I was straightening things up at the store and looking forward to a few days of vacation before jumping into a new year when our last customer of the day walked through the door. “I want to sign up for two of your classes,” she announced as she swung her chic wrap over her shoulder and glanced at her companion.
She was referring to the SPARK series of workshops that are being held at The Book Garden this winter and spring. We introduced the workshops last year as a way to bridge the slower months between the holiday and summer seasons with the hopes that expanding our offerings would add energy to the shop and establish The Book Garden as more than just a bookshop. We certainly aren’t the first bookstore to offer creative writing workshops. Last year we offered a variety of one-day workshops to gauge what types of programs would be of interest in our area. The workshops mainly focus on writing – fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. – but this year we have expanded to include a series on publishing and one on finding, and keeping, balance in your life. Experienced instructors lead the workshops and we do charge a course fee, which varies depending on the length of the program and the instructor.
The practical side of offering workshops is that they provide another revenue stream and exposure for our store. They also take a lot of time to organize and can end up costing time and money. We certainly aren’t experts (yet) but have come up with a short list of workshop dos and don’ts I’m happy to share:
- Don’t let the workshop instructors usurp your authority. Course fees, times and even location in the shop where they will be held can be jointly decided but are ultimately at the shop owner’s discretion. You know your store and your customer base.
- Don’t assume the workshop leader will be responsible for drawing students. Even well published authors aren’t necessarily strong marketers.
- Don’t overpromise. Prospective students need to understand the scope of the workshops and what they can expect to achieve.
- Do allow for plenty of time to promote the workshops to your customer base and beyond. While word-of-mouth is the best advertising, putting up fliers and sending out press releases are cost-effective ways to spread the word. Putting together a mini-marketing plan that can be followed repeatedly is worth the effort.
- Do vet your instructors/workshop leaders. A successful author does not always a great teacher make! Invite potential instructors to lead a half-day workshop before engaging them for a longer program.
- Do provide a welcoming environment for everyone. Make sure the workshop leaders know what tools are available to them – or not. We host most of our workshops in our Read-In Kitchen, which doesn’t provide space for a white board, for example. Snacks are always appreciated.
And the list could go on and on but I’ll stop here and welcome any thoughts and suggestions on running workshops.
Memoir was our most popular workshop last year, which brings me back to the woman enquiring about this year’s offerings. “My friends keep telling me I should write a book about my life,” she explained shyly. After a little coaxing, she shared more of her story – an accident that almost claimed her life and a long, difficult road to recovery. I most certainly agreed she had an experience worth sharing and admire her courage for putting herself out there. I look forward to knowing more of her story and to all the stories I will have the privilege of hearing in 2014.