Monday, August 29, 2011

Guest Blog Post by Erin Hoover from Late Night Library

Thanks to Erin Hoover, co-founder of Late Night Library with Paul Martone, for discussing the new online book review radio show. To learn more, read below, click through earlier episodes or even browse through the growing library.

The Best New Book You've Never Read

The how and why of nonprofits are linked because complex problems often seem to require structured solutions. I come from a social services nonprofit background, and in that world, the work is concerned with poverty—something no single nonprofit is in a position to eradicate. You pick one place where you think you can have an impact. You take distinct and efficient action.

Most writers know that writing is only the half of it. Finding an audience is a second major challenge. As a younger writer I assumed an audience existed, thinking that if only I created something good enough, readers would be drawn to it. But countless brilliant novels sit in desk drawers and inspiring poems are read to empty rooms. Knowing this, I have become a promotion machine for books that people aren't talking about, but should.

A few months ago, I founded a monthly literary arts podcast called Late Night Library with another writer, Paul Martone, with the goal of promoting poets and writers that deserve a wider audience. Late Night Library creates a structure for something that I do anyway and already find personally rewarding—talking about books. Each month we select a debut writer who has recently published a book that we like. We record our conversation about the book (Paul from Portland and me from Brooklyn) and post it online and on social networks. We target first books because the writer has already done the considerable work of creating and publishing; only the audience is missing.  That's where we see our potential for impact.

As a well-known poet once said to me: "Your first book will be met with deafening silence." It goes without saying that it's easier to find the work of established writers in real and virtual stores. Reviewers, too, are more likely to look at a writer with multiple books, understanding that their opinion on established names will sell more copies or get more clicks in the same way an established brand would. When a book is talked about, it's not uncommon for everything but the book to be reviewed, from the author's biography to his or her marketability. It's almost like the text is beside the point until your second or third book, until your bestseller.

I sometimes wonder if being a writer with a first book is as anonymous a feeling as not having a book at all. While Late Night Library does not actually aspire to subverting the way art and capital intersect, it does hit a few targets that would be helpful in creating an audience for good writing. Not least of all, it's meant to give debut writers the kind of review that an author would want for his or her first novel or collection.  We can hopefully create a buzz for these books via online networks.  In the poetry world at least, a few hundred new readers is no small feat.

But if really excellent first books aren't easily browsed in stores or getting reviews in mainstream publications, how do I hear about them?  If they were easy to find, readers wouldn't need me in the first place.  I look at small press catalogs and I turn to writer friends for recommendations—word of mouth.  I go to poetry sections in indie bookstores and use people I haven't heard of as my sole criteria for browsing.  If a writer is too widely acclaimed already, I put his or her book down. If I've read him or her in The New Yorker, sorry. It sounds backwards because it is. Late Night Library doesn't select books like does because we don't exist to do what does. Nonprofits are designed to thwart the algorithm. 
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