Friday, January 25, 2008

The Blogging Issue

This week's Time Out Chicago, entitled "Everyone's a Critic", looks at the world of blogging and who's opinion counts. While most of the blog-related articles focused on food, books editor Jonathan Messinger managed to get his two cents in:

"Book blogs tend to all look alike after a while--they get bogged down in the New York publishing industry minutiae or enrapt with hot-shit authors du-jour. But Chicago blogs possess the same qualities as the city we love: They're both cosmopolitan and provincial, and tend to favor the underdog."

I'm not sure if I totally agree with this one, since most of the blogs I read tend to favor the underdog and only two are from Chicago. Isn't the goal for anyone blogging about the publishing industry to serve as a voice for those who don't have one?

In my mind, everyone knows the next Jack Reacher book is going to be fantastic. They don't need me to tell them. It's the books from Soho press, Bleakhouse, and other independent presses that need the support of blogs. While print magazines such as Crimespree and Mystery Scene do a great job of supporting the underdogs, they are not as accessible as blogs. Anyone punching key words into Google can stumble upon a review I wrote last year, but it's much harder to find back issues of print magazines and even then, it costs a few bucks. And what about all the print reviews my editors choose not to run? Why should the author lose press because the publication doesn't have the space? Blogs are the perfect consolation prize. The review may not have made it into the Sun-Times, but I can still deliver a bit of press.

I used to write for the Not For Tourists website, covering everything from museums and parks to bars and restaurants. I'm not a foodie nor a recreation expert. I got the job because I know Chicago and I can write. Does my opinion count less than that of a food critic? Perhaps. Maybe they'd notice presentation and hints of spices that fly right past me. But are those reading my review foodies or are they real Chicagoans looking for a good place to eat that night? While there is a lot of hate toward the "amateur reviewer" really, what are the credentials?

I've touched on this in a previous post so I won't go too much into it, but this article does beg the question of authority. When it comes to food, I do think it depends on the audience. If the publication is like Time Out, serving the urban public, I don't think you necessarily have to go to culinary school to be a food critic. With things like books and movies, some background helps, but I'm not sure it's necessary. Ultimately, what makes your opinion count is your track record. If you continuously recommend good books and warn readers of the bad ones, you will build authority and a meaningful opinion.

The reason I blog is the same reason I enjoy freelancing: I want to give press to those who don't get a lot of it. I love writing about local bands, indy publications and diamond-in-the-rough restaurants. I don't think my sentiment is exclusive to Chicago. Isn't this why we all started blogging?

Friday, January 18, 2008

What To Know

The ancient Greeks said it best: know thyself. As people, especially as writers, it is amazing how little we know about ourselves. But I'm beginning to realize more and more that knowing thyself is necessary to succeed in this crazy business.
  • Know your strengths and weaknesses. Utilize your strengths while you work to improve your weaknesses.
  • Know your work habits. Know whether you work best during the day or at night, if you work quickly or slowly, carefully or carelessly. Know if you prefer writing first drafts or if you love the revision process. Know when you procrastinate and know when you need a break.
  • Know your goals. Without goals you have no direction. Even if the ultimate goal changes along the way, you have to know where you're running to.
  • Know your limits. I've been chasing down an article subject for over a week now trying to get an interview. The deadline is Tuesday. I know that the last possible time I can get the interview and still make my deadline is Monday evening. Anything past eleven, I can't work effectively and waking up at 5am to send something off for a 9am deadline isn't reasonable. Don't make promises you can't keep. If an editor asks for a tight deadline or if your publicist wants you to visit 20 bookstores in one day, don't say yes if you can't do it.
  • Know your priorities. Yes, I think we all put writing as a top priority, but there are other things that are important as well. Should you be attending a book launch or attending your child's school play? Have drinks with a visiting author or have drinks with your girlfriend/boyfriend? Call your agent or call your parents? It's easy for anyone to get wrapped up in their career, but I find it's even easier for writers. Know that there are things besides writing and promoting that are important and know where those things stand on your list of priorities.
  • Know thy gut. I've found that the gut never lies. If something isn't sitting well with you, chances are, it's wrong. You can know the facts, know the stats, know the norm, but ultimately, you gotta go with your gut.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

In Case You Haven't Read...

Ah, Tess, always so wise! In case you haven't read her two latest blog post, they are definitely worth checking out. The first speaks to me as a writer who reads and the second speaks to me as a reader who writes...

Friday, January 11, 2008

How To Fix The Non-Readers

All of us, at one time or another, have come into contact with a person that tells us, “I don’t read.” For whatever reason, this person has decided that it is not enjoyable to pick up a book and have someone tell them a story. They’d prefer to watch movies, or TV, listen to music or play video games. Maybe it’s optimistic of me, but I truly believe people don’t read because they’ve tried the wrong books.

The Antidote for the Non-Reader:

Lame Excuse #1: I can’t concentrate on something that long.
The Fix: A short story collection. They can finish a full story in one sitting and don’t have to remember large casts of characters or follow in depth plot twists. Depending on their tastes, I would recommend Drown by Junot Diaz, Expletive Deleted edited by Jennifer Jordan, or Magical Thinking by Augusten Burroughs.

Lame Excuse #2: I don’t have time.
The Fix: Audiobooks. That way the busier-than-thou person in your life can experience a book while driving or working out. I’d stay away from anything too heavy, usually these people are stressed out and someone light like David Sedaris or Jennifer Cruise will make them laugh and maybe not take themselves too seriously.

Lame Excuse #3: I’m a teenager who’s too cool to read.
The Fix: Hairstyles of the Damned by Joe Meno, Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky, or Every Crooked Pot by Renee Rosen. If the cranky teenager in your life skateboards, listens to punk music, dresses all in black or dies their hair primary colors, I’d also recommend American Skin by Don De Grazia and Please Kill Me: An Oral History of Punk by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain.

Lame Excuse #4: I can’t concentrate enough to follow a story. My mind wanders too much.
The Fix: Give them something they can’t put down, something that is too gripping to not pay attention. No Time For Goodbye by Linwood Barclay, Tell No One by Harlan Coban, Gravity by Tess Gerritsen or At The City’s Edge by Marcus Sakey.

Lame Excuse #5: I’d much rather read the newspaper or a magazine.
The Fix: Usually, this person likes to keep up with current events and be knowledgeable of what’s going on in the world. Therefore, I’d recommend: Londonistan by Melanie Phillips, An Inconvinient Truth by Al Gore, Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich, or for something lighter, I Am America by Stephen Colbert. Note, I don't usually read these types of books, but all of these have been recommended by those that do.

For me, reaching out and addressing these lame excuses isn’t only about increasing readership. It’s about introducing someone to a wonderful, eye opening activity, something that they will benefit from and enjoy for years. What’s the non-reader in your life’s lame excuse and what can you do to fix it?

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

New Skin and New Review

Thought I'd give the blog a makeover to ring in the New Year. Enjoy!

Also, check out my review of Ian Rankin's The Naming of the Dead on