Bob Dylan's Nobel Speech: "Are My Songs Literature?"

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Bob Dylan receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom May 29, 2012

When Bob Dylan was named recipient of the The Nobel Prize in Literature, response among writers and cultural critics was mixed. In “Why Bob Dylan Shouldn’t Have Gotten a Nobel,” editor and author Anna North argued from the New York Times opinion section:

 

“Yes, Mr. Dylan is a brilliant lyricist. Yes, he has written a book of prose poetry and an autobiography. Yes, it is possible to analyze his lyrics as poetry. But Mr. Dylan’s writing is inseparable from his music. He is great because he is a great musician, and when the Nobel committee gives the literature prize to a musician, it misses the opportunity to honor a writer.”

Conversely, cultural critic Sean O’Hagan believes those who dismiss Dylan’s literary credentials because he is not a writer in the traditional sense are missing the point. Writing “Fascinating, Infuriating, Enduring: Bob Dylan deserves his Nobel prize” for The Guardian, O’Hagan contended:

“Bob Dylan exists in a world of his own, stubbornly out of step with the prevailing culture just as he once singlehandedly defined it. He is not a songwriter in the classic sense, nor a poet in the traditional sense, nor does he create literature in the accepted sense of the word; that, in fact, is the whole point – he has sidestepped these definitions on his singular journey. He’s Bob Dylan.”

For his part, the reclusive songwriter and musician did not immediately acknowledge the honor, announced in October, and ultimately did not attend the December 10th Nobel Banquet to receive it in person. But in the acceptance speech he penned, which was delivered by the U.S. Ambassador to Sweden Azita Raji, he squarely addressed the question surrounding his worthiness of the award.

“Not once have I ever had the time to ask myself, ‘Are my songs literature?'” he wrote, citing Shakespeare as a playwright who, in the bard’s day, was likely preoccupied with the mundanities of producing and staging his work rather than whether it would one day be received as literature. Dylan, however, closed the speech expressing gratitude to the Swedish Academy for the time they spent preoccupying themselves with the question, and “providing such a wonderful answer.”

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Azita Raji, U.S. Ambassador to Sweden, delivered Bob Dylan’s acceptance speech at the Nobel Banquet December 10, 2016. (Photo via NewsInfo.Inquirer.Net)

Read the full transcript of Dylan’s Nobel Prize in Literature acceptance speech, published by the Nobel Foundation, below:

Good evening, everyone. I extend my warmest greetings to the members of the Swedish Academy and to all of the other distinguished guests in attendance tonight.

I’m sorry I can’t be with you in person, but please know that I am most definitely with you in spirit and honored to be receiving such a prestigious prize. Being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature is something I never could have imagined or seen coming. From an early age, I’ve been familiar with and reading and absorbing the works of those who were deemed worthy of such a distinction: KiplingShawThomas MannPearl BuckAlbert CamusHemingway. These giants of literature whose works are taught in the schoolroom, housed in libraries around the world and spoken of in reverent tones have always made a deep impression. That I now join the names on such a list is truly beyond words.

I don’t know if these men and women ever thought of the Nobel honor for themselves, but I suppose that anyone writing a book, or a poem, or a play anywhere in the world might harbor that secret dream deep down inside. It’s probably buried so deep that they don’t even know it’s there.

If someone had ever told me that I had the slightest chance of winning the Nobel Prize, I would have to think that I’d have about the same odds as standing on the moon. In fact, during the year I was born and for a few years after, there wasn’t anyone in the world who was considered good enough to win this Nobel Prize. So, I recognize that I am in very rare company, to say the least.

I was out on the road when I received this surprising news, and it took me more than a few minutes to properly process it. I began to think about William Shakespeare, the great literary figure. I would reckon he thought of himself as a dramatist. The thought that he was writing literature couldn’t have entered his head. His words were written for the stage. Meant to be spoken not read. When he was writing Hamlet, I’m sure he was thinking about a lot of different things: “Who’re the right actors for these roles?” “How should this be staged?” “Do I really want to set this in Denmark?” His creative vision and ambitions were no doubt at the forefront of his mind, but there were also more mundane matters to consider and deal with. “Is the financing in place?” “Are there enough good seats for my patrons?” “Where am I going to get a human skull?” I would bet that the farthest thing from Shakespeare’s mind was the question “Is this literature?”

When I started writing songs as a teenager, and even as I started to achieve some renown for my abilities, my aspirations for these songs only went so far. I thought they could be heard in coffee houses or bars, maybe later in places like Carnegie Hall, the London Palladium. If I was really dreaming big, maybe I could imagine getting to make a record and then hearing my songs on the radio. That was really the big prize in my mind. Making records and hearing your songs on the radio meant that you were reaching a big audience and that you might get to keep doing what you had set out to do.

Well, I’ve been doing what I set out to do for a long time, now. I’ve made dozens of records and played thousands of concerts all around the world. But it’s my songs that are at the vital center of almost everything I do. They seemed to have found a place in the lives of many people throughout many different cultures and I’m grateful for that.

But there’s one thing I must say. As a performer I’ve played for 50,000 people and I’ve played for 50 people and I can tell you that it is harder to play for 50 people. 50,000 people have a singular persona, not so with 50. Each person has an individual, separate identity, a world unto themselves. They can perceive things more clearly. Your honesty and how it relates to the depth of your talent is tried. The fact that the Nobel committee is so small is not lost on me.

But, like Shakespeare, I too am often occupied with the pursuit of my creative endeavors and dealing with all aspects of life’s mundane matters. “Who are the best musicians for these songs?” “Am I recording in the right studio?” “Is this song in the right key?” Some things never change, even in 400 years.

Not once have I ever had the time to ask myself, “Are my songs literature?”

So, I do thank the Swedish Academy, both for taking the time to consider that very question, and, ultimately, for providing such a wonderful answer.

My best wishes to you all, 

Bob Dylan

Categories Can Serve Your Purpose

Do women's awards in literature hurt or harm female authors? - peoplewhowritePerhaps because I come from an advertising background, and because I am Christian, black, African, and female, (identity groups that have been politicized and/or marginalized in one form or another) categories don’t scare me. For better or worse, most of the boxes I tick are immediately evident, and I know from all the stats that say so that I am being sorted and filtered into an endless set of situations because of them. There are negatives associated with membership in these categories, but my experience in advertising has taught me to look at — and use — categories as an asset.

When a brand or product goes to market, it is dead on arrival if the consumer cannot immediately distinguish it from the overwhelmingly beige pool that is the mainstream. In fact, the only way to eventually go mass (and get that mass money) is to start niche. When you are niche, you can more easily connect with the people who dig your work and flow precisely because they are a manageably small group. And when you are closer to your audience, you are able to build a core tribe of loyalists that can be your ambassadors, and help extend your reach organically and authentically. It’s the difference between someone with 500 followers getting 100 likes and someone with a million followers getting 2000. Those 100 Likers are probably not on your page just to troll — they’re actually engaged.

I write this after reading Zoë Heller and Dana Stevens’ thoughtful points about the dangers of awards that only honor female authors. In separate essays in last week’s Bookends column in the New York Times, and specifically discussing the Baileys Women’s Prize, Heller writes: “I have a resistance to assessing individual shortlists on whether they include women. (If the remit of judging panels is to reward literary excellence, they should be left to do so, without fear of being rebuked for failing to ‘honor diversity.’)”

She knows “the historical disparity between the number of male and female literary prize winners is certainly worth noting”, and she knows sexism has “something to do with this” gap in ability and industry acclaim but still. “None of this strikes me, however, as a persuasive argument for regarding women’s fiction as ‘a cause’ or for giving it its own award. I hate the idea of describing any sort of fiction as a cause. It makes it sound like something virtuous but fundamentally tedious that depends for its survival on the heroic efforts of concerned citizens. The Baileys Prize gives money and brings public attention to worthy writers, but it does so at the risk of institutionalizing women’s ­second-class, junior-league status.”

Dana Stevens feels the same way.

“Maybe for a century or more to come, we’ll continue to need cultural spaces in which ‘women’s writing’ is protected and encouraged to flourish as something separate from ‘men’s,'” she writes. “But that same small part of me fears that the gated-off arena can too easily become a prison.”

The thing is, we’re all in one prison or another i.e. we come out of the gate gated off. This is the world we live in, because this is who we are as people.

Even as we work to change what certain categories have come to mean in our society i.e. eradicate stereotypes and educate people about those that are different than them, we haven’t yet figured out how to escape our inherent propensity to categorize in the first place. I think it’s because categories act as conscious and subconscious shortcuts that help us connect with and relate to people.

Lauren A. Rivera’s recent Times op-ed explores this idea by unpacking the term “cultural fit” which, apparently, governs the hiring decisions of 80% of employers worldwide. “…for these gatekeepers, fit was not about a match with organizational values. It was about personal fit,” Rivera explains. “To judge fit, interviewers commonly relied on chemistry. …Discovering shared experiences was one of the most powerful sources of chemistry, but interviewers were primarily interested in new hires whose hobbies, hometowns and biographies matched their own.” As a result, of course, “Selection based on personal fit can keep demographic and cultural diversity low.”

All of this is to say, literature needs Women’s Prizes, just as it needs prizes for [insert category] writers because without such prizes, those in the position to award (rich white males, for now) will consciously or unconsciously ignore them because they don’t immediately connect with their work. And as we offer these overlooked and ignored categories the platforms they have earned, we not only keep the conversation alive about why we need such prizes in the first place, we encourage our niche to keep at it too.

Finally, it’s important to note that categories are constantly shifting and mutating because people do. No one fits into any one category neatly. What lies between the boxes and outside the lines often make stories most interesting. Hopefully, if done well, these are the stories that will win the prizes.

The 2015 Baileys Prize Winner will be announced June 3rd.

Lynn Keller, Thomas Keymer, & Jeffery Renard Allen Among 2015 Guggenheim Fellows

Lynn Keller, 2015 Guggenheim Foundation Fellow - peoplewhowrite

Lynn Keller

The 2015 Guggenheim Fellows list is here. This year, 175 Fellows were named including Folio Prizewinner Akhil Sharma, PEN/Faulkner fiction award finalist Jeffery Renard Allen, and Los Angeles Times Book Critic David L. Ulin. Below, is a list of the writers:

AMERICAN LITERATURE
Lynn Keller
Benjamin Reiss
Kenneth W. Warren

ENGLISH LITERATURE
Thomas Keymer

EUROPEAN AND LATIN AMERICAN LITERATURE
Nicholas D. Paige
Maurice Samuels

FICTION
Jeffery Renard Allen
Maud Casey
Vikram Chandra
Percival Everett
Rivka Galchen
Mary Beth Keane
Anthony Marra
Anne Michaels
Kevin Powers
Akhil Sharma

GENERAL NON-FICTION
Meghan Daum
Alison Hawthorne Deming
Melissa Fay Greene
Thomas Healy
Barbara Hurd
David Lazar
Patricia Marx
Christine Montross
Alex Ross
David L. Ulin

POETRY
Dan Beachy-Quick
Matthew Dickman
Thomas Sayers Ellis
Gregory Fraser
Cathy Park Hong
Cate Marvin
Bernadette Mayer
Joshua Mehigan
Rowan Ricardo Phillips
Christina Pugh

Minneapolis Unseats D.C. as America's 'Most Literate City'

Minnesota author Garrison Keillor's Common Good Books - peoplewhowrite

Minnesota author Garrison Keillor’s Common Good Books has been named among the Top 7 bookstores in the Twin Cities.

Writers, make sure Minneapolis is on your next book tour itinerary. According to a recent study by Central Connecticut State University president Dr. John Miller, the larger of the twin cities was America’s most literate in 2013, with D.C., which topped 2012’s most literate list, falling to number 2. Rounding out the Top 10 are Seattle, St. Paul, Minn., Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Denver, San Francisco, Boston, and St. Louis, MO.

USA Today explains, the study “measures ‘citizens’ use of literacy’ through criteria including local bookstores, educational levels, Internet and library resources, and newspaper circulation”. Get the full list of 77 most literate American cities here.

90 Writers Spotlighted in the 2015 PEN Literary Awards Longlists

Time of the Locust author Morowa Yejide

Morowa Yejide’s Time of the Locust has been longlisted in the Debut Fiction category.

The 2015 PEN Literary Awards Longlists have been announced in nine categories, with over $70,000 in prizes to be awarded to the winners. The contenders are:

DEBUT FICTION
The UnAmericans by Molly Antopol
Ruby by Cynthia Bond
Black Moon by Kenneth Calhoun
Redeployment by Phil Klay
Ride Around Shining by Chris Leslie-Hynan
The Dog by Jack Livings
The Wives of Los Alamos by TaraShea Nesbit
The Heaven of Animals by David James Poissant
Love Me Back by Merritt Tierce
Time of the Locust by Morowa Yejidé

ESSAY
Moral Imagination by David Bromwich
Theater of Cruelty by Ian Buruma
Loitering by Charles D’Ambrosio
Surrendering Oz by Bonnie Friedman
The Hard Way on Purpose by David Giffels
Where Have You Been? by Michael Hofmann
The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison
Sidewalks by Valeria Luiselli
Limber by Angela Pelster
You Feel So Mortal by Peggy Shinner

SCIENCE WRITING
War of the Whales by Joshua Horwitz
How We Got to Now by Steven Johnson
The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons by Sam Kean
The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert
Small by Catherine Musemeche, MD
The Age of Radiance by Craig Nelson
Proof by Adam Rogers
The Copernicus Complex by Caleb Scharf
Arrival of the Fittest by Andreas Wagner

NON-FICTION
Our Declaration by Danielle Allen
All the Truth Is Out by Matt Bai
League of Denial by Mark Fainaru-Wada & Steve Fainaru
Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink
The Big Truck That Went By by Jonathan M. Katz
This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein
The Bill of the Century by Clay Risen
The Impulse Society by Paul Roberts
A Chance to Win by Jonathan Schuppe
Powers of Two by Joshua Wolf Shenk

OPEN BOOK (for Writers of Color)
An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine
Fire Shut Up in My Bones by Charles M. Blow
Team Seven by Marcus Burke
Every Day Is for the Thief by Teju Cole
An Untamed State by Roxane Gay
Streaming by Allison Adelle Hedge Coke
A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James
Kinder Than Solitude by Yiyun Li
Citizen by Claudia Rankine
The Fateful Apple by Venus Thrash
The City Son by Samrat Upadhyay

BIOGRAPHY
Updike by Adam Begley
Isabella by Kirstin Downey
Rebel Yell by S. C. Gwynne
The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace by Jeff Hobbs
John Quincy Adams by Fred Kaplan
Strange Glory by Charles Marsh
Becoming Richard Pryor by Scott Saul
The Queen’s Bed by Anna Whitelock
Victoria by A. N. Wilson
Piero’s Light by Larry Witham

SPORTS WRITING
Boy on Ice by John Branch
Why Football Matters by Mark Edmundson
Black Noon by Art Garner
All Fishermen are Liars by John Gierach
Ping-Pong Diplomacy by Nicholas Griffin
Bird Dream by Matt Higgins
Thrown by Kerry Howley
Deep by James Nestor
Life Is a Wheel by Bruce Weber

POETRY IN TRANSLATION
Sorrowtoothpaste Mirrorcream by Kim Hyesoon, Don Mee Choi
Love Poems by Bertolt Brecht, David Constantine & Tom Kuhn
I Am the Beggar of the World by Eliza Griswold
Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz by Juana Inés de la Cruz, Edith Grossman
Where Are the Trees Going? by Venus Khoury-Ghata, Marilyn Hacker
Breathturn into Timestead by Paul Celan, Pierre Joris
Guantanamo by Frank Smith, Vanessa Place
Skin by Tone Škrjanec, Matthew Rohrer & Ana Pepelnik
Diana’s Tree by Alejandra Pizarnik, Yvette Siegert
Autoepitaph by Reinaldo Arenas, Kelly Washbourne

PROSE IN TRANSLATION
Trans-Atlantyk by Witold Gombrowicz, Danuta Borchardt
The Gray Notebook by Josep Pla, Peter Bush
The Symmetry Teacher by Andrei Bitov, Polly Gannon
The Master of Confessions by Thierry Cruvellier, Alex Gilly
The Man Who Loved Dogs by Leonardo Padura, Anna Kushner
I Ching by John Minford
Baboon by Naja Marie Aidt, Denise Newman
Texas: The Great Theft by Carmen Boullosa, Samantha Schnee
Self-Portrait in Green by Marie NDiaye, Jordan Stump
The Woman Who Borrowed Memories by Tove Jansson, Thomas Teal & Silvester Mazzarella

Get all the details here.

Diversity Up in Children's Books, By Not By Much

2014 was a better year than 2013 for books that told stories of black, Asian, Latino, Native American, and queer youth. The number of children’s books featuring African-Americans and Asians almost doubled last year to 179 and 112 books, respectively, along with a small uptick in titles about Latino and Native American subjects, according to the University of Wisconsin at Madison’s Cooperative Children’s Book Center. Kwame Alexander’s The Crossover took the top prize in children’s literature, The 2015 Newbery Medal, the fourth African-American to earn the honor since the prize was established in 1922. And Jacqueline Woodson won the National Book Award for her book Brown Girl Dreaming (though a tasteless watermelon joke almost stole the moment from her).

This said, the Wisconsin State Journal points out that compared to 2013, when less than 3% of books for children featured black characters, the numbers still aren’t good:

“The numbers of African-American books don’t show steady growth, for one thing. 2013 was a very low year. So 2014 looks better, but it actually recorded only 7 more books than in 2008. And in 2001, there were more books about African-Americans: 201.”

Initiatives like #WeNeedDiverseBooks are committed to reversing the trend. The grassroots group’s stated mission is to “recognize all diverse experiences, including (but not limited to) LGBTQIA, people of color, gender diversity, people with disabilities, and ethnic, cultural, and religious minorities. …[And] to promote or amplify diversification efforts and increase visibility for diverse books and authors, with a goal of empowering a wide range of readers in the process.” And they have been working with publishers and the National Education Association to promote writers of color and get diverse books into classrooms, even as their social media and PR campaign has stressed the importance of a diversity of stories across outlets like Teen Vogue and Buzzfeed.

Here’s how you can help: actively seek out and buy a diversity of books for your children and/or for yourself.

Academy of American Poets Awards Over $150,000 in 2014 Prizes

Robert Hass has won the Academy of American Poets 2014 Wallace Stevens Award - peoplewhowrite

Robert Hass

The Academy of American Poets has honored former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Hass, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Tracy K. Smith, and more with lucrative prizes and fellowships. Here’s the list:

The Wallace Stevens Award ($100,000)
Robert Hass, for outstanding and proven mastery in the art of poetry

The Academy of American Poets Fellowship ($25,000)
Tracy K. Smith, for “distinguished poetic achievement”

The Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize ($25,000)
Unpeopled Eden by Rigoberto González

The James Laughlin Award ($5,000)
A Several World by Brian Blanchfield

Harold Morton Landon Translation Award ($1,000)
Selected Translations by W. S. Merwin

The Raiziss/De Palchi Book Prize ($10,000)
The Bedroom by Luigi Bonaffini (a translation of Attilio Bertolucci’s La Camera Da Letto)

The Aliki Perroti and Seth Frank Most Promising Young Poet Award ($1,000)
“They Sail Across the Mirrored Sea” by Wendy Chen

The Walt Whitman Award ($5,000)
The Same-Different by Hannah Sanghee Park

The Amazon-Hachette Dispute Rages On With No Clear End in Sight

Hachette versus Amazon - peoplewhowriteBack in May, Amazon began delaying and, soon thereafter, “refusing orders” of books published by Hachette after a breakdown in negotiations over ebook prices. Amazon released a statement that insisted it is not to blame for the standoff, but it was reportedly recommending other books to customers seeking specific Hachette titles. This understandably raised the ire of Hachette authors.

A month after the dispute was publicized, comedian Stephen Colbert, whose book America Again was released by Hachette, encouraged viewers of his popular news comedy show to bypass Amazon for Portland bookseller Powells.com. Now authors based in America and Germany are uniting separately to tell readers Amazon may be the place to score cheap books that are delivered quickly, but it’s also manipulating them.

Via AuthorsUnited.net, 900 American writers asserted that Amazon is deliberately “inconveniencing and misleading its own customers with unfair pricing and delayed delivery… contradicting its own written promise to be ‘Earth’s most customer-centric company‘.” Meanwhile, German-language authors bearing the brunt of a brawl between Amazon and German publisher Bonnier wrote their own letter saying: “Amazon’s customers have, until now, had the impression that these lists are not manipulated and they could trust Amazon,” clarifying “Amazon manipulates recommendation lists. Amazon uses authors and their books as a bargaining chip to exact deeper discounts.”

At ReadersUnited.com, Amazon positioned the fight as one against readers, that is ultimately slowing revenue for authors, publishers, and Amazon. In its open letter to the industry, the Amazon Books Team explains:

For every copy an e-book would sell at $14.99, it would sell 1.74 copies if priced at $9.99. So, for example, if customers would buy 100,000 copies of a particular e-book at $14.99, then customers would buy 174,000 copies of that same e-book at $9.99. Total revenue at $14.99 would be $1,499,000. Total revenue at $9.99 is $1,738,000. The important thing to note here is that the lower price is good for all parties involved: the customer is paying 33% less and the author is getting a royalty check 16% larger and being read by an audience that’s 74% larger. The pie is simply bigger.

As it stands, the stalemate is having the same effect as the higher pricing, according to Amazon’s logic.

For writers, this battle highlights the problematic nature of reduced competition in the distribution of books. With Borders gone, Barnes and Noble flailing, and Amazon the top of mind choice for most readers, it seem writers need to take more ownership of the order fulfillment process. If we don’t, we may find ourselves caught between the publishers and Powells.com or some other unforeseen, to-be-invented force that makes it convenient and cheap for customers to get the stories they want. Authors Guild President Roxana Robinson put it best in a piece recently published on Publishers Weekly about the easy vilification of Amazon: at the end of the day, it’s “a question of who’s being the biggest bully at the moment.”

Adichie, Catton, Kushner, & Tartt on Baileys Longlist

Rachel Kushner, author of The Flamethrowers, has been longlisted for the Baileys Prize for Women's Fiction - peoplewhowrite

Rachel Kushner

The longlist for the 2014 Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction has been announced and it boasts Donna Tartt whose novel The Goldfinch has sat atop pretty much every “Best of 2013” list, Man Booker Prizewinner Eleanor Catton, and Chimamanda Adichie whose third novel Americanah has been right there with Tartt’s on the love lists and enjoyed a bump in attention and sales when Beyonce sampled the author’s TEDx speech on feminism. Also in contention are Pulitzer Prizewinner Elizabeth Strout, Rachel Kushner, and Elizabeth Gilbert who has tirelessly promoted her latest novel The Signature of All Things with a focus on bringing along the legion of readers who made her memoir Eat, Pray, Love a juggernaut success.

The Prize’s five judges–“Mary Beard, Professor of Classics at the University of Cambridge, writer Denise Mina, Times columnist, author and screenwriter, Caitlin Moran and BBC broadcaster and journalist, Sophie Raworth…chaired by former Managing Director of Penguin Books UK and Chief Executive of the Girls’ Day School Trust, Helen Fraser”–will cull the 20 books listed below to six, before the winner is announced on June 4, 2014.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood
The Dogs of Littlefield by Suzanne Berne
The Shadow of the Crescent Moon by Fatima Bhutto
The Bear by Claire Cameron
Eleven Days by Lea Carpenter
The Strangler Vine by M.J. Carter
The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton
Reasons She Goes to the Woods by Deborah Kay Davies
The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert
Burial Rites by Hannah Kent
The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner
The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri
The Undertaking by Audrey Magee
A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride
Almost English by Charlotte Mendelson
Still Life with Bread Crumbs by Anna Quindlen
The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
All The Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld

"Jack Reacher" Author Lee Child is the Strongest Brand in Publishing

Lee Child, bestselling author of the Jack Reacher books - peoplewhowrite

Lee Child

Stephen King. John Grisham. Lee Child. When it comes to reader loyalty, this triumvirate of writers has the strongest brands in publishing, according to a recent Forbes.com article by contributor David Vinjamuri. Of the three, “Child carries a higher percentage of his readers with him to each successive book than any other bestselling author. While just 41% of John Grisham’s fans owned or planned to buy his newest novel Sycamore Row, 70% of Child’s fans wanted a copy of the last Jack Reacher tale A Wanted Man.”

Child believes his loyalty is chiefly attributed to the fact that readers know what to expect from him. “A series is better than a sequence of [unrelated] books in terms of building brand loyalty,” he told Forbes’ Vinjamuri. “If you like the author but you’re uncertain of the content of the next book, that’s an obstacle. It runs counter to the literary view of writing that values originality and growth.  Jack Reacher is the same person in every book.”

So how can we build reader loyalty if we haven’t published one book, let alone sequels?

Vinjamuri spoke with writer Michael J. Sullivan. “Sullivan is one of those writers who’d written a closetful of books before he was first published,” Vinjamuri writes. “He moved from publishing in a small press to self-publishing and then traditionally publishing with Hachette starting in 2011.  He’s sold 475,000 books in English and has been translated into 16 other languages.”

Sullivan told him there are no shortcuts. Basically, it comes down to joining a community (or communities) of active readers, and actively participating i.e. reading other people’s work, and sharing reviews and comments–without pushing your own work.

Sullivan also stressed the power of connecting with one person at a time.  “I used to go to malls and stand in a bookstore for an event for three hours and I’d get 5 people to read my book.  But then they’d write back to me and some of them would become fans and recommend my books.”

Oh, and give your book away.

Vinjamuri explains:

“Sullivan gives away advanced reader copies (ARCs) of his books on Goodreads up to 6 months before the book is available in print.  This gives the books more value to contest winners who read them before the general public.  ‘I was only giving away two copies but 2,700 people entered and I got the member names for all of them,’ Sullivan told me.  In addition, each contest entry generated a story on that person’s activity feed on Goodreads, which became free advertising for the book.’