When Hilary Thayer Hamann's novel, Anthropology of an American Girl, arrives in bookstores Tuesday, it will have the uncommon advantage of a built-in cult following. Ms. Hamann, who grew up in the Bronx and on Long Island, and worked for years as an editor and reporter for trade magazines, self-published the coming-of-age story in 2003. It was her first book. The decision to forgo the traditional publication route was based in part on the fact that she and her then-husband ran a printing company in SoHo. Using her business resources, Ms. Hamann printed galleys with elegant letterpress covers and mailed handwritten notes to reviewers, especially at college newspapers. Before long, Anthropology had found a loyal readership. It sold more than 5,000 copies, mostly to women who identified with the novel's artistic, sensitive heroine, and with the author's intimate examination of young adulthood. O Magazine compared it to The Catcher in the Rye. After years of living in the city, Ms. Hamann now makes her home in Sag Harbor, NY. A few days before her first novel was to be published for the second time—with an initial print run of 32,000—she spoke with the Wall Street Journal.
How did Anthropology come to be released by a large publisher seven years after you self-published the book?
Readers would find me, e-mail me, and I could see their blog remarks on-line. It occurred to me that maybe the book should have a second life, and I also wondered if I had been remiss in not having sent it out to begin with.
Was it hard to promote and sell a self-published work?
We had to have reviews in order to get bookstores to carry us in order to get a distributor to get the books into stores in order for reviewers to consider us for review! It was insane-making.
Why does the novel resonate with young women?
It's a substantial endeavor and takes being a woman in this culture very seriously. If I thought anything, I thought my book wasn't as "light" as other books for women. They look like pregnancy tests: you go to an airport and everything is light blue and pink.
How much of the heroine's story is your own?
I wouldn't say it's autobiographical but I attended the same schools, walked on the same streets. I think incorporated into my story are the stories of other women. I tried to make a constellation, not a single star.
The book is set partly in the Hamptons in 1979. What was the area like then?
There was a sense that nature was still unleashed—both the natural and the social. You could more frequently be overwhelmed by the environment. There seemed to be a lot more fog then. I keep saying to people, "Does development stop fog?"


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