Marketing My Self Published Book: A first-time author’s journey

First things first

Before any public appearances, clarify your on-line/social media message.  Who are you? What is your book about? Is it funny? Romantic? Dramatic? Does your book reflect your passions? Your message should be in your on-line presence. I have a website, an author Facebook page, and a twitter account.  That’s where readers go to learn about me and my novel, KINGSLEY.

Getting Book Signings on the Calendar

Indie Bookstores are a great place for indie authors.  But, be forewarned, they sometimes have problems with selling self-published… and they have a good reason: Amazon is their biggest competitor.   This can be a problem is you are using Create Space to print your book.

ON THE OTHER HAND…. Independent coffeehouses that also sell books are very accommodating and lots of fun.  Owners and managers are always looking for events to bring people in.  And customers in coffeehouses are looking for reading material.  Even if customers don’t buy my book right away, I’ve told them about my novel and given them a flyer.

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Generally my take  from the book sales is split 80-20 (I get 80%, they get 20%), especially if they are processing credit cards. But keep in mind that the purpose of this book signing isn’t just about the money.  The real purpose is to get your name and book out there.  Expand your reach to different geographical areas if you can afford the time and cost of travel.

How to make contact

Stopping in the coffeehouse for a drink and a bite to eat is the best introduction!   See the set up and talk to the staff.  Perhaps even talk with the manager.  If you can’t talk face to face, most coffeehouses have websites. Send them an email!  Here is an example:

Hi Nick,

I am a local author- I live in Charlottesville-and I was wondering if Milli Joe’s is interested in hosting a book signing. I would take care of publicity and would bring everything needed.

My novel is set in Virginia – including Charlottesville- so there is lots of local interest.

I hope we can work out a date.

Thank you very much,
Carolyn O’Neal
Carolynoneal@comcast.net

Say you get something like this in response:

Hi Carolyn,

Glad to hear you’re interested in hosting your signing at Milli!  I’m definitely very interested, we’ve hosted a couple in the past & I really enjoy this kind of thing.  We do have to be somewhat selective in booking these events to make sure they send the kind message we can get behind as an organization.  Could you tell me a little about the book?  Thanks!
Nick
Now the ball is back in your court:
Hi Nick,
Thank you so much for getting back to me.  I am an environmentalist so I usually write ecologically-themed fiction.  KINGSLEY is the title of my novel.   It’s set in Virginia (including Charlottesville) and centers on a 14 year old boy (named Kingsley) facing an environmentally driven pandemic. Comparable titles would be Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam Trilogy in that KINGSLEY starts in the present and ends around 40 years in the future.   I would recommend KINGSLEY to readers 14 years old or older.  I does have some complex science but no explicit sex or violence.
You can read more about KINGSLEY, including reviews, on Amazon at: http://amzn.to/28PfNhL
I’ve attached the flyer that I hand out at book signings.  You’ll notice that there’s a bee on the cover.  I tell people stopping by my table that in KINGSLEY,  I have taken the real world devastation of the honeybees and moved it up the food chain to humans.  This usually get their attention.  Everyone walks away with something from my table, whether it is a book, flyers from my favorite environmental groups, or insight into how they can help preserve the honeybees.
I’m flexible on date and time for the book signing.
Best regards,
Carolyn O’Neal
Set the Date and Time for this book signing and start the process again for your next book signing.

Note: This is where some prep work comes in handy.  I mentioned handing out flyers at book signings.  Flyers are also a good to give to the coffeehouse manager as an introduction to you and your book.  They should tell readers something about your book, including the cover, and contact information.

Single flyer

Drop off flyers at the coffeehouse a week before the book signing so customers will know you’re coming.  Be sure your social media is ready so customers can read about you and your book in advance.  Contact local newspapers and post your book signing on their events calendars.  Post the event on all your social media and ask friends and family to share.  Send emails about the event to everyone you know and tell everyone you see.

Finally, be prepared for whatever happens, whether you sell all the copies of your book or none at all.  You’ve spread the word and sharpened your pitch.   Pick yourself up and contact another coffeehouse and set another date.

Practice, practice, practice.

Prepping for your book signing….  Coming in my next blog post

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How One Little Idea Turned into $70,000 for Books

My how-to guide Crowdfunding for Authors is coming out in October. It’s based on three years of experience at The Artist’s Partner, working with authors who have used Kickstarter and Indiegogo to finance their publishing projects. Since 2013 these authors have raised $73,972 for novels, memoirs, children’s books, and more. And it all grew from one little idea five years ago.

author mosaic

Read more about these crowdfunded authors below.

It began when BACCA decided to periodically incorporate the “biz” of writing into our critique meetings. At our first such “biz” discussion, I floated the idea of teaching an eBook publishing class. I received an enthusiastic response, and some useful suggestions. I submitted a proposal, and was teaching my first “eBook DIY” class at WriterHouse in the spring of 2012.

It was in a subsequent class that author Stefan Bechtel (Roar of the Heavens, Mr. Hornaday’s War) was a student. He was then writing the memoir of retired action bowler Bob Perry. Bob is a quintessential New Jersey hustler, so in retrospect it’s no surprise that he and Stefan were the first to suggest that maybe this “Kickstarter thing” could be used to fund their book. They hired me to orchestrate the campaign, and in September of 2013 we raised $6,945 for what was then titled Bowling for the Mob. By the following April it had been picked up by Rodale Press for a sizable contract, national distribution, and a makeover that included the title change to Redemption Alley.

By the fall of the next year I was guiding four crowdfunding campaigns simultaneously. I was onto something! It’s been a steep learning curve, with many mistakes and victories along the way. Crowdfunding books is hard – only 29.5% make it. That makes me all the more proud of my authors’ success rate of 97%. Here are what I’ve observed are the top five reasons for their impressive levels of success:

  1. Great cover design purchased prior to the campaign. People judge a book by its cover – even on Kickstarter.
  2. Firm commitments of 40% of their fundraising target locked down prior to campaign launch. Only 29% of books succeed – but 97% of books that cross the 40%-funded threshold succeed.
  3. Email and social media lists right-sized to cover the additional 60%. There’s too much math involved to explain “right-sized” here in this post, but suffice to say: these authors had, or developed, good connections with their prospective readers during the 3-12 months prior to their campaigns.
  4. Photos of their faces. Many (introverted) writers hate this, but people respond to faces. It’s called Facebook.
  5. Commitment to the process. Crowdfunding is a marathon, not a sprint. These authors put in the training, and then ran their best race.

crowdfunding for authors draft coverI’m thrilled to be publishing the guidebook that helped these authors to crowdfund their books, because you can crowdfund your book, too. Crowdfunding for Authors is itself available for preorder on Indiegogo, and will be released on Amazon in October.

Bethany Joy Carlson

Here are the amazing authors who have raised over $70,000 with The Artist’s Partner since 2013!

Organized as follows: Author / Platform – Title (availability).

Zack Bonnie / Indiegogo – Dead, Insane, or In Jail: Overwritten (Coming fall 2016)
Marc Boston / Kickstarter – The Girl Who Carried Too Much Stuff (Amazon)
Ramgiri Braun / Indiegogo – HeartSourcing (Amazon)
Lizzy Duncan, B. Cunningham, G. Jackson / Kickstarter – Camila’s Lemonade Stand (Amazon)
Jenny Edmondson / Kickstarter – GroomsDay (Amazon)
Mary Buford Hitz / Kickstarter – Riding to Camille (Audible)
Peter Kalifornsky and Katherine McNamara / Indiegogo– From the First Beginning, When the Animals Were Talking (iTunes)
Priya Mahadevan / Kickstarter – Princesses Only Wear Putta-Puttas (Amazon)
Belinda Miller / Did not fund – published anyway! – Above the Stars (Amazon)
Carolyn O’Neal / Kickstarter – Kingsley (Amazon)
Bob Perry and Stefan Bechtel / Kickstarter – Redemption Alley (Amazon)

 

7 Things I’ve Learned About Writing From Casting

Bethany casting a major motion picture in 2014... right before 1,055 boys and their entourages arrived

Bethany casting a major motion picture in 2014… right before 1,055 boys and their entourages arrived

One of my favorite jobs is being a Casting Assistant for Arvold.

A funny thing happens when you work casting. Actors come up to you and ask, “why didn’t (my son / my niece / my spouse) I get the part?!?”

If I’m ever feeling low about my rejections (I’m currently 0 for 2 this year on screenwriting competitions), I remind myself of these seven things I’ve learned about writing from casting.

  1. There’s a lottery element to producing creative work. I recently assisted at an “open call”, e.g. an audition for a major motion picture that was open to the public. We auditioned ONE THOUSAND FIFTY FIVE boys in four hours. We turned away over a thousand more. The police had to direct traffic. Art is tied to dreams, and a lot of people share the dream of seeing their creative work produced and shared and enjoyed. So the competition is stiff. It’s just not statistically sound to expect more yesses than noes.
  2. It’s worth it to show up even if I don’t book the gig. Most of the actors I see don’t book the part they’re auditioning for. But, I get to see them work. Which means when I’m brainstorming whom to call for the next project, the faces I’ve seen over and over again leap to mind. Familiarity is powerful. If you’re professional on the phone and email, show up on time, take direction, and keep your cool, you’re showing that you’re a pro – even if you don’t book this particular gig. So I make sure when I’m talking with agents, editors, producers, and other professionals, I’m behaving myself accordingly. Even if they don’t bite on my project. Yet.
  3. A performance can be amazing – and not right for the job. I have cried at auditions where the actor did not book the part. If we are looking for a haggard woman crying over the death of her son, and the actor is young and beautiful, they may nail the performance but simply not be right for the role. I submitted to a comedy screenplay contest earlier this year. My script is good, but it is dark. I call it a dark comedy, but reviewers call it a comedic drama. If the contest winner turns out to be a classic slapstick comedy, I’ll know my submission just was not right for what the judges were looking for.
  4. No performance happens in a vacuum. No actor’s performance stands alone in a film or TV show. It needs to be compatible with the other performances. If we’ve already cast 10 of 20 speaking roles for a particular show, the other 10 roles that remain to be cast need actors who complement the rest. The same holds true for a publisher’s line-up. If I submit a Young Adult manuscript about a 15-year-old Physics prodigy, and the publisher is already about to debut a Young Adult book about a 15-year-old Astrophysics prodigy, that’s just my bad luck. My book does not exist in a vacuum.
  5. Some days are bad days. This doesn’t really need an explanation. Even good actors have a bad day and turn in a lackluster performance. Sometimes my writing has no spark. C’est la vie.
  6. Some actors aren’t ready yet. We’re doing emerging actors a favor by not putting them in roles they can’t carry. Ideally, we want to set everyone up so they can succeed. Frankly, when I look back on it, I’m really relieved some of the manuscripts I submitted never got picked up. I would not want my major debut to have been that (in hindsight) overwritten mess.
  7. Beautiful and photogenic are not the same thing. I’m still trying to come to grips with the difference between what looks good to the naked eye and what works on camera. There are a lot of differences, actually: What works on stage is massive overkill on camera. Comic timing and dramatic connection are not the same muscle. Large features on a face may look a bit strange in person, but the camera lens may love them. And lots of actors are still trying to work out where exactly their talent lies – and auditions can help that process, because experts are effectively giving feedback over time based on what kinds of jobs an actor ultimately books. I felt that way about my writing for a long time. Do I write short stories? Fables? YA? Flash fiction? Graphic novels? It wasn’t until I really dug into screenwriting that I felt like I found my true strength.

I guess if there’s one thing to take away about writing from casting, it’s that persistence and professionalism pay off. Don’t take rejection personally; it’s probably moving you closer to your goal.

 

Arvold casts award-winning film (Lincoln), television (Turn: Washington’s Spies), and commercials (just wait till you see the Williamsburg Tourism commercial coming in 2015). If you are interested in learning more about film and television in the Mid-Atlantic, consider attending one of the monthly Arvold Live sessions – they are an invaluable discussion with industry pros about how Virginia’s star is rising for actors – and everyone who works in the business.

Bethany Joy Carlson writes dark comedy screenplays. (Or comedic dramas, depending on whom you ask.) She is a WriterHouse Board member, owner of TheArtistsPartner.com, and founder of BACCA.

The 5th Annual Hampton Roads Writers Conference – Day Two

September 18, 2013, Virginia Beach, Virginia

Day Two

To read about Day One, click here!

8:30 am:

Bestselling Author Lisa McMann

Lisa McMann

Lisa McMann, Author

Day Two began with introductory remarks by New York Times bestselling author Lisa McMann.

Lisa is the author of the WAKE Trilogy, the VISIONS series, the UNWANTEDS series, and other books with tween and teen characters. She talked about her road to publishing success. She spoke of the joys of balancing a writing career with her life as a wife and mother.

She also spoke of the abuse she faced after becoming an author, such as bad reviews and hateful “fan” mail.

9:45 am:

The First Ten Lines Critique Session

Conference participants (including me) could submit the first ten lines of their manuscript (anonymously, thank goodness) for professional – and public – critique.  The critiquing panel consisted of the three visiting agents – Ethan Vaughan, Jeff Ourvan, and Dawn Dowdle, as well as author Lisa McMann.

Here are a few pointers about submitting to agents:

  • Number one rule for all agents is  FOLLOW SUBMISSION GUIDELINES. Agents are looking for reasons to say “NO,” and incorrect formatting, misspelling the agent’s name, sending attachment when explicitly told not to send attachments are all reason to instantly reject a query letter and sample.
  • Grammar is important. Hire a proofreader, especially if grammar is your weak point.
  • Avoid clichés.
  • Make sure your verbs carry the emotional weight of the story. Stay away from adjectives and adverbs.
  • Avoid lengthy italics. An overuse of italics in a manuscript looks amateurish and is a symptom of unpreparedness.
  • Vary short and long sentences to create tension for the reader.
  • Don’t quote unknown or obscure books. This pulls the reader out of story.

11:00 am:   

Getting Ready for My Very First Pitch to a Literary Agent (Yippee!)

The Hampton Roads Writers Conference offered the opportunity to meet with one of the three visiting literary agents and present a ten-minute pitch. I jumped at the chance. This would be the first time I’d ever met with a real-live literary agent, and obviously, the first time I’d pitched my manuscript. Yes, I’d written query letters and attended agent roundtables at the Virginia Festival of the Book, but this was my first sit-down, face to face meeting. I was meeting with Ethan Vaughan of Kimberley Cameron & Associates. I had only ten minutes with Mr. Vaughan, beginning at 11:15 am., but I was ready.

. . . Or, at least I thought I was ready before I’d attended Chantelle Osman’s Perfecting Your Pitch session  (See day one.).  According to Ms. Osman, I’d done several things wrong. I’d written my pitch (and even made a copy for the agent.  Talk about being overwritten!)  I’d practiced my pitch until I could recite it in my sleep, and I’d even timed it perfectly. If I didn’t pause, it would take eight of my ten minutes, leaving me two minutes for questions and answers.

Wrong!

Wrong!

Wrong!

Ms. Osman explicitly said that pitches shouldn’t sound rehearsed.  Oh well, too late to change it now.

I arrived at the small conference room on the second floor of the Westin Hotel early. One table, two chairs. Mr. Vaughan wasn’t there yet. No one was there. I was his first pitch of the conference. Was that a good omen or bad? The timekeeper – the man who’d tell me when my ten minutes were up – arrived.  He told me I could take a seat but I declined. I wanted Mr. Vaughan to choose which seat he wanted first, and then I’d take the other. I didn’t want to do anything to make him feel uncomfortable. (I felt uncomfortable enough for the both of us. )

Waiting, waiting - photo of a clockface

Waiting, waiting

I watched the clock. 11:00… 11:05… 11:10. I paced the hallway outside the conference room, practicing my new Tai Chi moves. Part the wild horse mane, white crane spreads its wings, needle at sea bottom. 11:12. . . . 11:13. I could hear people coming down the hallway, talking. 11:14  . . . 11:15. I hurried back to the room, notebook with the copies of my pitch in hand, big smile on my face.

Introductions

I eagerly shook Mr. Vaughan’s hand and told him how impressed I was with his literary agency, Kimberley Cameron & Associates, their book list, and their well-known dedication to their authors. Mr. Vaughan enthused about Ms. Cameron’s devotion to her agents and her clients, which I found both heartwarming and endearing.

photo of Ethan Vaughan

Ethan Vaughan, Literary Agent

I glanced at the clock. Eight minutes left! No time for small talk. I plunged in. I read my pitch as fast as I could. Head down, monotone, my mind blank.  AND I MEAN BLANK!

If you’d asked me at that moment what my book was about – the book that I’ve worked on for years, the book I’ve dedicated my life to, the book I’ve dreamed about, the book I’ve given up being with family for — if you’d asked me at that moment, I couldn’t have told you who the main characters were, let alone the plot. I was as stiff as a robot.

I looked up to take a breath and knew I’d made a mistake. My pitch was too long and too detailed.  I’d given him more of a synopsis than a pitch. Mr. Vaughan was very kind. He asked questions and I tried to answer. I told him this was my first pitch ever and I was very nervous. He says I did a good job (proof that literary agents do indeed tell lies) and gave me a few suggestion for the “next time” I pitched to an agent.

I left knowing I wouldn’t get a contract but proud of myself for giving it a shot. I’d met many writers who were too shy to pitch their stories, or too afraid. I was shy and afraid, too, but I learned something very valuable in the process. Mr. Vaughan was polite, considerate and helpful. He gave me suggestions for the next time I pitch my  story, which was a very generous gift, indeed.

— Carolyn O’Neal

Carolyn O’Neal is a co-founder of BACCA Literary

Kickstarter For Writers

Most Kickstarter publishing category campaigns fail to raise even a fifth of their funding goals. Data nerds like me may want to visit kickstarter.com/help/stats for the full post-mortem. Suffice to say: raising money to publish your book is really hard.

Failure Rate

But it’s not impossible. I have produced successful Kickstarter campaigns for writers, ranging from a gritty New Jersey mob memoir with a ten-pin twist, to a gleefully adorable children’s picture book introducing entrepreneurship. Their successes were not a coincidence. Despite their very different audiences, their paths to success were nearly the same.

Bowling For The Mob  Camila's Lemonade Stand

I’m looking forward to teaching an afternoon workshop at WriterHouse on February 16, 2014, to walk through these case studies and what we can learn from them. For now, I’m happy to share three of the ten essentials for Kickstarter success for writers.

  1. Tap into your extrovert and PROMOTE. This is conjecture, but perhaps the reason book campaigns fail disproportionately is because writers tend to be introverts. We want that loophole whereby our work will be found without us having to tell anyone about it. Nope. The Kickstarter campaign is excellent sales boot camp. For both Bowling For The Mob and Camila’s Lemonade Stand, we had a month of promotion prior to the campaign before launch. The goal was to make sure everyone relevant heard about the campaign at least 10 times during the 30 days before launch, through the 30 days up to close.
  2. Map out the money in advance. The occasional Kickstarter campaign goes viral, even books. However, all 125,000 campaigns in the history of Kickstarter have not. In all likelihood, yours will not. So you need to know both exactly how much money you need to produce your book, and exactly where that money is going to come from. After learning the nail-biting hard way on Bowling For The Mob, for Camila’s Lemonade Stand we went through a detailed Kickstarter Estimator process before the campaign launch. This was like a wedding guest list, but with the added columns of how much money the invitees were likely to pledge, and for what kind of reward. Then we applied the 65% rule – because not everyone we invited to the campaign was going to show up (they didn’t).  So let’s say we need to raise $6,500 to produce a book. We sit down and tally up all of our friends, colleagues, family, and fans, and what they’re likely to pledge. That comes to $10,000. We multiply by 65%, get $6,500, and voila, this is a campaign that has a chance to succeed. If, on the other hand, we need $20,000 to produce the book, and then we tally up our likely pledges and that comes to $5,000, well… we don’t even need to bother with the 65% rule. This campaign is almost certainly going to fail. 65 Rule
  3. Shoot a decent, short video. Kickstarter makes a big deal about having a video – any video. People want to see and hear from you. Good light and good sound go a long ways towards making a homemade video watchable. For Bowling For The Mob we had Bob sit directly under a skylight and used a microphone and an iPhone propped on a soda cup; For the Camila’s Lemonade Stand video we used a bright floor lamp with the shade removed behind the camera and a Samsung Galaxy phone with a tripod and microphone. Neither of these videos will win any awards, but they are watchable, informative, and they are SHORT. Don’t underestimate how brief attention spans are. Keep it under 3 minutes.

No Oscars. Successfully funded.

These 3 are the tip of the iceberg. At the seminar we’ll be covering how to tap into the extrovert and promote, how to map out the money in advance, and how to shoot a decent, short video. We’ll also be covering how to pick rewards and at what pledge levels, the (somewhat complicated) mechanics of setting up the necessary accounts for payment processing, some (hilarious!) case studies of what not to do, how to stay within key Kickstarter guidelines so that your project gets approved, what to do when you hit the mid-campaign slump, among other essential elements to success.

kickstarter for writers

If you only take away one idea from this post, it would be “if you build it, they will come” does not apply to Kickstarter. Some lucky folks are salespeople by nature. The rest of us need to practice the steps to master them. And it’s easier to do it with a team.

This creepy crap only works in 80’s Costner movies

If you’ve read this whole post thinking, “what the heck is Kickstarter?!?”, you’re not alone. For Bowling For The Mob, the campaign was the first Kickstarter experience for the writers and a majority of the people who pledged. It’s a fundraising platform for artistic projects which, since 2009, has raised nearly a billion dollars. The best way to learn more is to wander around on Kickstarter.com. Enjoy!

If you’re considering Kickstarter to fund your book, it’s hard – but possible. No hocus pocus required.

Please consider yourself invited to the Kickstarter for Writers seminar at WriterHouse on 2/2/14.

Please visit the successful campaigns for Bowling For The Mob and Camila’s Lemonade Stand.

And, please feel free to stop by The Artist’s Partner for more information on the services I provide – like Kickstarter campaign production – to artists who want to keep a bigger share of the profits by producing and distributing their work.

Bethany Joy Carlson is a co-founder of BACCA Literary, a WriterHouse board member, and founder of The Artist’s Partner.

Don’t worry. You can’t pitch worse than 90’s Farley movies

Business for Critique Groups

BACCA meets monthly to discuss and critique our writing projects. Sometimes we extend the meeting to include “Business.” What does that mean? What business could we possibly have, as a noncommercial private critique group?

Image courtesy of cooldesign / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of cooldesign / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

When we began our routine of monthly meetings, it wasn’t long before we were reluctant to leave when the critiques were done. We wanted to keep talking – about who had submitted work to publications and contests, who had been sending out query letters to agents, the considerations for and against self-publishing an e-book, the best tools to keep track of submissions, queries and responses. On a related point, we were quick to provide moral support when the agent was silent, or the contest was not won.

One month, a member submitted her own writer-website as her work-in-progress. This helped lead us all to the gradual realization that we were each struggling, in various ways, with how to present ourselves publicly as writers. One of us, after reading up on author platform, branding and the like, suggested we might benefit from working together to pin down our author identity: What our persona is, for the purposes of placing our manuscripts, blogging, reading publicly, and marketing our work. We extended our next regular session to include a Business meeting.

To prepare, based on an idea from a music-performance coach, each of us agreed to choose three words or terms that described us as a writer. Then we’d provide constructive feedback – we were by then familiar enough to trust one another with this sensitive work. Digging in at the meeting, we brainstormed and came up with terms that felt juicier and more attuned to our identities as writers. For example, from Impatient | Imaginative | Honest, Bethany ended up with Decisive | Powerful | Storyteller. Claire’s takeaway words were: Candid | Insightful | Compassionate. She had started with Unconventional | Perceptive | Humane.

Two years on, Claire and Bethany still like their three words: “At the time it was something I aspired to, and now it’s a core part of my identity. It went from who I wanted to be, to who I am,” says Bethany about the experience.

This illustrates a larger, perhaps unanticipated, consequence of our Business meetings. Focusing on “Business” focuses us on our purpose as writers, and our relationships with the larger world. Carolyn explains, “The first Business meeting legitimized the time I was spending writing. Made me feel ‘real,’ like writing wasn’t just a lark. It wasn’t a hobby that wouldn’t amount to anything. The people we associate with are our mirrors. Associating with BACCA gave me confidence in my writing.”

After that three-words exercise, we enjoyed that year’s Virginia Festival of the Book. One of us suggested we offer to present a session at the Festival in 2013. We agreed to go for it. Needless to say, a good deal of business was involved in the planning for that panel. Session proposals were due to the Festival in October. Over the summer, we each drafted a proposal. From those four, we committed to a panel about how to create a great writing group. Each of us signed on for specific tasks with calendared deadlines – promotion, graphics, web, social media, liaison with the Festival organizers, etc.

We set up a group photo shoot, on the theory that, whether or not our proposal became a presentation at VaBook, some good author-headshots would come in handy. A local photographer, Fareine Benz, met us in Crozet before we began that month’s critique meeting, and took individual as well as group photos. We wanted the group photos for our own writer-group website, baccaliterary.com, and – we hoped – publicity for the Festival of the Book 2013.

red piece

Image courtesy of Idea Go / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Speaking of which, we added some Business time to another critique meeting, to agree on a way forward with the BACCA website – what we wanted it for, what purposes it served, how to get a logo and a graphic ‘look,’ what content we wanted to keep as permanent resources, how frequently we intended to add new blog posts (like this one) to it in future, etc.

We went live with our website in time to use it as a promotional tool for our panel – yes, our proposal got the thumbs-up! – at the Festival of the Book in March, 2013. Each of us wrote one or more permanent resource pages for the website, one member organized the design aspects, and we reimbursed another member, who had the foresight to have reserved the domain name baccaliterary.com. Our first blog posts concerned the Festival – promoting our appearance beforehand, and telling the story of our experience, afterwards.

When we set up a weekend retreat a few weeks before the Festival, we planned to focus on an overnight writing challenge, and prepare for the presentation coming up soon. Business items came up that weekend, too. We decided to table them until after the Festival.

The panel at the 2013 Festival of the Book went well. It also provoked more questions about our identity and purpose. At our next extended critique session, we set aside time to talk about where our writer group was going as an entity. Did we want to work together providing literary services? Did we want to alternate or redefine our leadership responsibilities? Did we want to collaborate with local groups for joint projects? We tabled those questions, for discussion at the next Business meeting.

What would we blog about? Who would manage website maintenance? We agreed to a monthly schedule for new blog posts, rotating authorship and subject matter. Did we want to send in a proposal to the Festival of the Book 2014? Deferring that larger issue, we requested feedback from the 2013 Festival organizers, to see what people had said after attending our session.

We recently received the compiled comments from our audience members at BACCA’s VaBook panel last spring. Overall the feedback was quite positive, with nuggets like these: “Fantastic to see another perspective on writing.” “Great ideas to improve our writing group.” “ Excellent handout.” “Extremely well organized and presented; thoughtful; as advertised; a lovely contribution to the festival!”

Constructive criticism came from someone who said with more audience involvement the session would not have lapsed into feeling a bit ‘self-congratulating.’ Another person requested specifics on writing and illustrating for children’s books, and someone else wanted to hear from a variety of writer’s groups. A few commenters suggested we extend opportunities for audience participation next time.

Image courtesy of cooldesign / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of cooldesign / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

More recently, our Business has included keeping the BACCA blog fresh with monthly posts, and plotting our next steps, as individual writers and as actors in the larger world of letters. We keep each other apprised of interesting news and commentary, and notes from writer conferences, through our private facebook page. Throughout it all, we’ve kept our monthly critiques going. BACCA member works in progress currently include memoir, graphic novel, short story and novel formats.

So, why do we hold Business meetings and what do we get out of them? As Bethany puts it, “they help to set writer goals that become a reality.” I agree. Our Business meetings recognize that even for relative newbies like us, the business side of writing is something to engage with, rather than avoid.

It may be coincidence, but since we began our Business meetings, a couple of years ago, Carolyn completed a novel and wrote a prize-winning short story for the Hook’s annual fiction contest, Claire edited the recently published book, Braver than You Believe, Bethany founded a literary enterprise and I got involved with publishing and author coaching.

So can you guess what we’ll be discussing at our next Business meeting? Judging from past experience, I’d wager there’ll be a few surprises. I can hardly wait.

A M Carley