Published November 28, 2015
To get the most obvious question out of the way, you need to write. You can write in any language in the world, but if you want to take part in Icelandic literary society, it helps to have translations into Icelandic, or at least English. What type of literature you write is not as important as it perhaps was in the last few decades of the last century, when realist fiction and poetry were completely dominant. In recent years, writers have debuted with anything from excerpts from their teenage diaries to science fiction novels. The important part is to write and then share your writing in some way.
I have written! Where do I share my writing?
There are many places. Online you can make a blog, post on Facebook or send something to a webzine. In the physical world it is a bit trickier. There are two literary magazines you can send Icelandic language poetry, essays and fiction to, the quarterly Tímarit Máls og menningar and the biannual Stína. But the most fun way to share your writing is to take part in a reading. If none of your friends are organizing a reading, do it yourself and ask other writers to join you. Plenty of bars and cafés in Reykjavík are more than happy to host events like that.
But I’m a recluse who’s afraid of public speaking and have neither friends nor an internet connection…
In which case you better print out your writing and mail it to a publisher. Due to the tininess of Icelandic society, there are no agents. Writers generally deal with their publishers themselves. After you have sent your manuscript to a publisher you will generally have to wait a few months for an answer. If you get rejected, send your manuscript somewhere else and start writing a new one. If you do get accepted, then a long process of editing and rewriting will take place, and at the end of it you will have a book published. There are some publishers that are open to publishing books in languages other than Icelandic, but most do not.
I want my book out now! The world can’t wait for my genius!
If you are fine with an ebook, then you can publish your manuscript online. Otherwise you take your manuscript to a printing press and pay them to print it. You will probably have to hire a designer to take care of the layout and cover, if you do not know how to do those things yourself. The same goes for proofreading and editing. This will all cost a considerable sum of money. But in the end you will have a book, which you can sell in bookstores and deposit to the National Library. And generally, if it is a good book, Icelanders do not look down on writers who self-publish. In fact, Gyrðir Elíasson, Sjón and Einar Már Guðmundsson—the last three Icelandic writers to have won the Nordic Council Literature Prize (the biggest prize Icelandic-language books can receive)—all started out by self-publishing. So if you have no patience for regular publishing, go for it.
OMG! Bookflood Is Coming
Icelandic winter really, really sucks. It’s dark almost all the time, and the streets are icy and beset by freezing winds and snow. The mood of Reykjavík’s denizens noticeably changes at this time of year, with many people suffering sleep disorders or SAD, and generally withdrawing back into domestic life. It’s a time of lining the home nest, cooking hot stews and soups, turning up the heating, perhaps shying away from more social events than usual, and generally strapping in for the long, dark months ahead.
So What’s This Christmas Book Flood I Keep Hearing About?
If you have read any guidebooks about Iceland, you will have read about the Christmas book flood, or jólabókaflóðið, which refers to the fact that a majority of Icelandic books are published in the run-up to the holiday season. It is in the ‘top five’ on any travel writer’s list of Factoids about Iceland, along with “Icelanders believe in Elves,” “regular people can read medieval manuscripts,” “the prime minister’s home phone number is in the phonebook…”