Nathan Bransford, Author

Thursday, April 9, 2009

This Week in Publishing 4/9/09

I'm back!

Hello. Nice to see you.

First up, an update on the Be An Agent for a Day contest. Thank you so much to the hundreds and hundreds (and hundreds) of you who have volunteered your query. When I started I thought, "I sure hope I can get 50!" That was misguided.

I'm going to finish up automating the 50 lucky queries over the weekend, and I'll set a "Tips and Reminders" post to go live at 7:45 AM Pacific time Monday morning. The queries will start posting automatically starting at 8:00 AM. I'm definitely excited to see how this will go!

Meanwhile, there was a week in publishing, and I was following it even when I was in Tulsa. Publishing: I'm watching you.

Pretty big news from HarperCollins, who will be publishing two posthumous Michael Crichton novels. The first is about pirates, which sounds like a pretty awesome combo, and then the second is going to be one that's finished by another author. Hmmm...

In grammar news, John UpChurch wants to make sure you know your en dashes from your hyphens. That sounded dirty.

My esteemed and wonderful colleague Ginger Clark was interviewed by her client Gretchen McNeil about her response to AgentFail, including why it's not as easy as one might think to set up automated responses to queries. Allow me to add my own four cents: 1) separate e-mail addresses are a pain, 2) you don't want editors and your clients getting annoying auto-replies when they accidentally trigger the keywords, 3) auto-replies are hardly fool proof, 4) it's all up to the agent anyway. There. You almost have a nickel.

Agent Rachelle Gardner has been bringing it with the awesome blogs lately, and she has an excellent post this week about what your queries say about you. We agents read a lot between the lines.

I forgot to put this in last week's TWIP, but on April Fool's Day Kassia Kroszer linked to some (fake) book smell products and said,"enough with the smell of books, already!" And you just know I'm with her. No one gets into a car and says, "Gee, I sure wish this car smelled like a horse."

In publishing terminology news, The Book Publicity Blog explains the difference between advertising and publicity. The primer: advertising = bought. Publicity = exchanged.

The French have declared war on piracy. Let's hope they win this time. UPDATE: They surrendered.

And finally, you know those articles about self-publishing that make it sound like self-publishing is the easiest way to riches since being born an oil heiress? Well, Victoria Strauss has a hilarious breakdown of the way these articles are always written. Take a few success stories, subtract crucial details, and add a dash of "the publishing world will never be the same" and you have yourself an article!

Have a great weekend!


Lisa Schroeder said...

Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds? Wow. The agents for a day are going to have their hands full, eh? Not to mention he who is coordinating it all! :)

Laura Hyatt-Author said...

Nice to have you back Nathan! The smell of books is hilarious. How bout adding the smell of feet to freshly cleaned locker rooms?
Hope your agent experiment goes well. I'll be watching.

The Paperback Diva said...

Thanks for the weekly updates. I always get some useful info from them.

JohnO said...

Can a guy with an internal capital letter in his name (UpChurch) really be trusted, grammarwise?

Word Verication: "werse."


Kristan said...

Strauss's breakdown is great! And of course I had no idea Genova hired a PR firm! There's the secret.

The only thing I *will* disagree with is that I WOULD love it for less trees to be killed. Or more recycled materials to be used. (Like Cradle to Cradle: ) Reading doesn't have to make Mother Nature cry.

A Paperback Writer said...

Crichton and pirates?
That sounds like quite a promising summer read.

Word verification: whorte
An impolite term for an underclad girl who jumps out of French pastry at stag parties.

Just_Me said...

This is surreal... Nathan, isn't it Thursday? Or am I missing a day somewhere? Or are you just taking a long weekend? I'm confused!!!

No comment on the French surrender...

Nathan Bransford said...

just me-

I'm out tomorrow.

Rachel said...

That was a great blog by Rachelle Gardner. Thanks.

Lady Glamis said...

Great roundup! Thanks for all the links. I love dashes and hyphens and all that grammar jazz. I did a lovely long post about all the different dashes on my blog here if anybody is interested. I'm nuts about that stuff. :D

The Mad Dash

Glad you're back!

allegory19 said...

As always, thanks for the weekly publishing roundup. What can I say, I'm lazy and I'd much rather come to your site to get the low down as opposed to spending all day online, oh wait, I spend all day online anyway...

Elaine 'still writing' Smith said...

Is it Monday yet?
Would it be impolite if I ask my sister to go back to Australia (and come back at the end of next week) so I can concentrate on 'being an agent for a day' that lasts a week?

Anonymous said...

As you rifle through those hundreds and hundreds of queries, are you going to lasso one or two for yourself? Or is it eenie-meenie-minie-mo without a look-see this time around?

Horserider said...

No one gets into a car and says, "Gee, I sure wish this car smelled like a horse."


Nathan Bransford said...

Well... maybe horserider does.

Rick Chesler said...

Can't wait for those Crichton novels. I wonder if it's modern day pirates or tall ships era pirates (or both?!)

Thanks for the TWIP, nathan.

Heidi the Hick said...

"No one gets into a car and says, "Gee, I sure wish this car smelled like a horse."

Um... me?

Actually I don't have to wish because my barn clothes are in the back seat, giving my pickup truck a lovely familiar scent. Mmm. Horse sweat.

But hey, I think new books smell nice too, so clearly, I cannot be trusted!

(haha, just found Horserider's comment!)

Jen C said...

I sure hope it's tall ship era pirates! Those are the best kind. I'll be on the lookout for that one when it's released.

Oh, and add me to the "Super Excited About Monday" group! Hopefully I'll do better at this than I did at the basketball challenge (FAIL).

Kristin Laughtin said...

When I first learned the difference between a hyphen and an en-dash, it was a moment of pure enlightenment.

Augh, that self-publishing article! When I first read it on CNN, I wanted to bash my head against something (but was working the reference desk, where such action would be frowned upon) for making it sound like some easy scheme for fame and fortune. They never point out that the success of these self-pubbed books comes when the author is picked up by a major publisher, which is extremely rare. Urgh.

Lady Glamis said...

And thank you for pointing out the self-publishing article and response on the Writers Beware Blog (which I'll be following now). I had several friends forward me that article. They were all excited about it and thought I should self publish. Hah! Anyway, thanks for the info.

Anonymous said...


Nathan Bransford said...


Provided the book is also written in all caps I think it's guaranteed to be a bestseller.

lotusgirl said...

re: you response to ALL CAPS anon--LOL! Thanks for you sense of humor, Nathan! I enjoy it so very much! It appears quite necessary in your line of work.

Thanks for the great links!

Elaine 'still writing' Smith said...

I think Nathan is nice - the true way.

It's why the whole blog works.

M. Dunham said...

Still taking care of us, even though you're in the middle of nowhere. Are you going to have an early weekend, Nathan?

Victoria Strauss said...

Nathan, you have a really loyal readership--every time you link to me my traffic goes through the roof. Thanks!

arcady said...

Nice to meet you in Tulsa, Nathan. Thanks for the advice and I'll be following the blog for more.

aside to M. Dunham: Tulsa isn't the middle of nowhere. That title is reserved for Slapout, Oklahoma.

NickerNotes said...

Just curious: where do you get your Kindle autographed when you go to a book signing?

(BTW - my car often smells like a horse! Usually 'cause I've left a dirty saddle pad in the back...)

M. Dunham said...

Doh, thanks for correcting me, arcady. *grin* Living in Kansas for as long as I have (just moved to St. Louis), I get lost in the sticks and don't really know where the big cities begin. >.>

christine tripp said...

Pretty big news from HarperCollins, who will be publishing two posthumous Michael Crichton novels. The first is about pirates, which sounds like a pretty awesome combo, and then the second is going to be one that's finished by another author. Hmmm...

That's amazing news for HC, good news(in that I assume there was a bidding war) for his family but sad, in that the second manuscript will not be his, but his legacy. I'm not saying that who they hire (the person will be exceptional obviously) will not be an excellent author, but if it is a successful novel, the "ghost writer" will not be acknowledged in the way they should, Michael will be remembered in a way he shouldn't.
Ah, every once in a while I forget this is all just business:)

Furious D said...

1. Pirates vs Ninjas on an island of dinosaurs would be beyond cool. Damn, I'm copyrighting that idea!!!

2. Emm Dash and Hi Fenn were two notorious adult film stars in Finland in the 1970s. Their films featured way less dialogue than any others. Though none had titles as naughty sounding as "Upchurch."

3. Three words: Robot rejection writer. The inventor of that will have the undying love of agents worldwide.

4. I believe my queries have the necessary air of desperation to them.

5. Watch someone will now try to sell the smell.

6. What about publicity brought about by stuff that's exchanged?

7. Nice to see the French are consistent.

8. Great, I'm going to write a bunch and sell them in order finance my self-publishing venture, and then it's riches, glorious, glorious riches! And I'll be parading around with all the other billionaire authors on a sedan chair of gold carried by recently laid off publishing executives. Bwah-hah-hah!!!

Writer from Hell said...

Great to have you back - I was missing the daily dose.

I so beg to disagree with what many agents like Ms Gardener have to say. When a new writer says this will be a great book - it means he is just passionate - and did you say he is unrealistic? Sure - the catch phrase is 'new writer'. Yes if a many times over failed author writes that to you, that is unrealistic expectations.

The agents' 'don't list' is a bit tiring. Makes a noob feel like you are walking on eggs. I have come across many agents and publishers whose websites are inspiring - a lot of them actually say 'think big'. They talk about some ideology, one guy has gone to great lengths that he is in business to protect the First ammendment. I respect that. It shows a sense of purpose and when you have that, you have less of an ego too; many agents who complain about not wanting to work with egoistic authors, I'm afraid may themselves have a high degree of egotism (what Peter assumes about Paul is more true of Peter than Paul.. that sort of a thing).

I just worry many agents are over sensitive and wanting to create clones out of writers. Why? Because you can afford to be - simply coz the slush pile is like a haystack and but a needle you are going to pick out of it.

Sorry this is not to get you back in the angry mood again - just a feedback.

PurpleClover said...

Thanks again! As usual you are keeping us informed!

I especially liked the hyphen article. I'm an avid hyphenator. So I'll be looking forward to the updates. Maybe tips on how to work more in. ;) hehe. (kidding)

Just added Rachelle's blog to my "Blogs Me Likey" list. :)

Nathan Bransford said...

writer from hell-

This is also something I'm going to post on more in depth in the coming weeks. I know it seems like agents are just creating rules and hoops out of thin air. But it's not about that. In this case, it's just that so very few of the writers who are really good come out and say they're really good in a query.

So sure -- you might find a really talented writer who brags. But for every one good one who brags there are 99 who say the same thing and who aren't good.

I was talking with one of the agents who went to Tulsa with me, and at this point we both felt like we can better tell whether someone has a manuscript we want to read by how they carry themselves rather than what they're actually pitching. You can just tell after a while.

So it's not that we're creating more rules. It's just that we see certain qualities time after time among the good writers, and while they don't apply 100% of the time, we're just trying to point them out.

Jabez said...

As far as auto-responses go, I don't really care whether agents do them -- I don't even care very strongly about the "no response means no" policy, though I think it would be courteous for such agents to give a rule-of-thumb as to how long it takes them to get out partial requests so the querying writer can have a sense of finality. As far as I'm concerned, anything that agents do to preserve their time and focus on existing clients is fine by me, since I hope to be a client for much longer than I have to be a prospective client.

But, if you are going to send an auto-response, wouldn't it make sense to have it triggered by some made-up word in the subject line, like say "XXQueryXX"? The agent says if you want an autoresponse, put that in your subject line. That way, no one who isn't querying will get an autoresponse, anyone who does their research will get rewarded, and as an added bonus, the agent knows just by reading the subject lines of the queries which writers have performed a modicum of research.

Jen C said...

Furious D said...

1. Pirates vs Ninjas on an island of dinosaurs would be beyond cool. Damn, I'm copyrighting that idea!!!

HA, you can't copyright an idea!

*writing "Pirates vs Ninjas vs Velociraptors - This Time, It's Personal"*

Writer from Hell said...

You are right actuallly. Bragging doesn't sell anywhere, leave alone in this super competitive world of writing... or rather publishing.

But sometimes agents do get carried away (though you are never in this territory) and in making a point sound overjudgmental and a little belittling to the writers. That feels not too good to be a writer.

Though I must admit, this is the only place where agents have spelt it out in absolute black and white what are the specific dos and don'ts and that is a very helpful thing. In most industries, we have to figure out the protocols quite by ourselves.

Elissa M said...

My car DOES smell like a horse. It's a clean horse though...

Joy said...

"we can better tell whether someone has a manuscript we want to read by how they carry themselves rather than what they're actually pitching"

. . .oh, I'd love to read a blog about that!

Great meeting you in Tulsa. I'll be sending in my query for the contest today :)

Tracey S. Rosenberg said...

WRT the auto-responding issue - one possible solution is to set up an entirely separate account (say, and keep all the queries there. With an auto-response.

Of course, some people wouldn't pay attention (Colleen Lindsay had 400+ queries in the past three weeks *in spite of being on query holiday* - I can't imagine how many she receives when she isn't!) and others would be reading outdated information and send to the main address anyway. But it would avoid some of the main problems you point out.

As for stupid articles about self-publishing - I'll file those along with a) stories about the growing number of internet sources, all of which involve 'researching from home while wearing pajamas' and b) stories about knitting groups, all of which involve 'knitting's not just for grandmothers anymore!'

Anonymous said...

I just can't understand why an agent would spend any time or brain cells on the self-publishing industry if it's so sub-standard and stupid. Seems to me if self-published novels were so lousy, people in regular publication wouldn't care less.

Self-published novels would be overflowing garbage cans on the other side of the street hardly worthy of notice.

Margaret Yang said...

Thank you for the link to Victoria Strauss' blog. Genius article of the day.

Carrie said...

I'm going to give a shout-out to the self-publishing companies for one reason that I don't think anyone has mentioned yet: you can get a draft of your book printed for CHEAP. As in, cheaper than Staples & Kinko's.

I've submitted my novel to my chosen group of trustworthy first readers for comments, and as I was looking at ways to save money on printing costs, I realized that -- even with shipping! -- it is noticeably less expensive to get the bound copies. A friend is trying to establish if there's a youth market for her book, and thanks to these companies she can give "real books" to kids for feedback, which is certainly going to be more successful than if she'd tried to get children to read a traditionally-formatted manuscript.

Obviously my friend and I are planning to submit properly-formatted unbound pages to agents/others in the industry when the time comes, but it's nice to know that my mom can get a "real book" copy of my draft in the meantime, for about 1/2 the cost.

Yoda said...

...hundreds and hundreds (and hundreds) of you who have volunteered your query...

Mmmm-hmm! Seen the Dark Side of the Internet, Nathan has.

Many lurking are. Always prepared a Jedi should be!

Anonymous said...

I was going to protest about the horse smell, but I see several people beat me to it. It the horse pee smell I hate.

Glad your back, Nathan.

Writing Mom said...

In Rachelle Gardner's post, she mentions that some authors might be upset with on receiving "a nice little 25k advance with a medium sized publisher... "

Oh my GOD!!! I am seriously having palpitations right now.

I had no idea you could get as much as $25K for a book, even with a huge publisher. I had heard somewhere that the average income for writers was $3K per year. So I never even dreamed that someone could get that much just for an advance, unless they were well-established.

I think I'm going to faint. I'm not kidding. I... I... I.... aye yi yi!

Writer from Hell said...

Writing mom.. I had exactly the same thoughts.

Infact I thought I might get $1000 as advance and they may ask for it back when the book is published..

Writing Mom said...

Carrie, thanks so much for your comment. I had no idea self-pub was that inexpensive. What you are talking about is exactly my problem - nobody I know has time to sit with the computer for hours on end to read my manuscript, but if they had a book they could hold and carry around with them, it would be so much easier.

I had thought of trying to do a few copies at Staples, but then the mailing costs for out-of-state friends would also be an issue. I was trying to think of ways to reduce the bulk, like using a two-sided, single spaced format.

But now there is another option I will seriously look into.

Writer from Hell said...

Joy 2:32 am - good point

I do carry myself rather well actually. I didn't know agents were looking for that..

How to let the agents know about that? hmm... Any ideas?

phew.. all the world is a jumble.

Mira said...

Hi Nathan,

Good to have you back, even if for a day. Missed the stimulating discussions this week.

In terms of the self-publishing article, it didn't really address the most important aspect of self-publishing - e-books. I don't think self-publishing hard paper copies is the future of publishing, but with e-books, the whole system will change. That's what I think anyway.

In other articles here, this is what I saw in terms of backlash from agentfail: The start of a subtle message that writers who are too outspoken, confident and not 'modest' enough won't be represented.

Isn't that the old: Don't say what you really think or you'll be blacklisted?

I would also really appreciate an article from an agent that didn't just reiterate their side of things, but actually addressed the legitimate concerns that were raised in agentfail. The closest one that I've seen is Janet Reid's, and I commend her for it.

Sarah said...

Hi Nathan,

Thank you for all the clarity on the Query Competition. Unfortunately, much as I cleared my calendar to be able to participate, I have just received some bad family news and so cannot commit to anything as may have to fly home at moment's notice.

Will be watching from the sidelines, cheering everyone on.


ryan field said...

I always wondered if agents were reading between the lines with queries. We all do it.

RG's post really is a classic example of how important it is to show rather than tell.

Mira said...

You know, it's a good thing I have nothing to lose, since I've only written a page and a half.

Besides, if I ever get around to writing something, it will be so unbelievably fantastic, brilliant, stunning, intelligent, clever, super-fantastic and marketable, that people won't care that I'm 'difficult'.

Um, does bragging about things that you haven't even written yet count?

Scott said...

Great post, Nathan. Welcome back.

About the ghost-written Crichton novel, I hope they're careful. Style is impossible to mimic, but in Crichton's case it's more about plot anyway, I guess.

And I'm with those in awe of $25k advances. That would feel like all the money in the world. Writers really need to listen to what Rachel is saying, though. No one lands the mate of their dreams by unrolling a scroll of how great they are. Classic sales techniques warn you away from pushing, because of exactly what she said, "people push back". Believe in what you're doing, but take the sale away a little. Make them come for it. It's how the dance goes.

Lastly, I really don't see the point in a auto-reply, other than maybe to say you've received their query. If agents simply say, "We'll get back to you within a few days if we see a fit or not at all", that really should be enough. If an agent wants to send something more personalized, they can at their discretion.

On that note, I'd like to report that an agent did exactly that to me last week. She had nice things to say about my full, but was honest that she didn't know how to sell it. I would have relished the task of offering some ideas, but that's not how it works. Sure, I had to tag her with an email almost two months after I sent it to get that response, but the little feedback she provided sent me in what will hopefully be a better direction.

Deborah K. White said...

No one gets into a car and says, "Gee, I sure wish this car smelled like a horse."

Actually, my car does smell like a horse, and I like it like that. :) However, I've never even noticed what a paperback book smells like.

Joseph L. Selby said...

Not weighing in on responses or auto-responses. If you wanted to utilize auto-response without aggravating your other correspondents, here are some steps that you could take (though it relies on people actually paying attention to your submission standards so it is not fool proof).

Since you ask for queries by email, add to your standards that the subject line start with **QUERY**. If you are using Outlook (which I will assume that you do), you can then create a New Query folder and apply a filter for the word "**QUERY**" in the email subject to be routed directly to that folder. Be sure to exclude responses from the filter. You can also establish a macro that any emails send to that folder receive an autoreply, thus replying to any new query you receive while avoiding replies to other colleagues or any continuing conversation to that query.

I hope that helps.

valbrussell said...

Some people order every magazine going, from Reader's Digest to Popular Mechanics. Why? Because it makes them feel as if they have friends in the world who will write to them. Sneer. What better way to make cranky writers forget queryangentfailidiocy than to invite hungry writers to your publishing laden table for a few leftovers. It reminds me of the seventies and Welcome Back Kotter. Remember Arnold Horshack, his ass dancing in his seat with his hand held high: OOH OOH! Mr. Kotter, Ask me!!! Can you imagine this level of idolatry from Margaret Atwood or Salman Rushdie? Good god this is beginning to look like cattle call for desperate and aging B movie actors. I also get a decidedly cult like feeling here.

Just goes to show you, people will follow anyone with a silver tongue. Unfortunately, the tongue in question here is more of a nickle plated than silver.

Mira said...


Well, I disagree - I think Nathan's purpose is to ask writers to empathisize more with the position that agents are in. (Please feel free to rewrite that sentence into some sembalance of good grammer. I would do it myself, but I have no conception of good grammer. Obviously.)

I don't think it's a bribe to make writers forget anything.

I also don't like anyone giving Nathan a hard time but me.

Not that that should stop anyone. I'm just saying.

Ink said...


It's interesting how you interpret this. I'm not sure I see the logic of how writers are demeaning themselves by a supposed scrabbling for scraps. It's a simple volunteer contest, with, I think, a learning opportunity at its core. That's why a lot of writers are interested, because having a chance to see a query slushpile is quite probably informative. Partly idle curiosity, perhaps, to see what life is like on the other side of the slushy fence, but mostly an active curiosity driven by good ol' fashioned self interest (and I don't say that as a bad thing).

Critique is helpful, and often necessary - both giving it and receiving it. Here is an opportunity for both. Everyone has a chance to critique, to evaluate, to see what works and what doesn't - both for readers and in terms of publishability. And for the happy 50 chosen there is also a chance to receive helpful feedback. When the real query submissions come around they'll be the better for it.

I just don't see how this basic dynamic connects to your assessment of the situation. Idolatry? How so? I think a lot of writers see opportunity - and an opportunity framed in an entertaining contest (who doesn't like winning free stuff?) and held in what is generally a safe venue.

While I probably won't be playing myself, I'll likely look on. I think there's value in doing so, and I'm guessing there are a lot of writers who see it the same way - and would see it so regardless of the source or the timing of the event.

Just my two round and shiny bits of copper.

My best,
Bryan Russell

p.s. I must say, though, that your name is simply stunning. I automatically think of you as intelligent and attractive... ;)

Scott said...

So, valbrussel, is jumping onto an agent's blog to whisper some thinly veiled inner torment the way forward, or should we just tuck away some bitter about Twitter poetry on our blog? ;)

I wouldn't confuse genial blog comments as evidence of satisfaction. This is a place to learn. Why not try that instead?

Other Lisa said...

A place to learn and a very nice community, I would add.

Mira said...


I'm sure you can tell by my name that I'm intelligent and stunningly attractive. Um. Or is it the reverse - dumb and terribly hideous?

I always get those confused.

So, when are you going to come over and hang out at my blog?

There are lots of intelligent and stunningly attractive people there with very attractive and stunningly cool names.

valbrussel, you come too.

You too, Scott.

Actually, everyone come over. You get to practice first person voice in a very fun context.

Here it is. Come here:

Bryan, I expect to see you add your intelligence and stunning attractiveness to the mix asap.

Everyone else too.

Mira said...

That was a shameless plug, in case anyone wondered.

But it really is a cool place. We're having fun there. Tomorrow, Ms. Fettleston is hosting a tea.

Elaine 'still writing' Smith said...

re valbrussel

I think we all need to get together for a nice group hug 'cos that nasty writer hurt our feelings!

Yoda said...

Feed the trolls, one should not.

Christine H said...

Well, this isn't feeding the troll (at least I think not), but the reason I am paying attention to the contest is to hopefully learn some things about what makes a good query. Plus, if mine is one of the onces chosen, I get a free critique.

Plus, it's definitely entertainment! Like a reality show for writers.

Christine H said...

I meant "ones chosen."

Word verification: Roger. Over and out!

Bukash said...

If I can't stand the smell of a new car, but I love the smell of horses, am I still allowed to comment on queries?

PurpleClover said...

bukash - i always seem to come after you but you make me laugh each time!

As for valbrussel (why do i keep wanting to type valkyrie)...anyhoo! I think since the queries we (our Bransford Community not to be confused with the Stepford community though it has it's similarities) tend to see posted on agent blogs always are the worst of the worst or the best of the best, we are jumping at the opportunity to see a wider variety of in the middle (*cough* mediocre). The advice could be invaluable to this plane of queries.

If we are all authors and aspiring writers that have an edge on society (because of our VON-derful agent-bloggers great writerly advice) then we might actually see some queries that are on our same playing field. OR we may get a shock into reality.

Something tells me it will be an eye opener. Can't wait! Counting down the minutes!

Stephanie Faris said...

GOOD news in publishing this week. I was so expecting you to mention this! Romance novel sales are UP. They were listed on U.S. News' "10 Winners in the Recession." Maybe I'm the only one excited about it, since romance is one of the things I write? Anyway, here's the excerpt if anyone's interested:

But the most intriguing entry was the third item on U.S. News' list: bodice-ripper novels. Harlequin, still the biggest name in serial romances, saw a $3 million gain, year to year, in North American sales in the fourth quarter of 2008. (By contrast, book sales in the general marketplace are down slightly.)

It's so easy to poke fun at contemporary romance novels that there's really no sport in it. The plots, by definition, are formulaic; the prose manages to be at once overwrought and underdeveloped; the covers, well, they're where that famous, flaxen-haired slab of manhood named Fabio got his start. But romances have long dominated sales of mass-market paperbacks (which, in turn, dominate sales of books in general).

It's not exactly a surprise that the romance novel business would be pretty recession-proof; as bad as things get, a lot of people – OK, mostly women – can still afford a $5 paperback.

But, in parsing the titles listed on Harlequin's Web site, it struck me that the real reason serial romances are thriving is not just because they're the ultimate escape fantasies but because, in their own way, they are that Holy Grail of marketing and business – they offer something for everyone.

Among Harlequin's 10 imprints are dozens of categories and sub-categories, including medical romance, Christian romance, paranormal romance, suspense romance and even NASCAR romance (titles include Checkered Past and Black Flag, White Lies). Unexpected pregnancy scenarios are popular across categories, as are single-mother situations. I even saw one book about an unwed pregnant woman courted by a man who isn't the father of her baby but wants to be. He also happens to be super hot.

See, you forgot about the economy for a second there, didn't you?

If there's anyone who's predisposed to being snobby about this genre, it's me. But even I can understand the impulse: Isn't "the quest for true love" really just code for something else, namely the search for a sense of safety – financial and otherwise – in a precarious world?

You don't have to like romance novels to know what uncertainty feels like. All you have to do is follow the financial news. In fact, given that many Americans are feeling as distrustful of the bank bailout and the economic stimulus package as Harlequin heroines feel about their suitors, perhaps the term "escape fantasy" is a misnomer.

Maybe these books are recession-proof not because they offer an alternative to uncertainty but because they reflect it back at us – with a lot of sex thrown in (and a happy ending).

Oh, and No. 4 on the recession winners list? Condoms. Maybe Harlequin should ease up on those unexpected-pregnancy fantasies

valbrussell said...

I absolutely adore that you disagree with me! :)

Bryan Russell,
The name does say it all doesn't it? ;)

Indeed. Learning is everything and my twitter is actually sweet not bitter and it appears you've been contaminated by my very bad verse. Tisk tisk, you were curious and looked at my very LOUD blog. :o I also never whisper because it's exceptionally rude. Did I jump? No, I'm certain I pounced.

You witty devil you. ;) Valkyrie indeed.

John UpChurch said...

Nathan, thanks for the link, and here I thought I was the only one who cared about hyphens and en dashes. I may still be, but at least, I've dragged others with me now.

Oh, and to JohnO, HA and touché, but I am not to blame for the odd spelling. I'm also not to blame for the weird dichotomy of an editor with a funky spelling.

Anonymous said...

you guys are weird.

Anonymous said...

Q's are so easy! Why all the stress? OK, the pitch part is hard, but the rest is just a simple business letter like you learned in junior high school.

I can't help but think that all these people in here who need so much help with their letters probably need a lot more help with their actual books.

Jen C said...

The Cult of Bransford has a certain ring to it, doesn't it? I'm going to stop washing my hair and call myself Sunshine. Just don't drink the orange cordial until I tell you all to, okay?

Word Veri: Wonka. Now I'm craving chocolate, thanks a lot!

Anahita said...
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Anahita said...
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Ramesh said...
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Anonymous said...

Ok, after the surrender (again) of the French, you have a permanent fan... even if you keep rejecting me.

Kimber An said...

Stephanie, I'm not surprised by the Romance genre's gains during the recession. Romance is all about Hope and Affirmation. Love is the primary motivation behind
Courage. We all need that during difficult times and a Romance novel is a fun place to find that kind of encouragement. Sure, there's some sub-standard stuff, just like in all genres. However, there's a lot of good stuff too.

Stephanie Faris said...

The romance fans I know will read no matter what. They are die-hard fans. They go through two or three paperbacks a week. Several women at work swap them. No, we haven't gotten a raise in three years and money's tight but they still are out there, every day, reading their romance novels on their lunch breaks. And writing romance is a lot harder than people think. I've found it much easier to free-flow and write what I want than to try to fit into the tight constraints of what Harlequin and Silhouette want.

Christine H said...

Anonymous said -

Q's are so easy! Why all the stress? OK, the pitch part is hard, but the rest is just a simple business letter like you learned in junior high school.

I can't help but think that all these people in here who need so much help with their letters probably need a lot more help with their actual books.

Uh, yeah, well... it's the pitch part that everyone struggles with!

And writing a query is totally different from writing a book. I have a fantasy novel with a very complex plot that I have rewritten the query for at least 30 times trying to nail down the key things someone would need to know while keeping it brief enough.

So, I'll take all the help I can get. And I don't think that's any reflection at all on my writing.

How many books have you successfully sold, by the way? Just curious.

Word verification: Stinga

Christine H said...

I meant, "manuscripts", not copies of books, BTW.

That writer chic... said...

Pirate books just make me feel so giddy. Will be waiting to read that one when it is ready.

Namaste, and stuff...


Ms. Fettleston said...

Good morning, dears.

I am hosting a tea at Ms. Mira's blog. I would love if you would join us. There are many delicious treats and tea to drink. We are having polite conversation, and are currently discussing the weather and movies.

Please do join us if you would like, dears.

Here is my address:
I will try a special way:

Come In Character, Tea with Ms. Fettleston

I hope to see you there, dears.

Ms. Fettleston

Jil said...

About queries - it seems to me every agent wants something different - each speaker is adament about how they should be written, and each different from the other. One says always have the names of your characters - the next says never write the names of your characters etc. etc.
Now if I were an agent, any query which came in smelling of horses would be accepted immediately. Is there any better smell? Well, new mown hay comes close.
By the way, my character is over having tea with Mrs. Fettleston. I sure hope she pops some treats for me into her bag, I'm hungry!

Alexander Field said...

I just want to say that I think this Agent for a Day idea is the way you will format the day and I'm assuming (and hoping) that the contest will be on your public blog so all can see? I am very much looking forward to it Nathan!

Kahlessa said...

Regarding Rachelle Gardner’s post on queries, it’s not only a problem of a writer having high expectations; but it is also the writer’s lack of respect for an experienced professional in publishing. When writers use the words “Nobel Prize” and “blockbuster bestseller” in a query, it gives the impression that they think they know more about publishing than the agent. Lovely way to begin.

Writer from Hell said...

'The man who listens to reason is lost' - GB Shaw

I'm totally lost. Must stop listening to agents for a while

Ulysses said...

"Take a few success stories, subtract crucial details, and add a dash of 'the publishing world will never be the same' and you have yourself an article!"

... yes, but do I have to publish that article myself?

Kirti said...

Just found you today...lots of useful tidbits on your blog...many thanks!

Anonymous said...

I usually enjoy reading your blog, and I have to say that I respect what you do immensely. But I also think your Be-an-Agent-for-a-Day Contest is misguided.

Yes, I do understand that agents have been taking some hits in blogs recently. And you guys have it hard, too. You have a right to feel a bit defensive.

But if you're going to teach writers how difficult it is to be agents, then writers are going to say, "Well, Nathan, let's teach you how hard it is to be a writer!" Which means you'd have to write a novel and then try to get it published.

See the problem here?

The reality is we (Agents, Editors, and Writers) are all in the same business. We need each other. So instead of arguing over whose job is harder we should be trying to work together.

Nathan Bransford said...


I'm not prejudging how people respond to the contest. Some people might feel like it's fantastically easy to respond to 50 queries, and that's perfectly fine. I'm just trying to peel back some of the mystery around the process.

Susan Kelley said...

I hope the pirate book is contemporary. They're certainly headliners again after many decades of sailing below the radar. I feel a little left out after reading all the posts from people whose cars do smell like a horse. My car does not, but I like the smell of horse just fine.
And the French surrendered? I'm shocked.

Anonymous said...

Susan K,
I have three cars that smell like a horse, and I am trying really hard to keep the last one smelling new. You need one I can set you up, your choice actual horse and you can create your own Ode De Pony perfume or a car that already has the heavenly aroma. The latter is less work, but also less fun.

PurpleClover said...

anon 5:10

Why so serious?

I don't think Nathan's intention was some ruse to "teach us a lesson" with a preconceived notion that we would fail miserably.

I took this "experience" to be a lighthearted gesture to role play for a taste of what they see. If he wanted us to sink he would have asked us to do more than 50 queries in a week.


Anonymous said...

Knowing Crichton's past works, I'd have to go with modern day piracy. However, he did write TIMELINE, which was partly set in medieval France. So who knows. Looking forward to finding out, though.

I guess the reason you don't see many modern day pirate novels is because it's not that glamorous--dirt poor countries writers know nothing about, oil tankers, LNG carriers, it's an unfamiliar world to most people, and the ones who do know enough to write about it write non-fiction.

You might get some "hijacking" type of piracy stories where a yacht full of babes is taken over off the coast of Miami or something, but unless it's from a guy like Crichton, I don't think we'll be seeing the real deal in a novel anytime soon.

Anonymous said...

Or Cussler. Cussler could handle modern day pirates.

Endless Secrets said...

Today is the day!
Yet where are all the lovely queries awaiting my judgement!?

Ink said...

Endless Secrets,

Pacific time, my good friend, pacific time! Allowances for all those lazy west coasters...


My best,
Bryan Russell

Scott said...

I would think a modern day pirate story would have to be told, at least in part, from the pirates' POV. Something tells me today's scallywags would lack a bit of swash and buckle to say the least. But to bring to light the culture and economic plight of a nation such as Somalia and then take it to the waters could indeed work if handled skillfully.

Again, the romance inherent in ye olde pirate tales might not be attendant, but I can imagine a plot where U.N. Forces are coerced into going inland to stop the problem at his roots, and then learning the truth about where it comes from, perhaps too late to stop a disaster at sea.

Heh, word ver: unrow v. sl. 1. the desperate and usually unsuccessful attempts of Somali pirates to return to shore once their assault lifeboats have been disabled in battle.

Jeanne Tomlin said...


I have to respond to your comments about separate email accounts being a "pain" simply because I find this hard to understand. Millions of people use separate email accounts for convenience. Heck, I do. I use one email for my short story submissions, a separate one for my agent queries, one for registering on sites that might generate a lot of spam and a personal one.

A pain? Quite the contrary. It simplifies life immensely. I admit I got in that habit as a businesswoman. It is so easy to set up an email account and an auto-responce that I find refusing to do so on the part of so many agents a bit baffling. Often, all authors want to know is that their sweated over query didn't disappear somewhere into the ionosphere.

And then agents aren't sending auto-responses or digging through queries for other email. Honestly, what's a pain about that?

Well sorry to cheat you since that's probably only worth a ha-penny to your four cents worth.

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