Sunday, November 22, 2009
Today's Guest: Caleb J Ross
A Willing Army of Readers
By Caleb J Ross
The morning my chapbook was set to print, I received multiple emails and Facebook messages from buyers saying that their preorders had been inexplicably refunded. Panicked, I checked my email. The editor of the press had suddenly—after months of editing, design work, preorder campaigns, and nights spent straddling the border between excitement and nervous breakdown—canceled the book’s production due to personal issues. This left me with one real option: take everything on myself.
As marketing becomes more and more the responsibility of the author, I was prepared to do everything in my power to help get my chapbook to readers. But when marketing suddenly becomes the responsibility solely of the author, perspectives and priorities shift.
After getting the printing issue straightened, I dove into what would ultimately become a humbling experience, one that revealed to me the importance of online networking in terms of book promotion, but more-so in terms of the personal relationships that networking allows.
Over the years, beginning well before I considered any of my words to be publishable (or even postable), through to today, when a few of my scribbles manage to impress lit zine editors, I have been weaving myself into various online literary communities in hopes of both camaraderie and commiseration. I joined and participated in book discussion forums, followed like-minded Twitter-ers, became involved with writing critique groups, and most importantly, did all I could to show my genuine interest in the literary community at-large. These were people who loved what I loved, from books to beer and all the delicious vices in between. We’ve read each other’s work. We’ve praised and shit on each other’s work. We’ve met for drinks. During these years, I wasn’t actively searching out promotional leverage; I was searching for friends.
But when the unexpected printing mishap happened, these friends suddenly became a willing force of voices to dampen what could have been a very destructive fire. They RT’d (re-Tweeted) my blog posts about the incident. They shared my Facebook messages. They even assured voyeurs who had not preordered that they could order, without worry; that all issues had been taken care of. In short, these friends became my temporary PR department, and with their help, over half of the first printing of my chapbook, Charactered Pieces: stories, was sold during the preorder period. This, all starting with a moment of fear that the book would never even happen.
Booksellers say that word-of-mouth is better advertising than any in-store campaign, any author tour, and any online banner-branding promotion. This is no coincidence. Book readers are a fairly cloistered group, where relationships, much like those multifarious, interlinked relationships of the characters we worship, are complex and serve a final end. Our end: to share a love of words. And ultimately, our relationships are stronger than those built upon passive or professional interest alone. Readers are a passionate bunch. As a writer, nothing delights me more than to see a bit of that passion focus on my project.
Thanks to everyone who helped, and continues to help, spread the word of Charactered Pieces: stories.
Caleb J Ross has been published widely, both online and in print. He graduated with a degree in English Lit and a minor in Creative Writing from Emporia State University in 2005. Charactered Pieces: stories is his first sole-author collection.