How “Bookstagrammer” Jordan Moblo Crafts His Posts
S1: This ad free podcast is part of your Slate plus membership.
S2: It’s kind of wild because I started out with, like zero followers not expecting anything like it was a private account, like I didn’t even tell my husband. So I was like, this is so nerdy. Like, I don’t need anyone to know this. Like and now there’s like sixty nine thousand people who, like, check in what I’m doing every day, which is like if I think about it before I post, I kind of like lose my mind and freak out because that’s like so many people that have access to me.
S3: Welcome back to Working, I’m your host, Isaac Butler,
S4: and I’m your other host, Remon Alan
S3: Ruman Ruman. So nice to hear your voice. Who was that other voice that we just heard at the top of the show and what does he do?
S4: So my guest this week is Jordan Mubako. And Jordan has a day job. He’s a development executive in the film and TV business. But this week I’m talking to him about his side gig, which is as a and you’ll have to forgive the inelegance of this word, a bookstore. Grammar Jordan runs an Instagram account, which is called Jordis Book Club, which has tens of thousands of followers where he posts about books, you know, the books he’s reading new books, you know, all things books, lots of books to grandmas.
S3: That’s fascinating. Thank you for explaining this portmanteau to me, since I am not even on Instagram. You know, I think a lot about this routine the comedian Eddie Izzard used to do about people who have the Technosphere versus the techno joy. I don’t
S5: have that. I have the joy. I love machines. I like getting new and I get new machines. And yes, this machine will save my life. I’ll never work again because this machine will do everything, even the creative input stuff, which doesn’t happen. And the first thing you do is you got tanagers, you got the instructions and throw them out the window. No, I know how this one will want to address this thing
S3: when it comes to social media and literature, which category are you, my friend?
S4: You know, I’m mostly a Luddite, to be honest. I do use Instagram mostly to take pictures of my kids. I do use Twitter. I understand a bit about the world of books. Grimm as a writer, you know, these days many publishers, my own included, use that platform as a means of marketing and publicity. Part of the reason I wanted to talk to Jordan was having observed that system as a writer and having so many questions about it. You know, Jordan and his book club are very kind and supportive of my last book, so maybe it’s ethically suspect that I talked to him at all. But that is just pure coincidence. That’s how I came to know his name. And I just came away from starting his account with so many questions. What kind of work goes into an endeavor like this? You know, what does Jordan hope for to accomplish? You know, that kind of stuff. Felt like he was the perfect subject for working.
S3: Right. And of course, the things he’s literally making, the images are themselves a creative endeavor. Right. It’s not like I mean I mean, that is creative work at the same time.
S4: I mean, anyone who has ever tried to frame up an artful Instagram photo knows that there is some amount of deliberation and choice and effort involved. You know, in the months before my last book came out, I saw the book show up on Instagram to show up in the hands of booksellers or librarians or other people inside the business, like Jordan, you know, saying, oh, I’m reading this book talking about what it was so they would tag me in the post. And so that was their way of kind of calling my attention to the fact that they were talking about the book. It’s a really interesting thing to watch. A book that you’ve written in private make its way out into the world and onto other people’s Instagram feeds. You know, I don’t know whether that does something to sell the book, but I also have to kind of imagine that there is a correlation. You know, if a librarian has read an early copy of your book and liked it enough to talk about it on Instagram, he’s probably going to order a couple of copies for his library.
S3: Yeah, totally. Well, I cannot wait to learn more about this whole world, particularly, you know, as we start to think about where my books about, oh, you know, I can I can think about maybe someone will hold it in a photo on social media. But also, if you are a slate plus subscriber, you get a you get a little something extra this week, right?
S4: Yes. I talk to Jordan a little bit about his favorite recent book covers. You know, that’s obviously something that he’s going to be an expert in. And I also asked him about the reads that he’s discovered from his gig running this particular book club.
S3: Well, I cannot imagine wanting to forego that additional content on this show or add free podcasts. But you know what? I don’t have to forego that because I am already a member of Slate plus Slate plus members get all of the above, plus they get the peace of mind of knowing that they’re supporting all the great work that we do right here on working. And hey, if you’re not a slate plus member, it’s never too late to join. It’s only one dollar for the first month to sign up. Go to Slate Dotcom working plus. All right, let’s eavesdrop on Roman’s conversation with Jordan Lobo.
S4: Jordan, you’re kind of an unusual guest for our show, because what I wanted to talk to you about is the work that is not your day job. You have a 9:00 to 5:00 gig in the entertainment business, but then you have this whole other you know, I don’t know if you would call it a sideline and if you call it a hobby and if you call it a passion project, can you explain to me what is Jordis Book Club?
S2: I guess I would call it a hobby, I it is creatively satisfying for me, it is something that I genuinely enjoy doing on my time off. But it’s an Instagram account that I started three years ago, just as a way to kind of track what I was reading and track books and kind of share recommendations with friends and family, not realizing that books to is actually this entire world of its own in this entire community of book lovers that post videos and beautiful pictures of books and reviews and recommendations. And so I kind of fell down the rabbit hole, you know, just posting books I liked. And it became this much bigger thing that I kind of ever anticipated to the point of what it is today. So I guess it’s a hobby, but it also kind of like led me to what I currently do as a career. So I would say, like it’s been one of the biggest changes in my life has been just this Instagram account.
S4: So you just very helpfully used a word that some of our listeners may be familiar with, and that word is books to grab. The more I think about the word books, Tabram, the more unwieldy it becomes. But it is very clear in telling you what it is, its component parts, books and Instagram. Instagram, like a lot of social media, uses like a hashtag as a sorting mechanism. And so just out of curiosity, I checked the hashtag for books to cram yesterday. There are 59 million posts filed under the hashtag. Fifty nine million. I wonder, as someone who is a participant in books, taproom, if you could give me kind of a useful working definition of what exactly it is.
S2: Yeah, look, I think it’s kind of the definition of books around is a little bit nebulous because I think there’s so many things you can do on books. Trigram. I mean, for me specifically, I use it to to find new books, to find recommendations, to step outside genres. I normally read and see what other people are recommending. But if you were someone that had never done books to before and wanted to come in and do it, there’s no right or wrong way. Right? Like you come in and you find your people or you find that people you you listen to and you like recommendations from and reviews are just beautiful pictures. Or there are people that have gorgeous plants or people that use like tchotchkes and props and things like that. So I think, like, there’s no right way to books diagram. And there are many different ways you can utilize it to your benefit or just if you’re bored and just want to look at, you know, nice pictures like Instagram.
S4: Books room is a way in which all these individuals, as you say, like there’s no right or wrong way, have sort of taken the technology or the platform and made it into whatever they want it to be. You know, like you’re saying, if you love romance novels, you can find a bookstore who specializes in romance novels. If you love Y.A. books, you could find someone whose specialty is that. If you want to post pictures of your own book next to what you’ve had for lunch every day, you know you could do that. What’s the guiding principle for what you do with your Instagram account, which is Jordis Book Club?
S2: For me, it’s kind of wild because I started out with, like zero followers not expecting anything like it was a private account, like I didn’t even tell my husband. So I was like, this is so nerdy. Like, I don’t need anyone to know. There’s like and now there’s like sixty nine thousand people who, like, check in what I’m doing every day, which is like if I think about it before I post, I kind of like lose my mind and freak out because that’s like so many people that have access to me. But for me, I’ve always operated under the the idea that I want to be authentic and who I am and what I read and review, I want to be kind. It’s not my job to give bad reviews or talk badly about books. I think like life’s too short to be negative online and I just don’t operate in that way. And I always try to have a point of view. I always try to come across and say, like, this is who I am. This is what I enjoy reading. This is what you’re going to get out of my account. And I found that that being authentic and having an actual point of view have been really beneficial for me in growing my account. And then on top of that, look, I’ve never been a photographer. I’ve never I never feel like I’ve had that artistic I like I’m the one guy that doesn’t want to style my clothes or how like I feel like I just don’t fit that mold. But when it comes to, like, taking book photos, I have actually found it to be very creatively fulfilling. And so I find the book photography actually to be like relaxing and something I genuinely enjoy doing every day. And and as I’ve kind of amassed this big library, it’s really allowed me to like kind of like play with style and color and all these different things. And so I think that those are two of the big things that I specifically get out of my account. And I think a lot of the followers enjoy as well.
S4: But part of the reason I wanted to talk to you is because you are, in fact a relative newcomer, right? Like this account, as you say, it was a private account. You were just doing it on a lark within a pretty short period of time. You seem to have found a footing aesthetically, but you also seem you’ve clearly attracted a pretty robust audience. Were you using Instagram prior to this? And what was your intention when you decided to make this into a public facing account?
S2: Yeah, I mean, I had a personal account that I posted in my own personal pictures and stuff about my life on. And then I had this one specifically on the side. And I think like, look, I think a lot of people get into book Instagram because a lot of the publishers are on book Instagram. And if you amass a certain number of followers, publishers will send you books or you can get free books very easily. You have Galley’s or the Advance Reader copies of books. And so I think that’s a really exciting thing for a lot of people who are joining the community is the opportunity to get free books and advance copies of books that haven’t come out yet and kind of be ahead of the game. I also think it’s an opportunity for readers to connect with authors and other readers, which I think is is really exciting to be able to talk to the people who are writing books and kind of fangirl out a little bit like a lot of authors will do live Q&A on Instagram, or they will actually respond to messages. And and I think that kind of involvement in community is really exciting, especially for readers in my own community. Outside of books to Graham, I am, you know, one of the more voracious readers that of my friends and family. And so it’s nice not to be screaming into the void where no one can hear what you’re talking about or doesn’t understand the book you read. And you can go online and and be like, who has read this? I can post a story and say, this was amazing. Who else is right? And also sudden you have five conversations going. So I think when I decided to make mine more public and make it more front facing and make it grow it and make it become something, I think in part it was to get advance copies of books and to connect with publishers and authors and and representatives and kind of build that network. But I also think it kind of just grew organically out of the fact that I started meeting more people. I started talking to a lot more people. I think that my authenticity came across. I am one of the very few men on book Instagram, a community that’s predominately run by women, which makes a lot easier for me. And I am I am a gay white man. So privilege obviously plays a little bit of a part of that because publishing is a predominantly white industry. And so I would be lying if I didn’t say that I have been fortunate enough to that. My privilege has allowed me probably to grow my account to a certain extent as well.
S4: Were you conscious of wanting it to grow? Or if you were you actually said you were you were interested in growing this account. What was the objective behind? Was it to have more of those private conversations about, like, hey, I love this book or tell me what you’re reading next? Or was there some other impetus? Like what was it really about for you?
S2: I think that I’m a competitive person to begin with. And so the competition aspect of it, like how do I like you know, you see these people that you kind of like look up to on the I’m using air quotes, look up to on bookstore ground that you want to kind of be in the same league with. And so I was kind of competitive in that degree. But it’s also like you’re told that if you hit a certain number of followers that you can start to get on these publisher lists to get these books. And so I think that was like my main goal. Let’s get to X number of followers, whether that’s a thousand or five thousand, get on these lists and then good to go. Like, I don’t need to, like, gain any more followers, but it just kind of like took off and and kind of grew on its own. And at a certain point I kind of don’t pay as much attention to that. And today with like sixty nine thousand, like part of me is like I wish I could just go back to like five thousand and like it small, get the books and like quietly like run my own fiefdom, like over there in the corner without drawing such a spotlight on it, which, you know, sometimes causes trouble these days. But, you know, I’m really excited and proud of what it has become for sure.
S4: It’s so telling about the kind of community that it is when you describe your own motivation as being basically free books, right. Like you have to be a very specific kind of person who finds the promise of free books or the promise of like the next book by an author you love before the rest of the world gets their hands on it, that you find that motivating. I mean, I have I have a tween son who is sort of like very conscious of, not very conscious of, but very like wants to be very conscious of the Internet, wants to be like a YouTube star or whatever, whatever that means in his head. But the motivation, I think, for him is money and fame. I don’t think books program is guided by those same principles.
S2: If if you’re looking for money and fame books, tangram is not the place for you. Like you should go open toys like somewhere else. And like Graham, you’re like, I’m not finding any fame or fortune through books to grab it is for the love of books. And and you have to keep in mind also I use books to Graham in some aspect for my career. And so a lot of that is based off of the networking and and meeting people through that as well. And so that’s become they kind of have become interconnected in that way. And so I use books to read a little bit differently maybe than a common lay person might know who doesn’t work in entertainment or who doesn’t work in publishing and books. So so there’s kind of two sides of that coin for me.
S4: So you talked earlier about. The particular task of composing an Instagram post or Instagram story or writing the text as a kind of creative challenge. I wonder, what are the conventions of how you present a book on the platform of Instagram?
S2: Yeah, I again, everyone has their own different aesthetic. Like there are people that use like food, like there’s a great bookstore, grammar pilot, book books. So who creates pies with every book, like these gorgeous, ornate pies and like, it’s incredible. And I don’t have that any near near that talent. Right. So for me it’s like, well, what can I do and what am I good at? And like, if you look at me like I have this great slab of marble that I like, post a lot of pictures, I’m with like a coffee mug or like I use a lot of books in the backgrounds of my photos. For me, I when I started, I had this very kind of industrial loft that we lived in that was very like gray and black and white. And so for me, it was like, I love using those backgrounds and then letting these beautiful book covers like Pop on the foreground of these pictures. And so I’ve always kind of let the book kind of dictate what the post looks like, depending on the cover. Like if you look at today’s post and it’s a it’s a picture of this book called Revelator, it’s a big black and white book. So I used all black and white imagery, but I’ve always operated on the assumption, like, I can’t use props. I kill all the plants that come into our house. Like, so for me, I can use, like coffee mugs and, like, really beautiful pictures of books. And that’s always been my focus. But but if you go on and you look at the hash tag bookstore and you’ll see, you know, so many amazing and beautiful pictures, whether they’re stacks of books or whether they’re annotated on the covers or whether they just have a stark white background or or whether it’s, you know, big piles of books. But everyone is so creative. And I do actually use a lot of the accounts to find my own inspiration as well. So that’s been really fun identifying, you know, people and how creative they can be on the platform.
S4: So I notice that your handle for your account includes the word club. Yeah, and I would be so curious to hear you talk about the way in which Instagram can function in the way that clubs do as an actual community. Was that part of your goal or was that like a pleasant discovery after the fact?
S2: It was for sure a pleasant discovery. Honestly, when I read the handle, it was just probably like half the names I tried to pick were already taken. So it’s like what’s left. And I was like, well, do book club. And I did even use my full name, like I use Jordy because I honestly was like, I don’t want anyone to find this. Like, how embarrassing my book account, which obviously now I’m like, it’s my pride and joy and like we have t shirts made with it. But I it was a pleasant surprise of the community and the book clubs that have kind of resulted from it. And what you’ll find is a lot of people that they have these things called Buddy Reads where you know, someone to post a story and say, I’m going to read this book, does everyone want to read it with me? And they kind of create a messaging group on the side where they talk about the book. Right. Or a lot of people now run their own kind of, you know, I guess their individual book club. So, like, I run a book club right now called Mystery Book Club, which is kind of like a hybrid mix of like a book giveaway and a book discussion group where a friend and I we reach out to the publishers with their upcoming titles and we host a giveaway where we don’t tell anyone what the book is, but they will win a copy of it and join this discussion group. And we will talk about the book and read it together. And that became really successful in the last 18 months where publishers send us, you know, 30 free copies of a book. We send it to all the winners. They agree to post about the book on Instagram to help give the author and the publisher some free promotion. And we have a discussion group for the month where people chime in, talk about the book, talk about their lives, post recommendations based on the book. Sometimes we can get the author to come to a Q&A. And that’s been really fun and really rewarding to kind of feel very involved in the community. And there are tons of those groups doing that every day. And on any book, any genre, anything, you post it and you can usually find someone who will read it with you.
S4: And how is the discussion or how is that sort of interaction happening? Is it happening in direct messages on Instagram? Is that happening in comments like how does that play out?
S2: Yeah, a lot of times it’s comments like I post I try to post a book review every three or four days and I open the floor up. Like, what did you think? What did you read? Like, I posted about your book. And in December, there’s a very spirited conversation in the comments about the book. But then you also have on the side, you have your discussion group. It’s kind of just your direct messenger app on Instagram, which is 30 plus people you can include in that group. And that’s just kind of like a rolling chat in the pandemic. Obviously, a lot of book events have been canceled, so publishers have been finding other ways to help authors promote their books. And so we’ve done a lot of Zoom’s with authors who have come on and we’ve had our group, you know, get to ask questions that way and we kind of moderate the event. I’ve done Instagram lives where the author joins and people ask questions while we’re live. So there’s lots of different ways that we’ve been utilizing the platform and some of the other technological apps, especially in light of the pandemic this past year.
S4: What you’re describing, for example, that a publisher would send you thirty three copies of a forthcoming book, let you be responsible for getting that into the hands of thirty three devoted readers, leading a discussion about it. This is a role that has been filled inside of the publishing business historically by libraries, by independent bookstores, by schools. And it’s funny to see these individuals pop up and accrue so much influence in this very old school business. Do you think this is a promising development for the old school publishing world?
S2: Look, I think you will find that bookstore grammars are the first to beat the drum for independent bookstores and libraries, the places that are predominantly hosted these events. And they will continue to do that. Like you will see that when it’s independent bookstore day, everyone you know beats the drum for independent bookstore day. Everyone promotes libraries, like if a library was closing books, grandmas would be the first ones to start the go fund me and post stories and make sure people were active. So I think I think traditional publishing is finding new ways of promotion and advertising and marketing specifically in the pandemic. But I don’t see those traditional avenues going away any time soon because I do think that they they are really great for the community in real life. And I hope that as things start to open back up, I’m excited to go back to bookstores and to author events. I’m excited to go to libraries and the events at their house. I think they’re really important for local communities. And if I found that bookstore Gram was taking away those places in the community, that would be troubling to me. And that would be something that we would have to re-examine and see how we can live side by side together, because I would never want to affect libraries and bookstores in that way.
S3: We’ll be back with more of Roman’s conversation with Jordan Mobile after this. Hey, listeners, Isaac here just wanted to take a moment to say, if you’re enjoying what we do on this show, please make sure to subscribe wherever you get your podcast so you don’t miss a minute of what we get up to here on working. And if you’d like to be a part of what we do on working, well, actually, it’s easy. Just write us an email or even better, leave us a voicemail asking for some help with your creative problems. Want to know how to stay motivated, how to take a big risk, whatever it is. Send your questions or quandaries to us at working at Slate Dotcom or give us a call at three or four nine three three nine six seven five. That’s three four nine three three work. All right, let’s get back to Roman’s conversation with Jordan Mozilo.
S4: So, again, running Jordis Book Club is the passion project for you, but I’m really curious to understand the scope of your time commitment. How much time do you spend composing a shot, figuring out what the caption is going to read? How much time do you spend making those pictures? Do you take one shot? Do you take you try it 15 different ways? And also, do you have to in order to be successful at it post daily, do you have to post hourly? Like, how do you crack that particular rhythm?
S2: It depends on the post generally book picks, depending on what they are like, if it’s just a normal, like, review pick, like today’s pick probably took me 15 minutes. But then, you know, you have me like I did a book, Christmas Tree last year in the holidays that took me probably four hours. I did a giant menorah on the floor that took me like two days because there’s a lot that goes into yet to find different color books and yet to be like all this layout and planning. So it just depends. Like I do every Tuesday, I do a publication day post of all the new releases that are coming out. Right. And and those normally take me a few hours because I take the time to identify other books to grammar reviews that I can point people to and kind of promote smaller accounts. I kind of annotate the pictures with arrows and texts to kind of like talk about the books and those picks take me a long time. But those picks also do really well. They get a lot of engagement. They get a lot of people book marking them. And and if you want to get a lot of engagement on your post, I found that if there’s a lot of comments, if there are a lot of likes, if there are a lot of people bookmark in your post, those posts seem to do really well and they attract a lot more of engagement followers. You end up on that discovery page that when you’re searching for things. So I think there are tips that you can utilize to help grow your account. But I think that sometimes if you do, you really need to put the time in. So for me, on average, I probably spend one to two hours a day on books to Gram depending on the day, but it’s generally an hour of posting and then it’s an hour of engaging with people, replying to comments, replying to DBMS. I have several friend groups that I’m very close to. I always check in with them during the day. We talk about we’re reading or just kind of life in general. But yeah, it’s usually a couple hours a day.
S4: Is that weekends?
S2: Also weekends is probably a little bit longer because sometimes I try to I try to get a backlog of content done just so I if I go into the week and I have that stuff prepared and then, look, I’m not a writer in real life, I don’t consider myself a very good writer. I’m very bare bones. So when it comes to like reviews and features, those generally take me a little bit longer to compose because I just I’m not the best wordsmith when it comes to writing reviews. So those are tougher for me. Like in December. I do like this top 20 countdown and those posts take me a long time because I it takes a while to compose thoughts and also be authentic and honest without being too negative in my reviews. I never want people who follow me to think that I’m posting only positive reviews because publishers are sending me books. I want them to know, like these are my actual thoughts. I truly believe this about the book. I am passionate about it. I can argue in favor of the book and when people ask why I don’t post negative reviews, it’s not that I don’t not. There are lots of books I don’t like. I just don’t really post about them. So if you see me post about a book a bunch and that I never post a review, chances are I ended up not liking the book and it’s just easier for me to quietly set it aside.
S4: It seems like you’re really providing a service and I guess that sort of goes back to just how much work it must be. I mean, you said a couple hours a day, but like, how much time do you spend opening your mail?
S2: I mean, that’s the best part of the day is all the mail you have to remember. Like, it is a lot of work, but it’s enjoyable for me. I didn’t I didn’t get on here to get paid. I didn’t get out here to make money. I do because I love reading and I love talking about books. And there are some days where I’m like, I just don’t want to post. And I’ll either use like an old picture from, like a few months ago because I do keep a library of like thousands of images and I take every picture from five different angles in case I want to reuse it. Or some days I just don’t post now. Like I, I don’t want it to dictate my life. I want it to be a positive impact and influence on my life. And if there are some days where I’m burned out and and so you just don’t post and that’s not great for Instagram if you’re looking for engagement and followers, I hear that that’s not the best way to do that. But I think you had to find that balance if you’re on books, Gram, or else you do burnout and you have to find time to read books, too. Like that’s why you’re here first and foremost. Right.
S4: OK, well, so speaking of, when on earth are you doing this reading? I mean, I assume that like I assume that you’re just sort of guided by we’ve heard you say like you’re picking up the book that you want to read. And so there’s a chance that you might have read it anyway. But when is that happening?
S2: Yeah, I know. I’m like, when do I read? Look, I try and wake up early in the morning. I try and get like an hour, two hours of reading done in the morning early when it’s still quiet. And then I try and find time at night, whether that’s an hour. And then I get a lot of it done on the weekends. I usually spend most of my husband also does a lot of reading for his own job. So we spend a lot of the weekend reading. I think that will probably change now that we have a baby
S4: to be like. That’s exactly.
S2: So I probably will have to rework that schedule, but I’m very lucky in that I am a fast reader so I can get through a lot of material very quickly. And I come to realize that life is too short to read books. I don’t. And so if I’m on one hundred pages into something and I’m not enjoying it, I have no problem setting it aside and starting something new, I just I would rather spend my time really enjoying everything I read rather than reading something that is very down the middle and not really moving the needle for me. I’m happy to push that aside, give that book to someone else, because I find that just because I don’t like something doesn’t mean other people won’t enjoy it until the goal is let’s find those people to promote those books and I’m going to promote the stuff that I really love. But yeah, I usually spend it’s probably 10 to 15 hours on the weekends just reading books or we went on vacation a couple of weeks ago. I read 15 books when we were on vacation a couple weeks ago.
S4: As someone who is really active and has been for long enough that you’ve seen a couple of publishing seasonal cycles. Do you think it is the case and I think a lot of people do, but I’m so curious to hear what you think, that the aesthetics of publishing the visual aesthetics are changing to take advantage of the existence of Instagram.
S2: Look, I I can’t speak to how influential books diagram is right, like you read an article that was a New York Times a few weeks ago about book Tick Tock, which actually seems to be moving that needle with regards to book sales, to the point that Barnes and Noble now has like book tick tock tables in their stores. I don’t see that Facebook, Instagram, so I can’t speak to whether we’re actually moving the dial when it comes to sales numbers or or dictating trends and publishing. I can say for sure, a physical copy of a book, a picture of a physical copy will always do better on my account than a digital copy like Kindle Pictures. Just never do as well for me. I, I think people like to see that physical book for some reason. And when it comes to covers, I would be lying if I said like a beautiful cover of a terrible book. Like I’m happy to promote that and feature it because beautiful covers. I consider book covers a form of art. So I love promoting a beautiful book cover. So I consider that. But that doesn’t dictate. At the end of the day what I buy and what I read. It will dictate whether I promote a book before I’ve cracked the spine. But at the end of the day, if a book is good, regardless of the cover, I can still make that successful. Like a good example is Empire of Pain, the book that just came out about the cyclers review. The cover is fine. It’s a black cover with like a kind of a pillar in the middle of it. It’s very nondescript, but the book is incredible. It probably can be one of my favorite books of the year and you’ll see me promoted a lot in the next few months just because I love it so much. And I don’t care that the cover is not that great. Those posts will still do really be really successful because my passion and excitement for the book will get people to book market and reposted and story about it and tag me in their own posts. And so that in of itself will be successful regardless of what that cover looks like.
S4: So aesthetic, visual, aesthetic has always driven the way in which we think about, at least in the modern age, has driven how we think about literature and even kind of turning away from that. Like I think about the stories of John Cheever, which is a very sort of like well known all type cover, even sort of like relying only on type or the name of the author is still participating in a culture of image making. And like the vision that you taste it visually before you pick up the book, like it’s always been a part of it at the same time. And I think you’ve probably heard this. There are almost certainly purists who feel that books Stram or maybe social media more broadly prioritizes the jacket or an artificial sense of cool as opposed to the book itself. So I’m sure you’ve heard like every complaint possible from old school literary types, but I’m curious to hear what your response to that sort of old school literary skepticism would be.
S2: I would be lying if I said that I’m not interested in stories that that go on behind the scenes with regards to covers, and when I do interview authors a lot of times when my first question is tell me about the cover and what went into the process of picking back cover. I think it kind of is similar to to movie posters to a certain degree. Right. Like book covers and movie posters. Those are marketing tools. You’re marketing the book. The goal is to sell copies of the book. And how are we going to do that? Right. In a really authentic way that kind of gets across a little bit about what that book is about. So I consider a movie poster something very similar and that it catches your eye. You want to know more about it? What is this? And you’re finding out more information. But for the purists in me, I think if they’re freaking out because book Instagram, I don’t want to post their book covers because of, like, what the cover looks like. I don’t think there’s much to that just because I don’t I don’t know how much influence we actually carry in the world. But but I would be lying if I if I said that I did not consider book covers when I get new books like if I haven’t heard of a book and I see that it has a gorgeous cover, chances are I’m more likely to post that book and promote it and do a feature on it than if I get a book I’ve never heard of that has just a very basic cover. Right. So I do take that into consideration. Sometimes I would be lying if I did it.
S4: But at the same time, I suppose the the most persuasive argument is that any reader is doing that at the library. You give a cover is a color that she doesn’t like. She’s just not going to linger over it. And that’s just a natural human response, I think.
S2: But that that’s reading in general. Reading is so subjective. Right. So everyone’s going to have a different point of view. So you can’t cater to everyone. You can only you have to. Again, it goes back to authenticity and point of view and making sure that that what is represented on that cover is representative, what’s in the book. And and if you’re able to do that with a fantastic, beautiful cover like that, that’s great. And there are some publishers that are really excelling at that. I think Riverhead time and again, puts out the most gorgeous book covers I’ve ever seen that are really representative of those books, while also they’re like little pieces of art that I would blow up and hang in my house somewhere. So I think that there’s a line you can straddle that that does both things that that pleases the bookstore grammars, the book tech talkers that you tubers and the purists in a way that everyone is happy and needs in the middle.
S4: Do you have a staff? Do you have someone who’s helping you answer the mail, catalogue the books by publication date or. I mean, I have. Look, look, I get books at home, and every day my husband says to me, oh, God, more books like he’s so he’s going to leave me like I mean, you can see this. These are all books that I haven’t read because I like new books. And over there I have books that I’m going to review or write about or I have to blurb. And so my system, as I just put a Post-it note right on the galley, like what the date is, because every publisher has a different sense of way of doing it. But you must be getting books in an extraordinary volume like do you not have hope?
S2: I do not have help. I have a husband who similarly says, oh, good, more books every time the mail comes. He helps sometimes with like photo taking and he is great at behind the scenes. Like there are many posts of me standing on stepladders that he manages to capture in my sweatpants and UGS. But no, it’s just me. But I think it’s really enjoyable. Like like I said, I love opening the mail. I love getting emails from publishers and talking about new titles like if you think that people are just sending me books without me doing any work behind the scenes, you are wrong. And any books of Grammer who thinks I make it look easy, that’s great. But behind the scenes, it’s a lot of work. It’s me every morning emailing publishers, going through Net, Gally and Edelweiss to look at catalogs and see what’s coming out, what’s available to request emailing the publishers and saying, you know, hi, my name is I have this many followers. I would love to request copies of these books if you have them for review or feature, because, you know, I’ve previously reviewed these or I love this genre or I love this author. It is a lot of work to do all of that and I really love it. And again, it helps with my job as well to do this. But but there is a lot that goes on behind the scenes in running this account and being successful and getting free copies of books that no one is seeing.
S4: Well, Jordan, it’s been such a great pleasure to talk to you. Say Jordan Lobello runs the beloved Instagram account, Jordis Book Club. Thanks for talking to me.
S2: Thanks for having me on. I love screaming into the void with anyone who will listen to me about books and books, diagrams. So it was really fun. Thank you.
S3: Ruman, you know, talking about how you kind of stumbled accidentally into this big thing that you do is, of course, a shopworn trope for an interview subject, but it really sounds like that’s what happened with Jordi.
S4: You know, it’s really true. I think what was essentially a lark has really changed Jordan’s life and his work. It’s it’s a sort of remarkable turn of events, you know.
S3: Yeah. It reminds me of what you were saying last week with Blair Underwood is sort of like you never know where this stuff is going to lead. You know, every time you’re thinking like, oh, maybe I shouldn’t do that. Or you want to say no to your own ideas. It’s like, well, actually, it might lead somewhere interesting. Why not give it a shot?
S4: Most people’s careers are much more of an improvisation than they’re willing to allow. And it’s only in hindsight that you can construct a narrative.
S3: Yeah, totally. I was also struck by listening to this interview how social it is, you know, the social component of the job. I mean, obviously he’s on social media, so maybe that sounds ridiculous. But at the same time, unless you’re like Terrence Malick or Jonathan Franzen or something, it is impossible to avoid the social component of doing creative work. In fact, I’ve sort of come to think that, like, maybe it’s a neglected area of our creativity or something we don’t think about as a creative process. But maybe we should.
S4: I absolutely agree with that. I think it’s very easy to denigrate as insubstantial or silly or a waste of one’s time. And for individual people, that might be true. But I think it’s important to consider the business parts of your gig, whatever your gig is, as a component of the larger work. Right. Like artists have to budget for their supplies. You know, actors have to file their taxes. That is just the reality of being a working person. And you can choose to find that interesting and creative and sustain you, even though it’s just an annoyance. Most of the time, social media may be one of those things that you can’t entirely opt out of, you know, or it can be something that you think is really fun and enriches the work that you’re doing. I think a lot of people use social media really creatively. If you hate it, I don’t do it. But I don’t think it’s easy to dismiss entirely, especially given how central it is in contemporary culture.
S3: I definitely feel that as a freelancer and a culture writer, it’s like even if I wanted to dismiss it, I can’t. So I might as well learn how to use it in a way that’s interesting and creative and helpful.
S4: Absolutely. I mean, you may not ever find, like joy or inspiration when you’re itemizing your receipts for your accountant, but you might find joy or inspiration or you might discover something you didn’t know about when you’re futzing around on Twitter. I do. All the time.
S3: Yeah, totally. I loved to hear about how he shapes his work to his actual talents and personality. Right. Because, you know, like, you can’t be good at everything. You might not be able to bake a pie that expresses the gestalt of whatever book you’re reading right now. But that doesn’t mean you have to give up on the idea of talking about books publicly or having an Instagram account about books or whatever. And I just think it’s a good reminder to be yourself and to make your work as opposed to, well, other people’s work or the work you think you should be making, whatever that should is and heavy quotes. And and that got me thinking, you know, do you feel like you had that moment as a writer in your development where you’re like, I’m not going to make the the thing I should make I’m going to make the thing that’s actually me? Was that part of your journey?
S4: I think it’s an ongoing conversation. I think that when you see someone succeed at one kind of thing, there is a natural temptation to not necessarily work imitative, but to think, oh, I should explore that. I suspect that part of maturing as an artist is getting a sense of focus on your own projects rather than thinking, oh, well, maybe I’ll try writing a movie, maybe I’ll try and write a play, maybe I’ll do a book of personal essays or whatever I think it’s about. Yes, you should do those things if they are part of the project. But you shouldn’t distract yourself by trying to embody some received idea about what a writer ought to be doing.
S3: Totally. Well, you and I are both critics sometimes. And so, you know, I got to ask about Jordis unwillingness to post negative reviews and his willingness to post the cover of a book he disliked. If he thinks the cover is beautiful enough, is that healthy for the book world in its culture? I mean, part of me thinks, of course, publishers like this, they only get good press.
S4: Yeah, I think that’s a fair point, you know. A bookstore grammar isn’t really functioning in the role of critic in the way that you or I are there functioning as an enthusiast, as a booster, in the same way that a bookseller is the bookseller who’s choosing the 12 titles that are going to go on the table at the front of their store. They haven’t read all of them. And so if one covers especially arresting, it’s going to earn a spot on that table. And the bookseller is a human being and he or she has opinions. And the ones you’re going to hear when you’re browsing are not. Oh, I hated that book. I love this book. You’ve got to buy it. It’s so good. I love this one. That’s what you’re going to hear in that context, right?
S3: You’re not going to hear like, oh, normal people. That’s crap. Yeah, I know. But no, no one sells books. I used to be a bookseller. You do not sell books that way.
S4: You know you don’t. And it’s not it’s not like it doesn’t require some inauthentic expression of, you know, it doesn’t require tamping down your own personal opinion, because certainly I can imagine having a conversation with a bookseller where she said to me, oh, you know what? A lot of our shoppers have loved this one, or I’ve heard really great things about this one without necessarily having to say I despise this book, you know, and I think that there is a bit of that. And I think that that’s what we we have to manage our expectations or understand what’s important in a given context and on Instagram. It’s eye candy, it’s sort of like insubstantial conversation around books. That’s OK. I don’t need it to be the New York Review of Books. And I don’t think it’s necessarily a negative for the culture, because I do think in the end, it’s good for books and the business of books. And I don’t see much downside to that.
S3: Right. Totally. You know, actually, that makes a lot of sense, particularly at a time when, you know, in a lot of areas of the country, there are fewer and fewer bookstores for you to walk in and to look at the recommended reading shelf or talk to the bookseller about the books. You like having other forms of that, as long as it doesn’t replace the critical apparatus, but it’s added onto it. I can see how that’s a net positive. That makes sense to me.
S4: And, you know, I think also in a cultural moment where there are fewer there’s fewer books, coverage in major general interest publications, a lot of our great daily newspapers have curtailed their coverage of books, people who love books but don’t work in the business, as you and I do need a place of discovery, a place to be told, like, hey, Louise Erdrich has a new book coming out. You know, that’s the kind of news that’s useful to a reader that isn’t necessarily being provided by a lot of the traditional media. And so if social media can step in and fill that vacuum, I think that’s a great thing.
S3: Well, on that hopeful note, perhaps we should say, that’s our show for this week and we hope you’ve enjoyed it. If you have remembered to subscribe wherever you get your podcasts, then you will never miss an episode.
S4: Thanks to Jordan Montbleau for being our guest and our producer, Cameron Drus. Make sure to tune in next week for a conversation between Isaac and the dialect coach Sammara Bey. You’ll even get to hear her try to teach Isaac to speak with an Irish accent. Until then,
S6: get back to work.
S4: Hazily, plus, listeners, this week we have a little something extra just for you, a couple of questions I asked Jordan. I wonder whether you could tell me, like your favorite covers of the last look, if you if you just think about covers that you’ve really loved, I’d be so curious to know what’s really what works its magic on your own.
S2: Yeah, I think like what I mentioned earlier, like big, bright, bold colors, like always get me really excited just because I do use the book as that foreground image that I want everyone to be focused on. And I think about a book like Mexican Gothic, Sylvia Moreno, Garcia’s book that came out last summer, that there’s like this beautiful, sumptuous green cover with this green background, this beautiful woman, and this this gorgeous crimson dress like that was like my favorite cover of last year or or the house. And this really and see, which is kind of like this whimsical Y.A., a book that that kind of evoke this feeling of like Roald Dahl for me when I saw that cover, like I think that covers gorgeous. So like those kind of things. Those are a couple that I really love. There’s a book that came out in January called If I Disappear, which is kind of like this woman’s face kind of unraveling and like a garden behind her face, which I thought was gorgeous. So I think it just depends. And then you like, look, there’s a book like we begin at the end that by Chris Whitaker that just came out last month. That’s that’s kind of simple. It’s kind of like just a field with dark clouds. But the color is so gorgeous and it looks so great in book pictures that I see a ton of people using that book and all of their pictures. So I think it just depends on on kind of what your aesthetic is and and what you’re drawn to. But those are a few that I’ve I’ve really been drawn to in the last year.
S4: Which books have comes your attention purely through running Jordan’s book club that then surprised you by becoming like top contenders for your attention books that you really, truly fell in love with that you would not have encountered in any other way?
S2: Yeah, and this is a this is a big thing in books or šemeta. It’s pretty much hashtag books to made me do it, which is where you’re influenced by people to the point that you pick up a book that you traditionally would not pick up. And for me specifically, in the last year, I’ve never been a big fantasy reader, especially high fantasy and where where the characters are a completely different world. And I usually get very frightened by books that have like appendices and an index of characters and maps on the front covers. And everyone on Instagram, I was really talking about these books by Sarah Jamous called A Court of Thorns and Roses is really successful fantasy novels and and because of books or am I picked those books up, ended up really falling in love and becoming very involved in that series. Another example is shadow and bone, which, you know, they just come out on Netflix last week. And so a ton of people were promoting it on Instagram. And I was like, I don’t know anything about this. And that actually influenced me to pick up the books and actually read that book last week. Good talk to Mira Jacob graphic novel. I probably would never have picked that book up. I just am not a big graphic novel reader. I don’t even know where you would find that in a bookstore. You know, it’s not on the Thriller and postapocalyptic aisles I’d normally run to, but that was probably one of the most impactful books that I’ve read in the last year and one that I consistently recommend to people now. So. So there are a lot of books that I have. Karin Slaughter, I’ve never read Karin Slaughter until last year. Harlan Coben, like a lot of those traditional authors that I kind of veered away from, I’ve ended up reading because of books to Graham. And and that’s kind of one of the great things about it is is discovering new genres and authors. You traditionally wouldn’t read that you get influenced to the point that you’re like, OK, I’m going to try it.
S4: Books made me to a book. So you have a brand new baby at home. I wonder if you are excited or feeling prepared to negotiate the world of books for children.
S2: I am not a look alike. It’s funny because I think like growing up, everyone has those staples, right? Like what was that kid, that book you read as a kid? Like for me, I was like, where the wild things are good, goodnight moon. Like those are the ones that you always remember. And so like you have your classics. But then like there’s this entire industry that I really had no idea about when it comes to children’s books. And I was very grateful to the point that I have a lot of friends now on Book Instagram that I consider real life friends, not just book friends who through me kind of an impromptu baby shower where all of a sudden one day I started receiving all these Amazon boxes and they had all sent me their favorite books as kids. And it’s so incredible to see the breadth of books these days and how beautiful they are and stunning and inclusive and diverse and interesting and and look for for listeners who don’t know I’m you know, I’m gay. And my husband and I, we had a surrogate. And so, like a lot of the books we’re thinking about are what are those nontraditional books where there isn’t a mommy featured in the book that are talking about unconventional families. And to see how many of those are out there now are so impressive. We talk a lot I talk a lot about on my Instagram account. Why Abebooks? Right. Like, I kind of never really got into Y.A. books, but what I was doing in talking about marginalized and underrepresented communities is is so far ahead of, I think, traditional publishing and so interesting and the issues they’re exploring. It’s really impactful and important. And a lot of the books that I’ve read in the past year that have been impactful have been Y.A. books, things like Felix Everafter or Stann from the beginning, or All Boys aren’t blue. Those are Y.A. books and they’re they’re incredible. Start from the beginning, the remix version and those are Y.A. So it’s been really interesting as I’ve kind of expanded my scope and expect to expand it a lot more now that I’m dabbling in the baby books than the board books and all of that. So I’m excited to see I would be lying if I didn’t have Jordis Baby Book Club, maybe already penned something that I own.
S4: So a stay tuned for.
S2: We’ll look forward
S5: to that, of course.
S4: All right, that’s about it. Thanks again, sleepless listeners.