A Krypton Radio exclusive interview by Erik "PK" Blackwell
A gaming artist with a dream and a Kickstarter campaign going viral – internet dreams can come true
Back in June of 2012, I was browsing the pages of Kickstarter looking for interesting projects when I stumbled upon Nathanael “Nat” Iwata’s campaign to create a children’s Steampunk alphabet book. Nat who is a professional artist and illustrator working in the video gaming industry, had through his then recent work on a Steampunk themed video game been inspired to create a Steampunk themed alphabet book to share with his young children.
That idea blossomed into creating a book for all kids and it went from concept to Kickstarter, with the goal to raise $7,500 to help fund production and marketing to a publisher who could bring the book to life in bookstores everywhere. I thought this would be an awesome project to share with our readers/listeners, many of whom are Steampunk fans. So I reached out to Nat for an interview and he was happy to oblige with more details.
From the book’s overview:
“Every family needs an alphabet book. That’s a given. But until now there has not yet been a compelling Steampunk-themed ABC book. Nat Iwata has been doing steampunk art for several years in the video game industry, and now he has illustrated a visually compelling, fun-for-all-ages Steampunk Alphabet book that is approachable both to fans and those unfamiliar with Steampunk. In light of that, while all of the illustrations are total Steampunk, the opening ‘letter sentence’ for each page is a familiar word.”
“For example “A is for Apple.” The idea of taking everyday ordinary things and re-imagining them as Steampunk is sure to be a crowd pleaser, and especially appeal to all of the hipster parents. The second part of each page is a description of the object as set in the Steampunk world. This portion will be more enjoyable to older kids and adults to enjoy, while the book could be read entirely with just the ‘letter sentences’ for younger readers.”
On June 30, 2012 the story went live on Krypton Radio and was well received by our fans, then it went viral. After the initial blast of traffic, and combined with many people sharing the project via social media, the donations to the Steampunk Alphabet book jumped very quickly. By July 26, 2012, Nat Iwata’s project had not only been funded, but exceeded his original goal by bringing in an impressive $11,391. I always hear people say that it’s the power of the internet, and they’re right. Social media and related websites have helped change the way we do business and raise money for great projects like Nat’s book.
With part one of the victory being attained, part two was in the works. It wasn’t until recently that I received an update from Nat:
I just wanted to share some more info with you, as the book has gone through the final editing phase and is off to the presses this week! It is available in various places for pre-order, but the site offering the largest discount of 32% is Barnes & Noble, here’s a link: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/steampunk-alphabet-nat-iwata/1112774056“
This was too good to pass up for a follow up article on how the book progressed from idea to where it is now:
PK: Now as a reporter, I’m required by professional reporting standards to ask one painfully obvious question upfront: Are you excited your book is finally ready for sale?
Nat: I’ll give the obvious answer: of course! It’s been a long process, but everyone’s been so supportive and I think the book turned out really top notch.
PK: What was your reaction, and that of your family when you realized the project was going to not only be funded, but you actually ended up with a bit more than you planned?
Nat: We were really stoked to see it get as much attention as it did, and receive so much positive feedback. The extra funding really allowed me to take my time on the quality of the illustrations and writing (and re-writing). When you launch something like this there’s always the possibility of failure, and very public failure for that matter, so it was not only a huge relief to hit my goal, but a huge encouragement that people were excited about something that I created.
PK: I can imagine there must have been a lot of joy and celebration when the project was funded, but afterwards when it was time to press forward and try to make this all happen, did you have many worries or concerns if this would all really work or not?
Nat: Ha, that’s a great question. I’ve told many people that congratulated me on the success of the campaign, “thanks, but now I actually have to finish it!” It did seem a bit daunting after all of the “New Backer” alerts ceased and I realized I had hundreds of people waiting to see if I had what it took to get through all 52 pages. Actually, and I see that you ask about this later, but my biggest concern was in considering a publishing contract I would have to shift my delivery dates forward by quite a lot, but after sending out an email to the backers and letting them know, hearing feedback, 99.9% were fully supportive.
PK: You originally told me that you would consider doing more Steampunk themed books, depending on how well this one sells. Are you still considering doing more books, and what types of Steampunk (or other themed) books do you have ideas for?
Nat: I am considering other Steampunk themed books, but as you said, I’m waiting to see how this one does. I’m actually in the middle of another Steampunk themed Kickstarter campaign for a deck of Steampunk Cthulhu playing cards. I wanted to try taking the genre and art into a slightly different venue to see how it would be received, and so far it’s going really well. I was also able to tie in the book, as it is being offered as one of the rewards. If you want to check out the campaign it can be found here: http://kck.st/Ym7DxZ
PK: Depending on how well the Alphabet book sells, would you still try to work full time in the gaming industry or move onto something else?
Nat: That’s a tough question to answer actually. I am already doing more art outside of the video game industry lately, but games are still my main source of income, and I’m working on several right now. I’ll keep doing games full-time and as other projects, books, etc., come along and are of interest I’ll decide where to allocate time on a case by case basis.
PK: According to your blog and Kickstarter posts, you’ve been hard at work with the publisher and editors to get the book to press. Compared to your original vision, in what ways has the book changed or evolved into what we’ll be seeing on store shelves?
Nat: Though I did originally plan on self-publishing, I am so glad that I decided to publish with Cameron + Company. The book would not be at the quality level it is today if I was left to do it all on my own. The writing is better because of insightful editing, illustrations more eye catching, and the actual paper and cover quality will be high end, more so than I could have done with a print on demand service. The layout, cover, and overall vibe has been heavily influenced by the creative director, Iain. He has worked on everything from Star Wars to Charlie Brown and really helped make the book a better more beautiful book.
One of the main changes, and this was not the publisher’s change, was that the book now has a 4 line rhyme on each page. A friend and experience writer gave me some very honest feedback during the campaign that the book may be a bit boring for younger readers, or to read aloud. At first a bit taken aback, I soon realized that she was right and added rhymes to every page and put the more historical sounding text in a separate area on the page, almost as an additional footnote.
PK: Since your book is available on the Barnes and Noble site, and presumably through their regular stores as well. Do you know yet just how big the distribution of your book will be through the various vendors it’s being marketed to?
Nat: I actually don’t know where the book is going to be sold yet. It’s available on various online stores for pre-order, but even with Barnes and Noble, I’m not sure what actual brick and mortar stores will carry it. I believe the sales and distribution team is still pitching it and getting it in wherever they can.
PK: What’s the feedback been like after the story of your book went viral?
Nat: I’m not sure at what point something is considered viral, but the feedback has been really good. A HUGE reason the book even took off in the first place is because I have a such an amazing network of Facebook friends, very few simply being Facebook friends. They really got the word out and I would have failed without them. People continue to be very excited about getting their copy, and I’ve had a lot of people ordering more copies online.
PK: Can you walk us through what you went through in taking the Alphabet book from concept to Kickstarter to finding a company to publish it, and what that journey has been like for you and your family?
Nat: After deciding that I wanted to do the project, I did a lot of research into Kickstarter and previously successful book projects. I had actually begun creating another, non steampunk, children’s book campaign but felt this one needed to come first. The whole launching of the campaign was actually done in a matter of 3 or 4 days while my family and I were traveling in California, so the video was shot at my wife’s aunt’s house. So, going against a lot of advice to prep my project for weeks on end, I took a deep breath and hit “launch.” I was counting on the art to at least spike people’s curiosity enough to check it out, and I think that happened to some degree, but again it was my social network that did the heavy lifting, at least initially.
Something to understand about Kickstarter is that if a project can get a lot of activity in the beginning, it will be boosted up in rank in the “popular” charts, thus being seen by more and more people. Once this happened it got some coverage by sites like this one, a feature on Kickstarter, and was seen by several publishers. I had other offers, but Cameron + Company was a perfect fit. My book will be their first one discovered via Kickstarter, and this is actually quite a divergence from how the publishing industry works. I think companies like Cameron will help move things in a new direction, and change the industry for the better. Instead of me sending in a manuscript to various publishers and waiting 3-6 months for a rejection, I was able to raise my own money to finish the book, prove that it has marketability, and be seen by a great publisher.
PK: Hollywood is always on the hunt for games and books to adapt into major motion pictures (look what they did with the board game Battleship), do you think there’s any chance we’ll see Steampunk Alphabet on the big screen?
Nat: Haha, I seriously doubt it, but hey, if someone wants to make a movie I’m all ears.
PK: On a more serious note though, since you work in the gaming industry and more specifically have worked on games for the mobile market. Is there a possibility we may see Steampunk Alphabet as an animated/interactive learning game for PC/MAC, iOS, and related platforms?
Nat: There is a possibility, but nothing is being developed at this time. It’s easy to see how the pages could come to life, gears spinning, steam puffing, and I have the know how to animate something like that, but a programmer I am not. We’ll see, an iPad app may need to come at some point.
PK: In what formats/media will the book be available when it goes on sale, and how much will it cost?
Nat: So far the book will be in print for $12.95, but is available for pre-order on several sites at a discount. A PDF version has gone out to some Kickstarter backers, and I believe some sort of e-book version will also be coming at some point.
Nat Iwata‘s Steampunk Alphabet Book is now available for pre-order, and will be shipped out as early as May 14, 2013!
Wait… did you say, Steampunk Cthulhu Playing Cards? I think my inner nerd/geek fan-boy just squeeled itself into a coma… Yeah, you might want to check out Nat’s latest project.