The Big Country Book Club: an interview with Bernadette Foley

bernadettefoleyThere are such interesting things going on in the book industry at the moment, and readers of this blog will know I’ve spoken to several industry professionals who have left corporate life to start exciting new enterprises. One I’ve discovered recently is a great initiative connecting authors and their books with readers, while using the opportunities of the virtual world to enhance real-world possibilities!  This is the Big Country Book Club, the brainchild of longtime editor and publisher Bernadette Foley, which launched this month, and today I’m talking to her about it.

First of all, Bernadette, congratulations on the recent launch of the Big Country Book Club! How did it start, and what prompted the idea?

Thank you very much, Sophie. The book club grew from a few ideas coming together. When my long service leave came up, after working in publishing for decades, I decided to try something new but still within the world of books. Also, I had taken part in regional workshops with the Queensland Writers Centre, which were very popular, and that led me to think about bringing author events to people in regional areas via an online community. Thirdly, a publishing friend told me about a bookshop in a small South Australian town that was thriving by selling books to readers in remote locations. I thought I would like to do that too. These were some of the thoughts that led to the development of BCBC.

The BCBC–what a great acronym, by the way!–seems like a very nice mix between the kind of publisher-based book clubs such as the old Doubleday book clubs, and the Scholastic book clubs still very popular with children today, crossed with the very popular idea of book club personal discussion that we see now. Is that a fair description or is there even more to it?bcbc-logo

Yes, that is a good way to describe BCBC (I’m glad you like the acronym!). Another feature is the small, carefully selected line-up of new releases I present each month. Instead of facing a huge range of titles, which many people find overwhelming, members pick a book from this curated selection. This is why some people have joined BCBC – they love reading but want help to find books they will enjoy.

I would also like to mention BCB Clubhouse – the book club and bookstore for children from babies up to the age of ten or eleven. It has all the features of BCBC but for children.

 I can imagine that setting up BCBC must have presented quite a few challenges–and occasioned quite a few discoveries!–along the way. Can you tell us about the journey towards launching the club?

Ah, yes! There are a million challenges – one is being patient. A new business doesn’t blossom overnight, and I secretly thought it would! A happy discovery, though, was finding that people are generous with offering moral support and ideas. Authors I have published over the years have written blog posts, publishers send review copies of books they think will suit the clubs, and Joy McKean, whose books I’ve published, was one of the first people to sign up as a member.

bcbclubhouse-logoHow do you go about choosing the books your members receive? Are there particular genres you focus on, for example?

I check the monthly catalogues from most of the small, medium and large publishing companies in Australia. Also, I am keen to include books from new publishers, such as Christmas Press and The Author People. I want a mix of fiction and non-fiction but beyond that I am open to choosing across genres. I don’t only pick books that I would personally enjoy! With my experience as a publisher, I select outstanding new titles for different reading tastes. For example, a book about revitalising Newcastle, Creating Cities, was popular with members, as was Joan London’s The Golden Age.

Tell us about what it would be like to be a member of BCBC. What can members expect?

What a nice question. People subscribe to become members and some received memberships as Christmas presents. Members go to BCBC’s site at the start of every month, read about the latest selection of books and choose one. They are all printed, not ebooks, and are posted to members’ letterboxes, wrapped in brown paper and tied with string. On the site there are blog posts and competitions; members can share their thoughts on the books they’ve read and join online conversations. Also, members who are writers can post issues they are having with their manuscripts on the Writers Forum and other members and I will offer suggestions to overcome the problem and give some feedback on the writing.

BCB Clubhouse members can also read blogs from authors, take part in activities, competitions, and choose a book every month.

Connecting books–and authors– directly with readers is the ‘holy grail’ of all sectors of the book industry, of course. How do you see the role of new enterprises like BCBC in this?

Australia has great books, devoted readers and hardworking, talented authors. Those of us in these new enterprises have to think laterally to find the best ways to bring the three together. One of my goals for BCBC is to create a community where we share thoughts about what we have read and meet authors, on the site and through events and tours. This community should be fun, engaging and interesting, otherwise people will spend their time elsewhere.

There are many interesting and lateral-minded initiatives happening within the industry at the moment: including those driven by people who like yourself and Lou Johnson of The Author People, have had long careers in publishing. Why do you think this is happening?

Also, your Christmas Press Picture Books, Sophie. The children’s books you’re publishing are exquisite, and I am so excited about your new imprints, Eagle Books and Second Look Publishing.

Is it like seeing red cars everywhere as soon as you buy one? Am I aware of these initiatives because I’m involved in one too? I’m not sure, but I know that a few of us who have worked for publishing companies for decades have each decided that we need to try new ways to publish, promote and sell books. We are all asking, ‘Can we succeed in doing something differently and better?’ ‘Can we make a living out of it?’ is the other question. You, Lou and I all love books, and we’re excited by the process of writing, making and selling them. I never want to lose that feeling; to keep it alive I left a job at a very good publishing company to see what would happen if I threw lots of ideas up into the air.

 

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