Our readers are often curious about the process of writing and publishing books, and we’re happy to provide access to the experts. In this week’s edition of Publishing U, Maggie Stuckey discusses the creative and library-centric programming she has been using to promote her book.
The library is the new community center—and authors can contribute.
On a rainy Saturday morning in October, Mrs. Eula Johnson pulled out her sewing kit and sat down to do a little mending. But her eyesight wasn’t what it once was, and she had difficulty threading the needle. So she called her local library. Could they help?
“Of course we can,” they said. “Come right in.” And so she did.
They greeted her by name, took time to chat, showed her a couple of large-print books they had quickly set aside for her, then threaded her needle and sent her home with a hug.
Does this sound like a small town? It’s not. This happened in Portland, Oregon, a pretty big city with an enormous—and enormously popular—library system of 19 neighborhood libraries. Here, as elsewhere, the library has become the heart of the community.
In recent weeks, I have thought a great deal about the role of authors in today’s library community as I travel around Oregon and Washington, presenting a program called Soup Night, which gets its name from the title of my newest book—Soup Night: Recipes for Creating Community around a Pot of Soup. I’ve found that Soup Night has ended up being the perfect way to contribute to the community that happens in today’s libraries and share my own work at the same time. Many authors target libraries for readings or signings when promoting their work, but by contributing to the spirit of community, which is so central to libraries, a much more symbiotic exchange occurs.
For authors whose most recent book doesn’t have direct
application to a community activity like Soup Night,
I encourage them to develop one!
So, what is Soup Night? I like to think of Soup Night as marrying three ideas beloved of library patrons: books, community, and food. Basically, I work with the library to throw an actual Soup Night where folks sample homemade soup and bread while I tell stories of the other groups I’ve met all across the country. Let me give you the basics of how it works:
Pitching. I reach out to public libraries in small and medium-size towns—sometimes they get overlooked for author promotions. I describe Soup Night not just as a program but as an actual event. I do offer to just talk as opposed to doing a real Soup Night just in case that works better for them but only one library on my tour opted for the talk and it was because their legal advice said they couldn’t serve food in the library! You’ll find most are very excited by this prospect.
Planning. About three weeks before the event, I send a checklist to the librarian, summarizing all the arrangements we’ve agreed on. If the travel time is short for me, I provide the soup (I have the necessary food certifications) and all the service items. Otherwise, the library handles the soup in one of several ways: with the help of library volunteers, or purchased from a local restaurant, or prepared by me in a local licensed kitchen that afternoon. The cost to the library is modest: soup is purchased locally or by me with out-of-pocket expenses for the ingredients. A hotel room if travel distance is significant may be the only other cost.
Execution. I make it as easy as possible for the libraries. I created a checklist so we wouldn’t overlook little details (like extension cords). I make sure to arrive early to help with setup, and stay to help with cleanup. The soup is always ready when the first people arrive. I make sure to greet everyone individually, just as a neighborhood soup night host would. I invite everyone to get up and help themselves to seconds while I’m talking, and I encourage them to interrupt me at any time with questions or comments. It’s a very fluid, easygoing conversation with lots of laughter.
I’ve had great success with this program and many of the libraries I’ve had the pleasure of working with have, too (38, so far). Bonnie Brzozowski, programming coordinator for Corvallis-Benton County, kindly sums up how my Soup Night engaged her library patrons:
Libraries are about more than just books. Our patrons are doers; they want to learn stuff. So we look for active programs, something that involves doing, seeing, tasting, celebrating, trying new things, thinking about something new. That’s why I knew Soup Night would be popular here. Maggie’s book, with its message about the value of community, has resonated deeply in our area. We have eight copies that have circulated a combined 381 times since we added Soup Night to our collection in 12/2013. A very well-loved book! It is always on hold. Always.
For authors whose most recent book doesn’t have direct application for a community activity like Soup Night, I encourage them to develop one! The payoff makes it all worthwhile.
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Maggie Stuckey is the author of 11 nonfiction adult books, mostly about gardening, cooking, or both. She lives in Portland, Oregon, where she grows vegetables and herbs in containers on her bandanna-sized patio and brews up new soups in her 1940s kitchen.