Announcing the “Hard Launch” of Borg Like Me

We consider the July release of Borg Like Me to be a soft launch, designed to fulfill all of Kickstarter backer rewards and to work out all of the bugs for fulfillment. Now that all of that is sorted out and fall is upon us, it’s time to launch this baby with as much powder as we can pack into the motor tubes. Here is the release that’s going out to the press.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Sept 2, 2014–Sparks of Fire Press is excited to announce the release of Borg Like Me & Other Tales of Art, Eros, and Embedded Systems, a best-of collection and “poor man’s memoir” from cyberculture pioneer and maker movement midwife, Gareth Branwyn. This heavily-illustrated, beautifully-produced book chronicles Branwyn’s personal and professional journey, from his coming of age in a commune, to his involvement in the 90s “zine scene” (desktop published small mags), to his tenure at such influential cyber arts/culture rags as Mondo 2000, bOING bOING, Wired, and his eight years at MAKE, spearheading the growing maker movement.

Previously published material is woven throughout with Branwyn’s unabashedly honest commentary, personal anecdotes, and original essays. Read about the smart-druggies behind Mondo 2000, impersonating Billy Idol in cyberspace (for Billy Idol), the making of the iconic early 90s hypermedia book, Beyond Cyberpunk! (hailed by MacWeek as “revolutionary”), and essays on the growth of the maker movement and Gareth’s elected “maker saints.”

Borg Like Me does not shy away from the personal dimensions of the author’s life during his 30 years of working in the new media trenches. Read about Gareth’s loves, loses, his struggles with a life-long, debilitating arthritic disease, and how he’s becoming a genuine cyborg in his intense desire to remain human.

Borg Like Me was crowdfunded (via a successful 2013 Kickstarter campaign), self-published, and is being printed on demand. Nearly two dozen noted artists contributed existing and original drawings, photos, and sculptural objects to illustrate the book. These contributors range from comic book well-knowns Shannon Wheeler, Danny Hellman, and John Bergin, to fine artists Terri Weifenbach and James Huckenpahler, to iconic found-object artists Jeremy Mayer, Greg Brotheron, and Nemo Gould. Even Mark Frauenfelder (Boing Boing founder and former editor at Wired and MAKE) contributed artwork (as well as the book’s touching foreword). The book contains 33 illustrations in all.

Borg Like Me is a smart, personal, and passionate trip along the bleeding edges of art, technology, and culture at the turn of the 21st century.

For more information:

703-615-7341, press@sparksoffirepress.com, sparksoffirepress.com

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Borg Like Me & Other Tales of Art, Eros, and Embedded Systems
Gareth Branwyn

List Price: $29.95
Paperback: 296 pages
Publisher: Sparks of Fire Press (Sept 2, 2014)
ISBN-10: 0692233237
ISBN-13: 978-0692233238
Product Dimensions: 9 x 6 x 0.7 inches
Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds

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WINK Review: Bomb Run

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My latest review is for a lovely collection of 1950s-era war comics by Mad magazine’s Harvey Kurtzman, John Severin, and Will Elder:

Originally appearing in Two-Fisted Tales and Frontline Combat in the early 50s, the comics in this collection were rather radical for their time. Even though they were war stories, created to appeal to a male, action-oriented audience, nearly every tale explores some tragic dimension of armed conflict. These are not romanticized, boyish ideals of war, but stories that unflinchingly look at the human costs of conflict. Nearly every story is drawn taught (both literally and figuratively), with lots of intense psychological and ironic twists and surprise endings.

Read the full review here.

Borg Like Me Spawns Fairy Post Office in the Berkeley Hills

If you visit the "Tilden Post Office," let us know by using the hashtag #tildenpo

If you visit the “Tilden Post Office,” let us know by using the hashtag #tildenpo

The original diorama Lea created in Dec 2013.

The original diorama Lea created in Dec 2013.

The tree hole post office six months later.

The tree hole post office six months later.

It’s amazing how magic can sometimes beget magic. I have a piece in Borg Like Me about Lea Redmond’s “World’s Smallest Postal Service” and a very enchanting experience I had once when I found a little “house” set up inside of a rotted out knot hole in a tree. For the piece, I decided to combine these two tales by asking Lea Redmond to create something similar. So she set up a little fairy post office in a tree hole in the Berkeley Hills and I used a photo of this diorama in my book. She even had a battery-powered floor lamp in there and left it on. She returned a month later and found the post office still there. And now, seven months later, it’s still there. In fact, people are adding to it! Someone added maps on the walls and paper birds and butterflies. And someone placed a dead bumble bee inside of the tiny birdcage that hangs inside. And people have started leaving messages for the fairies (in IS a post office, after all). Lea has produced a map so you can visit the site. There’s even a hashtag (#tildenpo) you can use if you visit, take photos, leave stuff. I’m heading out to the Bay Area tomorrow and am tempted to create a tiny copy of Borg Like Me (with the essay inside that uses the photo of the post office) and leave it inside of the tree.

Borg Like Me Artist Featured on Boing Boing

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David Pescovitz has a great piece on Boing Boing today about the iconic 90s Schwa art, including some of the more memorable images and an interview with its creator, William Barker:

In the early 1990s, adman/fine artist William Barker’s Schwa became the iconic artwork of the cyberculture underground. Barker’s paranoiac stick figures, faux-corporate undertones, and conspiratorial overtones embodied the high weirdness of the time. And of course there was that alien head, that damned alien head. Loved by everyone from Terry Gilliam to Noam Chomsky, Barker unveiled the Schwa world through several books, Web experiments, t-shirts, prints, calendars, and comic strips that appeared in the bOING bOING print ‘zine among other places. Now, Barker has re-opened the portal to Schwa with a new Etsy shop – -alaVoidDistribution – where you can purchase original Schwa artwork, the books, prints, ephemera, apparel, and other manifestations of the other within ourselves. Below, a brief interview with the man behind the madness, and a handful of his favorite artworks, annotated by the artist himself.

Read the whole piece here.

William was generous enough to give me use of two of his Schwa images for my book, Borg Like Me. They perfectly illustrate the first essay, Chapter Zero: The Launch Party.

And William has an Etsy store and is selling a lot of the original Schwa art and some of the original merch. Trust me, you want this stuff!

WINK Review: The Sacrificial Universe

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For this week’s WINK review, I take a trip into David Chaim Smith’s The Sacrificial Universe:

The Sacrificial Universe contains 45 stunning drawings of mesmerizing complexity and strangeness. Most of them are full-size, with a number as dramatic fold-out diptychs, triptychs, and even a quadriptych. The production is high-quality, art-book level. The text in Sacrificial Universe (but really, everything in the book) attempts what Smith calls “associative intoxication.” There are three textual modes: a scholarship/intellectual mode, which offers more traditional expositions on David’s art and its underpinning ideas and symbols; a hyper-allegorical mode, the realm of poetic resonance, pattern recognition, and discovered association; and the third is the realm of the mystical, the ecstatic, and the visionary (i.e. when contemplating these ideas and images make serious lights go off in your head). Additional text, mainly in the service to these last two modes, promiscuously invades the drawings. These little ribbons of strange, often seemingly incomprehensible text help pull you deeper into the absurdly dense drawings. Spend some time in one of these images and you’ll get as entangled in it as the textual ribbons, tree roots, light-rays, intestine-like constructs, and other fingery tendrils that expand out from most of these images.

Read the entire review here.

Sparks of Fire Press Bookplate Being Letterpress Printed

Just got this video of my new Sparks of Fire Press bookplate being printed by the wonderful Fran and Jen of Zeichen Press. Can’t wait to see the plates in person!

These plates, inscribed by me, were offered as a premium for the Kickstarter campaign for my book, Borg Like Me. You can still get the book and plate, direct from me, and get free shipping and a free copy of the ebook version ($15 value).

Cool Tools Podcast: “They Came from My House!”

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Last week, I was on the Cool Tools podcast, with Mark Frauenfelder and Kevin Kelly, talking about the awesome, well-used/well-loved tools that came with my house, and that I still use every day.

In the course of the conversation we sort of stumbled onto a new tradition we’d like to establish in home ownership (gifting your future home owners with some of the tools that “feel” like they belong with the house).

Listen to the podcast and see the tools we talked about here.

Read the Title Essay to Borg Like Me

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Boing Boing posted the title essay to my new book, Borg Like Me. The piece, which original appeared in ArtByte, was written in 2001. The introduction, new for the book, begins:

Since the age of thirteen, I’ve had a disease I still can’t spell (and I’m determined to keep it that way). Google tells me it’s “Ankylosing Spondylitis.” It’s basically spinal arthritis, but it affects all of the major joints in my body. It arrived alongside puberty and has been my form of a “dark passenger” ever since. Atypical to this form of arthritis, it started in my toes and knees and then worked its way towards my spine, taking up residence in my hips in my early 20s. By my 30s, I was told I was “ready” for a right hip replacement. Degeneratively speaking, I might have been ready, but psychologically and emotionally? Not so much. Fear of the procedure and possible complications made me put off the operation far longer than I should have. I ended up spending several years using what I took to calling my chair on wheels (rather than wheelchair). I wasn’t confined to it, but had to take it with me wherever I went because I couldn’t stand for more than 20 minutes. Frequently, I’d push around my own empty seat until I needed it. In early 2000, I could no longer cower from the inevitable.

Read the rest of the intro and the essay here.

Borg Like Me is HERE!

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400 copies of Borg Like Me arrived on my doorstep this week! These are the Kickstarter reward copies and copies for the media. The book is now also available from my site here and via Amazon. For the rest of the summer, when you order from Sparks of Fire, you’ll get free shipping and a free digital version (normally $15). See the order page for more info.

Here are some peeks inside the book:

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Gar’s Tips on Sucks-Less Crowdfunding

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In mid-July of 2013, I launched a successful 30-day Kickstarter campaign to fund my latest book, Borg Like Me. My project goal was $15,000. I raised $20,776.

As a successful author who’s written seven books before, I had access to traditional publishing channels. But I wanted Borg Like Me to be an experiment. I wanted to know: Is it advantageous for a commercially-successful author to crowd-fund and self-publish? What state are these services and technologies in? How difficult is it? Is it all really ready for prime time? Also, self-publishing would give me the freedom to publish the book I really wanted to write, a book that might be a bit too indulgent, and too much of a genre-buster, for traditional publishing. It’s still too early to tell if the experiment was a success (the books just arrived on my doorstep a few hours ago). I can tell you at this point that it’s been one hell of an exhilarating ride. Crowd-funding and self-publishing are definitely not for the timid, the weak of heart. Or the labor-averse.

As I was doing the campaign, I started taking notes on some of what I was learning. When the dust cleared, I jotted down more. Here are some of my most useful take-aways.

Top-Level Thoughts:

Launching a crowdfunding campaign is a little like grabbing onto the tail of a comet. The moment your campaign launches, and your phone starts happily chiming away with each new pledge, you fall into a dizzying vortex that pulls at you 24/7, for 30 days (or whatever the length of your campaign). To work yet a different analogy, it feels like the whole thing is a giant, hungry coal-fired boiler that needs to be stoked around the clock, and as soon as you stop stoking, your pledges stop. You have to really be paying attention, constantly thinking of ways of getting your word out, pressing your family and friends into service, engaging in discussions on your KS page, answering backers’ questions, doing interviews or pursuing potential media leads. It’s a whirlwind of market, market, market, market, pitch, pitch, pitch, sell, sell, sell. I swear that but the end of my campaign, I would have kissed babies like an opportunistic politicians if I’d thought it would’ve gotten me more last-minute pledges.

That may sound like a lot of exhausting work, and it was, but the thrills at least equaled, if nor surpassed, the spills and chills. I had so many people step up to help me, so many colleagues who said the kindest, most supportive things in promoting the project. So many friends selflessly helped keep my campaign in the public eye. And, I must admit, having that pledge-o-meter cha-ching-ing on my phone on a regular basis was a cheap Vegas-worthy thrill. Besides the unequaled rush of my first few pledges, I specifically remember one morning where I was lying in bed (having gone to sleep particularly late ’cause I was working on the campaign) when my phoned chimed. I picked it up to see that someone had pledged $500 (my first of three such pledges). I was so excited, I leaped out of bed, did my happy dance, and off I went, suitably inspired, ready to kiss virtual babies.

One thing I’ve concluded from the crowdfunding part of my crowd-fund/self-publish experiment is that, to do a successful campaign, you have to wear A LOT of hats. You’re a fundraiser, a marketing person, a copy writer, a web designer, a video producer, likely on-air “talent,” a merchandiser (putting together tempting reward bundles), a fulfillment house (mailing out all of those bundles), an accountant, the list goes on. Now, this makes it sound more intimidating than it needs to be. You do have to take all of these things seriously, and be mindful of them all during the campaign, but there’s a lot of good help out there. If nothing else, a crowdfunding campaign is a great boot camp for understanding and engaging in the entire process of conceiving of a project/product and following it all the way through to market (and getting your hands dirty at every stage of the process). If that sounds more creatively challenging and fun than daunting and scary, then crowdfunding may be for you.

Some Specifics of What I Learned:

* Plagiarism Saves Time! — OK, I don’t really suggest you stealing from anyone, but it doesn’t hurt to emulate the success of others. Right when I was beginning to plan my KS campaign, I happened upon a project that was just about to launch their campaign (actually, I “happened” upon it because they were doing the first tactic I boosted from them — generating pre-campaign excitement and buzz). The campaign was for a very cool-looking tabletop sci-fi game called All Quiet on the Martian Front. They really looked like they had a great approach to launching their Kickstarter, so I just began to follow their lead: They did pre-launch teasing and content-sharing, so did I; they had a very well-designed page, with stretch goals and stretch goal banners that charted success, so did I; they had substantive Updates, with content, so did I. What’s funny is that, they seemed so together, I was shocked when they blew their Christmas delivery (so did I). And we ended up both coming to market about 6 months late. I guess I followed them TOO closely. But basically, the point is: Find a campaign whose vibe you like, pledge to it, follow it through and learn what you can from them. And feel free to talk to them, too. During my Kickstarter, several people were obviously doing this with me — they liked the way I was executing my campaign and asked me questions about it. They asked where I went to educate myself to run such a cool, well-orchestrated campaign. I told them I was just basically copying what others had done.

* Include a Video — Projects that have videos perform much better. Your video is really just an ad (not the next Sundance candidate). You don’t have to tell your whole back story, or be tempted to get super clever or high-concept. Just tell people as powerfully and personally as possible, ideally in under 3 minutes, why they should back your project (and what’s in it for them). If you want, you can do additional videos on your page that delve deeper into various aspects of the project, tell your back story, etc. It’s also a good idea to have the most important details of your campaign go up front in your main video. Lots of people bail after the first minute or so.

* Put the Good Stuff On Top of Your Page: — Like the project video, your KS webpage should have the high-impact, need-to-know content at the top. For those who come to your project page directly, and do not play the video firsthand, you want to make sure and grab their attention right off the bat so that they DO watch your vid and stay on your page.

* Create a High-Impact Project Page — Make sure your KS page is well-designed, well-thought-out in terms of information organization, and is visually appealing. Not only do you want to make it easy for people to find the info they need, you want them to gain a certain degree of confidence in your project and your team by how your campaign is being conducted. So, for instance, for the pledge levels, it’s great to show, in the main content area of your page, a nice product layout with what your backers will get for each pledge level. These don’t even have to be the final product components. I saw, in doing research for my book campaign, that every successful book project showed a dummy cover mock-up, so I had one made up and pointed out that it wasn’t necessarily the final design.

Having banners and gold stars might seem silly, but people do enjoy visually seeing goals being reached.

Having banners and gold stars might seem silly, but people do enjoy visually seeing goals being reached.

* Do Frequent Updates — Your KS webpage should be a living document that’s growing and being added to throughout your campaign. You want to give people a reason to come back. You want people to keep your project and campaign on their radars so that they’ll be reminded to forward it to friends, tweet it, and otherwise engage with it.

Make your project updates entertaining, offer value in them. For Halloween, I included a holiday-themed excerpt.

Make your project updates entertaining, offer value in them. For Halloween, I included a holiday-themed excerpt.

* Soft Launch and Early Bird — A lot of people do soft launches of their campaign where they won’t do the big announcement for the first 24/48 hours but only announce to their core audience. And they’ll have some early bird special rewards (sometimes just x-number of rewards at a certain level at an enticingly reduced rate). The idea here is to already have some decent pledge numbers on the board before the majority of people show up, and to have all/most of the early bird deals already gone. Sneaky marketing mojo.

* Easy on the Rewards, There, Santa Claus — This was my biggest blunder. I had a lot of fun putting together the reward packages for my different pledge levels. I got carried away. And then, when I thought my campaign was lagging (see DON’T PANIC IN THE “U”), I added some new pledge levels to try and entice people to up-convert to a higher pledge amount. By the time my campaign was over, I had a lot of rewards and numerous items within each reward. Getting all of that stuff together and doing the mailing was, frankly, a nightmare. You need to have juicy rewards in your campaign to get decent pledges in return, but really try and be disciplined in them. The fewer actual items you’re offering, the better. I had a bunch of special bundles of rare magazines, art, and books, where I had 5 bundles of this, 10 bundles of that, etc. Way too much special handling on the back end. And the more rewards you can dream up with that are easy to fulfill but have high value, the better. E.g. you offering a Skype consult of some sort to a high backer, or you’ll read their manuscript and offer feedback, or whatever). And digital rewards are great because all you have to do is send them in an email. This is the one aspect of my campaign where I feel like I cost myself a lot of unnecessary time and money (e.g. I underestimated some of the shipping costs for this stuff).

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