A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
“Do you mind if my post this week is shamelessly self-promoting?” said I to the foxes, and they politely averted their eyes and commented on the weather. Which I took as a sign that, yes, I could. (Admittedly, one of them cheekily sent me a link to this post on plugging books.) Well, I am not plugging a book, but rather a whole other website – Shiny New Books. And I’m not so much plugging as taking you behind the scenes of a very bookish venture…
But first things first – Shiny New Books, as you will find out if you click that link up above (or this identical one), is a quarterly recommendations magazine set up by me and four other bloggers, whose names I will mention soon. With the same literary enthusiasm and friendliness as the foxes, we will be reviewing the best books of the past three months (hardback and paperback), covering fiction, non-fiction, and (my section) reprints – along with features by and interviews with authors, publishers, translators etc. There, that’s the grubby, self-promoting bit out the way. Now, I thought you might find it interesting to come with me behind the scenes and discover how the whole thing happened…
The genesis for Shiny New Books goes back to a discussion in a blog comment box between Victoria and Annabel about the lack of a good literary review magazine. The world of book reviewing (outside of book blogs, of course) is curiously tilted towards expensive, niche non-fiction, with little regard for the everyday reader and the everyday purse. Readerly review magazines which had existed no longer did – and Victoria and Annabel realised there was a gap in the market. At that point they asked me if I’d like to join them (I was thrilled to) and we started thinking about a fourth person. We didn’t think long – the first person mentioned was Harriet, she said yes, and the editorial team was born.
I’ve already written my own blog online for seven years, and of course have more recently joined an online collective – the very wonderful foxes – but this was something new. How on earth did one go about creating a magazine, even without needing to worry about the costs and anxieties of print?
In our first meeting, we talked about the name. Everyone who has started a blog has had this hurdle to, erm, hurdle, and I’m always fascinated by the choices people make and how they arrived at them. I must make sure to ask that of the early foxes, actually. Anyway, with Shiny New Books we were very nearly The Pageturners, until we went to the next step – signing up for social media channels. In this day and age, getting the website comes hand-in-hand with the Twitter and Facebook pages, doesn’t it? Well, no permutation of Page Turners, Pageturners, The Pageturners, Page-Turners, P@g3Turn3rz etc. were available (ok, that last one probably was) so we went back to the drawing board. Something that told people what we were about… something that made it clear from the get-go… and thus Shiny New Books was born, and our Twitter and Facebook pages nabbed.
Then the site. We talked about colour schemes (Victoria came up trumps there) and navigation. I have to admit I felt a little inspired by the foxes – we wanted a main page from which people could scurry off in different directions. So we went a step simpler than the blog format, and had just four main categories linked from the front page. Early on, I said I wanted the site to behave like a duck – y’know, serene on the surface, and paddling madly underneath. That seems to be what’s happened – a look at our page navigation and tagging structures might make a weak man feel faint – but hopefully it all looks nice and simple at first glance.
It would be interesting if I could give you gossip and scandal at this point, but we are sadly lacking in it. Almost all the publishers and authors we approached were incredibly enthusiastic – much more than we were expecting. True, a couple didn’t reply, and one reprint publisher said they didn’t give review copies, but we were bowled over by the positivity. Is it impolitic of me to single out Hesperus for especial praise? Maybe, but they were brilliant. And so we just kept going through catalogues, through websites, through printing dates on Amazon, trying to work out what would make a good combination of titles. We contacted authors and publicists, asking for interviews and features, and loads came up trumps – including a last-minute Q&A from Helen Oyeyemi, for which we have to thank Sandra in Picador PR, who managed to get answers for us despite being on tour with another author.
The nearest we got to angst was over the logo. I hope you’ll agree that the final result (up above) is lovely, but getting there was interesting. It was a case of all of us being a little polite (so never quite saying what we thought) as well as discerning (we weren’t going to be so polite as to settle for something we didn’t think was perfect for the site). Did we want books in the image? (Yes.) Did we want words? (Maybe.) Did we want letters? (Oh, good compromise.) Colours? (Match the site.) Shiny rays? (No.) Variegation? (Not sure.) Ribbon? (Yes.) Large? (Hmm…) Smaller? (Lovely!) The world’s most patient man, John Fuller, provided draft after draft until we were satisfied. I think the decision which made things click into place was swapping around the colours – from purple books/gold ribbon to gold books/purple ribbon.
All this – the logo, the site, the content, the name – was decided in a series of emails and weekly Skype calls. I haven’t looked to see how many emails we’ve sent, but it feels like thousands. Which included the process of recruiting reviewers, and reading the books. I loved the biography of Tove Jansson that I read, but it did become a running joke that I was still reading it every time we Skyped – I’d hold it up with a bookmark indicating how far I’d got – while the other editors were managing to finish book after book after book.
After a lot of technical strife, we finally worked out how to use Google Docs properly, and started the lengthy procedure of writing, uploading, proofreading, and WordPressing all the posts. Annabel was particularly wonderful here. The idea only started in motion about two months ago – so we’re pretty proud to have the site up, with over 70 reviews and posts. It’s so exciting, that I hope you can forgive this proud site-parent from blowing the Shiny New Books trumpet. I’m always interested in the processes behind the websites, particularly where more than one person is responsible – and I now feel very honoured to part of two literary website teams. I already know that you love Vulpes Libris – of course you do! – and I hope you find room in your lives to love Shiny New Books too, owing (as we do) much to the foxy trailblazers who showed the way.