I teach self-publishing workshops. Some of them are facilitated by writers’ organizations or festivals, and some of them I organize myself or with my business partner. Usually, they sell out. Late last year I had a major event planned. I was at half capacity with six weeks to go, and sign-ups stalled. So, I posted on Facebook, tweeted on Twitter, and wrote an article detailing the content and posted it on LinkedIn. No matter what I did I couldn’t fill any more seats. My workshops aren’t expensive. They’re priced so that authors can afford to attend. My goal is to spread the word that many of the tools needed to self-publish are readily available to authors and it isn’t necessary to hire outside agencies in order to publish your work. I didn’t think cost was a problem and I was offering valuable information. Vancouver is a city of last-minute decision-makers, but I didn’t want to wait. I wanted to sell out before the day of the event.
I sought out other ways to reach authors. I ran ads on Craigslist giving details. I gave a webinar giving away some of the content and inviting authors to attend. I dropped off flyers at libraries and bookstores. I spoke on podcasts. I filled a few more seats from these efforts, but I still wasn’t at capacity. That’s when I found MeetUp, and became a MeetUp attendee.
http://www.meetup.com/ lists gatherings of like-minded souls. There are MeetUp groups for clowns and magicians (in the same group), beekeepers, stamp-collectors, motorcycle riders, meditation practitioners, and many other enthusiasts of similar interests, including – writers. In my local area there are lots of writers groups. So, I contacted several of them, told them a bit about my story, and offered to come and give a talk detailing my self-publishing experience. This was a good move for a number of reasons.
When I arrived at a group, the reactions I received from the members ranged from total gratitude to major suspicion. Many of the looks I encountered at the outset of my presentations were priceless. I was speaking for free and although I was selling print copies of my self-publishing guidebook and my novels, I was still regarded with some trepidation. In hindsight, I think it’s probably a good thing that writers are suspicious of someone offering them a service. Numerous companies have sprung up in the last couple of years that purport to help authors self publish. I wasn’t doing this. I was giving information that enables authors to do the work themselves.
From my talks at the MeetUp groups I met several authors who signed up for my workshop. So, in that regard it was a success. There was more, though. A strange thing happened when I attended my first MeetUp. It was a rainy Sunday and twenty-five or thirty writers were crammed into a charming, little coffee-house. I set up some of my books at the front and turned to see a couple of smiling faces staring back at me (as well as the few discerning looks that I described earlier). When I smiled back and introduced myself, this is what I heard.
“I just read My Temporary Life. I loved it.”
“Me too, and I’ve read My Name Is Hardly. When is the next book out?”
Some of these guys were readers and they’d come to talk about my books. And, several of them wanted to purchase signed print copies even though they already had the Kindle edition. I was amongst readers, not just writers. And, when some of the others heard the comments about my books they became interested too. Not only did I sell copies of my self-publishing guidebook that day, I sold copies of my novels too. And, I met some very enthusiastic supporters who have become friends.
I was on to something. MeetUp could be a way to engage with readers. The next step was to seek out MeetUp groups for book-lovers. Yes, they’re out there, and again, there are lots of them. If the writers groups were wary of me offering to give a free talk the book-lovers groups were even more suspicious. Some of them haven’t answered yet and others have politely declined. A couple promised to forward my book information to their members to see if there’s any interest in having a real, live author come to read to their group and discuss the work. This will happen; I know it will. Once I attended a couple of writers MeetUp groups, others seemed to be more open to having me come talk to them. I imagined a behind-the-scene network of MeetUppers who confer with each other and vet prospective presenters. Or perhaps my email querying skills became more effective. Either way, the door seemed to open a little further once I visited a few different groups. And, I’m confident the same thing will happen with the book-lovers groups, too.
I offer you some guidelines to keep in mind if you decide to approach MeetUp groups:
1. Remember you need to offer something. The fact that you’ve written a book isn’t enough. Present your personal story in a way that will be interesting to the members. If someone is going to sit for an hour or ninety minutes listening to you, the presentation has to be enjoyable and worth their while.
2. Be exceptionally polite in your correspondence and if there are guidelines on how to approach the group – follow them.
3. Don’t query the same group more than once. And, keep your correspondence in order. Don’t get confused and mix up groups. Yes, I did this.
4. Pass out an email sign-up list. Some of these folks will spread the word about your work. Ask if you can keep in touch with them.
5. Join the group. This way you can participate in the comments thread with members after your talk.
From that first round of MeetUp presentations, I’ve made some terrific friends and I suppose that’s probably what the primary purpose of MeetUp is. Some of them have gone on to publish their own books and have had great success. Others have posted or tweeted about my books and continue asking when my next novel will be released. Oh, and I never did fill that workshop. It was close but not quite. It didn’t matter though. The other benefits have far outweighed filling up one, single workshop. Go MeetUp in your community. I’ll bet you find it worthwhile.