Rob Stone: Bible salesman, Civil War re-enactor and novelist
Rob Stone speaks like most of us would like to write.
He uses formal words like “implacable” and “inculcate” in everyday conversation, somehow making them seem casual. To him, they are casual: “For fun, I occasionally leaf through volumes on synonyms and antonyms, idioms, and foreign words and phrases,” he says.
You aren’t surprised when he tells you that he once sold Bibles. It makes perfect sense for such a measured, meticulous man.
The stereotype starts to crumble, however, when he tells you that he’s fascinated by war and is an avid Civil War re-enactor. And that he’s conjured from his imagination a novel that contains a great deal of detail about a country he’s never even visited.
Rob’s a Christian and much of his career has been quite linear. Believing that “history is the context in which humankind can try to understand its place in God’s plan for the cosmos,” he enrolled at the University of Michigan in 1975 intent on earning a master’s in Near Eastern studies, planning eventually to teach.
Kyle Poplin photo | AnnArbor.com contributor
When Spring Arbor was sold to a competitor in Tennessee in 1997, Rob didn’t want to relocate, because his wife - whom he’d met at U-M - had a good job in Ann Arbor Public Schools and his family loved Ann Arbor.
So he landed a job at Oxford University Press USA as the marketing manager for Bibles. Oxford’s office was in New York City, but Rob worked from his Ann Arbor home. That lasted 10 years, until Rob decided it was time to go nonlinear.
In 2007, utilizing his publishing experience and contacts, he opened Chosen Word Copywriting and Editorial Services, and he’s “enjoyed steady business ever since.”
Working for himself gave Rob the freedom to pursue his other passions.
In the early 1990s, he joined the Seventh Michigan Volunteer Infantry, Company B re-enacting club. Most members of that particular regiment hailed from the Mason area and participated in many important Civil War battles. For instance, the Seventh was the only Michigan unit present during Gen. George Pickett’s charge at Gettysburg in 1863. Rob was among the thousands of re-enactors who participated in making Ted Turner’s 1993 film “Gettysburg.”
Rob says re-enacting is an expensive hobby, even for a humble infantry corporal like him. He estimates it costs about $1,200 to buy the basic equipment, including a reproduction musket, uniform, boots, etc. The costs are higher for those who choose less common military roles.
Rob says the re-enacting season typically lasts from late spring to early fall, and he tries to take part in one or two events a month during the season.
But Rob’s interests in human conflicts extend far beyond re-enacting. He recently wrote his first book, “The Tower at Petite Vigne: A Novel of Occupied France,” which details the impact of World War II on the civilian population of a fictional village in France, a country where Rob has never even set foot.
While everything in the novel sprang from Rob’s imagination, it’s based on a lifetime of studying war and its implications.
After 35 years in the publishing business, Rob knew better than most the pitfalls that can come with self-publishing a novel.
“The self-published author’s dilemma is that oftentimes his efforts are under capitalized and under researched,” he says.
“Sure, one can publish a book without its manuscript’s being professionally edited; one can have a cover of some kind executed cheaply; one can have a few hundred copies manufactured at a decent price; and one can devise a marketing plan that doesn’t go beyond selling the book to her family and friends. But frustration is likely to lie at the end of this path.”
Rob sought out additional clients for his business so he could afford his book’s editing, cover design, Website development, manufacturing and marketing. But there were still a few surprises along the way. For instance, just one quarter of his sales has been e-books. “While over the last decade many industry prognosticators declared the physical book to be dead, this half-millennium-old technology seems to be holding its own,” he said.
Meanwhile, Rob’s just getting started as a writer. He’s currently working on a murder-mystery set in the Civil War and the first volume of a projected science fiction trilogy.
Rob Stone will read from and sign copies of “The Tower at Petite Vigne: A Novel of Occupied France” at 7 p.m. May 9 at Nicola’s Books in the Westgate shopping center.
Kyle Poplin is owner of The Ann magazine, which is inserted monthly in various print editions of AnnArbor.com. He’s also searching, through this column, for the most interesting person in Ann Arbor. If you have anyone in mind, email your idea to email@example.com.