Monday, September 19, 2011

Tall book critic prefers short novels

The Northwest is rife with readers, writers, and those of authority called published authors.

Besides the obvious college and adult education classes, there are more than a dozen organizations, clubs and bookstores with monthly events aimed at improving the craft of writing and getting that writer promoted to published status.

Being published is not the end of the journey, though. Before the book is hot off the press or fresh from the Internet, the job of marketing ensues. Blogging, social media forays, speaking engagements, workshops, and waiting with tying fingers crossed for the platinum review keeps the author on a virtual roller coaster.

A balding, unassuming, yet tall, man can make that roller coast ride worth it or almost worth it.

Jeff Baker, The Oregonian’s book editor, launched the fifth season of the Northwest Author Series hosted by the Wilsonville Public Library and The Friends of the Wilsonville Public Library. Baker told the audience, which consisted mostly of writers and subscribers to The Oregonian, that he weighs the merits of a bad review against the benefit of introducing Oregonian readers to a book they might actually buy. Baker believes there’s got to be a good reason for a bad review.

“Sometimes I pick up stuff I don’t like,” he said. When that happens, “Let ‘em have it, but don’t be mean.”

Baker writes the reviews, writes and features, assigns everything else, and edits while blogging and tweeting and juggling an ever constricting budget. If one reviews the comments left on the online site it would appear to be a thankless job.

The upside for Baker is that he gets to choose what he wants to read and farms out the rest to freelancers who write 500 word reviews for about 30 cents a word. When his budget is depleted (hello, December!) he pulls stuff off the wire.

Baker receives about 500 books a week. That equates to an hour a day of unpacking and organizing before one book spine gets cracked and perused for possible review. Those most likely to be chosen for one of the five weekly review slots include local authors, books that have a Northwest setting, or authors booked for a local appearance.

Baker offered his insight on how to write a review offering this short list:
1. What’s the book about
2. Do you like it
3. Why
4. Include a quote.
“You want to give people a feel of the writing style,” he said.

Currently, Baker is reading Hemmingway’s Boat, by Paul Hendrickson which he will review soon. Expect a very positive review. Other authors he mentioned included graphic novelist Craig Thompson, Karl Marlantes who wrote Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War, and Justin Torres with his 144 page book “We the Animals.”

You can judge a book by its cover, says Jeff Baker, and you can also judge it by its page count.

“250 pages is better than 500 anytime.”

Upcoming events for the Northwest Author Series

The Northwest Author Series takes place at the Wilsonville Public Library once a month on these Sundays, 3:30 p.m. DIRECTIONS

October 23
Emily Chenoweth, Memoir or Fiction? Make The Most of Your Choice

December 4
Christina Katz, The Writer's Workout: Whip Your Literary Ambitions Into Shape

January 29
Karen Karbo, Passions Into Paychecks: Make A Living Without A Brand

February 26
Bill Johnson, A Story Is A Promise: The Essential Elements of Storytelling

March 18
Pamela Hill Smith, For The Love of Research: How To Write Biography

April 15
Kevin Sampsell, The Book World: From Reader To Published Author

May 6
Heather Vogel Frederick, Much Ado About Middle Grade: Mastering Setting, Character & Plot

The Northwest Author Series 
Wilsonville Public Library
8200 SW Wilsonville Road
Wilsonville, OR  97070

Sundays 3:30 p.m.