason Wellnitz is trying something different: He’s written the start of 50 short novels, each set in a different state, and is asking online voters to decide which one he should finish first.

The Cedar Rapids writer recently launched the project, “Fifty States of Grace,” on crowdfunding website, where donors can chip in ideas as well as money.”

If You Are Going To Self Publish, Buy APE First

A few months ago I ran across Guy Kawasaki and Shawn Welch’s new book APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur. I asked if I could get a copy to review and I’m very glad I did. In my non-publishing life I’ve done software and project management. In each of those cases I had books that I’d return to at the start of a project to remind myself how to do things right; how to start the project on the right foot.

I did that with A.P.E. on my upcoming project (not quite ready to announce – hint, hint). I revisited it throughout the startup phase of my project and I’m very glad I did. It got my head in the right place and reminded me of some things I’d forgotten since last time. It’s chock full of reference material that will remain evergreen. I’ve done the authoring phase and am about to enter the publishing and entrepreneuring phase of this project. I will keep A.P.E. at hand throughout the process.

Before you self publish, buy APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur by Kawasaki and Welch.

To Manage Your Stories, There Are Essentially Six Steps

This is really just such a good, practical article that I needed to capture it here in the hopes I can find it again someday.

To manage your stories, there are essentially six steps. One, lower your standards. Get something down. Swallow the bile that rises in your throat when you write a first draft. Because the fact of the matter is, as you learn, that it contains the promise of the final one. Print out early. One of the downsides of the computer is we don’t hit the print button. Print out early. Read aloud. People don’t read aloud. Better yet, have someone else read it to you. If they’re stumbling, it’s probably because it’s not clear enough. It took me a long time to accept the fact, “I’m bored reading this.” Think about all the stories that have been published that if you read them aloud, you’d say, “God, this is boring. Who the hell would read this? I’m only reading it because I’m being paid to.” You have to be honest.