According to data collected by Bowker, self-published books crested over 1 million in 2018, increasing 156% since 2012. While e-books make up a large percentage of these books, Bowker notes that they are actually in slight decline, as self-published print books increased by 38% in 2017. What motivates self-publishers in this era of hyperabundance? Dr. Timothy Laquintano argues that a concept called mass authorship help us understand how writers’ “identities are shaped by the ideological legacy of more exclusive forms of individual authorship” (19). Put another way, some texts like books have a special historical weight in our culture and one that drives many people to write in the first place.
While our always-expanding, user-generated mediascape has also enabled the rise of self-publishing, the truth is that a handful of intermediaries — that is, platforms that facilitate communication from author to audience — determine much of how, where, and when writing circulates. According to Bowker’s report, for example, Amazon’s CreateSpace accounted for nearly 75% of all self-published print and e-books that circulated in 2017 and is growing more and more every year (Read more about Amazon’s monopoly here). Meanwhile, self-publishers must promote themselves using major social media platforms like Twitter and YouTube, solicit reviewers on Amazon or Amazon-owned company, Goodreads, and raise money on sites like Kickstarter and IndieGoGo. Hence, the second half of this course focuses on the business of self-publishing and the digital tools required in order for authors to participate in that business.
It begins by requiring you to identify an affinity group or network — a community where people meet and gather in particular affinity spaces to discuss, create, learn, and otherwise participate in their shared appreciation for some kind of content. This could be a network that produces Harry Potter fanfic, blogs or produced podcasts about underground hip-hop, or shares drafts of self-published LGBTQ romance novels. Identifying your affinity network is important as you’ll be studying how to publish within them, engage with them on social media, and blog about their concerns and ideas throughout the unit.
Part I: Self-Publishing
Discuss & review a book on how to self-publish (40 points, 10% of course grade). You’ll post this review on either Goodreads, or Amazon. Leading up to your review we will collectively read and discuss our different books on a particular subject/topic/theme for each class (i.e. overviews, myths, marketing, platforms, audiences, etc.). Ideally you’ll pick a book that closely aligns with your particular affinity network. We’ll develop a list of texts early in the unit and perhaps expect some shared choices within pairs or small groups.
Web presence (60 points, 15% of course grade). My goal is to help you set up a space for promoting your work and connecting with readers via social media and a dedicated domain. At the very least you’ll buy a domain name (~$12) and redirect it to a free hosting site, or better yet you’ll purchase both from a vendor. The following plans are basic/cheap and may not include some of the more advanced business features suggested by self-publishers (email lists, Google Analytics, etc.) Dreamhost ($2.59/month), Bluehost ($2.95/month), WordPress ($4/month), Squarespace ($6/month w/ student discount), or Wix ($6.50/month w/ student discount). You’ll want to sync your domain with your social media handles so that they are consistent.
Part II: Crowdfunding
Pre-launch crowdfunding report (100 points, 25% of course grade). By this point in the semester you hopefully have a sense of a self-published project you want to create someday; however, making that dream a reality obviously takes capital, including both money and labor. Although crowdfunding is one way you can raise cash for your idea, convincing people to support DIY- or amateur-made projects requires a strategy.
For this final project, then, you’ll generate a brief (~1,500-word) report that shares info on how you might pursue crowdfunding your idea through Kickstarter or Indiegogo. Your report will be shared with me via Google Doc by Friday, December 13 and will include the following sections:
- Short pitch [50-100 words/30 seconds]. This could be text or video, but will focus on one or two key selling points .
- Long pitch [300-500 words/60 minutes]. This is a more detailed pitch that focuses on the five Ws and could serve as the basis for your text or video on your actual crowdfunding page.
- Findings from previous campaigns [500 words]. This begins with a rationale on your chosen crowdfunding platform — either Kickstarter or Indiegogo — as well as your approach, which is based on analysis from at least one campaign that is directly related to your project or idea (ideally you’ll go beyond one and examine both a successful and unsuccessful campaign). Your analyses will draw from info offered on the campaign pages, Kicktraq, or from reaching out to creators directly. This info will also inform what follows.
- Goals & rewards [30-50 words/reward]. You don’t need an itemized budget for this project, but you will estimate your crowdfunding goal and reward levels based on costs for production, marketing, shipping, fees, and other potential costs. You should articulate at least five reward levels in your report. This would likely change as you get closer to actually launching, but it will serve as a starting point.
- Outreach [200 words]. This section will articulate a plan for using your current social network (family & friends irl and online) to reach new ones via online forums, social media, and user-generated platforms.
- Blog plan [100 words]. Share a list of at least five blog post prompts that will be related to your project. You can steal these from other crowdfunding campaigns or base them on what you think will get patrons excited about your idea.
- Risks and challenges [50-100 words]. This section will acknowledge the potential setbacks, variables, or unknowns that might make your project slower, not as big or beautiful as you imagine, or even unsuccessful.
- Timeline [100 words]. This includes specific dates and the activities needed both pre-launch (minimum of three months) and post-launch.