Moulting: A Writing Group Grows – and Grows Up

In June of 2011, four fiction classmates met at a local coffee shop to critique each other’s work. Fast-forward to June of 2017: six authors who cross genres will cross state lines to attend an annual writing retreat at a mountain getaway. There will have been roughly 70 monthly meetings in between these two Junes – plus anniversary dinners, blog posts and podcasts, classes attended and taught, contracts negotiated, books published, and writers’ conference appearances – some even paid! As I look back over all of this, I’m deeply moved.

King Penguin mid-moult, courtesy Sea World

 

However, this growing thing is not exactly easy. “Growing up” started a couple of years ago with shrinking down, actually. One of our founders got a great job 427 miles away. We kept up our monthly meetings via Skype when we could. But it became clear that if we regularly wanted to have at least four critiques on our work, BACCA would need another member.

Our interview process lasted about six months. Some folks were not the right fit because their writing was in areas we felt ill-equipped to critique (romance, theology, police drama). Others balked at our schedule – multiple critiques a month, a two-hour meeting, plus occasional retreats and appearances – a significant commitment. So we were pretty stoked when not one but two candidates really seemed like a match. We are thrilled to have two novelists accept our invitation to join BACCA this year: Noelle Beverly and Andrea Fisher Rowland. Welcome! So now BACCA is five on the regular, and six when we can.

Truth be told, however, this growth hasn’t been totally graceful. Yet. Five critiques is almost double three, and we are feeling the extra work. Is the right answer to clear out more time in our personal schedules during critique weeks? Spread out the submissions over two weeks? Rotate critiques? We haven’t quite found the rhythm yet. A little more math reveals that 20-minute critiques for 4 writers in two hours leaves some breathing room for general discussion. But six 20-minute critiques is 2 hours on the nose, leaving little room for tea and coffee and conversation. Is the right answer to trim the critiques down to 15 minutes? Extend our meetings by a half hour? We haven’t quite figured that one out yet, either. Plus, of course, there is the nature of the critiques themselves. We’ve been loosely following Luke Whisnant’s critiquing guidelines since the start of the fiction class where we met. Perhaps too loosely? We’re finding ourselves taking a fresh look at our process with the benefit of new eyes. It’s not quite clear yet what makeovers might take place. And, of course, Skype is not always cooperative!

I’m mostly fine (but occasionally self-conscious) about this awkward phase. It may be a bit itchy and scraggly, but it’s the moulting that’s the passage from the cygnet to the swan. Or, in this case – because I prefer their cute little faces – the chick to the penguin. I’m confident we’ll soon be navigating these new waters with the greatest of ease.

Bethany Joy Carlson is a founding member of BACCA and screenwriter.

Missed Deadline Damage Control

When I mapped out the publishing schedule for Crowdfunding for Authors in January, I didn’t know a few things about what the rest of the year had in store. I didn’t know that I would be moving, not once, but twice in six months; that I would have an unexpected summer job; that furbaby number three would show up just weeks on the heels of number two; nor that planning even the simplest of weddings – for only six guests! – would take up so. much. time. So, my book was supposed to be (self-)published in October, and now it’s November, and the book isn’t out.

Graphic courtesy GO media

Graphic courtesy GO media

I’m frustrated and embarrassed. I’m typically an organized, on-time – even early – person. I’m not only behind schedule on the book at this point, but I’ve missed some key marketing deadlines to set up selling opportunities for 2017. The whole thing is feeling unprofessional, and I spiral into worries about the knock-on effects this is all going to have on my career.  But the hand-wringing doesn’t help. Instead, what helps is getting practical.

Here are a few things I’ve done, with my readers in mind, to minimize the damage from missed deadlines:

  1. Communicate. In email, phone, text, and in person, I’ve updated my readers and marketing contacts on the delays. I’ve kept out of the weeds of detailed explanations, which can sound like excuses, and simply let them know I am behind schedule.
  2. Send ARCs. Everyone who preordered the book has received a digital ARC. And, I’ve offered printed galleys to those who preordered a physical copy. The material in the book still works – it just doesn’t look as good as the final product will.
  3. Update online language. I’ve updated my website and everywhere else that talks about the book to communicate that ARCs are available but the book is not. I’m still in the middle of the maelstrom, so I’m also avoiding making promises on when the final book will be out. Right now, I just don’t know.
  4. Update preorder options. I originally offered eBook, paperback, and workbook versions of Crowdfunding for Authors. For now, I’ve taken the paperback and workbook down, so only the eBook is available for preorder on Indiegogo. This is the closest version to being ready to put up for sale, and it is fast and easy for me to send digital ARCs now.
  5. Take a breath. A favorite Taoist principle of mine is “flow like water”. This is very hard for me when I want to fight like rams or flee like deer. Really, though, I don’t want to fight my book, or run away from it. For now, I’m doing my best to just accept that its timeline is different from what I planned earlier this year, and do my best in the current framework.

Once Crowdfunding for Authors is published, I’m also going to take some time to go back and review the original publishing timeline. Right now, in the thick of things, I’m not sure if I just didn’t set a reasonable timeline in the first place, or if it actually would have been reasonable, absent some of the surprises. And, of course, it’s always good practice to budget time for a few surprises – that’s life, after all.

Bethany Joy Carlson is a BACCA co-founder and owner of The Artist’s Partner, which has helped raise a quarter of a million dollars for creative projects, including books.

PS – Event Notice: One of the marketing opportunities I’ve missed for my book but am still very excited to attend is the Local Author Book Fair at WriterHouse, 508 Dale Ave in Charlottesville, VA, on Saturday 12/4 from 1-4 pm. Two fellow BACCA co-founders will be there – Anne Carley, debuting her book FLOAT: Becoming Unstuck for Writers, and Carolyn O’Neal, with dystopian eco-thriller Kingsley.

How One Little Idea Turned into $70,000 for Books

My how-to guide Crowdfunding for Authors is coming out in October. It’s based on three years of experience at The Artist’s Partner, working with authors who have used Kickstarter and Indiegogo to finance their publishing projects. Since 2013 these authors have raised $73,972 for novels, memoirs, children’s books, and more. And it all grew from one little idea five years ago.

author mosaic

Read more about these crowdfunded authors below.

It began when BACCA decided to periodically incorporate the “biz” of writing into our critique meetings. At our first such “biz” discussion, I floated the idea of teaching an eBook publishing class. I received an enthusiastic response, and some useful suggestions. I submitted a proposal, and was teaching my first “eBook DIY” class at WriterHouse in the spring of 2012.

It was in a subsequent class that author Stefan Bechtel (Roar of the Heavens, Mr. Hornaday’s War) was a student. He was then writing the memoir of retired action bowler Bob Perry. Bob is a quintessential New Jersey hustler, so in retrospect it’s no surprise that he and Stefan were the first to suggest that maybe this “Kickstarter thing” could be used to fund their book. They hired me to orchestrate the campaign, and in September of 2013 we raised $6,945 for what was then titled Bowling for the Mob. By the following April it had been picked up by Rodale Press for a sizable contract, national distribution, and a makeover that included the title change to Redemption Alley.

By the fall of the next year I was guiding four crowdfunding campaigns simultaneously. I was onto something! It’s been a steep learning curve, with many mistakes and victories along the way. Crowdfunding books is hard – only 29.5% make it. That makes me all the more proud of my authors’ success rate of 97%. Here are what I’ve observed are the top five reasons for their impressive levels of success:

  1. Great cover design purchased prior to the campaign. People judge a book by its cover – even on Kickstarter.
  2. Firm commitments of 40% of their fundraising target locked down prior to campaign launch. Only 29% of books succeed – but 97% of books that cross the 40%-funded threshold succeed.
  3. Email and social media lists right-sized to cover the additional 60%. There’s too much math involved to explain “right-sized” here in this post, but suffice to say: these authors had, or developed, good connections with their prospective readers during the 3-12 months prior to their campaigns.
  4. Photos of their faces. Many (introverted) writers hate this, but people respond to faces. It’s called Facebook.
  5. Commitment to the process. Crowdfunding is a marathon, not a sprint. These authors put in the training, and then ran their best race.

crowdfunding for authors draft coverI’m thrilled to be publishing the guidebook that helped these authors to crowdfund their books, because you can crowdfund your book, too. Crowdfunding for Authors is itself available for preorder on Indiegogo, and will be released on Amazon in October.

Bethany Joy Carlson

Here are the amazing authors who have raised over $70,000 with The Artist’s Partner since 2013!

Organized as follows: Author / Platform – Title (availability).

Zack Bonnie / Indiegogo – Dead, Insane, or In Jail: Overwritten (Coming fall 2016)
Marc Boston / Kickstarter – The Girl Who Carried Too Much Stuff (Amazon)
Ramgiri Braun / Indiegogo – HeartSourcing (Amazon)
Lizzy Duncan, B. Cunningham, G. Jackson / Kickstarter – Camila’s Lemonade Stand (Amazon)
Jenny Edmondson / Kickstarter – GroomsDay (Amazon)
Mary Buford Hitz / Kickstarter – Riding to Camille (Audible)
Peter Kalifornsky and Katherine McNamara / Indiegogo– From the First Beginning, When the Animals Were Talking (iTunes)
Priya Mahadevan / Kickstarter – Princesses Only Wear Putta-Puttas (Amazon)
Belinda Miller / Did not fund – published anyway! – Above the Stars (Amazon)
Carolyn O’Neal / Kickstarter – Kingsley (Amazon)
Bob Perry and Stefan Bechtel / Kickstarter – Redemption Alley (Amazon)

 

Guest Post: Writing Groups – The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

This guest post is courtesy of Belinda Miller, children’s book author.

No one, except a fellow writer, understands the laments or the excitement a writer experiences when you are writing. There is a commonality, a bind, a coming together of an art form that is almost spiritual.

The third book in the Middle Grade Phillip's Quest series will be released this November

The third book in Belinda Miller’s Middle Grade Phillip’s Quest series will be released in November

After a twenty year plus career is the finance industry, and a medically forced retirement in 1998, I found myself, in 2013, at age 63, writing and publishing the Middle Grade series Phillip’s Quest and Children’s series The Ragwort Chronicles. At first, I was a little freaked out. Like any fledgling author, I wondered, besides whether I was good enough, what the heck do I do now? I had written technical manuals, which were always for “in-house” use, but these books were going to be published — I hoped. Well, it is now 2015, and my fifth book is ready to be released. Amazing — huh? Surreal to me. It took hours and hours of work, and hours and hours of help, and hours and hours of my husband’s patience. One thing that helped me immensely, was a local writing group whose members shared and compared their skills and experiences. A handful of us formed a strong, like-minded bond, some with more and some with less experience, but all with the same goal — to perfect their art. To learn and share things like technique, websites, books and contacts that are not found in a text or course on writing. And, as one becomes more confident and successful with their writing, through the group, one has the opportunity to expand and market oneself — brand oneself as an author. As I was able to do.

With much sadness I resigned in August from this local writing group that I had helped to gain a strong community presence. This handful of hard-working and now successful writers took part in various library and arts’ council events; held signings on First Fridays [in Manassas, VA]; donated books to First Book and various veterans’ organizations; conducted workshops for young writers, and most recently, joined with Manassas City officials and the Public Library Foundation to build and dedicate little free libraries throughout the City and [Prince William] County. We did it through persistence and perseverance. It was a tough decision to leave because of these three reasons: 1) I loved the people that were at the core of the group, 2) I learned a tremendous amount from these people, things that would take months or years, if I would have had to learn on my own, 3) the camaraderie of like-minds is invaluable.

I resigned because like many groups that are formed, they explode in size — this one started in 2011 with four people, and last week, it boasted some 250+ members. How did that happen, you ask — the explosion? It happens easily when there are no clear-cut guidelines for allowing people join. People were welcome from all over, (instead of a geographic area for which the group was designated), and who knew who they were or if they’ve ever written more than a sentence. So: know your members.

But most of all, as it grew the mission became blurred. Yes, there are bylaws, but they were not enforced. If you’re joining a group, and you can’t get answers about mission or financials, don’t join. If there are no scheduled meetings, or meetings that are put off, and off, and off — don’t join.

I will miss the group as it was. The beauty of a well-run, organized, cohesive group of like minds, is that you share ideas and experiences that you cannot share with anyone who does not write! It doesn’t matter whether it is prose or poetry, or what the genre is, there is a commonality, a bind, a coming together of an art form that is almost spiritual. No one, except a fellow writer, understands the laments or the excitement a writer experiences when you are writing — a poem, a short-story, a novella, a novel! No one understands the angst you go through to have your story published. No one, except another writer! Will I join another group? Already have. Many are the same people who were part of the group before, but this time, we are more knowledgable, older, and much, much wiser.

Belindbelinda headshota Miller is a former language arts teacher who applies her love of literature and the arts when writing Middle Grade series Phillip’s Quest and Children’s series The Ragwort Chronicles.  After living in Colorado and Wyoming, this ex- New Yorker makes her home in Manassas, Virginia with her husband, Gary, and her cats, Sambucca and Skye.

Things I’ve Learned About Writing From Teaching Math

“Who would like to show their process on the board?”

joke This is a question I ask many times a week. I teach Algebra and Precalculus at Renaissance School. I love it.

One of the challenges I have teaching at a school like Renaissance, which is for high aptitude students in Arts, Humanities, and Sciences, is that some of my students have almost a spooky natural facility with math – but many of the artists, actors, humanitarians, photographers, and musicians have developed something close to a phobia of it by the time they’ve gotten to high school. Since math is a required subject for graduation no matter the track of their studies, one way or another, we’ve got to make it to the end of the year.

My main goal is for every student to finish the class with confidence. They don’t need to be a wiz; I just want them to be able to tell themselves, “I can do this.”

paranormaldistributionSo I focus on process, not outcomes. Getting the right answer the fastest doesn’t accrue any brownie points in my class. Instead, I encourage students to come up to the board and show their thought process. Like I often say, “There’s more than one path from here to the MudHouse.” And I often add, while they’re nervously approaching the board for the first time, “We’re all on the same team. We’ve got your back. Let’s get through this problem together.”

So, it was a HUGE thrill about two months into the school year when one of my most math-phobic students said, “Ms. Carlson, can I show my process on the board for problem 37? I’m getting stuck and I don’t know what to do next.” Yes. Yes you can.

find_x_lolNow that the school year is coming to a close, I’ve almost worked myself out of a job. The students work together in groups. The quick ones race ahead, learn the new formulas, and teach them to their peers. Everyone is going to be wrapping up the year with confidence. With a process for solving problems.

Which, finally, brings me back to what teaching math has taught me about writing. I’m not sure I appreciated it fully in the beginning, but one of the things that has made BACCA a great writing group for the last four years is the feeling that we’re all on the same team. We’re not competing with one another; we have different skills and aptitudes; we work together to give candid feedback and solve problems. We, too, focus on process, not outcomes. Naturally, we all harbor dreams of seeing this or that work published. But our esteem in the eyes of each other is based in the work we do in the small ways each month, not the grand finale.

Writing may be a solitary exercise, but improving as a writer is a team effort. Just like math.

Bethany Joy Carlson is a founding member of BACCA, a WriterHouse Board Member, and owner of The Artist’s Partner.

Relearning How To Write When I’m Happy

Writing and I need to work on our relationship. My new year’s resolution is to learn how to be a writer when I’m happy.

I’ve been a writer since 2007, when my depression and anxiety drove me to put pen to paper as a means to survive. I shut myself in my room with my laptop for up to 12 hours a day, hammering out stories about betrayal, loss, illness, death. I had a seemingly endless well of conflict inside, fuel to drive fables, screenplays, novels, poems… I wrote a lot.

Created with Microsoft Fresh Paint

doodle by bethany

Thankfully, over the last 8 years my mental health has improved. Happiness is no longer a figment; it’s where I spend significant amounts of my time. Writing is not what pays the bills, but I’m enjoying my jobs, I love my friends, and I’m thankful for the little things, like a cup of coffee with a big red-headed Viking of a man each morning.

So, I’m no longer desperate, panicked, get-the-words-out-or-I-will-drown-in-them. I still love stories, to get absorbed in a book or a daydream. But the truth is, if I’m not awakened by a nightmare at 3am jumping out of my skin, I have a hard time sitting down and getting down to actually writing.

I’ve had relationships in the past based on complaining, gossip, lamenting, and grief; misery does love company. Some of these friendships have not survived my transition out of depression. But my very best friend has hung in there with me: the scary start of the slump, the increasing dark days, the long struggle, and the climb back into the light. We’ve had some rough patches, but my sister has not resented the ways I’ve changed, we’ve both adapted, and our relationship now is now stronger than ever.

Created with Microsoft Fresh Paint

doodle by bethany

This is the model I’m hoping to pattern my writing life after in 2015. My laptop and I do not need to be in a codependent relationship. I’m hoping to learn that I can sit down to write because I want to, not because I need to. I can let go of the fear that my creativity dissipated along with my anxiety.

I can write for the joy of it.

I find that starting new habits requires some practical little guidelines to help them along. To facilitate my new year’s resolution of learning to write when I’m happy, I plan to:

  • Put my dream journal out at night before I go to bed
  • Honor the blocs of writing time I have set aside in my schedule
  • Leave space for other creative pursuits I enjoy, like drawing, collage, and origami

I don’t want to break up with writing because I’ve changed. So I’m working on it. Wish us well.

Bethany Joy Carlson is the founder of The Artist’s Partner and a co-founder of BACCA. And she’s still a writer.

7 Things I’ve Learned About Writing From Casting

Bethany casting a major motion picture in 2014... right before 1,055 boys and their entourages arrived

Bethany casting a major motion picture in 2014… right before 1,055 boys and their entourages arrived

One of my favorite jobs is being a Casting Assistant for Arvold.

A funny thing happens when you work casting. Actors come up to you and ask, “why didn’t (my son / my niece / my spouse) I get the part?!?”

If I’m ever feeling low about my rejections (I’m currently 0 for 2 this year on screenwriting competitions), I remind myself of these seven things I’ve learned about writing from casting.

  1. There’s a lottery element to producing creative work. I recently assisted at an “open call”, e.g. an audition for a major motion picture that was open to the public. We auditioned ONE THOUSAND FIFTY FIVE boys in four hours. We turned away over a thousand more. The police had to direct traffic. Art is tied to dreams, and a lot of people share the dream of seeing their creative work produced and shared and enjoyed. So the competition is stiff. It’s just not statistically sound to expect more yesses than noes.
  2. It’s worth it to show up even if I don’t book the gig. Most of the actors I see don’t book the part they’re auditioning for. But, I get to see them work. Which means when I’m brainstorming whom to call for the next project, the faces I’ve seen over and over again leap to mind. Familiarity is powerful. If you’re professional on the phone and email, show up on time, take direction, and keep your cool, you’re showing that you’re a pro – even if you don’t book this particular gig. So I make sure when I’m talking with agents, editors, producers, and other professionals, I’m behaving myself accordingly. Even if they don’t bite on my project. Yet.
  3. A performance can be amazing – and not right for the job. I have cried at auditions where the actor did not book the part. If we are looking for a haggard woman crying over the death of her son, and the actor is young and beautiful, they may nail the performance but simply not be right for the role. I submitted to a comedy screenplay contest earlier this year. My script is good, but it is dark. I call it a dark comedy, but reviewers call it a comedic drama. If the contest winner turns out to be a classic slapstick comedy, I’ll know my submission just was not right for what the judges were looking for.
  4. No performance happens in a vacuum. No actor’s performance stands alone in a film or TV show. It needs to be compatible with the other performances. If we’ve already cast 10 of 20 speaking roles for a particular show, the other 10 roles that remain to be cast need actors who complement the rest. The same holds true for a publisher’s line-up. If I submit a Young Adult manuscript about a 15-year-old Physics prodigy, and the publisher is already about to debut a Young Adult book about a 15-year-old Astrophysics prodigy, that’s just my bad luck. My book does not exist in a vacuum.
  5. Some days are bad days. This doesn’t really need an explanation. Even good actors have a bad day and turn in a lackluster performance. Sometimes my writing has no spark. C’est la vie.
  6. Some actors aren’t ready yet. We’re doing emerging actors a favor by not putting them in roles they can’t carry. Ideally, we want to set everyone up so they can succeed. Frankly, when I look back on it, I’m really relieved some of the manuscripts I submitted never got picked up. I would not want my major debut to have been that (in hindsight) overwritten mess.
  7. Beautiful and photogenic are not the same thing. I’m still trying to come to grips with the difference between what looks good to the naked eye and what works on camera. There are a lot of differences, actually: What works on stage is massive overkill on camera. Comic timing and dramatic connection are not the same muscle. Large features on a face may look a bit strange in person, but the camera lens may love them. And lots of actors are still trying to work out where exactly their talent lies – and auditions can help that process, because experts are effectively giving feedback over time based on what kinds of jobs an actor ultimately books. I felt that way about my writing for a long time. Do I write short stories? Fables? YA? Flash fiction? Graphic novels? It wasn’t until I really dug into screenwriting that I felt like I found my true strength.

I guess if there’s one thing to take away about writing from casting, it’s that persistence and professionalism pay off. Don’t take rejection personally; it’s probably moving you closer to your goal.

 

Arvold casts award-winning film (Lincoln), television (Turn: Washington’s Spies), and commercials (just wait till you see the Williamsburg Tourism commercial coming in 2015). If you are interested in learning more about film and television in the Mid-Atlantic, consider attending one of the monthly Arvold Live sessions – they are an invaluable discussion with industry pros about how Virginia’s star is rising for actors – and everyone who works in the business.

Bethany Joy Carlson writes dark comedy screenplays. (Or comedic dramas, depending on whom you ask.) She is a WriterHouse Board member, owner of TheArtistsPartner.com, and founder of BACCA.

The Safe Space To Dream Big

“May 25, 2019. Bethany Carlson has won the coveted Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.”

So begins an exercise I did on 2/8/14 at this year’s BACCA writing retreat: write a press release, five years in the future, about achieving a major writing dream.

I don’t have an agent. I have only taken two screenwriting classes, one at WriterHouse, one at UVa. But not for credit. I didn’t even need to apply to get in. Just write the tuition check. I’m not famous, I don’t live in LA, I don’t have connections. So go right ahead and laugh.

This is the thing about having a great writing group: it’s a fortress. It’s not just me against the world. I know BACCA has my back. My writing group is a safe space to dream big.

The follow-up exercise was to list practical steps towards achieving that dream. I scribbled down: “Write three feature-length screenplays. The first two will probably suck but the third one might be pretty good.”

Who knows if that Palme d’Or press release will ever get written; it’s almost totally outside of my control. Except for the part about writing. I definitely can’t win if I don’t write. And one thing that has actually happened in the last two months: after years toiling on YA novels and short stories, I finally finished a draft of my first feature-length screenplay. And I’ve submitted it to BACCA for critique.

I’ll get honest feedback to make screenplay numero uno better. And the encouragement – and accountability – to move on to screenplay number two. And then #3. And they do say the third time’s the charm.

final draft

We’ll Always Have Kabul, my first feature length (almost) screenplay, in software Final Draft

Bethany Carlson is a co-founder of BACCA Literary. She is a WriterHouse Board member and the owner of TheArtistsPartner.com where she helps authors and other artists to professionally produce and distribute their work.

Kickstarter For Writers

Most Kickstarter publishing category campaigns fail to raise even a fifth of their funding goals. Data nerds like me may want to visit kickstarter.com/help/stats for the full post-mortem. Suffice to say: raising money to publish your book is really hard.

Failure Rate

But it’s not impossible. I have produced successful Kickstarter campaigns for writers, ranging from a gritty New Jersey mob memoir with a ten-pin twist, to a gleefully adorable children’s picture book introducing entrepreneurship. Their successes were not a coincidence. Despite their very different audiences, their paths to success were nearly the same.

Bowling For The Mob  Camila's Lemonade Stand

I’m looking forward to teaching an afternoon workshop at WriterHouse on February 16, 2014, to walk through these case studies and what we can learn from them. For now, I’m happy to share three of the ten essentials for Kickstarter success for writers.

  1. Tap into your extrovert and PROMOTE. This is conjecture, but perhaps the reason book campaigns fail disproportionately is because writers tend to be introverts. We want that loophole whereby our work will be found without us having to tell anyone about it. Nope. The Kickstarter campaign is excellent sales boot camp. For both Bowling For The Mob and Camila’s Lemonade Stand, we had a month of promotion prior to the campaign before launch. The goal was to make sure everyone relevant heard about the campaign at least 10 times during the 30 days before launch, through the 30 days up to close.
  2. Map out the money in advance. The occasional Kickstarter campaign goes viral, even books. However, all 125,000 campaigns in the history of Kickstarter have not. In all likelihood, yours will not. So you need to know both exactly how much money you need to produce your book, and exactly where that money is going to come from. After learning the nail-biting hard way on Bowling For The Mob, for Camila’s Lemonade Stand we went through a detailed Kickstarter Estimator process before the campaign launch. This was like a wedding guest list, but with the added columns of how much money the invitees were likely to pledge, and for what kind of reward. Then we applied the 65% rule – because not everyone we invited to the campaign was going to show up (they didn’t).  So let’s say we need to raise $6,500 to produce a book. We sit down and tally up all of our friends, colleagues, family, and fans, and what they’re likely to pledge. That comes to $10,000. We multiply by 65%, get $6,500, and voila, this is a campaign that has a chance to succeed. If, on the other hand, we need $20,000 to produce the book, and then we tally up our likely pledges and that comes to $5,000, well… we don’t even need to bother with the 65% rule. This campaign is almost certainly going to fail. 65 Rule
  3. Shoot a decent, short video. Kickstarter makes a big deal about having a video – any video. People want to see and hear from you. Good light and good sound go a long ways towards making a homemade video watchable. For Bowling For The Mob we had Bob sit directly under a skylight and used a microphone and an iPhone propped on a soda cup; For the Camila’s Lemonade Stand video we used a bright floor lamp with the shade removed behind the camera and a Samsung Galaxy phone with a tripod and microphone. Neither of these videos will win any awards, but they are watchable, informative, and they are SHORT. Don’t underestimate how brief attention spans are. Keep it under 3 minutes.

No Oscars. Successfully funded.

These 3 are the tip of the iceberg. At the seminar we’ll be covering how to tap into the extrovert and promote, how to map out the money in advance, and how to shoot a decent, short video. We’ll also be covering how to pick rewards and at what pledge levels, the (somewhat complicated) mechanics of setting up the necessary accounts for payment processing, some (hilarious!) case studies of what not to do, how to stay within key Kickstarter guidelines so that your project gets approved, what to do when you hit the mid-campaign slump, among other essential elements to success.

kickstarter for writers

If you only take away one idea from this post, it would be “if you build it, they will come” does not apply to Kickstarter. Some lucky folks are salespeople by nature. The rest of us need to practice the steps to master them. And it’s easier to do it with a team.

This creepy crap only works in 80’s Costner movies

If you’ve read this whole post thinking, “what the heck is Kickstarter?!?”, you’re not alone. For Bowling For The Mob, the campaign was the first Kickstarter experience for the writers and a majority of the people who pledged. It’s a fundraising platform for artistic projects which, since 2009, has raised nearly a billion dollars. The best way to learn more is to wander around on Kickstarter.com. Enjoy!

If you’re considering Kickstarter to fund your book, it’s hard – but possible. No hocus pocus required.

Please consider yourself invited to the Kickstarter for Writers seminar at WriterHouse on 2/2/14.

Please visit the successful campaigns for Bowling For The Mob and Camila’s Lemonade Stand.

And, please feel free to stop by The Artist’s Partner for more information on the services I provide – like Kickstarter campaign production – to artists who want to keep a bigger share of the profits by producing and distributing their work.

Bethany Joy Carlson is a co-founder of BACCA Literary, a WriterHouse board member, and founder of The Artist’s Partner.

Don’t worry. You can’t pitch worse than 90’s Farley movies

Critiques in the Classroom

I want my students to feel our writing critiques have launched their work to the next level. At its best, competition in the classroom raises everyone’s game.  But it’s easy to cross the line from healthy challenge to catty, snarky, and mean. When I teach a workshop, channeling that energy in a positive direction is one of my top priorities.

Matt Groening’s Simpsons courtesy of simpsons.wikia.com

Instructor Mantras for Great Classroom Critiques

As the teacher, I set the tone.  I want a positive, honest, challenging, listening environment with firm boundaries.   These are my instructor mantras.

  • I believe in each work.” I may imagine a long road between a current draft and publication.  But if I treat a student’s work like it’s hopeless, the whole class will pick up on that vibe and amplify it. The goal is not perfection, but getting the current draft to the next level. The fact is, every work can improve.
  • I say what I mean.”  Balancing the previous mantra, I don’t do my students any favors if the workshop turns into a mutual back patting session.  I don’t beat around the bush.  I call out the things I see that are working and the things that need work.
  • I ask questions about what I don’t understand.” Assumption is the mother of all, ahem, screw-ups.  Just because I’m the instructor, I don’t need to pretend I know it all.  When presented with something unfamiliar or unclear, I ask questions.
  • I listen carefully.” I should probably move this mantra to the number one spot, because as the teacher, I want to TALK.  Boring.  Belittling.  Discouraging.  I need to listen to my students first, and talk last.  I listen attentively so that I can return to emphasize students’ important contributions by name, and only then fill in any gaps that haven’t already covered.
  • I stop behavior that doesn’t belong in my class.” Especially with adult students, it’s tempting to cop out and think ‘we’re all grown ups here’, and let the class devolve into Lord of the Flies. Instead, when one of my students starts in with destructive criticism or wanders into a ranting monologue, I politely interrupt with, “Interesting point, Sally, but we’re getting off track. Let’s you and I talk about that offline after class.”

Classroom Rules for Great Critiques

Luke Whisnant’s ‘Responding to Other People’s Fiction’ is my handbook for setting critique ground rules, whether the writing is strictly fiction or not.  I repeat the headlines before each critique session.  Most people need to hear something three times to register it and ten times to memorize it, so it is not overkill to provide gentle reminders at the start of each workshop.

  • Start with what’s working.  Every piece has something that’s working for it.  We start there to encourage one another.
  • Continue with what needs work.  We’re not here to congratulate each other.  We’re here to improve.  Let’s get specific about what needs work.
  • Phrase with “I think”.  Our critiques are opinions, not facts.  We offer them thoughtfully, we listen to them carefully. In the end, it is up to the writer to decide what to do with our opinions.
  • Avoid “I liked…” or “I didn’t like…” This isn’t about tastes in reading material.  We are here to help each other with the craft, not share what we read in our free time.
  • The critiquers talk firstThe writer benefits most from unfiltered critiques.  The writer gets time at the end to respond.

I have found variations on these ground rules to be helpful in other creative and collaborative environments: Brainstorming about starting a business. Rehearsing for a play.  Setting strategic goals for an organization.  Co-writing a manuscript.  But for me they are particularly rewarding when I get that enthusiastic email from a student, thankful for the rekindled energy they have for their work, excited about how much it has improved, and ready to tackle the job of taking their draft to the next level.

If you are interested in more information on constructive critiques in the classroom, please contact bethanyjoycarlson at hotmail dot com.

Bethany Carlson