Kate Culkin: Promoting an Academic Book to a General Audience

Roundup: Talking About History

Kate Culkin is an assistant professor of history at the Bronx Community College in New York City.

"Any topic worth writing a book about has people who will be interested in it, if they know the book exists. The trick is to reach them."

The title of Harriet Hosmer's 1908 obituary in the Boston Globe was "Most Famous of American Women Sculptors." Another obituary, however, expressed surprise that she had not died years before. I have wrestled with that dichotomy—that Hosmer was both a celebrity and a forgotten figure—as I have written and promoted my book, Harriet Hosmer: A Cultural Biography, published by the University of Massachusetts Press last November...

Despite choosing an academic press, I still believe Hosmer's dramatic story has a lot of appeal to a general audience, if people get to learn about it. To ensure people do, I have tapped into the spirit of Hosmer herself, who was a great self-promoter. I set up a Facebook page and a blog (abiographersblog.com) a month before publication and alerted everyone I could think of, including alumni associations, members of workshops I have attended, and former co-workers. I use these spaces to announce events related to the book and post facts about Hosmer, as well as discussing items of interest to readers who would find a biography of a 19th-century sculptor appealing.

I have reached out to independent bookstores, especially those that identify themselves as feminist and gay and lesbian, those that focus on art, and those in geographic areas where Hosmer had roots, including Boston and St. Louis. When physically possible, I have gone to the bookstores in person, with a copy of the book and the press release. For those farther afield, I have sent e-mails and recruited friends to plead my case. I have also contacted book clubs and posted discussion questions on my site and written a post for the influential blog Book Club Girl....

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