Booklife Cover, and Notes

Jeff VanderMeer • February 23rd, 2009 @ 1:27 pm • Booklife Now, News

Here’s the almost-final cover of Booklife: Strategies & Survival Tips for the 21st-Century Writer, art and design by John Coulthart. I’m pleased to note that Juliet Ulman is doing the developmental edit. Thanks also to Ann, who read the manuscript in several iterations and helped me make major changes, as well as Matt Staggs, who contributed mightily (as did others I will talk about later). (Check out Coulthart’s post on the process to get to the final cover, including prior iterations; some of those ideas will be re-used for other books, where they’ll work better.)

Writing Booklife has been a really interesting experience, as certain sections provided me with an opportunity to test the ideal against the reality. In fact, the act of writing Booklife forced me to deviate from some of the advice in the book, which is something I then documented in the book. I’m also proud of the fact there are so many voices in the book–taken from this blog, from other writers, and from the classics. While it’s important to embrace the new, it’s also important to understand tradition–and not to rush blindly to accept new approaches without fully analyzing what their impact and effect.

In that context, I was frankly astonished by some of the statements that came out of the new media conference in New York City recently. I understand that some speakers are dealing in the theoretical, but some of it seemed completely divorced from the reality on the ground. Some of it also seemed to misunderstand the relationship between the electronic and the real world–and especially to misunderstand how that relationship continues to change among the next generation of writers and readers. You’re not seeing a straightforward abandonment of the physical world, for example. It’s more nuanced than that. I also think most people still aren’t thinking strategically, too wound up in the eye candy of the new, as well. It’s easy to mistake the tool for the goal. Finally, anybody who reflexively sounds the death knell of the book is guilty of creating a defeatist atmosphere in which perception becomes reality, and I reject that attitude entirely.

Anyway, here’s part of the rough draft (pre-developmental/copy edit) of the introduction to Booklife.

****

Are You Ready to Embrace a Booklife?

The world has changed, and with it the art and craft of writing. In addition to the traditional difficulties of putting pen to paper, writers must now consider and internalize a slew of “new media” opportunities—blogs, social networks, mini-feeds, and podcasts, to name just a few. This has forever altered the relationship between writers and their readers, their publishers, and their work.

Booklife will provide you with strategic and tactical intel to thrive in this new environment. It will help you reach your full potential in both your writing goals and your career goals. Whether you’re a beginning, intermediate, or advanced writer, self-published, published in the independent press or by large New York commercial conglomerates, this book will be of value to you. Full-time and part-time writers, fiction writers and nonfiction writers alike can leverage this information and advice. All you need to bring to Booklife is your own curiosity, openness to new ideas, willingness to work hard, and, of course, a passion for writing.

Further, the information in this book will help you to become more productive, focused, and savvy—and less stressed or fragmented. You can balance writing and promotion, interact with the readers using new technologies and keep enough private space to be fulfilled in your creative life. No shortcuts can replace perseverance and hard work, but Booklife can significantly reduce your learning curve and give you new, energizing strategies.

I’ve used the metaphor of a book life because I believe in visualization to achieve goals. In addition to the traditional paper-pulp-glue versions, a “book” in the context of Booklife can be any creative project that requires text, including podcasts, e-books, and short stories posted online. And anything can contribute to your booklife in a positive and lasting way, from a series of blog posts to a short YouTube video adaptation of your novel. The term “book” is just the most potent, most concrete anchor a writer can visualize as the end result of his or her labor.

Booklife is also infused with the spirit of a love for writing and of community. I’m optimistic about the future of the written word, in whatever form it may take, and Booklife is a reflection of that optimism. Life is an amazing journey, and this book recognizes that creativity and personal growth are an important part of that journey.

How to Use this Book

Depending on your interests and experience, you can dip into this book at any point. Many of the topics covered are universal—issues that creative people have faced for thousands of years, discussed in the context of our modern era, including new media.

However, to experience the full effect, I suggest you give Booklife a careful read from beginning to end. I’ve separated out career-oriented information from creativity by structuring this book around your Public Booklife and your Private Booklife. I’ve even included a Peace of Mind section between the two because I believe so strongly that you must have a partition between what you do “out in the world” and what you do while you’re writing.

One of the prime tenants of Booklife is that your public and private book lives work in tandem, but also that you must think of them as completely separate. Writers get into trouble otherwise. The minute you start thinking about how to market or leverage something while writing, you’ve lost the focus you need to make your work the best it can possibly be.

What constitutes “separation”? I’d define it as both physical and mental. You must be able to set one aside, out of your mind, while engaged in the other. You must be able to create a mental space–even imagine a wall between the two if it helps. It also helps if you can create a physical separation, too, through creative use of time and space. Compartmentalizing the time spent on your private work and your public work, sticking to a schedule, will provide the necessary buffer. Physically doing one type of work in one location and the other type somewhere else—even if it’s just across the room at a different desk—will reinforce this barrier in your mind. (Many of the ideas in this book are ultimately about strengthening your ability to be two very different creatures at very different times.)

Please note that Booklife is not a technical guide on how to set up a blog, website, MySpace page or Facebook account. Such information quickly becomes dated due to the way even established web tools change and evolve—within in days, weeks and months, not years. Booklife is also not a writing instruction book, although the Private Booklife section includes topics like how to recharge your creativity.

Etc., etc.

17 Responses to “Booklife Cover, and Notes”

  1. Matthew Dyer says:

    I’m really looking forward to reading this. Thanks for the excerpt.

    (Also, surprised, but pleasantly so, at the cover.)

  2. Jeff VanderMeer says:

    Thanks. With a book with this broad a potential audience, there are a few things the cover needed to convey: (1) optimism/sweetness and light, (2) an organic feel to a potentially mechanistic/Tron-like subject (trad writing concerns in the context of new media), and (3) not turn off the casual browser of books at literary festivals and the like. I’m happy with it because it seems to do all of that while still being somewhat unique. I also love that John Coulthart, Lord of Darkness and Bringer of Some of the Most Cool Twisted Things Ever, is the designer. ;)

    Jeff

  3. Ennis Drake says:

    The cover is _very_ inviting, so I don’t think you have any worries there. And I agree with Matthew . . . I’m really looking forward to reading this.

  4. Larry says:

    Viewing that cover again reminds me that there’s just under five weeks until spring break. As with others, I’m looking forward to reading this and see which ideas I can adapt to my roles as teacher/lesson planner and as a reviewer/blogger.

  5. Cheryl says:

    I’m looking forward to it as well.

    I was also following various tweet feeds from TOC. There seemed to be an awful lot of people making pronouncements without any real thought behind them other than whether they would sound cool and prophetic. I am deeply suspicious of most of the people who claim to be social media experts, especially if they preach a “one true way” of using them.

  6. Jeff VanderMeer says:

    Yes–I have the same sense I had during the dot com craziness. Of people trying to cash in–build reps, etc., on the back of this. In doing so, some of them are starting to do damage to reality. (But this paints it with a broad brush–plenty of good stuff came out of TOC, too.)

    Jeff

  7. Jeff VanderMeer says:

    I should add that I asked Juliet Ulman, during the developmental edit, to add her two cents on various topics, so I imagine the discussion/different points of view aspect of the book will broaden even further after incorporating some quotes from her. I like that aspect of the book, frankly. I express a firm point of view throughout for focus, but throw in lots of different perspectives. I also already imagine that in coming into contact with readers, I’ll have plenty of additional context for revisions in a second edition.

    Jeff

  8. Will Hindmarch says:

    Watching Coulthart’s process is unbelievably fun. Thanks for that.

  9. John Coulthart says:

    Thanks, Will. It was good to do this and, as I noted elsewhere, lifting the lid on the design process is fitting for a book which lifts the lid on the writing process.

    Been thinking about ebooks quite a lot this week whilst designing more paper books. Indulge me for a moment.

    I was thinking about CD-ROMs after I saw a comment from an ebook evangelist asserting that the great thing about ebooks will be that the illustrations will move and there will be weblinks and so forth. Anyone remember CD-ROMs? They were the next big thing for about 3 years in the mid-Nineties when a lot of hip and high-profile media people (Peter Gabriel, Laurie Anderson, et al) threw a lot of money at creating a “media-rich” user experience which was alleged to be far more exciting than books (boring text) and music videos (non-interactive). Even Brian Eno created one despite being a continual critic of the new form, his point being that all you did as a user was sit there clicking your way through an endless series of links until ennui set it. I still have several CD-ROMs, mostly things that bands produced as they leapt on the (so to speak) bandwagon. One of them is actually very good, Immemory by French film-maker Chris Marker, an interactive memoir which takes you through his photos and writings and also includes film clips and bits of animation. Very nicely-designed and has a glowing quote from Susan Sontag on the back.

    There’s just one slight problem with the Chris Marker creation, however: it doesn’t work any more because it only runs on an outmoded version of the Mac OS. So I have a nice box and a completely useless shiny disc to admire. Across the room on a shelf there sits the oldest book I own, an edition of Milton printed in 1869. I borrowed a couple of vignettes from it for Jeff’s King Squid design in 2002. Widespread electricity generation didn’t even get started until the 1880s so the printing press that produced it was probably run on steam. It still works perfectly. Below it I have a whole shelf of those small pocket edition books from the 1920s which were popular before the rise of the paperback. All of them are very solidly made and have outlasted many of the paperbacks which were intended to replace them.

    The art critic Robert Hughes once said that “newness isn’t a value” yet we seem to be going through a period where newness is regarded as a primary value. Not only that but the new is seen as being something which should fully replace the old. It surprises me that much of this attitude comes from people who also praise projects such as the Long Now Foundation which is devoted to thinking beyond wasteful cycles of obsolescence. Engineer Saul Griffith said at a sustainability conference this week: ‘we need to start thinking about “heirloom design,” one great object that lasts you a lifetime’. Books have been doing this for centuries, of course. There’s no reason why my edition of Milton won’t outlive me.

    Additional thoughts: Anyone who thinks ebooks with animated illustrations will be cheaper to produce than their paper equivalent has never received a quote from a motion graphics professional. I’ve designed DVD interfaces, I can do that stuff for you; it’ll cost ya.

    How many of you would-be novelists are looking forward to telling friends and family that they have to buy a $300 XYZ reader so they can download your first book? (Only available as an e-text, Region 1 only…sorry Auntie Helga, DRM-enriched so don’t try and copy it to a PC.)

    Caveat: I made at Jeff’s request a special PDF of Shriek for Michael Phillips. He wouldn’t have been able to read it otherwise.

  10. Charles Tan says:

    Looking forward to the book!

    Congrats on the cover John!

  11. Bill Ectric says:

    Very nice cover!

  12. Seth Merlo says:

    John – loved your comments, especially the Robert Hughes paragraph – “newness isn’t a value” sums up a lot of the problems, I think.

    I’d like to think I’ll be able to leave my books for my children and grandchildren when I’m gone and that they’ll be able to enjoy them and get as much, if not more, use out of them than I did. While I love what the internet and everything prefixed with ‘e-’ can and has done, it doesn’t leave you with much to show.

    ‘Here kids, this is a copy of the very first ebook I bought. You can’t read it or see the artwork because the format is obsolete, but it’s pretty nifty, eh?’

    ‘Yeah, dad. That’s great…’

    Back on topic – great cover, and thanks very much for the excerpt, Jeff. It sold me on this one.

  13. Bill Ectric says:

    You might even say that one characteristic of a Jeff VanderMeer book is a good cover.

  14. iHanna says:

    Got sidetracked on the wombat, this looks and sounds like a interesting book though now I can’t remember how or what I clicked to get here… Congrats! Wanted to ask when and where to buy it and on what publishing house?

  15. Jeff VanderMeer says:

    It’s September, from Tachyon Publications.

  16. Morpho Ophelia says:

    Jeff’s books are always worth the price for the covers! Auto-buy. But I am really looking forward to the book. The world of writing is crazy.

  17. Scott Walker – Learning to write says:

    [...] year old, but I think this article is worth reading. Jeff’s also got a book coming out soon (Booklife: Strategies & Survival Tips for the 21st-Century Writer), and I have to agree with Mur that it sounds like it will be good reading. Good enough for Mur is [...]

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