I’ve always been curious about Kickstarter projects when it comes to literature. I think new approaches to literature in general, particularly ones spurred by the digital age, like online fundraising, self-publishing, and e-readers are all worthy of exploration. Books may be hundreds of years old, but that doesn’t mean it’s too late to change things up.
Not all bookish fundraisers thrive on Kickstarter. That Globe to Globe Hamlet Tour you may have heard about? The fundraiser was cancelled due to lack of backers. To be fair, that particular fundraiser was for a hefty amount for a tour that had never been done before. It was risky to begin with. But other fundraisers are quite successful. Doodler and poet Alan J. Hart created a Kickstarter fundraiser back in April for a children’s book called Everything’s Better With Monkeys. Here’s a video about the project:
Alan wrote the first poem in the book back in 2006, but he has expanded on it since with the encouragement of others. The poems come with illustrations depicting famous paintings, like Grant Wood’s American Gothic or Salvador Dali’s The Persistence of Memory—with monkeys, of course. Here’s example of the type of poetry in the book:
“Whistler’s Mother looks so bored
Just sitting in her chair
I think that a baboon or two
Would add the needed flair
That old couple with the pitchfork
Looks quite unhappy too
Adding an orangutan
Is just the thing to do“
I reached out to Alan to conduct an interview about Everything’s Better With Monkeys, which you can read below:
The Poetics Project: First off, I watched the video you posted on your Kickstarter page and thought it was hilarious. Why did you choose to create a video for the project? Do you think the effect of the video would have been different had it been less comedic?
Alan J. Hart: Thanks! Kickstarter offers a really good tutorial for people that want to use the site, and they highly recommend including a video. Projects with videos have a much higher success rate than those without (50% vs. 30%), so I definitely wanted to include one. I think the concept of the video made it more effective. I wanted it to be something that people would not just notice, but get a kick out of and want to show to other people. I heard from a couple of people specifically that they backed the project because they enjoyed the video.
TPP: Were there any other methods you employed to get the word out there?
AJH: Facebook was my main marketing tool. I gave the book it’s own facebook page, and I put up new posts every day on the book’s page, which I also shared on my personal page. I started with a simple announcement of the project, then tried to have a new gimmick every day, teasing some of the art from the book or posting pictures of the monkeys featured in the book. I always included a link to the kickstarter page and encouraged people to share it on their own walls.
I also put all of the relevant information into an e-mail and sent it to everyone I knew who isn’t on facebook or doesn’t use it very often, and encouraged them to back the project and to spread the word to their friends.
TPP: Why did you decide to self-publish the book rather than find a traditional publisher? Where did you start your research for this process?
AJH: I know several people that argued for each route. Going with a traditional publisher is more prestigious I suppose, and the hope would be that their connections would result in wider distribution and more sales. Those advantages come at a high price though. Especially since I’ve never published anything before. It is likely that any deal I could make would involve completely giving up the intellectual property and taking a relatively small share of the profits. I never viewed this as a get-rich-quick scheme, but I have more ideas about ways to use this material. I’ve put a lot of work into the book, so I hate the idea of giving up the rights.
I haven’t ruled out trying to get traditional publishers interested for future printings, but I think having a finished book to show them will be more effective than approaching them with just a concept. In the meantime, I am hopeful about what I’ll be able to accomplish on my own. Self-publishing is a lot more viable than it was even a few years ago. It’s possible to sell through Amazon and other online venues even without going through an established publisher. The book will have an ISBN number and a bar code just like a traditionally published book, so I can get it into catalogs and market it to wholesalers, retailers, etc.
I was really steered in the right direction by my good friend Keith Huie who has successfully self-published several books. I am using the same publisher he uses. Coincidentally, about the time he pointed me to the publisher (Morris Publishing), they had just come out with a hardcover children’s book format which is perfect for this project. My research into the process involved a little bit of online searching, but really, my main research began and ended with talking with Keith.
TPP: Where did the idea for this project come from? And what kind of background in either illustrating, writing, or publishing do you have?
AJH: Every notebook from every class I ever took from grade school through law school is filled with doodles in the margins. I have always noodled around with drawing and writing silly poems. I have no formal background or training; it’s just something I’ve enjoyed doing. In the past I have generally flexed my creative muscles through theater. I have been active with several community theater groups, and I perform regularly with an improv comedy group. There has been some crossover, as I used to be in charge of PR for a couple of theater groups and occasionally did poster and program design. But as far as the drawing and poems, that’s mostly been since college. As a huge Shel Silverstein fan, my goal was to publish compilations of short poems and drawings in a similar vein. This particular project began as one of several ideas I thought would end up in a book of that nature. Truthfully though, I have not been very prolific. I have written a handful of things I am proud of, but nowhere near enough to fill a book. I wish I had a better story about this particular piece, but really, monkeys amuse me and have always featured prominently in my doodles. The idea of incorporating monkeys into famous art just came to me one day. Once I got the idea, I made a list of all the most famous paintings I could think of and all the different kind of monkeys. I didn’t want to use more than one painting by any one artist, or repeat the same kind of monkey in more than one verse and painting. While it was still a work in progress, I shared it with my significant other, Andrea, and she loved it. I kept working on it, and surprised her by completing it and giving it to her for Christmas way back in 2006. The original version is in a poster frame, with the verses running down the middle and small illustrations along either side. She loved it and has made a point of showing it off to her friends and family. While I may not have enough material for a compilation book, Andrea has persistently encouraged me to publish this one as a free-standing piece. Since it has so many illustrations, there seemed to be more than enough material there to fill a children’s book, which don’t tend to have a lot of content. For whatever reason, it took a long time for me to get serious about putting in the effort to make it happen. Once I did, I wrote a couple of new verses, redid all of the art, and here we are.
TPP: You exceeded your goal for this project. Congratulations! Why did you originally choose to get funding for your project via Kickstarter rather than other fundraising methods or simply going at it on your own?
AJH: I didn’t go it my own because I just couldn’t afford it. Anything else I’ve written could be produced much more cheaply, but given the subject matter of this piece, it really needs to be full color. When I saw the Morris Publishing children’s book format, I thought it was perfect for this project, but the hard cover, the thick glossy pages, and the color all make it expensive to produce and ship, even with a modest print run. The cost per book decreases the more you print, but 500 seemed like the right number to test the waters and keep the funding goal attainable. Even with exceeding my goal, every penny will be spent on producing and marketing the book and shipping it to everyone who backed the project.
A good friend/former college roommate of mine, who has also been encouraging me for years to turn the poem into a book, was the first to mention Kickstarter to me, and it immediately made sense. I have several friends who have used the site successfully to fund music, film, and photography projects. I know it works, so it seemed like the way to go. I like that Kickstarter is specifically for creative projects, and the rewards system makes it so much easier to seek funding, since you’re essentially asking people to pre-order the book rather than just give you a handout.
TPP: Do you have any advice for other writers looking to start a Kickstarter fundraiser? Is there anything you would have done differently?
Do it! Remember that Kickstarter funding is all-or-nothing, so keep the goal modest, but obviously make sure it’s enough to complete the project. Also remember that Kickstarter and Amazon deduct fees, so ask for a little more than you need, unless you are prepared to make up the difference yourself. Go through the tutorials on Kickstarter, and take their advice. Make a video. Put thought into the content of your kickstarter page. Describe the project clearly and enthusiastically. Come up with real, tangible rewards for backers both above and below the necessary level to get the finished book. Use social media to your advantage and spread the word through Facebook and Twitter. Make people feel appreciated. Thank them not only for backing the project, but for spreading the word to others.
I have no major regrets or things I would have done differently. I meant to do more project updates along the way, but I have been really busy and the 30 days just flew by. In hindsight, there is no good reason why I didn’t launch the project a lot sooner, but I had to wait until I was ready to put in the time and effort to make it happen.