Nathan Bransford, Author

Friday, April 4, 2008

This Week In Publishing 4/4/08

This Week in Publishing

Some big news afoot in the land of publishing, as Hyperion founding publisher Bob Miller is embarking on a project that is so futuristic and groundbreaking it just may involve flying cars and robot vacuum cleaners. Miller is moving over to HarperCollins to launch a publishing group that will involve a profit-sharing model for compensating authors rather than the advance/royalties model, and will attempt to find new avenues for books in electronic media. Early reports suggested that they would try to end the bookstore returns policy, but according to Publishers Lunch, this has been slightly exaggerated. Nevertheless, this is a venture that will be closely watched within the industry, and I think I speak for a lot of people in publishing when I tap my fingetertips together and say "Innnnnnnnnteresting."

Meanwhile, in other publishing-industry-confronting-the-future news, in the wake of Amazon's decision to pressure POD publishers to use Amazon's Booksurge program, Maya Reynolds has a must-read post that analyzes the potential effects of Amazon's increasing vertical integration, and how this might affect the industry in the future. The conclusion? Mainstream publishers' monopoly on production and distribution channels is eroding, and it's going to have some profound effects on the industry. GalleyCat also assessed Amazon's move.

And speaking of change and GalleyCat, they have blessedly switched to (almost) full RSS feeds, and they have also signed up former Gawker editor Emily Gould. One of her first orders of business was to dissect the contents of Spencer and Heidi's bookshelf. GalleyCat, are you trying to blow my mind? Because it's working.

Also, if you think I didn't press pause on the DVR while I was watching the Hills this past week to check out their bookshelf, well, you're crazy.

Have a great weekend!


Jenny said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nathan Bransford said...


Interesting points. As always, the devil (or angel) is in the details. And this is why, again, agents aren't going anywhere anytime soon.

Jenny said...


I reposted the post you just replied to eliminate the typo.

Moving to a "profit sharing mode" sounds like a fancy way of saying, "We are going to stop paying advances"

We all know that with the current system many authors get advances that never earn out.

In addition, since profit sharing only occurs after profits are booked, this delays the payment of authors even more than does the current royalty system.

It's very bad news for authors if this system ever gets traction, which it very well might. There is no reason for publishers to give midlist authors advances anymore. They don't have to. The authors are thrilled just to get published. And the newbies have no idea how tiny their profits might be.


And yes, the devil is in the details. And the day when a publisher's details favor the is the day I'll eat my royalty statement.

Jenny said...

What is with my messages today. The second one is missing a word!

And yes, the devil is in the details. And the day when a publisher's details favor the author is the day I'll eat my royalty statement.

Other Lisa said...

As someone who works in the entertainment industry, the idea that "net profits" would be split I find just a tad alarming.

In the movies, we call net profits "monkey points." Given the creativity of studio accounting, it's entirely possible for a movie to make big, big box office and never show a profit, regardless of how much money it actually made for the participants.

Lane said...

Ok, completely unrelated question time:

Music factors heavily into my writing, so much so that in the manuscript I'm working on now, I use peices of the lyrics to certain songs at the beginning or the end of chapters as a foreshadowing tool or to say things the main character isn't saying/doesnt realize. I always say what song the lyrics are from, but I wonder if this is even legal? Will I have to take them out at some point?

I know Hunter S. Thompson did it a little in Fear and Loathing, but then again i don't write for Rolling Stone

Anonymous said...

Good TWIP this week, Nathan.

Janet said...

Lane, you have to get permission from the copyright holders for each and every snippet. Many of them will demand payment. And you are expected to do it BEFORE you submit to an agent.

Anonymous said...

I think Janet's comment is correct if you're quoting the lyrics themselves (don't know about BEFORE submitting to an agent though--I would think it's part of the agent's job to look into whether or not it's worth it to secure those rights, I mean, that's why you have an agent, right--to handle the business--), but definitely before publication it has to be done.

However, if you say something like, "Jimmy Buffet's 'Margartiville' was playing in the background as she entered the beach bar," I'm not so sure rights are required.

Anonymous said...

Just curious - Bill and HIllary just made their taxes public and they report a combined $29 million from their two memoirs.

Does anybody know, is that a typical take on a best-seller? I know they both got huge advances.

Lia said...

Details, that is what was lacking from the announcement. But did I really expect them.

No. But, I expect that they are still working out many of the details.

Profits are like statistics, anyone decent at math or a good spreadsheet can make them say anything they want.

Lately, I particularly hate the words profit sharing. My mother's employer told them all that instead of offering a 401K or such (it was a small, family owned company) they offered profit sharing for retirement benefits. So in Feburary when they closed their doors, my mother received a check for a little over $3000 after taxes for 12 years of loyal service.

Nathan Bransford said...


No, that is not typical.

Maya Reynolds said...

Thanks, as always, Nathan, for the shout out.

For readers and writers who want to protest Amazon's move, there is an online petition (You'll need to cut and paste):

iPetitions will ask for a donation, but you don't need to pay anything. I didn't.

Amazon's Board meets later this month. Customer activism is one of the few things that might make them think twice about taking this action that WILL harm smaller publishers and e-presses.

Sera Phyn said...

I saw the link to that article in another blog today (can't for the life of me remember which one, though... it's been a research day) and I thought it was interesting, too. It's a little worrying for smaller and mid-list authors because so many of them barely break even on profits, but that may be because I understand very little about the actual logistics of what they're proposing.

It's definitely something to watch.

Anonymous said...

So, uh, Spencer and Heidi know how to read?

Haha, sorry. Cheap shot.

Anonymous said...

How likely are retailers to buy books if they know they can't return them?

Adaora A. said...

Gawker Stalker? Holy cow!

Damn. The devils are inside the walls aren't they? It is becoming more of a pressing need to be agented to navigate the waters. People up there on shore are making things so complicated and we need people who can explain it to us and get us the best that we can possibly recieve.

JR Tomlin said...

This is a question rather than a comment.

A few days ago, I was the recipient of a stern lecture from an editor I know explaining that I was a bad an evil person having commented that I made submissions in Times New Roman. It was explained to me, at length, that this was far worse that slapping my mother or kicking puppies.

Now I assume that you want the normal double spaced, inch margin with a cover sheet manuscript. But will agents execute us if we submit in TNR?



Furious D said...

1. All the books at this new publisher will be written by robots wearing jet-packs.

2. Amazon should realize that attempts at monopolizing any segment of the market is a sign of weakness or lack of confidence. Rivals are smelling blood in the water and it's only a matter of time before something happens.

3. I can do better than that. The covers are all fake, I know the real books that lie underneath.

-Faking Reality TV For Dummies
-The entire Sweet Valley High series
-The South Beach Diet
-The Complete Marmaduke
-The Malibu Diet
-The Closing of the American Mind
-The Albuquerque Diet
-The Cormac McCarthy Joke Book
-Barf Yourself Thin
-No Talent, No Problem
-I'm Okay, You're Fat.

Anonymous said...

Miller and Amazon seem to be working towards the same goal. Amazon is working hard to eliminate the competition and make themselves the only viable POD option. Miller is removing the expense and liability of a traditional publishing house and replacing it with a 'middle-man' service that, ultimately, is completely unnecessary. Miller's not promising to do anything for authors that they can't do for themselves... except offering to take their rights and half their profits.

Ultimately, I think it spells the end of traditional publishing houses. Music labels have been clinging to the edge of this cliff for a few years now. Seeing publishers approaching that ledge is more troubling, to me at least.

The one comforting thought I have is that people will always want to browse a real bookstore and hold real books; there will always be a few around. But everything between the word processor and the store is going to change.

In this business the publisher, the studio, the actor, the newspaper, etc... everyone makes money off of writers who rarely get paid well at all. Real opportunities are there for the right people. Could the next Grisham or King be POD authors?

Anonymous said...

I agree with the anon post above. The traditional publishing system is slowly but inevitably on the decline, as with the music record labels. That's not to say there won't be books for sale in stores and online, just that the business models behind them will be different. There are just too many middlemen, and with the technoloy and the lean economy, the fat will be trimmed. The demand for good entertainment will always be there, but it appears as though the old agent-publisher-bookstore system is on the way out, as no-frills publishers who deal directly with authors set up high-speed pipes to the web and bricks & mortar.

Phantom Menace said...

I named my dog Amazon, now I call him Killer.

It's no longer science fiction to envision [all] bookstores as POD's. If we've learned anything since Bill Gates and Steve Jobs emerged from the garage, technology will not be denied.

Wal-Mart must be jumping for joy; flick a switch, take over the book business.

That's the thing about life, everything changes. It's no longer "writers write," but; "writers, adapt."

Anonymous said...

So what do you think about the future of the small publisher?

I, personally, think some very exciting books are coming from unique small publishing houses. I hear a few of them are growing up nicely.

But really, I would love to hear an insider's opinion.

JR Tomlin said...

Related to the Amazon news is this headline from Publisher's Weekly:

On Demand Books Signs Agreement with Lightning Source

(I personally read that as, "Sc*** you, Amazon" but that's me)

Seth Ward said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Seth Ward said...

Nathan, I actually got all caught up in the moment and forgot to ask you...

"IIIIIIIIInteresting" - Am I wrong in assuming that that would suck for you guys as well. Is this a correct assessment, or am I just being doomsday whiny-crybaby?

Lane said...

Thank you Janet and Anon for your answers, though i hope Anon is right because thats exactly what I do, i always make sure to reference which song it is, mostly for the reader so they can look it up later.

Phantom Menace ll said...

Returns, the bane of publishers: POD, problem solved. Kinda.

Advances, money out the window; stop paying, problem solved. Kinda.

Into the vacuum, Wal-Mart, Costco, Sam's Club. POD.

The decline in readership (books); mundane selection. POD, problem solved? Very unlikely.

Learning curve; climbing up El Capitan. (pretty steep)

Hemingway: Don't quit your day job.

bookboy said...

Nathan, I have a question for you about this week's rumbling in literary lalaland. Thought of it while reading through the comments on this thread on lrod.

The comments about agents seemed right to me. Who out there is conscientiously and openly trying to be the next Binky, anyone? Is there anyone seriously trying to make a list that outdoes Andrew Wylie's??

Ulysses said...

Anon@11:10, Apr 4 & 1:11, Apr 5:

Sorry, I take issue with your assertion that "traditional" (ie: editor-publisher-marketer-salesman) publishers are on the way out. Evidence please? Until I see numbers from reputable sources (I don't have access to Nielsen Bookscan myself), I side with Mark Twain on this.

Of course, everyone's trying to trim expenses. POD may well be one way to do that. Great.

"Miller's not promising to do anything for authors that they can't do for themselves..." Interesting. But publishers don't work for authors. They work for readers (you know, the ones who pay?): they find good writers and pay those writers to stories for which readers will open their wallets.

"There are just too many middlemen." Maybe, maybe not. As a reader, I want SOMEONE (ie: agents and editors) to be between me and the writer to assure me that I haven't just paid cash for bad spelling and and a hack plot in a glossy cover. I want to know that someone (other than the author) has loved this work enough to push it through the papermill. I'd also like someone (ie: marketers) to make sure I hear about a great book.

"The demand for good entertainment will always be there." Oh, I agree with that. "But it appears as though the old agent-publisher-bookstore system is on the way out, as no-frills publishers who deal directly with authors set up high-speed pipes to the web and bricks & mortar." Great. The books end up in bricks and mortar.

I don't want my book on the shelves, real or virtual. I want it in reader's hands. Lots of readers. They're the goal. If POD can't get me any further than the shelves, then I want no part of it.

Wanda B. Ontheshelves said...

Take the Long View

I just started reading "The Interesting Narrative" by Olaudah Equiano, a Penguin Classic from late 1700s. In the intro it says:

"Equiano published his book by subscription, that is, by convincing buyers to commit themselves to purchasing copies of his book prior to its publication, usually requiring at least partial payment in advance to cover living and production costs [...] Every edition of Equiano's Narrative added more subscribers, whose names were listed in the front of the book. By the ninth edition (1794), the original 321 subscribers had increased to 804, with lists of English, Irish and Scottish buyers..."

Everything old is new again...I wonder how this would work on Kindle device?


After Equiano "managed to save enough money to buy his own freedom in 1766," he "set off on voyages of commerce and adventure," including to the North Pole. I wish someone would make a movie about him - Equiano's Narrative precedes Frederick Douglass's by about 50 years. Hmm, wonder what the publication history is on Douglass's Narrative...

Anonymous said...

That is interesting, Wanda!

EB said...

Wow the Harper Collins deal is bad news for both authors and agents. Like another poster wrote, these are monkey points and innovative accounting can reduce those points to nothing.

With the advance system the publisher assumes the risk because they hold the purse strings on marketing, copies, and printing expense. This new system divides the risk between author and publisher, however, the publisher still gets to use their accounting numbers and spend what they will.

Agents will also be at the mercy of the publisher's accountants. No longer will an agent get paid for finding talent, they will get a piece of the monkey points left after the publisher takes out their "costs".

Welcome to the Feudal System.

Wanda B. Ontheshelves said...

"Who's Zoomin' Who" (Aretha Franklin)

This doesn't sound so bad, does it?

"By the end of its first theatrical run, Star Wars was the most successful film in North American history with a gross in excess of $ 307.2 million. Lucas' cut from the box office was more than $ 50 million. Alec Guinness (Obi-Wan Kenobi) negotiated for 2.5% of net profits, which eventually earned the actor over $ 6 million.

When Lucas negotiated his deal with Fox to make Star Wars, the studio was shocked to learn that the red hot director was not asking for a lot of money. Instead, Lucas wanted control. He wanted to have the right to the final cut of the film, 40% of the net box-office gross, all rights to future sequels and ownership of all the merchandising rights associated with Star Wars. In the 1970's, science fiction films were not very profitable. Hence, Fox thought they were ripping Lucas off. Sequel and merchandise rights to science fiction films were worthless at the time. In the end, this deal would eventually make Lucas a multi billionaire and cost Fox an untold fortune in lost revenues. Lucas revealed he wanted control over Star Wars in order to keep the movie studio from ruining Star Wars, not because Lucas was trying to make the best movie deal in Hollywood history."

Wanda B. Ontheshelves said...

And check this out:

"Harris Drops Out Of Potter
18 September 2000 (StudioBriefing)
Richard Harris, who had been cast as Professor Dumbledore, the headmaster of Harry Potter's school, has rejected the terms of the contract offered by producers, the British magazine OK reported on Saturday. The magazine said that while Harris had been offered "a substantial salary" to play the character, he had held out for a deal like the one Alec Guinness received for appearing in Star Wars: a percentage of the film's theater and merchandising profits.

Harris Said To Be Holding Out For Piece Of Potter Pie
29 August 2000 (StudioBriefing)
Irish newspapers are reporting that veteran actor Richard Harris, who is currently filming a new version of The Count of Monte Cristo in Dublin, is unhappy with the terms of his contract for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. Harris, 70, who has been cast in the role of Dumbledore in the movie, reportedly is holding out for an arrangement similar to Alec Guinness's in Star Wars: a two percent stake in the profits from sales of merchandise connected with the film instead of a flat fee."

Wanda B. Ontheshelves said...

Last but not least...maybe in the new "feudal system" some are suggesting, writers need to be thinking way more about book-connected merchandising than they ever have before...???

Okay, time to go be productive (literary wise).

Anonymous said...

Absolutely, Wanda.

Screw the piddly-ass book sales royalties. Give me 100% of every other right in perpetuity, both known and not yet known, along with 100% creative control of the novel and marketing, and the publisher can have 100% of all book sales and pay me no advance. I don't want a paycheck (I can get that anywhere) I want the future empire.

Christy Raedeke said...

Nathan - loved the link to galleycat's dissection of the bookshelf. As a fan of your blog and a Hills lover, I feel obligated to make sure you know about Spencer's "advice" column in RADAR magazine. They also have an excellent Hills-based drinking game and a tight little expose on how Heidi is endorsing McCain but has not yet bothered to register to vote. Funny stuff. Enjoy.

Wanda B. Ontheshelves said...

Anon 3:51:

Thanks for my laugh of the day (in a good way).

But **why encourage me** with thoughts of a "Hello Kitty" style empire...or a Martha Stewart style empire...Santa Claus has got a nice gig going...I can think of many appealing empires to be at the head of, all on my own...


Ulysses said...

I just saw this on Jonathan Lyons blog (

"According to the Association of American Publishers, industry sales for 2007 were just under $25 billion dollars, an increase of about 3% from 2006."

While 3% is not tremendous growth, it's still more than my last pay raise.

KevinS said...

Dear Mr. Bransford: I look forward to seeing your blog arrive in my inbox every day and thought you might consider addressing this issue: I’ve read and been told that when submitting partials I shouldn’t include a prologue because it often differs from the voice of the rest of the novel. In the case of THE FLIGHT OF THE SWALLOWS (the journey of a rock and roll band and the musician who discovers his voice along the way), the prologue gives the reader a head start in getting to know and understanding one of the main characters. As an agent, however, you’ve already been tipped-off by the query. What are your feelings toward submitting prologues, and prologues in general?
Thanks. Kevin S.

Anonymous said...

Especially with amateur novels, a good number of prologues might as well say Chapter 1 instead--or just skip ahead and start with Chapter 1.

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