Nathan Bransford, Author

Friday, December 5, 2008

This Week in Publishing 12/5/08

What. A. Week.

Just to review the top stories... Layoffs at Simon & Schuster (subscription), Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Thomas Nelson, reorganization at Random House, wage freezes at HarperCollins and Penguin. Sorry sorry sorry to everyone affected.

In the meantime... books are still being published! And while I was away, the Tor blog had a great rundown of what happens after your book is acquired, written by bestselling author Jane Lindskold.

The New York Observer talked to a 26 year old former editorial assistant who is now some sort of hedge fund finance person to weigh in on what's wrong with publishing (because finance people must be smarter than publishing people, just look at the economy!) in an article entitled What Makes Moguls Believe They Belong In the Book Business? (to which Booksquare rejoined: What makes the New York Observer give so much credence to a 26-year old who admittedly spent very little time in the publishing business?) In case you're curious, said former editorial assistant cites “expensive brand-name flops” and “overpaying for prestige … unproven hype … and countless small, unprofitable ‘passion’ acquisitions that distract people from profitable operations but are the reason most people—at least at the literary houses—stay in publishing" as problems. To which Mr. Bob Miller of HarperStudio responds: "If Wolff had spent decades in the business instead of months, he may have noticed how maddeningly often the expensive brand names actually pay the bills, and the small literary “prestige” projects turn into the next brand names." Pwned, people. Pwned.

So just to be clear: publishing had a bad week. So did, you know, the entire economy. As Motoko Rich notes, Hachette (parent company of Little Brown and Grand Central) is riding James Patterson, David Baldacci, Michael Connelly and Stephenie Meyer to a banner year. The same article does cite no less an authority than superagent Esther Newberg, who says "It is seriously going to be a time for known commodities," which is scary for newcomers, but... not all bad! No time for panicking.

And speaking of a banner year... E-BOOKS. Sony announced that they have sold 300,000 digital readers, and it will soon be easier to read books on your iPhone (well, as easy as it can be to read on a tiny screen) as iPhone app Stanza is partnering with Fictionwise to provide content.

Bestselling author Jeff Abbott is starting a series of posts extolling the benefits of the organized writer. This may or may not involve waking up at 4 AM to write your book.

And finally, in case you think that self-help book you're reading could have been written by a nine year old.... well, maybe it was. Yes, Collins has published a dating guide written by a nine-year-old called HOW TO TALK TO GIRLS. The mere title of this book would have blown my mind at age 9 because... I mean, talking to girls? Ew!! I would have been busy penning HOW TO THROW ROCKS AT GIRLS.

Have a great weekend!

PS: Contest next week.


Marilyn Peake said...

Interesting stuff. Thanks for the links.

When did kids stop playing, and start working on their careers? Very weird.

Khyrinthia said...

Shouldn't we all be a little alarmed that a nine year old is already trying to pick up girls?

Bryan Russell said...

HOW TO THROW ROCKS AT GIRLS? You stole my story idea you... I mean, congratulations on the book idea. Do you have any ideas on representation yet? I can see it in bold letters...

How to Throw Rocks at Girls: A Memoir Relating How Everything I Know About Publishing I Learned from Sports.

Like hotcakes, I'm telling you...

Ah, it does bring back those early gradeschool years and yelling swears at the girls I had crushes on... I've always been a romantic.

Of course maybe I'm feeling nostalgic because of the cold cold cold reality facing writers in the current publishing waters. I like the whole not panicking thing, though. And no, that's not a bomb shelter I'm digging in my backyard, it's a pool. Yeah, a pool. Everybody needs a new pool in December. In Canada. Really.

Gottawrite Girl said...

There's nothing like a 3-am brainstorm! And... I'd rather think of it as a REALLY good few weeks for Stephenie Meyer, and just a wee bit of a slump for the rest of us. : ) Hope your T-giving was lazy and fun!

Heidi said...

Indeed a dreary week.

But, there's always next month. Optimism springs eternal, right? Or Spring always comes after winter. Or something like that.

Well, all that bad news makes me want to just hunker down by the fire and read a good book.

JohnO said...

Sigh. Good wrap-up of fairly dismal news.

As for "How to Talk to Girls." I always did fine at that -- until I was 15, and I wanted to talk to them for entirely different reasons.

That nine year old ... he some sort of playa?

Anonymous said...

"Comb your hair and don't wear sweats," is advice some of my 40 year old wannabe boyfriends could use. As is, "don't act desperate."

Hmmm. I remember being pretty content playing marbles and board games with my nine year old boyfriends.

I'm going to buy this book and pass it on with a smile.

Zoe Winters said...

The expensive celebrity brand names, DO pay the bills, but, at the same time, often the acquisition price is still way too high to support the bookstore returns system, and all the books a house puts out that don't succeed. It's hard to raise profit margins with all three of those factors at play.

So I think the business guy makes some very valid points and maybe larger publishing houses should listen, instead of get defensive and go into a spiel about how long they've been in the business.

It doesn't matter how long you've been in a business, if you can't raise your profit margins above 2 or 3%, IMO.

And yay on ebooks.

And hahaha @ How to throw rocks at girls. That's already been successfully marketed on the other side with: "Boys are dumb, throw rocks at them."

Nathan Bransford said...


Bob Miller knows of what he speaks. Two of his huge acquisitions at Hyperion were THE FIVE PEOPLE YOU MEET IN HEAVEN and THE LAST LECTURE. He paid massive advances for those books, and yet they were also wildly profitable.

So.... I'm listening to him.

Zoe Winters said...


But since much of publishing is run like a casino, (I can give you the NY Times article link if you want to read it), they didn't KNOW ahead of time that those two books would be that wildly successful.

It was partly luck. And if they had spent a little bit less money acquiring them, they would have made a stronger margin.

Zoe Winters said...

Actually, no, I'm having a brain fart. The royalties are the royalties and I'm forgetting advances are against royalties. What they would have had, was more cash in hand to use for other things at that time.

Zoe Winters said...

Also, I'm not saying Bob Miller isn't a smart man, I'm just saying a slight bit more conservatism on the part of acquisition editors across the boards, as well as doing SOMETHING productive about the bookstore returns policy, would go a long way to beefing up profits, IMO.

Nathan Bransford said...


By those standards the whole business world is a casino. All companies invest in new products, some invest a whole lot. Do they absolutely 100% know they're going to pan out? No. Same with books. Yes, the process is a little more subjective because taste is subjective, yes, sometimes people lose their minds, but Bob is someone who has an incredible track record of making solid bets.

And if Bob had spent less on those books they simply would have gone to the underbidder.

Nathan Bransford said...

Also, Bob is trying more than probably anyone else in the entire publishing industry to do something about the returns policy. We'll see what happens.

Zoe Winters said...

haha, but Bob's track record isn't everybody's track record. And maybe he has a strong knack for knowing what will sale and what won't. And you're right, all business investments are a gamble to some extent, but they are often a calculated risk. And most products have a strong test marketing process first before investing so much money in it.

I'm just not convinced that publishing has such low profit margins because nothing can be done to improve them or "that's just how the business is." I'm certainly not saying if you put me in a big office that I could fix the publishing industry, I'm just saying that maybe what big business people have to say about this industry can in some way be applied to this industry to find out if it makes a difference in profit margins.

And good on Bob, for working toward doing something about the returns policy!

Adaora A. said...

Wow, things in the publishing industry are moving fast. Although, to be honest, the nine-year-old publishing HOW TO TALK TO GIRLS made me chuckle a bit and I must put in my comentary.

Yesterday - when watching an episode of THE DOCTORS - a nine-year-old girl asked if she can get kooties from kissing boys. So suffice to say when I read the last bit of your post, it was between loud guaffaws and endless chortles. My mind immediately shot to her question. Dr. Baldwin said " stop kissing those boys"( something like that). Then another doctor brought in the usual medical advice about Menningitis and all that other stuff you can get from 'your first kiss,' sharing drinks, other kisses, etc.

You were reading HOW TO THROW ROCKS AT GIRLS? Sounds like a lot of fun.

Toni Kenyon said...


I just love your weekly round-up. It arrives here in New Zealand on a Saturday morning, when I have to time to sit down with a nice cup of freshly brewed coffee and follow all the links.

You're ace! Thanks for keeping this little lady in the Antipodes informed.


Sara J. Henry said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Deborah Blake said...

Here's a question: I've been pondering the effect of the economic downturn (sorry, that's the nicest way I could think to phrase it) on publishing--do you think agents will take on even FEWER new clients, since they will be worried about being able to sel the work of the folks they represent already?

starrie said...

It's kind of funny... When ebooks first came out, I didn't want to pay attention to them, because they didn't feel like "real" books. Ebooks felt like the get-published-fast route to being a writer: the reward was words stuck on a computer screen and not a fat chunk of printed pages in someone's hands. Now they're so popular, though, that I guess I have to give them some credit.

I wish I could write at 4 am, but at 4 am I'm already on my way out the door for work. ;)

Still keeping my fingers crossed and waiting for the industry to find its footing again.

Clio said...

Nathan, thanks for the roundup. Great reads. Abbott makes a great point about the need to find the time and space to write.

A great question for the blog would be how much time do people devote to writing each day or week?

Erik said...

What's shocking is that with all the great stuff in this blog entry, there's even more going on. I say that based on some very good rumors I've been hearing.

This is an earthquake, people. Prepare to be shaken, not stirred.

Ann Victor said...

Loved the Organized Writer series by Jeff Abbott. Well worth reading. Thanks for the link!

Jinx said...

This may or may not involve waking up at 4 AM to write your book.

How about if I just stay up until 4 AM to write my book, or 5 AM, or 6 AM? =) (yes, I actually do this, but I am one of the millions who is currently jobless... oy)

And I saw that kid on Ellen earlier in the week! Wow, uh, ok.

Jeff Abbott said...

Nathan, thanks for the shout-out on the Organized Writer series. I appreciate it, and especially appreciate the comments/questions that are giving me ideas for upcoming topics. This series of blog entries has been surprisingly popular and I think in the the spirit of getting ready for a new and hopefully brighter year, I'll continue it through this month.

Bea said...

Couldn't throwing rocks at people be considered a form of communication?

Lupina said...

This is the honest-to-God truth: when I was nine years old, I published a newsletter for neighborhood girls on the mimeograph in my dad's office. It was titled, "What to do When Boys Chase You." Little did I know that I could have been a publishing wunderkind, if only I'd had an agent more savvy than my kid brother Larry.

Jeff, I also love your Organized Writer series and thanks, Nathan, for pointing us to it.

E-mail and MySpace are the enemies of art.

Furious D said...

1. Barry Diller recently lambasted CEOs who do layoffs even when their company is healthy, solely to boost their stock price, and hence their bonuses. I guess he's reached a level of age and wealth where he doesn't care what the others think of him. If he ever did. Thankfully, all this will pass.

2. Here's a summary of the rundown--

A. Editorial elves sprinkle pixie dust on your manuscript, fixing all grammatical errors and filling plot-holes.

B. The manuscript is then strapped to the back of a unicorn, then it is taken the Gates of Horath. That's where they keep the printer.

C. The printer puts out a billion copies, all of them sell making the author as rich as JK Rowling.

The End.

3. They asked the Hedge fund guy because their the only people making money on Wall Street these days. Though I can understand where he's coming from. There's an old story about Stephen King's first publisher. He was the company's top selling author, and no one but his personal editor knew who he was, because he wasn't part of the New York literary scene. So there can be a certain element of snobbery involved.

4. Good for them. I know it's fashionable to slag the money-makers, but I don't hold it against them. Though I do think it's a mistake to stick only to a few big names. They're doing a "production contraction" in Hollywood, sticking mostly to big budget, big star epics, which is a similar mistake. (Thinner profit margins for both)

5. I still can't accept reading extended material off a little screen. Short fiction might be doable. Perhaps an iTunes for short stories should be set up. 99 cents for a story under 10,000 words. Pick a genre, subscribe to a serial, all sorts of stuff you can do.

6. I'm in the middle on the idea of organisation. I make notes, but I don't get too detailed, and I try to write everyday that I can as much as I can.

7. I'm waiting for the kid's sequel: "How Zits Can Wreck You Mojo," when he's in junior high.

Anonymous said...


How much do you think your readership has increased since your last contest?

You are a brave man, Nathan Bransford.

CC said...

Oh goodie, another contest. I love contests, win or lose.

Bring it on, Nathan!


Lupina -- this quote of yours cracks me up! :)

"... when I was nine years old, I published a newsletter for neighborhood girls on the mimeograph in my dad's office. It was titled, "What to do When Boys Chase You." Little did I know that I could have been a publishing wunderkind, if only I'd had an agent more savvy than my kid brother Larry..."

BarbS. said...

Meanwhile, I think Timothy Egan just became the Patron Saint of the Unpublished.

May I refer everyone to his NY Times Op-Ed piece on non-writers like Joe the Plumber getting book deals? It's called "Typing Without a Clue" and can be found at the NY Times's Web site.


Heather said...

[...]Since 2006, Sony has sold 300,000 digital readers (thanks to Nathan Bransford for the link)[...]

Ink said...


Thanks for pointing out that article, as I quite enjoyed it. I always hear that they print this sort of stuff because it's what people want, because it will get people reading... except I wonder if it causes a lot of people to stop reading, too. "Hey, Joe the Plumber has a book? I'm gonna get it!" Two months later... "Wow, that sucked. I can't believe I spent thirty dollars on that thing. I knew I should have spent that money hitting the movies... and the new Heavenly Sword is out for my game system... damn."

In the long run, do bad books really help at all? It's an interesting question. How about this for an idea... no book deals for unpublished non-fiction writers until there's a full manuscript to peruse and judge. Fiction writers are held to that standard...

I can now await e-mail bombs from all the unpulbished n0n-fic writers. :)

My best, as always,
Bryan Russell

Ulysses said...

"How to Talk to Girls."
Hm. I should read that. I've been married for nineteen years, and still have no idea what to say.

Maybe I should start by introducing myself...?

Kristan said...

Ugh, the Jeff Abbott articles are unfortunately intriguing to me. Waking up at 4 a.m., not so much...

And seriously, Throwing Rocks at Girls is probably better at that age. Why does everyone want to grow up so fast?!

Wanda B. Ontheshelves said...

Thankfully, last week is over and it's a brand new week...and it looks like the US auto industry will survive the next month or so!

For a bit of fun (or cognitive dissonance, take your pick), take a look at a photo of "Detroit" automakers on Capitol Hill...then peruse the rap video on Youtube "Ain't Nobody Reppin' Detroit Like Me," produced by Unation...I like it except for A) Guns B) Profanity...

Relation to publishing - er, well, there are always creative possibilities in cognitive dissonance...publishing, creativity, those are related...

over and out...

Kristan said...

Not directly related, but sort of: Timothy Egan's op-ed on the so-called end of reading:

Anne Strain said...

I wish to vote for Steven Axelrod's paragraph. It is the only one I would like to read on and on.

Roland said...

At age 9 I would have been talking to girls about Hawk the Slayer.

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