When I published my latest book, Free-range writing: 75 Forays for the Wild Writer’s Soul, I decided to celebrate it with some author talks and workshops, as I always do with a new book.
In publication week, I did both a talk and a free-range writing workshop at Looe Literary Festival. I got subsequent bookings for talks at the Liskeard bookshop and Totnes Library, and for workshops at Launceston Library and the Penzance Literary Festival.
But this time I didn’t want to just stick to my local area – the theme of the book sparked the idea in me that I’d like to go free-ranging around the UK.
I live in Cornwall but I go away a lot for visits to family and friends, meetings and events, and my plan was simply to try and fix up free-range writing workshops in places I was already planning to visit. That way, I could spread my tour across the year and it would be both low stress and light on expenses.
I emailed independent bookshops, libraries and festivals in various parts of the country I often visit; then I waited to hear back. But although I sent out exactly the same proposal as I’d sent out locally, none of the bookshops and libraries outside my area got back to me, except the completely excellent Orkney Library, which is up for an event next time I’m there. (Shout out to Orkney Library for recently celebrating reaching over 50,000 followers on twitter. Be there or be square!)
I thought my little tour was dead in the water, but then it gradually dawned on me that bookshop and library events are almost always either local authors or else ones with a high profile nationally.
So I wouldn’t be able to get events outside the South West in the normal way, by approaching bookshops and libraries – I would have to approach it from a completely different angle. I had to stop asking myself, ‘What would a publicity department do?’ and, for my independently published books, start thinking like an inde.
So here’s my first tip: Think like an inde
I was booked to teach a workshop in Peterborough for Writing Magazine in April, planning to stay with my sister-in-law in Stamford afterwards, but my first enquiry to the library there had gone unanswered and I’d had a no from the bookshop. However, the bookshop owner had kindly taken the time to suggest I contact the Arts Centre.
Why hadn’t I thought of that? Because I was in traditional book-tour mode, looking for hosting in bookshops and libraries, and not thinking like an inde. I booked a meeting room in the Stamford Arts Centre, sent them a poster to put up on their noticeboard and put the word out via social media.
I decided not to pay for advertising, because then I would have to charge more for places, and I already had to cover room hire. I braced myself for the possibility that I might only get one or two bookings, if I got any at all, and that would leave me out of pocket.
But the workshop was fully booked. Fourteen lovely local writers round the table, and a thoroughly enjoyable session. I’m hoping to provide another workshop there, on a different theme, next time I’m in the area.
I was elated! I set about finding meeting rooms in other towns I would be visiting later in the year. I searched ‘meeting rooms’, but soon became disheartened, because even the smallest ones were really expensive to hire. The world of meeting rooms wasn’t geared up to serve private events for small independents like me.
Tip two: Think like an author
I was ready to give up again when it occurred to me to try a different tack: writing workshops aren’t business meetings – there’s no corporate budget. What’s more, numbers are small and writers aren’t generally known for their high spending power. I searched again, this time not for meeting rooms but for writing groups in the towns I was going to, in order to find out where they held their meetings.
I found that writers’ groups were meeting in cafes and community buildings, pubs and Quaker houses, all at much lower prices than business meeting rooms, and I booked myself some rooms in Cheltenham and Bath, to tie in with my next two trips up-country. Here are the posters.
It’s still scary, because what if no-one comes? But I get a real buzz from teaching these workshops, so I’ll be tweeting and posting on facebook, and hoping for the best.
This approach might not work for all indie authors, but I haven’t got any bestselling ambitions or desire for fame. With all my writing books, articles, blogs and workshops, besides needing to pay my bills, my main aim is to create and participate in communities of readers and writers, and my free-range writing tour is helping me to take that further.
I’ll be looking for venues in Oxford and London soon – does anyone know any cheap, writerly rooms in those cities?
In the meantime, if you live near Bath or Cheltenham, do check out my upcoming free-range writing workshops in those cities, and please tell your writing friends!