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What Author Groups Can Do for You

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by Linda Carlson, Reporter, IBPA Independent magazine —

Photo of Linda Carlson

Linda Carlson

Writing is usually a lonely job, and even if your authors participate in writers’ groups, they often lack a professional network that can help them help their books by, for example, finding an affordable photographer who will produce an engaging author photo or giving a talk-show interview that will spur sales.

With the many hats everyone must wear in an independent press, it’s impossible to provide individual attention for every author’s every question. That’s why many different kinds of publishers are encouraging their authors to network with each other, through online groups, through occasional author dinners or group events, and through formal networking organizations.

The Here’s-How Advantage

In Ranger, GA, Tony Burton has discovered he can get authors communicating with each other when he introduces current topics in publishing through a Google Group. Originally, he says, “I simply tried to get my authors to interact with one another via email, and that was only moderately successful, usually among the authors involved in a single anthology. Last year, with Google Groups, I created a networking group dedicated to authors under each one of my company’s three imprints: Wolfmont Press, Honey Locust Press, and Denouement Press.”

Burton, who posts what he calls “snippets of bookselling and publishing news” every week, says use of the Google Group has been far greater than he expected. “These bits of information usually result in discussion, and sometimes lead to more discussions of promotion and how-to’s,” he reports. “When authors have upcoming events, I encourage them to share the schedule via the group. Afterward, I encourage them to share how these events went, what worked and what didn’t, and this encourages discussion as well.”

As an example of how the Google Group has facilitated mentoring, Burton recalls an author who asked her peers for help before publication of her book. When “she posted that she was very unsure how to promote her book, that she had no clue what to say in front of a group,” she was delighted that several experienced authors responded with suggestions of topics, brief scripts for opening a discussion, and such supportive comments as, ‘You talk about yourself: why you wrote the book, why you’re a writer, the joys and heartaches’; ‘You talk about the setting of the book, about your characters, about the plot, and then open it up for questions’; and ‘It won’t be hard after you’ve done it once.’”

Living Oracles has set up something similar, a private, authors-only forum tied to its Web site. As soon as the company works out the bugs, it will add a live chat feed to this, says publisher Pat Adair, who explains that the forum has two parts—a “front” end that provides a community for aspiring writers and people who like books, and a “back” end open only to company staff and 20 authors under contract to the company.

These private boards are for communicating about production, editing, specific projects, and ideas regarding new product ideas, sales, and marketing—the nuts and bolts. “For us, a critical component of retaining good authors is to treat them with respect and provide real access to the publisher and support from staff,” Adair says. “The forum helps us do this, and so do the production meetings.”

In addition, authors are invited to the publisher’s Hayden, ID, offices every other week for the staff’s project meetings. “Obviously, only those authors who live nearby can attend meetings, but being there gives authors the opportunity to stay in contact with one another, see where their projects are in the process, see what is being done on other projects, and discuss problems and ideas with one another. It helps the publisher as well because we can bounce ideas off the authors without delay.”

Living Oracles posts minutes of each project meeting for authors who cannot be there.

For an anthology with 11 contributors, Word Forge Books formed a Yahoo! Group. “I hoped the contributors would decide to work together on joint appearances, but they are spread out all over the United States, Canada, and even Greece, so that wasn’t realistic,” Mary Shafer explains. “However, they did use the forum quite a bit the first year that the book was out, to announce what they were doing, share ideas and suggestions—pretty much exactly what we intended.”

Traffic in the group has slowed now that the anthology is backlist, the Ferndale, PA, publisher adds, but she’s “pleased to see that the authors continue to be interested in each other’s work. Now they use the group more for sharing funny or success stories of their appearances or particularly successful signings/sales.”

What Shafer would like to do is what other publishers have done: create an author-only forum on the company Web site. She believes this would be easier to use than the Yahoo! interface, and she assumes that embedding free software such as Nabble might generate traffic that could lead to the site being crawled more often. In turn, that would increase Word Forge’s search engine rankings.

Actually in Touch

At Interweave Press, many of the craft-book authors meet informally after their presentations at the company’s consumer events (Weekend with the Wire Masters and Spin-Off Autumn Retreat, for example). “We’ve also hosted author receptions at trade shows like the twice-annual National Needlearts Show,” reports Jaime Guthals, Interweave public relations director. At those meet-the-author events for yarn-shop booksellers, “authors inevitably end up talking with each other and build friendships, especially authors who return show after show and see each other a few times a year. “

Guthals also curates several company Twitter teams on sites such as twitter.com/InterweaveNews/interweaveauthors. “We encourage our readers to follow the entire team, and once the authors discover each other, we see them following each other’s work, and blogs and bonds develop because they share a publisher. Recent posts included comments on current craft prototypes, upcoming presentations, and learning to photograph crafts projects.”

Although the University of Washington Press has no online community for its authors, several of its frontlist authors got to network in person while promoting their books last winter, when the press was invited to have display tables at Seattle-area Costco stores for special after-hours sales events.

At Paramount Market Publishing in Ithaca, NY, the niche is marketing and market research, and authors often network with help from the press, which makes author contact information available and hosts dinners for authors in conjunction with company executives’ travels. Besides citing each other’s work and sharing information about speaking opportunities, authors sometimes mentor each other one-on-one.

Doris Walsh, editorial director, reports that Joe Kutcher, author of a Paramount Marketing book about using the Internet to reach the Latino audience in the United States and globally, “did a virtual tour for the book and then coached several of our other authors on how to do tours.”

Another Paramount Market author, Pam Danziger, sought the help of fellow author Andrea Syverson for new exercises to use with corporate clients and ended up interviewing Syverson for her latest book.

North Star Press has done a lot to promote author networking, says Seal Dwyer, business manager. Now, with issues arising from Borders Books & Music being in bankruptcy and Barnes & Noble eliminating its small-press buyer and regional buyers, she reports that the family-owned St. Cloud, MN, company is relying more than ever on alternative marketing. “So we’ve got authors working together to present at art shows, the state fair, and other nontraditional venues,” she says, adding that the press has created a Facebook page for each of them and a Google Group, and that “each author has access to all the other authors.”

North Star also hosts a couple of author events each year, including a recent barbecue. “We want our authors to talk to each other and work together as much as possible, and we’re doing whatever we can to facilitate this,” Dwyer says.

Stephens Press in Las Vegas has no listserv, blog, or LinkedIn group just for its 100-plus authors, but many of them live in southern Nevada and are willing to work together for signings, workshops, interviews, and events. At programs such as the Las Vegas Writers Conference, which is sponsored by the press, its authors receive special invitations to receptions and are introduced as Stephens authors. All of them are also subscribed to the company blog, WorkingTitlez.com, and are encouraged to write guest posts, says Carolyn Hayes Uber, president.

Piggybacking Tactics

Eileen Kennedy-Moore, a clinical psychologist who has been published by Jossey-Bass, Little, Brown, Guilford Press, and Parenting Press, says none of her publishers has arranged any “author camaraderie.” “Whether such a group would be valuable to me would depend on whether the authors had similar goals and interests and could somehow help each other. I’m always interested in learning about marketing that has been successful for other authors, but I’m too swamped to mentor newbie authors on any kind of regular basis. I’m definitely not interested in listening to anyone complain.”

Kennedy-Moore says she relies on the online forum and annual conference sponsored by the American Society of Journalists and Authors, whose members are experienced writers with at least two traditionally published books or several articles in national publications. To a lesser extent, she networks through the New Jersey chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.

At Vanderblumen Publications in La Mesa CA, Glenna A. Bloemen also emphasizes the value of networking through professional groups. In her case, it’s Publishers & Writers of San Diego, which she describes as an organization focused on the business of selling books. Bloemen is working to expand the association’s Read Local program, which showcases groups of authors, into east San Diego County. This would provide opportunities for her author clients to sell their books and network with each other, she notes.

Writers Kiyo Sato, Frances Kakugawa, and Patricia Canterbury got to know each other through another California professional association, Northern California Publishers and Authors—and thanks to that group, they were signed by Barry Schoenborn of Willow Valley Press in Nevada City, who is now its president-elect.

Danforth Prince also encourages such relatively traditional means of networking at Blood Moon Productions in Staten Island, NY. “My authors—older witnesses to the nuances and cover-ups and shenanigans of golden-age Hollywood—are not particularly adept at social networking, and the technology of those media does not appeal to them at all,” he says. But they usually already know each other, and they talk shop among themselves by telephone, sometimes as often as every two weeks. Prince makes sure media appearances and launches of show business biographies get Twitter and Facebook coverage.

PassPorter Travel Press authors have also often done lots of networking before they sign book contracts. Publisher Dave Marx reports that “posts and online interaction through the PassPorter.com message-board community serve as the first steps in a ‘stealth’ audition process” for “nearly all” authors the press signs. “We get to know them as people and as writers,” he explains. “We learn whether they can relate information clearly and accurately. Some members become message-board moderators (‘PassPorter Guides’), taking on the leadership of particular topic-forums. As Guides, they participate in a private Guides’ forum, further reinforcing their social ties.”

By the time they are offered contracts, most have been communicating and socializing with each other for years, he continues. “These relationships take place online, and in organized, face-to-face gatherings. When one author wants to reach out to another, it’s a matter of sending a ‘Private Message’ via the message board system.”

Co-op Opportunities

The most formal program for facilitating interaction among authors published by the same company is at Berrett-Koehler, a San Francisco publisher that has encouraged a separate nonprofit 501(3)c for author networking and development.

The Berrett-Koehler Cooperative started out in the mid-’90s as an informal group, an “authors’ council.” In the late 1990s, co-op members held their first retreat, and now the retreat is an annual three-day event, with BK authors leading all the workshops and providing the entertainment (including a Saturday night improv talent show). No speakers are paid, one reason that fees stay low, and this year $6,000 was available in scholarships for low-income authors. The scholarship fund is made possible by the co-op’s revenue-generating project, a two-day marketing workshop, open to all in the industry, that it has sponsored for most of the last decade.

Jamie Showkeir, a Phoenix consultant who is a member of the co-op board of directors, says the workshop helps authors keep up with changes in marketing. “My first book was self-published in 2001, and the industry has changed dramatically since then,” he points out. “The marketing workshop is where co-op attendees can learn about cutting-edge marketing.”

All traditionally published BK authors are automatically members of the co-op, and all are eligible to register for all programs. (Authors published through BK’s new Open Book Editions are associate members.) About 50 register each year for the annual retreat, and Stewart Levine, an Oakland, CA, consultant who served for eight years as the co-op president, estimates that as many as a third of all BK authors have attended at least one retreat. Involved since the co-op’s beginning, Levine says authors of business books have been the core of the co-op community. The scholarship fund and an emphasis on geographically accessible retreat sites are two efforts to get more of BK’s activist authors to participate.

BK authors see many other advantages to the co-op. Every newly signed author gets a call from a member of the co-op’s membership committee, offering support, and the Mentoring Moments program encourages authors to either mentor or seek mentors. Members also often work together to promote each other’s books; they have LinkedIn and Facebook pages and a blog, and a speakers’ bureau is in the planning phase.

Participating on the board, as both Showkeir and Levine have done, offers additional networking opportunities. “I spend two or three hours a week on it,” reports Showkeir, “and it provides me with a serious connection to great thinkers and writers—I get to pick their brains.”

“It’s an empowering experience, the fellowship and collegiality of like-minded authors,” Levine adds, pointing out how lonely writing can be, even for those whose books are successful. He also values the support that authors can provide for each other, and the mentoring—“Here’s what you can expect; here are some resources you can consider.”

Another enthusiastic endorsement comes from Devora Zack, whose first book Berrett-Koehler published a year ago. “When I became a BK author, I was blown away by the warm community created by the co-op. Beyond the tangible benefits, the friendships and collaborative relationships formed are invaluable. As a new author writing about introverts and networking, I was amazed by the spontaneous emails, articles, and resource links that numerous BK authors sent to encourage and support me.”

Linda Carlson (lindacarlson.com) writes from Seattle.

How-to’s for Author Networking

“Any resources you invest in a co-op will result in such dividends as loyal authors, increased marketing success, and quality books,” say Devora Zack, recently published by Berrett-Koehler Publishers. “The co-op authors help each other through challenges and with book ideas, and we actually promote, purchase, and recommend each other’s books.”

Convinced by Zack’s endorsement of groups such as the Berrett-Koehler Co-op? If you’re considering a similar organization, or something simpler, these six tips will be helpful:

Ask authors what they want. Outline several options and the advantages you see in each. Try to include both low-tech and social marketing options. Some authors will want to network only with people who write on similar topics; others may be reluctant to share ideas with writers they regard as competitors. Recognize that some authors have limited time and energy and need ways to contribute quickly and easily.

Provide publisher support. This can be financial; at BK, for example, the publisher provided seed money and paid the first year’s dues for each author during the co-op start-up phase, when dues were necessary. Or support can be as minimal as establishing Facebook and LinkedIn groups open only to your authors and company staff.

Publicize the networking options. Encourage current authors to contribute ideas from their books (as Paramount Market’s author did about Latino markets) or from their experience (giving talks in bookstores, for example).

Provide “talking points” by posting industry and company news.

Encourage in-person conversations. Invite authors to conferences or trade shows you’re attending, and try to meet with them at least briefly when you’re traveling in, or even through, their cities. Offer authors the opportunity to appear together at conferences, on writers’ group panels, and at signings.

Circulate author contact information. Some groups provide a directory with complete contact information; others have the publisher’s publicists’ provide contact information when an author asks for it. You might circulate only the information authors have made public, such as their Web site URLs. Or you can create an email address for each author at your domain; if you have the time to screen messages, this alias can forward messages to you, and you can then determine which to forward to an author. Or the messages sent to your domain can be set up to forward directly to an author’s personal email.

Selected Vendors for Free Networking Groups

Google Groups(groups.google.com/support/bin/answer.py?answer=46601).Messages are displayed next to “relevant” text ads. Google says a Google Group allows you to manage and archive your mailing list and communicate and collaborate with group members.

LinkedIn (learn.linkedin.com/groups). Messages are displayed next to ads from LinkedIn members.

Nabble (nabble.com). No ads. Nabble says it offers an embeddable forum, a mailing list, a photo gallery, news, and a blog.

Yahoo! (groups.yahoo.com). Yahoo! describes its group service as offering shared message archives, photo albums, group event calendars, member polls, and shared links. Group pages include ads.



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