Wednesday, February 21, 2018

What happened to my Kickstarter book?

This is a personal essay I wrote this year for a storytelling class.

It’s 2012. I’d raised two grand from eight dozen strangers. Now, I was supposed to write a book.

I’d promised to write a book about pro-wrestling statistics. Think Sabremetrics for Sports Entertainment or Mookie’s Moneyball.  “Wrestlenomics.”

Yes, professional wrestling is a worked sport. The outcomes are predetermined. But to create compelling content week-to-week, wrestling promoters and bookers they need to have a direction.
I wanted to see if I use my love of numbers to encapsulate whether feuds or title reigns actually made sense - how did they correlate with revenue and ratings?

So I planned this mix of high-falutin ideas – like using Chess rating algorithms to rate wrestlers or using graph theory to explain how you could book a wrestling card. Honestly, I knew most people just want the simple stats: who had the most matches – most wins, most losses, streaks, etc.  I used to write lists of stuff like that for an array of click-baity websites. I love spreadsheets and numbers. And pro-wrestling. This was my wheelhouse.

And I figured that if there was demand, that would motivate me. I’d feel an obligation to finish my book because people would care about me finishing it. After all, they’d already have paid for it. I would be compelled to write it. It sounded easy.

It’s 2012. I’m working as a pricing analyst for a failing supermarket company. I wanted to fund my book through Kickstarter.

Now please recall, this the earlier days of Kickstarter. Back then, the website was associated with exciting engineering gadgets and prospective board games. This was well before the torrent of failed schemers who never delivered on their funded projects.

I set an ambitious funding goal -- a few hundred dollars.

Step 1: Write up a simple pitch.
Step 2: Post a note on social media.
Step 3: Launch.

The first person to donate was my college roommate Mike. Mike is the type of person who just supported things. Maybe this was payback from when I wore a mask and called myself El Cmar. 

Then came donations from my family - my brother Matt, my mom. They also had no interest in the subject-matter. It was something to put a shelf somewhere next to my father’s doctoral thesis or my Uncle’s chess books. Their donations were that general encouragement that a family gives to the youngest child. The digital equivalent of saying “good show” after the High School musical.

The first surprise was the Brits. Pound sterling began arriving from the United Kingdom. (And Ireland!) No one knows why, but wrestling Twitter is absolutely dominated with British fans. They are ravenous consumers of wrestling media. And they clearly wanted the book.

Suddenly, I found myself struggling with whether to add a surcharge for “international shipping”. I hadn’t considered that. Then there were the complete Strangers.

Even the outlandishly expensive Kickstarter tier, the one I made just to make the other tiers look cheap, people were ordering. It felt … uneasy. 

At first, it’s sort of a rush to see people donate. You start refreshing your email constantly. Hour one - we hit $50. Hour two - We hit a $100. Then $200. Suddenly it was at $500. Then it’s at a thousand. Then two thousand. Uh oh.

It’s 2012 and in my mind, small stakes merited a small book. If you’re going to create something that only twenty people see, it doesn’t feel like your legacy.

But then it’s a hundred people. 

And you hearing from people who missed out. They want to join a waiting list. They are offering you money. What do you do?

I wanted to write a book so I could put all of my unstructured analysis and ideas into a coherent form.  I’m good at short bursts of productive energy. Improvisation over memorization. It’s how I tried to write my book. It’s how I tried to live my life.

A year went by. Then two years.  Every month, people were asking for updates. They were patient but my anxiety piled up. Could I write this book? When are you ever really done with an idea – ready to publish it and lock in place forever.

I think for some people that sort of anxiety motivates them. It drives them to show the world that they can put up. That’s not what happened to me. The pressure drove me mad. It made me sad and frustrated.

I’d complete a chapter and then immediately restart on it. Maybe the data had changed. Perhaps I missed something. You’re spinning your wheels.

Every time I had free time and I wasn’t working on the book, I’d felt incredible guilty.

I know Professional Wrestling has a long history of carny promoters who also were con men. It's the language of Kayfabe. As time went on I began to feel that by taking money for this project up front, without a written a book, this was turning into a con man too.

Finally, I woke up. It was a Sunday morning. I had a stunning epiphany: I just could give up.
I would fold my cards. I’d just return everyone’s money.

Step 1: Let everyone know that my “book” wasn’t coming. (There would be no Wrestlenomics, which was the title I chose after I realized ‘Grapplecomptos’ was a terrible title.)
Step 2: Craft a simple message: This was failure. And I was a failure. 
(My mother was most discomforted by this message – she quietly sent me a card the next day. She told me I was not a failure.)
Step 3: Fail.

Honestly, quitting felt great. The burden lifted off my shoulders.

They talk about that “fight or flight” impulse- I’m always been someone who flees.

60% of the people took their money back. (I told you: I love numbers.) Some never responded. Some didn’t want it back. What do you do with the hundreds of dollars for a book you never wrote?

I worried about my reputation. It felt like dirty money and I needed to get rid of it.

So I gave it to an Alzheimer’s charity.

And that’s how I closed the chapter on that idea. 24 months. $2,000. No book.

It's 2014. I could sleep at night again without feeling guilty.

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