Another year, another 12 months of publishing highs, lows and inexplicable surprises. Last year we put together a list of the people we thought had made the biggest impact in the industry over 2014, so it seems only right that we do the same for now. This list was chosen based on a variety of criteria, from public visibility to industry clout and beyond. We’ve tried to keep the list as different as last year’s to keep things fresh, and to avoid any names that are too obvious (sorry Jeff Bezos, please don’t hurt me). They may not all be names you instantly recognize, but in their own ways they’re shifting the dynamics of power in an industry that’s often refused to do so. We’d love to hear who you think has been the most influential this year, so please share your choices in the comments or on Twitter.
Sarah Maclean: Maclean, on top of being one of the most acclaimed names in historical romance, has helped to shake up the notoriously genre-phobic world of literary reviewing thanks to her column in the Washington Post dedicated to all things bodice-ripping. Her monthly reviews of the latest romance novels in one of America’s most respected newspapers is a genuine thrill, and a refreshing shake-up of a field that often seems allergic to providing coverage of any book not written by and about the ennui of being a straight white dude.
Hanya Yanagihara: In a year where Jonathan Franzen published a new book – and received gargantuan levels of pre-publication hype for it – it’s something of a surprise to see that the most talked about book of the year came not from him, or even the legend Harper Lee, but from a New York Times Style Mag editor mostly unknown to both the public and the industry. Yanagihara’s second novel, A Little Life, was frequently described as life changing; the 740 page odyssey of heightened emotions and male friendships in New York City left countless readers dehydrated from crying so hard. It’s an increasing rarity for any book, much less one so tragic and harrowing, to not only capture the mind of the industry and awards boards but the public as well. This is a best-seller that many will ponder over for years to come while trying to replicate its lightning-in-a-bottle success (You should also read her first book The People in the Trees because it’s flawless).
Marlon James: This year’s Man Booker prize winner, the first Jamaican author to do so, made a splash with his epic ode to his homeland, A Brief History of Seven Killings. Much was made over his winner’s speech, where he revealed that his first novel had been rejected over 70 times by publishers, and this was used as an inspirational motif for every writer waiting for their big break. However, James himself has highlighted that this wasn’t so much pulling up his bootstraps as it was overcoming systemic issues of lack of diversity in the industry.
Rainbow Rowell: The NYT best-seller list finally decided to divide up the YA sections in a similar manner to the ‘adult’ lists, thus allowing more change amongst an area mostly dominated by some dude named John Green. Then again, the new list has been taken over in the same way by Rainbow Rowell, author or critically acclaimed contemporary novels Eleanor & Park and Fangirl. Her latest book Carry On, based on the fictional series the characters in Fangirl write fanfiction about, stormed into the YA list on its first week and will inevitably remain there for many weeks, thus ensuring Rowell’s place as a go-to name in the category. Her much loved depictions of the world of internet fandom, and the kind of material adored by said communities, has garnered her a loud and proud fanbase.
Sana Amanat: Referred to as ‘Marvel’s Shonda Rhimes’, writer-editor Amanat’s name can be found on breakout fan favourites Miles Morales and the revived Captain Marvel. She also has the honour of being the co-creator, alongside G Willow Wilson, of Kamala Khan, Marvel’s first Muslim character to headline their own book. Ms Marvel’s arrival heralded much media attention as well as an instant fanbase (there was fan-art before a first issue). She’s since been promoted to director of content and character development at Marvel, making her one of the most powerful people in comics and ready to lead the charge to have the world of superheroes reflect the inclusiveness of the real world.
Judith Curr & Keywords Press: Curr, president of Simon & Schuster imprint Atria, could probably make this list on that merit alone, but she charts in this particular instance thanks to her spear-heading of Keywords Press, a new imprint designed to publish the work of online celebrities. YouTube has become a major player in entertainment over the past couple of years, with names such as PewDiePie, Zoella and Tyler Oakley as ubiquitous to today’s teenagers as any blockbuster star or pop-singer. It was inevitable that said individuals would cross over into traditional forums of pop culture, and they’re already making bank in publishing, with Zoe Sugg’s novels selling tens of thousands of copies, despite the ghost-writing scandal, and many others becoming best-sellers. Keywords aims to publish fast and get books onto the market where the talents’ established fan-bases will do much of the publicity work for them. So far the model has proven successful. Will it continue into 2016? Stay tuned to find out.
Paula Hawkins: It’s industry norm to attach a big name to a potentially big novel in the hopes that something will rub off on it and lead to big sales. It’s a notoriously unreliable model, yet it worked beyond expectations for Paula Hawkins’s The Girl on the Train, known to many in the early days of its release as ‘The next Gone Girl’. The psychological thriller debuted at the top spot on the New York Times best-seller list, remained there for 13 consecutive weeks and sold over 1 million copies in that time. With the film adaptation currently in production, it’s safe to bet Hawkins’s name will remain on the industry’s lips for many months to come.
Elena Ferrante, Ann Goldstein & Europa Editions: Last year the BBC lamented the shockingly low numbers of English language readers buying translated fiction, which they calculated to be as little as 2% of the market. While US & UK publishers remain dishearteningly blind to many translated works, one enigmatic Italian author has been dominating the field over the past year. Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan series, a four book saga documenting the lives of two childhood friends in working class Naples, have been rapturously reviewed and warmly received by readers who seldom try novels not originally published in English. While Ferrante remains a mystery to the world thanks to her refusal to court publicity, her English language translator Goldstein has seen much of the attention fall on her as a result. Her work with Europa Editions has brought a spotlight to the indie publishers searching out literary talent beyond our narrow borders and the work that goes into bringing them to the common reader.
Noelle Stevenson: Between her webcomic Nimona receiving a National Book Award nomination and the continuing success of Lumberjanes, it’s been one hell of a year for Stevenson. Her warm, witty and gleefully charming style has been making waves online for years, garnering praise and fans alike. The Hawkeye Initiative brought a piercing but no less hilarious critique of the comic industry’s sexism to the forefront while her Tumblr friendly work captured the essence of the site’s popularity as well as the particular strain of creativity that many young women latch onto with zeal. That female-centric focus has lost none of its potency in her traditionally published work, and with both projects receiving movie options and dominating awards shortlists, she’s sure to continue that success.
Jane Litte: Dear Author is a dominant force in romance publishing, standing as one of the most recognizable online names in the small but mighty sphere of bloggers, authors and industry names. However, the blog and its owner Jane Litte faced their biggest challenge over the past year after famed erotica publisher Ellora’s Cave sued for defamation thanks to a blog post documenting reports that several of their authors had not received royalty payments. The ensuing lawsuit saw issues of free speech and journalistic protections to bloggers brought to the forefront, while Ellora’s Cave saw its already tentative standing in the industry. The suit was settled in October, with the terms unknown to the public, but the case will forever stand as a chilling reminder of abuses of power. As for Ellora’s Cave? Let’s just say that the Streisand Effect is alive and well.
Daniel Jose Older: 2015 was a good year to be Older. His first novel, Half-Resurrection Blues was published at the beginning of January, with Anika Noni Rose’s production company buying the film and TV options by the end of the month, and his YA novel Shadowshaper received rapturous reviews. On top of that, he’s been one of the most vocal voices for much needed change in the industry, particularly related to its depressing lack of diversity. His recent comments on the racial insensitivity of the picture book A Fine Dessert perfectly encapsulated what many had struggled to say. Last year, he started a petition to change the World Fantasy Award statuette of HP Lovecraft’s face to something less racist, and last month it was announced that the award would be changed. The power and potency of Older’s words, actions and creativity should never be underestimated.
Debbie Reese: For close to a decade, American Indians In Children’s Literature has provided an invaluable resource to the world of publishing with its concise analyses and indispensable critical perspectives on the ways in which culture bastardises, appropriates and misrepresents indigenous peoples. Her work offers a fresh view on issues often ignored or overlooked, and has been a true eye-opener to readers often blinded by their own privilege (hi there). The industry needs more people like her, but for now the rest of us would do well to listen to Reese and amplify her words.