By Dawn M. Barclay, Chapter President
When I became president of the Hudson Valley RWA in July of 2019, it was more the result of an order than an election. When you have a small chapter and everyone else has already been president, new members are less candidates than fresh meat. I’d been with the organization more than four years and had opened my big mouth with suggestions more than once. Hence, I was the obvious and unchallenged choice.
My predecessor was a hard act to follow—a terrific writer and well-liked within the group. Even though I wasn’t elected for my revolutionary ideas, I still had a few. My background was in marketing and public relations, and my goal was to double our size from 15 to 30 members within my two-year term. I decided the best way to do that was with great speakers and a lot of exposure. Great speakers would attract more members. More members meant more dues, which could help us attract even more speakers, and so on.
We needed to accomplish a few things first. I took over our outdated and complicated website and redesigned it using Weebly, which was simple enough for even a non-techie like me to understand. We added some areas, like a Speakers Bureau that advertised to the world that we could give talks at libraries, senior centers, women’s clubs and more. We also wanted a new logo for the site, but didn’t have the funds for a designer, so we held a contest on a graphic design contest website with a $25 prize. From some excellent entries, we came to a consensus and voila, new logo.
Around the same time, Yahoo was killing its group email function, so we had to find another inexpensive answer. We settled on Gaggle and it’s been working for us ever since.
For exposure, I set up a group on Yahoo Meetup and invited members from other groups to join. We decided to charge $5 for newcomers to attend any meetings that featured speakers, with that money credited toward visitors’ membership if they chose to join. Before RWA National started having its rather public problems and before COVID-19 put an end to our in-person meetings, we did attract some visitor attendance, which was gratifying.
We also set up a table at a local mall during an event that promoted nonprofit groups. All our authors contributed a book, and we had a big giveaway for those who shared their email address. It gained us some exposure and added to our mailing list.
But I wanted to do more to get the word out. We compiled a list of local media outlets and sent out press releases publicizing each meeting. We also posted on online calendars. We did the same for more than 100 libraries in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. We also contacted the heads of the English departments at local colleges and invited their students to attend our meetings and add some real-life experience to their academic studies. We also contacted all the other local RWA chapters within 100 miles and invited them to our events and likewise, promoted their events to our members.
It’s one thing to put a mailing list together, but it’s meaningless unless you have something worth advertising. So, we did our best to diversify our programs. Over the past two years, we’ve had speakers explain how to write romance for video games; how to get the legalities of your romance right; how to disappear without a trace; how to create and promote a romance podcast; the ins and outs of blog tours; how to successfully supercharge a book release; and how to increase Amazon book sales with Kindlepreneur founder Dave Chesson. Three of our “A Day in the Life of Your Next Protagonist” series featured crime investigator/romantic suspense author D.C. Stone; a real-life Dominant and submissive; and a dating coach/former matchmaker. Once we went virtual, we were able to record these sessions for members who couldn’t attend.
Unfortunately, between RWA National’s issues and COVID, we never attracted enough members to meet my goal. In fact, we were falling short of the budget goal I’d set, so we created two new fundraising efforts.
First, we held a Valentine’s Day trivia event at a local restaurant and craft beer gastropub where I’d held two of my book launches. Many of our members attended and between rounds of romance-related questions, they explained to the audience how their RWA membership had helped their careers. Many local businesses contributed prizes, including our own members, who sold books after the event ended. It was a big success.
Second, we started a second contest to augment our regular one. Unlike Hook, Line, and Sinker, which judges the first three pages of a contestant’s manuscript, our 25-4-25 runs from January through May and gives detailed comments on 25 pages for only $25. The best manuscript wins a premium membership to Querytracker.net, which helps authors with their querying efforts. The contest worked so well for the chapter in 2020, we’re repeating it in 2021.
Now my two years as president have come to an end. Despite my efforts to encourage others to run, I’ve been told I’m serving again. We’ll see how it goes—I’m still insisting that others run. If I do serve again, I’m still hoping to increase our membership and get other chapters on board to do something regional—maybe a mystery anthology or a book festival. Now that RWA National has new leadership and a fresh perspective, and once COVID-19 is under control, all things are possible.
Just one thing—none of these efforts would have been successful without the help of my fellow board members Tara Stearns, John Schneider, contest coordinator Elizabeth Mattila and the many members who volunteered their time and effort to make our chapter the best it can be. HVRWA’s members rock and I feel blessed a part of such a wonderful group of authors!
For more information on the Hudson Valley Romance Writers of America, please visit https://www.hudsonvalleyrwa.org/