Doing The Business — The Sunday Seminars at The Children’s Bookshop in Wellington

The Sunday Seminars are an initiative we came up with to keep our name in front of the literary community, and to connect with those who want to become writers and illustrators.
Ruth and I had been discussing the challenges booksellers face, and the opportunities there were to go into areas we haven’t previously been involved in.pp_ruth_and_john_mcintyre

We knew from the number of people who call on us with their ideas/manuscripts/printed books that there is a huge thirst for information to learn how to write, and the process involved in becoming published.

The beginnings…
The Sunday Seminars were an idea we thought we’d trial, starting in Book Month 2013. We were fortunate to secure funding through Megan at Booksellers NZ (administrators for NZ Book Month)  for us to engage Fleur Beale to do a writing workshop (we were late applying so it was a cancelled event elsewhere that allowed this).

We advertised it as a workshop seminar for people wanting to write YA fiction at a cost of $20 each, including lunch, and then in the afternoon we convened a panel with authors Fleur and  Eirlys Hunter, publisher Jane Arthur of Gecko Press, freelance publicist Kathryn Carmody and publishers rep Anna Applin. The subject was “How Publishing Works” and continued for 90 minutes. English authors Mel Peet and Elspeth Graham joined us for lunch, and stayed for the discussion.

The registrations for this sold out very quickly, and the day was a huge success. It was cost neutral – NZ Book Month kindly covered Fleur’s fee, and the $400 dollars in attendance charges covered the food and book vouchers to the panel.

Developing the idea, and the nitty-gritty
We had a waiting list from this event, and so we advertised our second seminar, again with Fleur running a workshop for people wanting to write for the YA market, but without the Book month funding we didn’t do the lunch or the panel .The cost this time was $25, and again it quickly filled up and as before we received extremely positive feedback. We used the fees to cover Fleur’s stipend, and after the catering costs we covered the cost of our time.
With Mel Peet in town in 2013, we had the opportunity to have him run a workshop, and this time advertised it to established writers at $30 each, aiming to pay Mel a fee worthy of his reputation. It was held in the evening, with wine and nibbles, and we had a full house of 25, with authors like Mandy Hager, Bob Kerr, Catherine Robertson and Ruth Paul amongst the participants. Mel was brilliant and It was a stellar success.

We’ve also used Fleur Beale  to do a school holiday seminar for teenage writers, (16 attendees at $20 each), and mid-year had our first “Creating A Picture Book” course with Ruth Paul which was so successful (and sold out), we advertised a repeat in October which also sold out.

How to make it work
The key ingredient to making this work is finding the right person to run the course, and we are blessed to have a number of authors with experience as writing tutors, and with a name that draws people to the classes. We need to be confident they can deliver value, so we chose them carefully.

For us it does involve Sunday work, and as it normally our only day off we are pleased to have staff who can fill in if needed.

The costs in setting this up have been negligible – we had to buy one more trestle and a white board.

We normally have our staff set up late on Saturday afternoon, three trestles and chairs, and we buy biscuits and cheese for the morning tea break. We start at 10.30am and are normally away by 1pm. The clean-up is done first thing Monday morning

childrensbookshop_facebookAdvertising the events
All the advertising has been done at no cost through our email contact list, our Facebook page, Beattie’s blog, and word of mouth from previous participants – all of whom are now on our email database.

Over the more recent seminars we have been able to pay the author $250 for their time, and after expenses we are able to pay ourselves a small amount for our time. We now have several authors pitching to us to do future workshops.

We don’t sell much at these, although after the NZ Book Month event we had a number of people come in off the street and spend very well while we finishing up, but then we don’t do this for turnover through the till.

This for us is about profile and exposure, about being seen as engaged and connected, and about being part of the literary community we rely on for our livelihood.
It builds our reputation and has people talking about us. Advertising gold.

Article provided by John McIntyre, Children’s Bookshop, Kilbirnie
If anybody (outside of Wellington) would like to talk to John about running their own seminars, please go ahead and contact him by phone 04 387 3905 or email as per below.

Our new seminars
We have recently announced our first two seminars for this year, another about “Creating a Picture Book”, again with Ruth Paul, on Sunday, February 23 11am – 1pm. The second is a very special workshop on Sunday, 9 March 11am – 1pm with David Hill, award-winning author of My Brother’s War, among many other YA books. Both are at a cost of $25. Contact for more information.

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