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  • Writer's pictureSusan Koehler

Launched with Local Love

On August 17, 2019, I celebrated the launch of my very first novel for young readers. For me, it was a dream-come-true. Over the course of about eight or nine years, I developed Dahlia in Bloom based on my mother’s fond memories of her childhood in the Blue Ridge Mountains. I fictionalized her world and created a character who lived in it. Just before she passed away, I shared the beginnings of that story with my mother and received her blessing.

The story grew and changed over the years, characters were developed and then extracted from the text, the main character morphed into a few different incarnations...but finally, it was finished. I sent queries to a few agents because that seems to be the gateway to one of the big-time publishing houses. I got a few nibbles and requests to see the full manuscript, but in the end, it was rejected.

That’s when my daughter gave me a book about publishing, and I was really drawn to the section on small, independent presses. The author compared them to “local micro-brews,” creating distinctive products with a regional flavor. So I sent my manuscript to the small, independent Turtle Cove Press, Inc. And that’s where my dream became a reality.

Working with a local small business gave my book a personal touch. M.R. Street, the publisher, contracted with other local businesses. Making Light Productions provided us with the perfect cover model, and talented local photographer Katie Clark worked her magic to create some beautiful, evocative images. Elizabeth Babski, now retired as a cover designer, put it all together to create a beautiful cover.

Charming small businesses abound in Tallahassee, and among the most charming is Midtown Reader, a local independent bookstore. The downstairs is quaint and lovely, with cozy seating, painted walls, and beautifully displayed books. How fortunate I am that we were able to schedule our book launch at this local gem! The launch was held upstairs, where another local business, Lucy & Leo’s Cupcakery, is located. Their delicious scents and delectable treats added to the “sweetness” of the event.

Ahead of the August 17 book launch, Dahlia in Bloom received a starred review from Kirkus Reviews, which was greatly affirming. To add to the affirmation, Kirkus featured that review in the indie section of their June 1 Kirkus Reviews magazine. However, the review most relevant to the local crowd appeared in the Tallahassee Democrat. The Sunday before the launch, our hometown newspaper published a lovely review, written by Judi Rundel, a member of Tallahassee Writers Association. That’s when the buzz really began, and I’m so thankful to our local newspaper for spreading the word.

To further publicize the event, M.R. Street printed flyers, and some of my favorite places displayed them: Killearn Lakes TaeKwonDo, Mathnasium of Tallahassee, Smith Family Chiropractic, and Trinity United Methodist Church. These partners in life shared their hearts in a way that only local businesses can.

Also ahead of the event, I had to plan what seems the most trivial – yet admittedly stressful – part of any high-profile occasion: I had to decide what to wear. So of course, I went to a local business, Cotton Etc. The owner shared in my excitement, chatted with me about the details, and helped me select the perfect outfit.

Then came the big day: Saturday, August 17. Storm clouds gathered and blocked out the sun. They opened with force, and we drove to Midtown Reader through pouring rain and loud claps of thunder. All I could think was nobody’s going to come. But I was wrong.

The very hospitable event workers at Midtown Reader had cleared tables and chairs from the upstairs area and set up rows of seating. It wasn’t long before the seats were filled. By the time the event began, the second story of Midtown Reader was packed with a standing-room-only crowd. It was like an episode of the old television show, This is Your Life.

There were current and former colleagues, former school administrators, church friends, Jazzercise buddies, and people who had read the review in the newspaper and were intrigued. There were current and former students and parents of students past and present. The delightful girl who modeled for the book cover was there with her family members.

And of course, there was my family. Throughout my years of growing up, my family never failed to show up at awards ceremonies, poetry readings, school plays, and church musicals. They are my greatest cheerleaders and supporters. Two sisters and one brother-in-law drove 500 miles to be here for my book launch. One of my nephews, a firefighter, rearranged his work schedule so he could make the 200-mile journey along with his girlfriend and her precious daughter.

Then there were the local family members: sister, brother-in-law, nieces, great-nieces, and great-nephews. Finally, there was my own little nuclear family -- husband, daughters, and grandchildren – the people who give me purpose and make me proud. I was surrounded by love on August 17. It was all at once humbling and uplifting.

After speaking to the crowd and answering questions, I sat down to sign books. The line went on for quite awhile, but I savored every personal exchange. Finally, we reached a point where the books sold out -- 91 copies, gone! Midtown Reader took orders for additional copies, and the crowd began to dissipate.

With joy in our hearts and celebration on our minds, my family sought out a spacious, comfortable gathering place, and my publisher joined us. Of course, what better way to bring the occasion to a close than to celebrate at a local business? So we ended the day at Proof Brewing Company, a family-friendly Tallahassee brewery and restaurant.

On August 17, 2019, I was overwhelmed by the show of support from so many people whose loving spirits have enriched my life. I am blessed beyond measure to have the most wonderful tribe. But that’s the kind of community I live in -- and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

One day, it would be great to be associated with a big publishing house and sophisticated marketing team. But for now, my greatest hope for Dahlia in Bloom is that it leaves readers with the comforting truth that comes from knowing there is goodness in this world. That comforting truth was made very real for me when my dream-come-true was launched with local love.

*Dahlia in Bloom is currently available through Midtown Reader in Tallahassee, or if you don’t live nearby, you can find it on Amazon. My next event will be another local love occasion – an event jointly hosted by The Bookshelf and The Hare and the Hart in the beautiful city of Thomasville, Georgia. I’ll be at The Bookshelf on Broad Street, 2:00-4:00 PM on October 26, 2019. Patrons who take a signed copy of Dahlia in Bloom two doors down to The Hare in the Hart will receive 10% off a toile item. I’d love to see you in Thomasville!

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