How book burning saved a library

How to “change the conversation” – and how social media saved a library

This is a FANTASTIC story, you must read it and watch the video. Lessons in so many great things here:

  • How to “change the conversation”
  • How to engage people in an issue they didn’t care about before
  • How to make people see something in a different light
  • How a low-budget campaign can spread like wildfire (no pun intended)
  • How to save your local library!

Here’s the story:

How Book Burning Saved a Library

article from Free-Range Thinking

An unusual campaign in Troy, Michigan proves yet again that if you want to change the world for the better, first you have to change the story.

Image: Troy Public Library

Troy Public Library

This month marks the one-year anniversary of an unconventional campaign that prevented a beloved public library from closing. You probably haven’t heard this story, and the affairs of Troy, Michigan may seem far removed from your own, but if you’re in the business of changing how people think and behave, it’s worth checking out.

In August 2011, things were looking pretty bleak for the city of Troy. A decline in property values had led to a 20% decrease in revenue, forcing personnel layoffs and cuts in municipal services. Despite a proud history spanning nearly fifty years, the Troy Public Library was facing permanent closure that month unless the voters passed a tax increase.

Proposed tax increases had failed twice before, and the anti-tax sentiment whipped up nationally by the Tea Party was playing well in Troy, especially as the local economy sagged. Sure, people loved their local library, but it looked like they hated taxes a lot more.

When the vote was set for August 2nd, the library’s supporters had only six weeks to conduct their campaign, and turnout during the dog days of summer promised to be low. Even though the proposed tax increase would be less than 1%, local experts predicted defeat for the ballot measure. But then something strange started to happen all over the city.

Image: Book burning sign

Book burning sign

Yard signs started to appear with the message, “Vote To Close Troy Library Aug 2nd, Book Burning Party Aug. 5th.” The signs promoted a Facebook page set up to help interested parties coordinate for the event. Need a baby-sitter so you can help burn some books? Click here! Want to buy a book bag emblazoned with a book burning party logo? Order one here!

As you might expect, Troy residents were outraged, and the story blew up on Twitter, local media, and eventually national and international media. At first blush, it appeared the local anti-tax forces had gone one step too far, but here’s where the story takes its most interesting twist.

The yard signs and social media campaign were actually the work of locals who supported the tax increase (with pro bono help from the ad agency Leo Burnett Detroit). They recognized that the Tea Party was controlling the narrative on this issue, defining it as a story about another burdensome tax increase. To win on August 2nd, the library’s supporters knew they had to help voters see another story. A more resonant story. The story of what happens when a library closes.

Of course, a “book burning party” is an extreme and, some might say, perverse stretching of that story, but given the risk of losing their library forever, supporters felt that extreme measures were required. (It’s worth noting that Troy Library officials weren’t involved in the campaign and were shocked by the strategy.) Just a few days before the August 2nd vote, the Facebook page introduced a new message: “A vote against the library is like a vote to burn books.”

When the true intent of the book burning campaign was revealed, Troy residents not only breathed a sigh of relief, they turned out at the polls in numbers 280% higher than predicted. Shocked out of complacency, they passed the tax increase in a landslide and saved the library. More importantly, they demonstrated to us that stories are powerful tools of persuasion. And when they are used against us, it’s our responsibility to come up with better ones.

And here’s the video:

Thanks again to Free Range Thinking for this fantastic article!

Back to the Books – A Truly Indie Bookstore!

Back to the Books may be a first of its kind… a bookstore that only stocks books by self-published authors and independent publishers! I’m excited to have three of my titles stocked there, and so I asked the owner, Jon Renaud, to share some more information about his exciting new venture. BTTB (Back to the Books) is located in Manitou Springs, Colorado, and stocks books by authors from around the world.

Photo: Back to the Books storefront

Tell us a little about Back to the Books… does it only stock indie books, or traditionally published as well?

Hi Jody, thanks for taking the time to speak to me about Back to the Books. I believe we are the very first bookstore to stock only independent titles. Now, please don’t misunderstand: these are not all self-published titles, but also small press titles where the author still owns all the rights to their book.

Where did you get the idea for an indie bookstore? Are you an author yourself?

The idea came to me a few years ago shortly after my own book was published. I wrote and published Dereliction of Duty (www.jonrenaud.com) to raise money for the Wounded Warrior Project. During the process, I discovered how difficult it was to get indie books into bookstores. I also met a lot of other indie authors who had some incredible books but were faced with the same problem. I always felt that if bookstore would give them a chance, and if the prices were competitive, they would sell. So the idea was there for some time, and then one day I was talking to friend who owned two storefronts in Manitou Springs, and he offered me one. Idea met opportunity… and I jumped on it!

Photo: Back to the Books

What made you think an indie bookstore would be a viable/profitable business venture?

I always knew it could be a viable business plan if I could just find the right location, and Manitou Springs is perfect. No one will go out of their way to drive to an indie bookstore, but Manitou Springs is 95% foot traffic. And when people walk in and see all of the great books, most stop, look around… and buy books!
As for profitable, I never thought, or said, it would be a profitable business venture. My goal is to get the store to a point where it is self-sustaining and new titles are rotating in and out, to give indie authors the exposure they need. If the first month is any indication, that goal will be met, and maybe there could be some profits left over.

Manitou SpringsTell us a little about Manitou Springs, and why you thought it would be a good home for BTTB.

Manitou Springs is an amazing little town that draws millions of visitors every year. It has a culture that embraces everything independent and dislikes corporate: all of the stores in town are trendy art galleries, cafés, and the like. It is the perfect location to attempt something like this!

How long did it take you to set up the whole venture, including your online store?

The plan has come together very quickly, but I could not even begin to count the hours I have put into this project. The storefront became available on February 10, 2012 and I have been running since that day. In about one month, I was able to get the physical store loaded with books and ready for the grand opening, the website and online store up and running, and arrange and pull off a spectacular grand opening. So it has been a crazy few months, but everything has come together perfectly. I finally got the employees trained, which means things should be slowing down for me a little. To celebrate, I am heading to Las Vegas next week!!!

Photo: Back to the BooksFor a long time, authors have struggled against the stigma of self-publishing… In your experience, what does the general public think of self-published books?

There is no doubt there is a stigma out there for some. The biggest problem is quality and price. People believe that self-published books are too expensive, and poorly edited. I am working hard to help change that stigma. Although it is impossible to read every book I get in, I will read a few chapters of every book to make sure the formatting is professional and there are not a lot of typos. Unfortunately, I have had to decline a few titles because I feared they would perpetuate the stereotype and not help our cause. But overall, the customers I have met do not care how the book was published, as long as it is a good book.

Are you still accepting new authors? How many titles do you plan to stock at any one time?

I will continue to accept new author as long as my doors are open. That is part of the business plan: to continue to roll the inventory. Although Mantiou Springs is a big tourist town, I have also been very warmly received by the locals, who have purchased many books already, and expressed their happiness at having a bookstore in town. They will continue to come back as long as I keep new titles coming in for them.

What genres of books are selling best?

So far, children’s books, Young Adult and Self-Help/Improvement books have been the best sellers. And surprisingly, poetry books have also been very popular! I expected the children’s books to be hot sellers as we just finished the Spring Break season and lots of kids and parents were in town during the week. I also publish a weekly bestseller list at www.backtothebooks.net, so authors can see what is selling and share their strong sales with friends and family. I expect the fiction titles to start to pick up as the tourists begin to arrive, and are looking for good books to read while sitting out by the pools.

How important is a good cover?

Photo: Back to the BooksThere is nothing more important than a great cover — except maybe great content — but if you don’t have a great cover… no one will ever see your content! The unique thing about Back to the Books is that it is designed so every book faces out towards the customers. No books are hidden on back shelves or have the spines facing the customers. It is fascinating to me to watch what books draw the most attention simply because of the covers.

If you could give three pieces of advice to indie authors trying to sell their books, what would they be?

The first piece of advice is what I stated above: design a great cover. Don’t do it yourself or have your friend who is really good with PowerPoint do it for you. Find a great cover designer and spend the money to have a fabulous cover.
Second, price your book competitively. Customers do not want to pay $25 for a 300 page paperback novel. You will never be able to get your price point where it needs to be if you use most of the online publishing services, because that is how they make their money — by charging high prices for the print books. Work with someone that knows the industry and can help you navigate the process. I provide free advice to authors every day.
And finally, just keep producing the great books that I have seen coming through my store. Be persistent in your marketing, and people will buy your work… and then some day come back to buy the sequel!

Thanks, Jody, for the opportunity to share this new venture with all of your readers. If I could add one last piece of advice, it would be that if you want people to take a chance on you as an indie author, then you have to do the same. Commit to only buying indie books and then recommend them to all of your friends and family. We only succeed if we are willing to do what we want customers to do!

Thank you, Jon, for a fascinating interview and for doing so much for the indie publishing cause! In fact, on behalf of all indie authors, THANK YOU for really pushing the envelope of indie publishing and sales. Best of luck in the new venture… I think I might plan a trip to Manitou Springs myself, to check out this wonderful store!

Authors who are interested in having their books stocked at BTTB can contact Jon via the Back to the Books website. You can also shop the online store!

Back to the Books Online Store

My books on display:
Photos; Jody's Books

Reviewer With A Cause

I’m a huge supporter of providing books to libraries, charities, and other good causes, and so I was happy to be contacted by an organisation called Read for Your Future.

Read For Your Future

Lora Weidenheft lives in a low income community where families are struggling for work. There was one steel mill in the town, but they relocated to Georgia, taking their money with them. As a result, the schools are under-funded (this year Middletown City school will only have one librarian for all the schools, and two more schools are closing this year), and the school hadn’t had a new book in almost 4 years!

Lora was a high school drop-out who, at age 44, hadn’t read a book since high school. When she picked up a copy of Twilight, she was hooked on books… and YA in particular. With an ever-growing collection of books, she decided to donate some to her local library. Her daughter told her that Middletown High School had no new books, so Lora called them… and they jumped all over the idea!

But Lora wanted to do more…

She still had books that needed reviews, so she set up a program where students will read the book, write a review, and then keep the book for the school. It was going very well; so well that the principal of Franklin High School called and ask if they could get in on the program. So Lora designed a website where the students from both schools could participate.

The program works like this: Lora contacts authors and publishers that she hopes will donate a book in exchange for a review. I then puts the book put it on a list and lets the students at the two high schools choose the book. The student that chooses the book then reads the book and writes a review. There are links on the website to lead them through the process. When they have completed their review, they then turn the book into to the librarian at their school, letting them know it’s a Read For Your Future book. It then gets cataloged, and at that point has a new home for years to come.

The students are excited about this program. They are building up their library, and they feel good about themselves knowing they have helped out their school.

As for Lora… she now has an LPN and a GED licence, and continues to run Read for Your Future!

I love that this program is home-grown; Lora saw a need and did something about it herself. And so I’m really happy to support Read for Your Future and all the students involved I’ve donated some of my books and am looking forward to the reviews!. If anyone would like to donate books to the cause (and many of you review bloggers have tons of ARCs kicking around – Lora loves getting those too!), please contact Lora at:
readforyourfuture.blogspot.com
www.readforyourfuture.org
www.readforyourfuture.net