Herding Literary Cats
In the early summer, of 2022, Julie McKeon, organizer of the New Bern, NC, farmers market where I sometimes sell my books, asked me if I would organize an “Authors Sunday.” The idea was to give local authors an opportunity to market their books without competing with vendors selling meats or veggies or plants or honey, or other crafts. Foolish person that I am, I said, “Sure, Happy to do it!” How hard could that be?
It’s a great idea, so I was thrilled to organize it. Julie and I agreed that sometime in mid-fall would be perfect. We could attract local residents to start their holiday shopping without the distraction of all the big shopping events hoopla, still close enough to the holidays to inspire people to start shopping for books for the readers in their lives. New Bern has a lot of retired folks who worked somewhere else but like the feel of the lively small town where one can eat at a variety of restaurants, or drink at bars with local beers.
And in the area we delineated as meaning local, we invited authors from an hour or so north to the same distance south and the same distance east and west. Since I’m involved in several writing groups in the state, I had a lot of people who could spread the word.
One of my sources is Michelle Garren Flye, who owns Next Chapter Books and Art, right in the heart of downtown New Bern. Primarily she sells books by local authors, so she was the first person to contact. “Great idea,” was her response. “I’ll let all my local authors know to contact you.” And that she did.
But I also sent out word to authors I know in the area. Several of whom are from my various critique groups.
I also sent out word to larger writers’ organizations in our area, starting with Carteret Writers: https://carteretwriters.org. Then I notified Sherri Hollister, the current president of Pamlico Writers, located in Washington, NC, https://www.facebook.com/photo/?fbid=10161518673200176&set=p.10161518673200176 I also notified the North Carolina Writers Network to spread the word. https://www.ncwriters.org
Once I had people signing up, I started planning how to set up the space making a chart or two, which is not my fort, but I did manage to set them up. If you’re good at manipulating things like spreadsheets, go for it. Instead, I set up an alphabetical list of authors with notations about the genre, number of books, etc. Originally, I had organized the authors into groups depending on the genre. For instance, eight of us were selling just children’s books or mysteries or fantasy. So, my plan was to group them together. In the end, and this is where the cat herding image comes in, people just set up their tables where they wanted to. My plan had been to leave the middle of the room empty of booksellers but to have an area at each end for people to gather and chat or munch on food from the vendors. Then we’d have an area for people to listen to an author read aloud or be interviewed by the media people who came to cover our event.
Unfortunately, the weather was quite chilly, and not as many people showed up as we would have liked. So, if we do another fall event, it will be earlier than late November. Perhaps mid-October.
All and all, the event was deemed a success, or at least enough of a success that most people are willing to do it again.
Lessons that I have learned are:
- Make sure to have as many of the participants help out with marketing. Several of the authors were quite clever in making promotional posters, which is essential.
- Give yourself plenty of time to organize the event. For instance, I contacted the participants in early December how they felt about the event and whether they’d be interested in doing it again. Most of the responses were positive.
- Keep in contact frequently with the participants at least twice a month before in the time before the event.
- Give yourself plenty of time.
- Advertise your event every way you can, even if it means going from store to store in your downtown area and talking up the event everywhere you go, including your doctors’ offices or hairdresser/barber shop.
- Another way to advertise is to have authors with blogs interview other authors. Then repost those interviews through other bloggers. For instance, here is my re-blog of Sherri L. Hollister’s interview with Phil Bowie. (As an aside, this is a good way to promote your latest publication.) https://sarahsbookreflections.com/2022/11/18/interesting-writer-phil-bowie/
- A lot of towns have lost their print newsletters, but many have some sort of advertising paper that comes once or twice a month. Plus, local communities might have an online messaging entity where you can post notices.
- Remember that you can’t be the shy and retiring type if you want to sell your books or organize an event like this. But don’t be alarmed because most participants are so thrilled that you are putting this together; they’ll be happy to help.
- I didn’t plan for it, but it might be a good idea to have a visitor log set up at the front for customers to sign in on their way in or out.
- Make sure the facility has the heating/cooling system working properly.
- Make sure someone who runs the facility knows how to run the audio system, or arrange to have one of the authors bring sound equipment available.
- Make sure you have two or three vendors with weather-appropriate food and drink available.
- Be creative where you do your marketing. Maybe you can even set something up on your Author’s Amazon page. Be sure to market using your website, Facebook page, and anywhere else you can think of. Good luck.
Feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have questions. I’ll do my darndest to answer them.