Marketing departments can rack their brains trying to develop a campaign that sells a product, but when a customer makes a suggestion that proves the winning formula–magic! Novelist Alexander Chee happened to mention in an interview that he liked to write on trains. Picked up on twitter, the comment gained momentum in cyber circles, including the attention of a freelance writer Jessica Gross. Someone at Amtrak was clearly doing their job, because they were aware of the social-media following and seized the moment to capitalize on the publicity. Before long, Amtrak provided Gross with free tickets in a sleeper cabin, allowing her to write whatever she desired aboard. Gross was writing, tweeting, blogging. Alas, the romance of train travel with the time to write!
The success of the trial-run with Gross led Amtrak to roll-out the #AmtrakResidency program. Twenty-four writers will get a private sleeper car on a long distance route. As measured by the excitement of writers, both journalists and potential applicants, Amtrak’s marketing initiative is already a success. I googled the Amtrak Writer’s Residency and there are a lot of top tier media outlets who have reported on the program: NPR, CNN, The New Yorker, The Huffington Post, The Economist (links provided below for reference). The story even appeared in the NY Times ArtsBeat. What author wouldn’t love to have that kind of publicity about a new book? Me, me, me!
Amtrak is accepting applications on a rolling basis from March 17-March 31, 2014. The application form requires the entry of the writer’s Twitter and Instagram handles, while also requiring two essay questions. The first question is “Why do you want an #AmtrakResidency?” while the second is “How would the residency benefit your writing?” I suppose essay questions are fair game for writers! The handles likely serves as a basis by which Amtrak can evaluate a writer’s following, since his/her product will be released to the public in some form. The more readers the better, although Amtrak claims that both established and emerging writers will be considered.
My only complaint about Amtrak’s initiative is that the application form is available from an “Official blog of Amtrak” link rather than the main website at www.Amtrak.com. You’d think the social media and website teams would have gotten together to put a promotional banner on the main site. On second thought, maybe they want to limit the applications to those savy enough to find the blog link, since those are the people they are trying to attract. I withdraw the criticism.
I am signing off on this blog for the day, as I need to write a couple of essays. Hey Amtrak–pick me!
*** News Reports on Amtrak Writers Residency
- NPR: Amtrak Opens the Door to Writing on the Rails (audio)
- CNN: Amtrak Officially Rolls out Writers’ Residency
- New Yorker: Writing Powered by Amtrak
- The Huffington Post: Amtrak to Offer Writers’ Residency Program
- NY Times ArtsBeat: Now Boarding: Amtrak Writers Residency
- The Economist: Amtrak Writers Residency: Wagon Lit