Approaching Ten Years Of Authors And Audiences For NWS
By Craig Manning | Oct. 13, 2019
What began as an outside-the-box author event for Doug Stanton a decade ago has blossomed into Traverse City’s National Writers Series (NWS), one of the biggest author events in the country -- and now a bit of a family affair.
Last week’s event with Curse of Oak Island author Randall Sullivan was the organization’s 152nd over the past ten years. Anne Stanton, Doug’s wife, now serves as executive director. She says NWS has tracked more than 50,000 tickets sales since then. Those numbers, Doug says, put NWS on a different level from what authors are seeing at signings or readings in most other cities.
“Even many successful authors might only average 50-100 people per book event in most places,” Doug says. “We have something special here. We turn out more people. We sell more books. And it just proves that you don't have to be in New York or Los Angeles to have a great book event.”
When the Stantons came up with the concept that would become NWS, they did so largely out of necessity. Doug, a New York Times-bestselling author known for books like In Harm’s Way and Horse Soldiers, was seeing firsthand how the recession was affecting the way authors and publishers promoted and sold books. People were still reading, he says, but the “retraction of the media” was making it more difficult to reach readers and promote in-person author events.
“I was on a book tour for Horse Soldiers, and it was selling an enormous amount of copies each week,” Doug says. “It got to number two on the New York Times list. But then I went to a Barnes & Noble in Dallas and there were about 36 people in folding chairs. I just didn't understand how the book was selling so well, but yet I wasn't really meeting the readers.”
When it came time to plan a hometown book event for Horse Soldiers, the Stantons decided to do something a little bit different. They wanted a grander space for the event than a bookstore, and they wanted it to be more than just a reading. And they were curious to see what would happen if they doubled down on promotion and took the time to “really hand-sell the event to the community.”
So followed the unofficial start to the NWS: a May 2009 event where Doug sat down with Army Colonel Mark Mitchell – a key figure in the Horse Soldiers story – for a conversation on the City Opera House stage. Two months later, at a similar event featuring noted crime and suspense novelist Elmore Leonard, Doug had what he calls “an eruption of a cultural idea” and spontaneously announced the inception of the NWS from the Opera House stage.
NWS will mark its official 10-year anniversary next year, recalling a decade back to when the Stantons (along with co-founder Grant Parsons) officially branded the organization and established it as a nonprofit. The Stantons say they’re in the early phases of planning a celebration to mark the milestone – likely for next fall. In the meantime, NWS is focusing on other priorities, including a busy season of author events and planning of future programming, which could include YA authors, screenwriters, or even podcasters.
And the event series goes well beyond the stage and even Traverse City: The organization records and broadcasts its author conversations to thousands of other listeners, thanks to partnerships with Interlochen Public Radio, Michigan Radio, and major stations in the Detroit and Lansing area. Doug says the NWS “probably creates more media and promotional awareness of an author than they get on most of their tour,” save for the few major authors that land slots on national program like The Today Show.
Since the beginning, the organization has given out three college scholarships each year to local student writers, one of which Anne says will likely be endowed soon. And now NWS is also in talks to potentially take over “Word Up,” a local reading-focused after-school program launched and piloted this past year in three elementary schools.
Long term, the Stantons are hopeful that the entertainment and educational sides of their organization can meld together to write the next chapter of NWS.
“The vision is that, in 10 years, one of these Front Street Writers students has published a novel, and has done really well, and wants to move back to Traverse City. They’ll have all these new ideas, and they will know what writers need to make a living and make a life at this, and they will take the whole thing over. That’s the 10-year plan.”
Pictured: Self-help author Jen Sincero asks a sold-out audience to hold up copies of her books that they brought to her National Writers Series appearance at the City Opera House in January 2019. Photo by Halle Meyer.