Nathan Bransford, Author

Friday, March 7, 2008

This Week in Publishing 3/7/08

This Week in the Wonderful World of Publishing:

Remember last week when I talked about Word Count and talked about how some people in publishing think that short books are coming into style? This just in from AP Books Reporter Hillel Italie (via Publishers Lunch): short books (especially of the nonfictional varietal) are in style.

I often hear from agented authors who are wondering whether or how to break up with their agent. It's a serious matter and people always need to make their own decisions, and it's not something I tend to give advice on. It's really tricky to offer good advice since every situation is different, it's not my place to interfere with someone's working relationship with their agent, and it's so important to recognize the work agents are doing on your behalf. Luckily Jessica Faust at BookEnds just wrote a really really awesome post about this tricky subject, which offers some great general advice and poses some questions you should be asking yourself. Please check that out, she says it all perfectly.

Bestselling author Tess Gerritsen has a seriously awesome blog, and this week she discusses an author who is suing her publisher because of the cover they chose for her book against her wishes. As aspiring authors are often surprised to know, you have extremely little to no control over the cover publishers put on your book. In this case, because the cover in question features women of color, the author felt it marginalized the book and hurt sales (the author is African American, which either matters or doesn't depending on your perspective on the situation). I shant touch this one lest I get in hot water with any involved parties and get Dooced, but definitely check out Gerritsen's fascinating breakdown and her take on the situation to see what you think.

And finally, in the wake of the fake memoirs surfacing and the less-than-skeptical NY Times profile of Margarat B. Jones/Seltzer, according to Gawker the NY Times Standards editor Craig has put the ixnay on one-source profiles, writing in a memo "Until publishers start fact-checking their own nonfiction books, and that'll be the day, we should remember that profiles of unknown authors should always include reporting from other sources -- not just surrogates of the profilee like agents, publishers, lawyers, etc. -- to verifiy the most important facts." Huh. Funny that they should chide the publishing industry for not factchecking their books, because you know who else doesn't regularly employ factcheckers? Newspapers! Thank goodness no one has ever faked a newspaper article. That would be embarrassing.

Sheesh. Don't these people watch The Wire? And SPEAKING OF WHICH, last Wire EVER on Sunday! Goodbye to the greatest television show of all time.

Have a great weekend!


sex scenes at starbucks said...

As the old adage goes, I don't have enough time to write shorter books. :)

I generally do not enjoy shorter novels. I find I have trouble immersing myself in the fictional world. I'm also a fast reader, so they don't take enough time for me to get my money's worth. I don't really have an opinion on non-fic, though.

Ulysses said...

I'm tired of fantasy trilogies and quadralogies and pentalogies and. . .

I realize I may be excommunicated for that remark 8).

Diana said...

Wow. Tess Gerritsen's post really gives one a lot to think about, doesn't it?

Sophie W. said...

You realize that with The Wire ending, you have the perfect excuse... er... reason... to blog about endings in novels? And series?

Something like, "The Wire's ending was amazing and this is why."

I think you used The Wire to give writing advice before, actually.

Furious D said...

1. Maybe publishers should use the interest in "short" books to sell more short story magazines? But this might just be wishful thinking on the part of publishers looking to save money and time manufacturing the damn things.

2. I wrote a book about how to break up with an agent, but I can't find an agent to sell it. I think someone doesn't want this info getting out? ;)

3. Sometimes you do wonder about the logic behind some book covers. Especially the ones that have absolutely nothing to do with the books in question. My advice. Don't sue, that'll just make the publisher your enemy. Win over the cover designers with food and booze. It's called strategy.

4. Didn't the New York Times recently get in trouble for printing some questionably sourced stories? Pot, meet kettle.

5. I guess The Wire got cut. Do you know why it was cancelled? It didn't hire Cormac McCarthy!

John Arkwright said...

I do not see nearly as big a problem with faked biographies as the rest of the world does.

If the Blair Witch Project scared the heck out of you, then it was a good movie. By keeping the fact that it did not happen out of the publicity, the makers made a better movie. (caveat--I didn't see it).

Newspapers do not need to "call for" publishers to do more fact checking with bios. Publishers will do it automatically if it seriously affects the market for bios. If publishers see that they are losing lots of money on faked bios, they'll start checking.

Just as the NYT (potkettleblack, as Nathan and Wilco said) calls for honesty in bios, they were calling for stricter accounting reporting laws while Ken Lay of Enron was spending his life savings on legal defense and preparing for the perp walk. CEO's didn't need a more serious reminder to get the numbers right than Enron's meltdown and the subsequent imprisonment of their executives. Publishers don't need more of a reminder than marketplace discipline.

Precie said...

Not to contradict you, but I'd like to suggest that perhaps "Homicide: Life on the Street" was the greatest television show of all time, particularly the episode entitled "Every Mother's Son." Brilliant and heartwrenching.

Thanks for TWiP!

NaNoWriMo50,000Wordnovelist said...

I think it would be GREAT business to sell short novels. They would be fabulous for commuting and open a whole market for the novel as a stand alone!

Please, Nathan,let us know when that is all the rage!

NaNoWriMo50,000Wordnovelist said...

I meant novella

Anonymous said...

As an artist, I have to say, that I would have huge concerns over the kind of artwork used for a book I wrote, even if not my own work.

NaNoWriMo50,000Wordnovelist said...

Yes! I could see airport books and train books. Hour long books!
Books a Go-Go!

Anonymous said...

Re: the author whose cover was picked against her wishes.

No, I do not think it is okay for a publisher to depict a cover where the ethnicity of the characters do NOT match the actual people in the book.

To think that a novel filled with white chatacters should have black people depicted on the cover (and vice versa) is INSANE!

WHY would a publisher think that is okay? The cover is supposed to represent the novel, not the color of the author!

I'm a female. I write books with female main characters. Would I want some random male on my book cover? NO. Because it would be false advertising.

Ugh. Ugh. Ugh...

Allen B. Ogey said...

I can't resist commenting that, as a reader, I vastly prefer LONGER novels. If I'm going to invest my money in a book, and my time in reading it, I want it to last - I want to immerse myself in the world and swim around in it for a while.

I don't claim to be in the majority or represent a trend or anything like that, but how do the marketing mavens measure the number of times I'm browsing titles and don't even bother pulling out the skinny ones? When looking over the shelves my eyes gravitate to the fat ones every time.

Optimal length, for me, is Lonesome Dove. 363,000 words, per a quick search.

Aside: I tried to find the word count for The Kite Runner, but I got tired of wading through all the essays and term papers for sale that Google kicked out.

C.J. said...

'the wire' ending... short books coming into style... and now a white whale spotted near alaska... is the literary world prepared for this?!

xengab said...

Short books are ok. But I prefer a lovely long book that I know I can enjoy for awhile since I do read fast. I have several days off work this week for vacation and I brought only two library books home with me. First one was read the first day and so I have one book to last three days which MIGHT work if I only read an hour or two each day.. *sighs*
Short books do not even cover me when on a train/plane.

Though people do have short times to read these days so maybe that is why short books are doing better because they can actually finish it before they forget how the book started.

Anonymous said...

How about BOTH short books AND long books.
I mean really, shouldn't a story be as long or as short as it takes to tell it well?
I LOVE my long books and I would not part from my copy of The Old Man and the Sea.

BTW, don't know if it's true, but I heard that the publisher on that book CHANGED the characters to AA too. I hope that wasn't true too!
I mean how could a publisher have the right?
(Hope I heard wrong.)

Neptoon said...


Ummmm...isn't M.A.S.H the greatest TV show of all time?

And all things considered...rightfully so?


gwen said...

I'm not so sure that the short novel trend is as wide-reaching as it may seem. Right now, in YA lit, longer, stand-alone novels are huge, as are trilogies/series. For example, Libba Bray's final installment of the Gemma Doyle trilogy, The Sweet Far Thing, is 832 pages. Stephanie Meyer's Twilight saga includes books at 672 and 704 pages, respectively.

I do not mind short novels that are concise and to the point. If a novel is compelling, I do not mind if it is several hundred pages. The point at which I am irked as a reader is if a short novel does not cover all the ground that it could, or if a long novel falls into long, monotonous discussions of what the MC did to start the day. (Ie, MC woke up. MC stretched. MC went to shower. MC got dressed. MC went downstairs and ate a bowl of cheerios. MC looked outside; it was raining.)

I seriously have seen novels that tried to stretch themselves out like that - "sort of stretched, like butter stretched over too much bread". (Kudos to those who catch that quote.)

Adaora A. said...

The important thing to consider is whether the cover is TELLING to the story. I'm an African American woman - Nigerian American to be exact - and my main character is African American. I don't know the book specifically, but I know for mine (I hope it gets published), I would have every need for an African American young woman to appear on the cover. I think this whole thing about race on covers is a bit this and that. If it needs to be there it needs to be there. I'd like to think she wanted to tell a story, and wanted her story to be heard. I would hope she wasn't trying to just closely follow numbers. I'm not trying to criticize anyone, I'm just letting my opinion be known from the view point I present. :::Begs off:::

Nathan, I know you must be heart broken over THE WIRE ending. Buy some burbon, order in some good food , and have yourself a good.

Jackie said...

sorry, came out of my newly buried in a foot of snow slumbersome weekend, because I couldn't resist a few comments...

now, which President at the turn of the 19 th century was reported, by the newspapers, to have won the Election but did not? Hence, I am shocked, the news is wrong at times and not always the gospel truth...Orsen Wells, how many people believed that we were being invaded by Martians???
"The Who" said they were done to for quite a while (and I skipped a free concert to see them and it really was the last tour)

Somehow The Wire will be back, wether it is a newly titled show with a new cast, or part of the present cast signs on to another show. Chin up, the fat lady (me) has not sung yet (thank God for that :)

Kirsten said...

Thank you for the link re. agent relationships. I no longer feel I need to ditch my trusting nature when agent-shopping. I can also see why commenting on the dealings of fellow agents is dicey ground you'd rather avoid.

Re. novel length:
I totally don't care how long a story is as long as it's compelling and effective. I like (or dislike) everything from short stories to epic sagas, depending on how well they come across.

Re: the book cover
That is an interesting conundrum. I feel for the author there... I do think it was callous of the publishers to completely disregard her intentions for her book, and treat it simply as their product. The author has to promote the work, too (and herself as an author). Seems like it would have been easier to just work together.

jerzegurl said...

I can see why this is a trend.

People have less time to read, coupled with rising costs of printing books.

This may be good for novels, however a 200 page biography seems a bit off kilter.

What bothers me about books, TV etc. whenever something is a hit everyone tries to duplicate it, until you get tired of it.

It would be great to have a variety and more choices.

Anonymous said...

Love the holier than thou crap from the NYT, which recently published a sourceless hatchet job on John McCain that made everyone in America with a journalism degree cringe. Glad to see that the story was met with a collective yawn--not that I am any great fan of McCain's, but COME ON!

LindaBudz said...

I'll be wearing all black on Sunday.

Anon 6:23. So true. Thank you.

LindaBudz said...

Re: the author suing her publisher, I know of a YA author whose book was classified by the big sellers as an African-American book and placed on those shelves instead of the YA shelves. She had to fight to get it moved. (Fortunately her publisher was supportive and helped with that.)

I would never think to go over to the AA section of a bookstore to find a YA book just because the author is black. Yes, the characters in the book (most of them) were black, but it wasn't a book about race. I don't get why it was classified that way. It makes sense for a book that is about race, but otherwise....

Is my book going to be put in the German-American section of the bookstore once I'm published just because my heritage is mostly German? Or maybe the Irish-American section since my MC is Irish? Sheesh.

Jackie said...

Nathan, I am assuming that a "critique of your work", mentioned in a contract to sign, is that they are asking the status of where I am with my book? correct?

mlh said...

Hmm, interesting situation about suing a publisher. I realize that they should have gotten the okay on the touchy subject before doing the artwork. But I'm wondering if perhaps the folks at Penguin had believed that, because this author had already established the book in the general fiction section back when she had it self-published, then maybe they would push it in the African American genre to cover all their bases and produce more sales?

Julie Weathers said...

A few years ago a horsewoman wrote a book about a cutting horse trainer getting killed. The cover was a gaudy, horrific thing with a pair of yellow, red, blue, green boots with jeans tucked in the tops, sticking out from some brush.

She said in an interview she nearly vomited when she saw the cover art. "No self respecting horse trainer would be caught dead in those ugly boots. Well, I guess mine was."

The only way I would have been able to read the thing was if I tore the cover off.

In the end, it's part of the ride. We don't have much input on covers and just have to hope for mercy.

Wanda B. Ontheshelves said...
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Wanda B. Ontheshelves said...
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LindaBudz said...

Best. Series. Finale. Ever.

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