Building an audience and marketing books in this digital age can mean communicating across the globe, but don’t neglect your home base. Local author groups can be your ticket to making that connection.
There is a new website spanning North America, Hometown Reads, dedicated to exactly that idea: staying locally grounded, which may give you some ideas about how to approach your audience.
Hometown Reads, a division of the marketing agency Weaving Influence, is so new that it still is in beta—under development. Still, you can see where they’re headed with a visit to their website, and for now everything an author or a reader can do there is free.
The site hooks readers with the promise of introducing a range of books written by people who live nearby. One catch phrase says, “Your Next Favorite Author Could Be Your Next Door Neighbor”.
Its main page highlights (at this writing) 26 communities, mainly metro areas, around the United States, from Washington, D.C. to San Diego. It started with Toledo, Ohio, and expanded at first through the Midwest. There are smaller cities like Fenton, Michigan, and Grants Pass, Oregon; regions like Silicon Valley in California and even one state (Rhode Island). Bowling Green, Kentucky was a recent addition. The Hometown Twitter feed indicates Raleigh, North Carolina may be next.
Each page is started when a collection of 10 or more authors from a given area request one. You might want to find 10 like-minded writers in your community and start one. Covers from the authors’ books (just one book per author) are featured on those pages and link to individual pages for each book. Authors with books listed are invited to a private Facebook group. Books are featured both site-wide and city by city.
Hometown Reads does not sell books, at least not yet, but authors can direct readers to where they can purchase elsewhere. For example, my new book "What Sells Books" appears on the Portland, Oregon, page. The book cover is linked to a book page, which includes a book description, cover image and a “Buy Now” button. I set it up to take the viewer to the landing page on my website where you can purchase it directly.
News reports and the Hometown website do allude to changes coming, with “premium” services that may include placing multiple books in view.
Organizing by Geography
Many authors organize themselves online by subject—mystery writers in websites and boards, for example—but geographic connections can be helpful too. When a group of Kansas City authors joined to ask for a Hometown Reads page, they were linked together, in a sort of small community, whichalso got them attention through a feature story in the Kansas City Star newspaper.
One of the authors featured, Theresa Hupp, remarked that “I can’t imagine an author that wouldn’t want to be a part of this. Kansas City has such a strong community of authors: essayists, poets, novelists, nonfiction writers and more. This really helps out everyone.”
The article also noted that she and fellow author Darlene Deluca, “are part of different writing clubs in Kansas City, including a Facebook group called Read Local Kansas City, another organization aimed at promoting local authors.”
Local Author Groups
While this new site has some national visibility benefits, you may find even more all-around usefulness in the scores of regional and local author groups and organizations, which often have both a web and physical presence. You may be surprised to discover how many are located near you.
Most national professional writing organizations have state or regional chapters. The Mystery Writers of America, for example, has 11 of them. One covers just the state of Florida; the others serve variously-sized regions around the country. The New England chapter, to cite one example, has regular events, presentations, and awards. The chapter’s web page highlights books from members.
States from Alabama to Wyoming have author groups of varying types, and some organize by regions as well. Some have free membership; most that do charge membership fees are inexpensive. Many hold events ranging from workshops and presentations from experienced authors to getting advice on publishing.
In my region, for example, there’s a large annual book festival called Wordstock (the next one is scheduled for November 5), held each year in Portland, Oregon. It’s the largest of many events staged each year by the Literary Arts Community. Authors by the hundreds from across the western United States visit Wordstock for presentations by authors and publishers and to see what’s new.
Other regional organizations include:
Central Phoenix Writing Workshop. Now a decade old, this group offers help on writing and publication at frequent meetups, of which they’ve held 1,399 so far. The group shows 2,685 writers are members.
Writers with Drinks, Los Angeles. This spirited and relatively new (founded 2013) group focuses on networking in Los Angeles and reports more than 1,500 members. Their self-description says, “Want to make new friends and network with accomplished writers & literary professionals? Then you've come to the right place! Every month, we host a networking event for writers & literary professionals at a bar in Downtown L.A. or West L.A. We also organize monthly book panels, readings, and discussions featuring award-winning writers in many genres including fiction, memoir, screenwriting, TV writing, journalism, and playwriting.”
Colorado Authors League. The League has been “fostering the art and craft of authorship since 1931,” and traces its origins to a series of meetings in 1919. It provides educational services, delivers awards and spreads the word about author activities.
Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance. This statewide group is aimed at writers and publishers and other professionals associated with them. It promotes Maine writers and their new books through a separate website called Find Maine Writers and holds regular meetings and educational events.
Spokane Writers and Self-Publishers. This local group says, “We are authors of all ages and various levels of accomplishment, from those published by NY houses, to writers just starting out. Our organization is a place to network, to learn about publishing and promotion, and to make new friends who understand the writing life.” They also provide help promoting members' books.
You can find a good national list of local author groups at writersrelief.com.
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