By the Book: 2013, The Year of the Self-Published Book

Books on a shelf.
Don't judge a book by its publisher. Photo credit:

Unlike most roundup book reviews in the mass media that tend to judge “best” as both critical and commercial success, By the Book is pleased to note the number of indie and self-published books covered in 2013, all of them, of course, reflecting the column’s criterion for consideration: regional resonance—East End residence (part-time or full-time), subject matter or setting, and a theme that seems timely and significant.

Being a friend of a renter or homeowner won’t cut it. However, being a regular visitor or the child of a family that has had a house out here for years, can. In fact, early years in the Hamptons usually factor into narratives, as has also been obvious in the number of autobiographical submissions to the Dan’s Literary Essay Contest, where memoir is the hot genre.

The big trend to note in 2013 has been the increasing number of self-published books reviewed—novels and short story and essay collections, many from writers who had never published a book before, though some had had pieces in newspapers or magazines. What was once called “vanity press,” self-published volumes were shunned by reviewers. No more. Many self-published books come with imaginative publishing company names, and with heartfelt acknowledgments to colleagues, suggesting that writing workshops are alive and well on the East End. Some books, however, come with typos abounding, even from the big guns. A few years ago, a new work with a well-known publisher by a world-famous mystery writer who lives on the East End contained several typos inside, including the title of the book! It seems likely that 2014 will continue to see more self-published books. Not infrequently, authors who do have a track record with commercial publishers cannot find a taker for their new work. A number of big-time companies have either folded or have been folded into other big-time publishers. The market has shrunk dramatically. Indeed, at the 2013 Authors Night in East Hampton, several writers hawking their latest books were going back a few years.

The year also saw local publishers well represented—The Permanent Press (Sag Harbor), Bridgeworks (Bridgehampton), The Pushcart Press (Springs) and Oceanview (Amagansett). Tending to be shorter than what commercial publishers will support, the books that issue from small presses favor fiction and poetry, but competition has made these presses even more selective, and self-publishing has become a default M.O.

Considering the variety and diversity of subject matter covered this year, it could be said: “It’s the economy, stupid.” Financial scheming fueled some well-written domestic dramas and murder mysteries, such as The Stone Lion by William Eisner, Dead Anyway by Chris Knopf and Graveland by Alan Glynn. Constants, however, remain, such as beach-read romances by and for 20 and 30 somethings, where the heroines seem to be sassier and more critical, even as they still love Hamptons style. Add in well crafted noir (Joanie McDonnell’s Bolero) and novels that impressively close the gap between history and fiction—The Rhythm of Memory by Alyson Richman, which has Chile as its backdrop; and The Inbetween People by Emma McEvoy on Arab-Israeli tensions. A surprise this year was the buzz created by Jeff Nichols’ Caught, an exposé on bass fishing in Montauk. Naturally, the East End book scene wouldn’t be the same unless there continued to be a plethora of books on food, gardening, interior design and art (Eric Fischl’s autobiographical Bad Boy, Gail Levin’s edition, Theresa Bernstein: A Century in Art). Also a noteworthy factor is Daniel Klein’s satiric Nothing Serious, Gordon Korman’s splendid The Hypnotist aimed at the middle school set, and another winner from the dynamic duo of Tom Clavin and Bob Drury, the untold story of the American legend,
Red Cloud.

“By the Book” 2013 also took an occasional look at Once Famous Novels to see if they held up on the occasion of a golden anniversary or cinematic adaptation—The Great Gatsby (yes), Cat’s Cradle (not quite).

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