Saturday, September 11, 2010

Holding Events: A Discussion Reflecting on How to Get the Most Out of Events at Independent Bookstores by Patrick Frank

Below we have a guest submission from Patrick Frank, a poet-essayist-songwriter from Kingstree, South Carolina. In addition to leading creativity workshops and being an active musician, his poetry and prose have been published in more than sixty periodicals. He also writes actively for OpenSalon where you can view his current online publications. Today, Patrick shares some advice on the process of holding events at independent bookstores and discusses what has and hasn't worked for him. I'm hoping that readers will want to join in the discussion with their own experiences.

Patrick Frank:

Having now engaged in five music-book-poetry events at independent bookstores in North Carolina, Georgia, and South Carolina, I think it is possible to look back and reflect on what has worked and not worked, to explore how I can make these events more fulfilling for everyone involved—including me.

The purposes of my events are three-fold:

*to explore the creative process with participants, while sharing a few of my original songs and poetry

*to support independent bookstores, which have been enormously stressed by big chains and Amazon

*to sell copies of my book, On the Blue Ridge Line, published under my own imprint, Beckoning Dove Press, in 2010.

On the Blue Ridge Line consists of a series of brief essays on the creative process, followed by a compilation of my original country-folk-blues songs, composed between 1981 and the present. The book is produced “on demand” by CreateSpace/Amazon.

Let me acknowledge that I have been struggling to find the right format and mode of preparation for these events. Some things have worked, many things have not. But I will treat the initial five events as an opportunity for learning and proceed from there. Here are some of my reflections…

*Preparation and focus are enormously important. When I have been lax in preparation, things have fallen apart. When that happens, it feels like I am an actor who has forgotten his lines. As a former drama major, I can tell you that is a nightmare.

*My music and lyrics are a strong suit, and performing relaxes me, so it makes sense to lead off with a song or two, and then proceed with a brief presentation of ideas, then return to performance, then back to discussion, but this time encouraging the sharing of attendees.

*When I have had a large crowd or just two or three attendees, I have allowed this to throw me—a big mistake. I should be prepared for and welcoming of any number.

*I should put “Blue Ridge’ in the attendees’ hands at the outset, and utilize the content of the book (beyond the lyrics) to a much greater extent. There is nothing wrong with reading a brief passage from one of my essays. I have a tendency to want to move on to something new as a basis for discussion, rather than drawing on insights from the book.

*I decided early on that I am not comfortable with sitting at a table and signing books. I am not some famous author and that is simply not me, to be so passive. I want to engage with attendees and hope they will become participants. I would love for them to share an original poem or song.

*The issue of how and when to engage in publicity should be worked out well in advance. I have not had a decent flyer to distribute up to now, and I made a decision to pay an artist to design one for me.

*Long distance publicity is hard for me to handle, so I have begun become more forthright in asking the bookstores to do as much as they can on my behalf. I will provide a flyer, a synopsis of the book, a few comments on the book, and information on my background.

*It costs a lot of money to travel around the South, not to mention beyond my region. To make these trips cost effective or at least to break even, I need to schedule several events.

*As I am also a music performer, I am not averse to setting out a “tip jar” to help with travel expenses, if the bookstore is okay with that.

*But selling my book is not forefront in my mind, when I am engaged in the event. I am there to share with the attendees, many them probably writers, artists or musicians in their own right. I am there to to support independent bookstores. And finally, I am there to sell books.

*One spin-off from conducting these events is networking with like-minded people. I am very interested in creative collaboration, and I always am on the lookout for individuals I might be able to join forces with on a project.

*I realize that I must continue writing and sharing new work. Engaging in daily blogging on the Open Salon site has stimulated my continued growth as a writer, and I am now assembling material for a second book of prose-poetry. This time, I plan to seek an outside publisher.

*I locate independent bookstores through the IndieBound site. I have experimented with various ways of approaching the bookstore owner or manager. Sometimes, initial email contact works, sometimes not.

*I have met some wonderful independent owners, very down to earth and welcoming, others who strike me as the opposite, and some “in between” welcoming and stand offish. Once on the scene, I can't worry too much about rapport or lack of it with bookstore staff.

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