Saturday, March 1, 2014

Bookstores: Remaining Relevant in an Increasingly Electronic World


Remaining Relevant in an Increasingly Electronic World

Sharman Burson Ramsey

Two years ago Mercer University Press published my first historical novel, Swimming with Serpents, and I began a journey into a whole new world. Holding the hard cover copy of my first novel was like holding one of my children for the first time. A dream come true. I, having deemed the time and people important enough to write about, thought others would be eager to read it as well. That was when the real world entered along with the realization that no one would ever learn of that time and those people if I did not become involved in the marketing and public relations of that novel.

Enter my friend and publicist, Kathie Bennett of Magic Time Literary Agency, who immediately put together a tour of festivals and book stores that opened the door to friendships and experiences I had never before dreamed. I traveled to book stores where not even a poster advertised my presence and no one showed up. I visited book stores that hosted luncheons for me to speak to a large, engaged group. I made presentations at Festivals where rooms were comped at very nice Bed and Breakfasts, hotels, and motels.

Before getting my books published I was involved with the Friends of the Library in raising money for a new library in my hometown of Dothan, Alabama. Our First Wednesday Author Event met at a local restaurant and we requested a $5 donation to the library to be added to the cost of the meal ordered by those attending. At my request, the owner of several motels in town comped a room for the author and we managed a $50 honorarium for the speaker who also sold books after the program. I also took the author to the local TV station to speak whenever possible, expanding the visibility of the author who honored our small town by giving us the gift of their time.

I recently presented at Books Alive in Panama City, a festival with which I hope to become more involved so that I can apply some of what I have learned both as a host of authors and an author myself to building an even more successful book event. Some of the points on organizing a festival might also apply to bookstore author events.

Two points I want to make are so obvious it seems almost ridiculous to have to mention them. WRITERS WRITE and BOOKSTORES AND WRITERS HAVE A SYMBIOTIC RELATIONSHIP.

  • WRITERS WRITE novels, blogs, travelogues, Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, websites, etc.
  • Publishing houses have cut back on their advertising dollars and writers must now foot the bill for their own marketing.
  • Bookstores need books that readers will read to keep their stores in business.
  • Authors need bookstores to promote their books, build interest in an author’s work, and keep readers reading so they can keep writing.

How can this symbiotic relationship be enhanced to the benefit of both the author and the book store?

  1. Bookstores could sell members of the Chamber of Commerce and Convention and Tourist Bureau on the benefit of hosting writers. A writer comes not just to the bookstore, but to community. It is to the benefit of the entire community for to offer authors complimentary housing, trolley, bus, and museum tickets, tours of the city, gift certificates to favorite local restaurants be used during the trip or to bring the writer back to the city. Writers love local color! What better publicity could a hotel, restaurant or town get than to be mentioned in a novel, on a blog, in a local, regional, or national magazine?

  2. Plan an author’s visit to a bookstore enough in advance so that the event can be listed on government websites and appear on digital signs at schools, tourist centers, and government agencies that advertise cultural events as well as through store newsletters and email. Author events benefit students, readers and aspiring writers. You never know when that personal contact might actually be the spark that ignites a career for the next John Grisham. Industry is attracted to communities friendly to the arts.

  3. Think beyond book clubs to organizations like civic organizations, ladies clubs, historical societies and genealogical societies to connect authors with readers. (I have found genealogical and historical societies to be most receptive for Swimming with Serpents and In Pursuit.)

  4. Independent stores might join forces once again calling upon a popular 19th century phenomenon to rekindle an interest in the arts and learning. Chautauqua might once again  provide social and intellectual events that bring together people who enjoy prose, poetry, and nonfiction of all types. Authors could travel a circuit visiting Independent Book Store events letting the publicity of one benefit all and in the process build a greater audience.

Ignoring this potential, cities and towns lose out on the opportunities for the publicity and good will hosting writers can bring. Cassandra King visited in the Highlands and found inspiration for Moonrise. My own novel, In Pursuit, was inspired by living in South Alabama and North Florida and developing interest in the history of the area.
Bookstores have the potential to build Community, something sadly lacking in the world today.

  1. Bookstores can be a gathering spot. Book clubs sponsored by bookstores bring people into the store and provide opportunities for friendships and intellectual challenge. They need not be limited to best sellers. Topics such as the Civil War, Local History, Victorian or Georgian Romance, Jane Austen, Harry Potter, and Beatrix Potter would attract different groups. Target ages as well as interests. Wine and cheese, tea and scones, or Kool-Aid and cupcakes could be provided.

  2. Develop a relationship with book bloggers and book clubs in your area. They will help publicize your events. Invite them to every author event. A personal relationship between author and blogger can help the bookseller sell books.

  1. The Movable Feast at Pawley’s Island, a collaboration between Litchfield Books and Art Works providing literary luncheons for the large number of retirees and permanent residents, is a perfect example of successful partnering to bring people together and enhance book sales. By visiting different restaurants, they also managed to keep some of them afloat during the off season as well demonstrating the benefit to a whole community.

  2. If the patron cannot come to the store, perhaps the store must visit the patron in the brave new world of books. Hosting book clubs at senior citizens homes and author events at retirement villages might have potential.

  3. Introduce e readers to the older generation. E readers are light enough to be held by those afflicted by arthritis, enable the reader to increase the size of print to be more easily read, and provide sufficient light so as not to demand more light in a room that may be shared. If the bookstore has developed a relationship with the reader a sense of loyalty to the bookstore will have the reader buying e-books online through KOBO with the bookstore getting a percentage of the sale.

Networking is critical to success for a bookstore, an author, and a bookstore’s customer (both adult and student) who aspires to write. By partnering with the schools and universities, bookstores can assist in making authors accessible and encourage young writers.

Bookstores perform a public service by bringing the writer and the reader together.

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