Review of The Great Lakes Book Project
by Scott Kennedy
Published earlier this year, The Great Lakes Book Project is quickly becoming a success. The project started as a simple idea, but Walter Blake Knoblock transformed it into his first published work. He chose to complete this project in a book format because he felt it was the right way to present a collection of short literary works based upon the Great Lakes and the region as a whole. Since Knoblock is from Traverse City, Michigan, most of his connections are from the state of Michigan. Thus making the Great Lakes Book Project have a majority of its short stories by Michigan authors about their experiences in the great lakes state.
Walter, who is a recent college graduate and entrepreneur, saw an opportunity to emerge as new age Michigan author. He set out on his task to complete The Great Lakes Book Project through compiling short stories he obtained by way of a “few ads on websites calling for submissions, e-mailing some acquaintances”(Knoblock) and word of mouth. After he found success in finding local authors who were passionate about being involved in the project, he carefully evaluated which stories he wanted to represent The Great Lakes Book Project. He was fortunate to receive many more submissions than needed to complete the project, allowing him to filter out the the best submissions to include. What was once a dream was now becoming an attainable goal except for one problem; funding. Walter set out to find creative ways to help fund his project. He soon learned that donations alone weren’t going to cut it until he came across a website by the name of Kickstarter. Launched in 2009, Kickstarter is a new age crowd funding based website. This website was designed for projects like Knoblock’s where someone has an idea, but lacks funding. Walter created a 30 day long Kickstarter campaign in the beginning of 2013 to fund the publishing and marketing costs of $3,000. He created a 7 minute video in addition to a short page of writing about why he started the project, and why he needed funding. On his Kickstarter page, Walter listed “the GLBP as an anthology of creative nonfiction published & printed in Michigan”. It was the perfect time to do so because of the many campaigns going on right now in Michigan to promote locally made products. Walter’s book fell into this category and that was part of the reason his project was made possible by 111 backers who raised him $3,429. Another reason for his success on Kickstarter was the incremental levels of backing he designed, with each different level receiving a different gift. The gift’s ranged from “My heartfelt gratitude and the knowledge that you helped something great” for a $1 donation to a “Book, PDF, ePub, a vial of water from one of the Great Lakes, plus an original oil painting inspired by one of the 27 stories.” for a $100 donation. Walter found the most success in receiving donations in the $17 dollar range because that was the level which entitled the backer to “A first edition copy of the Great Lakes Book Project”(Kickstarter). Knoblock is proud of this accomplishment because he was able to gather a large audience from around the world and interest them in The Great Lakes Book Project enough to support him.
Since the project was successfully funded on January 17th, 2013, Knoblock has been very busy. He worked hard to use the funding to get the book published and sent out to each individual who was entitled to a copy. Walter also created TheGreatLakesBookProject.com to give the book an online presence. Since publication, Knoblock has been solely responsible for the success of The Great Lakes Book Project. The book is currently carried in 6 bookstores throughout the state of Michigan, but that number is continuing to grow at a fast pace. Walter expects the number of bookstores and specialty shops that carry The Great Lakes Book Project to grow to 50 by the summer. He originally began with 3000 copies of the book, but has since sold over 1000. With the increase in bookstores, word of mouth, and the online presence of The Great Lakes Book Project, it is entirely possible that Knoblock will be planning for a second run before the end of the year.
As an upcoming author in Michigan, Walter Blake Knoblock is contributing to the pure Michigan campaign through The Great Lakes Book Project. Each one of the 27 stories provides the reader with an imitate tale of their experiences in the region, but mainly Michigan. To an outside reader, the tales act as a promotional tool because of the vivid details and memorable experiences portrayed in them. For someone who is interested in the region, they will gather many different perspectives by reading The Great Lakes Book Project. Knoblock designed the book that way because “I wanted to make a book about something I really loved- not just a story, but something that people could really relate to”(Kickstarter) as well as inform a foreign audience of the grandeur of Michigan. The book, as well as Knoblock, contribute to Michigan culture in many ways.
Walter Blake Knoblock was born and raised in Michigan and has always considered the Great Lakes to be an important part of his life. “The lakes were the ubiquitous presence in my life. I had a hunch that this was the same with a lot of other people, too”(Knoblock). He wanted to give other people a chance to share their own experiences, rather than just his own, because of the mutual appreciation of the lakes between Michiganders. He inferred that his strong feelings for the Great Lakes were something that many people could relate to and would be passionate to write about. “What I saw from the very beginning was that, amongst all the different authors who submitted to the project, while the stories and locations were rarely the same, an overbearing theme was strikingly conspicuous”(Knoblock). The culture displayed through Knoblock and The Great Lakes Book Project was similar indeed. Each author proclaimed their experiences in short stories, but each one had a larger meaning. He provided these authors a medium to express their fundamental love for the Great Lakes, which spoke volumes about the culture of Michigan and our residents. The culture displayed in the book was the strong impact that the Great Lakes had on Knoblock’s and the author’s lives. Although each story was different, they were all focused on the elegance of the Great Lakes region. It was clear that the topic of The Great Lakes Book Project was different for each author, but the stories were incredibly coherent.
The common theme amongst the stories in The Great Lakes Book Project was the culture of Michiganders and how they value nature. In the story Wolf Hunt, Steve Dudas illustrated his childhood memories in the Keweenaw peninsula. “The Keweenaw claws its way out of the Upper Peninsula’s northern coast and into a cold Lake Superior. The hills in the woods are steep, and the trees lift their roots out of the ground in hooks and loops, and make crude staircases up each hill face”(Dudas, 1) . The descriptors used by Dudas and many other authors in the The Great Lakes Book Project were similar because each author had a vivid memory that they wanted the reader to experience. Since most submissions revolved around the nature in the Great Lakes region, it was necessary for each author to make the reader understand the plentiful nature which is important to the story they are telling. Another author, Robert E. Weir, proclaimed the beauty of Lake Michigan in his short story The Lake is a Lady. Weir describes Lake Michigan as “a turquoise pearl, a vast liquid altar stretching from a threshold of golden sand and wispy green dune grass to a distant sky that covered her like a baby blue blanket”(Weir, 97). The picture that Weir casts into the mind of the the audience was absolutely necessary to understand his passion and the beauty of the lake. Much like the other authors, his word choice and sentence fluency create an image which parallels his own memory allowing the reader to visualize the story he is telling. Each story in The Great Lakes Book Project is dependent on the vivid descriptors used because they allow the reader to experience the Great Lakes and the surrounding beauty which is the centerpiece of the stories.
The authors of The Great Lakes Book Project shared the same passion about the Great Lakes as Walter Blake Knoblock did. For him, that made the project worthwhile. Although Knoblock began the project a bit half-heartily, he realized the importance of this project after seeing the submissions come pouring in. “I read these and I understood what they meant, and to be able to relate on such a personal and hidden level was rewarding”(Knoblock). He discovered how so many people, from many different areas can share a common appreciation for the Great Lakes. Therefore, the real motivation behind this project came from his realization that people were just as excited about the cause as he was. “I grew up, like almost everyone it seems, in a jaded generation—one filled with people who were so assured of their uniqueness and immense worth that they couldn’t possibly be bothered with the idea that someone out there felt the same way. This project changed that for me. Not all the pieces are about this, but what they are about is an exposure of certain emotions and feelings, maybe certain emotions and feelings that you will find familiar. That’s why I wanted to make this book: because I have felt what it is like to relate to someone on something that is important to me”(Knoblock). Walter makes his feelings clear that he is proud to have brought all of these different works of literacy together that relate to the same thing. It has provided him with a sense of accomplishment because he used a simple topic, the Great Lakes, to capture the attention of those who are aware of them, but more importantly those who are not.
The biggest struggle Knoblock faced throughout the project was how to promote it. He knew that in order for The Great Lakes Book Project to be a success, it would need to be something people would be excited about, but also willing to spend their money on. Walter accomplished these goals through careful planning and the formation of strategies. He used his web presence, people skills, determination, and acquaintances to get the The Great Lakes Book Project off the ground. He started by reaching out to his large twitter audience to gather their opinions and determine whether he could actually gather enough interest to make this project worthwhile. From there, he began “e-mailing a few friends, but as I realized that there were so many people interested in contributing, the list of people contacted quickly grew to over 10,000, not including the various literary and writing blogs who generously donated space to help gain support”(Kickstarter). He quickly realized the potential of The Great Lakes Book Project and was now confident is his ability to produce it. Knoblock, now aware of the reality that this idea was capable of reaching his expectations, spent copious amounts of time assembling what is now The Great Lakes Book Project. After he completed this task, he began his 30 day campaign on Kickstarter which provided him the funding to publish and promote the book further. Knoblock’s ingenuity and determination was key to the success of The Great Lakes Book Project.
Currently, Walter Blake Knoblock is continuing to promote the book. He is in constant contact with many bookstores trying to reach an agreement to get The Great Lakes Book Project on their shelves. His plans for the the future include a book tour this summer where he intends to visit each bookstore and hold a book signing. On an almost weekly basis, he is updating the The Great Lakes Book Project facebook page with news that another bookstore or specialty shop is now carrying the book. His success through The Great Lakes Book Project is attributable to his business sense. Knoblock has displayed his ability to take an idea, and use his resources to make it a possibility. The Great Lakes Book Project is a great example of how one man united many different groups of people with a simple idea.
Dudas, Steve, .The Great Lakes Book Project. 1st Ed.
Traverse City, MI: Felix Exi, 2013. Print.
Kickstarter, . N.p.. Web. 15 Apr 2013. <http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1635814122/the-great-lakes-book-project-regional-anthology>.
Knoblock, Walter, .The Great Lakes Book Project. 1st Ed.
Traverse City, MI: Felix Exi, 2013. Print.
Weir, Robert, .The Great Lakes Book Project. 1st Ed.
Traverse City, MI: Felix Exi, 2013. Print.