25 January 2012

Review: Booklife by Jeff VanderMeer

Jeff VanderMeer
Booklife: Digital Strategies and Survival Tips for the 21st Century Writer
A & C Black, 2009

VanderMeer has been one of my heroes ever since I encountered City of Saints and Madmen when I was seventeen. It's a singularity cool book, and if you've not heard of it go and look it up now instead of reading this post.

Booklife is on the syllabus of the writing course my father is taking, and so he innocently ordered it about three months ago, little knowing that I would confiscate it for my own use the moment it came through the door. I though I'd write down my thoughts before giving it back, as I'll probably never see it again.

Booklife by Jeff VanderMeer (Image Source.)

Booklife is a curious mixture of self-help book and insider's guide to the publishing industry.

I loved the insider's guide parts, but felt that the self-help sections were in general aimed at people of considerably less Internet-savvy than myself. There's some good stuff about nurturing creativity though, at the beginning of the second section.

Cool publishing insights mainly congregate in "Chapter 2: Communicating Your Booklife", in which VanderMeer takes us though the process of publishing and promoting a book and how an author can contribute to the mix. It's detailed enough to be really useful for those interested in self publishing as well.

This insider information is built on in the appendices, with a more in-depth exposition of the differences between marketing and publicity as well as explanations of what agents/marketers/PRs/publicists actually do.

It's not the purpose of the book to talk about how you should write. It's more about the way you should go about writing, writing as a process and lifestyle rather than as an art.

That's a shame, because in the places where writing as an art in engaged with the book is simply gripping. In particular, the mini-essay in defence of purple prose on page 178 blew me away. Nathan Ballingrud's appendix on "Nurturing Creativity" is also very inspiring.

If you are looking for a book about creative productivity in the world social media and relentless PR, then this may well be the book for you. As someone practically suckled on Twitter, though, I'd have preferred to read VanderMeer on the topic of writing itself, as he would clearly be awesome on that topic.

P.S.: Amusingly, there is a little rant about book reviews on page 282. I say little, it actually runs to six pages. I agree with most of what VanderMeer has to say - mainly advice along the lines of 1) the review is about the object reviewed and not about you and 2) don't be pretentious or a dickhead.

But VanderMeer forgot to mention two key things: 1) A good review is entertaining in its own right. 2) And of course, all reviews are really about their writer.

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