Leah Morgan lives in a small Maryland town in an ancient home that occupies a great deal of her interest even as she occupies it. She met her husband in high school, attended Bible College together and a few moments shy of a century later married. They share a mutual love for the study of scripture and happen to have the same 3 children. They manage and maintain rental properties as their shared source of income. Leah has a big fat fascination with architecture, art and design, and enjoys writing thank you cards as much as she does making amateur attempts at constructing a novel. Public speaking is also near the top of her list of most enjoyable pursuits. But then, she gets a kick out of speaking privately too.
Wanda Dyson is the critically acclaimed author of The Shefford Files series. Her true story, Why I Jumped, was featured on Oprah and Good Morning America. In April, Random House/Waterbrook released her newest crime thriller, Shepherd’s Fall, the first in the new Prodigal Recovery Series. She lives on a horse farm in Maryland with dogs, cats, rabbits, chickens, and Duke and Daisy, her ducks. While writing full time, Wanda also serves on the conference committee as Appointment Coordinator for the Colorado Christian Writer’s Conference, the Greater Philadelphia Christian Writer’s Conference, and the ACFW Annual Conference.
The Hagerstown Book Signing
Authors work in obscurity, and to most of their readers remain invisible. Readers want to connect with their favorite authors. Authors want to connect with their readers. But at a time when bookstores are going out of business and the publishing world is scrambling to stay profitable, how do we connect to those who still value the printed page? It’s common knowledge that getting a bookstore to host a book signing is difficult if the author is not topping the charts. Getting bookstores to bring in several authors who are just getting started in the industry? Not likely. Possible, but not likely.
But three writers in Maryland came up with a novel idea. If Christian bookstores aren’t interested, what about the church?
So the Hagerstown Hometown Holiday Event was born. Hosted by the Virginia Avenue Church of God in Hagerstown, Maryland, the event planning started out with writer Leah Morgan connecting over lunch with two local authors—Wanda Dyson, who in addition to her new suspense title (Shepherd’s Fall/Waterbrook) could offer a title (Why I Jumped/Revell), which was featured on Oprah; and Rita Gerlach, with her new release (Surrender the Wind/Abington). After the three agreed it would be a terrific idea, they started contacting some of their author friends, and the number of participating authors went from two to four and to eight, then to fourteen, and finally seventeen. Included were Christy Award–winning authors Lisa Samson and Cathy Gohlke.
The group went to a Christian bookstore, but it wasn’t overly interested in helping with the event. Undeterred, Leah Morgan, event coordinator, talked to Target, Wal-Mart, and Borders Books. While all were interested and supportive, Borders went the extra mile for the event. They not only ordered the books in, they provided the bags and sent Leah over to Starbucks, which generously provided coffee for the event.
The three came up with flyers and posters, which were sent out to churches, libraries, and local businesses. They also set up a blog and a Web site, garnered free radio ads airing during peak hours, four newspaper articles, a radio interview, and a video interview broadcasting on local cable stations and the local mall. The authors put the word out to their publishers, many of which jumped on the bandwagon by posting the event on their Web sites and Facebook pages, sending some marketing dollars to help with the advertising, and providing promotional materials for distribution at the event.
And on November 28, the seventeen authors convened at the Virginia Avenue Church of God for a little bit of lunch before settling in behind their tables, which wrapped around the walls of fellowship hall. The books were stacked by genre on tables in the middle of the room: romance, suspense, mystery, children’s, devotional, biography, and Christian living. The room and
atmosphere were festive with the lit Christmas tree, music, coffee, and the dessert table brimming with offerings. Readers waited outside for the doors to open. The cheerful mood affected authors and attendees.
At many book signings, the author sits among strangers, hoping for a friendly face. But not here! Friends had gathered together to reach out to their fans. Eager fans squealed with delight when they saw one of their favorite authors, taking pictures, getting books signed, chatting with the authors, and turning the event into a fun-filled event that resembled more of a room full of friends rather than a typical book signing. Granted, the weather kept several book clubs from making the trek from Pennsylvania to join the event, but even so, from one to four p.m., over two hundred books sold and authors acquired numerous new fans.
The signing produced activity that lives beyond its venue. Two authors secured speaking engagements for future dates, Borders purchased six autographed titles from each attending author for a special display in their store, and the Christian bookstore previously disinterested in the undertaking offered to take all the leftover “freebie” bookmarks and postcards to distribute in the store. And a Christian University inquired if the event could come to their school.
In our walk with God, we often talk about how the Father will stretch us beyond our borders and mess with our status quo comfort levels. And in a time where the economy is playing havoc with book sales, might it be the time to think outside the box about ways to reach out to our readers? Book fairs are common in the secular world. And they love to boast of fifty authors, one hundred authors, two hundred authors. Hagerstown had seventeen authors, with more who wanted to sign up for next year. Can they host fifty? Not likely . . . the building is too small, but what about one of the larger churches in your area? Maybe they will.
The Authors Present:
Wanda Dyson - Shepherds
Fall - Suspense