Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Why So Serious?

A bit of disclosure is in order. I don't know Bryan Thomas Schmidt, but I do know RayGun Revival, the magazine that inspired it--having sold a couple stories there.

So, I felt a pang of guilt over not pledging any money to the Kickstarter campaign for Raygun Chronicles.

Fortunately, they didn't need my help and the campaign reached their goal and the project went forward.

I recently had occasion to take another look at the Kickstarter page and I found reasons to find fault with it. I hope this fault-finding will be taken as it is intended: coaching on how to do better at managing communications with the stakeholders of a Kickstarter campaign.

The campaign has come to the time when all the rewards that have been promised need to be fulfilled. And I understand that there have been difficulties. Every project is a bit like the Passion of Christ. There come times Gethsemane--the olive press--where the pressures on the project manager come to a head.

I took a fresh look at the video that Mr. Schmidt created and remembered why I didn't underwrite this campaign. Though I like the concept, though I believe in what RayGun is doing, though I read the sort of SF that is in this project, I found Mr. Schmidt's video to be creative, but annoying.

I listened to about 10 seconds of it and stopped--that's when I remembered why I did not subscribe to this project in the first place. The video chased me away.

So, I forced myself to give it another go.

You have to balance serious and goofy as I've mentioned before. The video is a mash up of a guy in a golden-age of Science Fiction getup getting ready to go out and do something (cool) and a web-cam quality cut to Mr. Schmidt enthusiastically describing the anthology--sounding too much like a used-car salesman.

He had a sale until that used-car spiel, whereupon I put my billfold away.

Maybe I'm just a fuddy-duddy, but I think a Kickstarter campaign has to avoid the look of being flippant. Looking at the web page now, I see this: "Risks? Your head may explode from too much space opera awesomeness!"

Does this mean there is no chance of schedule slip? Or a new vendor will wig out? Or a hurricane will interfere with deliveries? What about people getting sick and family crises? These are the risks you can't mitigate or predict. There are other risks you must rack your brain to enumerate, and have plans to mitigate should they occur.

There were real schedule risks that did occur. It is really easy, AND UNDERSTANDABLE for difficulties to attend order fulfillment.

When risks come to pass, that head-exploding joke does not inspire trust.

Kickstarter is about trust, because you're asking people to trust you first to the extent of putting their hopes into the campaign and then to the extent of putting up their money if the campaign goes forward.

As the project winds down the people running the campaign need to keep stakeholders in the loop, make themselves vulnerable to stakeholders, and give whatever information possible about why anything is not perfect and what steps are being taken to remediate the situation.

I was told that when Mr. Schmidt did so, they looked like spammy emails: "When you get an email of an unkempt editor and the caption on the video is that he's going to sing (I did not listen to it) well, you kind of stop paying attention so closely."And because they were easy to ignore, this stakeholder felt she'd been scammed. Her complaint prompted a defensive response and things got quite ugly.

It may look like I'm dumping on Mr. Schmidt. I feel he is a good person. I don't believe he has any intention to scam anyone.

It looks like he needs to do more to inspire trust. There is a reason why bankers are boring: you trust them with your money.  Bankers wear ties and dress in starched clothing. Their hair is neatly trimmed and combed. They don't do this to enrich barbers and clothiers, but to inspire trust.

There's a correlation between trust and an over-serious (boring) affect.

Banker Cosplay does not come natural to creative types. To make things worse: looking like a banker violates a lot of fannish trust cues. (Like Mom said, life isn't fair.) But you need some of it when you're asking for money.

And more importantly asking for faith: Faith in you. Faith in your project.

I know precious little about building an author platform. But I realize a publisher-platform is even more important.

The first and only thing I can say about building an author platform is that I must exceed your expectations of me.

I fail at this all the time, so I have no business throwing rocks at Mr. Schmidt for seeming unprofessional or being quite professional while giving an impression of unprofessionalness. And no, unprofessionalness is not a word.

It is great to have a light touch and not take oneself too seriously. But there's a time and a season for everything. when people have put money on the table and you promise them stuff, you can't just treat things seriously, you have to look serious, too.

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