Recently, this Books@Torontoist editor participated in a cool project, the Advent Book Blog, which will see the recommendations of bloggers, authors, editors, book sellers, publicists and journalists will be unveiled one per day in true Advent calendar style this holiday season.
Sean Cranbury, host of Books on the Radio, and Julie Wilson of Seen Reading and Book Madam fame, concocted this delectable holiday scheme. They sat down at a virtual round table yesterday to discuss the project.
Torontoist: How did the idea for this project and your partnership come about?
Sean Cranbury: I have always had a lot of admiration for Julie’s work and it seemed to me that we had a lot in common. I suppose the initial germ for this project was in Julie’s 30 in 30 project on Seen Reading from last April. I thought that it was an excellent idea and it was well executed. Then this fall I was working on my own blog, Books on the Radio, and thinking about how I could best support all the cool books that have been published this year and get that info into the hands of people looking for an alternative info source for what books to buy as gifts during the holidays. I wanted it to be portable, immediate and to cast a wide net. It was clearly something that I wasn’t going to be able to do alone. Anyway, long story short, I remembered Julie’s 30 in 30 thing, overlaid the acetate of my idea upon it and shook the thing until it made sense. Kind of like a snow globe/etch-a-sketch combo deal. I sent an email to Julie outlining my plan, hoping that she was interested. She was enthusiastic and we were on our way.
Julie Wilson: One of my gigs is trying to keep the reader forefront to any discussions on books, primarily because he or she is not only the one reading them, but buying them. Secondary to that, our industry is clearly full of readers, but we tend to stick to our roles, when, with all this expertise and passion — because we’re not doing it for the money — it seems a shame not to hear those voices and see those faces. Sean gets that. He also gets that while there’s a lot of talking about social media, Twitter is not a conversation starter. It’s a great tool, but we have to initiate the chatter. Asking people for their two cents doesn’t take much effort. But taking all those little bits of effort and hosting them somewhere is the difference between WOM and an actual archive of personal and informed opinion. And there’s an elf. Did you see the elf? (Inspired, Sean. Inspired!)
TO: What kinds of people did you solicit for contributions? Why?
SC: The goal was to engage the book publishing community at as many levels as possible from writers, editors, publicity/marketing people to bloggers and booksellers. I think that we approached this project as an opportunity to have some fun building/connecting the community of book people that we knew and to make the connections using a couple of things that these people all have in common: a love for books and an Internet connection.
JW: Sean and I both really wanted to see was a place where bloggers were given equal platform to speak as authorities. Again, publications are embracing the tool of blogging (a few running with it more than most) but it’s not to replace the people who talk, at length, about the books they’ve read, and are making themselves available to continue any conversation, so long as the thread may last. Bloggers have influence, and it’s a wonder why we don’t see more of them on the covers of our industry rags.
TO: What are you hoping to accomplish with this project?
SC: To sell some fracking books! This project grew out of some observations that I made at Bookcamp Vancouver this past October. Julie and several other people came to Vancouver from Toronto, Montreal, Calgary, Victoria and Seattle to participate and the enthusiasm that day was palpable. That enthusiasm was contagious. What would happen if we took that enthusiasm for books and community and unleashed it upon the public? What if we gave these people an opportunity to write about the things that they know best? What if we kept it short and simple and left it wide open at the same time?
JW: I like a good meme. And a formulaic approach can be so powerful when you realize just how many factors can be plugged in, delivering completely different results. Also, as industry professionals, a lot of us talk about the books that are closest to us by role, not by reader. This is a safe place to tell us which books you’ve gotten into, and a place for authors to talk about the books that have touched them in the past year.
TO: What has the response been like?
SC: Very positive. I think that we’re mining a pretty rich vein by asking book people to write about their favourite books. Some responses have been surprising, though. Some people are shocked by how few books they’ve read from the past year and some people say they’ve read nothing from the past year that’s worth recommending. Luckily there’s been a decided lack of outrage surrounding this project. Though it’s probably best to wait until after we publish Dan Wagstaff’s recommendation to declare the coast completely clear.
JW: In a Twitter world, I was pleasantly surprised that a number of respondents wanted more words than fewer. That said, these aren’t book reviews. They’re recommendations. Pitches, really. You’re selling how something feels in the hope that others will want to align with that feeling. Personally, I pitched a book I haven’t finished reading. But what does that matter to another reader? It may be all so very Jerry Maguire, but if you have me at “Hello” I’ve already started down a different path. Do I really need to know what happened next?
TO: What can readers expect from the blog?
SC: They can expect three or more mini “recommends” a day for 25 days. They can expect to be excited to buy books for their friends and family and to be better armed with the info necessary to do so. We started the whole thing off by asking for recommendations in 25 words or less. More and more of our participants are finding that their enthusiasm for a book cannot fit within such a small container and have stretched it a bit. We’ll be publishing longer pieces on the weekends and we’re hoping to have a very special edition of the Advent Book Blog on December 25th.
JW: Readers can also expect to be surprised. A lot of people on this list are well known to industry professionals, but most are not to other readers. They’re going to be getting a tremendous introduction to a vast variety of people who help shape publishing every day, and for many more to come.
TO: Anything surprising about the contributors or their selections you can share?
SC: The selections have been awesome. We’re running the gamut from big name hard cover fiction to indie graphic novels to poetry and all kinds of non fiction. The best thing, though, is the people who have participated. They’re the ones who are going to make this whole thing rule.
JW: A lot of the recommendations come from this past season, or last year. We wanted to showcase newer titles that are just finding their legs in the marketplace. A number of contributors, however, felt quite passionate about books that, in one case, were originally published as early as 1962 and recently re-released. If a book changes your life, that’s the one you’re going to pitch. This project aims to get readers into stores, to buy books that are readily available, a more than slightly sad commentary on books that are only just out of season. But with the advent — get it? — of digital reading, my personal hope is that “print run” will evolve into “copies sold” as more projects like this encourage WOM to become POS.