Releasing two books seems like small fry in the context of a year that also included an operation, an accident, a family emergency, a devastating restructure at work, a security threat that impacted my place of work, oh and the small matter of a global pandemic.
It's hard to know what to make of this year.
On one hand, I'm so lucky to live in Aotearoa and to have been so lightly touched by the pandemic. And I'm even luckier to have so many amazing supporters who pre-ordered my children's book Bruce Goes Outside, and my collection of short stories, Pet, and made the publication of them both possible. Thank you so much!
On the other hand, it has been such a hard and disappointing time. Looking for photos for this update, there are few of me celebrating with others. There are no photos from the Pet book launch, because there wasn't one. The only images in my Pet folder are jaunty invitations to cancelled celebrations.
My books seemed to come out at the worst possible time - when magazines that review books weren't being published, just a few weeks before the Kete book review site launched, and when Level Two and Three restrictions made it impossible to celebrate with in-person launches. I had four launches scheduled for the year (in Dunedin and Auckland) and we were able to go ahead with one.
However, a really positive thing that came out of the pandemic was a change in arts funding that led to my surprise project of the year - a podcast!
Thanks to Creative New Zealand I had the incredible opportunity to work with 17 extraordinary talented actors and the amazing Otago Access Radio (OAR FM) crew to create a podcast for Pet. Creating that podcast and getting to meet so many wonderful people was a highlight of my year.
Other highlights included Steve Braunias and Newsroom coming to my rescue and enabling me to have an online book launch for Pet (thank you!) and the children at Port Chalmers Primary School following up on a workshop I held with them by presenting me with a book of their stories. Another highlight was being asked to be the guest speaker for a School Library Association of New Zealand event. The event organisers made me feel as though I was Stephen King! And my lovely work colleagues organised a spontaneous Pet book launch for me in an office space, complete with flowers and donuts! There is plenty to be grateful for this year.
So, 2020 has left me with a lot of complicated feelings - but here's my 'annual report'. It follows the same format as last year's.
Last year I had a goal to send away 100 submissions. This year I was too busy crowdfunding to write or submit much new work. I made eight submissions to journals, competitions, residencies and funding bodies, and had six declines. I received CNZ funding to create a podcast, and one submission is still outstanding.
Although my number of submissions was small, two of them were for opportunities that I desperately wanted. On the strength of Pet and its reviews I also approached several literary festivals, but haven't been invited to participate in any as a short story writer. Another disappointment was having to crowdfund my books. After the success of Bruce Finds A Home (lovely reviews, and 2000 copies sold) it would have been great to have received funding to assist with the publication of Bruce Goes Outside. And I would have dearly loved to have found a publisher for Pet. Crowdfunding is not a sustainable arts practice - something I might write about in an essay one day.
But as with everything this year, there have been silver linings to my disappointments. I was thrilled to be able to work with the extraordinary team at Mary Egan Publishing to release Pet, and I just love the cover design! The team at Mary Egan Publishing is amazing and I can't recommend them highly enough. And crowdfunding gave me the opportunity to connect directly with people who wanted to read my work! Wow! It blows my mind that there are people out there who are interested in reading what I write. Thank you so much for your support, it has meant the world during this challenging year.
Last year I said, "In 2020 I hope to publish both Pet and Bruce Goes Outside, and get a little further along on my doctorate of professional practice."
So what do I want for 2021? I'm not sure yet. I would love to write and illustrate a third Bruce book, but the sales of Bruce Goes Outside haven't been as strong as they were for the first book, so I don't think it would be practical to do so. I hope to have finished, or be close to finishing my doctorate this time next year. And on the writing front, I'm not sure. Will I focus on trying to become the best short story writer that I can be? Or will I follow the scent of a novel idea? That's something for me to mull over during the summer break.
As I finish this update I hear sirens. I look out my window to see what looks like the third serious house fire in my little town this year.
I hope 2021 is an easier and happier year for us all.
A huge thank you to everyone who has pledged to children's book Bruce Goes Outside on the Kickstarter page, and to everyone who has shared the link - as of today, we are 50% funded!
That means we're one paw step closer to turning Bruce Goes Outside into a real book.
Pre-order your copy on the Kickstarter page.
Below - check out some of the illustrations from the story.
Thank you so much to everyone who came along to the Auckland book launch for Bruce Finds A Home - and to everyone who helped me organise it. An extra big thank you to the lovely ladies at The Dorothy Butler Book Shop who made the experience so special.
I'm looking forward to the Dunedin book launch this Saturday 17 February at the University Book Shop from 10.30am. All welcome!
It’s been a week since my Bruce Finds A Home book Kickstarter began (ok a week and a day... I kind of lost track of time for a while there), and I am already 68% funded! The Kickstarter goes for another three weeks (until 22 June) so I’m feeling quietly confident that I’ll reach my target.
Today I’m going to write about two things that have struck me over the past week – awesomeness and analytics.
First up, awesomeness. I have been absolutely blown away by the amount of support this project has received. It’s had a great reception in the media, with stories on Stuff.co.nz, in the Otago Daily Times, on Dunedin Television, in a cat blog called Katzenworld and in our local community paper the Rothesay News. (Credit for this goes to media maven Megan Martin, who crafted a killer media release. Shout-out to Megan's cat Mouse, who is still getting frisky with a laser pointer at the ripe old age of 13!)
The Kickstarter page has been shared by friends, family, colleagues, fellow writers and Bruce fans all over the world, and it is so nice to know that people are going out of their way to support this project. Thank you everyone – I feel like the luckiest cat lady in the world.
Now for something a bit less awesome but nevertheless interesting… analytics. Kickstarter has analytics you can tap into to find out about your customers, and you can also connect your Kickstarter to google analytics to learn about your site visitors. I found connecting my Kickstarter to google analytics a tad confusing at first, but this blog post soon sorted me out:
A simple guide to using Google Analytics for your Kickstarter
So what have I learned about the people who’ve visited the Bruce Finds A Home Kickstarter page?
Visitors to the page are coming primarily from New Zealand and America (not surprising – we’re based in New Zealand but most of Bruce’s fans are in The States). Although we've got a lot of lovely American backers, the majority of people who are pre-ordering books are currently from New Zealand (I wonder if the cost of shipping to the US is putting some people off).
It’s interesting that there is a very slightly younger skew of people visiting the page, when Bruce has a similar number of fans across most age groups on Facebook. Perhaps some younger people feel that little bit more comfortable using a platform like Kickstarter. I have to admit, it took me a while to get my head around it.
I know some people have had a few technical problems using Kickstarter, and other people have had ideas for different rewards, so I’ve put a comment on my page encouraging would-be backers to get in touch if they have an idea or if they need technical support. Hopefully that will encourage people to make contact - and I always love connecting with Bruce fans.
So that was this week… what about next week? From what I’ve heard, Kickstarters seem to follow this trajectory (see diagram below)... so I’m steeling myself for a nail-biting two weeks of little movement – while of course doing all I can to keep on moving that needle.
The "Bruce Finds A Home' Kickstarter is now live - you can check out the page and the video here.
This evening we launched the Kickstarter at Startup Space Dunedin. My speech is below - it gives a bit of an overview of the journey getting to this point. The Kickstarter will be live until 22 June, so this is the first of four installments as I go on my Kickstarter journey. Thanks for following along!
Hi, I’m Kathryn van Beek, also known as Bruce the Cat’s “mum”. Over the years I’ve been in bands, produced plays and written fiction. So I’ve been involved with lots of projects that I would have liked to have gone viral. But in the end, what went viral was my cat.
I found Bruce on a footpath in the rain when he was just one day old. My boss let me work from home a couple of days a week so I could look after him. On the other days I packed a ‘mom bag’ and he was looked after by my friend Kalee, or by Carol, an Otago Polytechnic Vet Nursing student. I made a Facebook page for Bruce so my friends could follow his progress. The next thing I knew, I was in a meeting when one of my colleagues burst in. “Bruce is on the front page of The Herald!” she cried. Soon after he was on The Dodo, then he was on Love Meow… and now he’s got 31,000 fans all over the world. Most of his followers are in New Zealand, The USA, England and Germany, but he also has fans in Austria, Thailand, India, Peru, Japan, Pakistan… you name it.
So I had a curious problem – finally I had a huge audience, but I had no way of really maximising it. Creating a children’s book had never really been on my radar but I’ve always loved writing and drawing, so I decided to write and illustrate a children’s book that’s a fictionalised account of Bruce’s story.
In the book it’s a little girl called Kate who finds the kitten on her way home from school. She has to find out where he belongs before a rainstorm drenches both of them. Her neighbours Miss Conduct, Sir Real and Rev Olding are little help, but Kate and her mum are able to save the day.
Because Bruce has been such a hit on online I’m turning to the internet to get Bruce’s book published. I’m crowd funding through a platform called Kickstarter to raise the funds to print the book. Kickstarter enables Bruce fans to pre-order copies. There are all sorts of other rewards too – including the ability to donate copies to Dunedin’s Animal Rescue Network, a charitable trust dedicated to helping stray and abandoned cats and kittens. You’ll be glad to know that your raffle ticket has put you in the draw to win a candle, not a kitten. (But if you would like a kitten, speak to Sharon.)
I’d like to say a huge thank you to the organisations that have come on board as partners: Royal Canin, Black Cat Interiors, Humanimals, Quick Brown Fox coffee liqueur, Blackcat Educaton, Pet Doors R Us and to principal sponsor Otago Polytechnic. Thank you to the Startup Space for hosting this launch, and to Invercargill Brewery who donated the Pitch Black beer in honour of a certain pitch black cat.
Thanks to Megan Martin for working her magic with the media, to Hayden Parsons who created the amazing video that I’m about to show you, to the kids at Port Chalmers Primary School who helped me develop the story, and to my three expert children’s book consultants Lena, Atticus and Myla.
Thanks also to the Digital Content Coordinators who have helped me bring the Kickstarter to life: Shamintha Kumar, who has contacted pretty much every cat blog under the sun, and Laura Sutherland, who has been creating incredible GIFs and graphics. (Laura also happens to be the CEO of Black Cat Candles.) And of course thank you to my husband Tim who has been on this crazy journey with me for the past year and a half.
Publishing a book this way is an amazing opportunity but it’s also incredibly scary – because Kickstarters are all or nothing. If we don’t reach our target, no one gets charged and we won’t get any funding. If you’d like to pre-order a copy that would be great, but another way you can help is by sharing the link to the Kickstarter campaign, which will be available on Bruce’s Facebook page this evening.
Now I’ll show you our Kickstarter video, and after that we’ll draw the winners of the candles, you can pre-order a book if you’d like to, and I’ll be around to answer your questions over a glass of Pitch Black beer. Thank you.
The last week has been action-packed and I’m sure this week will be too!
I’ve received the final video from ace videographer Hayden Parsons, I’ve finished my Kickstarter profile and submitted it for approval, I’ve done some maths (not my strong point) to work out shipping costs, and I’ve set up Google Analytics for my Kickstarter page - all in between looking after the real life Bruce the Cat, who is currently on antibiotics as he recovers from a suspected rat bite!
My Digital Content Coordinators have been doing great things too. One has contacted pretty much every cat blog under the sun (there are LOTS) about this Kickstarter, and the other created this delightful Mother’s Day GIF which went off on Bruce’s Facebook page and was shared a whopping 328 times.
A late breaking development came via a suggestion about using US instead of NZ currency on my Kickstarter page. That sounds like a sensible course of action (I am guessing the audience for the book will be about 50 / 50 American / New Zealand, and I figure kiwis are more used to using American currency than Americans are to using our currency). So I’ll look into that over the next few days.
Over the next week I’ll be preparing for Wednesday’s launch. I’ll be stamping goodie bags with my paw print stamp, whipping up presentations and figuring out what I’m going to say to the kids at Port Chalmers School when I go and visit them earlier that day. (I went and met them last year as part of their Book Week and it was one of the highlights of my year, so I am really excited about seeing them again.)
Speaking of the launch – you are warmly invited to the official launch party, which is being held at Startup Space from 5pm this Wednesday 24 May. If you can’t make the launch in person look out for it online – I’ll be making a bit of a song and dance about it in cyberspace too.
There are just two weeks until the ‘Bruce Finds A Home’ Kickstarter begins – and you’re invited to the launch!
You are warmly invited to attend the launch at 5pm Wednesday 24 May at Startup Space, Dunedin (thanks Startup Space!). The launch is being sponsored by Invercargill Brewery, who are providing us with Pitch Black beer (in homage to a certain pitch black cat). You can check out the launch details here.
Postage and packaging
Postage and packaging seems to be the Achilles Heel of many a Kickstarter. Postage costs count towards your Kickstarter goal (eg if someone buys a book for $20 and postage is $4, that $4 counts towards my Kickstarter fundraising total), so it all has to be factored into the budgeting. It gets a bit complicated once you factor in international shipping (a lot of Bruce’s fans are in America, Germany and The UK), but I think I have found my postage box supplier (Quick Brown Box), and the team at Mary Egan Publishing recommended checking out GoSweetSpot for shipping.
I am thrilled to reveal the ‘Bruce Finds A Home’ sponsors:
Premium Sponsor: Otago Polytechnic
Gold Sponsors: Pet Doors R Us, Black Cat Candles
Silver Sponsors: Blackcat Education, Quick Brown Fox, Black Cat Interiors, Humanimals
Bronze Sponsor: Royal Canin
And of course many thanks to Invercargill Brewery who are supporting the Kickstarter launch.
Digital Content Coordinators still smashing it
My Digital Content Coordinators are riding a wave of creativity this week. One’s written a couple of awesome blog posts for Bruce to share, and the other one is working on some Pusheen-inspired animations. I can’t wait to see them!
Giving Bruce’s fans the good stuff
And of course I’ve been trying even harder than usual to provide Bruce’s fans with content they love so they’ll keep coming back to his page and come along on the Kickstarter journey with us. Here’s the latest video – a round-up of Bruce’s cutest photos ever.
They say not to work with children or animals, but I worked with both during the making of my Kickstarter video last weekend and all of them (one cat, two kittens, and four kids of various ages) behaved and performed exceptionally well.
I’m not exactly a natural in front of the camera but for the sake of my (AMAZING) videographer I tried to say my lines with a minimum of self-consciousness and faffing about.
With the exception of one kitten having a little “accident” the shoot went without a hitch and I can’t wait to see the final video in a week or so!
The kittens were courtesy of The Animal Rescue Network, a local charitable trust dedicated to helping stray and abandoned cats and kittens. The Bruce Finds A Home Kickstarter rewards include the opportunity to purchase books to donate to the Network, who can then use them for their own fundraising. With the help of Bruce’s supporters, hopefully I’ll be able to donate a nice big stack of books to the Network to help them care for other kittens in need.
Over the past week my Digital Content Coordinators (formerly known as ‘interns’) have really smashed it out of the park. One DCC has out-of-this world graphic design skills. She’s created a beautiful image of the Kickstarter rewards to include on our profile page, and she’s also made a version of the cover that we’ll use as the basis of a colouring-in competition. Meanwhile, my other DCC has a real writing and marketing bent. She has filled in a gigantic spreadsheet with the names and contact details of blogs that might help us promote the Kickstarter – and now she’s working on a blog post of her own. They are on fire!
As for me, I’ve been feeling a bit tired this week and I’ve had to remind myself that even though I have an epic to-do list, this Kickstarter is a long game (three weeks to go, four weeks of campaign and then the reward fulfilment… and finally a book launch!) so I’ve been trying to balance taking it easy with being productive (haven’t quite nailed it so far though, I must admit).
Over the next week I’ll be organising the launch event and cooking up some Kickstarter promotional activities such as book readings, competitions and giveaways.
I’ll update you next week in my Three Week Kickstarter Countdown post!
Follow my journey here:
5 week Kickstarter countdown
4 week Kickstarter countdown
I’ve written a children’s book, illustrated it, decided to run a Kickstarter to fund the book’s production through Mary Egan Publishers, and even got some seed funding confirmed. Now what?
Over the last week I’ve been determining crowd funding rewards for backers, planning this weekend’s Kickstarter video shoot, and getting tricky with Trello (and other project management tools).
The most common reward is usually the product itself. Backing the Bruce Finds A Home Kickstarter will enable people to pre-order the books. Some creators also offer merchandise (bookmarks, t-shirts, plush toys), but the blogs I’ve read have advised against setting rewards that are expensive to post. So along with books and a few flat things (magnets, stickers, cards) I’m offering digital rewards (such as the opportunity to get a custom video of me and Bruce reading the story just to you), signed and ‘pawtographed’ books, and the chance for people who might not want the book themselves (but still want to support the project) to donate a book to Dunedin’s Animal Rescue Network.
Other advice I’ve gleaned is to offer a range of rewards at different price points, and to include a custom image of the rewards that’s a more visually appealing than the default Kickstarter reward list. My fabulous Digital Coordinator is whipping up a gorgeous rewards image as we speak!
Here are what other people have to say about determining rewards:
Optimising rewards and perks
Choosing rewards for your crowdfunding project
9 habits of highly effective Kickstarter rewards
This weekend we’re shooting our Kickstarter video! Crowdfunding projects with videos on their pages are more likely to succeed, so most people view making a pitch video as a key part of the process. Over the past few months I have watched a LOT of Kickstarter videos. The videos that work are the ones that are personal, have decent sound quality, keep things snappy, and clearly explain what the project is about.
When it came to writing my script I choose a video I liked and used it as a template to help me get started. It’s morphed a lot since then because I’ve added quotes, kids… and of course, cats! Luckily I know an amazing videographer who’s kindly agreed to create the video for me. (In return, my husband and I are helping him paint his kitchen cabinets!) There will be both children and animals in the video… so I’ll let you know how filming went in next week’s post!
Here’s what other people say about crowdfunding videos:
5 must-read tips for your first Kickstarter video
How to make an awesome video
Project management tools
Knowing that I’m the kind of person who writes things on bits of paper and then loses them, and that I wanted to be able to collaborate with people living in different cities, I needed to find online project management tools. I’ve gone with using Trello for writing up all my tasks and assigning them to people (Planner, part of the Office 365 suite, is also good for this). I’m also using DropBox (OneDrive in Office 365) for sharing files. These tools seem to be working out pretty well so far.
See you next week in my Three Week Kickstarter Countdown post!
A graduate of UNITEC’s School of Performing and Screen Arts (BA) and Victoria University’s Institute of Modern Letters (MA), Kathryn is a published playwright who has won several Playmarket and Fringe Festival awards.