Monday, March 27, 2017

A Few Thoughts on Indie Publishing

A friend of mine is looking to start his own blog, mostly covering fantasy sports.  He asked me for some thoughts as he gets his ideas together, and so we've been exchanging emails.  The one below talks a bit about what's it's been like for me over the past decade-plus, and I figured I'd share it in case anyone else out there has some of these same questions.

For what it's worth, I really like my buddy's ideas, and I'm quite looking forward to seeing what he eventually puts together.

Hey Joe,

First off, welcome to the exciting and often frustrating world of independent and small press publishing.  I’ve been doing this off and on for more than a decade now, and my number one takeaway is that you have to enjoy what you’re doing for its own sake.  This isn’t Field of Dreams where, “If you build it, they will come.”  So many people are producing so much content right now, reality is that it’s very easy to get ignored.  However, if small and independent producers put out tons and TONS of crap, it’s also true that they put out more truly great, truly original ideas than Corporate America ever can or will.  That is both good and bad, but it’s definitely the truth.

This movie is a great metaphor for independent publishing.
Before I answer your questions, I’d like to encourage you to think about the Value Proposition for your content.  Why should people read what you’re going to do as opposed to ESPN or Fox Sports or even SB*Nation?  Though SB*Nation is probably closer to being an indie than an actual corporate behemoth, it’s still true that all three of those outlets have actual staff and considerable resources—more than you’re going to be able to dedicate yourself.  You’ll want to have a unique hook that draws people specifically to what YOU are doing in addition to those other guys.  That’s hard to do.

My own blog has suffered from this because it’s not about any One Thing.  It’s about my life.  But still, times when I’ve found a strong, consistent following have been because I accidentally stumbled upon useful hooks.  For example, I ran a Dungeons and Dragons campaign for my kids and then wrote about it over the course of a few weeks.  Lots and lots of gamers read that because they too wanted to run games for their kids.  There was an idea there, D&D for Kids, and it would have served as a useful value proposition had I been willing to do it more frequently.  Similarly, when I write about Army Football, I ALWAYS do statistical breakdowns because that’s the kind of thing that no one else is doing.  It makes my football stuff unique from what you see from Army beat writer Sal Interdonato or GoBlackKnights.Com.  That’s why folks come to me even if they don’t necessarily realize it.  I’m very good with mathematical analysis, and I know how to explain that analysis in terms that are easy to understand.

What I don’t do is break news.  I leave that to Sal because that is his actual job.

1. Platform.  I recommend something free.  Using Blogger is good because it’s a Google product, and it therefore integrates easily with Google AdSense.  But WordPress is also easy to use.

For basic business reasons, I wouldn’t purchase a domain name (or anything else) until it actually makes sense for actual business reasons.

2. Finding an audience is tough.  I started a small press comic company called Proletariat Comics way back when, grew it by interacting online with the indie comics community, and then took it to the first NYC Comic Con.  Then we started a free online literary quarterly.  All of this was working, albeit slowly, until we had a flood at my house, and then I shut the business, so I could redirect my personal cash flow.

After that, I started reviewing comics for a now defunct website called Paperback Reader.  It took me maybe 18 months, but I got onto the reviewer lists for most of the indies, even the big ones, and I got press passes to all the local shows.  Then it kind of blew up, and…  Well, I got a little more famous than I meant to get.  Suddenly the house was flooded with BOXES of review copies, and I found myself inundated with Internet trolls.  This was not the plan, and it turned a hobby into a job, which proved to be a very bad idea.

I started the blog a few years later and have kept it small on purpose.  I market it to my friends and to whoever else cares, but if it ever blows up like PBR started to, I’ll shutter it the next day.

3. To start, I would set internal milestones.  Know what you’re trying to accomplish, and get your messaging straight.  Think about design and make that work.  Set up your advertising via Google AdSense.  Publish, and archive your previous work.

From there, I think we can talk about outreach.

Does that help?

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