Fiction Writers Review Wants to Know: Will You Be Buying Booklife?

“Jeff VanderMeer’s Booklife is a frank, revealing, riveting manual by a writer for writers, not simply on how to be a better wordsmith, but on how to be a better human being. I’ll be recommending it to all my writing students. I don’t know how to praise a book more sincerely than that.” —Minister Faust, the BRO-Log

Fiction Writers Review has posted an entry about my forthcoming Booklife in the context of Jessa Crispin’s “non-review”, posted on the Smart Set a little while back, and comments about the book I’ve made on this blog. I’ve posted a comment at Fiction Writers Review already to clarify a few things with regard to that non-review because in actual fact Crispin and I are not at cross-purposes–Crispin’s essay expresses a perverse, almost willful misreading of the book. I hope you’ll go there and weigh in with your opinion. Let them know: Are you going to buy Booklife? Besides, it’s a cool site, and its other entries and features are well-worth your time.

Next month, will go live, with excerpts and other information related to the book and the idea of sustainable creativity and sustainable careers. If possible, I’ll try to interview Jessa for the site, just in the interests of a clinical kind of fairness.

Meantime, here’s text from my book that directly contradicts Crispin’s characterization. But it’s all good–the whole point of Booklife, as stated below, is to test what it says and only use what works for you. I have made a note to refer to her non-review in revising the introduction to the second edition. I think that’ll provide even more context for anyone who mistakes the Public Booklife section of my book for what would be an illogical and inexplicable order to go out and explode your brain sacrificing your fiction to your career. I will also be talking about these issues as part of my lectures at MIT and the Library of Congress, among other venues.


    On “Networking”

Here’s a passage from my novel Shriek: An Afterword about connectivity. It’s from a sister writing to her brother, who she thinks has lost his way:

Every human being is a puppet on strings, but the strings do not ascend to some anonymous Maker, but are glistening golden strands that connect one puppet to another. Each strand is sensitive to the vibrations of every other strand. Every vibration sings in not only one heart, but in the hearts of many, so that if you listen carefully, you can hear a low hum as of many hearts singing together…When a strand snaps, when it breaks for love, or lack of love, or from hatred, or from pain…every other connected strand feels it, and every other connected heart feels it — and since every strand and every heart are, in theory, connected, even if at their most distant limits, this means the effect is universal. All through the darkness where shining strings are the only light, a woundedness occurs. And this hurt affects each strand and each of us in a different way, because we all hurt and are hurt. And all the strings shimmer on regardless, and all of our actions, no matter how small, have consequences to others…

The word “network” means “a complex, interconnected group or system,” but writers often forget the “interconnected” part in their zeal for self-promotion. If you build a “network” that is all about you, that isn’t about people, then you don’t really have a network. Instead, you have a way to send electric telegrams, and you may be perceived over time as white noise or as always carrying a megaphone. That’s why you often see writers engage in ineffectual communications — like emailed requests for some sort of action sent indiscriminately to everyone on their contacts list or yet another Facebook request to attend some arbitrary event. In doing so, you ignore the cardinal rule of new media. Every contact is about community, about personal relationships, and the impact of that connection often produces all kinds of unexpected collaboration and creativity.

    Five Minimum Elements for Success

(in the Public Booklife section–not pertaining to your writing itself)

What if you don’t have time, money, or inclination to do any of what I’ve mentioned? You’ve slogged through the entire Building and Communicating Your Booklife sections with a growing sense of numbness and horror. If this continues to be your reaction after absorbing all of Booklife, then you may want to put in what I’d call the minimum effort to have a shot at success. What are those elements?

• Create a nexus for information and updates about the book, preferably a blog or as an adjunct to your existing blog.

• Approach your favorite writers in advance of publication to blurb the book, and use their endorsement and efforts to help you.

• Inform all of your public and private contacts about the book through a simple email, making sure to use the “blind cc” feature so you don’t reveal contact information to others.

• Buy a limited number of extra copies and send them, personalized, to your most high-powered personal contacts with a note asking if they’d be willing to talk about your book on their public platform.

• Make your email address and telephone number available and prominent on your blog or website so that gatekeepers can easily reach you for more information or to set up an interview.

If you have the budget or time for it, add a sixth element: Find someone to design a banner ad for you, and send the relevant information to any of your contacts with blogs or websites who might run it for free. Make sure that the banner ad points to your preferred online listing for the book…

    From the Booklife Gutcheck Section (the Search for Balance)

One problem with discussion about any aspect of a sustainable creative career is that if you separate out any particular subject, especially approaches to new media, the results can seem both more artificial and, oddly enough, more daunting, not less so. That means you will in part achieve balance by evaluating how useful and how useless parts of Booklife are to you personally. Why? Because perhaps the most important result of balance should be peace of mind. Yes, you will be busy. Yes, you will be stressed at times. What you need to do to make a dream your reality can be incredibly tough. But you need to do to make a dream your reality can be incredibly tough. But: Are you contented in the present moment while still hungry for the future? This is an ideal state that recognizes the value of hard work and artistic ambition. In our tightly wound, information-saturated world, we often forget the important things. If you need to slow down or to opt out, it’s often a sign of an underlying sanity. It doesn’t mean you’re a failure or that you need to feel like you’ve failed. As [writer] Tessa [Kum] puts it, “Because I know my interaction saturation point is so very, very low, I don’t tend to have many channels of any sort in existence at any one time, and I’ve burned myself so often I’m a lot less reluctant about shutting everything down.” For this reason, you need to ask yourself a series of questions every couple of months:

• Am I centered and calm?
• If not, is there an end in sight?
• Is that end a true end or a false vision?
• Am I not just professionally fulfilled but personally and spiritually fulfilled?
• Do I love my Booklife or do I merely tolerate it?

Confront these questions honestly to avoid opting out for the wrong reasons, but more importantly to avoid doing yourself serious harm, possibly even temporarily or permanently blowing out the circuits that allow you to be creative. If your answers add up to unhappiness, stress, and worse, then you will need to make a decision. Both Dan [Read, another writer] and Tessa are wonderful, creative people, but both of them can disappear down the rabbit hole for months at a time. And perhaps that’s the only way to retain your peace of mind. You can never tell when another channel is going to open up. Always opt out in favor of your Private Booklife. Nothing else is as important.


  1. says

    I ordered Finch and Booklife together from Amazon, and I’ve got to say, the price was right! I’ve noticed some trends in Jeff’s books – fine, satisfyingly literate writing in genre settings; quality art on the book covers and tie-in products; and now – highly competitive pricing. You can’t beat a combination like that!

  2. ian says


  3. Divers Hands says

    I too will be purchasing it, if only to display it as a memorial to the man who once confused me for Felix Gilman (whom, I should point out in Mr. Gilman’s defense, Mr. VanderMeer classified as “shifty”). I figure one or the other of us is now required to beat Herr VanderMeer into some sort of vegetative state with a copy of the offending volume. If it is myself that gains this singular honor first, I will be auctioning off blood stained pages of particular relevance to the faithful in the Cult of Fungal Words that will (heh) bloom in the wake of this… possibly? tragic event.

    Plus, if Jeff survives the assault – regardless of perpetrator – and I somehow come to sell a piece of fiction in the future, I will heartily endorse ‘Booklife’ as the secret of my success, thus ensuring a speedy end to the VanderMeer’s career, and hopefully somewhat delayed rise to the Cult of Fungal Words.

    Either way, I’m getting a new occupation as a cult founder out of the publication of ‘Booklife’. Which I now hope to see covered in future editions, by the by…

  4. Hellbound Heart says

    ……so does booklife have much to offer us non-writers, i mean, what i’ve read of it in your blog seems pretty much squarely aimed at authors and authors-to-be……..

    peace and love…..

  5. Jeff VanderMeer says

    Ian–that’s a hell of a commitment to commenting. LOL.

    Divers–yes, and please test the hell out of it.

    Hellbound–oh, it has sea battles and adventure galore. It’s really a thinly disguised account of my life in the merchant marine and outwitting bandits in Central Asia. All hidden by the phraseology of a writing book.