The publishing industry is cut-throat; that’s no secret. However, it is also wrought with cultural appropriation, high barriers to entry, and gatekeeping that make it even harder for minority authors to have their stories published. In her new novel Yellowface, R.F. Kuang points out the pitfalls and problems within the publishing world with razor-sharp and biting satire. Everything about the novel is meant to make readers uncomfortable, from the book cover to the main character, as Kuang grapples with racism, diversity, and alienation.
She’s not the first to give readers a peek behind the publishing curtain though. As readers and writers ourselves, we are kind of obsessed with main characters who are authors or work in the publishing industry. So we rounded up a few of our favorites!
Yellowface by R.F. Kuang
When June Hayward’s literary competition, Athena Liu, dies in a freak accident she steals her unfinished manuscript. Athena was a literary darling, while June is a struggling writer who thinks no one will read her stories. She submits Athena’s just-finished masterpiece about the contributions of Chinese laborers during World War I to her agent as her own. Letting her new publisher rebrand her as Juniper Song, she justifies this with: Doesn’t the story deserve to be told no matter who the author is? But she can’t escape Athena’s legacy, and evidence starts to surface and threaten the success June stole. She’ll do anything to keep what she thinks she deserves.
I’m Not Done with You Yet by Jesse Q. Sutanto
Jane hasn’t seen her best friend Thalia since that one bloody night at Oxford. Now she’s existing as a midlist author, unhappy and buried in debt. She needs Thalia, but she disappeared without a trace until Jane spots her name on the New York Times bestseller list. Now Jane is determined to reunite and this time, she won’t let Thalia get away.
Writers & Lovers by Lily King
Casey Peabody is holding on to something all of her friends have let go of— the determination to live a creative life. Writers & Lovers follows Casey after the sudden death of her mother and the end of a messy love affair. Now, spending the summer in Massachusetts, she works in a moldy room on the novel she’s been writing for six years. But when she falls for two different men, her world becomes more complicated. Lily King writes about the last days of youth and the struggle to keep creativity and ambitions alive in this smart and vulnerable novel.
Seven Days in June by Tia Williams
Best-selling authors Eva Mercy and Shane Hall appear to meet for the first time at a literary event. But 15 years ago, they spent a week madly in love. Now reunited, they discover that they’ve been secretly writing to each other throughout their books. Over the next seven days, they reconnect, and the questions they’ve kept to themselves for years are finally answered. Seven Days in June is a fun and steamy romance that also offers sharp observations about creative life in America.
Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell
A young boy dies, his family ravaged with grief, but his name lives on in one of the most celebrated plays. Agnes is a wild woman with a talent for healing and potions. When she marries her husband, a young play write, she becomes a fiercely protective mother to his son Hamnet. But, when Hamnet dies from a sudden fever, the two are thrown into overwhelming loss. Maggie O’Farrell paints a beautiful portrait of a marriage and how writing and creativity can give grief an outlet.
Beach Read by Emily Henry
At its core, Beach Read is a book about writer’s block. Two writers, January Andrews, and Augustus Everett, are former college rivals who find themselves in neighboring cabins on the shores of Lake Michigan. Both are trying to write their next novel, but neither is having any luck. That is until they make a bet. January, who usually writes romance, will try and come up with a groundbreaking literary novel, and Gus, who was working on a book about a death cult, will try to write a happy ending. In this funny and honest romcom, Emily Henry captures the torment of losing a creative spark and the frustration of having books listed as “Women’s Fiction” just because the author herself is a woman.
The Bestseller by Olivia Goldsmith
This scathing and scornful portrait of the publishing industry was published nearly 30 years ago. It’s the story of five authors, five novels, and one publisher. They all want to be the next bestseller, but it can only be a reality for one of them. Readers will have the sense that Olivia Goldsmith knows where the bodies are buried in publishing and ask: Has anything changed?
Less by Andrew Sean Greer
Arthur Less is a failed novelist about to turn 50. He receives a wedding invitation from his ex-boyfriend of nine years who’s about to marry someone else. He doesn’t want to reply yes or no; he wants to skip town. So instead, he replies to the invitations to literary events all around the world that are piled up on his desk. From Paris to the Sahara desert, he faces mishaps, missteps, misunderstandings, and mistakes. While also confronting his first and last love.
Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney
Alice is a novelist, Felix works in a warehouse, they met on a dating app. Eileen is Alice’s best friend who is just getting over a break up and has started flirting with Simon again, a man she has known and loved since she was a kid. Alice and Felix wind up in Rome after days of knowing each other. While, Eileen and Simon start a new rocky relationship in Dublin. They are all young—but not so young, and life is starting to catch up with them. In this sharp and poignant novel, Sally Rooney talks about class, friendships, and the ever-darkening state of the world and how to find the beauty in it.
The Roughest Draft by Emily Wibberley and Austin Siegemund-Broka
Art imitates life. Authors Emily and Austen are a real-life couple who wrote a romance about Katrina and Nathan, who are also best-selling authors. But, at the height of their careers, they have a falling out and are no longer speaking to each other. Still, the literary world has its demands, and the two are forced to write one last book together. Stuck in a small town, they confront their feelings, failures, and a possible future.
The Dead Romantics by Ashley Poston
Florence Day is a ghostwriter who can see ghosts. She’s also a romance writer who no longer believes in love. After putting off her latest book for months, unable to write meet cutes and happy endings, her new editor won’t give her an extension. She’s at a low, thinking she will have to give up her career, when she gets a late-night phone call telling her her father has died. When she returns to her Southern hometown for the first time in a decade to bury her father, she’s greeted by a ghost. It’s not her late father but her new editor. As she works to figure out what unfinished business he left behind, she starts to question everything she knew about love stories.