Bloom where you are planted: this old adage can be the key to a very fruitful marketing strategy. As writers, garnering community support for our work can help create valuable buzz and begin to build a solid, loyal audience base.
With this goal in mind, my 6-person writing critique group mounted an event called “Grassroots Fiction at its Best” at a local indie bookstore in Montclair, NJ. It proved to be a fun, low-cost way of showcasing our writing and gaining exposure.
Here are the 10 steps we took to make our event a success:
1) We had a point person: While we all pitched in to help, David Popiel, who masterminded the showcase idea, acted as our chief organizer. He mobilized us to pick a date, contacted our local bookstore, developed a flier, and generally kept us all on track in the two months or so before the event took place.
2) We created a brand: We are all fiction writers, with a number of published books, ebooks, online and print articles among us. While the work we chose to showcase was varied, we wanted to project a coherent image, so we needed a name to “brand” our group. Being wordsmiths, we came up with dozens of them, but ultimately settled on “Working Title Six.”
3) We found a welcoming venue: A local indie, Watchung Booksellers, loves writers and hosts many events to support them, so it was a natural choice. When we approached the owner Margot Sage-EL and explained our goals and strategy for publicizing the event, she agreed to keep the store open on a weekday evening for us. Working Title Six was up and running!
4) We came up with a newsworthy hook: With an abundance of writers in our town, we needed a timely angle to pitch to our newspaper. Since a few of our members have been meeting together for 10 years, we pitched our event as a “10-Year Anniversary” and took a group photo in the cozy local café where we hold our meetings. The paper ran the photo and a caption describing the event, the time, and the locale, which gave both our group and Watchung Booksellers a helpful shot of publicity. Other potential “newsworthy” hooks might be a group’s link to a popular local eatery or gearing a reading to a holiday theme.
5) We distributed a flier: Our organizer, David, designed a pithy, eye-catching flier on his computer and emailed it to all of us. We printed out copies and distributed them in cafes, store windows, and our local library libraries.
6) We used social media: We publicized the event on Facebook and listed it on several online community bulletin boards. It was also listed on the bookstore’s well-trafficked Web site.
7) We practiced our program: Once the logistics were handled, we focused on creating an enjoyable evening for our audience. We planned an hour-long event, which meant each of us had 10 minutes. We selected scenes in this time span and met twice to practice and time them. We also paid attention to the pacing of our program. We alternated a serious piece with a humorous story, for example, and ended with a story fittingly set in a bookstore.
8) We chose an MC: One member of our group, Nancy Burke-Toomey, teaches at our local university; we all agreed that she was the natural choice to act as MC — and she did a terrific job. We each wrote short intros for her and Nancy wove together our readings with humor and grace, giving the evening a smooth, seamless flow.
9) We made it a party: After the reading, we invited everyone attending to join us for wine, cider, cheese and crackers, and other treats, which we all contributed. This turned the reading into a festive evening.
10) We followed up: The day after the event, we brought a card and some flowers over to Margot at Watchung Booksellers to thank her. She commented on how professionally we’d managed the event and offered to host an encore event, which we are already planning.
In all, we organized or event over several months. In general, the logistics moved ahead quickly. Looking back, we put a lot of time and energy into structuring our showcase and this was definitely time well spent. Afterwards, people remarked on how smoothly the evening went and how the readings, while very different, seemed to come together.
All in all, our do-it-yourself event proved to be a valuable experience — and one that your writing critique group might consider as a way of broadening its reach.
Karin Abarbanel is the author of Birthing the Elephant, a start-up action guide for women, and is currently writing a historical fantasy for girls, ages 8 to 12. For inspiration, craft advice, and resources, you can visit her daily motivational blog for writers: karinwritesdangerously.wordpress.com/