Naturally, bookstores are a popular gathering place for book clubs. But have you thought about inviting writers’ groups to your store?
What’s more natural than for writers to come together within the walls of a bookstore surrounded, literally, by volumes of inspiration, to critique, share and brainstorm?
Indie bookstores are fast becoming the place for writers’ groups to meet. So, how can independent Christian retailers help tomorrow’s best-selling authors by offering them the use of their stores for meetings and, by doing so, also serve as a valuable resource for their customers who wish to purchase books on the craft of writing?
ASSESS CUSTOMER INTEREST
You can assess the interest factor for in-store writers’ groups in a number of ways, including via email correspondence with your opted-in customer list, through a poll on your website, as the subject of a blog entry or Facebook post, on a sign-up sheet at the cash wrap or simply by talking casually with your customers. You also could reach out to local churches and ministries to locate potential group members.
Hit the ground running with your writers’ group(s). Have an organized plan, including a schedule and a strategy for keeping group members engaged—and for growing the group, too.
Recruit one of your team members, a writer/customer or a local Christian author to head up the group. Don’t forget to ask potential members if they’d prefer specialized groups or just one general group. Or start small and work your way up to additional groups segmented by genre.
ORGANIZE THE GROUP(S)
If you’re getting active interest in starting—or adopting—a writers’ group, you’ll want to assess whether to start with just one general group that addresses multiple genres or offer a few smaller groups that focus on specific genres.
ABA bookstore Village Books in Bellingham, Washington, plays host to several writing groups, which the store locates strategically next to its café. The groups are free to attend and always open to newbies and drop-ins. The store has one person in charge of the groups and directs those with inquiries to that person’s email on the store’s website.
Village Books offers four writers’ groups organized by genre—Fiction, Nonfiction & Memoir, Poetry and Speculative/Science Fiction—with each group meeting twice per month. The store also hosts a special writers’ group for teens, Friday Night Writes. This group meets most every Friday from October to March in the early evening. Free to ages 15 to 18, the group is sponsored by a local young writers’ organization and includes a one-day teen writing conference in the summer. What a great way to get young people interested in writing!
MAKE SOME SPACE
Now that you’ve got a reasonable number of people interested in forming a writers’ group at your store (or an established group looking for new digs), what’s next?
First, make sure you have space for the group to meet. Perhaps you have a meeting room or a reading space already built into your store design. If not, locate an area of your store with sufficient privacy to allow the group to share and discuss without disturbing customers—or vice versa. One store in Copell, Texas, Corban Christian Store, made all of its shelving units, endcaps and most of the store’s displays mobile by installing wheels on them. Moving the displays to make space for meetings and other events in this small store is a snap—and moving everything back takes mere minutes.
You also might wish to open your doors to your writers’ groups during exclusive times or days your store is not typically open. Of course, you will incur expenses for utilities and staff time, but if you also make it a time for the groups to do some shopping, you could definitely justify the cost—which leads us to the next step.
SET UP RESOURCES
Now that you have a group of writers gathering in your store to “talk shop,” you need to be prepared to provide them with the resources they need to become even better writers. Explore the variety of books available that focus on the craft of writing. Consult with distributors and sales reps for their input on the titles that would be beneficial to your writers’ group members. Be sure to include other tools of the trade: dictionaries, thesauruses, quotation books, style guides, grammar and usage books, and so forth. You also may want to include curriculum from writers’ guilds and conferences.
Set up a display of these resources in a special section adjacent to where the group will meet. Offer special discounts to group members. Hang a bulletin board nearby to display information on upcoming writers’ conferences or college classes. Make your store a “one-stop shop” for all things writing. You could even include gift items that would appeal to writers such as mugs, pens and journals.
And if you don’t have a café, be sure to offer coffee and tea to your writers’ group members as a good host would.
USE SOCIAL MEDIA
Once your writers’ group is off the ground and meeting regularly, include its meeting information on your website. A separate tab or banner will draw more attention. Be sure to include your store’s appointed contact person’s name and email address so he or she can field inquiries. Include a picture of the group having a good time at one of their meetings!
If you have a Facebook page, share information about the group there as well. Ask members to comment on the group’s meetings, encouraging new members to join. Likewise, use Twitter and any other social media you’re tapped into.
Blog about the group, too! Invite members to talk about the group in their blogs. Since many writers have blogs, this is a natural. Employ grassroots marketing at its best!
INVITE GUEST SPEAKERS
Just as you may invite authors for in-store book signings or book club meetings, make the effort to invite authors, teachers, professors, journalists, publishers and those of similar professions to your writers’ group meetings as guest speakers. They will inspire, educate and draw new members to the group.
ARRANGE SPECIAL PROGRAMS
Think of how exciting it would be for your writers’ group members to be able to share their published books with your customers. Having an in-store writers’ group is a wonderful way to cultivate your own local authors and help build your sense of community (see last month’s column for more on that). Consider contacting a self-publisher to see if there is a way you can work with them to offer a program for your writers’ group authors once they’re ready to seek publication of their books. This will help bring the group full circle in your store—from book lover to book writer to published author.
When you think about it, isn’t it completely natural for an author to find inspiration, guidance, camaraderie and education in a bookstore? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to become a better writer surrounded by shelves of books from some amazing authors? Yes and yes.
Help make it happen in your store. Provide the location for inspiration for writers as well as readers. It just makes sense.
A publishing industry veteran, Dave Sheets is a thought leader with 1Source—a consortium that includes BelieversPress, SuzyQ Author Coaching, Bethany Press, Glass Road Media and Anchor Distributors—that provides a full range of independent publishing services for print and e-books for faith authors and publishers. Sheets has worked for Tyndale House Publishers, Multnomah Publishers, Send The Light Distribution, Harvest House Publishers and Snowfall Press. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.