As Bristol Women Writers swung into action on October 23rd for the launch of Unchained, I had all the symptoms of stage-fright, but I was only nervous for myself. As soon as the audience started to arrive, I was pretty confident that the evening was going to well – and it did. Around a hundred people (full house!) came along to Bristol Central Library and we sold a big chunk of our stock. So what made it work?
- Planning! As a group unaccustomed to having a public face, the entire project (writing, editing, publishing) was planned in quite some detail from a year before and included the conscious decision that we should be …
- Involving other people. Celebrating Bristol Library could hardly be done without their approval and so contact was made early on with the bonus of being offered a tour of the building to get the creative juices flowing.
It turned out that the chronology also allowed us to dovetail with the Bristol Festival of Literature, a huge boost to any publicity we could generate ourselves and an opportunity to forge links with other local groups. When Tangent Books, who play a big role in the festival, expressed an interest in the anthology, the circle was complete. A lot of people knew about our book – even before it was written!
- Going national. The decision to support a charity was taken early on. We tried to pinpoint something local that would have the right focus, but in the end the National Literacy Trust have given us an impact beyond Bristol and the surrounding area.
- Covering all the marketing bases. In marketing terms we all had a role to play, not just in
press-gangingpersuading our immediate friends and family to come along , but in making sure all interested parties had been contacted. These included writers, librarians, and local media. Luckily some of us had experience of dealing with the press and the rest of us simply networked like mad on every possible occasion, online, face to face or simply doing the legwork in local bars and cafes. I think in this case our decision to support a charitable cause also helped us. What I mean is that for those not used to selling, ‘Please buy our book and someone else will benefit’ is easier to say than simply ‘please buy our book.’
- Professional help – having a product that had been professionally designed and typeset was a huge confidence-booster.
- Attention to detail – especially in the final planning – did pay off. A sub-team had a final meeting with the library to make sure we knew what space we would be using and what facilities would be there for us (sound system) and the audience (refreshments). We practised (and timed) our own five-minute slots in front of each other – and on our own (I did not enjoy those bathroom mirror moments!) To put our own little stamp on our august surroundings, some of us (not me!) made many origami birds which we dotted around the seats and book stall. Finally, extra helpers were enlisted to deal with ‘sales and admin’ on the night, enabling the rest of us to circulate after our talks in true ‘lovey’ fashion. (We were stars after all!)
If there’s a lesson here it’s about ten people and a few others working very hard and I would definitely quail at tackling something like this on my own. On the other hand, if I ever do have an official launch (why didn’t I have one for Kettle?) I do know what needs to be done.
Finally I owe the title of this post to a member of our audience who knows the Reference Library well and was inspired to write a poem after the event. Here’s the opening stanza.
It is standing room only
when we finally arrive in the reading room.
Rows of Bristolian folk and from beyond,
coming together to celebrate the written word.
This revered place, echoing a million silent footsteps,
holds us suspended in its literary spell.
Margaret Baggs, 2013
Thanks Margaret! And to all our other lovely supporters.