Nathan Bransford, Author

Friday, February 22, 2008

This Week in Publishing 2/22/08

This Week in Publishing is like a simile.

So it turns out that not only are there simile fans, but they are impassioned, like a great throng of warriors as deep as the day is longer than an old man's war story. Follow the carnage in the comments section of yesterday's post, including my prediction of a coming nuclear war over dangling modifiers. All I have to say is: know the rules before you break the rules. Also: don't get mad over similes.

Remember when Steve Jobs said no one reads anymore? Well, reader John Askins was the first to point me to Timothy Egan's NY Times blog post on reading, in which he points out that while disco is dead, reading is not. You know. What with the 400 million books sold last year and all. He also, hilariously, points out that HARRY POTTER and THE DA VINCI CODE both individually sold way more copies than Apple sold iPhones. Of course, I still want an iPhone. So I can read books on it. (honestly)

Reader Cameron Sullivan pointed me to an article from the Guardian assessing the self-publishing boom, which includes the bomblet that self-publishing company Lulu has doubled in size every year. They publish 4,000 titles every week. I think that calls for a "great googly moogly." Make that several great googly mooglys.

In similar but not entirely related news, the Espresso is coming! The Espresso is coming! Publishers Lunch linked to this article about Vermont-based Northshire Bookstore, which is the first independent bookstore to acquire an Epresso book printing machine thingamajig, which produces a finished book in just a few minutes (Maya Reynolds' take on the Espresso here and here). The machine will even print books from the bookstore's own imprint. Northshire General Manager Chris Morrow says, "I just feel that standing still is sure death." So be sure and hop up and down while waiting for your Espresso book to print.

And finally, last week I linked to news about Borders' new concept store. Want to know what said concept store is like? Well, Margaret Yang, aka Original Bran Fan, was brave and awesome enough to venture over to the Ann Arbor concept store and she files this report:

I remember twenty years ago when there was only one Borders store, period. I’ve enjoyed watching it evolve first into a bigger store in Ann Arbor, and then into a chain. So I was excited about this new “concept” store, especially when I found it was right in my own neighborhood. This store, according to press releases, emphasized the digital. Would it have a print-on-demand machine in the store? Would it have a smaller staff, forcing the patrons to type their questions into a computer? Would it have—as Nathan Bransford worried—a robot clerk with an electronic sneer when you downloaded a romance novel? The website, told me nothing. I had to go see for myself.

First impression: this looks like a bookstore. “What makes it different?” I asked a clerk.

Go to the travel section, and amid the travel books, you can find a computer hooked up to Expedia, so you can book a trip right in the store. Go to the music section, and amid the CD’s, you can find a station to download songs to your MP3 player for about a buck a song. Go to the cooking section, and you can download recipes. And somewhere in the store (although I did not see where) you can also download a book to your e-reader.

But I don’t want to go to a bookstore to do any of that stuff! Why would I? With a broadband connection, I can do all that and more from home, in my jammies.

What I want to do at a bookstore—amazingly enough—is buy books.

And what do you know? You can still do that here. This store is the prettiest Borders I’ve ever been in. The ceiling is high with good lighting, and the shelves are low, giving a view of the entire store and all the gorgeous books therein. Many, many books. As many as are in any average Borders store. I saw many human clerks around, some of whom actually knew how to find things in the store, and all with a sincere desire to help.

Plenty of books and decent service in an attractive setting. It’s not new.

But what a concept.

Have a great weekend!


Precie said...

How could anyone defend dangling modifiers? No, really, they're indefensible.

Margaret Yang said...

It seems like the Borders concept store should be the one with the Espresso POD machine, doesn't it? But when I asked a clerk about it, all I got was a blank look.

Ulysses said...

Self-published books are [simile alert] like dandelions. [generalization alert] They're pretty, but they're not good. There are so many of them. More every day. So many more that I worry they're going to take over the turf that ought to be occupied by traditionally published (read: chosen, edited and printed by people with standards) books.

But then I remember that these books are self-published. The only people who really want them are the authors. Even most family members only buy them to avoid feeling guilty.

I remember that, sigh my relief, then go browse in a bookstore when I should be mowing my lawn.

Ulysses said...

Having read the bit about dangling modifiers, the war began.

liquidambar said...

Attack dangling modifiers all you want, but don't go after my split infinitives. Or my sentence fragments.

The only thing I really want in a bookstore, apart from books, is a place to sit down and read. Oh, and room for author visits and book clubs. And stepstools or ladders to reach those books they insist on shelving 8 feet off the ground.

Redzilla said...

I can't help but suspect that "concept bookstore" is on par with "concept album." Not destined for wide acclaim or success.

I've actually seen an Espresso print machine at work. It can do a book in less time than it takes me to get an actual espresso at my local sleepy, slacker coffee shop.

Laurel Amberdine said...

Does the iPhone have a useful reading app? I don't want an iPhone because I, well, don't actually like talking to anyone... but I would love to use an iPod Touch for reading.

Every time I try to look up features on the Apple site I am overwhelmed with the shiny tech loveliness of it all, completely forget what I was trying to find out, and start reaching for my credit card. Darnit.

Anonymous said...

I take issue with "great googly moogly." Isn't the plural "great googly moogLIES?" I prefer "great sassy molassy" myself.

Anonymous said...

Oh No!

It's the Great Googly Moogly Wars!

Everybody Duck!

Scott said...

Proof that Nathan's not totally anti-simile:

One of the recent contest finalists had three in the first paragraph. I think they contributed to the atmosphere he lauded, although if I were her editor I might have suggested dropping at least one of them.

But what do do I know?

J M Peltier said...

Since no one else noted it:

Did you see that the simile war overflowed on to Evil Editor's blog?

Heidi the Hick said...

Know what kind of bookstores I like best?

It's stuffed into an old building. (1800s)

It's got ratty old carpet on the floor. The shelves are actual wood (possibly recycled) and there are plants in the front windows alongside the featured books. There are a few odds and ends in the display beside the book, presenting a theme.

There are big ol comfy chairs, like a living room, not like a showroom.

There might be a couple of well read cats.

The employee(s) have read darn near everything and if they haven't they know what it's about.

You'd think it'd be dusty but it's nice and clean.

It's not in a big box mall.

They don't always have what you want but they'll get it for you. They'll bend over backwards for you. And you can linger in that store as long as you want.


A bookstore like that is like a... um... a cool breeze of rainbow on a grey day... or something....

Southern Writer said...

Heidi, that would be Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi. That one tiny college town (Ole Miss) supports three bookstores -- Square Books (with a veranda for reading!), Square Used Books (with a resident cat, and nearly daily author readings), and Square Books, Jr., the children's store. They're (simile alert) like sweet tea in August.

Ulysses said...

Anonymous @ 1:39 said "Everybody Duck!"

That's blatant anti-Anatidaeism, and neither Donald nor Daffy would stand for it.

Are the POD machines like Espresso going to catch on, d'you think?

I hope not too much, although they may be a useful adjunct to the traditional bookstore.

On the one hand, I hate getting enthusiastic about a book (eg: Coyote Frontier by Allen Steele) and then not being able to find it in stock anywhere. The Espresso would solve that problem.

On the other hand, I like bookstores. You can browse in a bookstore in ways you simply can't using a book database: taking in dozens of covers and titles and authors names in one glance. You can open the books, leaf through them, heft them, smell them, rub them against your thigh. . . (okay, that's going a bit too far). I have dozens of books that I bought because they caught the corner of my eye when I was looking at something else. I would never have found them if I'd had to hunt through Amazon's web pages or a computerized list (mostly because I didn't know I was looking for them until I found them).

Adaora A. said...

It's not the first time so called 'experts' have found themselves way off the mark.

I want an iphone! Kelly Rippa was explaining how you can do anything with a touch of one button. I'm still adamant that I would not read books on my iphone. I'd listen to music - as I do with my mobile/mp3 - anf I'd look at the weather in my area and world wide, I'd do all of those things. I just prefer having a book in my hands. I feel excited running my hands over the pages and bulding up my library of books.

Anonymous said...


And I thought no one would ever understand me!!!!

Holding my heart ever so dearly and swaying in the wind...


heavy sigh...

Furious D said...

1. The similoids were angry like a herd of rhinos with collective hemorrhoids. (It's an awful simile, but I did coin a new word for simile fans)

2. Since I spent most of the past 2 days sorting my bookshelves, I've realized that I own a good chunk of those 400 million books.

3. I'd say that the company's growth is a real lulu. (I'm going to burn for that one)

4. I like that as a way to get books that are out of print, or unavailable, but still on the company database. They should also make you able to assemble short story collections of your favourite authors, like buying songs for an iPod and then putting them together in a book.

5. It looks like Borders got so wrapped up in the concept of 'multi-tasking' that they forgot their original task: SELL BOOKS!

I think they'd be better off with snooty robot clerks.

Will Entrekin said...

Heh. I love proving Steve Jobs wrong. He keeps saying nobody reads anymore, but my debut collection showed up on the device the week after it came out. So yes, Lauren, you can use the iPhone (as well as the iPod touch) as an e-book reader; they do display pdfs natively. (I've heard some people have to download the .pdfs first, then e-mail them to themselves to open them) Also, the screens allow for zooming, to make fonts bigger.

I'll not tackle Ulysses' generalization about self-published books and their authors, mainly because I never really look at it that way. The people who've read my book (of whom there are more than I had expected, which is nice) tend to like it, and that's awesome by me.

I like the idea of the Espresso machine's becoming as easy to install as a STAR ATM, and having one at every Wawa (or, in this, B&N/Borders). Or multiple machines, even. A kiosk. Which might drastically reduce the need for so much shelf-space. Unlike Nathan, I'll admit I don't go to B&N to buy books; I do that in my jammies, too (I do just about everything in my jammies. Except when I teach my classes).

@Heidi: know what bookstores I like best? The ones who sell me my books cheapest via Amazon.

mlh said...


Sorry, everyone. It's just so frustrating that I read an article about Lulu in my local newspaper and now I can't find it in the archives on their website so I could link to it. I'm just glad I copied the article because it was so weird how much it seemed to want to push new writers toward getting their novels self-published.

Basically, it praises the new digital age of the on-demand publishers Lulu, Blurb, and Createspace(which is a subsidary of Amazon). It cites that Lulu has had 236,000 paperbacks published since it opened in 2002 and that in the month of November it hit 14,745 books. Then it lists the costs of publishing for each company and how much revenue it takes from the author. (Createspace takes a whopping base cost of 20% of additional revenue from sales on the author's site and 30% on

Anyway, I'll keeping searching for the article so I can link everyone to it.

Carol Burge said...

Sounds like a great Borders store. I'll have to check it out, as it's in my neck of the woods. :)

gerriwritinglog said...

I think that the Lulu numbers are deceptive. Lulu is not so much self-publishing as just a printing company. I know several people who use Lulu just to print a couple copies of their books for themselves to revise because it is easier for them to work from that kind of copy. I know others who use Lulu to print off copies of their books for family and friends.

How many copies of those 4000 titles are printed every week? Numbers are deceiving. Without proper perspective, it's hard to really judge Lulu's impact. How many people turn to Lulu instead of going down to their local copy shop for printing? How many people have abandoned local print shops for Lulu? I don't think there's any way to really tell. And without more information, I'm not convinced that the great googly moogly needs to come out of the box.

Mssr.Jay said...

Fun fact: Lulu published 4,000 books this week. 3,999 were total rubbish.

Self-publishing is the last resort for the otherwise unpublishable, I'd say. I've seen several self-published books. They've all been pretty bad. Even on a purely objective level, like spelling and word choice, it's ugly. When one starts getting into actual story construction, character portrayal, all that, it's downright atrocious.

Dr. Dume said...

I agree with Gerriwritinglog. I've used Lulu to print off nearly-done drafts. It's easier to work on them that way. The books are not available to the public so it doesn't count as 'published' and they're deleted once my copy arrives. I don't want it available through Lulu, I want it sold. I suppose those drafts I get printed and 'sell' to myself count in Lulu's figures?

I can't stare at a screen all day. My eyes are far to old for that and the rest of me isn't much younger. The relative cost of printer paper and toner against getting Lulu to print a bound copy where I can't get the pages all mixed up meant the Lulu option was a good one.

I dumped the first chapter of this latest draft and changed loads more. Maybe one day these one-off copies of 'out-takes' will be worth a fortune. You never know. If not, the paper is soft enough for other uses...

Anonymous said...

"It cites that Lulu has had 236,000 paperbacks"

I think that's a little scary. Lulu reminds me a little of Barrack Obama. Too many promises and not enough reality.

Polenth said...

ulysses wrote:
Self-published books are [simile alert] like dandelions. [generalization alert] They're pretty, but they're not good.

Actually, dandelions are good eating. I wouldn't say the same for POD books. Not that I've tried cooking up a POD book, but I doubt they taste much different to normal paper.

Ulysses said...

Anonymous@5:57: You're frightening me awfully. . . but, y'know. . . in a good way.

Will Entrekin: It was indeed a generalization. I firmly believe good books are self-published every day. However, as a reader coming into Lulu's 4000 title/week inventory cold, without any author connections, I doubt my ability to find one.

Polenth: Have you tried eating a cookbook?

Anonymous said...

hey, did you catch this manifesto on short story publishing? what do you make of it, is it really that bad these days?

Polenth said...

Polenth: Have you tried eating a cookbook?

No. I only tend to try books when 1) I'm desperate for food and I don't have anything else, and 2) It's a book that I won't need later.

Most cookbooks are in places with lots of alternative food and I might need the book later. In general, I don't recommend eating books. They're too chewy and have a strange aftertaste. Give me a dandelion any day.

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