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Friday, April 21, 2017

The Future of Digital Magazines

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An app that consolidates articles from every online magazine may be the key to increasing the medium's popularity in the digital marketplace.  ♦ 
When most people think about the future of technology as it relates to reading and books, they tend to mainly think of e-books, not magazines. It’s time people change that mindset as 2017 could potentially be a big year for digital magazines. For the last six years or so, the digital magazine industry has been stuck in a sort of limbo; there hasn’t been much growth or drastic change to the industry. By now, pretty much every major magazine brand has gone digital and has a solid presence in the digital magazine marketplace, but the numbers still aren’t what people expected when digital magazines were first introduced. According to the global media website Fipp, popular magazine brands like Empire, GQ, Wired, Cosmo, Men’s Health, and others have experienced a decline in numbers when it comes to circulation on mobile devices just five years in.
   While new digital magazine websites such as Magzter and Zinio have become popular places to read and subscribe to magazines, what I believe is missing is one application that consolidates everything and is both easy to use and efficient. The introduction of iPads and iPhones to the world is what really sparked the concept of digital magazines. Now there needs to be an app on those devices that allows the reader to read his/her magazines of choice. An app that would provide both a marketplace and a storage area for your magazines would be an ideal addition to the growing industry. If the digital magazine industry could be mobilized into one app that takes care of all the reader’s needs, I would predict a pretty significant spike in the popularity of digital magazines. However, the digital magazine industry is still waiting.
   Recently, social media has played a significant role in the development of digital magazines. The Snapchat app now includes a “discover” area, a news section that has stories and articles from magazines such as Esquire, Vice, ESPN, Entertainment Weekly, and more. Snapchat’s inclusion of articles from these magazines has both positive and negative aspects when it comes to these magazine brands trying to develop their digital presence. Positively, by including snippets of these magazines in the app, it raises awareness for them and may inspire people to go pick up the latest copy, either physically or digitally. Negatively, people may also feel that if they can get snippets of stories for free through apps such as Snapchat, what’s the point of going out and buying the whole physical or digital copy of a magazine? While innovative, it’s debatable if Snapchat is helping or hurting the magazine industry.
  Even as the industry is still waiting on an app that will satisfy consumers, the iPhone/iPad/Android app Flipboard may prove to be trouble for traditional digital magazine brands. This app recently unveiled a new update that allows users to create “smart magazines” composed of all different articles of their choosing. Essentially, the app lets the user create their own magazines filled only with articles that they are interested in learning or reading about. This innovation could prove to be a huge threat to digital magazine brands, as consumers may not feel a need to buy a whole magazine when they can pick and choose which articles they want to read and have them all conveniently in one place. It really is a brilliant strategy, almost like allowing readers to curate and publish their own personally tailored magazine.
   There isn’t much other information out there when it comes to the future of digital magazines so I will be especially interested to see how the industry develops over the next few years. Despite the recent and somewhat lackadaisical sales numbers, I do believe that there will be an increase in the prevalence of digital magazines and I think an app will be responsible for this development. I predict that someone will capitalize on the burgeoning digital magazine market and create a revolutionary app that will make the reading and accessing of digital magazines easier. If an app like this is eventually developed, consumers will realize how convenient and revolutionary digital magazines are, and the industry might finally experience solid growth over the next few years.
  • About the Author
    Fitz Roddy is a sophomore at Miami University majoring in Marketing in the Farmer School of Business. Besides English, some of his favorite things are movies, reading, music, and the Chicago Cubs. Fitz hopes to work in either Chicago or Los Angeles after graduation.
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    Perfect Timing: Ashley Elston’s This Is Our Story

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    Why the pub date of Elston's captivating mystery-thriller about politics, power, and privilege couldn't have been more spot-on.  ♦ 
    “A ten-point buck and a dead body make the same sound when they hit the forest floor.”
       With this chilling opening line, Ashley Elston's This Is Our Story hooks its readers and starts reeling them in. The novel tells the story of high school senior Kate Marino, who is desperately trying to solve the mystery of who killed Grant Perkins, the fifth of the so-called River Point Boys, a group of high school boys who are all upper-class, privileged, good-looking, and, most importantly, white. In a drug-induced haze early one morning, the five boys went hunting, but only four came back. One of the boys killed Grant, but because all of the boys’ fingerprints are on the rifle that fired the fatal bullet, none of them will confess. Since Kate has an internship at the district attorney’s office, she feels compelled to use the resources available to her to figure out the killer before all of the boys escape punishment. Of course, nothing comes easy in cases like these—the government officials surrounding Kate want nothing more than to quietly sweep the whole matter under the rug, and she has a sneaking suspicion that there’s something more going on, given the power and political connections of the boys' families. Her fight to bring Grant’s killer to justice is further complicated by her surprising connection to him and, in turn, her connection to all of the River Point Boys.
      As a protagonist, Kate will be sure to evoke nostalgia in fans of Nancy Drew—her independence, intelligence, and unwillingness to back down make her a modern version of the classic teen detective. Throw in a subplot involving a circulating photo of girls being sexually exploited at an out-of-control party, a perfectly timed plot twist that will almost certainly catch you off guard (even if you pride yourself in detecting those curveballs from miles away), and intermittent sections narrated by Grant’s chillingly cold killer, and you’ve got yourself a novel that will stick with you long after your eyes pass over the final words. However, beyond all of this, the reason this novel still haunts me has to do with its eerie connection to today’s political and cultural climate.
        Back when she was drafting this novel, Elston could not have known it would be released exactly a week after the 2016 Presidential Election, and even when she knew the release date, she couldn't have realized how relevant the themes in her novel would be. Though the themes of white privilege, upper-class privilege, and government corruption are not new to novels or to the general public, they are certainly more prevalent in the public consciousness right now. Unfortunately, to make clear all of the connections between the novel and the current news cycle would require giving away spoilers, but I can speak to them on a surface level: Everyone knows that one of the River Point Boys killed Grant. The kids at their school know. The police officers know. The district attorney knows. Yet, so many of these people are willing to let all of the boys go free, to forget about bringing the killer to justice, and the reason why is glaringly obvious: the River Point Boys are white and they’re wealthy—or, rather, their parents are. Those working in the government know how much influence the parents have over their positions, and they are not willing to compromise their jobs for anything.
        It's made quite clear throughout the novel that if the boys’ parents were not so wealthy and well-connected, the case would have been handled differently, and while the connection between the boys’ race and how they are treated within the justice system does not explicitly come up in the book, it's easy to make the connection between race and privilege given recent instances of racial profiling and police shootings directed at minorities. And, as the themes of wealth, privilege, and corruption intersect, it's also hard not to see obvious connections between Elston’s novel and President Donald Trump’s cabinet, where positions are filled by the same rich, white, privileged class on the basis of campaign contributions, political power, and cronyism—Betsy DeVos, anyone?—rather than on any merit besides how money talks (or, convinces us to keep quiet). And while I don't want to spoil the ending of the novel, I will say that, by the end, Elston makes a clear point on additional privilege as a result of someone’s class or race that stuck with me just as much as This Is Our Story’s conclusion did.
       As a reader, I spent the entire novel—literally down to the final pages—trying to figure out who killed Grant. Every time I settled on a name, I changed my mind, and the aforementioned plot twist left me constantly second-guessing myself. Writing a mystery-thriller such as this is an art—the author has to reveal some clues to keep the readers intrigued, but not enough to let them solve the mystery too early (or even at all)—and Elston has perfected this art, telling Kate’s story in a way that captivates the reader.
       This Is Our Story will leave you breathless, turning back pages to try and find the clue you might’ve missed. It will leave you hurting for those who were affected by Grant’s death. It will leave you feeling proud of Kate for stepping up and doing what’s right. But, most importantly, it will leave you thinking about how the story would play out in today’s world. This novel’s connection to what is going on around us is what makes it so important—and Elston’s ability to eloquently make that connection is what makes it so wonderful.
  • About the Author
    Haley Hopkins is a junior English Literature and Creative Writing double major at Miami University. She works as a consultant at the Howe Center for Writing Excellence and is a recipient of the Daniel and Margaret Bookwalter Award in Creative Writing. When she isn't reading or writing, you can probably find her watching Netflix, eating guacamole, or looking at pictures of huskies on the internet.
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    Wednesday, April 19, 2017

    Navigating The Maze

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    Having trouble finding your favorite LGBTQ+ authors in the local bookstore? The problem might not be the floor plan.  ♦ 
    Close your eyes. Imagine for a moment your favorite bookstore. You’ve been there dozens of times and can recreate every last sensation of being there—you recall the smell of coffee, or maybe you can hear the gentle classical piano ballad that always plays on the store’s radio. Whatever the sensation, you know it well and it brings you comfort. Now, imagine walking to your favorite section. Perhaps you like to browse through the romance or mystery sections, or instead you prefer sci-fi comics, historical novels, or the classics. You know exactly how to get to that very section. You know the path there almost as intrinsically as you know the path back home.
       Now, imagine again. You walk that familiar path to your favorite section, your home away from home, only to find that your favorite section is missing. First, there’s confusion. The manager just decided to move the shelves around, right? So you systematically scan each aisle, searching for your favorite section. You make your way around the store two, maybe three times, the familiar rows of shelves becoming more and more like the imposing walls of a dark maze every minute. But ultimately there can be only one answer: your favorite section with all your old and soon-to-be favorite books is gone. Then, for the first time in what feels like forever, you walk out of the bookstore, dejected and empty-handed.
       Unfortunately, this is a familiar fate for those readers who find themselves relegated to being part of a so-called “niche” audience.
       The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “niche” as “a specialized market.” In terms of book buying, a “niche” audience would therefore be a specialized market for a particular book-buying group, often based on genre or a particular interest. However, these niche audiences are often ignored in favor of the more popular genres that bring in revenue. For example, perhaps you are a part of that niche audience that enjoys reading plays and poetry. Then, like me, you probably know that lonely, dusty shelf at the local Barnes & Noble better than you know the back of your own hand.
       Shelf size aside, imagine with me one last time: what if your favorite section was never at that bookstore in the first place? Perhaps your local big name bookseller never felt the need to carry fantasy novels, biographies, or Shakespeare. They must have looked at that genre, believed the audience was too small to bring in revenue, and decided not to risk the investment. Because of this, even though this bookstore is like a second home to you, you are forced to look elsewhere.
        Sounds like a book-lover’s nightmare, doesn’t it? That's how it feels if you count yourself part of one the many niche audiences out there. Especially if, like me and countless others, you fall into the "niche" audience of the LGBTQ+ community.
       Now, I want to be clear here: the issue I’m talking about is not whether or not LGBTQ+ books and authors exist. Because they do. In fact, as of writing this article, Goodreads.com lists 36,048 results under the shelf “lgbt.” It’s certainly not the largest shelf on the site, but it’s still quite impressive. There are also countless authors who are a part of the LGBTQ+ community or who are historical figures widely believed to be. These writers include everyone from Oscar Wilde, Virginia Woolf, and James Baldwin to Audre Lorde, David Levithan, Alison Bechdel, and Janet Mock. These writers have not only transformed LGBTQ+ literature but also the entire fabric of literary and cultural history. A lack of books to read is not really the problem. The problem is that mainstream brick-and-mortar booksellers do not carry them in large enough quantities or varieties to make them accessible to all.
       For instance, if you want to read a LGBTQ+ novel, you could go to the bookstore and wander through its maze, hoping to find a book or two amongst the countless others, buy it, and then cross your fingers that it’s actually worthwhile. Even if you do find something, you still have to play a nasty game of literary Russian roulette to see whether the book will be enjoyable and well-written or boring. Worse, it might feature gross, outdated tropes such as the classic and harmful “Bury Your Gays” trope. Additionally, should you already know what book you want to buy, there’s no guarantee that the store will carry it just as there is the guarantee that the store will carry copies of Time magazine and the latest Stephen King novel. The seeming only alternative to this long and uncertain process is to go online where you can look up a book, make sure it’s actually good for once, and then make a few clicks over on Amazon (which of course doesn’t bode well for brick-and-mortar booksellers).
       It’s not all doom and gloom for the reader, however. There are some alternatives. One ray of hope is that there are a variety of different local/indie bookstores that sell exclusively LGBTQ+ books. The American Library Association even has an interactive map featuring many of the ones within the United States and Canada. You will notice, however, that the number of pins on that map is very, very small, still making these stores and their books largely inaccessible. Another alternative comes from the advent of e-books. Many modern writers both in and out of the LGBTQ+ community are moving to self-publishing, often in the form of e-books, shortening the path between the writer, the seller, and the reader thus increasing accessibility. There’s even a website dedicated entirely to LGBTQ+ e-books.
       While great for the reader, these options still are bad news for big-name bookstores. By inadvertently turning away a section of their customers, they are losing potential business. And with the internet age already threatening to put bookstores out of business, it doesn’t make sense for them to not to focus more on selling LGBTQ+ books and books for other niche audiences. But if anyone proposed the idea to them, they would probably reply that they do sell books for LGBTQ+ readers and other niche audiences. And then they would point to that lonely shelf of poetry and scramble to find the closest copy of The Importance of Being Earnest of any of the other couple dozen LGBTQ+ works out of the hundreds of books in the store.
       Regardless of whether or not big-name booksellers change their stance or whether you get your books there or online, there still remains a negative impact on the consumer. Growing up, bookstores were like a second home to me. They were a place of wonder where I was safe to be myself surrounded by all my favorite stories and characters. But having a part of who I am dubbed as niche and unimportant enough to warrant even a singular shelf in a big-name bookstore tells me and innumerable others that our stories don’t matter. That they aren’t worth being told. When you are a member of a minority (whether it be in gender, sexuality, race, or a combination thereof) finding a story about someone like you, with an identity and values matching yours, can be an endless search. Not unlike being lost in a maze. But now that we know that this lacking representation negatively impacts both the booksellers and the readers, perhaps the solution to the problem, the path out of the maze, is closer than we think.
  • About the Author
    Lauren Miles is a first-year Creative Writing major at Miami University. She would love to travel through space, but since safe and reliable intergalactic Star Trek-esque travel is not yet available, she’s quite happy to write about the stars instead.
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    Harry Potter and the Cursed Audience

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    The highly-anticipated Harry Potter and the Cursed Child has been immensely successful, but some readers may be left wanting more.  ♦ 
    In 1997, J. K. Rowling released the first book in her masterpiece collection, one sure to live in the hearts and minds of young readers for years to come. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (or the Americanized Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone) was the start of an epic saga that defined a generation. Following it were six additional books, eight movies, a wildly popular theme park in Universal Studios, a slew of merchandise, and now the story of Harry's son, Albus Severus Potter. This past July, a lucky (if limited) number of fans got to see his son's escapades onstage in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. People have flocked to the Palace Theatre in London to witness it, but, like any auditorium, there are limited seats, making it a hot ticket and a hard one to come by. Over $40 million has been made in London in advance ticket sales already, but The Cursed Child will not be making it to Broadway until, at the earliest, spring 2018. What are the rest of us supposed to do until then?
       Well, we could read it. But Potter fans might be better off waiting to see it instead.
       Upon the premiere of the play in London, scripts were widely released for the millions of fans scattered across the planet. The thick, bright-yellow volume bearing the name of the boy who lived flew off shelves and into the hands of hungry readers. Big name bookstores such as Barnes & Noble and The Strand had large release parties to celebrate the latest installment. Some copies of the script even included a limited edition poster or an interview with the creators (Jack Thorne, John Tiffany, and J. K. Rowling). Despite all the glamour and excitement of a brand-new Harry Potter book, it seems Cursed Child readers have generally been . . . underwhelmed. I myself, as a long time Potterhead, was left yearning for more at the conclusion of the script. And, as Rowling herself did not write the script—she only came up with the concept—the entire work took on an indescribably different voice, one that did not feel right when compared with its companion series. Admittedly, I might feel differently about The Cursed Child had I seen the live show, which received glowing reviews for its special effects and excellent acting, rather than simply reading the script. But I haven't, and I probably won't have the chance for some time.
       Thus the problem with releasing the script as a stand-in for the show emerges: it's designed to be performed for an audience, not read. There has not been in recent memory a script released that has reached such a wide array of audiences as Cursed Child, but it's a safe bet that all those people curling up with their copy, expecting another book the caliber of the seven preceding novels, are going to be left feeling a bit cheated, for a multitude of reasons:

    1. It Flies By, But Not on a Broom
    The tale of “19 years later” is a very quick read and can be finished in a matter of hours, while you can immerse yourself in the play for an entire day: Part I runs about 2 hours 45 minutes with a 20-minute intermission, and Part II runs at 2 hours 35 minutes. Usually, Part I is performed as a matinee with Part II several hours later in the evening, thus becoming a day-long endeavor. Given what a spectacle this must be, readers taking up the script alone (and quickly burning through it) are sure to be disappointed.

    2. Set Design Not Included
    While reading has always included using your imagination to create the characters’ appearances, actions, and their environments, a script is not as detailed as regular prose and makes scenes much more difficult to envision. Where a novel could have comprehensive paragraphs covering description, a script has parentheses and small stage directions to be interpreted by the director and by art design. Thus the spectacular special effects of the stage fall flat on paper.

    Jamie Parker as Harry Potter and Sam Clemmett as Albus Potter
    3. It's Hard to Read Tone of Voice
    There are more than a few emotional passages in the script, particularly between Albus and Harry Potter, but while there is some direction given as to the intended emotion behind these lines, which could help guide readers, watching it take place live would be much more successful in conveying the tone of such scenes than simply reading the lines on the page.

    4. It's Meant to be Experienced
    You can be excited reading at home, true, but there is something about the unique experience of entering a theater surrounded by people who are just as excited as you. The shared energy of a whole mob entering the same space, all with the express purpose of watching Harry Potter, has not happened since the premiere of the last movie, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt. II, which began playing in U. S. theaters way back on July 15, 2011. Additionally, Harry Potter has never before been performed live, adding to the energy and excitement of the production.

       Despite these hindrances, the script holds records in the US and UK from its first three days of sales and will likely become the fastest-selling text of the decade as people continue to purchase, rent, or download the script as a substitute for its onstage version. For those lucky enough to see the show, enjoy it. In the meantime, the rest of us will have to put up with a lackluster-but-readable alternative . . . at least until we can get our hands on tickets. 
  • About the Author
    Leah Kuntz is an aspiring writer, avid reader, and enthusiastic traveler. She is currently studying Creative Writing and Art History at Miami University and will be studying in London this summer
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    Saturday, April 8, 2017

    Creative Nonfiction: The Literary Power Couple

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    If you don’t think "creative" and "nonfiction" go together, you'd better think again.  ♦ 
    I feel like it's human nature to want to divide things into easy, clear-cut categories: black and white, right brain and left brain, good and bad, real and fake. When I was younger, my choice of genre for a book was an easy one. Who would want to read nonfiction when you have fiction and all of the fantastical worlds, characters, and adventures it creates for you? Yet now, I would tell my younger self that with a few more years of experience and knowledge under my belt, I just love reading nonfiction. How could a girl who counted down the days until the next Harry Potter book release, bee-lined it for the young adult fiction section in bookstores, and dreamed of creating a fiction book series of her own ask for the Norton Reader: An Anthology of Nonfiction for Christmas this year? Because I’ve stumbled upon one of the best-kept secrets in the literary genre divide – creative nonfiction.
       The phrase sounds kind of like an oxymoron, and it seems like a fact in itself that straight information can’t be "creative" because it must be accurate. But a fact is more than just the plain, generalized truth that it first appears to be; it takes different forms in the living world through its use and consequences. For example: it takes about eight minutes for the light from the sun to actually reach the Earth. Or you could say that if the sun exploded, it would take eight minutes for the ensuing darkness and chaos to reach Earth. This transformation is all a play on words and presentation. We may not be able to change the core truth of nonfiction, but we can still shape and mold it to fit the different people, experiences, and perspectives it encounters.
       I am a pre-medical student with an English major – maybe two of the most opposite fields of study one can pursue. Yet I believe there is a middle ground between the two to be explored, occupied, and used in my career as a physician. In one of my high school English classes, I read an essay called “The Knife” by Richard Selzer. The story anthropomorphizes a surgeon’s knife to describe the experience in the operating room in new terms. You would be hard-pressed to find a more factual, methodical process than performing surgery on a person, but this essay takes those nonfiction roots and sprinkles them with creativity, allowing them to bloom into a unique and poignant essay. It discusses objects and acts like the inner anatomy of the body, the power of the surgeon holding the knife, and the knife itself in descriptive, thought-provoking, and just plain interesting language. Just as every patient who comes into the hospital carries a unique story and set of beliefs, so do the laws of nature and workings of the world. Creative nonfiction specializes in telling the stories behind the facts and allowing the reader to establish a closer relationship with them.
       Essays like “The Knife” are a far cry from the more well-known product of creative nonfiction: the memoir. We are currently in what seems to be a “memoir craze” with celebrities and figureheads publishing their private lives and reflective thoughts in the hopes that readers will gain a new appreciation for their inner workings. Because these essays are so personal, they often have limited audiences. More general creative nonfiction pieces such as essays about dogs, politics, travel, or food reach a wider audience because they are about life and the things we see around us every day. People think they will hate nonfiction or creative nonfiction because it is dry and boring, but the truth is that we embody this genre constantly in our daily lives. Some great places to start exposing yourself to the genre include anthologies like The Norton Reader, memoirs by your favorite figureheads, Creative Nonfiction magazine, or even newspaper articles on travel or food.
       What’s really most exciting is the fact that creative nonfiction is such an enigma. We classify memoirs and essays as creative nonfiction, but where is the line for the amount of creativity that pushes us over from nonfiction to fiction? You can even be creative with how you define creativity. What is deemed to be “real” or “the truth” is increasingly questioned and loosely defined. Creative nonfiction is currently one of the fastest growing genres and as it’s growing, the attempts to define and understand exactly what it is will grow as well. Creative nonfiction and what it can be will be determined by the writers who participate in its discourse. So write an essay about your dog or those thoughts you have at two in the morning or your relationship with your dad and the moments you think define it. To truly understand this worthwhile genre, you must participate in it. There are no rules or boundaries or clear-cut definitions to follow so long as what you create is a “True story. Well told,” in the words of the magazine Creative Nonfiction. Nonfiction doesn’t deserve the bad stigma it receives in comparison to fiction. People who perpetuate negative sentiment towards creative nonfiction might just be those who haven’t had the chance to see it creatively yet. If you don’t think creative and nonfiction go together, think again.
  • About the Author
    Kelsy Schultz is a junior Creative Writing and Pre-Medical studies co-major from Michigan with hopes of attend medical school upon graduation. She is also the president of the Miami Waterski Club, a lover of all things pumpkin all year round, an avid book reader (when there is time to spare), and a firm believer that “everything happens for a reason.”
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    Wednesday, April 5, 2017

    Readers Rejoice: There’s a Rotten Tomatoes for Books

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    With Book Marks, readers have hundreds of book reviews right at their fingertips.  ♦ 
    Picture this: a couple attempts to plan their Friday night. One of them suggests that new Marvel film that premiered the week before. The two pull out their phones and open Rotten Tomatoes. They note that critics loved the movie, and within a minute, their tickets are purchased and their plans are made. With the press of a button, this couple could view every notable film critic’s reaction to the movie.
         The Rotten Tomatoes phenomenon has its roots in the digital world’s obsession with instant gratification. People no longer have to hop from website to website or magazine to magazine, perusing the review section to get different perspectives on a film. The most general consensus about a movie—whether it is good or bad—is gathered into a single, uniform percentage.
         For a long time, I was curious as to why a “Rotten Tomatoes for Books” didn’t exist, especially since sites like Metacritic amass review scores not only for movies, but also for TV, music, and video games. As a fan of reading literature and reviews alike, I longed for a program that would conveniently collect all critics in one spot to make my novel-buying decisions a little easier. Apparently, one just has to do a little research to find that such a site does exist. Book Marks launched in 2016 as the book review aggregation site, daily scouring over seventy publications for the best and most reliable critical sources, then averaging them to formulate the closest possible thing to a critical consensus for each book.
         Book Marks editor Dan Sheehan explained to Turning Page that the site was created to “serve as a link between the worlds of literary creation, criticism, and consumption.” Aggregate websites such as this are beneficial for both the reader and the critics. Without them, readers would have to take the time to gauge every individual critic, learning the tastes of each and determining whether or not those critics agreed with their preferences.
         With Book Marks, the responsibility no longer falls on the reader to find the critics: they are all placed on a single page for each book, making it easier for curious consumers to determine what critics suit them. That means that the critic now has the potential to reach a wider audience. “Ultimately, the goal of Book Marks is to spotlight a diverse range of literary criticism in order to help book lovers make more informed reading choices,” said Sheehan.
         Considering the storm by which Rotten Tomatoes—and even Metacritic, to a smaller extent—has taken the criticism industries, it’s surprising that Book Marks hasn’t blown up in popularity. A possible cause for this is the site’s relative lack of integration with the online community. For example, Rotten Tomatoes makes itself available to anyone who uses the Flixster app to buy movies or tickets. Similarly, Metacritic keeps a permanent spot on the webpages of the International Movie Database (IMDb), so that anyone looking up recent Best Picture winner Moonlight will also notice how much critics adored it.
         Book Marks could have that same type of integration on Goodreads, the large, dedicated online community for enthusiastic book lovers. The site already has a large user review system, but that may not have the same impact on swaying readers’ opinions and buying decisions than a system like Book Marks would. In a similar way to IMDb, a reader could look up George Saunders’s debut novel to see what all the fuss is about and notice that critics adore that, too.
         “We're always looking to expand and enhance the utility of the site for all members of the literary community, be they readers, writers, or reviewers,” said Sheehan about the possibility of merging with another online book community like Goodreads.
         Aside from increasing its user base, Book Marks has other obstacles it’s working to remove. For example, it has proven challenging to curate a website using legitimate book critics while avoiding the partial, biased, or copycat reviews. “Sometimes, a regional paper will publish a review from, say, the Washington Post without properly crediting the source, and we must be careful not to double up,” said Sheehan. “Other times, what seems initially to be an impartial review will reveal itself to be a lead-in to a publicity piece or a profile of the author.”
         Book Marks is still a young website, but it will be interesting to see if it can grow larger in the book community, and if said community is as invested in book reviews as people are when it comes to movies.
  • About the Author
    Sam Keeling is a Creative Writing major straight outta Columbus who spends a lot of time reading, watching, and listening to things. He reads and writes more entertainment journalism than most people consume normal entertainment. If that is sad, he is okay with it.
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    Monday, May 9, 2016

    The Importance of an Online Literary Presence

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    In terms of finding (and keeping) an audience, some of a writer's most important work comes in 140 characters.  ♦ 
    When I was younger, all of my favorite authors seemed like these mysterious beings that I could only hope to get a chance to interact with. I loved to read, and it saddened me that the creators of these great works of fiction that I loved seemed so distant and unreachable.
       But things have changed dramatically over the last decade with the rise of social media, especially when it comes to younger authors, and within the last couple of years, especially, I’ve noticed a dramatic increase in the social media presence of up-and-coming writers. The first time I noticed how prevalent literature was becoming on social media would be when I started noticing the Kardashians posting poems by the writer R.M. Drake on their Instagram pages, and, as embarrassed as I am to admit that I follow the Kardashian social media pages, I have to say that I liked the Drake poems that they posted. They are usually very short, and sometimes a bit cliché, but overall pretty pleasant to read, and that lead to me to follow Drake's own page, which lead me to at least consider buying his poetry books. Poetry, in particular, does well in literary social media, because you can fit an entire poem in one post, and very short poems work great for microblogs such as Twitter. Self-Help books also do well on Twitter, because authors can easily post some of the “helpful tips” or “daily reminders” from their work in 140 characters or less. For example, I follow an author named Mandy Hale, who writes Christian self-help books for young women. She tweets short blurbs from her books all of the time, which is what led me to eventually end up purchasing an electronic copy of one of them.
        I’ve recently learned a lot about the importance of “literary citizenship” and how to be an ideal literary citizen. As a millennial, I realize that my social media presence as an author is a major key to getting my name and my own work noticed. But maintaining my social media account is no easy task. I’m constantly forgetting to log onto my “professional” Twitter, and trying to keep up with my blog is a full-time job that there just aren’t enough hours in the day for unless that is already your job. I’ve been trying to start following younger authors online, because I’ve noticed that a lot of older, more established authors are just not that active on Twitter or Instagram. Perhaps they’re busy taking care of their families, or maybe it’s because their work is notable and well-known enough that they don’t need to advertise it on social media, but, personally, I like being able to interact with authors online, or at least feel some sort of close connection to them, no matter how distant they may actually be.
        J. K. Rowling, of the most well-known authors of this day, is extremely active on social media and has a very influential presence amongst her fans, new and old. In fact, Rowling’s very visible and vocal online presence may be one reason why the Harry Potter series is just as talked about today as it was ten or more years ago; the author is constantly answering questions and addressing fan theories in regards to a series that was completed nearly a decade ago. Her social media interactions keep her in touch with her fans, and this is what keeps her work relevant and relatable to the new generation. Gaining new readers is important for every author, and we are in the age where your social media presence may just be the best way to gain those readers . . . but also where a lack of a presence could cost you readers.
        Last fall, for example, I attended a panel with an author whose poetry I was interested in. Just a few days ago, I tried looking up her work online, and got very few results. I immediately tried to look up her social media pages, to see when her most recent poetry book would be printed again, but she had no social media (at least not open to the public). I won’t go as far as to say that she lost a fan, but I definitely lost interest in reading more of her work because she didn’t seem to exist online, and I had no easy way of finding out how to purchase a copy of her work.
        In terms of social media, authors should really consider creating a Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram account dedicated solely to promoting their work. This way, their work can be separate from their personal pages, and with enough effort, you’ll eventually gain a following of people who are genuinely interested in reading and sharing your work with other readers. For shy writers, the beauty of social media is that you can keep things as anonymous as you like when it comes to social media. Consistency is key when it comes to maintain pages dedicated to your work. You don’t have to post multiple times a day if that’s not your thing, but it is nice for readers who visit your pages to be able to see relatively new posts on your pages. You never know who is reading your work, which is why having presence is so important.
        Ultimately, it’s important that writers of all ages become more aware of how valuable a strong social media presence can be. Whether it be tweeting writing advice, or Instagramming samples of your work, social media is becoming one of the best ways to make yourself known to a wide array of people.
  • About the Author
    Darice Chapel is a Journalism and Creative Writing double major at Miami University. She is also the president of Love You Like A Sister (L.Y.L.A.S.) and secretary of the Black Student Action Association.
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