Well, the Starlost Unauthorized Kickstarter is over. Frankly, I’m a bit relieved.  It’s been a trip, but honestly, I felt a little bad about bothering people with my promotional efforts.

It worked though – I reached 230% of goal, or almost $2300.00 which is more than I’ve made for any other single book I’ve written… for a book I haven’t written.  I’m not sure whether to laugh or cry.

First, I should express my thanks: To Stephen Kotowych, who provided an incredibly clear, straightforward and useful presentation on Kickstarters at the Indy Writer’s Conference in Toronto, back in April, and who was kind enough to review my draft Kickstarter.  Tao Wong, who organized the Indy Writer’s Conference, which ended up a cornucopia of useful ideas, advice and opportunities. Alex McGillivary, who also inspired with his Kickstarter for Bigfoot Country, and offered useful advice.  Dean Naday, cinematographer and video editor who saved me from going over a cliff, and Anna Valdron, for support. Without each of them, this Kickstarter wouldn’t exist, or it wouldn’t have been nearly as effective.

I also want to express my thanks to everyone who knew me and pledged.  I am touched.  Maybe it was just the project was kick ass and amazing, but I can’t help but narcisstically feel that it was a personal gesture of faith and friendship, and that means a lot.

And my thanks to all the people who had no clue who I was, but decided that this project was worthwhile and deserved support.  I think that was about 60% of my backers.  To you, I say: Brothers! Sisters! Indeterminate strangers! I love that you love this subject, I’m passionate about it too!

Now that it’s over, I think I should perhaps meditate upon the experience.

I’d heard about Kickstarters for a few years.  It’s one of those things – Kickstarter, Indygogo, Gofundme.  A friend of mine had tried it a few years ago for a film project.  And from time to time, I’d seen other projects – comic books, books, fan films etc.  I remember once seeing a kickstarter for a new kind of drone, and one that earned 4000% percent of target, it looked cool.

Going to Conventions, I’d attended panels talking about Kickstarters, notably at the World Fantasy Convention and Can-Con. I found them deeply incoherent. It’s an occupational hazard, you get a bunch of people who are expert in a subject up on a panel, they just end up talking jargon to each other, and the audience, there to learn something, goes “WTF?”  There’s no organized presentation, no management of the material, and it’s the educated talking to the educated.

It wasn’t until Kotowych and McGillivary that I got a decent handle on it.  Not until shortly after, that I realized I had a project that might work for it.

The Project: Starlost Unauthorized.  I never saw the series when it aired, or maybe I did, but didn’t remember. I grew up out in the boondocks, we had two TV channels – one English, one French.  Getting a second English channel was a huge event.

But I heard about it. I read Harlan Ellison’s spectacular hatchet job, I came across disparaging reviews and stories. I read Ben Bova’s novel, Starcrossed, about his experiences. But I never saw the show.

Oddly, it was LEXX, Canada’s other space opera that got me into it.  A LEXX fan traded me a VHS package of Starlost episodes for some LEXX tapes.  Back then, tape trading was a thing. I was Very curious, I’d heard so much.  I was expecting Plan 9 from Outer Space.

Watching it, I was amazed.  Yes, the pacing was sometimes slow, the sets were threadbare, there was a fair amount of cheese. That was 60s and 70s television for you. Watch Lost in Space or Six Million Dollar Man.

But remarkably, there was something else going on.  There were ideas, the episodes were about something, there was thinking going on.  And most shockingly, I recognized that thinking.  I’d grown up in the era of Canadian nationalism, and it was all over the episodes.  Holy Cow!

I wrote an essay about it, and then with nothing better to do with it, I tucked it away.  I had a lot of writing like that tucked away in corners of my hard drive – essays, stories, excursions that I just figured no one would be interested in, and simply did for my own pleasure.

Eventually, I showed it to people, it circulated. It got picked up for a book. The book fell through. It came to the attention of Norman Klenman, who contacted me.  I did a website, and put it up as a freebee.  No one looked at it. Covid came along, I started rewatching it and writing up individual episodes – again, no plan, I just liked doing that kind of thing.  Maybe I was working towards a book.

I met Warren Frey last year, who told me he wanted to do a book on Starlost. I thought ‘shit’ but sent him my Starlost stuff, just in case he wanted to use any of it.

Then this year, with nothing much going on, I ended up looking through all my Starlost writing and thinking “Wow, I’ve practically got enough here already for a book.”  I think forty or fifty thousand words.  It needed a lot of cleaning up, and a lot of filling in gaps… But why not?  Even if Warren was writing his own book, I thought I had at least a unique angle and we could both write our own books.

It’s synchronicity, because at the same time as I was doing this, Stephen Kotowych was opening my eyes to Kickstarter, and at some point a little light bulb went off in my head.  Twenty-five watts, I’m dim. But it was a light bulb.

One of the things that dissuaded me from Kickstarter was a lack of faith: Who the hell was I? I couldn’t imagine my name or any fiction project or most non-fiction I could come up with would be interesting to anyone.

But my LEXX books sold, my Doctor Who books sold.  Starlost had name recognition. Why not go for it!   I’ve already got the ideas mapped out, and a good chunk of the book done, and the whole series on Roku and DVD.  Why not test it out.

So I went for it.

It was an interesting experience.  I felt no need to be perfect. There’s no shame in making mistakes or screwing up. We learn by experience, we learn by doing. Sometimes, when we’re doing something completely new, we have no frame of reference at all for good or bad, what its like or how to do it.  You just have to jump into the deep end, get wet, get in over your head, so you can understand the experience and then begin figuring it out.

I don’t recommend this approach for skydiving by the way.

But yeah, my practice is to grab an anchor and jump in the deep end.

Again, don’t try to learn skydiving this way.

On the one hand, doing the kickstarter, that basically amounted to filling out a form, or a series of forms on internet pages.  Lots of filling in blanks and spaces – first the personal profile, then the project profile.

That makes it sound easier than it was. When you have no frame of reference, even a blank form can be a terrifying and opaque document.  The problem is that if you are a user of the form – someone on the back end, you know what it’s for, what it’s about, what all the necessary information is and where to find it.  If you’re a first time user on the front end – filling it out – it can be mysterious, impenetrable, weirdly organized and just plain alien.  I remember back in University, I used to help other students fill out forms that had baffled them.

It’s a matter of working through it patiently, going “WTF is this supposed to mean” and then taking your best guess.  Either you get it right, or you keep doing it or fixing it until you get to the end.

There was a lot that amounted to just figuring things out on the fly – your ‘story write up,’ pictures and images, your pledge rewards, frequently asked questions.  There was a lot of stuff I had no clue about.

What I did, was that I did the form twice.  The first time, I just half-assed my way through, mainly to get an idea of what they seemed to want, and where they seemed to want it.  Once I had a grasp of the bigger picture, I went back and started working on all the detail components.

I did my story write up, wrote a few FAQ. I had some minimal graphics ability so I designed a pro-forma book cover, did a bunch of graphics, scrammed around for pictures. That was the easy part.  I’m a writer, so this was just … writing.

The advice I got was keep it concise, brief and exciting. Punch it up. Give the idea, but make it appealing and exciting, rather than technical.  A back of a book summary in a bookstore, rather than the sort of summary you did in junior high book reports.  Also, use lots of images and graphics, including a book mock up and a personal photo.

I figured out my reward tiers, etc.  Basically, when you’re doing a Kickstarter, to entice people to support you and pledge, you offer rewards.  There’s usually a tier of rewards, ranging from say a dollar or five dollars, which gets you a sticker or an ebook, all the way up to a hundred dollar or five hundred dollar Cadillac tier, which gives you the full body spa treatment, or equivalent.

I’d been writing for a while, so I actually had a whole pile of books – almost twenty, including books on similar topics.  I didn’t want to get too bound up in shipping, so my rewards were mainly my own eBook.  I felt a bit sneaky, it was a backdoor way of getting people to read my other books.

Higher tiers, I promised physical copies of my Starlost book.  But apart from that, I avoided physical rewards. The whole shipping and cost of shipping thing seemed complicated and kind of tedious.  I did look into stickers and fridge magnets though, because fridge magnets are cool.

Finally, there was the video, also known as my nightmarish Odyssey through a Kafka-esque hell.  I spent hours and fifty takes until I could come up with something I could live with.  Showed it to a friend, Dean, who shot me down.  Went back to the drawing board for more hours and dozens of takes.  He edited, we looked.  Back to the drawing board once again for more hours and dozens of takes, which he then edited into something pretty cool.  It was completely beyond my skill set, and I’m absolutely grateful.

Once I had it all worked out, I uploaded it all, tinkered with it, got feedback, tinkered some more, edited, corrected and eventually launched.

And it turns out, I still made mistakes. My rewards tiers were inaccessible.  I fixed those on the fly.

My Kickstarter launched for three weeks.

On to marketing.

I’m not good at marketing.  I’m out of touch, so the only social media I’m on is Facebook.  And Facebook isn’t even really social media any more.  It’s more a toxic swill of advertisers, fraudsters and bots.

I’d thought about joining Twitter, but even then, it was a bottomless sepsis of humanity’s worst impulses compressed into a firehose of 180 character filth, and then it got bought by Elon Musk. Look, I’ll just be blunt: Social media is the worst thing ever invented by humans, and if you’re on it, it systematically works to make you a more awful person.  The sole purpose of social media is to relentlessly devolve us all into walking bile-spewing donkey scrotums.

And you can tell with that kind of attitude, I was handicapped with marketing or promoting to social media.  So I didn’t go much further than Facebook.

I went through my contact list, my friends list, all the relevant groups I belonged to and sent them notices – two or three over the three week period. I searched out additional relevant groups, and spread the message.

I went through my email contacts – single emailed everyone I thought was particularly likely to be interested, and then mass-emailed a bunch.

That was about it.  Between those two efforts, and actually being up on Kickstarter, I did okay.  I’m sure someone more media and promotion savvy could have done ten times better.  And maybe I’ll have to work more on that aspect of myself.

Working on the Kickstarter has made me more ambitious with the project. I’ve got the resources now to commission a cover artist, or to pay a copy editor. I’ve been inspired to do much deeper research, tracking down and interviewing the survivors of the series. It will be a slightly bigger, more ambitious more polished work.

A collateral benefit has been exposure and promotion.  I’ve used Kickstarter to promote my upcoming Starlost Unauthorized book, and I hope that this will contribute to sales further down the road.  But beyond that, I’ve also used it to promote and push my other books.

My goals, and my performance were both modest, but I was fine with that. Stephen Kotowych and Alex McGillivary have both achieved successes which dwarfed mine.  There are people out there on Kickstarter that have raked in tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars, and have become so sophisticated that they can literally live on it. I’ll probably never be at that level. But I’m intrigued by the scope and ambition of so many of the projects there.

Having finally gone through it, I’m struck by the irony.  As I said, despite the modest amounts I’ve made more money on a book to be written than I’ve made for any single book I’ve released. But there’s more to it. The recent anti-trust suit revealed that most books from mainstream publishers don’t earn out their costs, that they sell only a few hundred copies at best. The situation for most books is terrible. It’s even worse for small presses, and indy or self publishers. There’s not a lot of money in writing.  My kickstarter has earned more than most people make writing books.  That’s kind of sad, and it’s a symptom of how chaotic and arbitrary publishing and writing is.

I am a very good writer.  I’m just not very good at making money from writing.  But overall, it sucks to be a writer, the money is not good, and it’s gotten worse over the years. Markets are drying up. As conventional models fail us, perhaps we need to be more flexible in searching out and exploiting new models and opportunities.  The world is changing around us and AI is a looming threat.  I don’t know that our trade is doomed by AI, maybe we are, but if there are opportunities or advantages in this strange new world, we better start trying to find them.  If we’re going to keep doing what we love and support ourselves, we have to explore.

I feel a little regret at missed opportunities.  Now that I’ve done this, it seems obvious to me that I could have done this with several of my previous book projects. I could have been doing Kickstarters years ago.  In hindsight, there was a lot of money and a lot of promotional opportunities I left on the table, because I didn’t take advantage of this earlier.  But it’s only a small regret – there’s only so many hours in a day, so much time and energy to do something, and my priority was to just get my books out into the world. These prior projects contributed to this one, so I don’t think I really suffered that much.

I am definitely going to do it again. Now that I’ve done it, I feel more confident and competent, not just in the project, or future projects, but in myself.   I can refine the experience and fine tune my future Kickstarters.  What’s the point of experience if you only do it once?  And I have projects in the works that I think would work.  I don’t know that every future project will involve a Kickstarter, but I think it’s a tool now in my chest.

Of course, it’s not done yet. Although its officially over, there’s still available late pledges, just in case someone comes long and absolutely needs to donate.  I still need to conduct an interview or two; actually finish writing, editing and revising; format and publish. Then I need to follow through on all those pledges, sending out various rewards.

But that all sounds like fun to me.  I’m looking forward to it.