Nathan Bransford, Author

Friday, September 4, 2009

This Week in Publishing 9/4/09

Thanks to everyone for participating in Writer Appreciation Week. Hope all the writers out there feel, well, appreciated.

I know lots of people are probably skipping out early to get in their last BBQ or trip to the beach on this fine Labor Day weekend, but this blog stops for no one! No one, you hear!!

Only it's going to stop this coming Monday and Tuesday. Just a quick Labor Day Weekend blog break, and it will be back in full force with a You Tell Me on Wednesday.

Now then.

Devastating news from PBS: the iconic show Reading Rainbow, a show little Nathan was completely obsessed with and directly resulted in his life in publishing, is no more, ending a truly amazing 26 year run. LeVar Burton: you are a great man, and Reading Rainbow will be sorely, sorely missed. The New Yorker's Book Bench reflects on what it was like watching it as a kid.

Meanwhile, in other television news, "Will & Grace" veteran and literary agent sibling Gail Lerner is developing a comedy show about the publishing world called "Open Books." Oh my. (via Jonathan Lyons)

I just caught up with this post from How Publishing Really Works that itself was catching up with a PW article from 2005 (if the blog existed then we would so have been all over this), analyzing some, shall we say, eye-opening stats from iUniverse. In 2004 there were 18,108 titles published on iUniverse. 83 of them sold more than 500 copies. Average copies sold: 43.8 per title. (via Self-Publishing Review)

Gawker investigates: the last remaining ways of getting a book deal?.

Neil Vogler pointed me to this great post at the Guardian about how, in many ways, the writing life hasn't changed all that much.

There are some very nice words out there that need adopting! You too can be the proud parent of the word "sacriolist." (via John Ochwat)

Something I always tell the query-averse is that summarizing your work doesn't end with the query. Published authors have to give a brief description of their work constantly. In fact, my client Jennifer Hubbard, author of the forthcoming THE SECRET YEAR, points out that for purposes of conversation and marketing it's usually helpful to whittle it down to a one-liner.

As an agent who advocates some consideration of SEO when choosing titles and pen names, I found this blog post pretty awesome: testing out character names using Google Ad Words. (via John Ochwat)

And finally, you know you want to sing along one more time. "Butterfly in the skyyyyyyyyyyyy..."

Have a great (long) weekend!


Kimber An said...

We're mourning the end of Reading Rainbow too. Dearly loved it ever so very much, our whole family. One consolation is every public library I know has the episodes on video or DVD to check out for free.

Anonymous said...

Should I confess that I downloaded the Reading Rainbow theme song to my iTunes a few years ago?

Caitlin said...

On the one hand, I had no idea that Reading Rainbow lasted this long. On the other hand, how can it be over??? And suddenly, I must hear that theme song immediately...

AM said...

Perhaps Reading Rainbow reruns will return when PBS's funding improves. We can always hope.

Five-year-old statistics? Five years is half a decade - the equivalent of a century regarding new developments in today's ever-changing world. Isn't there anything more recent regarding self-publishing - in comparison to the entire publishing industry - today?

And that got me thinking: If book sales are down across the board, what is this doing to the number of solvent agents out there in the shrinking publishing world? It must be grim in your neck of the words too.

The economists are declaring the end of the recession as of August (but we'll still be feeling it for another 12 months or so). I sure hope they are right and this isn't a double-dipper. To see light at the end of this tunnel would be a relief for everyone.

I wonder what the short term and long-term recovery will look like in the evolved publishing industry. Can we expect a boom or sizzle?

Thanks for the great links.

I hope everyone has a great holiday weekend.

Anonymous said...

Great post as always, Nathan. I particularly enjoyed the link to the AdWords name testing.

On the issue of SEO, I always Google the titles I am thinking of, and I shy away from phrases that are used often enough to make it challenging for a book website of that title to rise to the top. For what it's worth, I also check WhoIs to see if a title is available as a domain name. If it's not, I reconsider. If it is, I buy it ($8 or less a year). If I don't use it in the end, it's not a major loss. But if I do want that title, the publisher will probably be pleased to know that I already own the domain.

Regina Milton said...

My extreme eye for detail tells me that you liked Reading Rainbow just a bit.

I too, was a fan as a child. I have also been known to sing the song in public. I have also been known to make up my own extra verse to the song.

Monkey Mama said...

The Reading Rainbow even taught my baby monkies how to read.

Mira said...

Awww....that's so sad about Reading Rainbow! Why are they closing it down? That's so sad.

Well, sad or not, I hope you have a great long weekend, Nathan. Hope you're doing something fun and revitializing and that has nothing whatsoever to do with queries!

Speaking of queries, I would like to publically state that I am not query-adverse. That would be the under-statement of the year. I hate the query. I hate the query with the red-hot passion that some people may reserve for certain sports figures.

But it's not because I can't write one! I can write a darn query. I can summarize my work. For example, here's a summary of my work: "My 5-page biology paper is a masterpiece." See? Pithy and compelling. Darn good summary.

If agents must know whether a writer can summarize their work, request the evil query with the partial or full. Let those who you pass by because their M.S. isn't good enough yet, go back to working on their writing instead of obsessing that their query wasn't good enough.

Oh, sorry. I am on a roll about the query. I'll stop now. Sorry.

Have a wonderful weekend!

Marsha Sigman said...

The demise of Reading Rainbow is sooo depressing. But LeVar Burton will alway be Jordy from Star Trek-Next Generation to me.

Have a great weekend! I will be writing..writing..writing..

Deaf Indian Muslim Anarchist! said...

I didn't even know that Reading Rainbow was still around until I heard the news. I thought the show was killed off in the early 90s. Oh well.

Rebecca Knight said...

The remaining ways to get a book deal article cracked me up! :D

Step 1: Buy a puppy

Step 2: Write about adorable puppy antics

Step 3: BOOK FAME.

So easy! ;)

Linda Godfrey said...

Reading Rainbow was one of the great ones. What can replace it?
Wii-ing Wainbow?

Marsha, I too will alway still see LeVar in his cool Jordy vision-shades. Or as Kunta Kintay. He has done some great things in his life.

Marilyn Peake said...

I'm so sad to hear about the ending of Reading Rainbow. Very sad! Thanks for Writer Appreciation Week and for so many fascinating links today. Have a fantastic long weekend!

Lydia Sharp said...

"Published authors have to give a brief description of their work constantly."

Admittedly, this frightens me. I've found a good way to practice, though. Read a book and summarize it in three sentences (it's a lot easier to do when it's not your own), then do the same to yours. Eventually, you'll come up with something that effectively brings out the key points of your story in a paragraph or less.

My two cents on Reading Rainbow: Best show ever when I was a kid...aside from Mr. Wizard.

Crystal said...

No! Not Reading Rainbow! I grew up with that show (and the awesome old school theme) and loved it so much! Though the last few years weren't as great in my opinion, our later generations shouldn't be deprived of such an awesome show. It will be sorely missed indeed.

And thanks for the song Nathan! Brings back wonderful memories and makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. :)

Margaret Yang said...

The "save the words" website was soooo funny! I loved the examples. I want to adopt vicambutate...or was it vicambuate?
Darn it.

Bane of Anubis said...

Never watched Reading Rainbow, but loved Geordi La Forge... Have a good weekend, everyone.

Robert McGuire said...

New milestone for me-- witnessing people feeling nostalgic for stuff that I'm too old to have experienced myself. (i.e. Reading Rainbow.)

Sissy said...

I show Reading Rainbow videos all the time to the kids where I teach. I love how the show introduced kids to books they wouldn't have looked at twice.

And I love the song. The phrase "take a look, it's in a book," give meaning to my life.

Dara said...

I lived for Reading Rainbow growing up! Once a week in first and second grade, the teacher would put on Reading Rainbow. I still remember the one episode about ancient Egypt and the book about Egypt's mummmies--one of the first shows to ignite my love of reading and history :)

I hope they put the episodes on DVD...I'd buy them in a heartbeat!

D. G. Hudson said...

Enjoyed the postings this week, with the emphasis on writers.

How about coming to Canada for one of your workshops, Nathan - west coast of course (it's closer to your home base & and much like Frisco)? I know some of the readers of this blog hail from eastern Canada, so they might take issue with that.

Here's wishing everyone a great long weekend as we see another summer slide into fall.

Linda Godfrey said...

I'm double-posting because of what Rebecca said about books on puppies; I recently put this short bit about my Lhasa apso, Grendel, together for family but now I see that it could be my ticket to the big time. LOL and thanks, Rebecca. Grendel meets the Cranes is hereby posted on Wordpress,
PS Bane I am embarrassed that I unthinkingly mispelled Geordi.

Anonymous said...

This morning I went outside and walked down the narrow walkway that leads to my garden gate, and just before I got to the gate I saw a beautiful spider's web strung across the path.

The morning sunlight had caught the web, and I saw how intricate and beautifully made it was. Then I saw a tiny spider up in the corner of the web, waiting for something to fly into its web.

I had to destroy the web because I use the walkway about twelve times a day. Normally, when you cut the string on a spider's web, the whole thing will collapse in on itself, and the spider will come to life and start reeling in the web. This time, though, the spider just sat there and did nothing. It moved its legs a little, but you could see that it was drained of energy.

It had constructed the most beautiful web, which never caught a fly. All that energy spent on creating such a beautiful thing - for no reason at all.

Mira said...

Anon 10:20 - I can't let that pass.

You don't know if it was for no reason.

Maybe it was for you.

J.J. Bennett said...

Mira, Mira, on Nathan's Wall
Who's the chattiest of them all?

I'm so sorry but I bet my daughter you'd already posted twice ...and you had. (LOL)

I love your comments though. I really do.

Matilda McCloud said...

My kids loved Reading Rainbow. When I worked in children's book publishing (around the same time the series started), I sure loved it, too, when one of our books was selected as a Reading Rainbow title.

Anonymous said...

I also saw a cockroach this morning that was completely out of the way and minding its own business, but I went over and stepped on it with my big boot - pow, into the next world.

s.w. vaughn said...

Oh NO! Now the Reading Rainbow theme is lodged firmly between my ears.

It took me a WEEK to get it out last time.

*sigh* Take a look, it's in a book...

Anonymous said...

Troll alert.

nkrell said...

It's okay, Little Sparky. Something else will come along to help inspire children to continue reading. (I hope!)

Times have changed. The next generation is already watching Word Girl and improving their vocabulary. (Aren't they?) Or have Twitter and texting ruined the English language beyond repair?

A moment of silence, please.

Kristi said...

What next - no more Sesame Street? Then you give us the stat of 43.8 average number of copies sold per title? This was so not a warm, fuzzy way to end Writer Appreciation Week - I was willing to wait until next week for my cold, hard splash of reality.

Oh well, Happy Holiday weekend to all. :)

Scott said...

I never even heard of iUniverse. No wonder their numbers are so low. ;^)

Very good article about synopses and one-liners. People'd save a whole lotta time––ours and there's––writing about something they can sum up succinctly. Usually means there's something there.

R.I.P.R.R. :^(

Jack Roberts, Annabelle's scribe said...

"Little Nathan"? LOL

At the Roberts household, we're big fans of the show as well. It'll be missed.

Anna said...

For a long time my kids thought it odd how Geordi LaForge could be on Reading Rainbow as well as Star Trek TNG. What a fab show indeed!

Reading Rainbow, that is... :))) TNG didn't reach any heights until the cast were given collars on the uniforms, and even then...

Kristin Laughtin said...

Oh no, not Reading Rainbow! I had the theme stuck in my head randomly earlier this week...perhaps it was prophetic.

Like the commenter above me, I thought it was odd how Geordi hosted Reading Rainbow as well, and when I was very young, wondered how he did so without his visor glasses. When I got a little bit older, I just thought it was awesome.

Scott said...

That's terrible about Reading Rainbow. My kids have all outgrown it, but it was a great show and I always dreamed of being featured on it someday.

The other big "publishing" news, of course, the one that has me lusting mightily for more than I can afford, doesn't really have anything to do with publishing as we define it here: the Beatles are finally getting some decent CD treatment...

Andrea Cremer said...

Reading Rainbow is off the air?? *sobs*

ryan field said...

So sad, about Reading Rainbow.

KayKayBe said...

Between the Lions, anyone?

Jil said...

Having grown up in another country I never saw Reading Rainbow but it sounds wonderful. It seems so much is ugly these days, on tv etc.,kids need something to teach them the finer and beautiful side of life.
Which brings me to the spider web = such a work of art and a great parallel to us writing spinners. Mira's right though, until we've been inside that spider's head we don't know what he thinks. After reading Charlotte's Web I ducked under those early morning strands for a long time, more and more of them decorating my walkway until it must have become a minefield for the insects.
Is the glass half full or half empty then? May you all have a very full weekend!

Kristine Overbrook said...

Just the other day I was just singing this song to my kids (14 and 10) and they were looking at me like I was crazy.

I expanded on it by telling them of the show about the goats. I forget the name of the book, but it was the one where the little girl goat was a picky eater and her parents convinced her to eat salad with sliced tire in it. That was my fav episode.

It's so sad to hear Reading Rainbow's going off the air. It helped me to feel better about my love of reading. A child on the school bus ask me what was so good about reading. (sixth grade) I replied proudly, "It let's your mind soar." Needless to say, I heard about that one until I graduated.

Christy Pinheiro, EA ABA said...

Thanks for the link to the Self-Publishing Review. I'll be damned if I didn't try to name my blog the same thing. I changed it last night.

The article "Self Publishing: Best Idea Ever" was fantastic. I don't let myself get down about the statistics. There's a lot of losers out there, but there's also a lot of Aaron Shepards (my hero).

All this "doom and gloom" won't last-- this is such an exciting and innovative time. I think the industry is just re-setting itself.

T. Anne said...

I can't wait to see Open Books. It should be interesting to peep further into the pub biz. (If it is at all the slightest bit factual). But hey if that show doesn't pan out they can follow you around all day Nathan! Now that would be some fun reality TV! Better yet they could alternate from you to Janet Reid to Rachelle Gardener. That for sure would be some must see TV.

susiej said...

I cant' wait to adopt a couple of lovely words. Waht a fun site. Thanks for the link.

alysongreene said...

Nathan, just want to say thanks for Author Appreciation Week.
Per your suggestion, I downloaded the kindle app on my iphone. I was skeptical and didn't download any books until Published Authors Appreciation Day, when I felt guilty for all my library borrowing, but was too lazy to leave the house and buy a book. Who knew (you did) but I LOVE reading on my iphone!

Also, thanks for the old school Reading Rainbow clip. I remember when that was the opening credits montage. I also remember that great feeling as a kid when I thought, man, these books are too babyish, I'm going to go read some big kid books BY MYSELF. We need some kind of online Reading Rainbow for this generation.

Laura Martone said...

Thanks, Nathan, for the terrific links - as always!

It saddens me to learn that READING RAINBOW is no more. Not only did it inspire me to read as a kid, not only is the theme song still burned into my brain, but it also makes me wonder if the ratings have slipped because kids are less interested in reading these days. Say it ain't so!

Have a happy Labor Day everyone - even if you live in Canada, Australia, England, or other non-American parts of the world, take some time to chill out! And I'll be trying hard to follow my own advice - hehehe.

Laura Martone said...

Kristi, LOL!

I was thinking the same darn thing... I was feeling so good about Writer Appreciation Week... and then I read those book stats. But, hey, at least that was back in 2004 when the state of publishing was, er, uh, BETTER than it is today.

Oh, darn it all, now I am bummed! Thanks a lot, Nathan!

P.S. I'm sorta kidding. Sorta.

Laura Martone said...

Okay, I just have one more thing to say and then I promise to go away...

While I was reading the article "The Last Remaining Ways to Get a Book Deal," I thought... hey, what's the deal with puppies? What about kitties? If I write a book about my kitty, am I guaranteed a deal, too? Where's the love for kitty lovers of the world?

Shoot, now I'm rivaling Mira for the number of posts in one day. Soon, J.J.'s gonna start teasing me, too! I promise - you'll hear not a peep from me for the rest of the weekend. See y'all next week!

Fresh Water Mermaids said...

Reading Rainbow was one of our family's most treasured and favorite children's educational shows ever.

It will be missed.



Chuck H. said...

What Robert McGuire said.

Nancy Coffelt said...

I have such wonderful memories of snuggling on the couch with my son when he was little. Reading Rainbow was his favorite show.

Now he's a man - with a beard - and his own job and apartment.

He never writes.

He never calls.

Literary Cowgirl said...

My brother and I were huge Reading Rainbow fans. I knew what authors to search out in the library because of LeVar Burton.

I can't think of a time when a show like that could be more needed than now, when so many children are raised by a television set, and their parents are too busy to read them a book. I am a strong believer that every child shood be read stories.

And, enjoy your blogging break, and your weekend in general.

Jade said...

What's Labour Day? Is it your reward for labouring away at your jobs all year?

Mira said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Literary Cowgirl said...

Hi Laura. Hey guess what? We don't have Labor Day in Canada, but we do have Labour Day here. Woohoo, another day for North Americans to labour on their MSs. Enjoy the day.

Laura Martone said...

Oh, well, Happy Labour Day, Literary Cowgirl! Good luck with your mss... I'll be critiquing someone else's in honor (or should I say "honour"?) of the holiday!

mkcbunny said...

LeVar Burton rocks.

I love the idea of adopting a word. Plus, the usage examples are hilarious. I wish I could commit to "drollic" or "sturionic."

Kia said...

Erm, I'm a Brit so I can be forgiven for not knowing what Reading Rainbow is, right?

Mira said...

Jil - you are a sweetheart.

JJ - it probably seems like I post more than I do, because my posts are so INCREDIBLE. But, just so you know, I strictly limit myself to 2-3 posts daily, which is standard for a 'regular.' It requires an INCREDIBLE amount of self-discipline. Personally, I'm amazed that I'm able to do it. Sometime I just sit around staring at the walls, thinking: wow. I've managed to go 3 hours without posting at Nathan's. I'm INCREDIBLE.

I think you can see the theme here.

But it's a new day, and I can post again - yay!

So, first, since Reading Rainbow is closing, I want to share a link that helps with Literacy. Maybe folks already know this one. You 'click' on it every day, and the sponsors donate money for books. You can click on the other tabs, too, like Hunger and the Rainforest. It's cool. Here's the site: Literacy Site

So, the links. These are some fun links for labor day, Nathan! Cool. Except for the one about I-Universe, which I really didn't 'get'. It had math in it, so my mind shut down, which is the best way to handle math.

The other links are cool. I'm going to test out my own name at the Google name thing. Just for fun. I hope they do a T.V. show on publishing - that's marketing!!! It will bring people to books if it's funny enough.

Okey dokey. Hope everyone is having a fun weekend so far.

Julie said...

I too mourn the end of Reading Rainbow. It should be played in reruns forever. It is such a wonderful show.

Like that adopt a word thingy. I'm gonna have to look into that more :)

Laura Martone said...

So, I just realized that after promising yesterday at 3:46 p.m. that "you'll hear not a peep from me for the rest of the weekend," I went ahead and posted again at 1:02 a.m. this morning. Oops. In my defense, I was responding to Literary Cowgirl, who had directly addressed me. At least, I think she had.

Well, since I'm here again... I just want y'all to know that, after much thought about the coolness of the "Save the Words" link, I adopted "magistricide" (the killing of a teacher or master).

Now, don't go reading anything into that, Nathan. As teachers go, you're the best... and I hope you stick around a long time! I just thought the word sounded cool. Some of them I had a hard time pronouncing, let alone remembering.

Okay, here I go again. I'll try hard not to return. Heehee.


word veri: aught - as in I aught to stop wearing out my welcome at Nathan's!

Mira said...

I know Laura. My posting quota gets confusing when people talk to me. It's a very, very complicated thing, this posting business.

Okay, I adopted Snollygoster. I had to. It's the best darn word I ever saw in my life. Forgot to look up what it means, though. I'll have to check, since I've made a lifelong commitment to use it. Shouldn't be hard to work that into a conversation.

Laura Martone said...

Darn it all! I was trying so hard NOT to come back... and then Mira had to go and talk to me. Argh.

Incidentally, Mira, I love that you adopted "snollygoster" - that's hilarious. Not only is it a totally fun word to say - Lewis Carroll, eat your heart out! - but the definition's not bad either. It means "a clever, unscrupulous person" - hmm, I'll have to remember that. It could make a terrific insult! So, no, Mira, I don't think you'll find it hard to use it... unfortunately, there are a lot of snollygosters in the world!

Abby said...

My husband suggested I make the Reading Rainbow theme my ring tone...think I might just :) Thanks Nathan for a reminder of the good old days!

lora96 said...

Reading Rainbow...NOOOOOOO. I loved that show. I use old episodes in my 2nd grade class. That iconic butterfly...aahh the grief.


CKHB said...

No more Reading Rainbow? Oh, MAN.

Hey, does anyone else remember the ABC Saturday morning shows based on books, with the orange cat Captain O. G. Readmore?

Anonymous said...

Seven or eight years ago, certain people in the publishing business were saying that because of the Harry Potter books, a new generation of 'avid readers' would be created, and that the publishing business would likely prosper as the result.

Here in Vancouver, Allan MacDougall said that.

And exactly who is Allan MacDougall, I hear you ask?

Allan MacDougall is the CEO and publisher of Raincoast Books, the Canadian distributor and publisher of Harry Potter in Canada. When Allan was at the Hannover Book Fair one year, there was a minor buzz being generated about this new children's book called Harry Potter - so MacDougall inquired about the Canadian rights, and discovered that they were still available.

He had to put in a bid on the series, knowing that the odds of selling even five thousand copies of each book would be improbable. He said to his assistant, 'let's go hog wild here, and assume that we might eventually sell ten thousand copies of each book'.

He put his bid in and won the rights. By Christmas of that year, Raincoast had sold 75,000 copies - and Allan knew that they were pretty much riding a runaway train.

The notion that Harry Potter alone was going to 'create an entirely new generation of avid readers' was, in my mind, just plain silly. For one thing, I noticed that my nieces and nephews were indeed reading the Harry Potter books - but I noticed as well that that's all they were reading. Indeed, they were reading these books, and then re-reading them. In other words, they weren't advancing to other books - J.R.R. Tolkien, or C.S. Lewis, for example.

If you were to ask me, which person has done more to get kids reading, LeVar Burton, or J.K. Rowling I would say Burton, hands down.

Rowling was a passing fad. LeVar Burton was an ambassador to books.

Anonymous said...

Oh yeah, I forgot to write that Raincoast Books, in March of 2008, shut down its publishing division.

See the irony there?

Literary Cowgirl said...

A good thing they didn't have this adopt a word thing when I was doing basic training (QL@ here), or rookdom at Norwich, because I would have snapped up magistricide in a heartbeat!

Laura Martone said...

That's hilarious, L.C.! Yeah, I could've used "magistricide" myself back in the day... not all professors are created equal, if you know what I mean!

Donna Hole said...

Anon @ 5:23p

I have to agree with you about the Harry Potter books. I have been cursed with children who don't read, unless it's instructions for accomplishing missions or getting cheats on their video games. I had hoped the Harry books would jump start them, but only one of mine even read the first book.

I had the same hopes with the Goose Bumps series. They read those books, but nothing else. And only because they had to write reading logs and book reports at school.

I was pretty disappointed to read some of the - reviews? - on writing for children/YA. Quick, snappy, get to the juice of the story, don't drag out any one scene or concept. Get to the end as quick as possible.

Maybe texting has turned our kids away from pleasure reading.


Jen C said...

I know it's a little late, but I went on a book-spree today. Most of what I bought were books I'd been meaning to pick up for ages, like the Time Traveller's Wife and the Poisonwood Bible, but in keeping with Writer Appreciation Week I bought a book by a local, debut author too. It actually looks really cool, not something I would have bought if I hadn't been specifically looking for something from a first-time author.

terripatrick said...

Let's hope Reading Rainbow lives forever in reruns, travels the globe for at least a decade or two and is translated into every language.

Love you LeVar! Thanks for the memories!

Thermocline said...

The iUniverse stats were a good reminder that there are no shortcuts, other than writing an amazing book.

I'm going to cry if Sesame Street ever goes off the air.

Mira said...

Well, I disagree that Harry Potter didn't bring kids to books.

I don't think kids went from Potter to LOTR or C.S. Lewis. They went from J.K. Rowling to Stephanie Meyer.

Maybe not all kids went on to read to other books after Potter, but alot of them did. That's why YA is the 'hot' field, and I believe it can all be traced to the Potter books.

That's why the writer is so important. If you can get the right writer, you can revitilize a genre or the industry.

Mira said...

Oh, and by get the right writer, I don't mean the one who writes the best query or who is easy to work with or who never says anything negative on the blogs or who markets themselves well.

I mean a writer who writes a book that will reach millions.

Welshcake said...

Nathan - how about a one-liner competition on the blog sometime (you haven't done one already, have you)?

But perhaps you've sworn off competitions...

Anonymous said...

Mira, the writers 'who reach millions', these days, tend not to be the most talented writers - they're just the ones who have won the lottery.

Rowling didn't sell a billion copies of Potter because she's a talented writer.

She sold a billion copies because she got lucky.

Mira said...

Anon - well, you're talking to the wrong person.

I adore the Harry Potter books. I think they are amazing pieces of literature that will last.

From my perspective, J.K. Rowling got lucky in that she is wildly talented, and also has the innate drive and discipline to write no matter what.

Now, Stephanie Meyer - I do think she got lucky. Very good timing.

Chumplet - Sandra Cormier said...

Just dropping in to say Hellloooooo! Funny -- verification word is twitau. That's me...

Donna Hole said...

Ohh, ohh! Mira and Anon: can I butt in? Well, doing so anyways.

I started with the Harry Potter series late because I was hoping to find something my kids would enjoy. I don't mind reading MG/YA, I like to know what kids are into these days (being the mom of 5 teenagers).

I liked the first book, and the second book, and by the third book, I realized this series probably wasn't for just 10 year olds. Nope. I do believe the popularity of the Harry Potter series is not in the number of middle grade students that have read the series, but in the number of ADULTS that have read and supported the series.

Because seriously, do yo think that by "The Goblet Of Fire" she was writing for 10-12 year olds? Debateable at book three "Prisoner of Azkaban".

I'll admit I'm not well read in the YA series, but I have read several of the most well publicized, including TWILIGHT (first book only), SISTERHOOD OF THE TRAVELING PANTS, ERAGON, and yeah yeah, Harry Potter.

How many review's of these books have we read that were written by 10 - 17 year olds?

Not that I don't think any of these series were not excellent books. I mean, Paulini started his book when he was like, 15? But I do believe it is the interest of the "adult" readers, not the interest of the YA readers that mark a book for extreme popularity.

I mean, who made "The Giving Tree" popular, the kids who read it, or the adult controversy over the meaning behind the book.

Anonymous said...

Mira, I never said that Rowling's not talented.

Ask any published novelist what's required to make a living from writing fiction, however, and the answer will almost invariably be, luck.

I remember seeing Tom Clancy being interviewed once (this was when the market was saturated with Clancy's novels). The interviewer asked: "So why are you selling so many copies right now... there must be something special about your novels?"

I thought for sure that Clancy was going to say something about how great his plots were, or how his writing was so easy to get into. Instead, he just grinned, and shrugged his shoulders, and said: "I got lucky."

The interviewer persisted, and said: "But surely there's more to it than that..."

And of course there is more to it than that, but again, Clancy just shrugged his shoulders and repeated: "I got lucky."

People outside of the publishing business just don't understand the role that luck plays.

Also, Harry Potter isn't literature - I'm sorry, it's not. This isn't even up for debate. These are derivative children's novels. She actually has generic ghosts and witches in these novels. And by the way, the novels are meant for kids, not for adults - any person can, or rather, 'should' be able to see that.

It was alarming when adults started reading these books - doesn't say anything about Rowling's abilities, however. Rather, it's just further evidence that people, these days, have incredibly poor reading skills (to say the least), and would prefer to read a children's book over something that's challenging and engaging.

I also laughed at your suggestion that Meyer's success was based on luck, and that Rowling's was based on talent - that's just downright condescending.

Nathan Bransford said...


I don't think you are probably the right person to call anyone condescending, and I'm going to delete similarly tinted comments from here on out. There are quite a few people who see a lot of literary merit in the HARRY POTTER books and there are adults and children who have enjoyed them. They don't deserve to be sneered at, nor do you personally get to close the debate on what is considered literature.

Mira said...

Nathan, thank you.

I hope it's okay if I respond to one point...? If you'd prefer I didn't continue this, please delete it.

Anon, I understand what you are saying about luck, but I think you and I are talking about apples and oranges.

I'm not arguing that 'luck' is involved in becoming a published writer, whatever luck is...

But what I'm saying is that certain writers, once they do have the luck to get published, also have their fingers on the pulse of the reader. They write something that reaches across broad spectrums. They create new genres, like Tolkien, or they speak to something in thousands of people, like....well, take your pick. Or they may not even reach their audience during their lifetime, but they write something so enduring that it speaks to people hundreds of years later.

Whether you include Rowling in that or not isn't really the main point of what I was saying.

What I'm saying it that there is something to the writer who can....well, write. Beyond being published. Beyond making a living at it.

A writer who can write.

Anonymous said...

Well, Nathan, what is literature then?

You have to set some kind of a standard, obviously, or else the word itself will lose its meaning.

I can only speak for myself, but if people were to start debating whether or not the Harry Potter books should be classified as literature, then I would back out of that debate pretty quickly.

Right now, it's fashionable to argue that every person's opinion is equally as valid as everyone else's - and I'm sorry, but I don't agree with that. Literature is literature. If you allow for any piece of writing to be classified as being literature then you've just destroyed the very notion of literature itself.

Sure, you can have the Harry Potter debate if you want to, but then what's to prevent you from having a similar debate about the merits of, say, Twilight, or of Nancy Drew? I'm not sure I see the point of that?

Maybe a better question would be: What isn't literature?

Are you willing to answer that question?

You seem overly concerned with not offending people - but how can you honestly answer such a question without offending people! I just don't see that.

Surely, there must be books that you would classify as not being literature - if you were to name them, then you would likely end up offending many or most of the people who love those books. (And then, in turn, I could say what you just said to me, that it's not for you to close the debate on what is or isn't literature.)

Well that's just nonsense.

You have to man-up, and take a stand.

Nevertheless, I'm genuinely curious: what books would you consider not to be literature?

Nathan Bransford said...


I'm not saying it definitively is literature, and my opinion of what is or isn't literature isn't particularly important (to myself or others).

All I'm saying is that "what is literature" is an ongoing debate, and it's not one that any one person has the power to close.

Anonymous said...

Nathan, I realize that the definition of literature is constantly changing, and that people will always debate the merits of certain books - but I see no reason why we can't close the debate on certain books?

Surely literature does have a standard, and surely some books are so far below that standard that having one such debate would be completely pointless and stupid?

I believe that the standard for what constitutes literature is rather high - which should make it even easier to know which debates are worth having, and which are not.

Also, I'm disappointed that you won't name a few of the books you feel are not worthy of being classifiable as literature - honestly, I think you're taking the easy way out there. I personally would've found your answer to be enlightening.

Even an extreme example would have sufficed. (Although I would've loved it if your example had not been an extreme one - that would've showed daring!)

Not Harry Potter? Not Nancy Drew? Not Twilight?

Then what!

Nathan Bransford said...


It's really not my job to determine what is or isn't literature -- I leave that to the scholars.

Anonymous said...

My grade twelve English teacher asked us this question on an essay exam one time - what is literature?

You should ask this question of your blog-readership some time.

The responses would be incredibly illuminating, I'll bet.

Laura Martone said...

Anon -

I think this is an extremely subjective debate... as it is with visual art and cinema. What one person considers classic... might be trash to another.

For instance, many professors and readers consider WUTHERING HEIGHTS to be a classic example of "literature," but personally, I find it to be little more than a trashy gothic romance with two extremely distasteful protagonists.

But that's just my humble opinion. I certainly wouldn't look down on someone who thought otherwise.

Your tone seems to indicate that you would indeed scorn those who thought differently from you. I agree with Nathan - the debate on what is and isn't literature will never be closed. And frankly, I'm heartened that it won't be because I enjoy debating such things... if all parties are respectful of others' opinions, that is.

Anonymous said...

Laura, I don't think that deciding what's literature and what's not literature is nearly as subjective as you say it is.

Obviously there are books that are worth debating the merits of. I'm not saying that there's an absolute standard for what constitutes literature - and I never did say that.

But if a person is going to advance the idea that, say, a Nancy Drew novel is literature, and in the same category as, say, A Passage To India, and that their opinion is as equally valid as mine or as anyone else's, then I can't even be bothered to argue with them.

That's just not a debate I'm going to engage in.

As I said before, literature is literature. It has a standard. If you remove that standard and allow for anything to be called literature, then you're defeating the point of creating the word 'literature' in the first place. My chief point, really, is that some books fall so far short of that standard that it's pointless even having the debate.

Nancy Drew is one such book (I'm not saying that Nancy Drew has no value, or that it doesn't serve a purpose, I'm just saying that it's not literature). Nancy Drew just isn't on the same level as A Passage To India, which surely is literature - are you seriously going to argue otherwise?

Okay, if you want to, I guess.

Donna Hole said...

Sorry Anon, but I take offense to the notion that I, as an adult who read and enjoyed the children's novel Harry Potter, have poor reading skills. I take offense to anyone who makes a judgement about my intellect based on the books I read.

I have an extremely wide variety of tastes, and if I choose to indulge in a little "easy reading" to clear my head of the more important concerns of the world for a few hours, I feel entitled to the break.

One of the things I liked best about the Potter series was not the story itself - though it was very entertaining - but watching Rowling's growth as a writer.

IMO, if she'd continued the books on a purely 5th grade reading level, she never would have sold as many books. Children aren't demanding of a writer. Adults are. As the story became more and more complicated, her writing skills had to rise to the challenge. Obviously, she did very well.

You can get "lucky" in hitting on a popular concept; you can get "lucky" in having the right agent work with you to get the story published. But the skills of the writer to "tell" that story and keep Reader interest is not luck at all.

That's just my opinion: I'd rather think of myself as a talented writer - no matter how long it takes to get published - than to think I just got lucky.

And I appreciate the difference between "not wanting to offend" and having "respect" for differences of opinions. Nathan Bransfords blog is one of the few places anyone (not just writers - published or not) can come and enjoy those differences without being ridiculed. There are no "absolutes" in here.

So, if some have a different "opinion" than your's, those comments should be as welcome as your own.


Mira said...

Anon, well the Potter books are YA fantasy. Fantasy is a relatively new genre, and young adult fantasy is an even newer genre, so those genres are difficult to assess - there are less examples of great literary classics.

I suspect you're crossing genres. You're comparing fantasy with literary fiction (A passage to India.)

And honestly - I know I used the word literature - but I didn't mean it to carry such weight. It has a more casual meaning for me. Besides, I see more gradients in the quality of books than literature/not literature. There's just good - and that's where I'd place the Potter books. I think the Potter books are an amazing feat of imagination and world building. They re-vitalized and perhaps helped to define the YA fantasy market. They're good.

Sometimes, when something is wildly popular, it can be difficult to see how good it really is.

Whether they are 'literature' along the lines of Alice in Wonderland? Um, probably not. I do think they are better than the Narnia books. But then, I don't like the Narnia books, so I might be biased there.

Anonymous said...

Donna, I didn't mean that every single adult who reads Harry Potter is a poor reader, nor did I mean that every published novelist succeeded purely because of luck.

But again, I have to stick to my guns, and call it the way I see it. And the way I see it is that the Harry Potter books are children's stories, and that children's stories are called that for a reason, because they're meant for children.

I also refuse to accept the notion that Harry Potter is literature.

I'll also continue to assert my opinion that Rowling sold as many copies as she did, not because she's such a talented novelist (although talent obviously played a small part) but rather because of luck - blind luck.

Okay, so all of that seems to anger some people here.

Well, there it is.

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