[SF Signal welcomes the return of guest reviewer Jason Sanford!]
REVIEW SUMMARY: An excellent book for writers of all levels, from beginner to seasoned veteran.
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Best-selling author and social media maven Jeff VanderMeer shows how writers can both survive and thrive in today’s 24/7 interconnected world. From creating goals to managing social media platforms, VanderMeer uses his own experiences to demonstrate what works and what doesn’t, all while highlighting methods to keep your balance in both life and writing.
PROS: Concise, insightful, full of great advice which is based on real-world experience. Booklife has something to teach any writer.
CONS: A minor issue, but the book’s non-linear style would have benefited greatly from an index.
BOTTOM LINE: Even if it’s been years since you bothered reading a “how to” book related to writing, check out Booklife.
Welcome to the 21st century, where through the magic of Twitter, Facebook, and blogs everyone’s a writer. And authors, forget that long-gone fairy tale where you sit back and write while your publishing house promotes your books and showers you with money. Now you have to be a promoter, marketer, web 2.0 personality, and all-around nice person to the readers who Tweet you at midnight and expect some one-on-one authorial interaction. And if there’s a little time left in the day, you might even get to do some writing.
It’s enough to make many authors—both beginning and experienced—run screaming from the online room.
Fortunately, there’s a new book to help: Booklife by Jeff VanderMeer. As stated in the subtitle—Strategies and Survival Tips for the 21st-Century Writer—this isn’t a newbie guide on how to be an author. Anyone coming to this book to learn basic writer mechanics, like whether to print their submission on red paper, should instead check out the large number of books and online resources available on that topic. (A quick hint on the red submission: Don’t do it.)
However, for experienced writers wondering how to balance their creative vision with maintaining a social media presence, or a beginning writer wondering how to engage in networking and time management, this is an essential book.
VanderMeer divides the book into two sections: the public and the private booklife. To VanderMeer, the term “book” refers to any creative project requiring text—be it an actual book, a short story, or a series of blog posts or tweets. VanderMeer’s public booklife section encompasses all that passes for creating your book under the world’s very public eye. Included are such topics as creating and managing goals, choosing platforms to convey content (such as Facebook and Twitter), ways to promote yourself and your work, managing your involvement in all these activities, and so on.
Some of VanderMeer’s advice is pretty obvious, such as his rules for communicating with people you don’t know, with one rule stating to respect people’s privacy. But since these common-sense courtesies are often forgotten online, it’s great to repeat them for all the world to see. Other sections will be an eye-opening for a number of readers, such as VanderMeer’s explanation of what editors hate about writers, and vice versa.
The second part of the book, on the private booklife, shows how to grow and protect your creativity so the distractions and pressing issues of the world don’t keep you from your writing. This section of the book is more spiritual, for lack of a better word, than the other, although it remains very much in keeping with VanderMeer’s theme throughout, which is that to be productive writers must maintain their balance in life. Among the topics in this section are finding inspiration, creating work schedules, and revising your work.
My favorite part of this section was relinquishing all fetishes, such as that favorite pen or laptop without which you simply can’t write. Too many of these fetishes are merely used as excuses not to write—I don’t have my lucky pen today, so no writing for me! VanderMeer rightly says to junk such mental traps.
The strength of Booklife rests in VanderMeer opening his own writing life for all to see. He shows what works, what doesn’t, and how to avoid falling flat on your virtual face, all seen through the lens of his own booklife. Because VanderMeer speaks from personal experience, his advice comes across as tried and true and well worth paying attention to.
In addition to the two major sections of the book, at the end VanderMeer includes a number of appendices from himself and other writers and experts on a diverse range of subjects, from the difference between marketing and publicity, how to create a podcast and a pr plan, and how to write your novel in two months (which, despite VanderMeer having done so, is not recommended for most writers).
My only complaint about the book is that it feels very episodic. Since major portions of this book originally appeared on VanderMeer’s blog, this episodic sense is only natural. But given this, it was frustrating an index wasn’t provided. While the table of contents is very detailed, for a book which aims to be a resource people turn to again and again, an index would have been extremely useful.
But these issues are minor, and shouldn’t stop anyone from buying this book. In today’s distraction driven, multi-tasking world, finding a book which offers as much great advice as Booklife is like striking gold. This book now stays within arms reach of my desk. There’s no better praise I can give to a writing resource than that.