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).

Read More »

WINK Review: Warhammer 40,000 7th Ed. Boxed Set

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With Warhammer 40,000 7th Edition, Games Workshop has made some more dramatic changes. Since this is really a review of the 7th edition boxed set itself, I won’t discuss rules changes. But those changes do suggest that GW is willing to sacrifice parts of the 40K universe backstory in an effort to sell more miniatures. That is perhaps reflected in the photography in this gorgeous three-volume box set. Dramatically-staged and photographed battle scenes, with thousands of ridiculously well-painted miniatures, abound. As does lots of very nicely done artwork throughout all three volumes. These are really beautifully-produced books with extra touches everywhere (e.g. spot varnishing, embossing, multiple cover finishes, high quality paper and printing).

Read the full review.

The End of Being Interviews Gareth

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I did an interview with the fine feathered freaks at counter-culture ezine, The End of Being:

You catalogue so many aspects of the internet’s early history. In “The Electric Cottage: A Flashforward” you cite the experience of your young son, Blake, being totally unaware of the historical newness of the tech he was being raised as a fascinating moment of self-awareness. You also talk of the “unconscious carry,” our all-in-one devices casually forgotten in pockets and bags; a calculated prediction turned daily reality. Do you think it’s important for younger generations to be aware of the internet’s DIY beginnings, subversive tendencies, and tech’s more cumbersome days?

GB: Absolutely. I think we completely take the net for granted now, and especially post-web youth think it was always this way. It was not, and it won’t be if we don’t fight to keep it as open and unregulated as possible (Hello, Net Neutrality). One of the most flattering things that anyone’s said about my book is that it’s a refreshing and inspiring reminder of the early spirit and enthusiasm that pioneered the web in the first place and that it will hopefully inspire readers to reclaim some of that enthusiasm. That would be a dream!

Read the entire interview here.

[Art from Borg Like Me by Jeremy Mayer.]

First Review of Borg Like Me!

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Casey Rae, of The Future of Music Coalition, Adjunct Prof. of Communications, Culture & Technology at Georgetown, and chief contrarian at The Contrarian, has published the first review of Borg Like Me. Hope this is an auspicious sign.

Gareth Branwyn is one such pioneer. His birds-eye account of underground media at the dawn of the Internet is part of what makes his new book of collected writings, Borg Like Me, so fascinating. Actually, BLM should be required reading in 2014, where conversations around culture and innovation have become troublingly polarized. But that’s not the only reason to celebrate Borg’s arrival. Gareth is a masterful storyteller with a gift for making even arcane topics entertaining.

[...]

Any attempts at summarizing Gareth’s personal and professional background fall flat in the face of his own recounting. But here’s an overview: having run off to a commune as a teen, Gareth became drawn to the emerging world of DIY media-making even as he found his footing as a writer. A young man with a voracious appetite for information and experiences—from music to more exotic indulgences—Gareth dove headfirst into bootstrapping bohemia at a moment when the democratization of technology was opening up new possibilites. He soon found himself enmeshed in early ‘zine culture, contributing to Boing Boing when it was a print rag and getting his freak on at Mondo 2000. He also ran roughshod at Wired, Esquire, and more recently, MAKE magazine. Gareth played sherpa to a dazed and confused Billy Idol as he navigated the cyberpunk wilderness and was instrumental in creating Beyond Cyberpunk!—a celebrated and influential early “hypermedia” work.

Read the rest of his review here.
Buy your own copy of Borg Like Me here.

Announcing the Release of Borg Like Me

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For Immediate Release

July 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 publishing scene, to his tenure at such influential cyber arts and culture mags 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!, and essays on the growth of the maker movement and Gareth’s “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, and 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 Weinfenbach and James Huckenpahler, to iconic found-object artists Jeremy Mayer, Greg Brotheron, and Nemo Gould. 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 (July 1, 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: Typewriter Art

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As with the personal computer, and so many other technologies, “The street finds its own uses for things.” (William Gibson) Almost immediately after the introduction of the typewriter, in 1874, artists, poets, and publishers realized they could appropriate the typewriter as an art tool – the letters that it stamped out could serve as graphic elements. Switch up the colors of the type ribbon, and you have a printing press. And a machine for making art.

Read the full review.