Here’s to a 2014 of unprecedented creativity, acceptance letters (residencies and fellowships), agent and publisher Yeses… and everything else you’ve been working hard on. Download this book of writing prompts (for free) to get you started on the creativity part. Happy NEW Year.
From the Whoopi Goldberg quote to the license plate title lock-up to the lush illustration of a guitar-toting traveler amidst a whiz of traffic, the cover of Nnedi Okorafor‘s short-story collection Kabu Kabu demands the attention of readers who don’t fit into expected categories.
Driving home the noncomformist appeal, the cover subject wears a flowing dress over jeans with face turned away so you can’t be sure of gender. Moreover s/he is carrying a guitar on the edge of busy traffic. How did s/he get there? Where is s/he going? You want to know. You want to go. At least I do.
Goldberg’s affirmation punctuates the cover’s maverick target. Her very varied fan demographic runs the gamut from the stay at home mothers that watch her on the daytime talk show The View to film and comedy acolytes who have followed the Oscar-winning actress and comedienne’s 33-year career–all of whom appreciate her speak-your-mind brand.
The book’s synopsis on Amazon adds some context to the cover’s intrigue: “Kabu kabu—unregistered illegal Nigerian taxis—generally get you where you need to go. Nnedi Okorafor’s Kabu Kabu, however, takes the reader to exciting, fantastic, magical, occasionally dangerous, and always imaginative locations you didn’t know you needed.”
Chimamanda Adichie’s third novel Americanah was already doing quite well. Since its release earlier this year, it’s enjoyed a steady stream of almost unanimously favorable reviews and has been ranked among the low thousands out of the millions of books on Amazon. But the combination of Beyoncé sampling Adichie’s “We Should All Be Feminists” TEDx Talk on her album released on December 13th, and the New York Times ranking it among the top 10 of 2013 has caused the book to leap 682 spots on Amazon’s ranking system in just 11 days.
The Atlantic‘s Robinson Meyer tracked the book’s progress from 5pm December 12th, hours before Beyoncé surprised fans and the music industry by simultaneously releasing 14 new songs and 17 music videos without advance hype, through yesterday: “At 5 p.m. on December 12, 2013—the day before the album came out—Amazon ranked Americanah #861 of all hardcover books,” Meyer noted. “Five days later, the book was ranked #632. Today, the book is ranked #179.”
Meyer put the rise in context, crediting the Times as well:
Moving with such speed through the top 1,000 books on Amazon is a slog, because books in the top couple hundred slots sell much more than books in the low thousands. It’s much harder to advance from #200 to #199 than it is from #2,000 to #1,999.
But if you look at the chart of historical sales rank data, you’ll see Americanah had already shot through the rankings before the release of Beyoncé. On December 1, the book was ranked #3,873; On December 6, it was ranked #1,811. It fell another thousand before the release of Beyoncé. What happened?
This: On December 4th, the New York Times called Americanah one of the top 10 books of 2013.
Head to The Atlantic to read Meyer’s full story.
Children’s book author Kwame Alexander was on News One this week making the case for how texting and social media can be used as tools to create a love of writing. In his latest book, a young adult novel called He Said, She Said, Alexander, who also founded Book in a Day which goes into schools to help students publish a book in one day, illustrates his point alternately teasing out dialogue and plot points via Facebook status updates.
The educational book publisher Scholastic agrees. In an area of their site dedicated to equipping teachers with literacy tools, Scholastic cites research that shows texting improves spelling and phonology, and stimulates creative expression.
Likewise, in their report “Twitteracy: Tweeting as a New Literacy Practice,” educators Christine Greenhow and Benjamin Gleason point to multiple studies that show Twitter increases engagement around themes and has been particularly effective for English Language Learners as it sharpened their “ability to ﬁnd, select, critically evaluate, and synthesize a range of information across media.”
“Ned was bending over backwards to make me feel sympathetic for this actor who’d dismissed Ned’s script as a piece of shit, and I frowned. ‘Ned,’ I said firmly, ‘You are absolutely ruining this good gossip right now.’ But that wasn’t what it was. I realized later that Ned simply couldn’t tell a story without rendering a character in three dimensions.” — from “Remembering Ned Vizzini, the Great Storyteller,” by Kyle Buchanan.
Citing Alice Munro’s Nobel win as the cap on a year of stellar writing by women, Gilbert listed Donna Tarrt, Jesmyn Ward, and Rayya Elias, among a list of the authors of her favorite 2013 books. “Somewhere in the vast library of heaven,” she continued, “George Eliot, Jane Austen, Emily Dickinson, Edith Wharton and a bunch of other fantastic female phantasms are having a celebratory bottle of champagne, smiling proudly over of us.”
Her declaration seems especially timely not only because of the preponderance of acclaimed female authors that received recognition this year (see Man Booker winner Eleanor Catton and the illustrious literary ladies that shared the shortlist of six with her: NoViolet Buluwayo, Jhumpa Lahiri and Ruth Ozeki, for example), but also because of the sheer volume of column inches and internet bandwidth given to issues directly related to women. This year, it seemed pop culture was particularly obsessed with the challenges impacting women’s lives from how decisions regarding marriage and fertility impact workplace ascendancy, to questions of sexual objectification.
It started with Sheryl Sandberg’s bestseller Lean In, released in March. The Facebook COO’s book reignited the “woman’s place” debate for a new generation, adding to the ongoing viral discussion sparked by Anne-Marie Slaughter’s June 2012 article “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.” It seemed every outlet had to weigh in with the Wall Street Journal‘s Nikki Waller quipping “We are in a bull market for think pieces about Sheryl Sandberg,” in a post rounding up coverage of the book from Cosmo to Forbes.
Miley Cyrus’ infamous twerking episode at MTV’s VMAs poured gas on the conversation, eliciting fiery back and forth across the web. The New York Times‘ Jon Caramanica advised Cyrus’ detractors to “Get Back, and Just Let Miley Cyrus Grow Up” while Entertainment Weekly ran Sinead O’Connor’s open letter to the young star in which she warned Cyrus: “you will obscure your talent by allowing yourself to be pimped, whether it’s the music business or yourself doing the pimping.” Then there is all the grousing going on about Beyonce’s decision to sample writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TEDx Talk “We Should All Be Feminists” on her surprise December album.
Writer Lauren Sandler waded into the wider conversation alleging female authors might do better with just one child — drawing instant clap back from authors Zadie Smith and Aimee Phan among others who also happen to be mothers. Meanwhile, J.K. Rowling (who opted not to write under her name Joanne because “her publisher, Barry Cunningham…thought that young boys might be wary of a book written by a woman”) released a new book under a more explicitly male-sounding pen name “Robert Galbraith.”
Though Rowling was clear her reason for publishing her latest bestseller The Cuckoo’s Calling as Galbraith was because she “wanted totally unvarnished feedback,” it’s hard not to wonder why she didn’t choose a female pseudonym. Does she feel adult male readers would also be wary of a book written by a woman — just as George Eliot née Mary Anne Evans did when she was writing in the 1800s? If so, Rowling might not be wrong.
This summer, sci-fi writer Ann Aguirre expressed deep frustration and anger at sexist attitudes aimed at her by both male readers and male writers. Likewise, VidaWeb.org noted that, in 2012, male reviewers (the gender of most literary reviewers) disproportionately reviewed books written by men. Author Jodi Picoult tweeted about the phenomenon this summer: “Would love to see the NYT rave about authors who aren’t white male literary darlings.”
So, yes, 2013 was a great year as far as stellar writing and bestsellers by women — just as 2012 was, but it’s obvious our culture has a lot more growing up to with respect to women’s stories. We’ve always had talented female writers. If there is a celebration going on in heaven, I’d like to believe Phyllis Wheatley and Christina Rosetti, are also clinking glasses with the heroines of prose Gilbert mentioned. Here’s hoping the male readers and reviewers who might be just a little bit wary will catch up in 2014. And here’s looking to a day when the next Mary Anne Evans and Joanne Rowling won’t have to worry about their gender detracting them from being taken seriously either way; when our literary mothers, sisters and daughters can toast to something else.
Colorlines posted this video from last Thursday’s discussion between Nobel-winner Toni Morrison and Pulitzer-winning author Junot Diaz. The conversation touches upon a number of subjects including Morrison’s role in developing a canon of fiction by black authors as an editor, as well as her own impact as an author. Jump to the 40 minute mark to get right to the discussion.
“Janet Dailey was a trailblazing romance author who matured into a serious chronicler of western history, emphasizing love of the land and the passionate men and women who forged the American west. Her fans will miss her but none more than myself, her friend and agent for decades.” — Richard Curtis.
Yesterday, The New York Times reported that talent agency William Morris Endeavor won the bid to acquire sports and media management company IMG for $2 Billion. Once the deal is complete, WME, which is headed by Ari Emanuel (the agent who inspired Jeremy Piven’s character on HBO’s Entourage), will wield even greater negotiation power on behalf of their clients, but more importantly, it will have unprecedented influence on what becomes culture.
WME already presides over a vast and varied network of personalities and media properties that includes Oprah, Joel Osteen, 2013’s highest grossing actor Dawyne “The Rock” Johnson and satirical news blog, The Onion. They also represent many of the most highly acclaimed and commercially successful authors including Judy Blume, Sheryl Sandberg, Ann Coulter, and Malcolm Gladwell. With IMG, WME’s tentacles will stretch to sports, fashion and events. (IMG currently counts a robust roster of athletes, models, and entertainers including Venus Williams, Victoria’s Secret Angel Karlie Kloss, Taylor Swift, Steve Harvey, and Justin Timberlake among their talent; and produces programming for the Olympics as well as Mercedes Benz Fashion Week in New York.)
Should we be alarmed that one entity will have so much (at) stake in what becomes culture from film to theatre to music to literature? That they will have even more power over the types of projects that get signed and what/who gets massive marketing? Should we also be concerned that the publishing industry is consolidating in like manner with big boys Penguin and Random House merging last year, and self-publishing outfits being acquired by / partnering with Penguin and Simon and Schuster?
Personally, I see it as a sign of increased consumer power — with massive potential for artists to realize the power we wield as creatives. The agency role is changing precisely because consumers are savvier than ever and don’t respond predictably to the same ol’ marketing gimmicks as far as connecting with creative content. Writers also have the tools at their disposal now to exercise personal agency and directly reach readers.
Literary agent Joanna Volpe gives an example of the shift in agents’ roles, specifically noting, “We have taken on a public relations management type role.” She explains, “Because the internet is posting things every single minute of every day, authors are put in situations that require a lot more judgment calls on a regular basis in terms of both interacting with their readers and the kind of public image they want to present in order to support their work, which means that agents have to help them make these calls all the time, which is almost a full-time job in itself.”
That said, the network of relationships and opportunities an agency like the pre- and post-IMG WME can provide writers at any level of their career can’t be discounted. As literary agent Sandra Bond explained on IndependPublisher.com, yes, a writer can hire a lawyer to do contract negotiations, and maybe an author already has a contact in publishing to submit their work to, but, Bond points out, “This is our world and we work at it full-time. Most authors have their own day-jobs, so sometimes it’s even a question of time.”
By acquiring IMG, WME has bought themselves time.