Writing is a solitary occupation, but marketing doesn’t have to be. In fact, there are only benefits to joining others as part of a good marketing strategy. All it takes is someone with energy to start the ball rolling, someone like Beth Kanell, an author of adventure travel guides, poetry, local history, and young adult novels, who just launched The Vermont Book Shelf.
Since most of Kanell’s work is set in Vermont, and since she and her husband run Kingdom Books, a bookshop specializing in Vermont literature, Kanell started The Vermont Book Shelf to help promote the work of Vermont authors and fiction set in Vermont.
In a recent interview on Vermont Public Radio, Kanell explained that the idea behind The Vermont Book Shelf is a loose affiliation of Vermont-based literary artists seeking fellowship and sharing marketing strategy. There’s nothing formal about it: no president or secretary, or obligatory meetings. So far, there’s a blog to which Vermont writers are invited to join by contacting Kanell (email@example.com). The group grew from fifteen to over a hundred in a single week.
As Book Shelf member and author of Heron Island, R.A. “Robbie” Harold explains, “It’s like a farmer’s market for Vermont authors.” Readers interested in Vermont fiction can now find a bountiful harvest of fiction set in the Green Mountain State. Rather than foster competition between writers, the Vermont Book Shelf actually makes it easier for readers to find us all in one place.
It’s also a resource for writers. When a writer new to marketing is invited to speak at a school or a library, that newbie now has several dozen colleagues with experience to guide them through the process of asking for advice from what to wear, how long to speak, and how to ask for money. Since most writing is a solitary endeavor, most of us don’t realize that 1) we can’t show up in our pajamas; 2) public speaking is a one-shot chance; endless editing from the podium not allowed; and 3) our time is worth something.
The Vermont Book Shelf also makes it easier for outside organizations to find and to engage Vermont writers to speak at their events. In just a few weeks, Kanell, who seems to have endless energy and boundless generosity, has put out calls for various speaking gigs, serving as a kind of clearing house or speaker’s bureau. She’s also figured out how to have a bit
of fun. She sends quirky questions members can take a moment to answer, similar to this blog’s Friday Fun. Last week, she asked us to name our favorite place in Vermont. While the majority of us answered “home,” “home” is a different place for each of us. This week, we’re invited to confess if we’ve ever based a character on a grandparent. Beth posts a few replies each day, so that the site is always refreshed with new content.
Vermont is home to many writers; it’s an environment that fosters creativity. It also represents an almost mythical place of rootedness, especially to people from away. These people translate into a potential audience for Vermont writers; The Vermont Book Shelf helps develop audience for us all. It’s a win-win way to market our books.
The Vermont Book Shelf is also a place where a writer can post information about a local reading or author event that might not otherwise be publicized in a mainstream news outlet. Once readers of Vermont writing catch on to the blog, they will learn to check it for the cameo appearances Vermont authors regularly make at parades, history fairs, and other community events.
Perhaps one of the reasons I’m so enthused about the collaborative and regional nature of The Vermont Book Shelf is due to my positive experience with the New Hampshire Writer’s Network, the parent of this blog. Live to Write – Write to Live is about the writing life in all it’s myriad forms and it has shown me the success of shared work and shared glory. No single one of us could produce the variety of essays we post each week, but each of us is able to produce an essay once every two. And while the group is nominally based in New Hampshire, it includes outliers in two neighboring states as well. In addition to learning from my comrades in ink, I also benefit from extending my reach to their audience base. As a result of joining this group, I’ve developed a wider audience. And when we talk about audience, we’re talking about readers. As a writer, my object in life is to be read.
What this blog and The Vermont Book Shelf have in common includes shared effort, common purpose, expanded audience, and regional identity. At a time when competitive capitalism has landed us in a recession, and national branding has created a bland culture of sameness, cooperating locally to promote homegrown stories makes great marketing sense.
How else could writers collaborate? What kind of collaborative group would you like to be part of? How would you go about getting it off the ground?