This time last week, I was in New York heading over to the Javits Convention Center for BEA’s Blogger Conference. My role this year, like the past few years, was a panelist in one of the many general sessions. Specifically, I was one of three panelists tasked to discuss how bloggers can take their online presence offline.
Going in to the panel, I was told I would have ten minutes to speak on my topic and once all the panelists spoke we would open it up for questions from the audience. I was actually worried I wasn’t going to have enough to talk about. Imagine that!? Instead, it was quite the opposite and I had so much more information I wanted to relay, hence this post.
To start off, I’ll give you a brief summary of what the other panelists spoke about. Tirzah Price (The Compulsive Reader) was the only other blogger on the panel and she spoke about how blogging helped her get a job at Great Lakes Book & Supply in Big Rapids, MI. Moreso, she is incredibly involved in the community, providing creative writing courses to the public. Additionally, she created a Facebook page for Michigan Reader Events. Pretty awesome, right?
The third panelist was Wanda Jewell, the Executive Director of SIBA (Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance). She spoke about how bloggers can best work with their local independent bookstores. To start out, the best thing bloggers can do if they have an indie nearby is to introduce themselves, become a customer of the store, attend events, and build up the relationship from there.
Agreeably, this panel did lean a bit toward support of independent bookstores and that appeared to be a bit off-putting to some attendees. I understand that not all bloggers are fortunate enough to have indies close to them. I didn’t have one myself until two years ago, so I get that. So, when I noticed the looks on the faces of attendees, I did expound upon some of the “offline” things I do beyond working with indie bookstores and how easy it is for bloggers to get involved.
Reluctant Readers After School Book Club
First, I created a reluctant readers after school book club at the local middle school and elementary school. The children who participated in these clubs were hand-selected by the teachers and parental permission was required. Additionally, since a lot of time and resources were put into these clubs, parents had to guarantee that their children would participate in these monthly book clubs.
The first year of this club has just recently concluded. Each club had 10-12 children “assigned” to it. Midway through the year, a large portion of the children technically “outgrew” the program, meaning they had overcome their reluctance in reading and were full-fledged book lovers! Obviously, I couldn’t kick them out of the club so we continued as a regular book club.
To select books, I asked my oldest son (the formerly and sometimes reoccurring reluctant reader) to pick a few books that interested him. If the book was out already, the school librarian procured enough copies for each of the children. If the book hadn’t been published yet (this only happened 1-2 times) I contacted the publishers who very willingly supplied the books to the children.
Additionally, each month we would have a big book giveaway. My son and I would pull together books we’ve received from publishers that we’ve read as well as some we hadn’t yet read and hand them out to the kids. I have to say, this was the one thing the kids looked forward to the most! Many of these children don’t have access to books outside of the school library. It was heartwarming to see these children, former reluctant readers, digging through the boxes of books looking for treasure. By far this is the most rewarding “offline” project I am a part of!
How to get started: Contact/introduce yourself you your local school principal or librarian. If you have a child attending that school, you have an easy in!
Hosting a Book Club
I host the fiction book club at my local independent bookstore, One More Page. This is a great opportunity for book bloggers! First, you have access and knowledge about really great books months before publication. In many cases, by the time the books are out you have read them and moderating a book club gives you another excuse to talk about books with fellow book lovers!
Like the middle school & elementary book clubs, I bring bags of books to this book club to hand out. They include ARCs I have read and reviewed and I’m ready to pass on as well as unsolicited books that I do not plan on reading and reviewing. It’s a win-win for all. You clear out all the stacks of books overtaking your homes and book club members get early access to books!
My blogging has really helped out with this book club because it gives me the sort of access to authors that the everyday reader does not have. For example, I use contact information for publicists and can get in touch with them about arranging a visit with the author or, if that isn’t an option, a phone call from the author. Last night I hosted the June meeting of our book club and we had the opportunity to chat with Nichole Bernier about her book, The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D. Book club members tend to like these meetings the best: in addition to chatting about the book we get the unique opportunity to talk to the author about the book, asking questions about their motivation and inspiration. A real treat!
How to get started: Contact your local bookstore, library, etc. See if they have an existing book club. If they do, offer to host every once in a while. If not, suggest that they start one! Specialized book clubs (non-fiction, mystery, spiritual, children’s) are great options as well!
The final “offline” project I work on is providing support to my local library. Library budgets have been cut severely and unfortunately they don’t have the level of staff and support they once had. Mine in particular doesn’t have the resources to do a lot of the work involved in running the library book club, so I pitch in. I help pick the book, provide resources and discussion questions about the book (if not available by the publisher) and pretty much do everything but run the book club. This typically takes me a few hours a month and really lessons the weight and pressure on the librarians to keep running programs with limited resources.
How to get started: Introduce yourself to your local library! Volunteer your time in other ways (offer to shelve books, etc.) and build up a relationship from there.
Reading to Under-privileged children
My county has a literacy council. One of the volunteer opportunities is a program in which trained volunteers read bedtime stories to children in shelters. This one takes a great deal of commitment but by far is quite rewarding!
In addition to these “offline” opportunities, I also mentioned a few online opportunities I’ve gained access to since becoming a blogger. To keep it short, these include several freelance writing opportunities and participation as one of the founding members (and community outreach director) for Bloggers Recommend!
If you have any questions about any of these programs and/or would like more information, please do not hesitate to contact me either via the comments below by emailing me (jennsbookshelfATgmail.com).