The trouble with writing is that it is an act of solitude, and since many writers thrive on community, therein exists the central trial that all writers must face.
This is why the annual Local Authors Expo will be held on February 1 at the Birmingham Public Library (BPL) for all the would-be writers in the city.
As Jared Millet, the coordinator of the event, says, “Even though [writing] is a path you are walking yourself, it’s a trail others have blazed before you.” In 2007 Millet founded the Hoover Public Library’s WRITE Club and now organizes the Local Authors Expo at BPL, where he also works as a librarian — when he’s not hard at work writing his own fiction. Millet says he learns a lot in the process of helping other writers learn.
The event itself has grown in recent years with the advent of self-publishing and social media as viable means of getting work into the hands of readers. In 2013 alone, the attendance rate tripled that of 2011’s, with the library accommodating nearly 2,000 visitors. And if anything, this year’s event will be even more ambitious, with 100 local authors — including Anne Riley, Javacia Harris Bowser and Stephanie Naman — attending the event.
On the Saturday of the event, 50 tables with two authors apiece will be situated throughout the first floor of the new East building of the library. The event is free and open to the public so that anyone can come from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and meet as many authors as they are willing and able to.
The authors will have their own books for sale, which range across a plethora of genres and formats, including poetry, nonfiction, mystery, romance, sci-fi, fantasy and young adult novels. Not only does this give these writers from the community a chance to find new readers, but it also allows the public to talk with writers about such topics as their own aspirations for writing and how writers manage the task of crafting a novel alongside their careers.
In fact, this very topic of juggling passion with the demands of modern living will be the topic of the first of two panels during the Expo at the Richard Arrington auditorium.
Anne Riley, an author who juggles being a full-time teacher and a wife and mother — while also finding the time to sit down by herself and write — will be leading the aptly-named session, “How to Write While Having a Life.”
“There’s a lively writing community here in Birmingham, but unfortunately, it tends to fly under the radar,” says Riley, whose most recent book will be a young adult (YA) novel titled Pull, to be published through Spencer Hill Press.* “I’ve met a lot of writers who have said they’re desperate to meet other writers in town, but they don’t know where to look.”
The second session will tackle that issue. The panel will be led by Javacia Harris Bowser, whose online blog, See Jane Write, helps female writers in Birmingham network with one another. Alongside Bowser will be inspirational writer Kathryn Lang and Stephanie Naman, who writes murder mysteries under the pseudonym Billie Thomas. The panel will offer essential tips on how to use blogging and social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, to reach readers and promote one’s own work.
“Whether an author is self-published or not, it is imperative that she knows how to market and self-promote,” says Bowser. “Publishing companies do not promote their authors as they once did.” This sentiment is echoed by Naman, who says, “Social media is the cheapest, easiest, most immediate way to connect with your audience around the world. Readers can’t fall in love with your book if they don’t know about it.”
Many of the authors in attendance at the Expo will be self-published, a practice which in recent years has become a viable option for getting work to the public. Works of varying stature have garnered recent attention and acclaim, such as the explosively successful S&M romance novel, Fifty Shades of Grey, and the underdog sci-fi hit, Wool.
Where once self-publishing was a dubious enterprise populated with predatory companies designed to exploit writers by having them purchase physical copies of their books in bulk — which may or may not ever be sold on to others — newer companies now offer print-on-demand services which only produce copies of books as they are purchased. Books-A-Million will have representatives at the Expo to promote their Espresso Book Machine, a device which will allow authors to publish their books in-store within minutes.
With an ever-increasing market for books ranging in a variety of genre niches, self-publication is being embraced by more and more writers. Many would-be writers will lament about the difficulties of getting published. If anything, the Internet has revitalized the spirit of DIY ethics, giving writers who are willing to promote their work an opportunity to find their own audience.
“Even if you are going to self-publish,” Millet is careful to point out, “you have to put in the work to learn your craft. You have to look at yourself with a harsh eye. Not having an editor doesn’t absolve you from that responsibility. You have to take that responsibility yourself.”
*Correction (9:49, Jan. 24): It has come to our attention that Anne Riley’s novel is named Pull, not Push, since she’s not named Sapphire. We regret the error.