Friday, January 10, 2014

Book 'Em North Carolina - How It Happened

On Monday's blog I talked about The Book 'Em Foundation and the inspiration behind it. Today I'll pick up with how the Book 'Em North Carolina Writers Conference and Book Fair came to be. I've been asked many, many times how I created this annual event and how others can do something similar in their own back yards.

Laying the Groundwork: I began lining up community support in 2005 for Book ‘Em North Carolina, even though the first event would not take place until 2012. The purpose of the event is to raise funds for literacy programs in Robeson County, reducing crime, and helping authors network and find new fans.

We gathered support from the City of Lumberton (always important to get local leaders involved), the Lumberton Area Visitors Bureau (instrumental for publicity efforts, and God bless the LVB's Executive Director, Mickey Gregory, who is an entire cheerleading squad wrapped up in one body), area businesses (sponsorships), civic groups (volunteers), schools (school-age attendance and volunteers with boundless energy), non-profits (to whom the literacy funds will go), among others. When we were offered Robeson Community College for the location, we were ready to get started.

Lining Up the Authors: We began contacting authors in March 2011. Katie Huneycutt joined me early on and has been instrumental in the event each year. Originally a librarian with Columbus County, she now works as the Youth Services Librarian for the Robeson County Public Library. She helped me email authors and post blogs to raise awareness of the Book ‘Em event. Thanks to Katie, we lined up two New York Times best-selling authors as headliners: Carla Neggers and Michael Palmer (necessary to attract large crowds). I developed our website, posting every author’s picture, bio and links as they registered. Over time, I added dozens of informational pages. As of this writing, I continue to maintain and pay for the website myself.

Sponsorships: We solicited businesses for sponsorships, instrumental for promoting and marketing the event. We lined up pillars of the community, including University of North Carolina, Southeastern Regional Medical Center, BB&T and a host of businesses who donated $250 to $2,000 apiece. We secured grants from the Lumberton Area Visitor’s Center to cover promotional efforts and Kiwanis Club of Lumberton, who provided money to buy children’s books to give away.

Publicity: We began periodic press releases in the spring, which were picked up by mainstream and Internet media. We obtained media sponsors, including Lumberton Magazine and Robeson Living Magazine, and have been working steadily with newspapers, television and radio stations.

In 2012, we picked up our first national sponsor: Southern Writers Magazine, who continues to sponsor us. 

Our big promotional campaign begins January 2. Brochures are in all the NC Welcome Centers on I-95 and with local businesses; flyers will be distributed with all Lumberton utility bills; and our full Talks Schedule will be published in various magazines, including Southern Writers Magazine, Lumberton Magazine, and Robeson Living Magazine.

Logistics: The conference and book fair features more than 75 authors selling and signing their books, which means we must have tables and adequate space not only for the authors but for traffic flow. Over our first three years in Lumberton, we've also added publishers, literary agents, Hollywood producers (for making books into movies) and even rock stars who believe in our mission.

We’ve divided two buildings into fiction, non-fiction, young adult and a special Children’s Corner, meticulously measuring hallways and classrooms. We have five sets of talks going on simultaneously - panel discussions and solo talks for every genre – plus readings for small children.

Each talk requires a moderator; each hallway and conference room requires a Team Captain and host of volunteers. There is an Author’s Lounge, requiring a Food Committee. Golden Corral of Lumberton Catering & Buffet stepped up to provide breakfast and lunch for our authors free of charge. We’ll have greeters, on-going events in the Children’s Corner, and centralized cash registers, each requiring a team of volunteers.

When our event began in 2013, a strong rain descended on Lumberton. It was heart-warming to see scores of volunteers in their light blue Book 'Em North Carolina t-shirts rushing out to each author's vehicle as they pulled in front of the triple doors at the Lewis Auditorium, to unload their books and transport them to their tables. When the authors parked and made their way indoors, they were pleasantly surprised to find their books awaiting them at their designated tables.

Attendees: Over the first three years of the event, attendance has grown to encompass visitors from across the country. We've had fans and aspiring writers journey from as far away as California, Missouri, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Florida - as well as from across the Carolinas. During a blizzard, one group left St Louis, Missouri and traveled for two days to reach the event. They found it so beneficial and fun that they plan to make the trip again in 2014.

Afterward: When the event is over, our work is not: we’ll clean up the space used, reconcile all the funds received, pay authors and publishers their portion of the book sales, award the non-profits funding for literacy efforts, and donate remaining books to literacy groups.

Then we start the whole process over. It takes a full twelve months to organize the event and ensure its success. Tune in next Friday, January 17 to find out how we manage it all!

Book ‘Em North Carolina Writers Conference and Book Fair is held on the last Saturday of each February in Lumberton, NC. The event is FREE and open to the public; doors open at 9:30 am. A portion of every book sale is donated to the Dolly Parton Imagination Library of Robeson County, Communities In Schools, and Friends of the Robeson County Public Library for literacy campaigns for all ages. The Book ‘Em Foundation was founded by author p.m.terrell, who wrote this blog, and Police Officer Mark Kearney, to raise awareness of the link between high crime rates and high illiteracy rates.