Monday, June 22, 2009

Book/Magazine Review: Booklife: Strategies & Survival Tips for the 21st Century Writer by Jeff VanderMeer

Every Monday, I'll be doing spoiler-free, bite-sized book/magazine reviews.

Perhaps the first question that needs to be addressed is what exactly is Booklife? It's not a guide on how to write fiction (although there will be snippets and sections that address that) nor is it simply a book on how to promote yourself (again, there will also be sections that cover that part). Rather, it's a book that takes a more holistic approach on what it is to be a writer, from the creative process to the less-glamorous but practical concerns of getting yourself out there. Who is the target audience? Writers (and aspiring writers) but anyone who's interested in the publishing industry--or even just old/new media--should find this an insightful read as there are many lessons that are applicable to various occupations although of course, the ones to get the most mileage here are fiction (and not just genre) writers in North America.

In many ways, you can ask for no better author than Jeff VanderMeer to tackle this subject matter. Granted he's not as financially successful as authors like Stephen King or J.K. Rowling, but I'd imagine that if they had written this book, it wouldn't be as multifaceted or diverse. What VanderMeer brings to the table is his vast experience across various mediums (comics, videos, editing, etc.) and blurring of genre lines (Literary, New Weird, fantasy, media tie-ins, etc.) and resources as other people contribute to the book, most notably on topics they are better qualified to discuss.

The book is divided into three parts: Public Booklife which tackles subjects like promotion, branding and your public persona; Private Booklife which talks more about renewing your creativity, how to react to criticism/rejection, and strategies/tactics on the writing itself; and the Appendices which is more valuable than it sounds as it features interviews, articles related to publishing and writing, and actual samples of a PR plan. This neat division organizes the book's content and sets expectations from the beginning.

When it comes to the content, VanderMeer's writing is concise and brief. Each subject matter is tackled in a set amount of length as to neither overwhelm nor intimidate, at the same time conveying enough information to discuss his points. The author includes personal anecdotes, quotes from books, and the perspective of other authors, even when they might be contradicting himself. When it comes to less flattering examples, VanderMeer keeps the identities of the parties involved anonymous.

One thing I've observed with VanderMeer's writing is that he's not condescending to his readers. On one hand, this ensures that the book wastes little time on unnecessary explanations. On the other hand, this can lead to some confusion, especially when it comes to specific terminologies. One part I got confused is vertical vs. horizontal movement (I don't know what vertical/horizontal movement entails), but there were clues in the context. It also doesn't hurt to be familiar with some of VanderMeer's work as specific examples are enriched by the reader's awareness of the minutae, but a lot of the references work irregardless of what genre you're writing for.

As someone who's been observing VanderMeer's activities for the past year or so, reading Booklife provides another layer of insight. There were sections where I thought "Hey, that was part of a blog entry I read. I never thought it would be part of the book." Other times, the text provides insight into the author's blogging habits and online persona as VanderMeer is living his own advice (or at least trying to) which makes his practice the bext example you could ever ask for.

What's appealing to me is the practical aspects of the book, whether it's advice on how to write a novel in two months, or the inclusion of the PR Plan for VanderMeer's upcoming novel, Finch. We're also in a transition period between old media and new media, and VanderMeer straddles both worlds, giving each its due credit and how authors can leverage them. As a whole, Booklife covers a niche that's otherwise unavailable in other books for writers, and features advice that writers of any level will find useful.

1 comment:

Memory said...

This sounds like a great resource. Thanks for the review!