Speed Dating For Speculative Fiction
4 years ago, I’d been thinking of how to provide the MNSpec writers group with a public-facing event, something to show the world what the group actually does. It’s hard for muggles to understand why someone would lock themselves in their basement for the entire month of November during nanowrimo. A showcase seemed the perfect solution. My band-booking skills from the Jagged Spiral era could be applied to writers! Presto! We’d have a way for us to show the world “this is what we do” and a way for the world to connect with the authors they liked.
So I created an event, loosely based off First Avenue’s “Local Band Showcase.” I booked a dozen authors, put them onstage and had them perform a short section of their work. I called it “speed dating for speculative fiction.”
And for three years, it was awesome. But for three years, it didn’t really grow, and it didn’t really extend outside the MNSpec group. Each year, I’d make a note of the MNSpec members-to-public ratio. I’d assumed that if twelve authors were put onstage at an event, that we’d have an audience full of their friends, their family, their fans. But that wasn’t happening.
Where Is Everybody?
Problem #1 – I was relying solely on people appearing in the event to handle the event promotion. There are plenty of businesses that are successful at this business model – Pampered Chef, Cutco, Watkins, Amway, etc. These businesses don’t advertise. They rely on referral/associate marketing combined with the quality of the product that “sells itself.” But that model wasn’t working for the showcase.
There is a strange effect that I noticed when travelling. If you TRY to speak the foreign language, people are much more accommodating and will even give you their best English to help you communicate with them. But if you walk around asking everyone “Hey, do you speak English?” You won’t get nearly as far, because you’re not even trying.
I see this effect in social media as well. For lack of a better term, I’ll call it the Rich Get Richer. If you show me that you’ve promoted your event like mad, and want me to help, then my 60K+ twitter feed is yours. But if you come to me with nothing but a press release, and a 200 follower myspace account that hasn’t been updated in three years, then I certainly won’t be as excited about helping you out. Why should I do all of your promotion work for you?
The Lord does not help those who help themselves, but gatekeepers will. Which sucks, because those who really NEED the promotion don’t get it. Meanwhile, Neil Gaiman’s tweets spread like wildfire, but he’s the last person on the planet who needs your help.
Short version is, it’s my event, and I shouldn’t be expecting other people to promote the showcase more than I was… er, wasn’t.
Which leads me to Problem #2.
Sorry, But We Have Zero Conrad In Stock
Problem #2 – I was doing it all myself, and there’s only so much of me to go around. Between booking the event, finding/inviting the talent, listing the event, answering author questions, event planning, recording and MC-ing the event, my attempts at promotion were limited to reminding the authors and MNSpec members to “Share this on social media!” Which gets the same results as your dentist telling you to floss.
I knew the event had huge potential, but the only way it was going to grow was if I had help. Good thing I know people.
Solution #2 – So I reached out to people who are good at promoting themselves, like Michael Merriam and Kate Bitters, people who are good at hosting kick-ass events like Michael O’Leary Jr., and smart people who have good ideas like Abra Staffin-Wiebe, Vu Dang, Margaret Taylor, and Terry Faust. We met at Acadia and talked about what was great about the Showcase, and what could be improved. We came up with a list of tasks and people volunteered to handle them. Press Releases. Social media graphics. Facebook advertising. Event poster. Mailing list. Speed sketches. Giveaways. All things that weren’t being done before, and couldn’t possibly be accomplished by myself alone.
The Birth of “Wordbrew”
And just as we were tossing around ideas, someone suggested that the event have a name, something unique. Abra Staffin-Wiebe threw out the name Wordbrew, and everyone agreed it was a hit. It gives the event a personality AND it’s much easier to hashtag than Local Author Showcase.
Facebook Sucks (but you should still use it)
True Story: I hate facebook with the bright, blazing energy of 10,000 supernovae. Every dollar that website makes undermines all the good application interfaces on this planet. (And I’ll gladly cut that back to 9,999 supernovae after someone explains to me what the fuck a “poke” is.) So when I tell you that, despite my hatred, you still need to make a facebook event and drive traffic there to make your event successful, you should listen.
Even if you decide not to use fb, you should have someplace to drive internet traffic. That place should have all the info a potential fan could want about the event. Bonus points if that place includes a way for interested people to rsvp and receive status updates regarding the event. Facebook does all this for free, as long as you can tolerate their complete disregard for intuitive user interfaces.
So we made the event on facebook, and told everyone to direct traffic there. I created a project folder on airtable.com to manage all the media, contact info, and task lists. (Airtable is free and downright magical. Someone tell Zuckerfish to fire all his programmers and hire the people at airtable.com to fix facebook. I’ll wait.)
With a new team, a new name, and a game plan, we launched Wordbrew 2016.
Wordbrew 2016 was by far the best showcase yet. The Hamline Oracle interviewed me for their article Word Brew offers speed dating for books.
We packed Acadia to the hilt, and quite a few people turned away when they arrived and saw it was standing-room only.
As always, the authors were stellar. I recorded the readings (except for when the camera died during Naomi Kritzer’s reading! Sorry Naomi!) The videos of the event are up on the MNSpec youtube channel here: Wordbrew 2016 on YouTube
We put together a mailing list signup sheet, and after the event, the intention was to provide a “commemorative email” list of the author/readers, so no one would have to take notes. Why am I laughing as I type this? It’s because I’m somehow incapable of sending an email, when a Wordbrew 2016 Artist Lookbook would do just as well. Welcome to my world, where the simple act of sending an email turns into a three-week publishing endeavor.
So please do check out the lookbook. I think it’s one more way we can enhance that connection that makes Wordbrew so great – helping authors reach new audiences, and helping audiences find their new, favorite, local spec-fic authors.
I hope you’ll come to Wordbrew V in 2017, because this show keeps getting bigger and better. It will be interesting to see where it goes.