How does one become a successful novelist in the twenty-first century? Looked at one way, these are boom times for aspiring writers. More new works of adult fiction are published today than at any time in history. Every week more new novels appear than in an entire year of the 1960s. To become a published novelist of one sort or another has never been easier or cheaper, and there have never been so many people doing it. On the other hand, to gain any kind of readership or recognition as a novelist has never been so difficult. Sales of new fiction are increasingly concentrated on a tiny handful of blockbusters and near-blockbusters, to the point where even seemingly successful authors cannot make a decent living from their books.
To learn our way around the strange new world of novel writing today, we will read a half dozen recent novels by successful young writers. We will consider not just the novels themselves but their authors’ various pathways to publication and the different forms and flavors of their success. We will look into authors’ backgrounds and educations, their relationships to agents and editors; we’ll read advertisements and magazine profiles, fansites, reader reviews in Amazon and Goodreads; we will skim some of the DIY guides with titles like How to Get Published and How to Make a Killing Writing Kindles; we will look at royalties arrangements, contracts for TV and movie rights, and other mechanisms for dividing or amplifying the profits from a piece of literary “property.”
The format of the class will be that of an active workshop. We’ll present our own individual findings and we’ll work together to pose and answer further research questions, learning how to get information that is generally suppressed, how to gather and use industry data, how to read between the lines of book-world publicity and self-promotion.
The syllabus will be adjusted depending on the interests of the group. Possible authors and novels for the course include Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie (Americanah), Jennifer Egan, (A Visit From the Goon Squad), Joshua Ferris (And Then We Came to the End), Mohsin Homid (The Reluctant Fundamentalist), Hugh Howie (Wool), Nic Pizzolatto (Galveston; the TV series True Detective), Zadie Smith (White Teeth), and Nell Zink (The Wallcreeper).