Wednesday, September 17, 2014

From a Job to a Community

After two years as an Americorps Vista volunteer in Burlington, VT, family reasons brought me to the Boston area. I already knew I wanted to be a writer and so was only looking for a job that left me enough time and energy (both physical and mental) to write. I figured working in a bookstore would do just that. I got a temp job or two and then a job at an after school program. Finally, the sign went up that Porter Square Books would be opening about a five minute walk from my apartment. For the next two weeks I walked by the windows every day, waiting for them to put up a “Help Wanted” poster. They finally did, I emailed my resume and a letter of recommendation, had the interview, and was hired.

I started part time, working nights and weekends on top of my job with the after-school program. When the store needed someone to manage their website, I fit the “under thirty so he must know computers” qualification, and so, with no prior experience, started managing the website along with working on the floor. Not too long after that I started buying the store’s magazines.

Ten years on I’m still writing and still finding new things to do at the store. (Still mostly on the Internet even though I no longer fit the “under thirty” qualification.) When I started at Porter Square Books, I mostly focused on what a bookstore wouldn’t do: make me wear a suit, compromise my lefty politics, and leave me too drained to write; but my decade with PSB has been much more about what the store would do; create a community of writers, editors, and other publishing professionals, connect me to hundreds of readers, give me access to all the galleys I could ever read, allow me to be a champion of the weird books I (and a few other tortured souls) love the most.

One of the buzzwords writers hear at the beginning of their careers from potential agents and publishers is “platform.” One’s “platform” consists of the resources, publicity potential, and community that will help sell an author’s book. For example, a celebrity author would already have a substantial “platform” built from her existing fame, as would an expert in some field who presents at related conferences. A non-celebrity writing a novel is going to have to build that platform himself, most likely through social media and publication in magazines and journals. Porter Square Books has been a lot of things to me this decade; it started out as a job, but now, with my novel coming out in March, it is my platform, and it will always be a part of my community.

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