Marketing Meetup Recap: Hosting Community Writing Contests/Creating Original Content

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The American Booksellers Association recently presented the second in a series of three online Marketing Meetups focusing on topics related to IngramSpark, the print-on-demand book publishing service and e-book distribution tool. now features a page under the Events tab with a listing of all past and upcoming Marketing Meetups, along with the Meetup recaps previously published in BTW. ABA’s Marketing Meetups are part of the organization’s educational offerings for member bookstores; visit BookWeb’s Education Resources section for even more educational content.

The May 23 Marketing Meetup, hosted by ABA on, was titled “Hosting Community Writing Contests/Creating Original Content,” and featured guest speakers Josh Floyd, manager of business development for IngramSpark; Nicole Magistro of The Bookworm of Edwards in Edwards, Colorado; and Kimberly Daniels from The Country Bookshop in Southern Pines, North Carolina.

The Bookworm of Edwards has hosted a writing contest for the children in the Eagle County school district for the past seven years, said Magistro. Children in grades 3-12 can submit a fiction or nonfiction short story for consideration, and winning submissions are published in Ungoverned Children, the store’s own annual publication. While the store began by using Tattered Cover Press (via its Espresso Book Machine) to create the publication, in 2016 the store switched to IngramSpark and has continued with the service since.

The first year, Magistro said, the store held the contest in the fall, but in the second year it was moved to the spring so more kids could contribute. The contest timeline is now a January kick-off, a March deadline, and an April publication. The Bookworm of Edwards also hosts a kick-off party in the bookstore with children’s authors to get kids excited about writing, Magistro added, which serves as an opportunity to reinforce deadlines.

“We use our e-mail list to send out announcements to the general public, and we use social media and print advertising selectively to both announce the contest and the approaching deadline,” Magistro said. The store also posts guidelines for the contest on its website, so children can write their stories at any time of the year and then contribute when submissions open.

In its inception, the staff of the Bookworm of Edwards handled the judging portion of the contest themselves, but they have since taken on eight professional judges who are all published authors, literary agents, and book editors, Magistro said. Authors have included Lindsay Eland, Claudia Mills, Karen Benke, and Heather Sappenfield. This year, Dusty Bowling served as a judge.

Switching to IngramSpark to create the publication has resulted in increased sales, Magistro noted. “IngramSpark has made the book a lot more professional looking. It’s a lot more comparable in terms of its presentation on the shelf — very similar to paperbacks in the middle grade section by any of the big five publishers,” she said.

“We handle all the online submissions, the formatting, and the cover design in-house, and we’ve learned that doing a lot of that in advance before we get the submissions is great because it’s quite a lot of work to get the stories edited by the professional judges and then into the book,” Magistro added. “We have a set of editing standards that we use that’s sort of our Bookworm style guide, so that all the stories are consistent and made for a professional book.”

Since switching to IngramSpark, Magistro said that the store is selling about 100 copies of Ungoverned Children a year; it’s also seen a 15 percent increase year over year, which she attributes to the book’s high quality.

Magistro said that the launch party for Ungoverned Children is her favorite event of the year, noting that “it’s an amazing community event. We both announce the winners of the contest and we launch the book on the same night. The store is completely packed; our capacity is about 85 people and we’ll have about 135 in there just snuggled in trying to listen to the winners and buy their books.”

“The kids sign their books,” she added, “and it’s a wonderful experience that serves our mission. We’re making a much greater margin than a typical book on those titles.”

And while the contest requires a significant amount of effort for the store, Magistro said that it’s “a really rewarding experience for all of our staff who participate. It’s just a thing that we build into our schedule and our workflow, so that we know we have time to make it happen.”

In the coming years, The Bookworm of Edwards is looking to expand the program to include a poetry collection that will be open to both children and adults from the greater Colorado community.

“For us, it’s been a great experience to work with IngramSpark,” Magistro said.

The Country Bookshop works with local authors to publish a small amount of titles per year, said Daniels, and it produces a calendar in conjunction with the North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame.

“What first inspired us to start creating our own content was really hearing about IngramSpark... and having the right author walk into the store,” Daniels said, noting that the author was a columnist at a local magazine who wanted to compile his columns into a book. “I said, well, let’s do it, because I knew we would sell them, and I was looking for ways to increase our margins.”

The content also works to serve the community, Daniels added, saying, “Local, local, local is everything we do, so how can we serve locally? There’s a market for hyper-local that isn’t in anybody else’s business interest to serve. But it’s in ours.”

From the bookstore’s point of view, she said, it’s a no-brainer because the margins from self-created content are much larger than books. The store receives both publishing income and retail income, which all comes back to the store. Daniels said she uses the publishing chunk to make more books and pay the graphic designer.

The Country Bookshelf has several titles on the docket, including a children’s book related to the military, a local guidebook, a history of the bookshop’s 66 years in business, and more, said Daniels.

The Independent Bookstores of Piedmont North Carolina Calendar features authors in the North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame as well as a different North Carolina bookstore each month. The calendar also serves as a passport that customers can have stamped prior to Independent Bookstore Day in April. Previously, the North Carolina stores worked with the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance to produce a standalone passport, but they opted for the calendar because they could sell it in-store, Daniels said. 

For the calendar, stores have the option to adapt the PDF to brand it to their specific store and publish it themselves, or to buy an unbranded version, Daniels said, noting that stores that branded the calendar saw more sales.

As far as content creation, Daniels said the key is setting long deadlines. “I like to do a year out,” she said, “sometimes more, and that’s how it works for me. I’m vocal about doing limited books, too. The only ones we do, we do well.”

Floyd added that many other independent bookstores are using IngramSpark to create their own branded, original content, such as stores that once or twice a year “create branded individual notebooks that are geared toward their community.”

One of the benefits of IngramSpark’s print-on-demand model, he added, is that for items like notebooks, booksellers can choose from a multitude of different cover options. Stores can also partner with local companies to create branded content for them.

“You also have stores that are bringing books back to life,” Floyd added, sharing that Watermark Books & Café in Wichita, Kansas, worked with the author of Grasslands to re-publish the book once the rights from its previous publisher reverted back to the author. “It was a book that kids grew up on around there, so it was a book they wanted to have back because it was in demand, it was just no longer available.”

Said Floyd, “What you have is bookstore out their creating content — whether it’s content that’s original, like the branded notebooks or Kimberly’s calendar, or whether it’s content from authors you want to see back in print — and it’s been really exciting to see what bookstores will do once they have the tech.”  

Booksellers who would like to participate in the next 30-minute Marketing Meetup, which will be held on June 6 and cover best practices for marketing sidelines, can sign up on All ABA members are invited to join. Meetups are held at 11:00 a.m. ET on two Thursdays a month.