How I’m Changing the Literary Landscape—and Why

Editor and literary podcast host Zibby Owens explains how she went from idolizing authors to wanting more from the publishing industry.
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How I’m Changing the Literary Landscape—and Why

I’ve always thought of authors as true rock stars. As a kid, I would send them fan mail. Hearing their names would spark a sense of reverence in me. Judy Blume! Beverly Cleary! Madeleine L’Engle! As I got older, I would look at author photos, like of Judith Krantz and John Irving (I know, quite a range), on the back flaps, trying to see in their eyes just how they were able to create the immersive worlds into which they transported me. How did they do it? Who were these magicians conjuring up entire realities with the alphabet and taking me with them on their paragraph-filled broomsticks?

(Inspirational Writing Quotes from Famous Authors)

My respect for authors has only grown as I’ve become an adult, a mom of four, a booklover, and a literary podcast host. The questions I’ve always wondered—how did you come up with that idea!? Was that character inspired by your own family? How exactly did you pull this off? I can ask! And I do. Daily. Then the authors answer! Each podcast leaves me feeling energized. Electrified. Giddy.

And yet, despite my adulation, authors often drift through the world unknown, unrecognized. These modern-day masters can be sitting next to us at a restaurant or on a bus and we might not even know it, even if we’re holding their books in our hands.

As I’ve gotten to know authors and their worlds—and now that I’ve become one myself—I’ve seen opportunities to help. Holes in the literary landscape. Pathways not taken. And I’ve decided to act.

When I interview authors, I often want to hear more about them. Last year, I decided to start a literary website and commissioned original essays by authors from my podcast. It became a publication called We Found Time that I published during the pandemic. When I “closed” that “magazine” after a few months, I realized I’d compiled enough essays to make up an entire anthology, which was published in February. The best part was eliciting content from authors I loved: stories about their kids, their childhoods, their favorite books, their workouts, their sex lives (!), all written in their inimitable prose. From there, a second anthology was born.

But even an essay wasn’t enough for me for some authors. Several novelists, I thought, should write memoirs. Some friends should, too. Everyone I spoke to was a potential memoirist. Everyone had a story to tell that I wanted to read. I considered starting my own imprint, and then, my own publishing business. But that seemed like I was working backward, trying to do something similar to what was already being done. I wanted to do something different.

Given the many initiatives I was already launching and running, I realized starting my own publishing company would be a serious full-time job and would take a disproportionate amount of my time. An editor I’d worked with suggested I structure it as a fellowship since I’d already found four fabulous women to write memoirs and two editors to act as book coaches. I took that brilliant idea and rolled it out this spring, launching the Moms Don’t Have Time To annual fellowship. This way, I can still bring more stories into the world, but maybe the format won’t always be print. Maybe it will be an audiobook or a podcast. But I’m hoping to nudge untold stories out of gifted storytellers.

Moms Don't Have Time To: A Quarantine Anthology edited by Zibby Owens

Moms Don't Have Time To: A Quarantine Anthology edited by Zibby Owens

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After launching my own book, I realized just how much effort goes into being an author and publicizing a book. I decided to launch The Zibby Awards dedicated to the often-overlooked parts of a book and the team behind it. Categories include best spine design, best author newsletter, best dedication, best publicist, best sophomore novel, best author Instagram account, and other unique accolades. Being an author today requires far more talent than just writing. It’s a full-court press. Some authors do a great job and deserve praise, just like the costume designers and sound editors at the Oscars.

The literary industry needs some glamorizing, and the authors should be the stars. After all, they have the power to move us, bend our brains, tote us through time, and delight our senses just by what they write. There’s no trophy big enough for that. So why not celebrate in a fashion similar to the Golden Globes with fancy dresses, sponsors, and celebrity hosts?

I want to shake things up. I want faster turnaround times in publishing. An avid reader, I want to read or hear stories soon after they are written, not two years later after production pipelines plop them out. I want to learn more about the authors and follow their lives and journeys. I want to see them snapped in Us Weekly and recognized—that is, the ones who want to be. I want the age-old practice of storytelling through the written word to become the coolest, most on-trend endeavor today. I want to reimagine the format of books, the distribution, the printing, the praise.

I want to be the ultimate book messenger.

Want to join me?

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