Booklife: a guide to a sane, productive writerly life

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.

Book Life: Strategies and Survival Tips for the 21st-Century Writer


  1. Someone needs to publish a guide on how to get paid for writing without it turning into a career. I’ve avoided a career my entire life, in exchange for a steady job that doesn’t require too much effort on my part.

    1. Amen. Is this also targeted at those of us who have careers that they love, but want to get published as well? I guess I’m looking for a longer version of “Writing in the Age of Distraction” …

  2. Cory, maybe I’m losing my google skills, but I can’t seem to find any articles on “How to write a novel in 60 days,” on BoingBoing. Did I just misunderstand the reference on the cover of that book?

  3. “Talking about arts careers can be a little icky, because, well, there’s a fine line between career-management and self-obsessed personal promotion.”

    Perhaps you need to work more on finding this line?

  4. @wellsoliver Harsh.

    Many writers only blog about their next release and their current writing progress. Cory keeps the balance very well. He posts about all sorts of interesting things and other people’s projects that have nothing to do with making him money. Or were you just playing the clever clever turn-the-post-back-on-the-poster game?

  5. How many women wish they could organise their lives like men do. Who does the cleaning [or pays for it] who does the washing up, groceries, cooking, laundry…pays the utility bills? brings up and quietens the children.

    1. I’m coming to the conclusion that there are two things women can do if we want to be able to balance our lives like men do.

      1) Before you marry/settle down with somebody, have a big, long talk about what each of you expects and how you’ll split responsibilities in a way that’s good for both of you. And then, keep having that discussion regularly throughout your relationship, any time one of you feels like things are off balance.

      2) Don’t marry/settle down with anybody who’s not willing to have that conversation and stick to it. Those people don’t deserve regular sex, let alone a maid.

  6. #1 – I’ve been looking for a steady job that doesn’t require too much effort on my part. I’ve been unsuccessful.
    After twenty years in two jobs that were nerve-shattering in the demands they made (“this is a rush!” “we need this A.S.A.P.!” “Can you work ten hours overtime tonight?”) I now find myself laid off at the age of 51. I would love to earn money without having pieces of my brain ripped out of my head by insane bosses. Maybe I can herd sheep?
    Through it all, I had a spotty “career” as a writer on the side (one essay published in the NY Times Sunday section, several essays in local publications, a column and a comic strip in a weekly that went bankrupt). I welecome all advice.

  7. Re the comments re finding balance in a writing life if you’re a woman–I totally agree that it is unfairly harder, and this is addressed in a couple sections of the book, including the part on support from your partner. It’s also one of the sections of the book that I plan on expanding in the second edition, possibly with a full-on guest essay for the appendices.

    Jeff VanderMeer

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