John Joseph Adams is the bestselling editor of many anthologies, such as Oz Reimagined, The Mad Scientist’s Guide To World Domination, Epic: Legends Of Fantasy, Other Worlds Than These, Armored, Under The Moons Of Mars, Brave New Worlds, Wastelands, The Living Dead, Federations, The Improbable Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes, Seeds Of Change, and The Way Of The Wizard. He is a six-time finalist for the Hugo Award and a five-time nominee for the World Fantasy Award. He is also the editor and publisher of the magazines Lightspeed and Nightmare, and is the co-host of Wired’s The Geek’s Guide To The Galaxy podcast.
by John Joseph Adams
HELP FUND MY ROBOT ARMY!!! and Other Improbable Kickstarters all started when a writer named Keffy R.M. Kehrli submitted a story called “HELP FUND MY ROBOT ARMY!!!” to the magazine I edit, Lightspeed. It’s the story of a mad scientist-type looking for funding to–as the title suggests–build a robot army. I thought the story was really funny, and I really enjoyed the idea of telling a story using the components and restrictions of the Kickstarter pitch format to tell the story. So once I was done reading it, I immediately knew I was going to buy it, but then I also had another idea: to build a whole anthology around the idea, and, naturally, to fund the anthology via Kickstarter.
So I reached out to Keffy to let him know I was buying the story, but also to ask him if he would be OK with me proceeding with the anthology idea. Once he gave me his blessing, the first thing to figure out was: Do I save his story for the anthology, or should I still buy it for Lightspeed (since that’s where he submitted it, after all). Pretty quickly I realized that I should publish it in the anthology AND in Lightspeed. I figured I could run the story as an original in Lightspeed, and then include it as the sole reprint in the anthology–that way when the Kickstarter launched, prospective backers would be able to go read one of the stories from the anthology right away, even before the project funded.
That sorted, I proceeded to drawing up a list of prospective contributors. I knew right away that I was going to want to approach several authors who had previously run successful Kickstarters, because I wanted a good base of authors who knew the system well, figuring that that would mean they’d understand the best how to imagine crowdfunding with SF/F tropes. But also–and perhaps this was crassly commercial of me–I figured, having a number of authors on board who have demonstrated that their audiences will support them via Kickstarter in the past should give the anthology a good chance at reaching its funding goal. So I was able to recruit experienced Kickstarters like Monte Cook, David Malki!, Tobias Buckell, Tim Pratt, Matt Forbeck, Michael J. Sullivan, Mur Lafferty, Chuck Wendig, Brad Beaulieu, and Mary Robinette Kowal, plus I recruited some folks who didn’t have Kickstarter experience but who I thought might take to the idea anyway, such as Seanan McGuire, Daniel H. Wilson, Scott Sigler, Genevieve Valentine, and others.
The thing I was dreading most about the whole Kickstarter process was the video. Everyone says “YOU’VE GOT TO HAVE A VIDEO!” Not just Kickstarter itself, but like everyone you talk to about it. So I figured I’d definitely have to do one for this, especially since this particular project is ABOUT Kickstarters–I didn’t want to skimp out on one of the nearly-universal elements of the format. When I did my Kickstarter for Nightmare Magazine, we planned on doing a video but we never got our act together to do one. We funded anyway, but I vowed that this time I wouldn’t let that happen… when I sat down to try to do it, however, it was AGONY. I’m terrible on camera, and pretty self-critical, so every attempt, in my eyes, was just a horrible failure. And I also didn’t quite see the point given I was pitching an anthology–surely people who would back an ANTHOLOGY would READ the pitch rather than WATCH it, no?
In any case, I didn’t want to break my vow to myself, so I started thinking outside the box. I figured I could do the audio well enough–or, at least, I could record it and then clean that up in editing easily enough–so I thought: what if I could figure out something that I could shoot on video and then just talk over it, like a voice-over? And then suddenly it hit me: The internet loves cats.
As it happens, we have a cattery (i.e., a cat shelter) here in Lompoc, where I live, where we’ve adopted two of our cats. So I went down there and got permission to shoot some video. I spent about 30-45 minutes with both my sister-in-law and I shooting video on iPhones. We got lots of adorable footage, as you might imagine, so then we just had to edit it down into a short video. The only problem with that was I had no experience editing video whatsoever. Luckily, I was able to just download Microsoft Movie Maker for free, and it was actually super easy to figure out. I mean, I wasn’t exactly editing together Citizen Kane over here. It was a cat video! So I edited it all together with the audio, added some on screen text in Movie Maker, and boom–SHAMELESS CATSPLOITATION ACHIEVED.
One interesting thing about this whole process has been discovering how few people actually seem to click on the video. Initially, I wanted to surprise people with the cats, but then it turned out that so few people were commenting on the cats–and thus I assumed so few clicked on the video at all–I figured I’d best lure them in with the promise of cats (lest I defeat my own shameless purpose), so we added a little starburst to the first frame of the video that says “Check out our video. It’s full of CATS!”
The other cool thing about doing the cat video was that all of the cats in the video are actually available for adoption. So while my catsploitation was in fact completely shameless, if someone decides to adopt one of these cats, perhaps some good could also come of it!
We actually just reached out goal a couple of days ago, but the Kickstarter doesn’t end until Oct. 31, so while I’m very pleased we met our goal so quickly, of course I’m hoping we’ll go above and beyond our funding target. If we do, instead of stretch goals, I’m going to share anything we make beyond the initial goal with the authors on a pro-rata basis (much like an editor does with a traditionally-published anthology, if it earns royalties). So if the Kickstarter megafunds, all involved with the project get to share in the proceeds.