This post by Jordan Peters over on “The Art of Blogging” has some sound advice. While my style differs a bit from everything he proposes, that’s kind of the whole point! I agree with much of what he says that a bloggers voice should be more informal. I believe in this medium, its part of what creates a strong connection with an audience and fellow bloggers.
I’ve written a few posts in the past on the “Traditional versus Self-Publishing” debate. As someone who has work released through both channels, it is something I periodically reflect on. Mostly on the self-publishing side, because it changes very rapidly in comparison to the iceberg-like pace of the traditional publishing industry.
This week I listened to a podcast interview with a small publisher, and he spoke about the self-publishing landscape as retracting. Not from the content standpoint, but from the perspective of readers becoming more selective in their purchases.
This coincides with something I’ve been feeling now for a while, which is that self-publishing, specifically through Amazon, is no longer a viable path for a majority of writers. It’s in no way a slam against indie authors. For the few who are making it work, that’s awesome, and certain segments of the industry (mainly Romance) are reaping the majority of their sales through it. But for the average “aspiring author” who is creating literary fiction or writing in a broad genre like “YA”, fantasy, or science fiction, traditional publishing seems to be the way to go in 2019.
A Random Assortment of Texts
Almost everybody has a bookshelf in their home.
Whether you have a huge house or a tiny apartment, you probably have a few texts sitting spine-out, or piled haphazardly on a coffee table.
But have you ever given a lot of thought to the books you own, or what they say about you?
As part of my overall move to be “more intentional” with my choices and object ownership, I sorted through a bunch of old books on my shelves (and in boxes) to sell or donate. It got me focused on my book collection, or personal library. It turns out the internet says those are different things! This article on AOM and this piece over at BookRiot are solid starting points on the history of, and differences between the two.
Suffice to say, I seem to fall into the “personal library” category since I’m not any sort of enthusiast collector looking to round out a focused, complete set. I prefer a varied flavor of interests, spanning fiction and non-fiction.
How To Choose Your Books
I’ve hung on to a number of books, mainly paperbacks, through school and book trades. Once I started filtering, I realized many of them would go into the donation pile. Being older and more settled means I’m not averse to adding hard covers into this more curated personal library. I used to move around a lot, and my fear of immovable boxes full of hard covers was intense.
This is the tough part. Defining what I really want to keep. What really deserves a spot on that limited shelf space? What “sparks joy”, to get all Marie Kondo about it.
My hardbound edition of Moby Dick and overly extravagant copy of Lovecraft’s Complete Cthulu Mythos were easy picks, and there were some hard fought paperbacks that ended up in the Goodwill stack. I have been selecting keepers using a system of “what would this library fundamentally say about me to a stranger?” So far it’s shaping up as a potpourri of horror, early 20th century American literature, and books on writing craft and photography.
An unintended goal of a personal library (or book collection) is accumulating value. Part of me feels like when I die, it would be embarrassing to have called myself a writer and not have at least a few books that are worth something on my shelves, even if my relatives just sell them on eBay or at an estate sale. Nobody wants a 9th edition paperback of Gibson’s Neuromancer scrawled with my insane margin notes…
Lists To Get Started
Back in 1998, a (now) controversial list of the Top 100 Novels was released by Modern Library. It has been criticized as not diverse enough, and also as a guerrilla marketing tool for Penguin Random House’s classics division.
I have to say, at least for me, there is some good stuff on it. I might have a hardbound copy of As I Lay Dying on its way from eBay. Might.
You might have already read a bunch of these books as required from school and formed an opinion of them. If they aren’t your speed and you want something a little more contemporary, I have been plumbing the list of Man Booker Prize award winners. This Goodreads list puts them in a nicely rated chronological order, and you can peruse details. Honestly, you could do a hell of a lot worse for a personal library OR a book collection than to get every Booker winner inside four walls.
Beyond big lists, I’ve found that social media groups, forums, and Reddit are great if you’re looking to shore up more specific genre tastes that are outside the mainstream.
Do You Collect or Curate?
I foresee my personal library as a long-term, ongoing effort. Being a frugal Yankee, most purchases now land on my Kindle, but that only makes the physical books “worthy” of a shelf slot all the more special.
Do you have a book collection or personal library? Do you have any tips or a specific system you use to grow it? Or is your home just filled with teetering towers of unread tomes? Feel free to share down in the comments!
I’ve recently been reading The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane by Robert E. Howard.
They were recommended to me by a friend after I mentioned enjoying other sword & sorcery stories such as “Conan”, “Kull”, and Karl Edward Wagner’s Kane books.
The recommendation came with a caveat that some of the stories contained racist language and imagery. I’m not easily offended as a reader, so I felt fully prepared for it.
I was unprepared.
“The Moon of Skulls”, in particular, was a story I could barely finish. I forced myself to read it entirely, but I was completely disconnected from it once all the deeply racist imagery and description appeared. This was similar to certain stories I’ve read by H.P. Lovecraft, who, in addition to being a brilliant writer, was unfortunately a terrible xenophobe and bigot.
This post isn’t meant to be an examination of their beliefs. The guys were racist and wrong. Full stop.
What I want to understand is why the racist imagery struck me so hard, versus other books I’ve read like Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Huck Finn.
I believe it is because those stories were consumed as Literature (with a capital L) and in a scholastic setting. There was discussion and analysis that framed the reading of the books, and the “language of the time” was part of that larger critical discussion. That Howard and company were “genre” authors shouldn’t diminish their stories or the impact of their language, but I it feels more jarring in writing intended primarily for “entertainment”.
I’m a firm believer that genre stories can tackle tough subject matter, including social issues and politics. That said, outlets like Weird Tales and other pulp magazines were very much intended as entertainment during their heyday around the 1920’s. The very concept of “pulps” identified that this was not literature or high-brow stuff. It is writing as pure escapism, and I often read it because I want to escape the depressing and nasty things delivered by the media in a seemingly never-ending stream these days. So for it to appear in my escapist pleasure reading, I was angry and turned off.
I’m interested to know how the rest of you handle language that is offensive or distressing to you when you come across it.
Do you continue reading and try to “separate the art from the artist”? Do you stop reading it and find something else? Do you throw the book across the room and recoil in terror? Although I finished that initial story, I skipped later ones where I saw racist text, since I knew I wouldn’t enjoy the stories.
Happy Friday! If your writing is in a rut, try this system from K.M. Allan. It’s simple, cheap, and better than anything I would’ve told you to do.
Writing is one of those activities where, no matter if you do it full time or crammed into lunch breaks, there’s a never-ending to-do list attached.
You’ve got to fill in plot holes, plan character arcs, script whole conversations, research how to poison people without drawing the attention of authorities, and then find the time to put words into sentences that sound good and have a little magic to them.
Being organized helps, but even the best planner in the world can get overwhelmed when the to-do list feels endless.
Recently I’ve felt this way; realizing I have so much to do and being overwhelmed by it. It seemed easier to put the writing off—but spoiler alert—binge-watching The Umbrella Academy makes zero progress towards my own writing goals (who knew, right?).
Getting organized is one way to get back on track. A writing routine is another. An organized writing routine…
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