NCompass Live: Engaging Writers with a Community Novel Project


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NCompass Live -
July 16, 2014

Libraries are well positioned to encourage customers and community in fiction writing and content creation. The Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library's Community Novel Project is an opportunity for the Topeka community to work together to conceptualize, write, edit, narrate, and publish a complete novel. Each successive year we experiment and expand our annual project to model the evolving skill set necessary for writers wishing to self-publish their own work in digital, print on demand or audiobook formats. Engage with your community of writers and readers and establish the library as a trusted resource for 21st century writers!

Presenters: Lissa Staley and Miranda Ericsson, Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library.

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NCompass Live: Engaging Writers with a Community Novel Project

  1. 1. Engaging Writers with a Community Novel Project Encouraging fiction writers to collaborate, write, edit and publish a novel together – at your library! Lissa Staley Miranda Ericsson
  2. 2. Why are libraries involved in this? • Libraries have always supported authors with research assistance. • Now we have the unique opportunity to support writers by teaching them the skills and techniques for writing fiction and self-publishing it through the available and emerging platforms. • Content creation is the next step for libraries who want to connect with their communities.
  3. 3. What we’ve accomplished (so far) • Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library has completed two Community Novel Projects with twenty authors each contributing a chapter to the novel which was serialized and then published by the library. • Capital City Capers (2012) and Speakeasy (2013) are available from and • Two additional projects are underway by local writers and facilitated by the library, including a juvenile novel. • The organizational process and behind the scenes experiences are freely shared for others to learn and experiment with community-written novels in their own communities. • Learn more at
  4. 4. Working in Pilot Project Mode Taking risks is fun!
  5. 5. How did this get started? • In January 2012, Lissa was pulled into a brainstorming meeting about libraries and content creation • When deciding the timeline – If each author has a month to write their chapter, a novel could spread over 2 years – One chapter per week spreads the project over 5 months • Because of Lissa’s connections with local writers through previous fiction writing programming, she took the lead in facilitating the writers • Lissa wrote the first chapter and approached writers individually to invite participation, particularly until the novel began publishing online • Library management worked on copyright release forms, web graphics, and funding for printing the books
  6. 6. 2012: Capital City Capers • Writing – Weekly deadlines, weekly publishing of html and pdf version • Publication – 20 Serialized on library website for 20 consecutive weeks – Printed book at Author Launch Book Party – Printed book available on and in library collection • Design – Print layout in Adobe InDesign, printed through CreateSpace – Some b&w photograph illustrations and author photos • Marketing – Project organizers recorded podcast
  7. 7. TSCPL’s first community novel in 2012 was an exciting learning experience for all involved – but we met the deadlines, published a chapter each week online, and had a finished printed book in time for the Author Book Launch Party on Sunday, September 30, 2012!
  8. 8. Need to improve for next year • Writers should be engaged in creating premise • Build “emergency weeks” into writing schedule • Add an online forum for sharing chapters to increase collaboration • Develop a stronger editing team earlier in the process • Use layout software that is more available to home computer users to model the way
  9. 9. The 2012 Novel Capital City Capers was serialized online each week on the library’s website. A printable version was made available for writers who wanted to print out their work to share with others.
  10. 10. Unavoidable challenges • Wrangling 20 individual authors to each meet deadlines • Encouraging authors to honor the chapters before their writing and leave space for the chapters to come • Creating and editing fiction collaboratively while valuing each person’s contributions • Encouraging readership of the serialized novel and increasing interaction between readers and writers • “Confirmation of CreateSpace Order” – You won’t know for sure the delivery date of the printed books, or the final price of printing each book until you have a manuscript ready for printing and actually order it. Until then, you are just estimating, hoping and working quickly. • There will be other unknowns. We can’t tell you what they will be.
  11. 11. For the 2012 novel, we did design and layout in InDesign and used Createspace as our printer with distribution through The finished novel is available on
  12. 12. 2012 by the numbers • 20 authors, some published for the first time • Printed books cost $3.37 a book plus $0.43 each in shipping • $3.80 total cost, sold for $5 preorder and $6 at Book Launch • 87 books printed • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.2 x 0.5 inches, 210 pages
  13. 13. This wasn’t a one person project. Read the three pages of acknowledgements on the amazon preview to see the variety of people who contributed time and talent to create a true community novel.
  14. 14. 2012 Participant feedback • It pushed me outside my comfort zone, and honestly, I liked that. • I liked being able to be part of a published work. • I want to do this again if given the opportunity. It was amazing. Thank you. – I also enjoyed thoroughly the reactions of those writers who had never experienced having something they'd written published - watching several of them clutch the novel to their bosoms was priceless.
  15. 15. Year 2: Expanding the Pilot Project What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
  16. 16. Second Year: 2013 - SpeakEasy • In its second year, more than 20 writers contributed chapters for the novel Speakeasy, which was serialized on the TSCPL website at from April to August 2013. • The website also offered extras for readers in the community, including behind the scenes information on how the project was organized and interviews with the authors. • The novel is still available on the original site, and is now available as a complete edition in print, audiobook, and ebook format from, and
  17. 17. 2013 Speakeasy by the numbers • 22 authors / 20 chapters • 129 copies ordered • Printed books cost $3.41 + $0.42 shipping • $3.83 total cost, sold for $5 preorder and $6 at Book Launch • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6 x 0.5 inches
  18. 18. Learning and Growing: Changes we made for Year 2 • Collaborative editing using a wiki • Layout and design using free templates from createspace to make project more easily replicated by other authors • Added an audiobook version • Added author interviews published with each chapter and also included them in the printed book (over 40 pages worth) interviews • Posted a link to each new weekly chapter on our Library’s facebook page • Engaged contributors in marketing at the Kansas Book Festival and Library’s Author Fair
  19. 19. 2013: SpeakEasy: What Worked Well • Community Premise meeting engaged writers from the start • Community writers wrote first chapters and collaborated to write premise after several chapters • Weekly chapter published online along with audiobook mp3, EPUB, mobi and PDF downloads • Returning community novel authors were strong contributors to the process • Community members began to take on expanded roles in editing, audiobook narration • Authors were interviewed on library podcast and in newspaper
  20. 20. Behind the Scenes Peek behind the curtain
  21. 21. Advertising and Soliciting Writers
  22. 22. 2013 Organizational Meeting
  23. 23. Copyright, Preorder and Calendar
  24. 24. Online ebook publishing
  25. 25. Let your readers be part of your in-crowd and give them the behind-the- scenes details! • I overhead a reader say “I like reading the Author Interviews almost more than the chapter!”
  26. 26. In SpeakEasy Grad student Ronni Long wants the past to come alive, but her centenarian source Julia doubts all the adventures of her long life should be revisited. Aren’t some things better left buried?. It’s a chick-lit mystery with some history. Look Inside at amazon
  27. 27. Book Signing by the Community Novel Authors
  28. 28. Year 3: Exploding the Pilot Project Don’t crash and burn!
  29. 29. You can’t do it all – we tried! • In previous years, library staff took on the burden of making this project succeed and introduced expanded features • Taking on two projects forced us to focus on the priorities – What matters most to the readers? – Are there any tasks that must be done only by library staff? – Which tasks will help writers learn from this experience? – Are there certain community participants who will step up? – How can we streamline the process?
  30. 30. Updates for 2014 projects • Added a juvenile fiction pilot project – 10 authors, new genre, trying to include illustrations and work more closely with kids interested in writing, and adults interested in writing for kids • Recruited new writers from writing programs at the local university and welcomed writing friends of current authors • Published weekly chapter and author interview as one document • Postponed recording audiobook until conclusion of writing • Trained community members to begin print layout before conclusion of writing
  31. 31. Superimposed • Many new writers to the project, some returning writers • Third annual mystery adventure story set in Topeka – Writers are struggling not to retell last year’s story • New challenge: require flashbacks on even numbered chapters and a parallel present day and historical plot – Addition of continuity notes on the wiki for each chapter – Introduced plot and continuity editing – Continued spelling/grammar/punctuation editor
  32. 32. Spirits of Oz • In addition to being written for a younger audience, this pilot project opens up an opportunity to share creative artwork in a collaboration • We can include colorful digital images in online, with black and white versions needed for print. • We anticipated a higher response for contributing illustrations than we have received – We think this demonstrates that starting with smaller activities to grow interest in fiction writing at the library help build the trust and commitment needed for successful collaborative projects • Plan: establish an “Art Director” for future projects to work directly within the community of emerging artists. Networking and soliciting artwork is a new challenge.
  33. 33. Spirits of Oz Illustrations
  34. 34. Crediting Collaboration • Everyone gets credit for their contribution to the project
  35. 35. Engaging Writers In Your Community The Sky is the Limit!
  36. 36. What role does the library play? • Library resources • Technology resources • Facilitator and leadership • Convener of projects • Host of events • Publisher
  37. 37. Collection development challenges for self published authors • Does this automatically mean we include all of these authors’ self published works in our library? No. • Community Novel Project can: – Help increase communication between local author and library selectors – Help local authors understand library collection development policies and guidelines – Help local authors find distribution outlets and make their work accessible to readers in other ways besides sitting dusty on the library shelves • Plan: Develop local authors section of our website
  38. 38. Local Author Fair and Local Author Workshop • What comes next after self-publishing? Additional programming needs were identified from Community Novel Project and addressed in 2013 and 2014 • Local Author Fair provides opportunity for all local authors to share and sell their work and build readership, at the library • Local Author Workshop helps writers sharpen their self-promotion and marketing skills and learn more about self-publishing options and traditional strategies for publication. Topics and speakers are selected based on feedback from community writers. • Library is creating handouts and web guides with resources on Character building, Consistent tense, Wandering Point of View, Writing a great Author Bio and Book Blurb, Definitions for Self Publishing Options
  39. 39. Value to the community • Connects writers within the community in a support system • Encourages cooperation and collaboration between writers perceived as “solitary” or “competing” • Creates a tangible end product that demonstrates talent, creativity and hard work of community members • Teaches and reinforces marketable skills in writing, editing, layout, publishing and marketing that writers can apply to their own projects • Creates a reasonable, attainable goal for writers that helps them move on to their next big goal • Reframes the library’s role between readers to books as facilitators of creation and connection rather than just providers of things
  40. 40. 2015: Looking ahead • How do we focus the premise in a new direction and facilitate quality ideas that everyone can support? – Announce a genre, source premise ideas from writers and readers • How do we raise the bar for our writers and increase community involvement in future projects? • We involved over 30 writers in 2014 in two projects. How do we refocus on a single project without negatively excluding people who want to contribute? • How can we continue to expand the project without overloading library staff? • How will we enable community members to take more active roles in project management and behind the scenes publishing experiences? • What are the complementary partner programs? – Self publishing workshops, editing workshops, author fair, etc.
  41. 41. Pilot Your Own Project You can fly! You can fly! You can fly!
  42. 42. You can do this in your community! • Leverage you local writers groups • Try it as a fundraiser • High school or college classroom project • Feature local celebrity writers • Develop your services and resources for writers
  43. 43. Why will writers trust you? • “It’s hard to bleed your creativity on this kind of project just to watch other people mess it up.” – Lissa, January 2012, before the first chapter of the first novel was ever written • Our library offered National Novel Writing Month events since 2004 – learn more about Come Write In for libraries at • This project fits alongside the traditional library approach of supporting local authors by promoting their work. Individual local author readings and book signings had been offered for years but were not successful based on attendance. We were hosting them, not engaging them. • We see Community Novel Project as a natural progression from encouraging readers, to encouraging writing fiction, to then supporting the writer’s efforts to take the next steps toward editing and publication.
  44. 44. Start with what is most important to your community • Serialized novel – Promotes each individual author’s contribution – Advertises the project over time – Allows excitement and readership to build – Increase community interaction between authors and readers • Printed book – Author signing – Souvenirs for friends and family – Something on the library shelf makes you an author – Modeling self-publishing options for community writers • Ebook – Portable, affordable, available widely – Ease of distribution • Audiobook • Illustrations • Social Media • Marketing Interviews
  45. 45. Things to think about for your library • Where does it fit into your library? Whose work is this? • Where does it fit in your community? Where are the groups of writers that you want to engage? • How will you find interested writers? • How much staff time does this really take? • What technology and budget needs will you have? • How hard is it to get people you don’t know well to meet creative writing deadlines? • How will you guarantee that the writers are contributing quality work that reflects well on your community and the other writers?
  46. 46. Lissa Staley Miranda Ericsson Idea Sharing and Questions