To Vote, or Not to Vote: Finding an Author

BIC Account Manager, Christie Hinrichs

BIC Account Manager, Christie Hinrichs

by Christie Hinrichs

Recently, a well-known university (who will remain anonymous to protect the poor souls who now know better) decided to allow their student body to choose the All Campus Read title, hoping that such collaboration would foster engagement, excitement and a bigger investment in the program. Their intentions were great! It’s a no-brainer that partnering with your audience will ensure a greater level of involvement and participation. However, the execution of their plan was deeply flawed. Their nomination process was open-ended. They didn’t consider things, like speaker availability or cost, into the voting system. Their primary goals (a book that underscored diversity and the power of common experience, written by a living author who could visit their campus for fall convocation) were not accounted for. Unfortunately (albeit predictably), their initial nomination list read like a who’s who of the popular fiction and literary elite: J.K. Rowling, E.L. James, Hillary Clinton, Stephen King, John Green. All great authors and personalities, but most unavailable, not in line with program goals, or way out of budget range.

The coordinators expectations (that their students would choose thoughtful, important books without needing any guidance) were probably unreasonable, but their desire to include the students in the process was right on the money. Books in Common stepped in to help, laying out the following guidelines for an inclusive yet mediated voting system that would not only meet their program goals, but also provide for the best book, author and event possible.

1) Identify your goals by asking the right questions. Who is your typical student? What is important to them? What are the regional/cultural issues that make them unique? How can you best address their concerns about the future, and their citizenship in the world? (This need not apply only to college students – insert “Community Member” for “Student,” and it’s just as relevant!).  By answering these questions, you’ll quickly come to a good understanding of the type of book you’re looking for, and one that will appeal to the greatest number of people.

2) Develop a long-list of authors to consider, and let Books In Common do the legwork. We can of course offer suggestions on books we know have had great success as Common Reads selections, but one of the most valuable services we offer is providing feedback, fee estimates, and availability. And we can explore discount opportunities that we can pass along for any author on the list. Having this information on hand will help you determine who stays on the list, and who is priced out.

3) Once you have a short-list in place, having verified that the authors are available, fit within your budget, and are excellent speakers, then get the students voting! The most successful voting systems we’ve seen include a brief bio of the author and a synopsis of the book, as well as testimonials from enthusiastic readers (perhaps a student who has already read the book), and/or quotes from the author. Planning events like the “big reveal,” when the final selection is made can be a great way to ramp up excitement ahead of the author event.

No matter how you decide to manage your voting system, Books in Common can help with every step of the process. Our ultimate goal is to connect writers with their readers, establishing common ground and meaningful experiences!

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