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I Read a Lot of Parenting Books, Apparently

Amanda Nelson here, back again with your Behind the Scenes shenanigans. As all of you know because I probably never shut up about it, I have a lot of kids. My twin boys are seven and my foster daughter is 17, and because kids are weird aliens taking over my space who I don’t know how to interact with, really, I’ve read a lot of books about it. Here are a few of my favorites:

The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson

Maggie Nelson is a brilliant poet and nonfiction writer, and this is a book about her romance with her gender-fluid partner, and her experience with pregnancy. It’s heavy on the literary theory and queer theory, and light on the “miracle of life” stuff that many (most?) nonfiction reads about motherhood are full of.

 

The Blue Jay’s Dance by Louise Erdrich

Again, this is a book about motherhood that isn’t about developmental milestones or play dates or even really about the baby at all. This is a slow-moving, introspective look at the life of a working artist who also happens to have a newborn. It’s thoughtful and lush, and affirms both the joys and difficulties of having an infant.

Another Place at the Table by Kathy Harrison

Harrison has three biological sons, two adopted daughters, and has fostered dozens and dozens (sometimes at one time, seemingly) of children in a New England foster system. I’m deeply critical of a lot of her choices as a foster parent (mostly of how she took in more children than she could handle because she felt guilty, which resulted in actual harm more than once to already traumatized kids), but it’s undeniable that she cares. I’m the only foster parent in my family or friend group, so this book satisfies both my voyeuristic need to see how other FPs do it, and also my need to know I’m not the only person out there who cares about these kids.

Instant Mom by Nia Vardalos

Nia Vardalos (of My Big Fat Greek Wedding fame) and her husband adopted their three year old daughter out of the California foster care system after 13 rounds of failed IVF treatments and several years of not being matched with a private adoption agency, domestic or international. No one even told her adopting out of foster care was an option (it is!) and that it’s free (it is!), and that there are over 100,000 kids across the country in foster care who already have had parental rights terminated and are just waiting for a home. Vardalos signed up to be a foster parent, got the call one night, and found herself suddenly the mother of a three year old daughter. Vardalos is (unsurprisingly) hilarious, and tells stories about her kid that are just charming and lovely. I recommend this audiobook-she reads it herself and you can feel her frustration, love, and happiness coming out of the speaker.

Hit me with your faves, if you’ve got them! I’m especially interested in memoirs of single parents, queer families, foster parents, parents of color, and dudes! Dudes need to write more parenting books.

-Amanda

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Oops! Update for Insiders Member Survey

Hello, friends! Our survey didn’t have a field for entering your email address, which does put a damper on your entry into the $50 Powells gift card contest. If you filled out the survey before 10am Eastern this morning (10/18), please hit reply to this email and let us know so that we can correctly enter you. We’re on the honor system here, because you’re all that awesome.

If you filled it out any time after 10am, your entry is logged and good to go. If you haven’t yet, please do! As long as you fill it out by October 31, you’re eligible for the giveaway.

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Behind The Scenes: Clint pt 1

Happy October, Insiders! This month, Jenn sat down with co-founder and COO Clinton Kabler, known around the offices as Clint, to talk about how Book Riot has grown and changed since its founding in 2011. But first! A couple notes:

We want to hear from you. Please head on over to our very quick survey about the Insiders program so far. On October 31 we’ll randomly select one (1) responder to win a $50 Powell’s gift card, so go forth and let us know how we’re doing!

Novel and Epic members: there’s a new treat in the Podcast feed, appearing monthly from now on. We hope you enjoy!

And, of course, we’ve got your Insiders-only deal. Accessorize in bookish style! 25% off scarves & socks with code GETINSIDEFALL.

Book Riot Insiders deal collage featuring Poe socks, a library scarf, and socks that say BOOKS all over them


Jenn: Book Riot is now 6 years old! What’s your first thought when you hear that?

Clint: I’m grateful for the group of book bloggers who went along with Jeff’s and my crazy idea. I’m grateful for the staff, who are largely still intact from the beginning, that took a chance on the craziness. And, I’m grateful for all the readers of Book Riot who’ve journeyed with us.

I also think about the way reading Book Riot has helped me read outside of my experience and comfort. I was not a mindful reader, and now I am. More importantly, I’m hopeful that the changes Book Riot brought to my own reading life have extended to Book Riot readers as well as the broader marketplace, contributing in a small way to the economic return that creators from traditionally marginalized groups receive from their books and comics.

Jenn: Unlike most of the staff, you’d never worked in books or a book-related job before founding Book Riot. How did that happen?

Clint: Jeff and I were friends from undergraduate at the University of Kansas, and we both moved to the New York City area to go to graduate school. In 2003, I moved to Vancouver, British Columbia. He gave me two books when I left. I still have them — East of Eden and The Things They Carried. (Confession: I’ve never brought myself to finish The Things They Carried. It’s too much.) After I moved to Vancouver, we stayed in touch because I travelled to New York City for work. Also, Jeff started sending out a list of about 10 books he felt were the best from the prior year. I read most of them, and he would get spatterings of my thoughts back. I still hold a grudge for his inclusion of 2666 on that list (which I finished).

From left to right: Clint, Jeff, and Michelle (professional architect and Jeff's partner)

From left to right: Clint, Jeff, and Michelle (professional architect and Jeff’s partner)

By mid-2010, I had spent seven years at a software startup. My travel schedule was gruelling. My wife and I wanted to travel with our first child, so I started paternity that July. While in Guanajuato, Mexico, about a month into the three months we were traveling, I decided I didn’t want to return to my old job. I quit.

When we returned to Vancouver, my wife returned to work while I stayed at home with our daughter. I did some consulting but mostly just enjoyed being a stay-at-home dad. At this same time, Jeff had started a book blog. I was reading and enjoying it. I started reading some other blogs by people he followed like Greg Zimmerman (The New Dork Review of Books), Rachel Manwill (A Home Between Pages, now defunct), Wallace Yovetich (Unputdownables, now defunct), Kim Ukura (Sophisticated Dorkiness), and Amanda Nelson (Dead White Guys, now defunct). I remember waking up one morning with the idea that we could do “TechCrunch for books.” (Cue eye roll.) I talked with Jeff about it. He agreed. I was unemployed. He was underemployed. So, we thought it would be a ~~~great idea to pool money from savings~~~ and start a thing. That was June 2011. We put the infrastructure in place and launched Book Riot on October 3 of the same year. The goal: create an influential place where books and reading could be talked about in the interesting ways book bloggers were talking about books and reading. Jeff and I didn’t get paid anything for the first 18 months… and here we are today. As I was writing this, I went back and opened our first business plan. After two minutes, I closed it because I couldn’t handle past me’s naivety.

Jenn: Tell us one of your favorite stories from the founding days of Book Riot, back when it was just you and Jeff.

Clint: Well first, it was never just Jeff and me. We both had working women who provided for our families so that Book Riot was possible.

Jeff and I were trying to come up with a name for the thing. We had a spreadsheet of the possibilities, and he was convinced it was Book Riot. I wasn’t convinced. He called me the evening of June 15 to try to convince me. I stepped out onto our balcony to argue about the name. There was black smoke over Vancouver. My wife stuck her head out the door and said something about the Canucks losing Game 7 and riots had started (clearly I care about hockey). I don’t know if I took that as a sign, but I capitulated quickly so I could turn on the local news.

Jenn: What has been the most surprising change from Book Riot’s founding to today?

Clint: I don’t know if it is surprising, but it is noticeable. Rebecca and I were in New York City at the end of September and we stayed in a hotel. In our own rooms!

The first year when I travelled to New York to meet with potential advertisers my friends Kahlief and Jill let me sleep on their couch in Brooklyn. A year or so later, we graduated to the cheapest Airbnbs where you’d have to walk through a colleague’s room to get to your sleeping closet. We’ve had various other non-private, perilous arrangements that lacked air-conditioning. Walking into a private room a few weeks ago after a full day of meetings in NYC and immediately depantsing, because I could, was a luxury.

Jenn: What’s your favorite book right now?

Clint: I’m going to pick three. A favorite I enjoyed for the writing: Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing. A favorite for the pure enjoyment of the story: Kevin Kwan’s Crazy Rich Asians trilogy. A favorite because it is a respite from the chaos of the world: Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals by Shane Claiborne, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, and Enuma Okoro. Since Jeff doesn’t recommend books much anymore, Book Riot contributor Derek Attig is my go-to for book recommendations.

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Behind the Scenes Sept pt 2

Congrats to this month’s winners! Kirsty G. was our randomly selected Epic Mailbag winner, and Kerry W. was our Novel winner. Muppet arms and confetti cannons to them! Novel folks, remember that to be entered in the monthly drawing, just keep your Watchlist updated on a monthly basis.

For the second installment of this month’s Behind the Scenes, Sharifah shares the secrets of making beautiful bookstagrams. Got a favorite trick of your own? Share it in the comments!


I’m a sucker for a pretty book, and for set dressing. It must be the theater nerd in me — the one that usually got dismissed to the prop department (International Thespian Society troupe secretary in the house!). I guess it figures that one of my favorite work responsibilities is taking photos of books.

During a typical week, I have to take about seven bookish photos for giveaways and content that gets posted to social. My personal social media happy place is Instagram. It’s the only platform I use consistently outside of work; I adore the bookstagram community. And since quite a few bookish people feel similarly about bookstagramming, I thought I’d share a little about my process and some tips for bookish photography.

The Book

image of six books layed out on white paper and a cat inspecting them with text, "Tabitha disapproves of this layout & this carpet"

I get a lot of work-related book mail. I keep these books in a pile away from my own library until I’ve taken my photos. I’m not a delicate reader, and I try to avoid publishing photos of books with coffee rings on the covers. Every book has a different personality — every book is a different actor waiting to play the lead in the right production. Am I stretching this metaphor? Sometimes the book demands a vibrant, bustling backdrop; a stark, brick wall; or, sometimes, it gets the 10”x10” square of clean surface in my apartment and a flower because I’m very busy.

Equipment

I have use of a fancy camera, but to be honest most of my photos are taken on my iPhone. It’s just faster, and goodness how far we’ve come with phone cameras. Also, it’s more efficient for photo editing since I use apps.

Sometimes it’s not bright enough out, or the light casts everything in a mustardy ’70s haze and something must be done. My preferred photo editing apps are VSCO and Snapseed, and my best friend is the temperature tool (cooler, always cooler). I don’t use the pre-set filters on these apps — I usually just nudge the contrast, temp, and saturation. I’ve been playing around with fade as well, for that misty, vintage look.

Props

Did you know that often when you see those flatlay photos where someone has a beautiful marble surface or rustic wood floor, what you might actually be looking at is textured contact paper on cardboard? One of my new favorite things to do is to find special paper for backdrops. I glue them to poster board with spray adhesive and voila! My current favorite is the textured paper with pressed flowers (pictured under Akata Warrior).

image of Akata Warrior and Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor layed out on top of paper surrounded by flowers, essential oils, candles, and other natural props

As far as props go, it helps to be a hoarder of whosits and whatsits galore. I used to do embarrassing/fun things like go to The Labyrinth of Jareth Masquerade Ball, the Society of Creative Anachronism events, and Wasteland Weekend (a Mad Max “immersion” event)… Thanks to costuming, I have a lot of random crap shoved into a lot of drawers. Feathers, weird fabric, ribbons, gears, shells, beads, blah blah blah. I also think witchy stuff and curiosities improve any picture, but I have to remind myself that it’s not appropriate for every book to be photographed with a seahorse skeleton. My point is: half the fun of taking these photos is going on scavenger hunts for interesting props.

Caveat

I don’t expect anyone to make as big a fuss over book photography as I do. These things I do for my job, but also for myself. Because everybody needs a creative outlet, and it can be fun to create a story around a story, and because I’ll take a dose of circus where I can get it. But the star of the show will always be a really great story.

– Sharifah

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Behind The Scenes: The Grandpa Joe of the Book Riot Staff

Happy September, Insiders! Today we’ve got a look at the day-in, day-out of our newest associate editor, S. Zainab Williams, a.k.a. Sharifah.  Before we get to that, we’ve got an Insiders-only post celebrating a few of our most anticipated Fall releases, and we’d love to hear about yours!

And now, for this month’s store deal:

Cozy up for great reading, and get 25% off all hoodies & sweatshirts, just for Insiders. Use code ITSCOZYINSIDE!


About four months ago, I lived in a studio apartment in Van Nuys with a demon cat I call Tabitha and no idea what to do about that thing they call a career. I had enough freelance work that, most Fridays, I could take myself out for an overpriced Americano at a local cafe where the clientele loudly discussed screenplays and gigs while I scarfed biscotti and silently doled out scorn.

This, I knew, was not a sustainable lifestyle, but after so many years of work as faceless desk flesh I’d decided I was DONE, and stubbornly remained decided even when things got shaky. I could not go back to a traditional office job. Not even for the promise of post-meeting sandwich scavenging events in dimly lit conference rooms, and the comforting certainty that someone will always take the last cup of coffee without refilling the pot.

Well. One day almost a year after I made that terrifying decision and left my full-time job, like magic or a sequence of events plotted out all businesslike, I received a proposition via Skype. And a couple months later, I said goodbye to L.A. where I’d lived since I was four, and hello to Portland, a city with which I’d had three hours’ acquaintance. I’d arrived in a new town with a new job and the same mean cat.

I’ve been a Book Riot associate editor for three months plus some change, and I’m still a bit stunned. I know it isn’t luck, but it feels like it.

Now, one of the super-perks of my job is that I get to work from home. I’m not going to sit here and pretend this isn’t amazing. Also, I like to imagine what it might look like to be the sort of adult who gets out of bed at a reasonable hour, showers, makes coffee in her spotless kitchen, sits at a desk in the early morning sunlight, and gets to work. I’ve got the waking up, making coffee, and getting to work parts down.

Sharifah's bed work station

My day usually begins at 6am. That’s about the time Tabitha gets hangry, screams in my face, and violently attacks the cables strewn across my bed… Because my bed is usually covered in power cables and laptops and books… Because my bed is the morning workspace I stumble back to once I’m grasping a cup of coffee. I secretly think of myself as the Grandpa Joe of the Book Riot staff. I will eventually fly out of bed singing, “I’ve got a golden ticket.”

I like to start my day in stealth mode before my day actually begins, if that makes sense. It doesn’t — I start my work day around 7am, but I’m not “live” for another hour. My brain is always cluttered, but it’s even more so first thing in the morning, and nobody needs that, so I like to spend my first caffeinated hour working on something that requires single-mindedness and hyperfocus. It does help.

her many-headed unicorn sketch

As for the work itself, my job is a many-headed unicorn, except not grotesque. I schedule content and social media a couple days each week, film the Tuesday New Releases videos, host the SFF Yeah! and Read Harder podcasts, post Instagram Stories, and write the weekday Today in Books (previously known as This Week in Books) newsletters, among other things. And it tickles me that taking photos of books is also part of my job.

I’m still quite new, but my work is exciting and challenging in a way no job has been before. For instance, when I agreed to podcast (this was actually when I was still a contributing editor, working freelance), I was terrified because I’m a writer who has never been good with her mouth words. But there’s something about being part of Book Riot that makes a person want to try, and do something new, and shake it up a little.

So here I am.

-Sharifah

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? Get Your Epic Spot TODAY ?

Hello, Novel folks! We’ve got another round of Epic spots open, and you get first crack at them. They open up today, Thursday the 7th, at 9:30am Eastern — have at ’em!

In addition to the perks you already enjoy, Epic subscribers get:
– Access to the Insiders-only Forum, limited to 250 spots. Come hang out with us and talk books all day, every day!
– A special Monthly Mailbag drawing, plus occasional surprise giveaways, because free books are the best books.

Head over to My Account on insiders.bookriot.com, click “Manage My Subscription,” and grab your Epic spot. Ready, set, click!

screenshot of the logged-in My Account screen with three orange arrows pointing to Manage My Subscription Plan, located towards the bottom of the screen

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Early Access: LIT CHAT by Book Riot!

Good news, Insiders! We’ve been working on this for a while, and you’re getting the first look. Meet LIT CHAT, conversation starter cards for book lovers. Use them with your friends, book club members, students, and even each other!

Preorder yours by 10/3 and get a free READ sticker.

So, what is it?

Each of the 50 cards in this conversation deck is printed with two reading-themed questions (100 questions total). Some invoke books that are tied to memories (name your favorite childhood picture book); others prompt you to choose ideal reading material for a hypothetical situation (if you were stranded on a desert island, what book would you want with you?). Some of them aim to get people comparing their favorite (and not-so-favorite) characters or authors, and others engage in popular debates amongst readers (name a movie adaptation you liked and defend your choice). Created to give readers of all persuasions an excuse to talk about books, ideas, and life itself, this deck is a great addition to any booklover’s shelf.

Preorder your LIT CHAT now!

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Behind The Scenes Aug pt 2

How is it almost September? Congratulations are in order for our August Mailbag winners: Susan, our Novel subscriber, and Katherine, our Epic subscriber. Happy reading! As a refresher: if you’re a Novel subscriber and you’ve updated your Watchlist in the last 30 days you’re automatically entered into the drawing, so keep an eye on those New Releases. For Epic, any/all Epic-level subscribers are eligible, so keep on keepin’ on.

In today’s installment of Behind the Scenes, our Art Director Scott is back with a look at some of the designs that never made it off the drafting table — and why!


First up is an alternate take on the Book Riot Insiders logo. I liked the idea of having the door stand in as the letter “I” to create a sense of intrigue, mystery, and surprise that only Insiders would be privy to. Version A is where I started and while I am actually pretty happy with the result a few issues stood out, the main one being that the width of the door compared to the width of the other letters is pretty severe. In version B I tried to using a typeface that had more heft to it, to better complement the ‘heaviness’ of the door. There are 16 characters in Book Riot Insiders, and using just one of them to create a visual pun means that I’m using 1/16th of the logo’s real estate, which in turn means that the door gets muddled at smaller sizes. In the end we opted for the sans-cutesy, cleaner, more streamlined version that has fewer complications attached to it.

alternative version of the Book Riot Insiders logo

Next up is an alternate design for the Reading Trumps Ignorance t-shirt. I sort of knew that this one was going to be problematic from the get-go, but sometimes when you have an idea you just need to see it through, see where it ends up. While the concept of bouncing books off the face of the President was cathartic and fun to execute, at the end of the day I knew that the number of people that would want to wear a shirt with his face on it would not really make it viable.

alternate version of the Reading Trumps Ignorance shirt

And here we have an alternate design for the Nolite te bastardes carborundorum shirt. When this task came to me I knew I wanted to focus on repetition of the text, like a mantra that someone repeats over and over. I felt like this design succeeded in creating a pseudo-hypnotic, visually striking composition, but where it falls a bit short is that in the repetition you sacrifice some of the immediate impact and boldness of the saying.

alternate version of the nolite te bastardes shirt

Lastly we have the design that never saw the light of day for an “ugly holiday sweater” Book Riot style. The problem with novelty designs is pretty inherent and we pulled the plug on this one before it could take flight.

[Jenn’s note: I still want this sweater.]

ugly sweater design that says Season's Readings and includes knitted-looking skulls, reindeer, a book, and snowmen

While not my intention, there was apparently some room for interpretation as to the motives of the reindeers in this motif. To be fair, Rebecca was merely the messenger for this request, but nonetheless I leave you with the most bizarre piece of feedback that I have ever received on a design:

Note from Rebecca that says: "Hey Scott - can the reindeer hooves be revised so no one is confused about them giving the finger?"

 

-Scott

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Behind The Scenes pt 1 August

It is mid-August, which means it is time for a new deal and another peak behind the scenes! Our Art Director Scott Borchert sat down with Jenn to talk about what exactly it looks like to be in the design trenches for Book Riot. But first, your exclusive Insiders deal of the month:

Get $25 off any purchase of $100 or more, using code BIGDEALINSIDE!

collage of items from the Book Riot store including a Read Or Die hoodie, a But First Books tshirt, some socks, and a tote


 

Jenn: I heard a rumor that your cat has appeared in more than one Book Riot campaign. Care to confirm?

Scott: The rumor is true. My cat, Danzig, has been my best friend since I found him in the bushes 14 years ago. We have been through a heck of a lot over the years, but it does not change one cold, hard truth: my cat is a freeloader. One day I sat down with him and tried to explain to him the concept of money; how all the things that he enjoys in life, furminators, refrigerated cat food, the couch he sleeps on, are not free and that I have to pay money for them. We came to an understanding that he was going to do more to pitch in and the resulting agreement was that I could use his likeness to promote goods and products for Book Riot and he could continue to do what he does best: sleep and be awesome.

promotions that include Scott's cat

Jenn: Give us an idea of what your day-to-day is like. Is there such a thing as a normal day in the design world?

Scott: No, not really. And I guess that is what I like most about what I do. There is very little redundancy from day to day as far as design is concerned at least. But most days start out something like this: I hop on the Q train at 57th/7th Avenue and head towards Downtown Brooklyn. I can usually squeeze in about a half hour of reading there. The office is a shared workspace type deal, that I share with our web developer Alex. An obscene amount of coffee is made and consumed whilst checking through Slack and catching up on any emails. Then it is on to Asana, the task management system that we use here at Book Riot to dole out tasks to one another. Let’s see what’s on the docket today…

a screenshot of Scott's to do list for the day: QA Search Results scrolling bug; Logo Concept; finalize Behind the Scenes interview; Aug-Sept Insiders store deal; $20 tees, free pouch OOP promo creative; Creative for All the Backlist; September Insiders Creative; Social images for Recommended; resize tote-pouch creative from OOP

Jenn: What’s your all-time favorite book?

Scott: Sort of inspired by this post on Book Riot, I was looking for something daunting to read on my phone during my commutes. I didn’t really know anything about Don Quixote other than 1. It’s long and 2. It’s old. I figured that this would make for a slog of a read, full of difficult, antiquated prose and that it would defeat me within a single train ride. I was wrong. I was hooked from the beginning and subsequently found myself laughing out loud during my commute. I didn’t, however, read the whole thing on my phone, so I guess it did defeat me in that regard. I think there is something to be said for the distance something has to travel between your original expectation and where it winds up to become an all-time favorite.

Jenn: What’s been the hardest design project you’ve worked on for Book Riot, and why?

Scott: Probably the New Release Index. We had never tackled something like that before and it was a pretty monumental undertaking for myself and Alex. There were so many decisions that had to be made on such a micro level to try create a seamless and intuitive user experience. You also learn with projects like this that just because you think you have come up with an elegant design solution, it is not always feasible from a programmatic standpoint. So there is give and take and constantly trying to find a middle ground that everyone is comfortable with. That was the hardest project based on size and scope, but there are other, smaller projects that can be challenging as well. Design is a funny thing and you can’t control where or when creativity or inspiration will hit you. There are projects where I know instantly what direction I want to take something, and others where I am flailing around helplessly in Photoshop for hours on end trying to make pieces fit together. I much prefer the former.

Jenn: Related, do you have an all-time favorite?

Scott: Book Riot Live – The Sequel. I thought the direction that we took achieved what I had set out to do, which was marry the excitement and energy of the event and that of NYC while staying playful and fun. It’s challenging but rewarding to take a concept and see it across so many different mediums, whether it’s a website, banner ads, t-shirts, posters, to an actual frickin’ giant custom neon sign. Who knew that you could get so much mileage out a pigeon wearing a bowler hat? Speaking of which, if anyone is interested giving a home to said neon sign, you can drop me a line here. It’s been living under my bed in my apartment since BRL and it’s looking for a new home.

Jenn: You work on everything from logo designs for podcasts, to site layout, to ad campaigns, to font choices for social images, to t-shirt and merchandise designs (and I’m probably missing some things in there). Is the design process different for each thing, or are there some things that are the same no matter what the end product is?

Scott: The process for each is pretty unique. Each has its own set of guidelines and limitations that must be adhered to. Creating a design for a t-shirt and designing a website are entirely different ends with different intended results. But there are common threads that tie all of them together. The way I try to look at it is like this: Book Riot is a company. It has a unique set of values and principles at its core that make it what it is. So long as in everything that I do, I can look at and see that it points back to those principles in some way, then I know that I am on the right track.

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Get Epic! New Spots Open TODAY!

Hey, Novel subscribers! Ready to join us at the Insiders Forum to banter about books with your fellow Insiders and chat with Book Riot staff and contributors? You’ve got first dibs: get your Epic spot now!