1. Start small - as in the number of people in your group - Rosanne Parry (Heart of a Shepherd) and I started The Class of 2k9. Both of us had been in 2k8 until our books were moved to the next year. With just the two of us starting it up, it was easy to keep our focus. We adopted the same requirements of the previous classes: it had to be the author’s debut mg or ya novel, the publisher had to be in the US and the publisher had to be listed in CWIM. Your group might be All Fantasy or Dog Books or Books About Sludge. Whatever. Decide your objective first before opening up the group.
2. Invite potential members - After we established an email address and our basic requirements and drafted an introduction letter with application, we opened 2k9 up to new members. Our application and letter stressed that members would be expected to commit a fair amount of time and a bit of money (for website, print materials, etc) to the group. We “advertised” on Verla Kay, LiveJournal and SCBWI sites. The Class of 2k8 also helped us out by posting our address on their website.
3. Set up a meeting place - We set up two separate places - a yahoo list serve and a forum at proboards.com. The list serve was for announcements and communication and the forum was for the committees to meet and discuss their strategies/duties. Which brings me to...
4. Pick officers and committees - I tend to think the whole ‘officer’ thing sounds very grade-schoolish but it turned out to be extremely helpful, especially for a large group like ours. We had 2 Co-Presidents, a Treasurer, Secretary and 2k8 Liaison and all were chosen by a combination of volunteering and an all-member vote.
The advantage of having an “executive” committee really came into play when conflicts arose. The members needed someone to share their grievances with, without involving the whole class or potentially hurting feelings, etc. It’s like that scene in Saving Private Ryan, where Tom Hanks walks up to a group of weary soldiers and asks, “Who’s in charge here?” and one of the guys answers, “Ain’t you?” Someone needs to be in charge.
After brainstorming as a class, we came up with the following committees: Executive, Website, Print Materials, Regional and State Conferences, Online Marketing (blog, facebook,etc), Guerilla marketing (outside the box type), Literacy/Outreach (Community Service), BLT (materials for Booksellers, Librarians, Teachers) and Media/PR. Every member joined 2 committees. These committees then met at the ‘forum’ site to hash out ideas. (Just as an aside, the use of the forum never totally caught on, as it was another place you had to go and log into. So what started happening was that committees formed email groups and would keep in touch that way.) The Executive Committee set goals, ran monthly ‘class meetings’ (on our list serve), problem solved and kept the committees accountable.
5. Set a Timeline & Choose Enforcers - Let’s face it, writers are busy people. Many of us in 2k9 were mothers, fathers, grandmothers and several had full time jobs outside of writing. One woman even had a baby during our year! (Go Danielle!) All of us had good intentions but, as I’m sure you have experienced, time has a habit of passing by too quickly and we were worried our tasks wouldn’t get done. That is why we chose strict deadlines for individual committee work so that all would be ready to go come January 1, 2009, when we wanted to “launch” our website. We also had a few individuals share the job of the blog calendar, nudging each of us when our time to blog approached.
6. Extract a Commitment - We kept the membership to 2k9 open for many months, giving those who just signed a contract (or those who hadn’t heard about us yet) a chance to join. New people applied weekly. Some older members changed their minds and dropped out. By the summer of 2008, there was so much coming and going, it felt like we had a revolving door installed on our list serve. Committees couldn’t get anything done. Finally (at the urging of my husband, tired of hearing me whine) we decided it was time to collect membership dues, with the understanding that if we had any leftover $ at the end of the year, it would be equally distributed back to the members or spent on something voted on by the class.
And wouldn’t you know it, the group stabilized - those who were really committed stayed on and we were finally able to get working! Maybe it was just a coincidence, I don’t know. But as my dear hubby pointed out, there is something about spending money - even a few bucks - that makes people take a commitment more seriously. It was time to fish or cut bait. In the end, we ended up with a fine group of fishermen!
7. Be Nice - Do I have to say it? Probably not but it’s a good reminder. Before we collected dues and became more of a cohesive group, our list serve was overflowing with messages from, really, a huge group of strangers. There were several times when a post could have been interpreted as flippant or mean or abrupt, even when that was not necessarily what the writer intended. This happens with humor a lot, I've noticed. Unless you know someone, it’s hard to tell in an email when they are being sarcastic or funny or silly or what. So, especially in the beginning, re-read your posts/emails before you send them to make sure they won’t be misinterpreted. Which leads me to...
8. Write Every Correspondence As If For Public Viewing - (because you never know when it will be.) Remember -again, especially at the beginning- you don’t know these people and you have no idea what they may chose to do with what you thought was a private correspondence. As the months went by and our group jelled, we did start sharing more personal information. We adopted a policy of keeping what was shared within the group private, unless told otherwise. It worked beautifully.
9. When In Doubt, Take a Poll - Yahoo has a Poll-taker tool which was great and easy to use. There were 22 of us in 2k9, and nice as everyone was, we all had differing opinions on certain issues. Decisions had to be made. A website theme had to be chosen. Colors for the website. Our logo. Our tagline. Whether we hire a publicist or not. The list was endless. Sometimes an informal majority opinion sufficed but other times, when opinions were stronger and discussion didn’t result in agreement, we’d take a poll. I must say it is a credit to our 22 members that once a poll was taken, there was no residual grumbling. (Not to MY knowledge, anyway!) Which leads me to my next and final tip:
10. Be Willing To Compromise - As you know, any time you have a group of people, from 2 to 200, you have to be willing to compromise. Decide what’s really worth holding out for and let the rest go. Because what I’ve found in working with these 21 other individuals is that what made each of them so different from me, made them invaluable to me as well. Some were great at blogging, others in talking to booksellers, others in writing proposals for conference panels, etc. Members joined committees they felt passionate about or had some experience in or were just eager to learn. THANK GOODNESS. Because half of the stuff, I couldn’t or wouldn’t have done.
By pooling our vastly different talents and interests, our group ended up with: a great website, a publicist, an active blog, bookstore signings, conference panels, outreach efforts, professional teacher/reader guides and some darn good book-related recipes! None of us on our own could have accomplished a fraction of what we accomplished as a group, which turned out to be the second-best reason for starting this group marketing effort.
The biggest benefit for me has been in getting to know a truly gifted and giving group of middle grade and ya authors. I know it sounds cliche and you may be rolling your eyes right now (stop that!) but it really is true. The individuals that stuck with the group lived out the old “all for one and one for all” approach to life and even if I never sell one book, just getting to know these incredible people has made the whole experience worthwhile.
As our debut year comes to a close, many of us are staying together in a new group blog, titled “Class of 2k9, Sophomore Year.” Check back here for our new address to follow the further adventures of The Class of 2k9! I hope you will come to visit, will bring your friends and will one day tell us about the new marketing group YOU have started! Good luck!
And to all my fabulous 2k9 buddies, a humongous group hug!