Art Rules! (And How to Break Them) by Mel Gooding

Art Rules! And How to Break them

Art Rules! (And How to Break Them) by Mel Gooding

Reviewed by Michelle Richmond

forthcoming from Shambala Redstone Editions, October, 2014

ISBN: 9781590308400

Art Rules! (And How to Break Them) by Mel Gooding isn’t really a book. It’s a box of 42 art cards, accompanied by exercises to help bring out the artist in anyone, and a 64-page booklet, “Modern Art: Inside Out,” that provides an crash course on modern art. A terrific introduction to what makes art tick. As fun as it is informative, Art Rules! (And How to Breatk Them) reminds us that art at its best is indeed consumed by the masses. Not only does it make us think and feel; sometimes it makes us want to reach out and add a mustache. The creatively categorized cards inspire art-lovers to think in a new way about familiar images, while opening the doors of art for those who find it intimidating. An imaginative teacher could go to town with these cards, creating a learning environment as lively as the spirit of art itself. Highly recommended for art lovers, amateurs, and educators.

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Pimp your resume: The Infographic Resume

An infographic resume for Sherlock Holmes, courtesy of McGraw-Hill Professional
An infographic resume for Sherlock Holmes, courtesy of McGraw-Hill Professional

Hannah Morgan thinks resumes are rather dullish. Her solution? The Infographic Resume: How to Create a Visual Resume That Showcases Your Skills and Lands the Job. To promote the book, McGraw-Hill Professional has created an infographic resume for a man who needs no letter of recommendation, Sherlock Holmes. It’s very pretty, indeed. The timeline is especially catchy. And I like that Morgan presents a more exciting alternative to the dull bullet-point resume. However, I presume that if Holmes himself were to show up at Scotland Yard with something like this, he’d be escorted to the door.

The book, which is packed with eye candy, could prove quite helpful for a young person hoping to stand out from the crowd in the field of advertising, publicity, or graphic design. The author includes a lovely example of a one-page resume for typographic designer Kelly Weihs. A typographic designer is exactly the kind of person who can benefit from Morgan’s approach. Infographic resumes might also be a good fit for any company that uses the word “disrupt” in its mission statement. As the editor of a small press (albeit one that does not use the word “disrupt”), if I received a resume that looked like this, I would definitely be intrigued enough to follow the links.

However, the book should come with a caveat: the infographic resume isn’t right for every job search. Sometimes, the bells and whistles will only get in the way. In academia, for example, if you turn in anything other than the expected CV, your application will quickly move to the recycle bin. Finance, wherein one aims to handle large sums of other people’s money, probably isn’t a good field in which to show your flare for color.  Many fields outside of arts and entertainment, in which you want to present yourself as a person of gravitas, may have not yet caught on to the visual resume trend.

Financiers and professors aside, this book is a great tool for young people looking for their first job right out of college, as well as more experienced professionals in highly creative fields. Morgan includes good resources for where to host your resume and portfolio online, as well as basic steps to creating an alluring online presence. She offers basic advice on creating an effective pitch and getting a good headshot. There’s a decent section on common mistakes to avoid. A couple of the examples, unfortunately, such as an off-puttingly fussy resume for one graphic designer, look like they would be better placed in the don’t-do-this chapter (don’t put your own words in giant quotes at the top of the page, for example, and don’t include a photo of yourself looking coyly off-camera.)

Ultimately, visuals are only as good as the information they convey. The traditional resume works in part because an employer who is going through hundreds of resumes knows exactly where to look to quickly ascertain your education, experience, career goals, and references. Requiring a hurried employer to search an unfamiliar document in order to get the information she wants might prove off-putting.

Kyle Bahr’s resume showcasing his talents as a digital strategist and wilderness explorer combines the best of old and new: everything is where you would expect it to be, which gives the resume that ever-important quality: clarity. A few well-placed graphic elements, and a smart use of color, typography, and icons, make it a beauty to behold and guarantee that it won’t get lost in the forest. By the way, while looking for an elusive link to Bahr’s infographic, I found a traditional resume by the same Kyle Bahr, a resume so direct and yet personality-driven (after a clear list of his relevant experience, Bahr includes  “World’s Best Grandson” in the Award section) that it would be likely to stand out from the crowd on its own simple merit.

Final take: Despite a few missteps, The Infographic Resume provides a fresh take on the art of selling oneself. A helpful guide to standing out from the slush pile, as long as one keeps in mind that, sometimes, a simple “World’s Greatest Grandson” will do.

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The Book of Strange New Things by Michael Faber

The Book of Strange New ThingsThe Book of Strange New Things, by Michael Faber

Reviewed by Michelle Richmond

forthcoming from Crown Publishing, October, 2014.

When a missionary from England arrives in a distant galaxy as the latest employee of a corporation called USIC, he is surprised to find that the native population is far from hostile. In fact, the Oasans have been waiting for him. He soon discovers that he is not their first pastor; the previous missionary,  Kurtzburg, walked away and never returned. Gradually, Peter comes to understand the reason he was hired: USIC’s continued relations with the locals were in jeopardy.

Together, Peter and the locals build a church while he shares with them the gospel from The Book of Strange New Things. As his church rises from the ground and he becomes further and further disconnected from the USIC settlement fifty miles away, Peter’s pregnant wife Bea sends desperate missives from home. The world is falling apart–mass warfare, starvation, unprecedented natural disasters. As the distance grows between Peter and Bea, so does the distance between the pastor and his fellow workers at USIC. One wonders: will he “go native” like (Kurtz)burg?

Faber skillfully avoids the expected tropes of colonization. The corporation does not wish to obliterate or assimilate the locals, but to live peacefully alongside them. Miscommunication, however, is inevitable. Aside from Kurtzburg and a linguist who also disappeared, the employees of USIC have done little to understand the language or daily lives of the Oasans. Instead of bringing disease, USIC brings medicine, for which the locals trade food that they have painstakingly harvested and prepared. But the trade proves to be unequal: the medicine cannot save the locals from the thing that threatens them most.

Satisfyingly reminiscent of Ray Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles, with nods to The Heart of Darkness, The Book of Strange New Things is a brilliant work of hybrid fiction. Part love story, part sci-fi thriller, part cautionary tale, Faber delivers an unforgettable novel that raises important questions about faith, fear of the unknown, and our place in the universe.

Michelle Richmond, New York Times bestselling author of Golden State and The Year of Fog

A review copy of this book was provided by NetGalley.

 

 

 

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What Does Amazon Kindle Unlimited Mean for Authors?

Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited just went live, offering readers “unlimited” kindle books for a subscription of $9.99 per month. When I first read this, I cringed. As a traditionally published author, I’m all too familiar with Amazon’s full-on assault on the book industry. Jeff Bezos has made no secret of his plan to put every bookstore out of business, and to cripple publishers who won’t fall in line. Kindle Unlimited is just one more step in that direction.

How will authors be paid for Kindle Unlimited titles?

Amazon has been tight-lipped on how authors—independently or traditionally published—will actually make an income through Kindle Unlimited titles. The model has long been that, when an ebook is purchased through Amazon, traditionally published authors make a 25% royalty on that purchase, while indie authors make 30% to 70%, depending on how the book is priced. Kindle Unlimited will change all that. It goes without saying that authors will not receive the normal royalty on books lent through Kindle Unlimited.

One can imagine that Amazon will “pay” authors a tiny percentage from some impossible-to-decipher ledger, as they supposedly do for books in the Kindle Select program. Speaking of which, at the time of this writing, it appears that books enrolled in KDP’s Kindle Select program will automatically be put in the Kindle Unlimited program. It’s unclear if there’s any way to opt out.

Online classes in fiction writing, memoir, and publishing.

There is a silver lining, however.

As reported in The New York Times, the Big 5 publishers have not made their books available through Kindle Unlimited. That means that readers will quickly discover that many current titles–from blockbusters to highly touted literary newcomers–are unavailable with their subscription. Sure, they’ll be able to download indie titles to their heart’s content. However, readers looking for the latest by Stephen King or Lorrie Moore will be out of luck.

I’m thrilled to see the Big 5 taking a stand against Amazon, which is trying, in no uncertain terms (and with quite a bit of help from the Department of Justice, unfortunately), to create nothing less than a monopoly on books. Or, as enormously popular YA author John Green put it, “What’s ultimately at stake is whether Amazon is going to be able to freely and permanently bully publishers into eventual nonexistence.” The latest battle with Hachette, in which Amazon refused to ship books by Malcolm Gladwell, Robert Galbraith, and other big-name and not-so-big name authors, was just one more in a long line of tactics Amazon has employed to squeeze the life out of publishers. Readers were not amused.

The Big 5 have surely realized by now that every inch they give to Amazon is an inch dug in their own grave.

Why it matters to readers and writers:

Authors who rely on their books for part of their income simply cannot afford to give them away for next to nothing, as Amazon thinks we should. But readers, too, will eventually suffer. I don’t think we would have a Paul Auster or an Ian McEwan or Grace Paley or Alice Munro if they had started out in this publishing climate, earning pennies per book sold. Think of any successful literary writer who slowly built a following by putting out great books every few years. This model is simply no longer viable, thanks in large part to Amazon.

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What can you read on Kindle Unlimited?

I image that Amazon will make a big push to promote a few indie authors, as well as children’s and young adult titles (Scholastic books are available), and books published by Open Road Media. However, you won’t find “any of the top five current New York Times fiction bestsellers,” as Hayley Tsukayama points out in the Washington Post. And book lovers hoping to read Lorrie Moore or Lydia Davis, Alain de Bottom or Emma Donoghue, Herman Koch or Stephen King, and most of the books on any current must-read list compiled by anyone other than Amazon, will be sorely disappointed.

Or not.

Because when you set down your Kindle and walk out your door, you may discover a bookstore where the booksellers have actually read the books they’re recommending, a bookstore that cares about readers, authors, and, yes, BOOKS.

And contrary to what Amazon wants you to believe, these booksellers are not luddites. The Kobo ereader, which you can pick up at many independent stores, has a gorgeous interface and more than million titles. To top it off, when you register your kobo with your favorite brick-and-mortar store, the store will receive a small commission on every ebook you purchase. Everyone wins. Authors. Readers. Publishers. The towns where bookstores invest money and goodwill.

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How to Write & Pitch the Cross-Genre Novel – Part 1

by Michelle Richmond

(This article originally appeared in the July/August 2013 issue of Writer’s Digest Magazine.)

The term “genre fiction” traditionally refers to any novel that fits neatly into a prescribed category: science fiction, romance, mystery, Western. But the line between genre fiction and mainstream fiction becomes blurrier by the year, in part because readers have become more sophisticated, and in part because the publishing industry is expanding, finding new and ever more creative ways to reach audiences.

Just because a novel contains a murder doesn’t mean it will check the old boxes one used to expect from a mystery. Likewise, a man on a horse doesn’t automatically mean we’re in for a traditional Western. Kate Atkinson’s Case Histories and Cormac McCarthy’s celebrated apocalypse novel, The Road, come to mind. A thriller may be intensely character-driven, like Stewart O’Nan’s Songs for the Missing; and a novel that inhabits a richly imagined science fiction world may also be marketed as mainstream fiction, like Karen Thompson Walker’s The Age of Miracles.


M.J. Rose, internationally bestselling author of twelve novels and two nonfiction titles and founder of AuthorBuzz.com, knows what it means to face off against genre conventions. Her novels combine such diverse genres as romance, paranormal, and mystery, and are often also classified as historical fiction. Last year, Rose’s The Book of Lost Fragrances simultaneously made two best-of lists in very different genres: Amazon’s “Best Fantasy Novels” and Publishers Weekly’s “Best Mystery/Suspense.” But the success of Rose’s recent books belies a dilemma that she faced from the beginning of her writing career, and which she still confronts today. While reviewers and readers often praise the diversity of Rose’s books, that very diversity has been a headache in terms of publishing. “For years,” Rose says, “publishers told my agent that they loved my work but didn’t know how to market such cross-genre fiction.” If anything, she says, the cross-genre nature of her work made it harder to sell.

Literary agent Elizabeth Pomoda agrees. “Fiction in different genres is packaged and marketed differently and shelved on different bookstore shelves,” she says. “There’s no shelf for cross-genre fiction, so cross-genre fiction wouldn’t be the easiest way to start a career.” That said, the literary landscape is changing, and the gates are opening in ways no one could have predicted ten years ago. She notes that we are now living “in a bottom-up culture in which readers, not publishing conglomerates, are the gatekeepers, and word of mouth is replacing reviews.”

Julianna Baggott, bestselling author of nineteen books running the gamut from YA to poetry, knows a few things about genre-bending. The header logo on Baggott’s labyrinthine website reads, “Baggott, Asher, Bode,” the three names under which she writes. Baggott’s extraordinary career serves as proof that the challenges of crossing genre can also net huge rewards. “Switching from one genre to another is like hitting a release valve,” she says. “When one genre starts to feel limiting, another begins to look liberating.”

Baggott’s most recent novels, Pure and Fuse, are part of a science-fiction trilogy featuring young adult heroines whose stories will also appeal to adults. The worlds Baggott creates are fantastical, and the writing is as lyrical as it is suspenseful. Baggott encourages writers to take what they know from one genre and use it to their advantage in anything they write.

“Each genre has its own demands,” Baggott says, “and the lessons learned in one are often transferable to another. The impact of image and brevity honed in poetry are useful in the novel. The truth of essay helps with insights and epiphany in fiction. I call screenplays ‘plot poems,’ because both the poem and the screenplay must be able to bear up under the weight of so much white on the page, like a house buried under snow.”

This is part 1 of a 4-part series. Subscribe to my weekly writing and publishing tips to never miss a post.

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