Today, we’re honored to have Melissa Beck, who runs the fine book blog, The Book Binder’s Daughter, share her guest post entitled, “Recitatio: Social Media, Ancient Style.” Many thanks to Melissa for taking the time and the fine compliments on The Naive Guys! Enjoy!
Recitatio: Social Media, Ancient Style
By Melissa Beck (@magistrabeck)
When I started my book review blog one of the most pleasant surprises I experienced was the direct contact that I had with authors through social media. Never in a million years did I think I would have the opportunity to ask an author for an interview for my blog or even discuss a particular aspect of a book directly with its creator. Traditionally, the big publishing houses have been the gatekeepers for authors and their books. In Naïve Guy terms, these publishers are akin to bouncers in the club, only letting in those who have been carefully screened and who pass their guidelines, whatever those may be.
I have discovered that authors, if they want to sell any books and carve out a name for themselves in this competitive market, must take on their own marketing campaigns. And this task not only extends to self-published authors, but a large responsibility of marketing has also fallen to the traditionally published authors as well. The big publishing firms have drastically cut their PR and marketing budgets and oftentimes the marketing for a book stops abruptly once the publication date comes and goes.
Authors have figured out that they must reach out to their potential readers in a variety of ways, which inevitably includes social media. I have established many relationships with authors by sending a Tweet or an email to them with a link of my review. I have also connected with authors on their Facebook and Goodreads pages. The first time I emailed an author to request an interview to go along with my review, I had a sick feeling in my stomach until I received a response. Why would they want to speak to me at all and what benefit could it possibly have for them? But not only was the answer I received in the affirmative, but it was also a rather enthusiastic one and her answers to my interview questions were thoughtful and detailed.
My day job is actually teaching Latin and Ancient History, so it is natural that I have also thought quite a bit about how books were marketed and purchased in Ancient Rome. Rome did have book sellers and all books were copied by hand. So in a way, all authors were independent or self-published. If an author wanted to distribute his work he had to have it copied at his own expense. Authors never made enough of a profit to live on their book earnings alone and they either had additional means of employment or were descended from wealthy families.
Authors were also responsible for their own marketing and public relations in Ancient Rome. The most popular avenue for authors to spread the word about their books was to be invited to a recitatio, or a recitation, at the homes of private and wealthy patrons where they would read their work directly to an audience. Copies of the collections of poems, tragedies, comedies and novels that were well-received were requested by members of the audience and the popularity of their creations grew by word of mouth. In essence, their social media were their own mouths.
During a recitatio, the audience was not expected to be listening silently. They would cheer on, boo, shout and even yell at the authors. Some of this, of course, might have been due to the amount of wine flowing at these events. But an author was given instant feedback through either the cheers or the hissing of his audience and had the chance to revise his work accordingly.
A bad or negative review could also hurt the reputation of an ancient author as we are reminded by Catullus in his poem #14a. Catullus is gifted a book of bad poetry by one of his friends as a joke or a prank. Catullus is so angry at his friend for the terrible gift that he threatens to go to the book seller and empty its shelves of all of its bad books and to gift them back in retaliation. And when it comes to these bad authors Catullus names names: Suffenus, Caesius and Aquinus. Is it a coincidence that the works of not a single one of these authors have survived from antiquity?
With the advent of technology and social media in the 21st Century, authors have been given a platform similar to that of the Ancient Romans through which to present their works directly to their audiences. The most exciting experience I have had as a blogger was when I began to be contacted via email from authors who offered me advanced review copies of their books in exchange for honest reviews. What these authors are doing, essentially, is performing a recitatio to an audience of their choosing and asking for direct feedback.
As in Ancient Rome, authors are able to get a sense of instant gratification and reaction directly from their readers without the complication of a middle man, or a publisher. I have also been contacted by two authors to be a beta reader for their next books, which is even closer to a recitatio since I will be providing my comments and opinions before the book is even published. Although, I have made a promise not to boo or hiss at the first drafts of their novels.
All readers, not just bloggers and professional reviewers, can support self-published authors in the same way in which audiences would support their favorite authors in Ancient Rome, which is by word of mouth. Ever since I have read The Naive Guys, I have told everyone who will listen that it is one of the best books I have read this year. If you read a self-published book you really love, tell your friends, recommend the book on Goodreads, Amazon, Facebook or Twitter, suggest the book to a local book club, and request that your local indie bookstore begin carrying the book.