Welcome Andrew! Thanks for taking some time to chat about writing. First, a few quick-fire questions: Who is the greatest Viking of them all? Which is the scariest monster you’ve ever read about? And what is your writing/translating beverage of choice?
Technically not a Viking, (Vikings are Norse pirates) but I’m going with Leifr Eiriksson. Probably the most famous Norseman of them all, he actually was a peaceful man, the first European to set foot in the Americas (491 years before Columbus,) bringing Christianity to Greenland, and rescuing shipwreck victims.
Scariest monster goes to Ungoliant from J.R.R. Tolkien’s legendarium. The Queen of the Spiders even scared Morgoth, Middle-Earth’s equivalent of Satan (who makes Sauron look like a schoolyard bully)! I also have arachnophobia, and Shelob is hard enough to watch in Return of the King, and Ungoliant is Shelob turned up to ten-thousand!
I drink both tea and coffee, but I’m going to go with tea. Especially a P.G. Tips builder’s brew!
"Scariest monster goes to Ungoliant from J.R.R. Tolkien’s legendarium."
We both share a love and passion for Viking history, particularly the epics such as Beowulf. What drew you to study these texts and, in particular, to explore them through your own translations?
I first got interested in history at age four because of Indiana Jones. I wanted to be an archeologist, so borrowed all kinds of books on ancient cultures, especially on ancient Egypt. A few years later, my focus shifted to medieval history. Later, I found out that Tolkien specifically based his works on Anglo-Saxon and Norse cultures, so my studies soon began to focus on the early Middle Ages. When I was 9, I was diagnosed with Friedrich’s Ataxia, a rare genetic disorder, similar to Muscular Dystrophy, and my pursuits became more and more academic, and less archeological.
"Later, I found out that Tolkien specifically based his works on Anglo-Saxon and Norse cultures, so my studies soon began to focus on the early Middle Ages."
Several years ago, I took a course on Old English from Michael Drout at Signum University (you can take the class as an Anytime Audit). At the end of the course, Professor Drout suggested we read Beowulf in Old English to become better acquainted with the language. Rather than simply read it, I decided to translate it into modern English and write an extensive commentary.
Congratulations are in order for the publication of your new translation of Beowulf! Talk us through the journey of exploring this famous text and rendering it in this new translation. What are you hoping that readers take away from reading this story in this fresh light?
For the original text I used a book called Klaeber’s Beowulf. When coming across words I was unfamiliar with I would use the Bosworth-Toller Old English Dictionary. Sometimes I chose to go with more archaic terms because it fit the alliteration better. I used more recent scholarship and that was reflected in the way I translated some of the words or phrases, for example: a damaged word in Line 587 is typically read as “hell,” but I offer the reading “hall” which gives the line a very different context.
I hope that this new translation, with its alliteration, will harken back to older translations, such as those by Francis Gummere and John Clark Hall, but will also give it the accessibility of modern translations.
"I hope that this new translation, with its alliteration, will harken back to older translations, such as those by Francis Gummere and John Clark Hall, but will also give it the accessibility of modern translations."
Beowulf is getting a lot of attention right now with Maria Headley’s new translation, a very modern take on the tale, which was released a short while back. What are your thoughts on modernizing ancient texts like Beowulf and why is it important that these stories continue to be told today?
While I don’t mind modernization of ancient texts, I actually had a much different intention for my translation. I feel that many recent translations modernize it so much, that it loses much of its beauty. I understand that pre-modern texts can be difficult to read, (that is the main reason I provided an extensive commentary along with the translation) but often they lose their alliteration and meter, which is much of poetry’s appeal.
In talking with Dr. Alison Killilea and Norse epics student Rosemary , I complained about the lack of quality film adaptations of this incredible tale. Do you have a favorite film adaptation of Beowulf or do you have any ideas as to why it has been so hard to capture on the silver screen?
My favorite movie adaption of Beowulf has to be The Thirteenth Warrior. Based on Michael Crichton’s novel Eaters of the Dead, it’s not a straightforward Beowulf adaption. It follows an Arab, Ahmad ibn Fadlan (portrayed by Antonio Banderas,) who gets caught up in an adventure with a band of Vikings, led by a warrior called Buliwyf (portrayed by Vladimir Kulich.) If you are familiar with Viking history, you may recognize the name ibn Fadlan; he was an ambassador from Baghdad, who gave an eyewitness account of a Viking ship cremation on the River Volga.
Crichton wanted to show a possible historical basis for Beowulf, so he was trying to give a more natural rather than supernatural explanation for the monsters in the story. There are some anachronisms (such as Buliwyf wearing plate armor in one scene) and other inaccuracies, but the movie is well written. While not a perfect adaptation, it is probably the most entertaining adaptation I’ve seen.
"My favorite movie adaption of Beowulf has to be The Thirteenth Warrior."
As an author of fiction set in a Viking-like world, I often find myself challenging tropes associated with Vikings in popular culture. What false assumptions about Vikings or Germanic culture do you hope to address through your work with these ancient texts?
A lot of popular culture portrays Vikings or Germanic people as people who would only raid and plunder, but I hope that with my different works people will appreciate that Vikings had their own culture and that they even had deep thoughts. When you take the time to study their culture and way of life, barbarian is no longer an adequate way to describe them.
Can you give us a sneak peek of what your next major project will be? Any hints or perhaps a little snippet to get readers excited?
My next big project is a trilogy of historical fantasy novels called Guthbrand’s Saga. I am hoping to have these novels traditionally published, so if you’re an agent or know of someone who is, feel free to contact me! The first book is completed and I am currently working on the second book.
"My next big project is a trilogy of historical fantasy novels called Guthbrand’s Saga."
The books are set in early 6th Century Norway, and are prequels to Beowulf. Book 1 is called Troll Bane. The story opens with Trolls raiding farmsteads bordering the wilds of Jötunheim. A jarl named Guthbrand and his small warband set out to hunt them down, but the closer they draw to a battle Guthbrand knows they can't win, his men's lives weigh heavy on him. Guthbrand’s Saga has characters and creatures from Norse mythology and legendary sagas. Characters share songs and folktales inspired by Old Norse sources.
I paid special attention to surrounding this fantasy-infused story with historically accurate details and placing it in precise geographical locations so that you can even follow the party’s journey on a modern day map. I actually provide a map with the Old Norse place names. Like so many fantasy authors, I have been greatly inspired by the works of J.R.R. Tolkien. Like him, I have tried to create an expansive world inhabited by people and creatures with their own rich cultures, languages and history.
"I paid special attention to surrounding this fantasy-infused story with historically accurate details and placing it in precise geographical locations so that you can even follow the party’s journey on a modern day map. I actually provide a map with the Old Norse place names."
This past year has been turbulent to say the least; with the number of ups and downs, I still can hardly tell whether I’m standing on my head or on my feet. However, one of the most notable ‘ups’ was that I ran a successful Kickstarter. Then I ran another one. And then one more! In fact, in the past ten months I ran three successful Kickstarter campaigns and collectively raised over $35 000 USD for an Old Norse phrasebook, a Viking-themed card game, and an anthology of historical fiction. This does not make me a Kickstarter expert by any stretch of the imagination, but I have learned a few things and I hope to pass on a bit of insider knowledge here for crowd-funding hopefuls considering this route to publication.
"[In] the past ten months I ran three successful Kickstarter campaigns
I have an idea. Should I run a Kickstarter?
If any creator was to ask me this question, I would ask them three questions in return:
If you answered yes to these three questions then I think your idea is probably viable for a Kickstarter campaign. (Note: ‘viable’ does not guarantee success.) If you answered no to any one of these three questions I would strongly discourage you from pursuing funding through Kickstarter. Instead, I would suggest that you pitch your idea to publishers who can handle the items above while you focus solely on the creative aspect of the project.
"If you answered yes to these three questions then I think your idea
When should I start working on the Kickstarter?
I think there is a misunderstanding of timelines when it comes to Kickstarters for new creators. Way back in the day, the idea of pitching a project, getting it fully funded, then working on it for six months to two years while backers wait patiently may have been an option. These days, you want to have a fully finished product (be that a game, book, album, etc.) as you will be competing with very polished products for attention and for funds. My suggestion would be to complete the ‘idea to reality’ stage first, make sure it really is as awesome as you were hoping it to be, and then begin to prepare for a Kickstarter campaign launch.
" My suggestion would be to complete the ‘idea to reality’ stage first, make sure it really is as awesome as you were hoping it to be, and then begin to prepare for a Kickstarter campaign launch."
I would budget about 5-15 hours a week for pre-campaign work (designing graphics, recording the video, networking, securing promotions, getting feature spots on podcasts or in relevant publications, developing publicity materials, recruiting followers on the pre-launch page, etc.) for about three months before the campaign and then 15-25 hours per week during the campaign. Any work you complete before the campaign will be very much appreciated by your future self during the mid-campaign madness. I highly suggest working with a partner (or a team) on this as that is a lot for one person to handle while remaining somewhat sane.
What funding goal should I set for my Kickstarter?
This is highly dependent on what the product is, but in general you obviously want to cover the cost of printing or production. Be sure to get a quote for this before you set your funding goal and do not just ballpark your costs. If you’ve never worked with a printer or a manufacturer before then do your homework early in the planning stages. I had friends who funded their board game on Kickstarter then received copies from the manufacturer overseas, 30% of which were defective. They were on the hook to cover thousands of dollars of re-printed games out of pocket; it was either that, or lose the significant following they had built upon Kickstarter over several successful projects.
Additional expenses, which can be significant, include Kickstarter’s 5% fee, warehousing and distribution, and any costs related to fulfillment management services. Typically it is understood that backers will be charged shipping (be very careful if you plan on including shipping in the backer price) and most creators, even small ones, will use a fulfillment manager such as CrowdOx to help with post-campaign delivery. I would highly recommend that another buffer of at least 5% be added to the funding goal to cover any unforeseen expenses related to the campaign.
"I would highly recommend that another buffer of at least 5% be added to the funding goal to cover any unforeseen expenses related to the campaign."
Of course, there is also the whole issue of your being paid for the creative work you have done. I would suggest using the Kickstarter to fund the production costs or the print run then pay yourself through post-campaign sales. For example, if you fund a print run of 2000 copies of a book and you have 800 backers, then there are 1200 copies that can be sold post-campaign. Not everyone would agree with me on this, but consider the fact that you are paying Kickstarter 5% of your ‘creator’s fee’ if you raise those funds through the platform.
I just launched my Kickstarter! Time to sit back and let the pledges roll in? (Spoiler Alert: The answer is no.)
No amount of pre-campaign preparation can prepare you for the rush, the thrill, and the terror of your campaign launching on Kickstarter. You are baring your soul, your dreams, and your ambitions to a nebulous universe of interconnected intelligent entities surfing across the vast expanse of the web. When the campaign begins, it is time to start pushing harder than ever to reach new audiences, network with influential people around the topic of your project, and follow up with media features you set up during the pre-campaign.
During my third campaign we were fortunate to be selected as a ‘Project We Love’ by Kickstarter. Our campaign was featured on the ‘Project We Love’ page and we were given access to a promotional badge which helped us stand out. Only 8-9% of all Kickstarter projects are selected to be in this category so it is a significant achievement; however, there is no process to apply for this status as projects are selected using a secret process that happens behind closed doors.
"During my third campaign we were fortunate to be selected as a ‘Project We Love’
However, if you look at the current ‘Projects We Love’ page you can identify some themes in terms of which projects are getting selected. While not every project might fit into this category, consider tweaking your campaign page to try and catch the eye of a Kickstarter administrator. Note that your campaign might be live for several days before you receive notice that your project has been chosen as a ‘Project We Love’ and such a designation does not guarantee success.
My Kickstarter is live and it is not doing very well. Should I pay for advertising?
This is, unfortunately, an all too common experience, especially for first time creators. Overall, only 38% of projects on Kickstarter reach their funding goal by the end of the campaign. Creators need to be prepared for the worst-case scenario but should not sit back once the campaign begins. The energy of the campaign, especially in the first few days, will be key to either its success or its failure.
It is very common to have a mid-campaign plateau and that is nothing to panic about. The spike of pledges in the first few days and the rush of backers who had been following the project or holding back in the final hours are like riding an extreme roller-coaster, but this middle section can feel like trudging through a desert of despair. At this stage, if the project has not yet funded many may feel immense pressure to pay for advertising in a desperate attempt to reach more people.
"The spike of pledges in the first few days and the rush of backers who had been following the project or holding back in the final hours are like riding an extreme roller-coaster, but this middle section can feel like trudging through a desert of despair."
I would caution against paid advertising in general. If you have a background in SEO analytics or marketing then maybe you can turn this to your advantage. However, paid advertising will never, in my opinion, be able to match personal recommendations. Having an influential podcaster, author, or academic personally share your project and encourage people to back it is more authentic than paid advertising and will attract the kind of loyalty that these projects need to succeed. People need to believe in the project like you do, and that sense of communal excitement is difficult to generate without personal recommendations. Besides, there are plenty of people ready to take your money with baseless promises of Kickstarter success, but once they are paid your money is gone, gone, gone.
My Kickstarter is funded! Now what?
Ah! You’ve reached that enviable state for which so many have striven. However, there is still much work to be done in finalizing the production of your campaign, fulfilling orders, and staying in touch with backers. One thing I was surprised to learn is that many of the pledges bounce, sometimes upwards of 10% of all pledges; Kickstarter has no way of securing these funds if the payment information is not current and backers do not update their details before the funds go through. This is not too much of an issue for campaigns that significantly overfund, but if you barely make it over the line at, say, 102% funded on a $9000 goal, you may end up with only 95% funding once all the funds come through. This is yet another good reason to build in a bit of buffer in your original funding goal.
"One thing I was surprised to learn is that many of the pledges bounce,
Last, but not least, if you begin creating projects through Kickstarter you are likely to continue with future campaigns that expand on your series, universe, or game. While answering mountains of backer questions, wrestling printers to meet your promised deadlines, and interacting on social media, remember that these amazing people who backed your project may be interested in backing future projects, provided you’ve shown yourself to be reliable and professional. Keep backers up to date and inform them of delays in fulfillment or any other items relevant to the campaign.
"...remember that these amazing people who backed your project may be interested in backing future projects, provided you’ve shown yourself to be reliable and professional."
All of this is really just scratching the surface of the wild and wonderful world of crowdfunding; if you are interested in learning more I encourage you to check out the extensive collection of posts by Stonemaier Games or to send me an email through my contact form for more specifics on any of the topics above. Keep making the world a little bit more awesome with everything you create!
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Joshua Gillingham is an author, editor, and game designer from Vancouver Island, Canada.