Local press Weirdpunk Books might have just made literary history: they managed to get a book published that features controversial personality G. G. Allin in various fantastic stories. They were able to make it using Kickstarter and it has been doing well as an indie-published book about a very, very niche personality. I was excited about every aspect of this project and it what it means for weird fiction, punk rock, and author crowdfunding, and I set up a chat session with editors M. P. Johnson and Sam Richard to talk about the Kickstarter and indie presses.
In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that my short story “Gypsy Motherfucker” is included in the special-edition companion zine, The Highest Power.
T. A. Wardrope (TCG): What is Weirdpunk Books?
M. P. Johnson: Weirdpunk Books is a publisher that brings together punk rock and weird fiction, two of the things I love the most in the world.
Sam Richard: We had a difficult time deciding if we wanted to shop the G. G. book around or try to publish it ourselves. M. P. decided to start Weirdpunk Books, and the rest is barely history.
M. P.: Part of my goal with the press is to introduce punks to all of the awesome stuff that’s going on in underground fiction right now, and I think punk rock and bizarro fiction specifically have a lot in common.
TCG: What is the backstory for Blood for You, which was Weirdpunk Books’ maiden voyage?
M. P.: I’ve been obsessed with G. G. Allin since I was in middle school.
Sam: As much as G. G. bizarro horror/sci-fi stories don’t make sense to other people, we talked about it about two times and decided that it most certainly made sense, if only to us.
TCG: Can you elaborate on why it made sense?
M. P.: I was obsessed with him as a character even before I got obsessed with his music. He’s just larger than life. He never really fit in the real world. So why not have writers create worlds where maybe he did fit?
Sam: He’s the perfect real-world character to insert into various weird stories. Who else is going to fight a werewolf on stage?
TCG: For those who have no idea who he was . . . G. G. in one sentence.
M. P.: Rock ’n’ roll terrorist.
Sam: Fuck, um . . . to me, G. G. was the ultimate scuzzy asshole who wanted to make music dangerous again.
TCG: What made him so dangerous?
M. P.: To this day, I still feel shocked when I listen to some of his music. His antics are almost something else altogether. He would fight crowds, shit on stage and throw it at people. He was vicious. His shows rarely lasted more than 10 minutes.
Sam: He made it his mission to make music dangerous again—this included all the body fluids, violence, and depravity you can fit into the body of a junkie.
M. P.: They were mini rock ‘n’ roll combat sessions. He said, “My mind is a machine gun, my body is the bullets, the audience is the target.”
TCG: Okay, we’ve got that covered. So he’s not your standard literary or genre character. So, once you had this stroke of genius, how did you decide to move forward with the book?
M. P.: I think I mentioned it to Sam and we were like, “Well, nobody else is going to do this if we don’t, and it fucking needs to be done, so . . .”
Sam: We finalized what it would mean for us to make this work and then asked a ton of writers if they would submit to this anthology.
M. P.: Yeah. Step two: find writers who were just crazy enough to participate.
TCG: So, what do you mean by “make this work”? Are you talking budget or those kinds of decisions.
M. P.: Well, we talked about guidelines and started pulling in submissions first, I believe, and then when subs started coming in, we decided to move forward with the Kickstarter.
Sam: Basically, figuring out how we would go about it—financing, printing, et cetera—and deciding what would be possible. This is where the idea for a crowdfunding campaign came into play, as well.
TCG: You guys mentioned briefly considering shopping it to an outside publisher. How long did that idea last?
M. P.: Not very long at all. I was pretty certain there wouldn’t be any other publishers who would touch it, and we had a very specific vision that we didn’t want to compromise on.
Sam: Once we figured out that we could do it, we went in that direction. M. P. is totally right in that we didn’t want to have to change anything around to fit someone else’s idea of what this book should look like.
M. P.: Like the whole alternate cover thing. Nobody does that.
TCG: Okay. Just for fun, what do you think the worst thing would be for an outside publisher to ask to change?
M. P.: Besides not having an alternative cover with a naked G. G. Allin pooping on a bunch of books, we would have potentially been pressured to work with that publisher’s stable of authors, or to minimize certain obscene elements in the book.
Sam: “Ditch this story. Here, add this story that doesn’t quite fit. Could that author change a million things in the story you accepted from them?” Maybe a publisher wouldn’t have done those things, but we got the book we set out to do on our terms and it came out as close to the vision we set out with as possible.
Or pick a cover artist within their pool—we got to work with two awesomely talented artists, one of whom is a dear friend, so that worked out pretty well.
TCG: That’s great. So, what made Kickstarter the right fit for this project?
M. P.: I like Kickstarter because it’s as valuable for building anticipation as it is for getting funding.
Sam: The ease of use helped a ton.
TCG: So, why not Indiegogo or other sites?
M. P.: Indiegogo is a great fundraising tool, and it has the benefit of not requiring a certain amount to fund the project, but it just doesn’t have the promotional strength that Kickstarter has.
Sam: We talked about which crowdfunding platform we would use and I’m not entirely sure why Kickstarter was what we landed on aside from brand recognition and ease of use.
TCG: Okay, so you’ve decided on Kickstarter. What’s the first step? You had concurrent call for submissions, right?
M. P.: Yeah, we put out the call for submissions even before we got the Kickstarter going.
Sam: We already had most of the submissions at the time we built the Kickstarter. We raised money and figured out which stories we were going to use at once.
TCG: So, how far in advance did you prep the campaign before you launched?
M. P.: Setting up the Kickstarter was a bit of a time investment, and I’m not sure we knew up front that it would take so long. We wrote the description, set up the rewards, and recorded the video. We spent months on that before the Kickstarter went live.
Sam: I know we kicked around a good amount of ideas for rewards in the months before, as well as filming the promo video. My sense of time is super fucked from school—this stuff feels like it was 10 years ago.
TCG: Would you say six months is about right from start to end of campaign?
M. P.: I’d say more like three or four months. I remember filming the video and just wanting it to be done with. If we’re talking specifically about the campaign. The actual process of making the book was like a year.
Sam: [Laughs] Yep! And I remember being a total curmudgeon while filming the video because I had to work early the next day and the crew got to my house a couple hours late.
TCG: What was your Kickstarter ask?
Sam: $750? Right, M. P.?
M. P.: Yep!
TCG: Oh, that’s pretty micro for Kickstarter.
Sam: I thought it was low, but M. P. insisted that we aim lower so we’re more likely to get it and then add in a bunch of stretch goals.
M. P.: Should have asked for much more. I should have listened to Sam on that one. But I wanted to play it safe.
Sam: In the end we doubled what we asked for, I think. Lots of stretch goals.
TCG: Do you feel like you underestimated the effort, or why do you say you should have asked for more?
Sam: Part of it was underestimating the cut that Kickstarter takes out.
M. P.: I underestimated everything. Effort, time, cost. Definitely.
Sam: The stretch goals weren’t piddly bullshit, either. Posters and zines ate into the cost, too.
TCG: As specific as you want to get, what did the numbers or percentages look like?
Sam: M. P. was more in charge of that; I can only speculate.
M. P.: I look at the Kickstarter as a success because it got the word out about the book. We probably wouldn’t have sold as many copies without it. But it was a disaster financially, and that’s my fault. So the most common reward was a copy of the book, right? I had that reward set at $15. Well, that barely covers the cost of the copy and the shipping of the reward. So there was no money left over to go into actually covering the costs of the book itself. And what little was left over, we put toward the stretch goal rewards. Probably the key reward was the limited edition version of the book. Totally obscene. It was only available via the Kickstarter and at the book release party. We also did a really cool limited-edition zine, which happened to feature a story by a Mr. T. A. Wardrope.
TCG: I thought that was super sweet, very old school.
M. P.: Those are almost sold out, so I feel good about that. I’ve been doing zines for nearly 20 years now, and it’s the fastest I’ve sold out of a 100-copy print run. Some people bought the zine and not the book!
Sam: There were things we didn’t do that in hindsight we should have done. I should have made buttons, we should have added the OG art-board cover art to the zine that my wife did as a prize. There was so much to do on top of our lives that some things didn’t get fully brought to fruition.
M. P.: Totally.
TCG: To follow up on that, Sam, what is the number-one lesson you learned? Or lessons one through five?
Sam: Don’t try to cram in co-editing a book and doing a Kickstarter campaign and having a book release show right before—and during—your time at a super-intense computer-programming boot camp. Goddamn.
M. P.: [Laughs] Plan more carefully. Calculate a budget. Ask for the right amount of money.
Sam: I’m glad we did it, and got it done, but there were some stressful moments. I basically made M. P. do the whole release show himself because I just didn’t have time. And him having never set up a show with musical acts made for a learning experience for everyone: “Make sure the bands are willing to share a backline, so we can move from band to band with little teardown.” “What’s a backline?”
TCG: . . . and what is a backline?
Sam: [Laughs] Any combination of shared amps, cabs, [and] drums so bands can just plug and play. Makes a show like this, trying to cram in three bands and five people reading into a small time slot a lot easier.
M. P.: We will probably do a Kickstarter for the next Weirdpunk Books release we’re working on, Hybrid Moments: A Literary Tribute to the Misfits, but we’re not going to start it until we have the book much closer to completion.
Sam: One, overestimate the amount of money needed
M. P.: Yes! Overestimate!
Sam: Two, don’t try this before and during a crazy school experience. There, spend more time thinking of, and actually doing, even cooler Kickstarted prizes. Four, get more press traction, or more people to be aware of it through whatever it takes—blood sacrifice.
M. P.: Sam’s comments about school are important, because we both have so many things we’re juggling. Day jobs. Sam’s in a band. I have a bunch of other books I’m writing at any given time. We need to make sure we’re not doing too many things simultaneously so we don’t short anything we’re working on.
Sam: M. P. hit the nail on the head with not starting the Kickstarter until we’re closer to completion too. The way we did it, we hadn’t formalized the list of stories. If that’s done, we can appeal to fans of an author to help the campaign.
TCG: I just want to make it clear that I don’t think this project crashed and burned by any means. You made your goals two times over, had a release party, and have gotten some great reviews. That’s no small feat.
M. P.: Yeah, the book definitely didn’t crash and burn. There are a lot of copies out there, and it’s still selling with some regularity. That’s better than a lot of underground books do.
Sam: I’m actually shocked that it’s done as well as it has. I didn’t think anyone was going to give a shit, aside from the folks who backed us, so that’s been pretty awesome.
M. P.: We got a cool little distribution deal with Aggronautix, the company that does punk-rock bobbleheads.
TCG: That rules.
M. P.: So it’s still working its way into the world. It’s a toddler. Learning how to walk on its own!
Sam: [Laughs] A super-gross, violent toddler. Cute.
M. P.: Just throwing poop everywhere!
TCG: I’m getting the sense that the big “takeaway” from all this is that you have to take it as seriously as you would any marketing or fundraising campaign.
M. P.: That takeaway is important. I kind of thought the Kickstarter would just kind of run itself. That’s definitely not the case.
TCG: Do you think Kickstarter offers any advantages to niche or genre creators? I guess authors in particular, as there’s a solid track record of games and comics already.
M. P.: It’s valuable for building anticipation. People get excited about making stuff come to life. Kickstarter specifically has a strong audience. People go to Kickstarter just looking for cool stuff to back.
Sam: If someone is having a difficult time getting the money together for a project, I think it’s a great tool. The caveat is that they need to have the fan support to make it happen, as there are thousands of Kickstarter campaigns that [have] landed nowhere.
M. P.: True. It helps to have a base of support already. It’s a way for an author to promote to an existing audience, and reach a new audience of people just checking out stuff on Kickstarter. We benefited from the fact that we have a small base of support and there was a base of G. G. Allin fans.
Sam: I also think it’s important to balance the money-raising element with the “we’re giving you something for that money” side. I’ve seen, and this is typical with bands, campaigns where it’s like $5 for a fucking sticker, $15 for a download of the album—that will be $6 on Bandcamp—and $25 for the CD, which the band is going to sell for $12 at shows. Don’t insult your supporters.
TCG: Have you heard anything from the G. G. Allin estate?
M. P.: Merle Allin got in touch with me recently. Merle is G. G.’s brother. He’s a cool guy. Before the Internet, I used to send him letters asking weird trivia questions about G. G., and he would send me long, detailed answers. I bought most of my G. G. stuff from him directly. Anyway, I sent him a bunch of copies of the book. We’ll leave it at that.
TCG: What’s next for Weirdpunk Books?
Sam: Hybrid Moments: A Literary Tribute to the Misfits!
M. P.: We’re taking our time with that one. If everything lines up, we’re thinking an October release.
TCG: So, what’s the elevator pitch for that?
Sam: Bizarro, weird, horror, and sci-fi stories based around the songs of the ’80s punk band the Misfits.
M. P.: The most bad-ass underground writers delivering stories based on the songs of the Misfits. Glenn Danzig era only! It’s like those Cthulhu mythos books, except Misfits mythos.
Sam: As opposed to the G. G. book, the Misfits themselves are unlikely to appear in this book, [and we’re] opting instead for stories inspired by the surreal lyrics of Glenn Danzig.
M. P.: I really want to keep Weirdpunk Books going as a vehicle for weird punk-rock fiction. There’s really nobody else doing that sort of thing.
Sam: We’re looking for crazy, fucked-up stories that find their own lives through combing the arcana that is a Misfits lyric sheet. Less poop this time, though. Please.
TCG: It’s a great idea. Well, on both counts—less poop and more weird punk writing.
M. P.: Yeah, we’re kinda pooped out.
M. P. Johnson is the Wonderland Book Award–winning author of Dungeons and Drag Queens. His short fiction has appeared in Dark Discoveries and many other publications and is included in Year’s Best Hardcore Horror, out in June 2016. He is the founder of Weirdpunk Books, the creator of Freak Tension zine, a B-movie extra, and an amateur drag queen. Learn more at www.freaktension.com.
Trying to find a home in the cracks between horror, transgressive, sci-fi, grotesque, postmodern, and weird literature, Sam Richard loves to write about twisted bodies, ruined lives, and apocalyptic visions of the future prophesied by madmen. He also loves bourbon. He is currently the guitarist and vocalist in the black-metal band Daoloth and was previously the bassist in the crust band War//Plague. He is co-editor with M. P. Johnson of Blood for You: A Literary Tribute to GG Allin and Hybrid Moments: A Literary Tribute to the Misfits and has written for various publications, including Profane Existence, CVLT Nation, the Pulse, and the zines No//Vanguard and The Last Words of a F*cking Asshole. He is currently, slowly, working on several transgressive and vile book projects that may see the light of day, eventually—including a musical adaptation of Story of the Eye.