Steven R. Porter, a writer, blogger, and self-employed marketing consultant, founded the Association of Rhode Island Authors in 2011 to help bring awareness to the many talented writers in our area. He serves as the organization's first president.
He studied writing and communications at the University of Rhode island in the late 1980s, where he was editor of the award-winning campus literary magazine, The Great Swamp Gazette. He also is the author of two independently published novels: “Confessions of the Meek & the Valiant,” a family crime saga set in South Boston, and “Manisses,” a historical novel inspired by the legends and history of Block Island. “Manisses” was honored in 2012 by the New England Book Festival as one of the best novels of the year.
He and his wife Dawn, the author of the independently published children’s book, “Searching for Rhode Island,” are active volunteers in their community and reside in the village of Harmony, their two children.
PBN: When you founded the nonprofit Association of Rhode Island Authors in 2011, how many members did you start with? How many do you have today and to what do you attribute this growth?
PORTER: We started the association in the fall of 2011 with just six authors. As of last week, our membership had ballooned to an astonishing 70, and I expect more to follow.
At that first meeting, I think we all felt an instant sense of fellowship and commonality. Authors tend to spend weeks, months or even years isolated with their work, and it is exhilarating to suddenly meet others out in the real world who have experienced all the same hopes, dreams and obstacles that you have.
There are many terrific writing groups around the state that can help you develop your craft as a writer. What sets us apart is that we don't want to focus on just the art of writing, but also on what happens after that work is complete. I think that's what resonates with our local authors. The explosion of e-books and print-on-demand technology gives authors more opportunities, marketing choices – and headaches – than ever before. We fulfill many needs.
PBN: Besides networking and socializing, what exactly do you do to raise awareness?
PORTER: We don't want to be a group that just holds monthly meetings and sips tea. We need to be meeting readers one by one and sharing our books with the community.
This fall, we partnered with the North Scituate Public Library and launched the first Rhode Island Authors Series that featured readings and presentations from 17 of our members. Many of our authors participate in several expos and festivals, including Johnston's Apple Festival, Narragansett’s Seaside Village Fair, and the Big Book Club Getaway at Mohegan Sun, to name a few.
Last winter, we helped organize “Books and the Bottomless Bowl” with FosteringArts, a community arts organization, that placed our authors at the microphone, reading from their works as patrons enjoyed homemade soups and breads. In May, we sent several authors to read and sign books for the grand opening of the John Brown House Museum Bookshop in Providence. And of course, we held the first annual Rhode Island Author's Expo in Kingston just last month.
PBN: Describe the expo in November. What made it successful and did it lead to any new ventures or connections?
PORTER: The response from the public was absolutely inspiring. We were able to seat 45 of our best authors in the Courthouse Center for the Arts in South Kingstown to chat with readers and sell books. It’s something that as far as I know, has never been attempted in Rhode Island before now. The center estimated that more than 350 people walked through our expo that afternoon. It was fun to watch the reaction of the attendees when they realized not only how many authors we have in the state, but how very, very good all their books truly are. It was a “wow” moment that played out again and again, all day long. It was a blast.
Now, I am contacted almost every day by someone looking to join our group, or work with us. I think this expo will quickly prove to be our signature event. It really put us on the map.
PBN: You and your wife are both authors. Have you and other members benefited through the association in your personal professional writing activities, including production, distribution and sales? In what ways?
PORTER: As an author, when you know you have a support system in place, it gives you the confidence you need to go out and produce good work. I know we have all benefitted from ARIA at different levels – we have 70 different authors with 70 different kinds of books – so it's hard to quantify. But every day, someone new hears about us and offers up a new opportunity, resulting in many more appearances and ultimately, the sale of many more books.
Speaking personally, ARIA has helped boost sales of my own two novels, and helped my wife Dawn successfully launch her own children's book this fall. And that experience has Dawn and I now putting the pieces together for our own small, local publishing house, Stillwater River Publications, to help other local writers get their work to market.
PBN: Who are some of the bigger name authors that have been attracted to your group? How do you plan to continue to attract attention for your members and their work in 2014 and beyond?
PORTER: There is a remarkable list of celebrated authors from our little state that includes Ann Hood, Jhumpa Lahiri, Thomas Cobb and Jon Land, to name just a few. I have communicated with many of them and can honestly say they have all been highly responsive and supportive. We’d love to have them more of them involved, for sure, as their experiences are invaluable. But one of the amusing ironies about the authors in our association is that we tend to be better known outside our state than inside. Many of us are well-known in our genres and speak frequently throughout New England, New York and beyond, yet often can't get our local library, bookstore or newspaper to return a call. Some believe that if you're a local author, you must not be that good. We're blowing the lid off that false assumption in a hurry. We're now hard at work putting together a list of activities for 2014 that includes a new poetry series and a bigger and better expo. But to achieve or mission most efficiently, we hope to partner with local arts groups, bookstores, libraries, other businesses and other nonprofits who also see the huge potential in our mission. It is an exciting time to be an author.