I often get email from writers who are starting out asking for career advice for “breaking in” to the field. I’m somewhat helpless to answer these queries — my first professional sale was more than a decade ago, that sale itself represented a further decade of hard work on both my craft and my career. I can tell you a lot about how to break in from a standing start in 1988, when I sold my first story, but not nearly as much about how to break in today.
Enter Jeff VanderMeer’s Book Life: Strategies and Survival Tips for the 21st-Century Writer. Jeff and I were classmates at the Clarion workshop in 1992, and he is both a talented, prolific writer and a shrewd and successful trailblazer in 21st-century publishing and promotion.
Talking about arts careers can be a little icky, because, well, there’s a fine line between career-management and self-obsessed personal promotion. Likewise, it’s hard to talk about what you do in the realm of imagination without sounding a little like someone droning on about his absolutely fascinating dreams of the night before.
But Book Life avoids both of these pitfalls. It presents a well-organized masterclass in understanding how to fit both writing and a writing career into your life (hence “booklife”), covering everything from health and mental health advice (the chapter on envy should be required reading for everyone in the creative arts) to philosophical and practical advice on managing a blog, YouTube channel, MySpace/Facebook profile, and podcast.
Like Jim Munroe’s Time Management for Anarchists VanderMeer’s book is about how to balance the desire to be a creative free-spirit with the preparation and planning necessary to arrange your life to maximize your freedom to pursue your creativity. It’s not quite a book on how to write, more a book about how to be a writer at a time when the job of “writer” is in tremendous flux. Covering subjects from managing your relationship with agents, editors and publicists to avoiding flamewars on your blog and averting despair in the face of an uncaring world, Book Life is an ambitious and successful attempt at a comprehensive guide to maintaining your sanity while chasing your dreams.
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