As I write this sentence, there are 15 hours left in my IndieGoGo campaign. The campaign was (is) to raise money for the production of a high fantasy fashion show to celebrate the launch of my high fantasy book, From Under the Mountain, this January.
Mountain has been a guinea pig for me in many, many ways. When I first came up with the idea, in my 10th grade bio class, I was in the throes of obsession with play-by-post roleplaying games, which my friends and I hosted on InvisionFree forums. So this story, this world’s first iteration was as an RPG called “A Witch’s Way” that quickly tanked under my passionate, yes, but easily distracted fifteen-year-old management. Sometime after that, I decided to try novelizing it; I must have decided that was too hard, because I tried again to make it a forum RPG. This time it was called “Of Magic and Might” and was much less plot-oriented. Most of the world building I did was in this period.
It wasn’t until 2012 that I came back to the story that would become From Under the Mountain. My best friend and first editor, Ash Yuhas (my Bear and Black Dog partner), helped me slash my way through bloated casts and pick one of the four major plot threads on which to focus. I cut more than half of what I had written, which at the time, felt like a major blow–it was seven years of cumulative work, after all.
I finished the first complete draft during Camp NaNoWriMo 2012. By this point, the experiment of actually writing the thing was (mostly) complete. The experiment of publishing it was about to begin.
I did what any uninformed newbie writer would do. I submitted the barely-edited manuscript to both Amazon’s Breakout Novel Award contest and Harper Voyager’s Submitapalooza, or whatever they called it–they accepted unagented manuscripts for a time. When I, luckily, was not selected for either of those, I decided to be smart, and set about the experiment of finding an agent.
Poor Mountain. A high fantasy novel is a hard thing to query before you know how to write a proper query. By the time I figured it out, I’d exhausted my list of agents and was exhausted by the prospect of compiling another one. I’d gotten some interest, but the manuscript itself wasn’t strong enough. And so began the experiment of rewriting, and doubting, and rewriting again, and again, and again, until it was something my dear Ash would hardly recognize.
During this period I learned a great deal about publishing as an industry and what my place in it as an author might be. With this knowledge, I decided that a small press was the best place for Mountain in its mature form. I needed to feel trusted. I needed to make sure I could prevent the possible whitewashing of the cover. I needed to feel supported. And I knew just the small publisher.
I’m the first to say that I think it’s sort of weird when authors publish with publishers they also work for. To be honest, though, the reason I wanted to publish with REUTS–even before I started working for them, as boss/friend/colleague Kisa Whipkey can attest–is the same reason I wanted to work for them. They’re people who genuinely love the same kinds of books I love, and they’re people who are looking, as a business, to put down roots. I know, it’s cheesy, but they’re planning for the long term and laying groundwork that ensures they’ll be sticking around.
After signing, the experiment of publishing–and marketing–began. I’d dipped my toe in these waters with the Web novellas, but those have always been…background? They’re origin stories, and while I know many love them even now, their true impact won’t pay off until down the road. I’ve been content to let them exist with an occasional push, though I have tested methods on them. Blog tours. Book trailers. Advance review requests.
What I learned was that there are blog tours and book trailers and advance review requests everywhere. For good books and bad. And I’ve finally started paying attention to my own habits as a reader and book-buyer, which are powerfully based on name recognition. Occasionally I buy a book because of its title, cover, or description. Mostly, though, I scan the shelves for authors I’ve read before, or whose names I’ve seen my friends talking about. Throne of Glass I read because of Twitter. Red Queen too. One of my favorite trilogies ever, NK Jemisin’s Inheritance Trilogy, got on my radar because of a diverse fantasy list I’d spotted on Tumblr, so when I saw a beat-up mass market of book one on the cart at my Friends of the Library job, I grabbed it.
Because of my novellas, I’m not quite a debut, though From Under the Mountain is my first novel. Still, I don’t have a lot of name recognition going for me right now. So step one of the marketing experiment was to figure out a way to boost collective awareness of me as an author with a book coming out. The most fun way I could think of to do that would be to have a unique launch event. I thought of the popularity of original costume exhibits–I just visited a Star Wars costume exhibit at the EMP Museum in Seattle–and thought how cool it would be to do a fashion show…but high fantasy fashion, based on my characters.
I came up with this idea before I signed with REUTS, but post-deal it solidified. At first, I thought it would be possible within what I could earn myself in about a year (which is only a couple thousand). It soon became clear that not only was that wrong, but that I didn’t have a year to save up. I was wary of crowd-funding for a book-related project after certain industry scandals relating to such things, but I decided to go for it. Crowdfunding, early book marketing, it seemed like a good idea. My biggest From Under the Mountain experiment yet.
This post must have taken me at least an hour to write, because there are now 14 hours left in the IndieGoGo. As I write this, we’re at $4,330 raised of our $8,500 goal. We have 78 contributors who have helped to get us that far. To our 78 donors, I say: thank you. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, and I’ll continue to say it every chance I get. $5 or $500, your donations show your care, your interest, your generosity. Each new donation made me feel confident and supported, which has meant so much, because the process of publishing and marketing a book seems tailor-made to erode my mental health. You’ve reminded me that I’m not alone, not shouting into the void, and I’ll love you forever. I can’t wait to send you your rewards, even if they don’t begin to express my gratitude.
So, with 14 hours to go, I suppose it’s time to reflect on the success of this stage one marketing experiment. My feelings on this matter have been inconsistent, but that’s because my depression and anxiety don’t always allow for nuance or optimism. But I do think this campaign has been successful. No, we haven’t reached our goal. But we raised an incredible amount of money, certainly more than I’ve ever had all at once in my entire life (I counted myself rich when my bank account had just over $2000 in it). 78 people, many of them strangers, many just casual acquaintances, saw fit to become part of this artistic journey as patrons, producers; and that doesn’t include the fellow artists who have joined the creative side: Brandilyn Scott, the designer, as well as our nine actors, our photographer, videographer, our production designer. These are people who have taken my novel and my dream and made it theirs too.
I’ve learned. This was a marketing experiment, after all. Some of the lessons have been hard–that the avenues from which you expect support don’t always come through–but the flipside has also proven true. Sometimes, support comes from people and places you never would have expected. As my boss at Another Read Through, a wonderful used bookstore in Portland, said to me yesterday, you never know who you’re reaching. When you put yourself or your store or your book forward, it can feel like no one’s listening, but your name is out there. I’ve reminded myself constantly that book marketing in particular doesn’t pay off for a long time. I see a beautiful cover, an amazing book trailer, I add the book to my Goodreads and don’t buy it for a year sometimes. This is because I’m poor and can’t buy books nearly as often as I’d like. And a lot of people are like me.
And when I’m calm, when the marketing hurricane of anxiety and fear isn’t at my back, I know that this is about a book. My book. A book I’ve held close for more than a decade, and which I’m finally getting to share. This is a book I love. This is a book I think you will love. This is a book that will not expire. The IndieGoGo campaign is almost over. From Under the Mountain‘s journey has only begun.