Last Sunday the New York Times published a piece called “A Literary Look Back at 2013.” The 10 Bookends columnists each wrote a paragraph in answer to the question: “What was the most interesting literary development—welcome or lamentable—of the year?” Zoë Heller discussed the great Social Media vs. Jonathan Franzen debate (concluding that the “yakkers, braggers and bullies did themselves proud”); Francine Prose mentioned the opportunities crowdfunding is providing for publishers and writers; and Adam Kirsch talked about how, in spite of all the doom and gloom about the book industry, sales of books in all formats actually grew.
This article inspired me to come up with my own literary look back at 2013. Here are the highlights:
*Self-Publishing: From the UpublishU conference at Book Expo America in June to the Self-Publishing Book Expo in November to several events organized by BiblioCrunch.com, I’ve continued to explore the self-publishing phenomenon and have come to a conclusion: Self-publishing is an excellent complement to or substitute for traditional publishing. My interviews with literary agents Kate McKean, Emmanuelle Morgen, Natanya Wheeler, and Kevan Lyon further convinced me that self-publishing doesn’t conflict with the goals of traditional publishing. In fact, it often benefits both parties: Traditional publishers can now look at authors’ self-published sales to determine how best to publish their future books, and authors always have the option of striking out on their own. Many writers are finding that the combination of self- and traditional publishing (hybrid publishing) is a win-win situation for all involved. Those who are entrepreneurially savvy are proving that they are able to find readers and generate sales independently, and that publishers—though certainly valuable—are no longer essential in the way they once were.
Goal for 2014: Follow the publishing choices of more general fiction writers as well as genre writers. Learn more about how self-publishing can serve as a marketing tool.
*Social Media: Although I officially set up my Facebook page and Twitter account in fall 2012, it took me a while to muster the courage to become active on these sites. This past summer, I began to post twice a week on Facebook and most weekdays on Twitter, providing links to articles about industry news, the craft of writing, and publishing success stories, along with my take on them. While my reach has plenty of room for improvement, I did grow it organically, without the use of advertisements, boosts, or apps. And because my connections on Twitter and Facebook are very different, I’ve been posting different content on these sites. One of the advantages of Twitter in particular is that it has helped me discover the blogs of industry professionals across the pond like the brilliant Joanna Penn. Social media has also enabled more people to find me. This past year, I’m proud to say that I worked with writers in Canada and Germany. I’ve also received editing requests from writers in Nigeria and Mauritius. Thanks to social media, the world has become a smaller place, and business is on the rise.
Goal for 2014: Become more active on LinkedIn and Pinterest. Post more reviews on GoodReads or at least indicate when I’ve finished a book. (GoodReads recently congratulated me for finishing two books this past year, a number that’s a bit off.) Join Google+?
*Book Group: Last December, while waiting for the subway, I ran into a neighbor and asked if she might be interested in joining a book group in our building. I had been thinking about forming one for some time, and when I ran into another neighbor, whom I knew was a voracious reader, she expressed interest as well and spread the word. On January 22, 2013 our book club launched with a discussion of Behind the Beautiful Forevers. Since then we’ve met approximately every six weeks to talk about books ranging from National Book Award Winners (The Round House) to mainstream hits (And the Mountains Echoed) to local favorites (Where’d You Go, Bernadette?). Although we’ve read some nonfiction, we’ve focused on adult literary fiction. Our most divisive meeting? Probably when we debated the premise of Wild: Some of us thought the author was incredibly brave to hike the Pacific Crest Trail alone; others, that she was incredibly foolish. Our most popular? When we met about The Lowland and also celebrated Diwali (Indian New Year). I’ve learned so much from these amazing women, not only about what makes for effective storytelling, but also about what makes for effective criticism (from us and from professional book reviewers).
Goal for 2014: Finish our next book club pick, The Goldfinch, early in the year. Convince the others to read a young adult title, or an adult title that features a teen protagonist?
*Writing Workshops and Conferences: In March I was delighted to participate again in the Northern Westchester/Putnam County BOCES’ Young Authors Conference, where I led two workshops for high school students called “Wallflowers, Bullies & Book Thieves: The Trends and Staying Power of YA Fiction.” From following industry trends and bestseller lists, I knew that books about bullying were striking a chord with teens readers. From talking with these students, I found out firsthand just how prevalent bullying is in our society today, and how tough it is for teens to deal with it. The students’ candid comments brought to mind R.J. Palacio’s middle grade novel Wonder, which is also about bullying/social dynamics, and which I wrote about for the literary site Bloom this past fall. Some of the same students from the Young Authors Conference attended another event organized by BOCES earlier this month called the Young Authors Master Class. This was my third go at being a mentor, and once again I was astounded by the quality of the students’ poetry, personal essays, and fiction. This year, the level of sophistication of the students’ questions was especially impressive. One student asked me what I thought about the Oxford comma (I’m a fan) and if she should indicate her age (15) in her query letters to agents.
Goal for 2014: Expand the query letter writing exercise for the next Young Authors Conference? This coming year my workshop will be called “The ‘Fault’ in Young Adult Literature: What’s Changed, What’s Next & How Your Writing Can Be a Part of It.”
*Literary Exhibits: Last week I saw the exhibit “Edgar Allen Poe: Terror of the Soul” at the Morgan Library. The Morgan usually does a fantastic job with literary exhibits (Bookermania, Beatrix Potter), and this one—which includes daguerreotypes, letters, and original manuscripts, among other artifacts—is no exception. I had read Poe’s major poems and some of his short stories in the past, but I hadn’t realized that he was also a literary critic. In light of the recent controversy over negative reviews, I wondered how Poe’s “often pungent, sarcastic and supercilious” tone would have been received today. I also enjoyed reading about Poe’s influence on writers across the globe, and seeing an early edition of “Le corbeau,” Stéphane Mallarmé’s translation of “The Raven.” Illustrated with lithographs by Édouard Manet, it is considered the first modern illustrated book and is definitely worth a look.
Goal for 2014: Attend “The ABC of It: Why Children’s Books Matter” exhibit at the New York Public Library’s Schwarzman Building before it ends on March 23. See the painting that inspired Donna Tartt’s novel, Carel Fabritius’s “The Goldfinch,” which is on display at the Frick until January 19.
2013 has been a year filled with literary developments. I’m looking forward to many more in 2014!