The following is a rant that I wrote as I was working on my first book. As I approach the four year anniversary of becoming an author, I decided to share this little piece that has no home and no particular place to go, but for whatever reasons, still makes me laugh. I hope it does the same for you.
February 18, 2012
A few words about Frank. Frank is a bunny — a metal bunny whose ears, bent slightly forward, create a coat hook. Frank recently made more than $23,000 on Kickstarter. Is it cute? Sort-of, if you have little kids. Useful? It depends. If you’re into cutsie metallurgic chic as home decor, yes. Otherwise, Frank is a small piece of metal just a couple steps removed from something an eight-year-old might create when bored and bending your silverware for fun. Except Frank made bank.
Why the rant? Well, frankly (couldn’t help myself — when genius comes, you have to flow with it), I’m envious. Incredulous, and envious. I want a hook like Frank (again, the genius; it just flows out of me) that I can offer up on Kickstarter: something fun and frivolous, something that doesn’t demand thoughtful attention or haul in the heavy guns of spirituality, psychology and literature.
I wish that my creative genius were light and frothy. But no; I had to go and write a memoir about LOSS and GRIEF and FINDING YOURSELF, and then be saddled with the task of trying to make that highly desirable to the great sea of people who are looking for the-next-cool-thing to fund and flaunt on Kickstarter. Please. I haven’t got a prayer. Let’s face it: Frank is sexy, loss is not.
I had two ways to deal with this marketing dilemma: either make it a sob story and go for the pity pledges, or try to explain that it’s a really well-written, compelling, engaging book that’s not just about surviving a difficult experience, but about allowing heartbreak to make you a little bigger and better than you were before. I actually tried a little of both angles in my pitch, and I think I succeeded, but that doesn’t mean I will “Succeed,” in the American sense of “Make Money.” I hope I will. I’d like to, but I’m not counting on it.
A certain wise lady I know — let’s call her my therapist — told me that I can’t compare Washing the Bones to Frank; it’s comparing apples and oranges. I’m not sure that’s right. The difference between Frank the Rabbit and a memoir about loss and personal transformation is more like comparing watching Pretty Woman on your sofa in your pajamas with a carton of Haagan Daaz to doing a heavy workout at the gym: one’s going to improve your life, making you stronger and healthier, but the other is a lot easier and a lot more fun. People want fun. They want instant gratification. They want the little dock for their iPhone that looks really sleek and they happily cue up to get one, to the tune of $1.5 million dollars. This is why I drink.
I shouldn’t be surprised. Maybe I’m not so much surprised as disillusioned. I went into this venture earnestly, if a bit naïvely, knowing that what I’ve written is good and valuable and believing that if I could just explain why it’s good and valuable, that folks would see the goodness in it, be inspired by my confident desire to use my story to help others who are struggling with loss, and support me. And then I came home and made myself a well-deserved Old-Fashioned, sat down in my chair, opened my laptop and saw fully funded Frank.
I lay in bed later that night, slowly succumbing to the flu, my happy, creative bubble popped. It dawned on me, in a belated flash of clarity, that I was peddling my wares in the wrong place and to the wrong people. The folks perusing Kickstarter want shiny crap. They believe that a hooker who looks like Julia Roberts (as hookers usually do) can become the elegant wife of a gorgeous guy over the course of a week. (Okay, it worked for Eva Peron, but that’s the one exception.) They want phone docks and wall hooks shaped like pink bunnies. They want cord re-winders and notebooks that show you how to draw a car. They don’t want a sad story. People don’t explore Kickstarter looking for a great book to back. No one wants to read about loss and meaning unless someone dies. And what’s the chance that someone they know is going to die? How often does that happen?
To clarify, I don’t think it makes you a bad person if you’re interested in the cool new gadget. Why not? Hell, I’d fund a lot of these projects if I had the extra cash. It’s just that the lack of interest in more, em, erudite projects is disappointing. It’s been an eye-opening experience to see what our cultural values really are. I already knew in my heart, but I hoped I was wrong. I’m not wrong.
This is a culture that likes “Tweeting” and “Liking,” a culture that venerates politicians who cannot form coherent sentences, that admires and pays millions to athletes and actors and that considers shopping a hobby. In a country where public schools are failing for lack of funding, how could I possible imagine that a memoir by an unknown writer might reach, much less exceed, its goal, but the crazy thing is, I did imagine it. And that’s the beauty of hope.
Okay, so I might be a bit early on the eulogy for my book. My Kickstarter campaign has been up for all of five days and I’m already bemoaning my fate. It’s this wretched flu, which has overtaken my brain. Or maybe I’m pre-emptively preparing myself for disappointment. Most likely, however, it’s because, like my hero Eeyore, I like being depressively sullen. I find it charming. (Others do not. But they’re not Eeyore types. They don’t get us.) All I need is a little bounce, like the one Rick Santorum got in Colorado: it doesn’t mean I’m going to win, it just shakes things up, generates a little energy. My bounce could come — and this is just a suggestion I’m floating to the Universe — in the form of a publisher seeing my campaign and sending me an unprompted email: “Dear Ms. Ingram; we are intrigued by your story and impressed with your writing. Please call us at your earliest convenience to discuss contract details.”
Just to be clear, I’m happy for Frank and his creator, and for that guy who’s $1.5 million richer this week because of a phone dock. Really I am. In case they’re reading this — which they’re not, but just in case they are — might I suggest a gesture of good karma? Perhaps you could toss a few bucks to the folks practicing the dark arts over here in the publishing corner, the ugly step-children of the Kickstarter family who wait quietly, underfunded yet still cheerful and vaguely hopeful that, one day, they will be recognized for the Cinderellas that they really are.
Do it for Frank.