The news today is that Jennifer Weiner, the author of so many awesome books like Little Earthquakes (my favorite so far) and Fly Away Home, is hosting a contest! To enter you pre-order the book and send in the receipt, and the winner gets to host Jennifer at their book club or grab some dinner with the author and a few friends. Of course I have already entered, and even treated myself to same day shipping. You can find all the official rules and legal-speak here.
Although the contest itself is a fun bit of stuff, the backstory is fascinating, rooted in two issues: pre-ordering and the postmodern author. As I have been reading more and more about the publishing world, not just reading the products of that world, I have found that pre-ordering books is a huge, insanely important deal for authors. Stacey Ballis breaks it down nicely in her recent blog post, stating that basically pre-order sales are used as the most important indication of a book’s popularity. Popularity = sales = profit, so if a book does not generate a lot of interest before its release, then the printing and author will be affected in the long term. I found Stacey’s post through one of Jennifer Weiner’s tweets, and so when this contest went up, I felt almost duty-bound to order. One of my greatest loves is rifling through dusty book bins in thrift stores and, especially, those ancient barns that are transformed into bookstores in upstate New York. I have a priceless collection of literature I’ve paid pennies for, and pre-ordering The Next Best Thing felt very much like a karmic Good Samaritan act. Being able to enter the contest was just cosmic confirmation that I was doing the right thing!
But a big part in this too is the postmodern author. I found out about this contest from the author herself, and I read another author’s perspective on pre-ordering that was linked from Jennifer. Being able to have a conversation with authors despite distance and time zones is just amazing. Really, think about it; when is the last time you considered emailing an author after reading a book you loved? I usually look at interviews, book reviews, static information that stretches back years. With the advent of social media sites like twitter, the author as a person is suddenly more immediate and accessible. In particular, Jennifer’s attitude of embracing her position through promoting new authors, reading their books, making suggestions, and just talking about the realities of publishing and being an author evidences a new type of postmodern author, someone who seems realistic and wants to be in touch with her audience, not just the book reviewers for well-known newspapers and journals. The author-reader connection truly deserves more attention as we progress and more of these cultural literary rules change.