Bookish DIY: Props for Book Photography

99 - Again the Magic

It’s no secret that I’ve developed a style for my book photography, and the base style is quick, simple, and boring. I know it is, because when I started reviewing, I was finishing the book, realizing I needed a photo of it to post, and doing the minimum work possible–which amounted to finding an article of clothing or piece of fabric that looked good with the book cover, setting the book on it at a slight angle, and shooting.

Seriously, it’s easy, and it looks decent, but it gets bland after a while.

I’d been making half-hearted attempts to do better from time to time, but at the end of last year, I decided to be more serious about it. First of all, I would do my best to incorporate more props to make the photos more interesting, and second–this is the key–I would take the photos ahead of time.

Since I organize my physical TBR (roughly) in advance of reading it, I know which books are coming up soon, so there’s no reason I can’t take advantage of an afternoon of good sunlight and take a bunch of pics at once, with props and time to lay it all out well, right?

So let’s take a look at some props I’ve been using, and in many cases making, to enhance my photos.

Stuffed animals. Maybe you don’t have any, but if you do, and their colors coordinate, or they go with your book thematically, you’ve got yourself a prop with no work.

Jewelry. Whether you’ve made it yourself or not.

Bookmarks. Obviously!

Food/Candy. Wrapped candy is great as small, individual objects to scatter. And whenever I make any kind of treat, now, I do my best to get it into a book photo before it’s gone.

Origami. Those book-page roses have featured in quite a few photos since I made them last fall, and this year I branched out and made a sectional star. The puffy stars I used for my original TBR jar are incredibly popular in the book photography I see on Tumblr and Instagram–I’m just not very good at them, really, and I don’t have a stock of brightly colored paper to work from. When I do, maybe I’ll try again.

Coffee Filter Flowers. I made the large white one with this tutorial, and it took me about six minutes, can’t beat that. The smaller, dyed one took a bit more work, but was totally worth it for the color. And if you look for them, there’s even more elaborate flowers to make, like dahlias, daffodils, and roses made from individual petals cut from the filters.

Real Flowers. I don’t have any examples of my own to share yet, we’re not a flower-buying or -growing household, and it’s winter, etc. But I have plans in the spring to pick wildflowers when I can. (There’s artificial flowers from the craft store, as well, if you don’t mind spending on them–I try to avoid buying props, preferring to use what I have or make from my existing craft stash.)

Mini lights. Again, nothing of my own to share, because I went to take a picture a few weeks ago with my Christmas lights, only to find out that between the time we’d taken the tree down, and getting them back out for a photo session, they’d stopped working. Next year, when I get new ones, we’ll see.

I hope I’ve given you some ideas to improve your own book photography, and of course, there are so many more ideas out there! If you’re looking to improve, pay attention to photos you like when you see them on social media, take notes, even save them for reference! (But reference only, don’t ever use them anywhere without permission!)

Get inspired and make stuff!

End of the Month Wrap-Up: September 2017!

PJG Bridge

[@ the Portland Japanese Garden]

In September I hit the reset button on my stress levels with a kick-ass vacation to Oregon that involved a week of books, beaches, gardens, and the zoo. (Oregon Zoo is my favorite zoo ever, now that I’ve been there. If you’re anywhere nearby, go as soon as possible, and if you’re planning any trip to the Pacific Northwest, make it a priority. It’s fantastic.)

Complete Haul

My complete book haul from three shops: Powell’s Books in Portland, The Book Bin in Salem, and Bob’s Beach Books in Lincoln City. Each of these books was either used or a “new” remainder (and thus deeply discounted–the Le Guin box set was only $25!)

On the home front, I read ten books, didn’t set foot in the library once (I miss it!) and spent my writing time testing out different methods of outlining in preparation for choosing a new project for NaNoWriMo. So far, I’ve got one plot bunny laid out in a summary/zero draft form–it’s longer than a standard summary but it doesn’t have a scene breakdown like I would want to have for a full zero draft. (And it’s stuffed with worldbuilding notes.)

Over the vacation I tried to spend half an hour each morning putting pen to paper in an attempt at mind-mapping, with decent results. I’m finding it a great method for developing a new idea–brainstorming, essentially–but I don’t think my scribbled maps are going to cut it when it’s time to write; I see myself organizing these ideas into something more linear as an intermediate step. I suppose if I pick this bunny for NaNo, we’ll see what that step entails.

Coming up in October, I hope to expand at least one more plot bunny, though I haven’t chosen which one or what method; to participate in Inktober; to finish the PopSugar 2017 Reading Challenge, of which I only have a few tasks left to tackle; and to finally choose a project to take on for NaNo.

Also to put up all my blog posts on time. I’ve been lax about that, even aside from the vacation this month.

Did you have a productive September, readers? Do you have any interesting plans for October? Talk to me in the comments!

Out and About: Northfield, MN

Sidewalk Poetry 1

I’d never been to Minnesota until recently, when my husband and I got on a plane to go to a wedding. I had no idea what to expect, but it wasn’t poetry stamped onto the sidewalks!

I didn’t have time to find all of them scattered across the downtown area, but I got to quite a few.

All the rooms at our inn had names, which of course charmed me straight out of the gate…

Reading Nook

Then I found a reading nook down the hall from our room. Win!

And when I had a little time, I went shopping. Content Books and The Sketchy Artist were both down the street, so I came home with a cookbook and some mini journals in my luggage that didn’t start the trip with me. Support independent bookstores! (And art stores!)

I had a great time, ate great food, and got to spend time with family. No writing time, but that’s why I’m glad to be home, too.

The Christmas Book Haul 2016


When I gave my parents a list of books to choose from for presents this year . . . well, let’s just say I didn’t expect to get this many. (I hadn’t asked for a lot of large things this year, just a few replacement kitchen items for stuff that was dead or dying. Like the electric knife I “inherited” from Mom, who got it as a wedding present over forty years ago. She let me have it because I bake bread all the time, making it super handy for slicing–but it finally died. Finally. Darned thing was older than I am.)

So I got a mix of favorites I discovered from the library that I needed my own copies of (Ready Player One, WtNV, ACOTAR and ACOMAF) and books I want desperately to read by some of my favorite authors (Seveneves, Flame of Sevenwaters, The Last Light of the Sun.)

Book Santa smiled on me this year, and the only problem is, now I have to find room on my shelves, which are groaning under the weight of my TBR books.

Somehow, I’m sure I’ll manage.

What did Book Santa bring you this year, my lovely readers? What are you curling up on the couch to read over the holidays?

This Week, I Read… (#30)

71 - On Writing

#71 – On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, by Stephen King

  • Read: 7/14/16 – 7/18/16
  • Provenance: Owned (hardcover)
  • Challenge: PopSugar 2016 Reading Challenge
  • Task: A self-improvement book (I’m a writer, this counts, I’ll fight you!)
  • Rating: 4/5 stars

Despite this being the most-recommended book on writing I’ve ever seen, I didn’t go into it expecting revelations–I’ve been at this writing gig a while, and I’ve been absorbing (and sometimes discarding) advice from dozens of sources for years.

I didn’t get many revelations, so it’s good that I managed my expectations. What I did get, however, surprised me.

I felt validated, reading this.

I think about several aspects of the writing process the same way Stephen King does. Not all of them, not by a long shot, and where we disagree intrigued me, and made me question my own thinking–always a valuable trait, to be thought-provoking.

But reading this was comfortable, because to some extent, I felt like an old friend was talking to me, one I hadn’t seen for a long time. We might disagree on some things, and no one piece of advice is ever going to sit well with all writers, but I felt a strong sense of kinship, of understanding.

Like maybe, just maybe, I might know what I’m doing after all. And I needed it, just then, when I was struggling with the wait to hear back from my beta readers, wondering if I had to take my draft back to the chopping block.

So thank you, Mr. King, for your moral support.

72 - A Court of Mist and Fury

#72 – A Court of Mist and Fury, by Sarah J. Maas

  • Read: 7/20/16 – 7/22/16
  • Provenance: Library (hardcover)
  • Challenge: PopSugar 2016 Reading Challenge; also, #readwomensummer
  • Task: A book that’s guaranteed to bring you joy
  • Rating: 5/5 stars

I don’t do gushing reviews, it’s not my style, but if I did, the rest of this review would be one long squee.

I read A Court of Thorns and Roses last year, and I was pretty meh about it. As a Beauty and the Beast retelling, I thought it was decent, but I never really fell for Tamlin, and when I finish a love story without being impressed by the romantic hero…

When ACOMAF was announced, I decided to skip it.

Then the ARC reviews started pouring in pre-release, and EVERYONE LOVED IT OH MY GOD IT’S THE BEST THING EVER AND A LIFE-RUINER.

I got curious. Two days prior to release, I requested it from the library, to find out I was seventh in the queue. My county only purchased one copy originally; in the nearly two months I’ve been waiting, checking my position, they purchased two more to handle the load. (I shudder to think how many people are in line behind me, which I have no way to know.)

Now I see what all the fuss is about. Now I know why I never really warmed up to Tamlin, thanks to some subtle groundwork and foreshadowing. Now I know why Rhysand seemed mysterious, and yet mysteriously approachable.

Now I’m probably never going to read Anne Bishop’s Black Jewels series again, because everything she tried to do, making darkness itself into something lovable and romantic, Maas has done better here. (Don’t get me wrong, I loved it when I read it and have reread it multiple times, but now all its flaws irk me, everything I remembered shrugging off before because I didn’t have a better Dark Romantic Hero to turn to. Now, I do.)

So, to sum up, this book is so outstanding I need my own copy (duh) and also a copy of ACOTAR, because now I need to read it again, knowing where it’s leading, so I can see better everything Maas did to get us there. It’s so good it makes me like the first book better.

I’m not sure I’ve ever said that about a book before.

That’s it for this week, because I started a book after On Writing and dropped it like a hot potato to rush to the library when ACOMAF came in for me. I’ll circle back to it next week. Anyone read anything neat lately you want to recommend to me? Suggestions always welcome!


This Week, I Read… (#29)

67 - Contact

#67 – Contact, by Carl Sagan

  • Read: 7/3/16 – 7/9/16
  • Provenance: Owned (hardcover)
  • Challenge: BookRiot Read Harder 2016
  • Task: A book published the decade you were born
  • Rating: 4/5 stars

The book that I expected to be a grand adventure of science turned out to be a much more deeply religious book than I could possibly have expected.

After the mess that was the last book on religion I read, it was a pleasant surprise.

This entirely fictional work presented a better argument for the coexistence of religion and science than anything else I have ever read, and I found the end deeply moving.

That being said, it’s awfully slow-paced at times, with little action to keep things lively–it’s an incredibly cerebral work. But, concerned as it is with the human sense of wonder and awe, my favorite parts were the sudden left turns away from the main narrative, into practiced observational science: the rabbits along the highway being the most-referenced example, though there were many.

I have a feeling this might get upgraded to a 5-star rating once I reread it. A lot of the used books I’ve picked up this year have been re-donated when I’m done with them, but this one, I’m keeping.

68 - Voyager

#68 – Voyager, by Diana Gabaldon

I thought Contact would last me through my whole mini-vacation; I was wrong. For space reasons I neglected to bring any of the rest of my physical TBR, so I took the plunge back into the Outlander series.

I enjoyed parts of it, because Jamie and Claire have such a tumultuous romance it’s impossible for me not to want to see them reunited; but as usual, the wordiness of the rest of it meant I ended up skimming some to make things move along faster. Especially with all the high-seas adventure in the latter half of the story, this novel reminded me more of a modern action-adventure movie with some romance shoehorned it, than it did historical fiction. To that end, I would have liked to see the writing tightened up, because action gets boring when it’s dragged on too long.

My criticisms aside, it wasn’t bad enough to make me give up on the series. I don’t know when I’ll get to book #4, but it’s there, waiting for me in the ebook bundle I got last year.

69 - Trees

#69 – Trees, Vol. 1: In Shadow, by Warren Ellis (author) and Jason Howard (illustrator)

  • Read: 7/12/16 – 7/13/16
  • Provenance: Library (ebook via Hoopla)
  • Challenge: BookRiot Read Harder 2016
  • Task: A non-superhero comic that debuted in the last three years (2015)
  • Rating: 3/5 stars

I’m not even sure how to rate this, exactly. I enjoyed it; the premise was interesting; the art was gorgeous.

But, due to the nature of comics, I feel like I’ve watched the first ten minutes of a movie. The characters and locations are introduced, we just start to get our feet under us, then BOOM! It’s the inciting incident.

And that’s where Volume 1 ends.

I’m more than a little disturbed by one of the storylines, because I can’t tell (yet) if a particular character’s death is merely for shock value, or is actually going to affect future plot; sadly, it falls under Bury Your Gays. Even though I’d hardly had time to get to know him, I was disappointed by his death, though it remains to be seen if there’s going to be healthy LGBT representation later to balance it out some.

Let’s put it this way: If I can get the next volume through the library, I’d like to keep reading and find out where this is going, but I wouldn’t pay for the privilege.

70 - The Sunlit Night

#70 – The Sunlit Night, by Rebecca Dinerstein

  • Read: 7/13/16 – 7/14/16
  • Provenance: Owned (hardcover)
  • Challenge: ReadsTheBooks 2016 Reading Challenge; also #readwomensummer
  • Task: Read a book by a first-time author
  • Rating: 2/5 stars

Every time I read a book under the “literary fiction” umbrella, I walk away dissatisfied. Does the term “literary” mean that characters don’t need personalities? That they can take random actions that offer little meaning or have little consequence?

The structure is a stylistic departure from the norm; the story is told through dual POVs, but one (Frances) is in first person, while the other (Yasha) is in third. I struggled to find a reason for this. The reader sees plenty inside Yasha’s head during his sections–there’s no obvious need not to have it in first person as well. And Frances could easily have third-person perspective instead, because having the supposed extra insight into her character doesn’t accomplish much.

I read the whole thing, cover to cover, and if you asked me, I wouldn’t be able to describe Frances. Her physical traits aren’t mentioned often (at least she never does the Describe Yourself Looking Into a Mirror), and her major personality trait is…I don’t know, impulsive decision-making?

At least I can say a few things about Yasha. He’s tall and burly and young and sex-obsessed. That last one is realistic–he’s seventeen, and many a seventeen-year-old (male or female!) is sex-obsessed. But I didn’t care for the way Dinerstein treats sex in the narrative. It’s almost always mentioned in a context of embarrassment, or at least when it should be embarrassing–I will read steamy love scenes in a romance novel with relish, but I don’t want to read a teenage boy having curious/inappropriate sexual wonderings about his mother. Not to the point where I’d start calling him Oedipus, but he could only remark on his mother’s body so many times before I began to wonder if he was attracted to her, and ewwww. I was embarrassed for him.

I’m not fond of humor based on secondhand embarrassment (which is why I basically never watch any modern comedy movies anymore), and apparently I don’t like “literary” fiction based on it, either.

What I do like, physically, is the size of this book. I know that’s an odd thing to say, but it’s slightly larger than most of my other hardcovers. Since it’s stuffed with color words and artistic terms–Frances is an artist, supposedly, though the importance of that barely survives into the second half of the book–I think it will make a good art journal. I’m almost halfway through altering (destroying?) The Girl on the Train, so it won’t be long before I need another one…

Anything interesting you read this week that you want to recommend?

This Week, I Read… (#27)

63 - The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

#63 – The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie

  • Read: 6/22/16 – 6/27/16
  • Provenance: Owned (hardcover)
  • Challenge: BookRiot Read Harder 2016
  • Task: Read a middle-grade novel
  • Rating: 5/5 stars

Arnold Spirit might just be the most charming narrator I’ve read this year. The novel boils down to a series of anecdotes, skipping around in time from present to memory, but the overall narrative tells of Arnold leaving his home reservation to go to a nearby school, an all-white school.

The story touches on all sorts of serious issues–loneliness, bullying, alcoholism, racism, death. And yet, Arnold is resilient and determined, never letting his hardships get him down for long.

If I’m making it sound like an unrealistic, feel-good sort of story, it’s not. But it is, in the end, a hopeful one, about a boy who wants a better life for himself without wanting to feel like that makes him a better person than the rest of his tribe.

That’s it for this week, I’m in the middle of a longish book right now, and I haven’t had much time to read. But I’d love to hear about what you read this week in the comments!