Nathan Bransford, Author

Friday, January 9, 2009

This Week in Publishing 1/9/09

There is a huge amount of news this week, and TWIP is bursting at the seams! Better get started.

First off, very sad news: long time reader Travis Erwin's house recently burned down, and Erica Orloff and Stephen Parrish have pitched in to create a website where you can donate virtual bricks to help him rebuild. I know it's tough times all around, but every bit you can spare would help.

As you vote for this blog to place far, far behind Neil Gaiman for Best Literature Blog at the Weblog Awards, be sure and also vote for reader Erik's blog Barataria for Best Culture Blog, and Amateur Book Blogger's The View From Here for Best UK Blog!

And thirdly in reader news, Heather Wardell, who so graciously contributed the query behind Anatomy of a Good Query Letter II, is releasing the novel it describes, LIFE, LOVE, AND A POLAR BEAR TATTOO for free! Go check it out.

Is it too early to nominate a blog post for Best Post of 2009? Because this post by Jessica Faust at BookEnds on how to write a nonfiction book proposal, and I mean REALLY write a nonfiction book proposal, is my nominee, hands down.

Over at the New York Times, multiple people (thank you!) pointed me to David Streitfeld's article about how he is contributing to the publishing industry's financial ruin by buying and selling used books on the Internet, complete with anguished quotes from booksellers. I don't have much to add here except to further bang my already-bruised forehead on my desk.

Oh, but maybe e-books are the answer! Well, Booksquare is here to tell you they cost way too much and will only sell if they're priced far less. The worst thing about this is that I DON'T EVEN DISAGREE WITH HER. Maalox! Get me Maalox!!!

Oh, but at least e-books have DRM and people have to buy them new, right? Well, iTunes will soon be dropping DRM protection and will allow more flexible pricing, which will surely have some broad implications for the downloadable audio market. Can DRM free e-books be that far behind? Will we then have a "used" e-book market? Am I going to need something stronger than Maalox?

Steve Jobs famously asserted that people don't read anymore, which is interesting because rumor sites are asserting the perennial rumor that Apple seems to be coming out with a tablet-sized or dare I say Kindle-sized, iPod Touch for people to not read on this Fall.

My favorite Shrinking Violets have a seriously great post summarazing a Columbia University study and resulting New York Times Magazine article in which people try and predict the success of a song. Turns out that buzz is basically random but then strongly reinforces itself.

Via the VQR blog comes Julian Gough's plea for another book stimulus package, this one aimed at buying up toxic bad books, and asserts that the government must be the reader of last resort.

And finally, in this digital age of Twittering and commenting on blogs, who has time for.... not writing? Polly Frost published an extremely hilarious and helpful antidote in The Atlantic if you are suffering from the opposite of Writer's Block

Have a great weekend!


Marilyn Peake said...


Thank you for another great post. How wonderful of you to post links to readers’ sites today. My heart goes out to Travis Erwin and his family.

Your discussion about iTunes dropping DRM protection from their books also makes me sick with concern. But, then again, who knows where the digital age will lead us? Last night, I saw a really interesting discussion about copyright in the digital age between Stephen Colbert and the author of Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy. Here’s a link to the video:
Colbert was pretty funny, but I found myself yelling at the TV, "Oh no, he’s actually marking up the book!!"
Here’s a link to the book:

Adaora A. said...

OMG. It really breaks my heart when people loose their homes. It's not just the money lost it's the memories, the pictures in the money can't replace all of that. I will keep them in my thoughts.

I've voted for you twice! Once up in Ottawa and once on my laptop in Toronto. Apparently folks, it's all to do with IP addresses in regards to voting.

WOW! I will definetly check out the free book. It sounded like lots of fun.

Awesome TWIP post.

Ink said...

Loved that link to the blog on the tipping point of popularity. I've felt this for a long time and always jabber it at people... and it's nice to know there's actually some proof to back it up. Makes me sound less strident. :)

My best, as always,
Bryan Russell

Marilyn Peake said...

Just finished reading Polly Frost's article. LOL! That is hilarious...and, oh so true! Oh yeah, why am I now blogging? Better reread that article.

Anita said...


Completely agree with you about Jessica's post. I'm only hoping DeAnna doesn't read it and it get ideas.

PurpleClover said...

Thanks for the link to Polly Frosts hilarious but true article. I think I need a 12-step program myself.

Jake Seliger said...

I too wrote about my contribution to the publishing industry's demise. Even if you don't care about what I have to say, check out the comment from Jeff Sypeck, who wrote Becoming Charlemagne, who has an actual financial stake in this, as opposed to me, who would merely like to have an actual financial stake in it.

Better still, read Ursula K. Le Guin's essay about publishing and its perhaps faux problems. The last three paragraphs are the piece's real money shot.

Erik said...

Thanks for the plug! I'm still going through the other links - and there's a lot of really good stuff this week. I hope your fans are showing a lot of appreciation in the voting!

Stephen Parrish said...

Thanks not only for the link to the Travis Erwin fundraiser, but also for your personal contribution.

Ugly Deaf Muslim Punk Gurl! said...

I'm sorry to hear about that guy's house burning down... poor guy.

have a great weekend.

Kristan said...

The opposite of writer's block? Please tell me they sell that!

Lynne said...

Nathan, well, I voted you for best blog but you know how had turned out.
Have a good weekend!

lotusgirl said...

Dropping DRM protection just doesn't seem right, but then neither does charging the same amount for a virtual book as an ink and paper variety. Hopefully something will still be able to be worked out.

L.C. Gant said...

Wow, so much great info... Where to start first? Thanks for all the wonderful links, Nathan! Looks like I'll be up late doing a lot of "not writing" tonight!

other lisa said...

Apple's making an eReader - or an iReader, more likely - is good news. How much you want to bet they will sell book on iTunes, just like they sell movies and TV shows?

Furious D said...

1. Wish Erwin and his family well.

2. My advice, attract attention by picking a feud with Gaiman.

3. I misread that title and tried to tattoo a polar bear. Not only is it dangerous, it also doesn't show well through the fur, so it's pretty pointless.

4. How about nominating this for best blog comment of 2009?

5. I did my part, I got books for almost everyone on my Xmas list. All new too. So stop banging your forehead.

6. They do cost too much, especially since reading off a screen is a pain in the butt. And there's some Maalox in the medicine cabinet.

7. Baen books gives e-books away for FREE without any DRM, and it's actually helped their sales. It reminds of a story about a comic shop owner. He wanted to attract more customers, so he started giving away comics in doctor or dentist waiting rooms, barber shops, wherever people have to sit and wait. Guess what, his give away doubled his sales. Perhaps a free e-book giveaway is in order.

8. Jobs doesn't read anymore, he just has novels digitally downloaded into his brain.

9. While I can't identify a hit, I can say that any song that doesn't have me singing on it will probably do better than if I was singing on it.

10. I'm still waiting for the congressional hearings on the porn bailout.

11. I have the opposite of writer's block. I'm currently working on two novels, one non-fiction book, a short story, and a daily blog. I can't stop!

Heather Wardell said...

Nathan, thank you so much for mentioning "Life, Love, and a Polar Bear Tattoo"! I made it available for free because I really wanted people to read it, and you've guaranteed that'll happen. Much appreciated, and a great start to my weekend.

Furious D, I hope the polar bear you tried to tattoo didn't hurt you too much. :)

Marilynn Byerly said...

Lots of ebooks, including those from major publishers, are sold without DRM, and they are no more likely to be pirated as ebooks than paper books which are digitalized.

From what I've seen of sites I've helped take down, paper books tend to be pirated more often.

I get so tired of this cost of ebooks uproar. Most ebooks are reasonably priced at a bit below massmarket.

With all the cost add-ons required so that Amazon, etc., look like they are giving you a deal, ebooks will never be a buck each, but they are reasonably priced.

Sure, some annoying publishers overprice their ebooks, but most don't.

Steve Jobs didn't say that people don't read. He said ENOUGH people don't read to warrant an Apple computer for just reading ebooks.

Several ebook software companies have stepped into that hole, and the iPhone is now the most popular way to read an ebook. The company who created Stanza just announced they have had over a million downloads of their software.

Oh, and the opposite of writer's block is hypergraphia.

Nathan Bransford said...


All good points. And I'm actually not opposed to DRM, and you're right that non-DRM titles do not seem to be more pirated than others. I do worry though about the extreme downward pressure on prices and how it's going to affect the economics of publishing. Yes, cheap promos and free stuff do boost sales, but do they ultimately boost revenue? Are customers being acclimated to unsustainable price points? Once more customers are using e-books, will we see the type of endemic piracy that has plagued the music business? Will we regret that we cast away DRM?

We're all plunging ahead, but there are some things I'm definitely nervous about.

BarbS. said...

Awww, how nice to plug Bartaria!

You know the saying, Folks: Vote early and often!

As often as the Weblogs system allows, that is... ;)

Good luck, Erik and Nathan!

BarbS. said...

And how awful about Travis Erwin's home! There's nothing like losing your stuff--and the memories, the heirlooms, the WIPs, the etc., get the picture.

When it happened to me back in the '90s, the only thing that kept me going and not feeling sorry for myself was remembering how my mother's family lost everything in the Holocaust, but eventually ended up building better lives.

Nasty business, loss, no matter how it happens...

Just_Me said...

Sorry, Nathan, I don't think I have anything strong enough for you in my cupboards. It sounds like you need something about 100 proof.

The used-book debate is old. And the bottom line remains that new books are expensive, especially when you can get used ones for 75 cents and free ones from the local library discard pile. But I have resolved to buy my favorite authors from the actual retailers that give them royalties.... as long as the author is still alive and earning royalties. I make no promises about Shakespeare and Ovid.

Nancy D'Inzillo said...

Once I'm actually making decent money (and am not a poor, poor graduate student) I look forward to supporting the book industry by buying from booksellers who will get the money back into the author's hands. Until then, I can't afford to swear off used books (which, right now, I'm only buying textbooks in anyway—I miss having money for books).
All excellent links, as always. I would totally rate your blog above Neil Gaiman's, no matter how much I love the guy's work.
Two more link to share with everyone:
1) A PW Daily article about two Oregon statutes regarding book censorship
2) A PW Daily article about the publishing industry's struggle to comply with the Child Safety Act (where do people come up with these things, really?)

Marilynn Byerly said...

I wouldn't worry about the cost of ebooks hurting publishers and authors. The cost will always remain high because of all those discounts I mentioned.

The danger is the distributors. Amazon takes a 66% cut off the cost of the ebook. That's for just storing it digitally and letting their computers do the work.

I simply can't believe that publishers were dumb enough to let Amazon do that to them.

Until Amazon, the industry cut of distributors was between 40 to 50%.

Agents, no offense, have been just as foolish. The average royalty percentage for authors was around 50% until some of the conglomerates moved into the market and convinced agents that 15% was perfectly reasonable when all they had to do was pass along some already prepared digital files.

Even the name authors will have to sell a heck of a lot of books to make any money with a 15% cut of 33% minus their agent's cut of the price of the book.

Nathan Bransford said...

Well, until now Amazon has been basically the only game in town, but that's really going to change with the dispersal of e-books and other e-readers. I remain optimistic about how this will empower authors and break down a lot of the traditional barriers. In 10 years things are going to look vastly different. But it's incredibly chaotic in the meantime.

And trust me, we're doing what we can. I've been working most of this week on this very issue.

Marilynn Byerly said...

Amazon came very late to the ebook party with the Kindle, but they are acting like the greedy bully on the block, as usual.

Right now, the Sony eReader and the iPhone are beating it in popularity, and I hope it doesn't gain most of the market as it wants to. If it does, we all will need to look for a job that pays better.

I've been in this market ten years, and I've watched players come and go.

The longest surviving distributor is Fictionwise, and it certainly is the fairest to authors and publishers.

With so much money being poured into the market, most of the big technology companies are entering the field with ebook hardware.

Samsung has just announced a new reader, and it will be one of half a dozen or so coming out this year.

The ereader software is also exploding in popularity, and new markets for ebook distribution continues to grow.

Another major growth area is in library ebook downloads which has exploded in the last months.

Please do fight for better rates for your clients. It can be done. Friends who started their careers with the indie epublishers laughed when the conglomerates offered their agent 15% when they were used to 50% or better, and the conglomerates gave them that 50%.

MA Fat Woman said...

When I have grandchildren and want to read them a story from one of childhood books they'll look at me with awe and wonder as I hold the leather bound volumes in my hand.
"What's that Granny"?
"It's a book sweety".
"Wow, we've never seen one of those before".

Jenny said...

Amazon is really messing up eBook marketing.

I have sold quite a few PDF download versions of some out my books for years at a price very close to the printed book price.

These were books people needed before job interviews and so the instantaneous delivery was a huge plus and worth paying for.

But when I tried to convert one of these books to Kindle it would not convert. Amazon offers no tech support, just a forum. I wasted a lot of time on it and gave up. It appears that the Kindle can't handle a PDF file that has charts and graphs in it.

Nonfiction books with useful information people need right away are the best candidates for eSales. But the Kindle was designed to use HTML under the covers and that means that you lose control of layout. So any book that is not just linear text is going to end up garbled or unable to be converted.

What a shame!

Some kind of Netflix option for books would be a wonderful solution for authors in the Long Tail. But Amazon's proprietary formula and its deficiencies compared to PDF (a mature technology that everyone has access to) is a huge step back.

BarbS. said...

Eeks. A thought, if I may, on the overall humongous-ness of the book business and odd manifestations of success, which are apparent in the Weblog Awards:

No doubt about it, Neil Gaiman's blog is extraordinary. But that's why it didn't get my vote. I dislike the slickness of success,the sites that shout, "You MUST look at me; you can't avoid me. I'm wonderful!"

I voted--and voted, and voted, ;)--for Nathan's site because it reminds me of the coffee shop down the street, where people go to read newspapers and to work on their laptops, but still chat with friends and other patrons. It's a comfortable place. I hope it stays that way for a long, long time.

Wordver: grandowt. Hmmmmmm...

Professor Tarr said...

I have always felt that the arts shall always be safe regardless of the changes that technology with regularity foists upon them. Part of it may be self-delusion, but part of it may be living long enough to see changes instituted that failed to kill artforms, but only allowed them to thrive in a differing way to a new and loving public.

33 1/3, Aphex, CDs, Digital tape, radio, tv, cable, video, satellite, itunes, blah, blah, blah, Kindle. On the surface it seems enough to make neo-Luddites of us all, yet those are only distribution mechanisms.

The art remains.

And I honestly believe that for books in particular, biology itself is our ally. Part of it is that Marshall McLuhan thing wherein we feel an intrinsic need to hold something organic in our kinetic hands. Tactile. Real.

And part of it is that E.O. Wilson biophilia thing wherein we feel a certain affinity in the cultural genetics of our being that draws us to items made of wood, pulp, paper... trees as it were.

In my 2003 book, Bungee Jumping & Cocoons I talk about this in a chapter that extols the differences between a Barnes & Noble mall store and Both are viable distribution mechanisms - and both serve differing psycho-social functions. One is experiential - we have smells, sights, sounds and coffee! to help elicit a loving bookstore experience (the Bungee Jump) and the other allows us to insulate and isolate ourselves within our homes (the Cocoons).

The trend toward e-readers of every sort falls into that Cocooning need to isolate ourselves from the fears, demands, and realities of the harsh world. But I believe that books themselves will become more experiential to compensate and sate that need within us all to have that an actual sensory experience.

I believe to the depths of my being that we will by necessity evolve into more experiential writers delivering product that is truly brilliant in a more ennervating and dramatic way than we currently do now. It will be the second (or third) awakening of the literary art in a way and will draw us in gradually until we are there. We are already heading there. Writers have always used emotive tools - book design, fonts, chapter layout, in conjunction with their expanding dramatic voice - sensual, visceral, truly disturbing, truly erotic, truly depth of field producing to fulfill that internal longing within our readers.

It may be part semiotics, part impressionistic, but it will remain literary. And it will remain ours.

Writers write. Readers read.

Ashley said...

I'm still shaking my head at the "people don't read anymore" quote.

Reading is just about the greatest thing ever and I am doing more of it these days than I ever have before!

I hope to have a long life ahead of me and if anyone thinks I'm going to give up my beloved books, we're gonna have a fight on our hands! :P

the Amateur Book Blogger said...

Thanks for The View From Here blog award mention Nathan!

What great friends and online community that can rally around Erwin in times of need. The power of the blogosphere.

E-books and free content - Paulo Coelho believes he did even better after distributing some of his books online for free - but I believe they can be read in entirety but not downloaded.

The Plastic Logic Reader comes out this year - that's meant to be able to handle graphics, charts and so on better than Kindle - and be in colour in a couple of years. It will apparently get a 'real' name for the launch.

"THE POLLY FROST BOOT CAMP FOR SHUTTING YOU UP!" "RSS Dependency." Hilarious. Too right. I am giving up blogging as my 2009 resolution is to finish 'the WIP' and stop writing other stuff.

BarbS. said...

Just read the Streitfeld story.


On the bright side, I know many people who NEVER buy used books because they're afraid the books were read in the bathroom.

I don't even read books from the library, for the same reason...

Dara said...

This is probably an incredibly silly and naive question and perhaps has already been answered elsewhere but after reading the David Streitfeld article, I wondered: what would happen if all the physical bookstores were gone? Who would publishers sell their books to?

I know it's unlikely that "all" the physical stores would close, but is it something that's possible? With a number of independent ones closing and even chains like Borders in trouble, it makes one wonder--especially seeing how Amazon isn't suffering. How would the publishing industry change then? I'm sure it would be incredibly dramatic.

I suppose as a writer working on her first novel, I want to know if this is something that I'll have to consider in the future. I'd really like to not go the whole self-publishing route...that alone takes quite a bit of money if you want your book to be sold to more than just a few dozen people.

Nathan Bransford said...


That's the billion dollar question. It's going to be an interesting year.

Travis Erwin said...

Nathan. Let me say thank you on behalf of my entire family. The blog world is truly a spectacular place and you are one of its most stellar citizens. For both helping in times of need, or and doing your part on a daily basis to give hope and knowledge to thousands of people chasing a common dream.

Wanda B. Ontheshelves said...

If everything is ebooks - and there are no physical warehouses that need to be maintained, no forklifts moving pallets of books around, etc...can't the publishers just bypass Amazon, and maintain their own servers, and sell books that way?

Brick and mortar - then Amazon came along - now Amazon is the "establishment" - so who's going to displace Amazon? If we're all going to be downloading ebooks in the future - who even needs Amazon??

Nathan Bransford said...


Well, in that era I think there's going to be a lot of demand for a "one-stop shopping" kind of experience, because it would time-consuming to search around the Internet for where you can download the e-book. Maybe people will use Google for that, maybe there will be multiple vendors, or maybe there a system that has yet to be invented, but I'm hopeful it's not just one place.

tinzley said...

This is great information on your blog, I feel bad about Travis's home as well. There is so much that one can never and will never be able to replace, that's sad. I enjoy reading your blogs thank you. I am working on my style and creativeness in blogging. Because there is much to be said in my 36 years, I just enjoy sharing the good, bad, and the ugly. Good day Nathan.

Anonymous said...

Very handy things, books, considering the toddler-size scrolls my people hauled around the desert for 40 years a few thousand years ago.

Will books really be replaced by electronic devices? If they are, who will control the inventory?

Will book sellers be replaced by STORY-sellers? Will independent story-TELLERS be compelled to sell themselves? Will genre writers form guilds similar to the medieval associations of glovers and mapmakers?

Will entire guilds be represented by agents?

Will guilds be owned, like baseball teams?

O brave, new world!

Anonymous said...

The year is 2030:

A young boy stumbles across a chest in his mother’s attic. Inside he finds an odd item. It looks similar to an antique laptop his father has collecting dust in his display case. But instead of seeing a screen and buttons with letters, he finds paper. The sort of paper they use for wrapping presents. On these peculiar papers are words that tell a story.

He thinks to himself, I wonder if this is an antique “paperback book” that my mother told me stories of? I’ve even read about them on my iReader20.2. Usually, I only read about them from e-books predating 2010 that my eTeacher forces me to upload from our virtual classroom.

other lisa said...

Slightly off-topic...or is it?

I am watching "The Bachelor" for the first time.

Words fail.

Deborah Blake Dempsey said...

Although I enjoy audiobooks and e-readers, there is nothing and I mean NOTHING better than the feel and smell of a book. You can't get cozy and comfortable with your hot chocolate and a hard machine with no flexibility in your hand.

Even though technology is pushing its way into every aspect of our lives, I have to believe the beauty of a well-built, well-designed book will persevere.


Wanda B. Ontheshelves said...

Hi Nathan,

Here's how I see the "one-stop shopping" scenario - Tor books - currently you've got :

and (a blog)

- if you could merge those two, and be able to download books from the merged site - and then there's Harlequin:

where you can purchase books (paperback and ebooks).

So if Tor, Harlequin and other publishers get together in a mutual aid type move - and create their own "one-stop shopping" website - a publisher's portal - call it Bookazon or Genrezon - maybe you couldn't buy old or rare books there, but if you're a mystery reader, and the publisher's website provided you with author interviews, blogs, the possibility of posting your own stories - that is, really expanded the concept of one-stop shopping in a way that only the publishers themselves could do - then maybe readers/ereaders would purchase there instead of Amazon. Also, if publishers allowed people to sell their used paperbacks (shudders!), they could do so BUT take 5% or so to be split between publisher and author – or maybe that percentage could also include a donation to the reader's favorite charity – you'd recoup some of the money lost to sales of used books. Or maybe give them a discount on future books they buy through the publisher's portal. Or enter them in a lottery to meet with their favorite author, or have a character based on them appear in their favorite author's upcoming novel (a minor character like a neighbor or a co-worker they bump into occasionally – but who knows, maybe the author would meet you, really like you, and base an expanded character on you!).

Marilyn Peake said...

Speaking of websites where books can be purchased, I ordered first edition signed books by Orson Scott Card to give as Christmas gifts this year from a company listed on his website. Turns out this company has lots of books signed by many authors, prices ranging from very reasonable to expensive:
VJ Books
I recently saw a report on TV about another new website where people can order an autograph and a personalized video message written by the person placing the order and recorded by a particular celebrity to give as gifts:
It’s amazing what’s available on the Internet!

Marilynn Byerly said...

Nathan is right. One stop shopping wins every time.

For years, indie epubs and small press have been doing everything in their power to bring business to their private sites, and it doesn't work. Some of the bigger publishers have tried, as well.

People would rather go to a distributor like Fictionwise or Amazon even if the book costs more.

According to the authors and small publishers I've talked to, for every book sold at the publisher's site, a thousand or more are sold at a one-stop shopping spot.

It's sad, really, because one of the things epublishing was supposed to do was take the power to price the book from distributors and give it back to the writer, publisher, and consumer. It's the middlemen distributors where most of the cost increase comes from.

Zoe Winters said...

Thank you for mentioning Travis!

Zoe Winters said...

Hey Jenny,

Save it as an HTML file, then upload it to the Kindle.

Hope this helps!

Scott said...

Apologies if this sounds ignorant, but if I was a small press or indie epub/bookstore, I would list my new books on Amazon for cheaper. Everyone looks at the "New and Used" prices, and even if they get a piece, it's better than giving them everything.

Not saying it'll work wonders when you've got the whole "free shipping from Amazon for orders over $____" and the Amazon card promotions to contend with, but you might as well take advantage of their marketing power.

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