Reader Consultant – The Job of Tomorrow

Yesterday I went to the library to pick up some books that I needed and while I was there I got talking to a librarian. She was helping me order in a book and we just got chatting. We started out discussing my thesis topic and then moved into young adult literature, and before we knew it we were deep in conversation about all our favourite books. We talked about genres, authors, best sellers, audio books, big books, small books, relatively unknown books, all sorts of books. We talked for an hour, until I realised that my parking was about to run out and I had to sprint back to my car, having not even gotten the books I had gone in there to get.

Luckily, all was well. I got back to my car on time and came out fine-less. But the real victory here was that I (inadvertently) got to do some Odyssey publicity. While chatting away to this woman I had never met before she asked me if I knew any books that her and her kids might like. And I did! Because we’d really gotten to know each other in that hour, I knew exactly what she was looking for, the genre, the age group, the themes, the writing style, basically exactly what would appeal to her and her kids. I told her to go out and get the first two books of a series Odyssey is publishing by Cindy Cipriano, called The Circle and The Choice (they’re wonderful kids fantasy, you can find them here… http://odysseybooks.com.au/portfolio-category/childrens-books/)

And it was a great feeling being able to do that, to suggest something I thought her and her family were really going to enjoy. I got a little bit too excited and wrote down the titles in an only just legible hand. It was like telling someone about your favourite restaurant, except better because books stay with you way longer than even the greatest pizza. As Carrie Bradshaw famously said, literature will feed you more than any food ever could, well she said Vogue, but you get the idea.

bffdfa361be182d7a0e10234c7d0cb7c

This interaction lead me to ponder all the different ways that people find new books to read. As part of a small press it’s always something to think about – how are people going to know about our books? How are we going to get books out there?

I considered how I normally find books to read. In my case, and I’m sure I’m not alone, there just always seems to be a constant pile waiting. And while you to take books from it, it never seems to get any smaller…. The piles are just never-ending.

books

But I think the most common ways most people find books to read is through sites like Goodreads, blogs, vlogs, catalogues, bookshops, advertisements and social media. Basically, online.

But I think there’s another big, really important one that we often seem to forget, the old word of mouth. Old fashioned, human recommendation. Someone just saying to you, “Hey, I liked this book, I think you might too!” There’s something uniquely convincing about someone who knows you, telling you to read a book. Books are a deeply personal thing and only people close to you are really going to be able to know what you’ll like (or a librarian that you’ve only known for an hour but really seemed to bond with…)

Thinking about all this made me remember an essay I read recently by Margaret Mackey called Northern Lights and Northern Readers: Background knowledge, Affect Linking, and Literary Understanding.” It looks at how the reading of novels is so deeply affected by experience, perspective and memories. It argues that how we interpret what we read is entirely constructed by who we are, that while readers may get similar things out of books it is never entirely the same. Essentially, books are a completely individual experience.

It makes sense then that the most important, the most moving, books I’ve ever read have been recommended by the people in my life who are close to me and understand me, like for example Far From the Madding Crowd, recommended by my Dad, or The Secret History, recommended by my lovely friend Alice. A lot of the books that I’ve read because someone told me I would enjoy it, have quite literally changed my life. These books have completely rewritten the way I think about the world.

Perhaps it was also that these books were recommended to me at the right time, when I was in the right place in my life to enjoy them, when the people around me could see that I was ready for them. If I’d stumbled upon them at the wrong time maybe they wouldn’t have had nearly as much of an impact.

Books are most enjoyable when they fit a certain time of life or experience – they can help you through a breakup or whisk you through a summer holiday. And that’s something people are great at – at taking that random life information and helping craft a suggestion from it, information like: “I’m going to Barbados, I need a holiday book but nothing to holiday-y, if you know what I mean, I don’t want any romance right now, I don’t like crime, I need strong independent female characters, and I hate talking animals… any suggestions?”

Yeah, just try typing that into Google.

tenor

What I realised after pondering all this, is how invaluable personal book recommendations are. And moreover, that whenever we recommend a book to someone else, whether it’s a holiday read or some dense literary fiction, we’re thinking about who they are, what they want and how they would experience it. We’re thinking about their tastes, preferences, previous reads, moods, all these different things about them to find a book to match them. It’s a much more complicated and personal process than any internet site could hope to replicate. And in the process, we all become what I have named ‘Reader Consultants’, those who consult their clients about what books would suit them best.

I mean, why isn’t Reader Consultancy a thing? (It’s definitely not, I checked). But it should be! Much more exciting than financial planning, is the new, bibliophilic planning. Sounds fancy, huh! If Odyssey is looking for a new Reader Consultant, my hand is way up.

Hi, I’m Kate, Odyssey Intern and Reader Consultant. It has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?

 

 

Life Hacks for Writer’s Block

This week I want to write about something painfully close to my heart, that evil terror, the dreaded writer’s block. We’ve all had it at one time or another, whether writing a novel, an essay, a letter, or even a blog, where it seems physically impossible to coerce you mind and your fingers into creating something even vaguely coherent.

So I thought I could compile a list of potential antidotes that can be referenced if need be (fingers crossed for never). So I racked my brain for what has worked for me in the past, and also went on an online hunt for the most convincing ways to get your writer’s groove back.

And behold, a ten-step solution to writer’s block woes.

Number One: The deceptively helpful act of doing nothing at all

When a piece of writing is driving you absolutely crazy, I think sometimes the best thing you can do is walk away. By giving yourself a little distance you leave behind the negative or convoluted ideas that are distracting you from what you’re really trying to do. With that distance sometimes the crux of the issue, what you’re really trying to say and how you can say it becomes much clearer.

Number two: The opposite of what I just suggested

Sometimes if you’ve tried walking away and it doesn’t work, or you can’t stop thinking about it or you don’t have time to give it a rest, what can work is to just keep writing. Even if you know it’s terrible and clunky and awkward, if you just keep writing at least you’re somewhat closer to getting something down and you can go back and edit what you’ve got.

Number Three: The mighty and unquestionable power of colour-coding

In a second year creative writing lecture I remember my lecturer saying that one of her favourite authors uses colour coding to figure out who her characters are, how they interact and where the story is going. She plans out the series of events by the colour of their emotions. This is something I’ve found really helpful when writing. If I know the emotional colour of what I’m trying to write it’s easier to find the words that describe it.

Number Four: Saying it out loud to a helpful ear

So many times I have been so grateful to a friend that has listened to me trying to explain, and this is for two reasons. The first is that by trying to say out loud what you’re attempting to write you’re forcing yourself to vocalise concepts that you may never have put explicitly in words – you’re forcing your brain into using language without the pressure of writing it down, then you can write it down (don’t tell your brain that). The second reason is that the person you’re telling can contribute real, valuable and fresh insights about what you’re saying and how you could say it. I can’t count how many times a friend simply explaining something back to me in their words suddenly makes my own idea so much clearer.

Number Five: Changing the way you’re writing it

Sometimes a blank computer screen alone can be enough to scare away any decent ideas or sentences that may have popped into my head. When faced with this problem sometimes it helps if I write it somewhere else. A nice colourful notepad or an old lecture pad can be a little less daunting.

Number Six: Changing where you write

The place I can be most productive is never ever constant. Some days it’s the library, sometimes a coffee shop, sometimes just being at home is the best thing to get the creative juices flowing. I’ve learnt that if I’m really struggling to get something on the page a good start is to try going somewhere else. Another thing I’ve noticed is that there’s a correlation between where I can write and what I’m writing about. For example if it’s something particularly personal, or something I’m quite self-conscious about I will work best at home, but if it’s something I’m more confident about I’m more likely to be able to write in a café or public place. Catering the setting to the writing can helpful.

Number Seven: Reading a book/piece of writing you think is really good

Often when I know what I want to say but I don’t know how I want to say it I think about how my favourite authors would have done it. I read a book that I love and let it inspire me. The writing might not be the same genre or style as what you’re writing but it reminds you what good language is.

Number Eight: Reading a book/piece of writing you think is really bad

There’s no such thing as bad writing, but writing is so completely objective in so many ways that there’s always things your going to read and think really aren’t very good. Sometimes I find that reading something too inspirationally jaw-dropping makes me spiral further into the abyss of my own inadequacies. Where as if you read something that you think’s a little crappy you’re suddenly filled with the confidence that you can do better.

Number Nine: Listen to a song that matches the mood of what you’re trying to write

Sometimes I think of writing as like a workout, but for my brain; it’s mental cardio. And just like you need a motivational workout playlist, sometimes you also need a motivational writing playlist. By using music to get you in the mood of the thing you’re writing, you make yourself more likely to emulate it with your language. Sometimes I find specific songs inspire me to write something that I would never have thought of otherwise.

Number Ten: Stop thinking about what the critics will say

Critics will always have something to say, no matter what you write, and if you’re pandering to critics before you’ve even written anything you may never write at all. I think the best things I’ve ever written I decided I would never show anyone. By convincing yourself that it doesn’t matter, that no-one will read it, that it’s just to pass the time, you might be able to allow yourself to write exactly what you need to, not what you think other people might like. Writing at it’s core is about using language to express yourself, so you owe it to yourself to give it a full-hearted, uninhibited go.

So there you have it. I hope this list will be helpful, if only just to me!