Nathan Bransford, Author

Friday, May 23, 2008

The Preposterously Magnificent Sole Survivor Is...

JEFF PROBST: 5 days, nearly 600 entries, over 250 votes... who will be named the preposterously magnificent sole survivor?

I'll go tally the votes.

First vote... Victoria Schwab. That's one vote Victoria Schwab.

Second vote... emeraldcite. That's one vote Victoria Schwab, one vote emeraldcite.

Third vote.... ah, let's go to the winner, shall we?

The winner, and sole survivor of the Preposterously Magnificent Dialogue Challenge is...

The tribe has spoken.


Nominees and sole survivor, please e-mail me after June 3rd regarding your prize. The blog will be on vacation next week, but will return on or about June 3rd.

Thanks again to everyone who entered the challenge, this was a ton of fun, and for the new people stopping by, please stick around!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

A Quick Note About Word Count

Please continue to vote in the Tribal Council thread if you haven't already.

First, a brief note about the word count of the finalists. Some have pointed out that a few of the entries went a bit over on the word count, and this has caused some people to convey their distress that the rules (such as they were) were not strictly followed.

Let me just say that I'm sorry people are upset about this. Please do keep in mind that I had already spent 9 hours total reading the entries, which was a fun 9 hours, but still, 9 hours. So I decided against then spending time on top of that counting words. Next time. Someone suggested in the comments section that this impugns my professionalism -- ahhh... I hope the more important indicator of my professionalism is that I run these contests (and the blog in general) in my free time in addition to a more than full time job that doesn't stop for blog contests.

So again -- sorry about this. However. I don't think this should take anything away from the finalists, all of whom I would have chosen had they taken out some of their material to adhere to a strict word limit. I also want to point out that if I disqualified these two finalists, the next two in would have been previous contest finalists, who have already received the prizes.

I guess all that's left in the grievances dept. are people who feel like their work was needlessly injured by following the 250 word limit... but as much as I know it's tough to only send 250 words, I guess I just don't quite see it that way. Polenth only used something like 163 words and she's a finalist. It wasn't the number of words that was constraining people. There were many, many, many excellent entries, and I don't think anyone should feel discouraged that they weren't a finalist.

So next time -- stricter rules! But let's also try and enjoy this contest and of course properly congratulate all the finalists. Thanks everyone.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Preposterously Magnificent Dialogue Tribal Council

JEFF PROBST: Three days, nearly 600 entries, well over 100,000 words. Who will earn the title of preposterously magnificent SOLE SURVIVOR? We will soon find out. With me tonight is literary agent Nathan Bransford. Nathan, how does it feel to be sitting here tonight at tribal council?

NATHAN: I'm happy to be here, Jeff. The torches were a nice touch.

JEFF PROBST: This wasn't just any competition for you. What was it like spending three days in the dialogue jungle without speaking to your loved ones, without bathing, eating rats, and drinking copious amounts of bourbon? That had to be difficult.

NATHAN: I'm a fighter, Jeff, and I'm in this game to pick a winner. It was very difficult to choose finalists, and I'd like to thank everyone who entered. This wasn't easy.

JEFF PROBST: What was the most difficult aspect for you?

NATHAN: Context. It was extremely difficult to jump into scenes midway. This was by far the most difficult contest to judge, and I'm sure it was difficult for the writers as well. Some authors spend an entire book building toward a perfect moment of dialogue, and yet in this competition the authors only had 250 words. Not easy at all.

JEFF PROBST: Here's what I don't understand about this. You're a literary agent. It's your job. Why are you complaining? Why should this be difficult for you?

NATHAN: Um.. I'm not.. complaining. You turned hostile.

JEFF PROBST: Do you have the hidden immunity idol?


JEFF PROBST: Then let's get right to tonight's voting. I'll go tally the votes.

First vote: Michele. That's one vote for Michele.

Malika is on her way to Nubia through Egypt, on a journey to regain her rightful place as the daughter of the black female Pharaoh Nikwala after years as a slave to the Greeks. Enroute, she meets Zuberi, a fellow countryman.

“How is the Princess this morning?” Zuberi asked, his face serious but his voice carrying a cheery lilt. She wondered if he overheard their argument.

“Quite well now, thank you Zuberi.”

“Perhaps you should sit.”

“It feels good to be up and about,” she said, a bit more sharply than she intended. He wasn’t going to tell her what to do too, was he?

“My mother used to have a cure for fevers. It was a special soup that made from sheep’s testicles—to give you strength.” His white teeth gleamed in the sun and she was surprised to see he had dimples just below each angular cheek. His eyebrows were raised innocently, but his smile was mischievous.

Malika grimaced, and Zuberi laughed. It was lovely sound, deep and resonant.

“--and a tea infused with hookworm larvae for the fever.”

“Oh, stop!” Malika laughed out loud. She noticed Alexandros glance at her and frown. She ignored him. “Are all the cures in Nubia so…unusual?”

“No, I am teasing just a little bit. Only the most simple farmers still use the hookworm cure. But the soup--” he grinned.

Malika held up her hand. “I’m not quite well enough to hear that again.”

“Ah,” he chuckled, “lucky for you your aunt has made you well again. She is a good and wise woman.”

“Yes, she is.”

“She is fine teacher, also.”

Malika nodded, wondering how much of their conversation he overheard.

“You are learning the power of our people, yes?”

“Yes, but not everyone approves.” She glanced sidelong at Alexandros, who was pacing nervously along the rail as the ship on the horizon grew closer.

“Ah, but he is not Nubian. He cannot understand.”

Second vote: Jeffrey Selin. That's one vote for Michele, one vote for Jeffrey Selin.

The Zodiac and Kirby's experience are legendary -- the motorboat for stalling and Kirby for captaining the craft under duress. Kirby doesn't have the best playthings. Not the kind bought with wealth. They leak oil. They need mending. They are just things he collected along the way.

"Tomorrow," he says. "I need it first thing." Kirby wipes sweat from his high forehead. He has a screwdriver in the other hand. "That one?" he points.

"Oh, yeah," says Braddah. "Dis one ac’ real funny kine."

They're in Kirby's driveway bent over the Zodiac's outboard. Braddah is a thick-skinned Samoan, part Portuguese, part Hawaiian, all local. Just Braddah. His big brown crack is exposed in baggy ass board shorts.

Alan, Kirby's son, circles the driveway on his skateboard. The urethane wheels hum on the blacktop. "Dad. Dad, watch this," he says.

"So I get a new injector?" says Kirby.

"Cool head main ting," says Braddah.

"Dad, watch!"

"Shit," says Kirby.

Alan attempts a daredevil board sport leap. There's air. It ends with a crash to the blacktop. Kirby waits, places a hand on Braddah's shoulder as if to say hold on. "You alright?" says Kirby.

Slowly the boy gets up. "Whatever." He returns to circle the boat and its captain with the Doppler effect of racing wheels.

Kirby watches. "Hey, how old was Mickey when he first tried the waves at Jaws?"

Braddah shrugs. "Oh, he go at it since small kid time," he says.

Next vote: Polenth. That's one vote Michele, one vote Jeffrey Selin, one vote Polenth.

"Davie, dearest? That's a very bad idea."

"Why?" asked Davie. He stopped the drill an inch from his head.

"Dying is terribly unpleasant."

"I won't die. My mind isn't bound to my physical form. This will prove my independence from mortal flesh!"

"I'm sure it will, dear," I said. "But you'll get blood on your clothes. What would your mother think?"

He lowered the drill. "She'd be angry."

"Exactly. Why don't we prove your independence from mortal flesh some other way?"

"There isn't another way."

I sighed. "You could go on a quest or sing about it, like a normal young man. You're making my job very hard."

He scowled. "You just don't understand."

"Of course I do, poppet. Come on, let's get some doughnuts. You'd miss doughnuts without a body, wouldn't you?"

"I suppose." Davie looked at the drill. "Fairy Godmother? Can I drill holes in the doughnuts?"

"Yes dear. If it stops you drilling holes in yourself, go right ahead."

Next vote: emeraldcite. That's one vote michele, one vote Jeffrey Selin, one vote Polenth, one vote emraldcite. One vote left.

“Thanks for the coffee,” Smith said, his voice slight. “You going to have any?”

“I don’t drink coffee.”

“A detective that doesn’t drink coffee? Philly never ceases. So, you want to know about it, huh? I guess I should talk about it.” Smith grimaced as he sipped his coffee.

“I just got off work--”

“What time?”

“A little after midnight.”

“That’s late.”

“Not really. ‘We run a tight ship,’” Smith said in a raspy voice, obviously emulating a boss. “I worked until midnight, shut down my station, and headed to the ground floor. I told Frank ‘good night,’ and then left.”

“Who’s Frank?”

“Security at the front door.”

“He see anything?”

“Only thing Frank sees is the Flyers’ score on TV.”

“Then what?”

“I was heading to the garage when I saw the body. At first, I didn’t know it was a body. I mean until I pulled back the sheet and saw the blood.” Smith choked on the hot coffee. “Sorry.”

“What about the body?”

Smith picked up a pen on the table and drew a symbol that Blake didn’t recognize.

“That was carved on his chest. His whole body was shaved, man.”

“Go home and rest Mr. Smith. Call us if you think of anything else. Here’s my number.”

Blake handed Smith a card.

Philadelphia Police Department
Detective Christian Blake
Special Investigator of Occult Homicide

Smith looked up, his mouth formed around a question. But Detective Blake had already left the room.

Last vote: Victoria Schwab.

From a young adult story about the world between life and death, the Shadow Mile:

The shadow woman pointed down the street and spoke.

“It’s a left. Don’t forget.” She said, patting Nell’s shoulder. It was an awkward feeling, not quite solid but certainly thicker than air. “Always a left. Never go right. Right never goes where you want it to.”

Nell nodded slowly. “Right’s wrong. Got it.”

The shadow woman shook her head and the hole where her mouth should be pursed. “No, no. Right’s not wrong. It’s just not right for you.”

“Mildred, you’re confusing her.” Sighed the shadow man. He raised a long shadow hand and pointed.

“At the end of the road, turn left. Straights are unpredictable. They don’t tend to lead you straight to anything.”

“How will I know when I’ve found an Out door?” Asked Nell.

“Don’t worry about that.” Said the shadow woman. “You found an In door. An Out door will probably find you.”

“You’ll stumble upon one, if you’re lucky.” Added the shadow man.

Nell thanked the two, and apologized again for intruding. She took a step, then stopped.

“I’m sorry, but would you mind telling me what this place is called?”

“You don’t know?” Asked the shadow woman. “But…”

“It’s called the Shadow Mile.” Interjected the man.

“Oh,” Said Nell. There was a flicker of familiarity, but then it was gone. “That’s a strange thing to call a place.”

“It’s a strange place.” Said the man.

And since this made nothing much clearer, Nell simply thanked them and turned and, standing very straight, walked away down the shadow street.

JEFF PROBST: We have a tie.

In order to break the tie, please cast your vote for the sole survivor in the comments section of THIS POST. Anonymous votes will not be counted. Please do not campaign for any survivor on the Internet or elsewhere -- let's make this a fair challenge. Voting will close on Friday at 5:00 pm Pacific time.

WHO will be the sole survivor? Find out on Friday.

So What Makes Good Dialogue Good Anyway?

Yowsa. 532 entries so far! Please continue to enter until 5:00 PM today in the preposterously magnificent original thread. Also, if you are having trouble locating your entry, please keep in mind that Blogger has instituted a new system for long threads. At the top and bottom of the comments threads you'll see links that say "newer" and "newest." You'll need to click through those to see the comments that have been entered most recently.

Please please take care not to enter more than once. When I'm reading I don't realize it's a repeat until I'm part-way through, and then, that just makes the reading time that much more lengthy.


So what makes good dialogue good anyway?

I'm beginning to have some concrete ideas about that question, but first, my client Jennifer Hubbard (author of the forthcoming BLACK MOUNTAIN ROAD) has a really awesome post about dialogue that I highly recommend.

One of Jennifer's key insights (I'm paraphrasing) is that dialogue does and doesn't sound like actual conversation. I think that's spot on. If you were to transcribe an actual conversation between two people it would be full of stops and starts, missing words where people simply know what the other person means... conversation is messy. Good dialogue on the page, on the other hand, is something a bit different.

So the "Wait, what's?" and the clarifications and the back and forth rhythm of actual conversation should be, in my opinion, used very very cautiously.

Jennifer also points out that dialogue can sound forced when it carries too much exposition. Also good advice!

The other thing I'm noticing about dialogue is that it is most effective when it is very clear it is the voice of a very particular character or characters saying the words, rather than words that could be said by anyone. Everyone has their own way of speaking in real life, but with dialogue on the page it seems even more important to counter expectations, to avoid cliches, and to make it sound original.

But hey -- don't take my word for it. What do you think makes good dialogue good?

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

TPMDC Update #2: Remembering Miss Snark and Some Other Tidbits

Stilllllllll going. Can you tell how excited I am about the entries in this contest? No? Well, I am very excited! So excited I put that in italics. Thanks again to everyone for entering. Please remember to enter in the original contest thread.

It was a year ago today that Miss Snark left us, and there are a number of lovely tributes around the blogosophere for Her Snarkness. Patricia Wood is hosting the official tribute, and Kim Stagliano, Stephen Parrish, Maya Reynolds and Aprilynne Pike have also posted tributes. (Sorry if I missed anyone -- busy day!)

There is some big news afoot at Random House as Peter Olson is officially out as CEO, and in steps Markus Dohle, who had headed Bertelsmann's Arvato Print unit, and is a publishing outsider. We're all watching closely!

And you may have seen Dennis Cass' video on what he isn't doing to promote the paperback release of HEAD CASE, but if you haven't, the hilarious video is definitely worth a watch:

Monday, May 19, 2008

TPMDC Update #1

I'd just like to say, first of all, thank you to everyone who has entered so far. If you haven't already entered, please enter only in the original contest thread. The deadline is actually THIS WEDNESDAY, not whatever date I had erroneously listed in the original blog post. Did I tell you those rules would change?

The second thing I'd like to say is that since I began reading entries this evening 21 more entries have come in, so basically, the rate of new entries is currently exceeding my reading speed.

The third thing I have to say is this:

That is all.

The Preposterously Magnificent Dialogue Challenge

I am pleased to report that the battery of physicians and psychiatrists who monitor my well-being on a daily basis have at long last declared me fit to proceed with another contest!

You remember the last one? The one I'm not even linking to because clicking over to it may crash your computer?

Well. This one will be even more preposterously magnificent than all of the others combined, as it arises out of this imponderable question: what makes good dialogue... good?

I don't really know. I know it when I see it, but what does good dialogue have in common? Do we really know? I don't. Let's find out!

Here are the contest rules, which may be amended with zesty randomness and are subject to my own interpretations and opinions, which are known to be both feckless and strongly held. You've been warned.

The rules!

1. Please enter up-to-but-not-exceeding 250 words of dialogue and supporting description in an entry in the comments section of this blog post. The balance between dialogue and supporting description is up to your discretion, bearing in mind that this is a dialogue contest and not a supporting description contest.

b. You may enter once, and once you may enter.

*. Spreading the word about the contest is not only encouraged, it is strongly encouraged.

5. Snarky anonymous comments about entries, the weather, Barbaro the horse, Norman Mailer and/or any other subject will be deleted with relish. This is a free speech zone, or rather the opposite thereof.

f. Against strenuous doctors orders, I will be the sole judge of the contest this time.

T. The deadline for this contest is 5:00 PM Pacific Time on Wednesday May 21st. Finalists will be announced Thursday morning, and you will have the opportunity to vote on the winner, which will be announced on Friday.

PRIZES. The ultimate grand prize deluxe winner will receive the satisfaction of knowing they have written some seriously awesome dialogue, and will have a choice of a query critique, partial critique, or 10 minute phone conversation. Runners-up will receive a query critique or other agreed-upon prize.

Let the dialogue about dialogue begin!

Friday, May 16, 2008

This Week In Publishing 5/16/08

The Publishing This Week

Almost forgot to announce: CONTEST NEXT WEEK. Stay tuned.

BookEnds hit the hot button issues this past week and I couldn't be happier. First up, the ever-popular question from those outside of publishing looking in: How Do Bad Books Get Published? Jessica Faust confesses that the question makes her mad and tires her out, and I will confess that I agree with Jessica's confession, but she nevertheless makes a stab at guessing why people feel this way (hint: it's a subjective business, people!).

Jessica also invited her readers to vent, and boy did they ever! #1 peeve expressed: agents not responding to queries.

In other agent blog news, Kristin Nelson explains why agents sometimes rely on vagueness and stock phrases when responding to partials and manuscripts. It's not because we're lazy, sometimes we really just don't know what to say.

Remember when Doris Lessing won the Nobel Prize in literature and she let out an exasperated "Oh, Christ" and it was really awesome? Well, her mood hasn't improved much since then. Via Shelf Awareness, the BBC reports that Lessing has called her win "a bloody disaster" and says, "All I do is give interviews and spend time being photographed." Best Nobel Prize Winner ever??

Via Publishers Lunch, if you want to know why the publishing industry is, um, unique, look no further than this article about publishers considering doing away with printed catalogs in favor of electronic catalogs that would, you know, save money and the environment. A bookseller sums up the mood in response to this proposal: "Booksellers like to sit around the table with the catalogs. They thumb through them and make notes. It's a real interactive kind of experience, so there is an emotional attachment to the current kind of catalog." And there you have it.

And finally, let me just say that I'm really proud of my state today.

California here we come. Right back where we started from. Califorrrrrrrniiiaaaaa... Califoooooooorniaaaaa... Here we coooommmmmmmmeee..

Um. Sorry.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, May 15, 2008


One of Curtis Brown's distinguished agents, Emilie Jacobsen, suggested a great blog topic to me the other day and I'm pleased to follow her lead.

The shrinking violets among us often lament that they hate to brag about their work in a query as the mere idea makes them palpitate and sweat. Well, you're in luck! As Emmy pointed out to me the other day: you shouldn't anyway.

Now, I want to qualify this. Bragging honestly about your personal qualifications and publishing credits is not only appropriate, it is appreciated. If you are the world's foremost expert on alien monkey encounters, well, then I would like you to be upfront with me that you are the world's foremost expert on alien monkey encounters.

But when it comes to describing the actual work in a query, we really don't want to be told how great it is.

There's a further qualification I'd like to make, which is that there is a sliver of a place for positive characterizations, such as describing a suspense novel as "fast paced," although be very careful with these labels because it's always better to show these qualities in the query rather than tell.

But when an author describes their work as "hilarious" or "amazing" or "great" or a "masterpiece" or "more gripping than THE DA VINCI CODE" or as "beautiful as Faulkner"... well, as Emmy said: "I'll decide for myself, thanks."

The rule of thumb on braggadocio: leave the reviews to the critics.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

What's Your Favorite Book Based On a True Story?

I had nearly finished reading Jon Krakauer's INTO THIN AIR on the way to work this morning and I had to resist walking down the street with my nose in the book. This proved to be a wise choice when I was nearly plowed over in a crosswalk by an SUV inattentively making a right hand turn, and was saved by a quick leap backwards and a loud shout. Drivers of San Francisco -- please be careful when there are literary agents in the crosswalk! California's car cell phone ban cannot come soon enough.

But in any event, INTO THIN AIR is an amazing book!! I'm sure many of you have read it, but Krakauer's step by step chronicle of his team's ill-fated 1996 Everest expedition is one of the most perfect combinations of subject matter and incredible writing I have ever come across. Not only that, I have it on good authority that Krakauer is an extremely nice person and a pleasure to work with.

Krakauer really proves that it is not enough to have witnessed incredible events, you have to be a tremendous writer. Check and check.

So now I'm wondering: what is your favorite work of nonfiction based on actual events? This rules out general nonfiction, so I guess we're looking at history, memoir, biography, journalism.... you get the idea.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Fun Times in Atlanta

After returning from my first trip to Atlanta, I would like to file this report: holy crap the people there are nice.

From the lady who walked half a block to help me buy a MARTA ticket out of their bizarre machines (I think it might be easier to buy a ticket to the moon), to all of the people on the street who said good morning to me as I walked by (I ummed a halting "good morning" back as it slowly dawned on me they actually weren't crazy), to all of the awesome people at the Atlanta Writer's Conference.

Nice nice and nice!

And I especially want to thank those amazing and talented blog readers I had the opportunity to meet at the conference. It was really great to put faces with blogs and screennames, and thanks for such a warm welcome.

I would also like to report:

- The Georgia Aquarium is really something to behold. Whale sharks, belugas and drawling schoolkids losing their freaking minds aplenty.

- At the conference I had the pleasure of meeting fellow agents Nat Sobel, Tina Wexler and Amy Hughes, and we had a really fun panel Saturday morning in which we pretty much agreed with each other on the increasing necessity of authors building as much of a platform and network as possible, on the desirability of a novel to go with a collection of short stories, and on how at the end of the day there are no hard and fast rules in this business. Any writer would be fabulously lucky to have Nat, Tina or Amy as their agent.

- Little did I know you have to pay to go to the living commercial that is the Coke Museum! And if you go to the World of Coke, do not expect to see any mention of New Coke. Apparently still a sore subject.

- The Flying Biscuit may be the best breakfast spot in America. After a redeye to Atlanta, those biscuits, cheese grits and coffee were mighty appreciated. Oh, and the people there were really nice, although you probably already knew that.

- Did you notice I said "mighty appreciated?"

- I had my ration of fried food -- fried shrimp at Atlanta institution Manuel's Tavern.

All in all a very fun and too-brief weekend. I already can't wait to go back. Thanks to everyone who made the conference happen.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

This Week in Publishing 5/8/08

This Week in...

Whaaa? This Week in Publishing on a Thursday?

Tis true, tis true. Tomorrow I am off to Atlanta for the Atlanta Writer's Conference, where I will be meeting with Georgia's finest and hopefully find time to peruse their vaunted aquarium. And eat fried stuff.

So an abbreviated week in publishing:

Mark your calendars for May 20th, because Patricia Wood will be hosting a tribute to the one and only dearly departed Miss Snark, who gave me my christening as a blogger and promptly obliterated my Inbox with incoming queries.

Are you an aspiring author looking to build a network you will be able to draw upon in the future? Well, one great example of how to make it work is Chris Eldin (nee Church Lady), who this week is hosting an online party for Sandra Cormier. A great rule of thumb that she demonstrates: ask not what authors can do for you, but what you can do for authors.

In other publishing news, via Publishers Lunch, HarperCollins CEO Jane Friedman reported that the children's market is "on fire," with sales up 50%, although she noted that Zondervan has been under pressure lately due to changes and diminishing sales in the CBA.

And finally, the New York Times discovered Steampunk! Yes, a mere 18 years after William Gibson and Bruce Sterling's THE DIFFERENCE ENGINE, the New York Times chronicles that there are some people who like to read about science fiction set in the past and admire retro sci fi. You wacky steampunks! I guess this means the Times should be all over blogging literary agents by 2025.

Have a great weekend!

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.


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?

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Can I Get a Ruling?: Are We In A Golden Age for Books or Not?

It's time once again for that semi-regular blog feature that I actually didn't forget about (at least this time): Can I Get a Ruling?

Today's Can I Get a Ruling? involves our favorite schizoid industry, which somehow manages to be seen as being in decline while growing at 3%, and where 400,000 books were published in the last year but (seemingly) fewer of them are published by mainstream houses who are (seemingly) focus on a narrowing slate of blockbusters.

My question to you: is this a good time for books?

Garth Hallberg sums up the irony of the industry's current predicament with an insightful breakdown of some of the complaints about publishing and the current "crisis of reading" balanced against the fact that the supposedly money-driven and monolithic publishing industry is comprised of, wouldn't you know, people who love books, including small presses who are more interested in producing beautiful books than becoming billionaires.

So which is it?

Pros: more choice than ever, more opportunities outside mainstream publishing, more possibility for non-mainstream authors to find audiences via the Internet, e-retailing breaking down geographic boundaries for people who before didn't have access to bookstores, online communities to discuss books, insert your own here

Cons: fewer, bigger bestsellers, competition from other media, decline of newspaper book pages, too much choice, fewer authors able to support themselves writing, possible dilution of quality as more books are self-published, insert your own here

Monday, May 5, 2008

NY Times: Peter Olson Will Step Down as CEO of Random House

Some possibly big news afoot, according to the New York Times, Peter Olson will step down from his position as CEO of Random House. The Times cites disappointing profits (driven at least in part by a weak dollar) and losses in book club programs.

What does this mean for Random House and the industry?

We shall see.

Friday, May 2, 2008

This Week In Publishing 5/2/08

sihT eWke nI lbuhsPgni

This was a great week in the world of publishing blogging, and I'm sure I caught but a few of the highlights.

But first, congratulations go out to the winners of the Edgar Awards! Among the winners, John Hart and DOWN RIVER took home the prize for Best Novel.

Over at the indispensable Writer Beware blog, Victoria Strauss has a really fantastic and did I mention indispensable post on things small press writers should look for as they're handling agreements and weighing offers. Know what you sign, people!! Be careful!

Moonrat also has a really interesting post on authors who are syndicating their novels online, and some of the things writers should consider when doing so. Know what you e-publish, people!! Be careful!

Meanwhile, in an article that would make Sean Lindsay weep, the New York Times has discovered that there are a crapload of people writing books out there. 400,000 books published last year, up from 300,000 in 2006! All of them fantastic!!! In the minds of the authors who wrote them!!! Exclamation points!!!!

And finally, reader Caitlin Podiak may just have written the most compelling essay on The Hills you will ever have the pleasure of reading. I won't spoil it for you, but do yourself a favor and see which Shakespearean character Spencer most (and eerily) resembles.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Editors Becoming Agents

Wanna know one reason it's tricky being a young agent on the block?

Although I don't have precise statistics, the industry seems to be in contraction mode from an editorial standpoint as companies merge (i.e. Avalon into Perseus, Harcourt and Houghton), others downsize (i.e Thomas Nelson), and as editors are simply let go. This is all happening amid overall growth within the industry, which is just another sign that the industry is moving in the direction of a blockbuster model built around fewer, bigger books.

Meanwhile self-publishing is getting bigger and bigger and growing at a brisk pace as the mainstream publishing game is open to fewer authors, creating a long tail situation where a bazillion books are selling two copies. But hey, a bazillion times two equals two bazillion!

So what happens to those editors? Well, many of them are becoming agents. Whether a result of downsizing or simply because they feel it's more lucrative, there have been a number of very-experienced high profile editors who have left the editorial side recently to become agents. But meanwhile you almost never see any agents leave to become editors (I think it's because we have better coffee).

Now we have a situation in the industry where there are more and more agents competing for fewer and fewer big book projects. I feel very fortunate to be at Curtis Brown, where we have very experienced film and foreign rights departments that help me make the case that we can offer an author a high level of service and attention to subrights, and of course I'm trying to get the word out on the blog so that hopefully people will want to work with me. Query me, for the love of Tyra!

But it's an interesting time to be a young agent building a list. Think about how many of the blockbuster slots are filled by experienced authors who have been at it for years (and who had agents twenty years before I got to the business), and then think about how rare it is for a new author to rise up to become one of those names. Those new authors are the type of people a young agent needs to find first and help break out, but it's tricky when there's so much competition, including competition for those new projects from those agents (and former editors) who have been at this twenty-five years.

(subliminal message for those agents: retiiiiiiiiire..... retiiiiiiiirrree..... you knowwwww you want toooooo... play golfff.... take up knittinnggg... send your clients to meeeeeeeeee)

But hey, there's only one thing a young agent can do. Jay-Z (and Barack Obama) knows what that is:

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