Nathan Bransford, Author


Wednesday, May 7, 2008

How Will We Cut Through the Crap I Mean Less Than Stellar Books?

First off, a message for the people who subscribe to the blog via e-mail: thank you for subscribing via e-mail! The purpose of You Tell Me is to foster a brisk and lively discussion in the comments section on the actual site, so if you are only e-mailing me your responses you are missing out on what is either a thoroughly interesting discussion or a thoroughly hilarious discussion, depending on the day. To comment, please click the headline of the blog in your e-mail, scroll down until you see "post a comment," click that link, and then follow the instructions. As much fun as it is to e-mail me your answer, it has been scientifically proven that it is 17.59 times more exciting to join the discussion on the site.

Transition.

As many of you anticipated in the comments section of yesterday's Can I Get A Ruling?, there is natural corollary question to the belief (that currently 84% of you share) that we are currently in a Golden Age of Books due to the erosion of previous constraints and limitations on the book publishing marketplace. And when anyone can publish a book quite easily, the nagging question is this one: how in the heck am I going to know where to find a good one?

Sure, there are reviews out there, but so many have proliferated in recent years that it opens up a second question: how in the heck am I going to know where to find a good review site?

As the spigot of publishing opens up wide, we're going to have to find a way to drink out of that fire hose. As more and more people self-publish and the overall quality of the book population inevitably dilutes due to a vastly lowered bar, what is going to take for the good books to stand out?

And if you were an agent faced with a narrowing slate of blockbusters published by mainstream publishers and a vast sea of self-published books, what would you make of all of this?






81 comments:

Heidi the Hick said...

"you found the marble in the oatmeal! You get to drink from... THE FIRE HOSE!"

Sorry. I just had a UHF moment. I have nothing more to say.

Adaora A. said...

...it has been scientifically proven that it is 17.59 times more exciting to join the discussion on the site.
It has? Maybe that's why I started posting here after only recieving emails.

When you read your client's books or prospective client's queries or a partial MS do you think of the possiblity of it being optioned for film. The reason why I ask that is because it seems like hollywood is niping almost every good book in the publishing industry and trying to make a blockbuster out of it. I know there are several agent houses which do put this into consideration.

Nathan Bransford said...

adaora-

We have a very strong film department, so yes, definitely.

Margaret Yang said...

How are you going to find a good book? The way you do now! Word of mouth. It's the only thing that sells books, anyway. There are already too many books to keep up with, so what's the difference where they come from?

Anonymous said...

Great topic - How do you find the good ones?

As a mom, I get overwhelmed by the amount of crap that is put out for children. I would be completely lost if I hadn't discovered all the kid-lit bloggers with their "best of" lists and the Cybil awards.

As a reader, I still need help finding good books. I can troll through Amazon looking for similar books to those I liked, but with minimal success. I would love it if people shared some book recommendation sites here.

Adaora A. said...

Very cool. Thank you for answering.:)

I think it has to have a really cool, intriguing, or shocking premise. That's why all the blockbusters that have come out in the last 5-8 years (of varying genre's) have been such major blockbusters. Everyone secretly wanted to read a book about 'that issue' and it hadn't come around yet. Aside from the bombarding of books which all rush towards a current issue concerning North America or abroad. (I wonder how they get threw it in 2 weeks and then put it out there.)

Dwight Wannabe said...

1. Social media

2. Social media

3. Social media

There are tens of thousands of homemade podcasts out there too. I find my favorite new podcasts by checking several Top 10 and Top 100 social media ranking sites.

Podcasts make it into said lists by networking with each other, creating echoes, and grass roots marketing.

This will be the identical business model for the publishing industry once every schlub can make his book available to an Espresso Book Printing machine.

Scott said...

We're already doing it.

Kind of.

Those of who shop at Amazon or any other online service already have to wade through a lot of oatmeal to find our lost marbles (wink at heidi the hick for reminding me of the marble in the oatmeal scene).

How do we do it? Well, we hear about a book, either from people we know, in reviews, or in some other forum (such as blogs, magazines, whatever). It looks interesting, so we go look for it online.

Or, we hear about an author who sounds interesting, or we read something by an author and we want more, so we go look for that author online, find what we can, and order the books.

However, the online services aren't very good yet at providing a browsing experience that matches going into a store. In a store, you say, "Hmm, I think I want to read something about the history or Lindt chocolate." So you figure, hey, that's history, and go to the history section. The book's not there. So you try the food section, and don't see anything. But you see another book about chocolate that looks interesting, so you go look for it while eating chocolate cheesecake in the bookstore cafe. Then, tired of chocolate, you wipe as much of the cheesecake as you can off the cover of the book, leaving an ugly smear, leave the book on the table and go home.

Then, a few days later, you remember that you wanted to know about the history of Lindt chocolate, so you check Amazon. Nothing. So you go to Wikipedia, find out enough about Lindt chocolate to satisfy your curiosity. Then you head for that Lindt bar you stashed where your wife will never find it, and discover it's almost gone because your wife is smarter than you are and has known about your stash for months.

But somewhere in all your searching, you happened to find out there's a new biography of classic baseball player Jimmy Foxx, so you add that to your 20-page Amazon wish list, then buy that trashy men's "adventure" novel that's been on the list for years but you haven't bought it because your wife doesn't like you reading that stuff. You don't even bother to check with her about the budget because you're ticked that she raided your secret chocolate stash. You just hope she hasn't found your secret stash of reading material she doesn't approve of.

So, Nathan, how does your scenario change any of that?

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

When a reader finds a community in which they're comfortable, books (and suggestions) get passed around.

You'll always find some ... less-than-stellar books. No one's taste is 100% like the next guy's. But you'll find a lot more gems when you find a like-minded group. Online or in real life. Or both.

Kalynne Pudner said...

I'm with Dwight and Susan. It's word-of-mouth (or word-of-blog, as the case may be) that hooks me. I've found agents, authors and bloggers I like, then check out what they are producing and consuming.

I don't see myself reading anything self-published, unless I know and trust the author. The percentage of oatmeal to marbles is going to be too high.

Mark Terry said...

Beats the hell out of me. I just had an editor tell my agent the book we were marketing "was too commercial."

Gotta admit, that was a new one in the land of editor-speak.

So there, there's your answer! Publishers no longer want commercial books. They want books that won't sell! Books that no one will buy (aka, non-commercial).

Okay. I don't know what it means.

All I have to do is walk into a Borders and stop for a second and look at all the books there to realize I have NO WAY of knowing if I'm missing out on anything really good, so I'll just keeping glancing around the front tables, looking at covers, reading blurbs and book jackets, then ignoring them all and going over to the mystery section and buying the same old shit I always buy.

Anonymous said...

I read TONS of self-pubbed books (don't ask ...), and I can tell you this: I have yet to read one that compared to a professionally edited title from a mainstream house. So that wipes out that segment of the publishing market, at least for me. (Yes, I'm sure they're out there, etc., etc., etc., but I haven't seen them.)

James Patterson proved one thing: advertising books works.

Anyway, I'm not uncomfortable with the "blockbuster" model that major houses seem to be trending toward. I know people may howl in protest, but I believe that the real incidence of "undiscovered masterpieces" is a fraction of a fraction of a percent. I tend to think that top agents and major-house editors have relatively well honed commercial instincts. It's not always perfect, of course, but if a book can survive the scrutiny of agents, twenty editors, an editorial director and an acquisitions committee, then it's not unreasonable to assume something is there.

As for the wallpaper books ... what can I say? Aren't we all wallpaper in the end?

LurkerMonkey

Heidi the Hick said...

There are 8 books on my shelf that I wouldn't have without reading about them on blogs.

And they're all pretty darn good.

(Guess I found a few marbles in the oatmeal!)

Lauren said...

It'd be much the same way as it is with blogging now. Bloggers with good ideas, expertise, wit, longevity, and a good handle on the mechanics of writing generate hits. There's the occasional surprise blockbuster (Stuff White People Like, PostSecret, I Can Haz Cheezburger?), and a number of blogs that are popular within their own niches (blogs about New York, or Macs, or parenting). I started my first blog in 1997, and it was easy to keep up with most of the other bloggers out there. (Well, I called it "online journalling," and still do, in my head, though when I use that term out loud no one has any idea what I'm talking about.) These days, though, there's no way to keep up with everything. Even the biggest blog addict has to be selective. Either you can wait for the cream to rise to the top and read the blockbuster blogs, or you can spend extra time digging deep to find new and lesser-known ones.

I'm a blog addict, and I spend time clicking through others' blogrolls, trying to find new reads to add to my bookmarks. My co-worker is a casual blog reader -- she reads Dooce and Stuff White People Like, as well as one niche blog about an interest of hers (new local restaurants). Her blog-reading habits are analogous to my sister-in-law's book-reading habits. Sis-in-law reads the big memoirs and a few uber-popular mainstream novels (The Glass Castle, Eat Pray Love, A Thousand Splendid Suns. Betcha anything she's currently reading David Sheff's Beautiful Boy). She never has to go past the front tables of B&N, unless she needs a non-fic book about a specific topic. She's a typical reader, and it would take a lot for her to change her habits. It would take a HUGE shift in the industry before self-published books, micropress books, or e-books would even show up on her radar.

nancorbett said...

As far as how I find the good books, I don't end up with a lot of lemons on my shelf. I keep my ear to the ground, read a lot of good short fiction and frequently fall in love.

I have two examples...I just read an article put out for authors who read Glimmer Train, and it turned me on to Lee Martin, whom I'd never heard of. I learned that he'd been nominated for a Pulitzer, and then I discovered that he had a new book come out last month, so I snagged it. It's wonderful! I intend to read everything he's written.

Example 2, I read a lot of flash fiction, and I just adore the work of Mary Lynn Reed. I discovered that she's working on a novel. If it turns out to be one of the drops from the fire hose that sparkles, I'm already waiting in line to buy a copy.

I hear about good books any number of ways. I network with a LOT of writers, published and otherwise and other avid readers. I don't read just for entertainment. I read and write because fiction is a huge part of my life. Even when I meet someone for the first time, I know whether that person is a book person like me. I can spot bravado a mile away, people who want to make themselves seem more intellectual by dropping names of great authors they've read. I'm not interested in what those people read. I listen to people who love books.

I read a lot of work by unpublished authors. Some of it breaks my heart because it is so bad and some because it is so good. There are so so many of us out there. So many people who deserve to have something on the shelves never will because they won't or can't play the game. I suspect that just as many really bad writers will find their way to the bookstores because they are persistent and business savvy. But the bottom of the barrel will always be the bottom of the barrel. Those who bypass the system and pay to self-publish are among those. They have no credibility.

E-publishing is something that will probably grow significantly in upcoming years. It's hard to say where it will go and how quality will be controlled. If quality can be controlled sufficiently, e-publishing could be a great new avenue for fledgling writers.

~grace~ said...

How? our perspicacity and intelligent discernment.

I still think browsing the library is one of the best ways to find new books. and local libraries will tend to reflect local authors (especially since POD authors tend to have to do more self-promotion).

also, like Heidi, I've found some new authors through their blogs.

SL said...

Hmm.

Canadian bookstores tend to have a fabulous flare for display, so when I go to browse without a book already in mind, I just pick random titles off the table or shelves in a given section and read a few pages. I mainly dive right into the middle, to see if the writing holds up.

Even within their respective sections, books with a similar premise or dealing with common themes are usually on display together. For example, in the YA section, books dealing with vampires are sometimes on display together, or books with a more "real-life" feel are out on a table. It's quite helpful that the booksellers do that. Much easier to get a feel for what's out there.

However, if you are buying online, I would have to agree that book blogs and online communities are your best bet if you're looking for some direction. If a book is good, the word will spread, and you can grab your recommendations that way.

I find this fascinating because a particular YA author had an amazing breakout because of her presence on the internet. She was a big fanfiction writer - I daresay the most famous for her fandom - and decided to transition into original YA fiction. Once she got a publishing deal, word of mouth spread, and BAM - she had a NYTimes bestseller within two weeks of the book's release. The readers who enjoyed her fanfiction gobbled up her original fiction.

The internet is definitely a pretty powerful tool.

Jenny said...

For nonfiction, community recommendations and books by people I know from blogging and groups, point me to the books worth reading.

One of the best books I've bought of late was "Nutrition for Blokes" which was self-published by Quentin Grady of New Zealand. Quentin is very well known for posting valuable information on the alt.support.diabetes newsgroup for many years. A bunch of us clubbed together to ship some boxes of his books to the U.S.. The book was truly brilliant. Now we wish he could get some distribution here as postage is such an issue!

I'm doing very well with the Blood Sugar 101 book I just published on my own. But it is selling because I put in many years building a readership with newsgroup postings, a blog and a heavily visited informational web site. The top bloggers in my topic area all gave me great reviews which helped a lot.

But I would NEVER attempt to publish my fiction on my own. Premise tells you nothing about whether the book is readable. And I've bought too many books reviewed enthusiastically on review sites and blogs that turned out to be dreadful.

superwench83 said...

Fantasy review sites/blogs and fantasy forums are great for getting fantasy book recommendations. I can't speak for other genres, but if you like fantasy, these are great places to start. I generally won't buy a book after just one positive comment, but if I keep hearing about a book or author again and again, then I'll take a look. I'm rarely disappointed.

Regarding POD, I really don't think that the increase of self-published books will affect the average book buyer's ability to find good books to read. To the best of my knowledge, most bookstores don't carry self-published books, so most people aren't around any places where they can buy them.

Ulysses said...

"What would you make of all this?"
Well, I could make a hat, or a broach, or a pterodactyl. . . ("Airplane!", in the spirit of Heidi the Hick's comment.)

Scott: You have chocolate issues. Seek professional help. And send me a Toblerone.

Finding the needle in the haystack, the marble in the oatmeal, the cliche in the. . . bunch of other cliches, has always been the problem. Personally, I pick books based on reputation (contest winners, classics), nifty cover, intriguing back copy, or recognized author (in no particular order). Sometimes I'm disappointed. Usually, I'm satisfied. Occasionally, I'm impressed.

As a reader, I demand the publishing industry make sure of two things:
1) The books available are good.
2) I hear about good books.

Right now publishers handle quality control and marketing. No new business model has been able to do those things well enough to lure a significant number of readers.

As an agent, I'd watch the money. Right now, it's flowing from readers, through book distributors, to publishers and then to authors (and thus to agents).

If book distributors (Amazon?) manage to enforce quality and promote work, the revenue stream will change and I'll find myself mediating author/distributor deals. Distributors would need to develop an entire quality control and marketing infrastructure. The cost associated with this would likely doom the enterprise.

Distributors could skip quality control, but as readers begin to realize the wordstream is polluted, they'll seek some other source. Short-term gain, long-term disaster.

A model containing only writer and reader would be equally disastrous. Writers are notorious for being blind to the quality (or lack) of their own work. Margin would be so small and marketing/distribution duties so big that no sensible agent would consider it.

If publishers found a way to handle distribution, an agent's job wouldn't change much. However, the publisher would have to develop a distribution mechanism (web?) and then lure readers to it. The initial outlay here discourages publishers from doing this.

So far, I believe we're still stuck with the traditional model. The web is a grand distribution tool, but most readers won't pay for work of indeterminate quality made available there when they can walk into a bookstore (or load up Amazon) and get a good read they can hold in their hand.

Tanja said...

*Advertising* anywhere, blogs, magazines,TV ad's, Amazon, word of mouth. Some sort of buzz,I pay attention {aka The Lottery ;) )
To answer your next question, if I were an agent I would CaReFuLly consider the queries that came my way, I would for certain ask to see the first full chapter. JMHO, I think some lit. agents are too quick to flush out a large quanity of work, after reading several blogs that report the monthly wrap ups it seems like an alarming amount of work that sieves on by. But then again my inbox can only boast of less than a dozen emails not the hundreds they recieve.

Sam Hranac said...

All of the networked, social tools people have mentioned, coupled with the Darwin effect, will lead me to the best reviews and books. I keep coming here and Fuse 8 and Verla's blue boards and a few other places because of fabbo content. Only rarely do I add a new link to my favs. These places recommend plenty for me to read.

The dreck will die on the vine, or at least be ignored by those with taste.

Eventually.

Just_Me said...

Good book is a subjective term. Usually word of mouth serves to scare me off of books. If someone on TV is gushing about the book the chances are good that I won't like it. It's probably well written but I like genre fiction and sci-fi is not maintstream (usually - there are exceptions).

To find a good book I browse, I usually take into consideration the back cover and the first three pages, and then I get I ask people who are browsing the same section of the bookstore what they think, have they read the book? Do they know a book similar to Such-in-such a book?

When all else fails I go to my critique group and query the other authors about what they're reading. Usually we've all read the same books because we have the same tastes but every now and then a new book comes up in conversation.

As for self-published.... I usually don't go down that route, and never on purpose. I like well edited books and very few self-published books are. And I'm slightly selfish, by buying a book from a publishing house I'm supporting the publishing house and saying, "Look! People buy books! Publish more!"

Julia said...

How do I find books I want to read?

Browsing. Reviews. Word of mouth. NPR.

NPR moves books like nobody's business. When I hear a good author interview on "Fresh Air" I race to the bookstore because I know they'll be sold out by the end of the day.

AmyB said...

Professionally published reviews often steer me wrong. They'll rave about a book, then I go buy it and find it's 100% not to my taste.

So I go by word of mouth. I've figured out who, in my circle of friends and in the blogosphere, roughly shares my tastes. And that's where I get my recommendations. I usually check out the amazon reviews, too, including the negative ones. It's not uncommon for a 1-star review to make me more interested in a book, because what the reviewer is complaining about is something I like in a book.

Anonymous said...

In response to Adora's comment,
an additional related question for Nathan:

So do you then look for stories with film potential and/or also conference on such projects

when considering agenting a project?

Nathan Bransford said...

anon-

I decide on what I can do with the book first, film possibilities second. If it's not going to make it as a book then by definition it's not going to make it as a book-to-film deal either.

Josephine Damian said...

Mark Terry: Shame on for you having a book that's too commercial.

Jeesh. What has this business come to? I don't get it either, bro.

Nathan, If I were an agent I'd tell all those self- published writers that they shot themselves in the foot by putting their name on an inferior amateurish-level product and placing that product in the mainstream marketplace (amazon) for all the world to sneer at in the form of bad reviews.

I'd tell them to suck it up and learn their craft, to submit a new, better MS to an agent under a new, different name and pay their dues in this business by getting their work to an editor who'll make it better, more marketable.

The ONLY reviews I read and trust are the ones put out by Publisher's Weekly.

Word of mouth? Find people with similar taste? A gal from my book club recommended a book to me, LYING AWAKE, and it was the best book I'd read last year. She also raved about another book that I could only read the first few pages before I stopped. So, yes, I'll listen to what a friend recommends but with no expectations.

Anonymous said...

For children's books or young adult or anything I teach or use in teaching, I always screen it first.

For books in book stores, I read the back cover, the first page.

Others, I get from recommendations, like this blog.

Josephine Damian said...

Question for Nathan: What if an unagented writer with an unpublished manuscript managed to write a screenplay based on their novel, and got a film deal? What if they worked the equation backwards, would that create enough buzz for the book to get published? To earn a big advance?

Anonymous said...

Nathan,
I often see a "story" as having both book and film potential.
However, some stories stand in books better, by themselves as written. Likewise, some might be a good script, but a so-so book (I have bought such books after seeing the movie).
So, I would think a story that comes along to an agent that has the obvious potential for both forms would be of higher interest.
Would that be an accurate assumption?

Nathan Bransford said...

josephine-

It really depends both on the particular project and what rights the screenwriter had to give up in the film deal.

Josephine Damian said...

Nathan thanks for the input.

Lupina said...

I hate to admit this, but I choose the fiction I read in much the same way agents skim the slushpile; the first page makes or breaks it for me. I will go to the library or bookstore and read the first page. If the writing delights me and the premise grabs me -- and it isn't terribly often that both things happen -- I glom onto that book.

I agree that since most self-published books never make it to store and library shelves, I am not going to see the majority of them. However, if there were a site that featured self-published first pages, with others available for sampling and blurbs as well, I would probably browse online and take an occasional chance on one.

Last weekend I was doing a signing at a national chain bookstore and was seated in front of the current NYT bestseller rack. When the inevitable lull occurred, I had plenty o' time to pick up each of those books and read the first sentence. Very few came close to matching the majority of entries in this blog's first sentence contest. I did read the first paragraphs, too, and some full pages, but ended up empty-handed. My only satisfaction was that the store's placement of my table in front of that rack prevented anyone else from buying the best-sellers, either, for a couple of hours.

I should add that normally, I come early for signings and end up spending far more than I'll receive in royalties for whatever books I sign that day.

wonderer said...

Between the writing-related blogs and online communities I frequent, the lists of award-winners in my genre (which I check out on Amazon to see which ones have my kind of content), and Amazon's "people who bought this book also bought...", I'm in no danger of running out of books to find. I like browsing at the bookstore/library too, but my TBR list is increasing to scary proportions.

As for alternative modes of distribution, I have no interest in trying to root through self-pubbed books. I'm not a big fan of reading books onscreen either, but I can see some situations where it could work. For example, an established author putting out an e-novella, since that's a hard length to sell, or a free short story that ties in with a newly released novel. Or a blogger with a fan base putting fiction online. At the moment I can't think of a way for an author without a following to generate much buzz for an e-book (outside of e-publishers), but I'm sure it's coming....

Er, what was the question again?

Jean said...

Okay, first of all, I think we are entering a golden age of books--yes, but not because some of the constraints have been released. I believe we are entering a golden age of books because (as you can read from the comments above) due to the information age, there is information all over the place about great books (and even the less great books). There is an amazing amount of interesting things to read all over the place leaving anyone with half an interest in reading a little something.

As for picking a good read...are you guys on crack? You pick a book by it's cover not its awards! ;)

And honestly, I have never had any trouble finding a good book, but then again, I am a book slut. I will read anything and everything--I even read the French side of the cereal box.

Kylie said...

I'd look for similar books to what I've read. If it has a blurb from an author I read an liked, I will usually give the book a chance. If a friend of mine who has similar book tastes as me is raving about a book, I will pick it up. E-publishing and self-publishing automatically turns me off; I just won't read those because it feels like a waste of time sorting through junk to find a nice book. They just don't have the same quality and polish.

Anonymous said...

It doesn't really matter that there's more venues then ever for book publishing, because you're considering either unpublished manuscripts that can go straight to the big-time, OR self- and micro/POD-pubbed books that managed to move over 10,000 units on Amazon, or somehow show up in the top 100 on Amazon on a given day, thus gaining the interest of the bigs.

Parker Haynes said...

Sorry Nathan, but the quick answer is that you don't cut through the crap, but as the population has grown, and with the help of technology, we are suffocating in crap--literary or otherwise.

But back to the subject of books, I have to echo Margaret Yang and several other later posters: WORD OF MOUTH. That brings rise to the question, an all important one--Who's Mouth?

Because of financial constraints I seldom browse for books as such. I listen for that old "word of mouth" from those friends whose tastes generally align with mine. And thanks to the internet, those mouths are not limited to physical proximity.

Your question of what's an agent to do--consider starting your own small publishing company! Help sift out or clean up the crap before it litters the shelves and minds.

Knock POD and it's Espresso Machine Books if you want, but I expect we'll see it grow exponentially over the next five years. Remember how primitive the internet was in, say, 1990?

Jana said...

I think the problem, in PART at least, is agents and editors jumping on the "okay" and "pretty good" and just plain mediocre almost-near carbon copies of the big blockbuster novels in the hopes of making a similar lump of cash.

Vampires were huge there for a while right? After 'Twilight' came out and somehow became the huge seller it did, it seemed as though the bookshelves were crammed with angsty emo vampire pseudo-romances. Would some of them have been published if not for the success of 'Twilight?' I doubt it. But its success obviously paved the way for those mediocre works to make it past the seemingly impenetrable agent/editor wall.

Dark erotic fantasy seemed to become more popular after the success of Jaqueline Carey's Kushiel's Dart and Anne Bishop's Black Jewels. I loved both trilogies and spent an insane amount of time looking for more of the same; but what I found instead was CRAP.

The same for chick lit and YA fantasy and etc. etc. etc.

I want that cheap popularity train to just stop because it insults the book buying public who are spending their money and coming away dissapointed. And it makes those book buyers weary of taking a chance on a new book – it has me at least. I recently bought three novels that were highly recommended by supposedly trustworthy review sites, and these novels were compared to some books I had read and loved – but I ended up with some of the worst drivel I’ve ever spent cash on. And I’m not talking bad as in “oh this one wasn’t for me, but I can see why and how other people would enjoy it…” I mean utter crap on every objective level you can compare it on! It really REALLY pisses me off.

And I don’t care how many people claim to have read excellent POD or ebook or self-published novels – I personally have not come across one. I would love to be proven wrong on this, believe me I would, but it hasn’t happened yet. And I don't have the time or money to go digging for diamonds in dirt.

Okay this is becoming way too long, so I’ll stop the ranting for now.

Adaora A. said...

To answer this question:
And if you were an agent faced with a narrowing slate of blockbusters published by mainstream publishers and a vast sea of self-published books, what would you make of all of this?

I'd just keep doing what most agent's (including yourself), keep saying they do: carry on the search for books that they connect with and are passionate about. Books that they fall in love with. That's what readers do isn't it? They know what they like and that's what they go for. That's why you have on agent representing crime fiction and another fantasy. It started as interest in terms of what you choose to build your list on didn't it? And then you build your conacts? Am I right in assuming this?

I'll just keep writing what I love to write.

Anonymous said...

One of the best review sites I've ever found:

Janice Harayda's

http://oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/

You can count on Jan for lucidity, brevity, and quality.

Anonymous said...

I find that a good stiff drink and a shot of valium can work wonders.

Marie Force said...

Most important question of the day, Nathan: why are you not writing about The Bachelor this season? Did you mention this and I missed it? Are you enjoying Matty from London and who will he choose? Shane or Chelsea?

Nathan Bransford said...

marie-

Definitely think it's Shayne, and was in fact very shocked that he chose Chelsea over Meeps. I have to say I've found this season a tad on the disappointing side, but I was a big Marshana fan and was sad to see her go!

Who do you think?

Marie Force said...

I am thinking Shane too (or is it Shayne?) But then I am ALWAYS wrong because I think ABC edits it to be deceptive. They showed so much of him and Shayne and so little of the chemistry with Chelsea that once he eliminated Meeps, I said, oh man, there has to be MORE to the story with Chelsea in that case. You know what I mean? Do you always pick wrong, too? I have to agree the season was kind of a snoozer. But I LOVE Matt and think he's very class compared to some of the other Bachelors. When he says he's in love, I almost believe him. Do you read Lincee's wrap ups of each show at http://www.ihategreenbeans.com/? They are HYSTERICAL and right on the money.

John said...

"And if you were an agent faced with a narrowing slate of blockbusters published by mainstream publishers and a vast sea of self-published books, what would you make of all of this?"

Publishing is business. There will be a need for middle ground. New publishers or imprints will fill that ground. If I were an agent, I’d start sniffing (the ground).

Lena Phoenix said...

The best site I've found for new book recommendations is www.goodreads.com. Find people who love the same books you do, friend them, and get their latest reviews e-mailed to your inbox. It's book lover's heaven.

Tammie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tammie said...

Well it depends on what you think is crap.

I've read stuff I absolutely loved and friends thought it was flat and vice versa.

If your looking for reviews, I agree with those who say word of mouth and that we are doing it here now. Discussing books.

If you can't find a site or two that you can rely on to get a good book suggested your way, then you aren't looking.

Whether its a coporate book site, an authors website or blogs about writers and books, you are bound to find something that will work and they are all nothing more than word of mouth.

You aren't gonna love it all that gets suggested but then again "crap" is in the eye of the reader or beholder or something like that :o)

Betty Atkins Dominguez said...

I seldom look for a 'good' book by reading reviews. I have two methods. One is go to a book store and browse, sit on the floor and read. I want a great beginning, middle and end. I know, I know --- not supposed to read the end.

The other is go to the library and do the same thing. However, at the library I check out 8 to 10 books, not just one.

I am a heavy reader. I do a lot of free editing -- very picky, so don't ask. Most 1st time writers aren't all that great(don't hit me). I think a person should write and write and write... know that a sentence or paragraph can be written a multitude of ways and not be afraid of changing something... but, hey, I digress, sorry... pet peeve. I have written eight novels so far. Most have some good -- at the time, I thought they were the next Great American Novel. Now, I have to shake my head at how much work some of them need.

JES said...

Another interesting topic...

Haven't (yet) read ALL the comments so far, but they seem to be centering around "How will you as a reader find the good books, already published (and hence probably agented), which you'd like to read?" This, as opposed to what I think Nathan was really worrying at: "How do I as an agent find great new 'under-published' and hence probably 'under-agented' clients?"

In the matching up of agents and clients, most of the Web sites currently in place are to help AUTHORS find AGENTS. Publishers Marketplace, though, has a neat feature which allows authors to sign up to be "found" by someone looking for that sort of author. Apparently you (as an author) can enter genres and specialties, skills, name of agent (if one), and so on. Presumably there's a way for you (as an agent) to enter various criteria and pop! out come a couple dozen authors who "fit" you.

There are probably other services like it. But that seems to be a way of the future -- one in which great authors, not great agents, are the needles being sought in the haystack.

Or something like that. :)

The Dan Ward said...

I'm probably alone in this, but I think the world suffers more when bad writers don't write than when they do...

And yeah, I agree the self-publishing explosion means a lot more crap gets printed and bound than in years past. But this also opens the door to some fantastic gems which would otherwise have been overlooked.

How many wonderful manuscripts are stashed away in someone's attic (or thrown away) because the author didn't have the patience / skill / interest to go through the whole publishing gauntlet?

And sorting through it all? Social media, smart crowds, amazon-esque recommendation engines... and word of mouth.

Betty Atkins Dominguez said...

I should add that I am a multi genre reader. I like biographies, history, fiction (Mainstream, Fantasy and some Sci-fi, Mystery. I even read YA novels that my gradkids are reading. can't call me a genre snob)

I am not like a lot of readers. I am looking for good writing, great characters, decent plot line and a conclusion I can believe in.

OK, I have to be honest and say that I am a romance novel snob ... I can never get all the way through one. Come on, they should be labeled romance fantasies, period.

While all novels can benefit from some romance, the other genres at least try to keep it real.

Deborah B said...

I still find most of my books through the library, either by wandering around and picking them off of the new shelf (or a reshelving cart) or by getting the next book written by an author I already like. I also check on Amazon's "people who bought this book also liked" and the incessent fliers for book clubs that show up in my mainlbox. (I read the blurbs, then order them from the library.)

As for cutting through the crap, well, people get what they want, for the most part. I don't much like all the reality TV shows, but if people weren't watching them, they wouldn't be on. If people don't buy crap, the publishers won't publish it. Self-publishing, well, that's a whole other kettle of (usually stinky) fish...

Adaora A. said...

Yay team Shayne!

Marshana was the best. This is just the way it is. I was sad to see her go as well ( a little shocked in some ways), but I guess her chances were 1/25 like everyone elses. Did you watch the pannel of sorts they held on Mondsay where Marshana was being questioned on her not getting on well with the girls (something I found quite funny considering she was not exactly there to make friends.) Matt has a shaved head.

Furious D said...

With me it's a combo of the author's reputation, if the plot sounds interesting to me, my mood at the time, and lastly the reviews.

I tend to pay more attention to reviews of non-fiction books, especially ones written by people knowledgeable about the book's subject matter.

And then there's the annual summer library clearance sale where everything is pretty much decided on instinct and box space. :)

putzjab said...

I guess I'm possibly in the catagory of putting out a self-published book due to not having much luck finding an agent.

I've written a manuscript and have had various people of various ages read it. Some know who I am and some do not. For the some who do not, there was no skin off their back if they gave the manuscript a horrible review.

Overall, the sample chapters received mostly rave reviews. Some of these reviews came from children.

When you collect reviews like this and do marketing analysis on your novel, shouldn't that be proof enough that your novel deserves an agent's support? Shouldn't it be proof enough that the book may be worth considering?

BTW Jes, thanks for the info about Publishers' Market--agents finding authors. I think I'm going to give that a try.

Anonymous said...

The Bachelor, now that's something I can talk about. I too am a Shayne fan. I don't like Chelsea. She has issues. At first, I thought Shayne was really annoying, but I guess she's grown on me. I do think he should have kept Meeps around. And I'm not sure how well Shayne will do with the British parents.

As for books, I usually go by word of mouth. I'm a teacher and everyone I work with knows I'm an avid reader, so someone is always recommending a book. You'd be surprised how many teachers don't read at all. It's funny how many teachers see you reading and feel guilty that they don't. Next thing you know, they are reading too. Same goes for students. A lot of them have started reading more just because they see me reading. All I had to do is pull out my copy of Twilight, and BAM they're readers.

Speak Coffee said...

I hate to say it but PACKAGING is my first criteria. Title, cover, blurb. If it passes that test I read the first chapter (in store or online) and then if I can stand the author's voice I buy and read.

It's still hunt and peck for me!

But I'd like to say that "GOOD" is subjective. I love a good trashy novel -- but I don't know anyone who would seriously recommend one to me, more's the pity!

Simon Haynes said...

The Australian Fiction in Focus website does a good job of reviewing aussie books. They get two reviewers to look at each title, so you get a more balanced view.

Amazon isn't reliable where reviews of self-pubbed books are concerned, because there's inevitably a rash of 5-star reviews by people with only 1 review to their name. Funny that.

A sample chapter on a website or blog is the only way to go, and the first paragraph should be enough for many people to decide whether they want to read on or not.

But even a well-written first chapter can be let down by a bad plot, or cardboard characters, a Deus ex Machina ending, or NO ending at all. That's worse than a poorly written novel you can blow off in the first page.

I used to read slush for an aussie SF magazine, btw. I know all about the inexorable pressure of the fire hose.

gawain said...

I've been writing short stories lately, and to stay in the right frame of mind, I've drifted away from books to magazines. Mostly sci-fi and fantasy type stuff. Speculative. And I've noticed something interesting. I keep dropping approx. $6 per magazine and then hating most of what I read. If there are seven stories, I might like two. One will be mediocre, and the rest I will hate. Its almost a formula.

Then I go back to all the free e-zine websites i have bookmarked, where writers get paid $25 if they're lucky, and more frequently they get nothing... and I find really good stories.

In print, I find thinly disguised politics and social 'progression' banging me over the head in pretentious 'artistic' styling that is usually some form of first-person present tense (except that at some point they ALWAYS slip; and even if they didn't, its distracting at best to read).

On the internet, I just seem to find good stories. They may not be quite as polished, but a lot of them are really good... and they're free.

Ok, so books and magazines are different. I get that. Books are harder to write, cost more to print, etc. But I still feel like I shovel through a lot of !@#$ to get a couple good books. So how's that gonna change?

The hardest change to accept might be the fact that everything will be freely available online. People will only have to pay if they want hard copy. That seems to be the brave new world we're rushing into.

Anonymous said...

Well the thing is, if you're fed up with what the big publishers are bringing out in your genre, what to do?

I read fantasy. Lots and lots of fantasy. Lately there has been a bit of a trend towards a) politcal fantasy. Yes, thank you GRRM, I don't want political shennanigans in my fantasy. A personal taste thing but hey, I don't like politics in my dreams ( I could end up with Gordon Brown ewwww).

OR b) Books where I can read the first ooh 150 pages and NOTHING HAPPENS! Although you do get a nice description of the mating habits of the local birds or something, and maybe a hint that something might happen, sometime, maybe in book three, frankly by then I'm asleep.

OK there are exceptions. Some really GREAT exceptions. But not enough to keep me in reading material. So I've started looking out books from smaller presses, and they are giving me what I want in my fantasy. Excitement, adventure and really wild things.

I'm not sure I'd go so far as to purchase a self published book, but I might if the premise looked knockout. For all I know, it could be a well written piece that didn't make it out of the slush of the big publishers because it didn't fit with their marketing or something.

I want the books I want, and if the big publishers won't give me enough, I'll go elsewhere

end rant

Anonymous said...

If people keep moving to self-publishing and the big houses are publishing fewer novels, it seems as though mainstream publishing will slowly dwindled and people in the industry will need to find other employment. If the trend continues this way, and we do see an increase in low quality books, it could prompt a move in the other direction and small houses could start cropping back up to increase the quality of the books being sold. Eh-I don't know if that makes any sense. It's early. :-)

another good thing said...

Can you trust the reviews? The problem with asking anyone's advice is it's just that- their OPINION, and opinions change. I have found the best books are the ones select
ed by the authors I like to read.

My newspaper, the Atlanta Journal Constitution runs a weekly feature where they ask an author what they're reading, and in the summer this feature is quite a few pages long. I always run out and buy whatever Anne Lamott, Joyce Carol Oates and Alice Hoffman are reading.
I am in 3 online book clubs and 1 that meets locally and I listen to everyone's opinions, except the ladies who think CHICKEN SOUP FOR THE SOUL books are the best thing EVER.
In the end I stand in the bookstore or browse the pages online and read the opening and a midsection piece, and even then sometimes I resell it before I finish it, because LIFE IS TOO SHORT TO READ BAD BOOKS.

Jeanne said...

Different ways. Word of mouth: If people I know (usually web based groups at this point) have similar tastes as I do, I'll usually purchase their recommendations. Also agent blogs: As I read your and other blogs and you post about the books you have coming out, sometimes I find myself purchasing them. Frex: I really liked the sound of In the Break and of Year of the Hyenas. Puchased both. Loved In the Break. Haven't been able to get into the other yet. I also found C.E. Murphy (one of my fav authors of the moment), Cherie Priest, and Donna Ball's (dog mysteries) through Jennifer Jackson's blog.

I pick up the occassional new author while browsing the grocery store shelves. And by looking at the other people purchased Amazon reccomendations.

That said I'd say about 50% of my reading is now online fanfic. I have eight authors whose fanfic I always read (as a result they've also introduced me to new tv shows). One of which is also published. And another of which I hope to see punlished in the next couple years. If/when she is ever published I'll be one of the first lining up to buy it (no matter the genre) as I've learned that I can always trust her to deliver.

writtenwyrdd said...

the agents and publishers out there are going to have a much more difficult job, sound like to me.

Drinking from the fire hose...I'll never forget that particular metaphor for being overwhelmed.

Taylor K. said...

There are a few main ways I decide on whether or not to read a book. Buzz plays a small factor, but isn't a main thing. I take the cover into major consideration because I believe that a publisher who believes in the quality of a book gives it a good cover. Finally, there's price. Most books I read either come from the bargain section at Barnes & Noble, or from the library. Why the library? Well, you can't beat free.

Sharon said...

Generally, I pick my books by reading the back cover and skimming it. If it holds my attention, I buy it. I read the reviews just to get an idea of what others think. I get suspicious if a book has too many over the top reviews right away. HP was an exception. Those weren't over the top; those were through the roof. By over the top, I'm talking the gushing, "You've GOT to read this book! You won't read a better book this year!" How many publishers say that? I look for what appeals to me. The reviewers don't know me, they're basing their reviews on their opinion of what they read, just like I'd base my recommendation of a book to a friend on my opinion of it when I read it. As far as "if I were an agent what would I make of all of this? I guess I'd realize the publishing world is changing again. There aren't going to be as many blockbusters, unfortunately, for the agents, publishers and writers. But I don't see self-published books when I go to Borders, either. At least not now. So I guess I'd just keep doing what I do. Look for writers who write what I love and represent them to the best of my ability. That way we all win: the agent, publisher, writer and, hopefully, readers. That's how I look at it anyway.

mlh said...

I don't know, Nathan. Finding the needle in the hay has and always will be hard. But stay away from the firehose. Have you seen the gunk pouring out of hydrants when they're first opened? Sit and wait a spell for the better water to come gushing out.

HipWriterMama said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
HipWriterMama said...

If there are more substandard books out there, it goes to say that when a really good manuscript lands on an agent's desk, the agent will recognize it right away. The problem is, there probably will be more competition with agents in getting their clients noticed by the publishers.

Since publishers are reorganizing and the economy is what it is, the competition will filter down into a smaller number of good manuscripts that are published. I fear this may lead promising authors to explore self-publishing just to get published.

This means agents are going to have to really believe in the great manuscript that lands on their desk to sell it to a publisher. And/Or find a way to make self-publishing widely acceptable so promising authors will sign with the agent. The agents can become agents of change if they can successfully transition good authors from the self-publishing world into the traditional publishing world.

Nancy Beck said...

Two good book review blogs for fantasy books:

http://thebookswede.blogspot.com
http://fantasydebut.blogspot.com

I especially like the Fantasy Debut one; turned me on to a couple of books I might not have picked up.

Now to find the time to read! :-)

JES said...

...Actually -- still thinking about this -- I wonder if a model for "the agent of the future" might be more along the lines of the impresario. Kind of like mediating directly between authors and the reading public. Eventually readers would tend to gravitate to agents who presented them with the most reliably satisfying experience. (And by reliably satisfying, I don't mean necessarily the SAME experience, over and over.)

Think Bill Graham. Or (in Philadelphia/South Jersey, around the same time) Moe Septee. You might not know in advance WHO they'd be promoting, but you could count on it to be a great experience.

Ello said...

I think the internet has made it easier then ever to find good books. Seriously. All you got to do is think of an interesting subject and type it in to a search engine and you are whisked to thousands of possibilities from reviews to blog posts to game sites, etc. It is all there. And because of the internet, I have too many books that I want to read but can't. So I wade through it all by weighing in reviewers I like as well as bloggers I like. This past year, I've bought and read 10 books recommended by bloggers. And I have recommended books I love to a whole new audience. The little book community I have found on the net is one of millions like us all over the world. Publishers who embrace this communit and market to it recognize that word of mouth has gone from handselling by booksellers to bloggers on the net.

jmbwe123 said...

I say ban all self-published books by want-to-be desperate writers who can't even write.
That will weed them out fast ha!
It's like American Idol. Everyone is a star now. You can be on TV and do not even need any training anymore. Like the guy in dreads. He is unike looking so he's in I bet. Just watch for him, he'll be there even though he only came in 4th. There are great singers everywhere, they just don't try out.

Di said...

dang it, sorry: Unique, not unike

Magee said...

What's needed is a better search engine in sites like Amazon, so you can select by subject matter, and style - and then read a description, and select a dozen pages to read.

Even with classic novelists, I often choose by subject matter. But supposing I wanted to consider novels, even self pubbed, about, say...fishing on the Orinoco, I'd never find them, even if they exist. Even if they're excellent.

Meanwhile, agents must look for blockbusters. And they'd get less crap if authors had some other way to have their work assessed ( as by actual readers using better search engines ). In fact, that might even change the way they find new clients.

Lupina said...

So Nathan, did any of this help you at all?

Anonymous said...

I'm an MFA student, and I have a full-time job, so I can't read crap. No time. I get recommendations from other people, namely faculty and other MFA students, people in my writing group. I am a member of goodreads.com. I look at other people's gr.com reading lists and reviews. I also read the reader reviews on Amazon, and I check out the lists that people make, looking for interesting stuff. I almost always click on the "Look Inside" link if there is one, and read the first couple of pages to see if the language lives up to the reviews.

Pre-grad school, I used to walk up and down the fiction shelves in my local bookstore and pull books down, read a few pages until I found something that struck a chord. I found some good books this way. Powell's in Portland has little staff recommendation labels on their shelves, kind of like a wine store. Those have proved useful as well.

So far, I'm still avoiding the self-published. I have seen the vast sea of total crap out there written by people who are just not ready for print and I can't fathom a book that hasn't had an editor being any good. It's hard enough to find a book that has had an editor that's any good. I like the idea of self-publishing, but I think it's the new, inexpensive options are too new for there to be any way of sorting out good from bad. In a few more years, maybe... but not yet.

One thing that I might try if I were an agent, is going to a website like zoetrope, getting an account and in your "free time" reading a bunch of the stories. Zoetrope lets you read and review people's short stories, novellas, and sometimes book chapters. they get assigned to you at first, but once you've done a certain number of reviews, it gets opened up so you can read anyone's work. it's hit or miss, but I was lucky enough to read and review a novella which subsequently was published by Glimmertrain. It was fabulous and I knew it right away. I bet that guy would love an agent....

A

freddie said...

Nathan, do you see this trend in publishing (the pub houses moving toward publishing fewer, blockbustery books) as being permanent? Or something rather temporary due to the economy?

I'm less concerned about wading through the crap than I am about not getting to read all the great books I still have on my wishlist. But then I'm not an agent.

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