British Columbia’s book community is taking a page from the locavore movement with the April 1 launch of its province-wide Read Local B.C. program. Led by the Association of Book Publishers of B.C. and funded by the Canada Council for the Arts and the Canada Book Fund, the 21-day program includes free author readings, library and bookstore campaigns, children’s events, and other programming designed to increase public awareness of the more than 800 books published in B.C. every year.
Read Local was developed on the heels of last spring’s B.C. Book Day at the provincial legislature. Publishers, booksellers, authors, and other industry players met with MLAs and government staff on April 9, 2014, to show off made-in-B.C. print and ebooks, and spread the message that B.C. residents author about 80 per cent of titles published in the province. “There was a real buzz and excitement in the room on both sides,” says ABPBC executive director Margaret Reynolds. “Both from the publishers and from our representatives.”
When the ABPBC was asked to repeat the book fair–style event this year, they merged B.C. Book Day with inspiration from the American Library Association’s Midwinter Meeting & Exhibits to create a unique, public-facing campaign. New events are still being added, but Read Local B.C. currently features more than 23 publishers, 300 authors, 60 speakers and presenters, 40 libraries, and 50 booksellers, with readings scheduled in Vancouver, Victoria, Fernie, Tofino, Haida Gwaii, and beyond. Participating authors include Richard Wagamese, George Bowering, Daniel Francis, Brian Brett, Phyllis Webb, Maggie De Vries, Evelyn Lau, Daphne Marlatt, Angie Abdou, and Jean Barman.
It’s no accident that many of these public events will take place at bookstores. “We’re working really hard with the booksellers to bring people into their stores,” says Reynolds. “[Encouraging people] to support their independent booksellers is crucial to our ecosystem.” Read Local is an industry celebration, but selling titles underpins the whole program. “It’s what keeps us going,” says Reynolds.
To publicize the project, ABPBC executive assistant Natalie Hawryshkewich created a series of graphic posters, tote bags, pins, bookmarks, and postcards printed with slogans including “Be Book Aware” and “Watch for Local Books,” featuring stylized wildlife images reminiscent of B.C. highway signs. Members of the public will be encouraged to send the postcards to friends and loved ones with notes about their favourite local books or authors.
For under-18 book lovers, the Read Local B.C. Children’s Series includes author events in Victoria and Vancouver and a short-story contest open to kids in grades one through 12. Entries will be judged in three different age categories and winners will receive books and gift certificates for their local bookstores.
Once the campaign is over, the ABPBC will examine attendance numbers and gather feedback, but the organization is already planning to make Read Local B.C. an annual event. Cash-register receipts will provide another, albeit imprecise, way to measure the program’s success. “We’re going to be looking at sales figures,” says Reynolds, “but it’s really hard to tell whether it’s a result of what we’re doing or something else.”
Most importantly, the ABPBC hopes to replicate the positive buzz members experienced at the Parliament Buildings last year. As Reynolds describes it, several politicians and legislative staff expressed their excitement about the size and quality of the local book industry. “If a member of the public could say the same thing to me,” says Reynolds, “I’d be very happy.”