At Follow the Reader we love hearing about publishers who love connecting with readers. One such publisher is Toronto’s ECW Press. Their innovative (and adorably named) Shelf Monkey program allows for direct (and very personal) interaction with, and feedback from their readers.
SW: Shelf Monkey is an advance review program for people who wish to review new ECW titles. Signing up takes a couple minutes via an online submission form found on our homepage.
When we’ve got new books on offer in the categories that Shelf Monkeys like, we email them to see if they are interested in any of the titles that are currently available; the choices are entered in a random draw by Jennifer Knoch (Shelf Monkey’s top banana) who then sends a galley or advance review copy to the selected Shelf Monkeys.
KM: Where’d you come up with the idea for Shelf Monkey?
SW: In a digital age book publicity is still about old fashioned word-of-mouth. Our aim is to invite people who love to read and write about books to read and write about our books. We can’t claim it’s a unique idea (various publishers have built review communities for marketing purposes) but we do handle it on a personal level. The process isn’t automated – we answer emails, pack galleys, and send them all from our office here in Toronto.
The program name comes from the title of a satirical novel called Shelf Monkey, by Corey Redekop (ECW 2008). The novel is about a secret society of book lovers who strike back against what they consider homogenization of books; they refer to themselves as Shelf Monkeys. To go meta-Shelf Monkey, there’s even a review of Shelf Monkey left by a Shelf Monkey on our website.
KM: How many Shelf Monkeys do you currently have in the program?
SW: We launched Shelf Monkey earlier this year at Book Expo America and membership has been steadily increasing. So far, we have a smallish troop. Given the current rate of growth we can maintain the personal nature of the community, something that’s really important to us.
KM: Who are your Shelf Monkeys? (bloggers, professional reviewers, etc.?)
SW: Membership ranges from professional media to dedicated book bloggers to first time reviewers who post a comment on our site. It’s open to North American residents over the age of 16.
KM: Is it difficult to keep track of all the shelf monkeys and their reviews?
SW: Not difficult – it can be time-consuming. However, we request notification of any review or mention posted externally (Facebook, LibraryThing, GoodReads, Amazon, etc). And we only send out one book at a time per reviewer. Before sending a second title to a Shelf Monkey we’d need to see they’ve reviewed the previous one.
KM: Do you send out physical arcs, or do you encourage people to use the digital arc system via Net Galley?
SW: We’ve offered both. Most Shelf Monkeys seem to want a copy of the book in the mail as compensation for their time. But as e-readers gain popularity we’ll see more digital galley requests. NetGalley users who’ve downloaded an ECW book have received an invitation to become Shelf Monkeys. Being familiar with the digital galley format already, they are more likely to download and review from a pdf.
KM: What looks exciting on the fall 2009 ECW list?
SW: How long do you have?! What’s exciting for me personally is the variety of new titles landing on my desk right now. Highlights include Grinder, the second book in a wicked noir fiction series by Mike Knowles (move over Richard Stark!), Publishers Weekly gave the book a starred review this month; Spotted, by Crissy Calhoun is a must-have accessory for fans of the stylish show Gossip Girl; unofficial TV companion guide books for shows Lost and Mad Men are finding their audiences of die-hard fans. And speaking of die-hard fans, two new wrestling titles are due to hit shelves this fall: Chris & Nancy: The True Story of the Benoit Murder-Suicide, by Irv Muchnick, and Drawing Heat the Hard Way, by Larry Matysik, reveal shocking and compelling stories from inside and outside the squared circle.
Simon Ware is publicity director at Toronto-based ECW Press. Recognized by Publishers Weekly as one of the most diversified independent publishers in North America, ECW Press is a publisher of fiction and non-fiction. Nearly a thousand titles have been published by ECW Press and distributed throughout the English-speaking world and translated into dozens of languages. Every year ECW Press releases about fifty new titles and continues to support and promote a backlist that includes poetry and fiction, pop-culture, sports books, biography, and travel guides.