Friday, September 23, 2011

So Many First Novels, So Little Time...

--by Sarah Watstein (first published in Booklist Online)

So much is written about first novels — from reviews to author biographies, lists, blogs, and websites. Indeed, there is even a Facebook community page about authors’ first novels. The first challenge ... is where to find reliable and readable information on the web about first novels.

For those seeking an overview of first novels in a given year, or those seeking recommendations for the “best” first novels in a given year, several sources are available. By all means, bookmark Nancy Pearl’s website. Librarian, bookseller, and tastemaker extraordinaire, Pearl is widely recognized for her passion for books and equally widely respected for her knowledge of books. First novels are one of the many categories Pearl tracks.

... [A]lso count on National Public Radio (NPR) for their coverage of arts and life, and within this category, for their solid coverage of all things “book.” Note in particular their annual Best Debut Fiction roundup. NPR is truly “always on”; [those] seeking to keep up with books in general can choose from audio stories, Podcasts, RSS feeds, Book Notes Newsletter (book reviews and stories), and more.

Exploring the blog universe can be a rich resource for information about first novels. [Don't] underestimate the value of a Google blog search. Whether the topic is debut novels or the training-wheel novel, blogs offer a rich resource ... and a Google blog search is the place to start. The blog search’s coverage includes every blog that publishes a site feed (either RSS or Atom) and will help [to] explore the blogging universe more effectively. Four options are suggested: creating an e-mail alert for “first novels”; searching Google News for “first novels”; adding a blog-search gadget for “first novels” to your Google home page; and/or subscribing to a blog search feed for “first novels” in Google Reader.

For those seeking to keep up with the commercial marketplace, The First Novels Club is a good place to start. Here is information about writing, reading, and “adventuring” from a group of first-time novelists. Book reviews and co-reviews, interviews, conference updates, and more are available. The club’s list of recommended blogs covers the proverbial waterfront and is a handy resource.

Tracking first-novel awards is another way to keep up. Note, for example, the Authors’ Club First Novel Award. Established in 1955, this annual award is presented to the most promising debut novel written by a British author and first published by a British publisher in the previous year. The Authors’ Club awards three annual literary prizes: the Best First Novel Award, the Dolman Best Travel Book Award, and the Banister Fletcher Award for the best book on art or architecture. The Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers Award is another example. Even is in the mix with the Annual First Novel Award. When navigating the book publishing awards’ landscape, discernment is essential. Not every award is awarded annually. Occasionally, the discerning reader or librarian will note bending of the criteria.

... [T]o connect with friends who are equally passionate first-novel readers, check out the Facebook community page Authors First Novels, a collection of shared knowledge about authors’ debut works. Last, and from the “wait-and-see” category, check out the new debut fiction list, To Hell with First Novels. Launched in 2010, this list comes ... courtesy of To Hell with Books, which is part of the To Hell With site on independent publishing.

And, finally, Booklist Online subscribers know that they can limit any fiction search, whether for starred reviews or for award winners, historical fiction or horror, to first novels only. It’s a powerful, easy-to-use tool.

First novels can mean the discovery of a whole new world. To all our librarians and readers — enjoy the fresh new world of reading that first novels offer! You’ll soon discover that finding reliable and readable information on the web about first novels can be fun.