1,000 True Fans
In a crowded entertainment industry where everyone is trying to hit the big time, miniscule sales and failed projects are daily occurrences. These types of disappointment are certainly not unique to book publishing. Ask any musician, screenwriter, or blogger about their greatest career woes, and you will undoubtedly hear stories of the endless battle to please everyone.
What Wellnitz has realized is that success isn’t about pleasing everyone, but about focusing energy on a very specific niche audience. In other words, while a small percentage of writers actually will hit the big time and sell their books to nearly everyone in America, a far greater number of authors will depend on a small but fiercely loyal fanbase for years of support. You may need millions of readers to become an icon, but to make a living doing what you love, you only really need 1,000 true fans.
“It’s this idea that your true fans are the most valuable to whatever creative thing you are trying to do,” Wellnitz said. “And I think where we are with social media allows an author and those fans to be really tightly-knit together at all times.”
The concept of crowdsourcing, an idea Wellnitz borrowed from American author Hugh Howey, springs from the “1,000 true fans” model. Wellnitz is hopeful that “Fifty States of Grace” will allow him to build a small but devoted collective of readers who are truly invested in the progress and outcome of his story. Those true fans will then stick around until the end and provide funding along the way—even as other readers come and go with the tide.
“Hugh Howey’s model is so good because he has a really tight-knit group of fans that are really into his stores,” Wellnitz said. “He communicates with them through social media quite a bit, and even has fans designing covers and providing ideas for his novels.”
From the Tech Desk
Independent Author Plans 50-Volume Series with Stories Set in Each State
As recently as a few years ago, authors were largely bound by the limitations and start-up costs of book printing and distribution. Now, with eBook vendors dissolving those physical boundaries and social media outlets making it possible to build a following entirely in cyberspace, writers and publishers have been granted more freedom over the types of projects they undertake. Entities like the project-funding website Kickstarter are giving writers even more control, allowing them to present project outlines or proposals that friends, family members, and interested readers can then help “back” with support in the form of donations. For some writers, the Kickstarter funding model functions in the same way that a publisher’s advance payment would, helping to defer the costs of a book and stay afloat financially while composing the prose-filled pages of their promised project.
Independent author Jason Wellnitz is one of those writers, and his latest Kickstarter campaign, titled “Fifty States of Grace”—a play off of the phenomenally popular Fifty Shades of Grey series—is structured around one of the more interesting self-publishing concepts to come along in recent memory. Born out of Wellnitz’s experiences traveling across the country and his fascination with lively off-the-beaten-path locations, “Fifty States of Grace” is a proposed 50-volume set of short stories that will reach every corner of the United States. So far, Wellnitz has only written the introduction—currently available on Amazon.com for a miniscule $0.99 price tag—but with a little help from both his real-life acquaintances and his Kickstarter supporters, the author hopes to build the loose story arc he has in his head into an epic and sprawling road-tripping yarn.
“I’ve kind of had this idea of setting a book in each of the 50 states for awhile now,” Wellnitz explained. “Awhile back, I was in northern Minnesota with my family, just camping and going around stopping in a few places, and I had the thought, ‘wouldn’t it be nice to capture a few of these places in a novel?’”
The concept is certainly an appealing one, but with print manuscripts and the immense cost of producing 50 separate novels, Wellnitz’s project could never have been realistic. Luckily, with the digital revolution expanding further and further into the book world, and with reader mindset shifting as well, a 50-volume story no longer feels insurmountable.
“With the way eBooks are going, people are becoming more interested in short pieces or blocks of fiction that can grow over time,” Wellnitz said.
“Growth” is the key word for “Fifty States of Grace,” and a factor that will ultimately decide whether or not Wellnitz can get from state one to state 50 successfully. Right now, the project is in a stage of relative infancy: Wellnitz launched the Kickstarter campaign on July 22, and is shooting for a $5,050 goal by the first of September. That’s certainly not a lavish amount for an author to ask for, but if “Fifty States of Grace” is going to achieve the longevity inherent in its titular scope, Wellnitz will need more than one-time internet backers or friends willing to throw 10 bucks into the pot: he will need legitimate fans and an avid following that expands with each new series addition. In a crowded self-publishing space, with thousands of other titles hitting virtual bookstore shelves every day, Wellnitz certainly has his work cut out for him.
Luckily, both the concept and proposed execution of the “Fifty States” project offer a slew of reasons for readers to be interested. The series introduction, for one thing, is a feat of writerly restraint and engaging mystery, drawing readers in without giving too much away. Series protagonist Austin Trenton—American city pun very likely intended—is a pastor who loses everything when he is framed for a despicable crime. As he languishes in a prison cell, slowly losing hope, Austin finds a letter from his grandfather outlining a mysterious project designed to take him to each of the 50 states. What Austin’s journey will reveal—and where the grandfather fits into the picture—is left for future volumes.
Also left unrevealed is which state Austin will travel to first, a decision Wellnitz says is now thoroughly in the hands of his fans and supporters. Each Kickstarter donation will double as a state vote of sorts, so whichever state provides the most project funding will also be the state Wellnitz writes about first. This choose-your-own-adventure mentality, along with Wellnitz’s open-minded embrace of audience feedback, is the most intriguing aspect of the “Fifty States of Grace” project and an angle Wellnitz calls crowdsourcing.
“I have a few blocks written of the first book that I can plug in regardless of the state, but I’m really trying to stay open to ideas,” Wellnitz said of the model. “I have a log of story ideas I’ve gotten from verbal conversations and online chatter, and there are a lot of different directions in which I could take the story. I’ve been cherry-picking the best ideas so far, but I want to keep [the story] open in hopes that people will find the model exciting and contribute their own ideas.”
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Craig Manning is currently studying English and Music at Western Michigan University. In addition to writing for Independent Publisher, he maintains a pair of entertainment blogs, interns at the Traverse City Business News, and writes for Rockfreaks.net and his college newspaper. He welcomes comments or questions concerning his articles via email, at firstname.lastname@example.org.