With a Little Help from Our Friends: What Local Chapters Can Do For Published Members

As PAN Liaison, I was often asked by newly elected PAN reps what it was they were supposed to do, and I always said, “Uh, let me get back to you on that.” Now, with my last Panache column, I’m finally answering the question, mainly because I’ve hijacked a column my critique partner, the brilliant Valerie Taylor, already wrote.

In her column, Val pointed out that too often local chapters feel there’s not much they can do to help their published members because they’re not very big or they don’t have much money. While numbers and money are a great help, it’s often the simplest things are the most effective, such as organizing a PAN breakfast or brunch that meets on a non-RWA day so that the published members can network without seeming to exclude the rest of the chapter. Val came up with a lot more ideas which are clearly organized below, another clue that I didn’t write most of this.

And now here’s Val. giving the three areas in which local chapters can most help their published authors:

Help Build Relationships with Local Booksellers.

A sympathetic bookseller is an author’s best friend because she’ll hand sell the author’s books, and local authors are of particular interest to most booksellers. But few authors have the time, energy, and money to build relationships with every area bookseller all by themselves, so this is a perfect area in which the chapter can assist its authors. Chapter members can help by doing the following:

1. Attend PAN Members’ Booksignings

Authors do booksignings primarily for one reason: to forge relationships with booksellers. Selling books is great, too, and it’s always nice to sell like hotcakes because that’s one way to impress the bookseller, but another way to impress her is to bring in customers who will buy other things. Even if you have the author’s books (thank you!), pick the day she’s doing her booksigning to make your regular trip to the bookstore. Make sure the bookseller sees you talk to the author and then buy something. At the cash register, mention how cool it is to see a local author signing books. Tell the bookseller you came in because the author was signing today, even though you already own everything she’s ever written. [Note from Jenny: This one is huge. There are very few authors who like booksignings because even when they go well, they’re nerve-wracking and time consuming and exhausting. Anything the chapter can do to make one of these suckers less painful is terrific. And thank you to anyone out there who has ever attended one of mine.]

2. Distribute A Bookseller Newsletter

Send a quarterly newsletter giving information about chapter members’ upcoming releases to booksellers in your area. When booksellers know an author is local, they’ll often take a special interest in that author and hand-sell her books. And when they know she has a book coming out, they’ll order extra copies because they know they can sell local authors’ books.

3. Plan A Bookseller Event

Invite area booksellers to a special event planned for them, a breakfast, luncheon, tea, or cocktail party. Arrange for a keynote speaker of particular interest to booksellers, perhaps the book reviewer for the local newspaper. Give out an award for “Top Local Bookseller” at the event. Publicize the event by sending press releases containing the names of nominees to the local newspapers. Aim for a touch of elegance: send formal invitations and serve refreshments. [Another Note from Jenny: Ask your chapter authors for bookmarks, fliers, ARCs, and other promotional material for bookseller goody bags. Add romance-promoting buttons or posters, “local author” stickers with a list of the chapter’s authors and a calendar of their releases, and the Bookseller Newsletter. Then make sure everyone in the chapter, published or unpublished, goes out of her way to establish a warm personal relationship with every bookseller. You’re not just promoting your local authors, you’re promoting your romance community in general.]

Help Build Relationships With Area Readers.

A reader who has had personal contact with an author is more likely to become a lifelong fan. But most authors don’t have the resources to manage frequent personal contact with readers, so other ways the chapter can help are to:

1. Plan A Reader Event

Plan a conference targeting area readers. Instead of editor appointments and how-to-write workshops, plan chat-with sessions and autographings. Invite one big-name author as a keynote speaker to help draw the fans, and fill the rest of the program with talks and sessions by your own published authors. Keep the costs low so attendees have plenty of money left over to spend at the book fair. [Yet Another Note from Jenny: This is probably the area RWA needs to focus on most after growing the market; that is, keeping the market we have. We’re great at holding events for writers, not so good at courting readers, and those reader events that do exist tend to be heavy on cover models and other bodice-ripping accouterments that alienate a lot of people. If a reader event doesn’t seem feasible, consider adding a Reader Track to your writers’ conference. And always ask your local authors to speak or conduct workshops at your conferences: it’s great PR for them.]

2. Develop A Local Romance Writers Brochure

Have a clean, professional brochure printed that lists all of your published members and update it at least semi-annually. Be sure to include the subgenres they write in, photos, bios, upcoming releases, and backlist. Distribute stacks of these to local booksellers to help them promote your members to their readers. This works to help build relationships with booksellers, too.

Help Them Sell Books

1. Sticker Their Books

Take a supply of “Local Author” stickers with you every time you go to the bookstore or grocery or discount store and sticker every book by one of your chapter members. If everyone does this, your chapter can probably keep all your members’ books stickered all year long in your area. These stickers sell books; many booksellers report “Local Author” stickers sell more books than “Autographed Copy” stickers do. Some RWA chapters assign each member responsibility for one local bookstore. Whenever a chapter member has a book out, each member visits “her” store and stickers the books.

2. Buy Their Books

Of course no one expects any chapter member to buy every book by every member of your chapter. But try at least one book from each member to see if you like her work. Then, if you do like it, buy the rest of her books. Buy extras to give as gifts; romance novels make a great inexpensive holiday gift for teachers, mail carriers, hair stylists, and others on your list, especially when they’re signed. Put a novel or two in a small basket or colorful bag with bubble bath and chocolate, and you’ll have a drug-store-priced gift that is priceless in its encouragement to the recipient to take a little “me time.”

3. Tell Your Friends About Their Books

Do you know anyone who likes to read romance? Recommend books by your chapter sisters. Are you a member of a reading group at a local bookstore or library? Suggest one of your chapter members’ books for the group to read. Are you a member of a romance listserve? Talk up your chapter members’ books.

4. Tell Their Publishers

If you like a chapter sister’s work, write a letter to her publisher and editor and say so. Tell them you’d like to read more by this writer and ask when her next book will be coming out. [A Final Note from Jenny: Mention how brilliant they are for publishing her. Because so few readers write publishers, even one letter can have an impact.]

Those are Val’s suggestions, and they’re a great place to start, but only you can tailor them to fit your chapter and your authors. At your next chapter meeting, use her ideas to start a brainstorming session to determine what’s feasible for your group’s needs and abilities. And when you come up with more ideas or if you already have some activities in place that we haven’t covered here (for example, do you reach out to librarians?), please let Pat Potter or Anne Stuart know for a future column. This is truly an area where a chapter can work wonders for its published members.

And that’s it for me as PAN Liaison. I have truly enjoyed my term, truly enjoyed writing these columns, and now plan to sit back and truly enjoy reading next year’s columns since I’m passing everything into the excellent hands of our new and undeniably improved PAN Liaison, Anne Stuart. All of this is yours now, Krissie. Have a wonderful time!

Written by Jennifer Crusie, this essay was originally published in Romance Writer’s Report. Vol. 18 Number 11, Nov. 1998.