‘Booklife’ by Jeff VanderMeer – a preliminary Australian defence

Jeff VanderMeer has posted an excerpt from his upcoming Booklife: Strategies and Survival Tips for 21st-Century Writers. In that excerpt, VanderMeer writes that “reader perceptions are so often driven not just by their opinion of your writing but of you.” I would add that your readers’ perceptions of you are often driven by their reactions to your writing. If I write a poem in the first person about beating my wife, and I have the capacity to invoke my readers’ horror with my words, they may have a hard time accepting it as non-representative of my character. That said, VanderMeer’s timeless quote serves as a strong basis for all ’21st-Century Writers’ to give serious thought to the ways in which their public activities can affect their perceived character.

VanderMeer asks the readers of his excerpt to keep in mind that “I don’t advocate being a PR hound in the book–I advocate being a balanced person who puts creativity first, while acknowledging you have to do some public things if you want your books to reach an audience…”. Those ‘public things’, in Jeff VanderMeer’s opinion, involve maintaining a consistently high quality of work. One way to maintain that quality would be to employ an editor.

Whether or not you employ the services of an editor, many of you are ultimately concerned with the quality of your work. For VanderMeer “[a] high-quality creative project could be anything from an esoteric experimental science fiction novel to a heartbreakingly tragic literary novella posted on a website, a book of poems about your neighbor’s talking chicken or a techno-thriller about zombies. The genre is irrelevant.”

Unfortunately, Jeff Sparrow’s comments at Overland seem to have alienated at least one major audience for VanderMeer’s book. Specifically, the editor of Overland states that “[t]o get a novel published in Australia today, you have to sell it to someone who thinks it will make money.” By that comment, we may conclude that Jeff Sparrow believes that if you are a writer of novels in Australia, there is not much point in taking advice from a book that advocates putting your creativity first.

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Braden Karl Frederiksen still has the small wooden treasure chest that his evil Grandmother gave him for his 8th Christmas. He can't recall how old he was when he locked the key inside nor how he locked it in there. He occasionally gives it a rattle and wonders what's making that other sound. View all posts by Brad

9 responses to “‘Booklife’ by Jeff VanderMeer – a preliminary Australian defence

  • me2watson

    When VanderMeer stresses displaying one’s self
    in some sort of public affair, I don’t suppose
    that he means something like, uhh…urinating
    on your editor’s review in front of the pub.

    A consistently fast stream makes waves, dude.

  • Paul

    You already know what I think, Brad. The idea of turning my self into an advert for my work nauseates me. I don’t know why I should pander to a public that can’t make the distinction between the writer and the work. It may be the worst consequence of web 2.0. How many writers do you know that can afford to employ an editor before they sell the work? Jeff also said that we need to look at ‘the way the world is’. The business of literary publishing in Australia is dying. Unless there is acknowledgement that there is fundamental problem with the way that business is conducted, at the top, senior management level, editors of important journals et al, it will die.

    Hmmm. This one got spammed, Paul. Do I have to choose between the two?

  • Paul

    Haha, moderate whichever comment you prefer, Mr Editor.
    “The first step to changing the world is the recognition of how the world works.” The way it is working at the moment is that the business of literary publishing in Australia is dying. Unless there is some acknowledgement that the way that business is conducted is fundamentally flawed, it will die. And the whole thing will be conducted by volunteers. In fact almost all writers are volunteers. The only professionals are the secondary services, editors, academics and administrators. I published a ‘novel’ without selling it to anyone except the people who wanted to read it. Anybody can.

  • Maxine Clarke

    It’s a little off-track, but I’ve had a few reds…sometimes after I’ve done a poetry reading, people have come up to speak to me afterwards. Mostly I don’t want to speak to them. In fact, sometimes I am downright rude. I can’t help it: I have already given them all of the words I want to give. They don’t seem to understand that ‘I’ am not actually a product – that though my writing might be antagonistic and full of bravado, I actually just want to go home & have a cup of tea in my fluffy slippers. I am so not down with PDRAs (Public Displays of Reader Affection)…

  • poeticgrin

    “If I write a poem in the first person about beating my wife, and I have the capacity to invoke my readers’ horror with my words, they may have a hard time accepting it as non-representative of my character.”

    I would certainly hope my audience understands the concept of creativity and imagination vs. reality and autobiography. I have come across a few people who don’t seem to understand that I can write a piece without having lived it, without even agreeing with its sentiments. In those cases I have to remember I’ve ultimately succeeded as a writer in prompting the reader to *feel* something. My response is either appreciation or annoyance, depending on my mood.

    In response to Paul and in regard to editors, etc, Mr. Squires is the artist I want to be. I’m walking this fine line between delusions of success down the line and a strong internal pull to say fuck it all and just keep doing what I’m doing, how I’m doing it, with creativity and sharing at the top of my aspirations and goals. Isn’t that what it’s all about?

    Editors and publishers hate blogs because they take away their power. I’ve found it intensely interesting to read their opinions on blogs as late. In response, I just want to keep blogging. But then if I do say fuck them all, am I shooting myself in the face (or the fingers?).

    Tis a slippery slope and a love-hate-self relationship.

  • Val

    Do we whore ourselves out shamelessly for the book? JK Rowling did, Stephen King does and yes, even Papa Hemingway did the Hollywood thing. We are sound bitten superficial people these days and all we want is some damn good eye/ear/brain candy, to make that decaying cavity between our ears just a bit bigger. We’ve become lazy and stupid because we like to be entertained too damn much. I say, be part purist, part salesperson but keep the biggest part the artist.

  • Simonne

    I posted a poem on my blog about abortion and had a stream of comments from women telling me how brave I was and how they felt the same through their abortions etc. Their assumptions really did surprise me, I have to say.
    And as for me, being an emerging writer trying so hard to find a publisher for my first novel, it’s been really interesting seeing how it all works. Initially I was given advice (at Varuna) that my book was ready for a publisher who would “give me a good editor to work with”. Seems there is no such thing any more. I’ve had to scrape the money together to get myself a good editor. The whole industry does seem geared up against the writer.

  • Andy

    Interesting debate going on here!

  • Jeff VanderMeer

    I’m a little confused by the discussion here. It seems like Booklife is being used as a cudgel to hit someone else with. Booklife doesn’t advocate selling yourself for your book or anything like that. It’s about sustainable careers and sustainable creativity. And: I thought the book business in Australia was already dead.

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