Vulpes Libris

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.

Making a book magazine

SNB logo“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.


13 comments on “Making a book magazine

  1. Annabel (gaskella)
    April 10, 2014

    Spot on Simon! A lovely post – I know I would say that being one of the SNB Editors. I’d forgotten the whole naming debate, and yes – I think we’ve exchanged well over 1000 emails. Victoria and I were so glad you said yes – you were top of the list. The most brilliant thing is that we’ve gelled so well as a team – all having different strengths and interests which helps make SNB what it is, and other collectives like the Foxes what they are too.

    One point that readers might be interested in in the SNB story is that we’ve still not met together with all four of us in one place. I’ve known you for years, and met Harriet once briefly, but I have never met Victoria at all – I just know we’re going to be close friends though. I can’t wait for our meet-up. 🙂

  2. Elaine Simpson long
    April 10, 2014

    Simon Hesperus are lovely I agree and this morning I received their reprint of Tangled Web by L m montgomery. Their autumn catalogue is wonderful. Congrats to all on the wonderful new mag.xx

  3. kaggsysbookishramblings
    April 10, 2014

    Lovely to hear the behind the scenes story, Simon! SNB is a great achievement. And I tend to agree about Hesperus (I know I go on about them a bit on my blog) – they publish some wonderful books and are so helpful!

  4. rosyb
    April 10, 2014

    It’s a beautiful site -well done all on setting it up! It’s interesting to hear all the conflab about names and looks etc. Funny how angsty that can all be! I suppose because people all need to feel ownership of it.

    On VL – most of the initial decisions were made by Leena who set the site up. The site was basically a one-woman-band and she made everything – in most amazing Leena fashion. After a while she sent out invites (cries of help) however you like to put it. So the initial crew were very much online friends of Leena who came on board. Over the years people have come and gone. There can be initial bursts of enthusiam, but some might find that it’s all too much to fit in to the rest of life. So then a central core formed of stalwarts who set up a few systems, supported each other and occasionally quarreled our way through the next six years. A bit like a wonky family. Others – like yourself and Kate and new Kirsty -who were blogging and podcasting elsewhere – have come on board and breathed new life into us.

    What I’ve noticed is that there are always crunch times where a project like this can fold. We’ve been through many phases. At one point I was receiving quite a lot of small pub books and doing a lot of publisher interviews. Others of the foxes concentrated on new fiction, or teen books. I think over the years we have inevitably drifted to our own obsessions/interests in life, not just type or style of book. This is because if you are not paid, the regular reading you do is reading you do for yourself. There comes a point where you question the time lost and never recovered ploughing through some massive tome that you aren’t getting anything from, but you’ve agreed a publisher or author to review.

    Anyway – having trodden down a similar path to SNB in many respects over the years, I wondered about a few topics that have come up for us on VL.

    Being called Shiny New Books – is it new books only you are reviewing (VL likes a lot of obscure dusty old books that it finds at the back of bookshelves too – and we even do out of print stuff occasionally).

    We had to develop a policy on reviewing. If your site is what to read next and why – does this mean you only do positive reviews (ie its more of a promotional site of which there are a number) or do you embrace the full reviewing thing including the difficult side of that (ie having to write less than enthusiastic reviews sometimes). How do you square these questions with asking for review copies upfront? (I.e. if you ask a publisher to send you a particular book and absolutely hate it – how does it proceed from there?).

    Whats your attitude to self-publishing, particularly now it is on the increase with the explosion of e-publishing, and a choice taken by many established authors also – some even reprinting out of print books?

  5. sakura
    April 10, 2014

    Nice to get a peak behind the scenes. It’s a lovely and varied site and I’m only disappointed that there hasn’t been any scandalous behaviour!

  6. Miss Darcy's Library
    April 10, 2014

    I love this behind-the-scenes stuff! Congrats to the whole SNB team – everything turned out beautifully!
    I echo the Fox’s questions above, especially the one about positive reviews.

  7. Kate
    April 10, 2014

    I’m enjoying Shiny New Books already, Simon! It’s a brilliant idea. But you do need to keep shoving it under your subscribers’ noses, to make sure they remember to look at each issue. There is so much stuff out there, i read hardly any of it.

  8. litlove
    April 10, 2014

    What a fantastic post, Simon! I feel we all ought to print this out and frame it, so we can keep the genesis as a lovely shiny memory. Many thanks to Rosy for her fascinating pointers. I think that perhaps we should talk about the fact we are a recommendations magazine in more depth on the front page of issue 2!

  9. Simon T (Stuck-in-a-Book)
    April 11, 2014

    Annabel – isn’t it funny that we haven’t all met in the same place – and some of us haven’t met at all!

    Elaine – thank you! And I must look out for the LMM.

    Karen – thanks! Hesperus are a real example to follow, now – they did disappear off the map for a while. It makes such a difference when the publishers are so helpful!

    Rosy – thank you, and also thanks for such an interesting background to the site. I feel I should know more about the site I’m part of! To answer your qus – we are only writing about new books each quarter (but with reprints, for people like me who seldom read 2014 books). My own blog definitely leans towards the out of print, and one or two of my reviews here have been about OOP titles, so it’s nice to try something different. We are a recommendations site, so only feature positive reviews – with the caveat, of course, that they can include less positive elements. And I think publishers are fine with the idea that not all books asked for will feature – we still have a much higher hit rate than newspapers etc. And we’ve decided, for now, not to include self-published books, simply because of the can of worms it would open. Some, of course, are good – but we don’t have the time at the moment to separate the wheat from the chaff, sadly.

    Sakura – we’ll do our best to be more scandalous soon!

    Florence – Thanks! See above for answer🙂

    Kate – oh, we are well aware of that! Our Sunday Skype will be taken up with trying to work out quite how… The newsletter will certainly help.

    Victoria – thanks🙂 I would have run it past the editors if I managed to finish it on time…

  10. So interesting to hear the behind-the-scenes details, Simon! The hard work by all of you paid off – the site looks great and I am having a wonderful time reading through all the excellent reviews. I can’t wait for the next issue!

  11. Hilary
    April 12, 2014

    Congratulations on the site, Simon and collaborators! It looks absolutely lovely – really elegant and easy to navigate. I’ll really enjoy visiting it some more, after sampling what’s already there.

  12. Rebecca
    April 13, 2014

    Ooh, this sounds very interesting – I’ll just be heading over there after leaving this comment. The Tove Jansson review sounds like it should be good.

  13. Reta Kenter
    April 14, 2014

    Read your review and checked out the site. Great idea and well presented. Adding this site to my list to check often. One suggestion – which was also made at the site. On my browser the titles appear in ORANGE (not yellow as the other commenter wrote about). This is almost IMPOSSIBLE to read. Please consider changing the text color to black. Thanks for setting up this site. I’ll be back – often.

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This entry was posted on April 10, 2014 by in Entries by Simon.



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  • (The header image is from Aesop's Fables, illustrated by Francis Barlow (1666), and appears courtesy of the Digital and Multimedia Center at the Michigan State University Libraries.)
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