Nathan Bransford, Author


Friday, July 31, 2009

This Week in Publishing 7/31/09

Thanks again to everyone who entered the second Guest Blog Challenge! This was just as difficult to judge as the first contest, and there were many incredible entries. But there could be only five.

They are:

Monday: Carly Wells
Tuesday: Lauren Baratz-Logsted
Wednesday: Regina Milton
Thursday: Peter Cooper
Friday: Rick Daley

You will be in great hands next week. Congratulations to the winners!

Meanwhile, in the publishing this week:

Speaking of cover art, in the comments section yesterday reader EJ Lange posted a link to an article about an ongoing cover issue: two new releases with almost identical jackets.

More digital ink is being devoted to the Kindle this week and there's a wide range of opinion. In the skeptic camp, reader Scott Spem was the first to point me to an as-you'd-expect review of the Kindle in the New Yorker by Nicholson Baker: there's plenty of sneering (a sample passage: "The problem was that the screen was gray. And it wasn’t just gray; it was a greenish, sickly gray. A postmortem gray. The resizable typeface, Monotype Caecilia, appeared as a darker gray. Dark gray on paler greenish gray was the palette of the Amazon Kindle."), but despite all that he almost brings himself to liking it in the end.

Meanwhile, in the "Holy crap I love this" camp is blog reader/commenter T. Anne who posted her own review this week, called, appropriately, Confessions of a Kindleholic.

In still-more-fallout from the whole Amazon/Orwell thing, the LA Times has an ominous Op-Ed called "Amazon's Troubling Reach," which includes this whopper: "[I]t's not the incidents themselves but their ramifications that are disturbing, the idea that Amazon can effectively alter the collective memory at will." Wow. I was going to make a point about this BUT AMAZON ERASED MY MEMORY. RUN!! RUN!!!!! SOMEWHERE! I FORGET WHERE!!

Meanwhile, GalleyCat spotted a journalist who is not terrified of the Kindle and all The Dire Implications it represents! In fact, Paul Carr suggests that Amazon shouldn't apologize for the Orwell Incident. He writes: "In the past, once illegal copies were in people’s possession, there was little the copyright owner could do about it. Now, thanks to technology there is. Now, thanks to ebooks and the Kindle and Whispernet, the rights of authors - and their reward for spending their lives creating ideas and entertainment that benefit the world - can be protected and actively enforced."

Meanwhile in still more e-book news, the NY Times detailed how DRM opponents are using the Orwell Incident to advance the non-DRM cause, while Mike Shatzkin, incredibly presciently as always, notes that in the future the DRM debate is kind of beside the point. In our Cloud future, where our content is stored centrally and we access it via our multiple devices, DRM will be the method by which that works.

To further illustrate Shatzkin's point, I now read books on both my Kindle and iPhone. And the books sync between the devices. As in, after I read 20 pages on my iPhone the next time I sync my Kindle the same book will already be turned to the page I left off on. Let me just say that this shows that DRM... um... hmm... what was I going to say again? CURSED AMAZON!! LEAVE MY MEMORY ALONE!

Meanwhile, more news about the coming Apple Tablet, which will surely not be collective-memory-erasing because journalists love Apple like Flavor Flav loves clocks.

Whew! I swear some things happened that were not Kindle related.

Over at Pimp My Novel is a terrific discussion of Comp Titles, those magical books that are similar but not too similar to yours and by which publishers establish expectations for your book. Basically you hope your book is compared to good ones.

Neil Vogler pointed me to a very interesting post by an author who made the very difficult decision to leave her publisher.

In agent news, Jennifer Jackson has a great comparison for all that manuscript reading and conference-attending agents do for non-clients: not our job per se, but more like research and development.

Fitzgerald and Hemingway are two of my favorite writers, and they had a fascinatingly complex relationship. In a review of the forthcoming book FITZGERALD & HEMINGWAY: WORK AND DAYS, Matthew Shaer notes how Fitzgerald helped Hemingway get published, but later in life Hemingway increasingly felt Fitzgerald was soft and squandering his talent, comparing him to a wounded butterfly.

And finally, I love me some Disneyland, and thanks to the wonders of YouTube I give you... fascinating time-lapse footage of its construction (via Curbed SF via WhitScott):



Have a great weekend!






Thursday, July 30, 2009

What's in a Cover?

Book cover controversies have been burning up the Internet lately. A quick recap:

On her blog, Justine Larbalestier wrote what I thought was a remarkably even-handed assessment of what happened with the US cover of her novel. In Justine's words, the protagonist is "black with nappy hair which she wears natural and short." Which is why she and many subsequent readers were surprised to see this cover:

(The image has since been taken down)

Larbalestier relates the anecdotal experiences of other authors who have since been in touch with her, and touches on the fact that the cover choice could relate to the pernicious stereotype that "black" books don't sell. I don't necessarily agree with all of her conclusions, but it's an interesting post.

Meanwhile, over in the UK, the Internet has been calling shenanigans on the cover of Simon Kernick's novel DEADLINE. After glancing at the cover you may be surprised to know it's not actually by Dan Brown:



And finally, the artist of that bull statue on Wall Street is suing Random House for using the image on the cover of the book A COLOSSAL FAILURE OF COMMON SENSE, which is about the Lehman Bros. debacle.

What does all this cover business mean to the authors? A whole lot. What can they do about it? Not a whole lot.

In the US especially, author approval over the cover is kind of like a 100 year old bottle of Bordeaux wine that is only bestowed upon the truly rarefied authors among us who measure their book sales in the gajillions. Everyone else has to live with the cover the publisher comes up with. No approval. Publishers decide on what goes on the cover, sometimes with input from the major chains. And sometimes but not always with the author's input.

When it comes to covers they don't like, authors do have one solid tool at their disposal: the Agent Freakout, a time-honored tradition whereby an agent raises hell about the proposed cover, often (but not always) effecting the necessary change. (The Agent Freakout is reason #1,782,572,081 why you should have an agent, btw).

Otherwise? An author has to trust that the publisher will see the light or just breathe and remember that a bad cover is very unlikely to destroy your career.

But honestly, while these cover horror stories are memorable they're also somewhat rare. For the most part the art department comes up with an extremely good cover, and some authors luck out with a truly spectacular one.

For example. My client Jennifer Hubbard's amazing debut novel THE SECRET YEAR is about a high school boy who has been secretly dating a girl from the rich section of town - she has a boyfriend and they pretend not to know each other at school. When she dies in a car accident he's the only one who knows they had been together. Just as he tries to move on he finds her diary and it's full of unsent letters that detail how much she actually wanted to be with him, but she was too scared to send them when she was alive.

Does this sound incredible? It's incredible. It will be out in 2010.

Here's the cover, which perfectly captures the secret romance:



So yes: you don't have control over your cover. But don't worry. It all turns out fine.

Usually.






Wednesday, July 29, 2009

How Do You Deal With the "Am-I-Crazies?"

Every writer I know, whether they've written one novel, two novels, or twenty-five novels, at some point had to deal with the "Am I crazies" before they found publication.

You probably know what I'm talking about: the "Am I crazies" are that feeling you get where you're spending so much time writing a novel or multiple novels, your friends and family are wondering what you're doing, and you have no idea whatsoever whether you will ever see publication. You could be spending your hours writing the great American novel or you could be writing something that will only be read by your critique partners. No way of knowing. That's when you stare at the ceiling and wonder, "Am I crazy for spending so much time doing this?"

The "Am I Crazies" are a natural result of writing a novel without having any idea whether the novel will find its way to publication, which is... you know, every novel by an unpublished author. This feeling can also be a pernicious, crippling force for some writers as they struggle with self-doubt and try to keep going without knowing what the future will bring.

So. How do you deal with the "Am I crazies" and keep yourself writing?






Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Second Guest Blog Challenge

Last month's guest blog contest resulted in some stellar entries and the creation of one completely indispensable blog. Let's do this again, shall we?

- Please e-mail a guest post between now and noon Pacific time on Thursday to querycontest@gmail.com.
- Please limit yourself to one entry.
- You may enter a post that you submitted for the last contest but it's probably best to send something new
- Please do not e-mail entries to my work address.
- Make sure to format your blog post in block formatting (i.e. single spaced, double spaces between paragraphs, no indenting, plain text) for easy copying and pasting. No attachments, please.
- I will choose the five best, most helpful, funniest, awesomest posts to run next week and link to the guest blog author's blog or website or Amazon page or favorite charity or what have you. The topic is totally up to you, although some relevancy to this blog's themes will probably receive preference (but not necessarily!).
- I regret that I will not be able to run every post, and thus some blog post writing may be in vain.
- Winners will be announced on Friday.
- Rules and guidelines subject to change without notice.

Can't wait to see the entries!!

Blog note: I'm afraid that due to repeated misconduct by one individual I have to disable anonymous comments until further notice. I really regret that I've had to take this action because so many people use the anonymity responsibly and to register constructive dissent.

Until we're able to restore anonymous commenting please be assured that I'm not going to hold it against you if you disagree with me about anything, and feel free to use your own identity to do so. Constructive criticism, disagreement, and polite expression of opinion are always encouraged. Hopefully we'll be back to normal as soon as possible, and thanks for understanding.






Monday, July 27, 2009

The Importance of Basic Computer Skills

Shakespeare had to know how to sharpen a quill and dip it in ink. Hemingway had to know how to use a typewriter.

You need to know how to use a computer.

Computer skills are completely imperative for the modern writer. And I don't just mean opening up whatever word processing application that comes with your computer and banging out a manuscript. I mean basic familiarity with Microsoft Word, navigating e-mail and the Internet, preferably some knowledge of blogs and social networks, and all of the resulting etiquette and formatting rules.

Your agent and editor are going to want to communicate via e-mail. They're going to want you to send your manuscript in a compatible format. Your editor will probably want to do your line edits by commenting and highlighting in a Word document. Your typeset manuscript may arrive for your review as a PDF. Your cover will certainly arrive as a PDF. Even if you don't have a blog your publicist may want you to write guest blog posts, and thus will want you to know what makes for a good one. Or they'll set up a Facebook or Twitter account for one of your characters that they want you to maintain.

None of these people in the chain are going to be happy if you insist on doing this stuff on paper and phone, if it's even possible to do it on paper. And hopefully you have a sense of how emotion can be difficult to perceive accurately in an e-mail and thus adopt a proper e-mail "tone" when you're communicating.

Whenever I bring this topic up, people often ask me, "What if an author sends you a completely brilliant manuscript through the mail, only it's been handwritten in pen and they don't know how to use a computer?"

Here's what I'd say: I'd call the author, tell them their manuscript is completely brilliant, and politely ask them to send it to me in a Word document. If they don't know how: no better time to learn.

To be sure, everyone along the way will be unfailingly polite if you're learning these skills and no one is going to kick an author to the curb just because they struggle with some computer tasks.

But things are competitive out there, and computer skills should be considered as much a part of an author's toolkit as metaphors and foreshadowing.

Besides, have you ever tried to write with a quill? Shakespeare would have traded a kingdom for a laptop.






Friday, July 24, 2009

This Week in Publishing 7/24/09

Lots and lots of links!

First off, if you live in the Bay Area or plan to pass through our fair part of the country I will be hosting a workshop at your friendly neighborhood Books Inc. Opera Plaza in San Francisco on September 13th. The workshop is called Secrets of a Literary Agent, it will be about finding an agent and the secrets therein, and believe it or not, after I reveal this top secret classified agenting information I will not then have to kill you. You'll just have to take a memory erasing drug.

Amid all this talk of Amazon's world domination comes more persistent rumors about Apple developing a (potentially Kindle-killing) tablet sized device. T-minus six months until Apple is the new company the Internet thinks is going to bring about the apocalyptic end of books as we know it.

And speaking of the Kindle, remember way back a week ago when everyone was worried about Kindle pricing? Former HarperBusiness publisher Marion Maneker has a terrific article in Slate's The Big Money this week summarizing the issues surrounding the price point battle and why publishers are reluctant to embrace $9.99. Essentially, even though publishers are generally receiving near hardcover-level revenue from the Kindle as Amazon takes a loss, publishers are anxious about Amazon using their books as loss leaders and also about the extent to which readers are fleeing paper books in the direction of plastic whenever a big title comes out.

The article is also noteworthy as Maneker is the first individual to ever utter the following words in a journalistic sphere: "Publishers aren't stupid." HISTORY IN THE MAKING, PEOPLE. Also there is no word on Maneker's whereabouts. Journalists don't take kindly to such loose talk.

For more discussion on the future of e-books: B&N recently announced the creation of a massive e-book store, PBS recently featured a segment on e-books (thanks to reader Heidi Willis for the link), there's an article on demand pricing for e-books by Evan Schnittman, and a 100% must read by Mike Shatzkin evaluating the future of e-books. Shatzkin envisions a near future where there's an explosion of devices and purchase points, an environment in which Amazon and B&N in particular may not have an edge (via Pub Lunch)

Meanwhile, in news that is completely and totally unrelated to this week's Orwell/Amazon Internet freakout, Shelf Awareness linked to an article in Retail Week about how customer service expectations have soared in the recession. Hmm..

In Jessica Faust news, I thought three of her recent posts were especially terrific. First is a list of reasons she would stop reading a query and the second is a fairly comprehensive post on novel word count. The last one is advice for all: "Good enough" isn't good enough.

Also in agent advice, Jane Dystel has a great post on etiquette when submitting to an agent. Some goes just for Dystel & Goderich and some is universal, but definitely check it out.

Still with me? MORE LINKS TO GO.

Anonymous publishing intern The Intern wrote a post about how many spiritual memoirs she's been receiving (she's not alone) and some things to consider when writing one. (via Janet Reid)

And in more writing advice news, my amazing client Jennifer Hubbard wrote about the importance of patience (no, really, you're going to need it), and she also linked to a very interesting discussion by Janni Lee Simner about the distinctions between "girl" and "boy" books and voices.

Many people passed along Editorial Anonymous' recent Publishometer, a point system by which you can see whether you pass the bar for publication.

Almost finally, as many of you know ANGELA'S ASHES author Frank McCourt passed away this week and there have been many remembrances in the media and online. I was particularly struck by the LA Times book blog Jacket Copy's article that remembers McCourt as one of the great late blooming authors, having published ANGELA'S ASHES, his first book, when he was 67 and retired.

And finally finally, I was immediately drawn to this video of the world's fastest everything. I only wish they had included footage of the world's fastest novel (via Andrew Sullivan).



Have a great weekend!






Thursday, July 23, 2009

Amazon, Orwell, and the Great Internet Freakout of 2009

Stop me if you've heard this one.

Something mysterious happens with Amazon. Internet freaks out. Media follows with hysterical articles about apocalyptic implications of mysterious machinations of Amazon.

A week later, everyone wonders: what was it we were freaking out about again?

It's deja vu all over again this week: earlier in the year you may remember "#Amazonfail", which turned out later to be "#seemingly innocuous Amazon systems glitch." If you recall, items had incorrectly been flagged as "adult material" on Amazon, the Twittersphere in particular went ballistic, ominous articles were written, Amazon fixed the problem, everyone moved on.

Well, as I'm sure you've heard, this week books by George Orwell mysteriously disappeared from Kindles. Cue Internet freakout. Next came the media with articles about The Dire Implications: even normally mild-mannered fellows David Pogue and Farhad Manjoo were not immune to apocalyptic warnings. The subtitle of Manjoo's article says it all: "How Amazon's remote deletion of e-books from the Kindle paves the way for book-banning's digital future."

Wow. Really?

Let's start from the beginning with this whole Orwell thing. What really happened is that a third party illegally uploaded copies of Orwell's books to the Kindle Store. Amazon was notified by the rightsholder (presumably either Orwell's publisher or literary estate or both), after investigation they discovered that the copies were illegal, and then they both refunded customers' money and then digitally recalled the e-books.

Now, I don't doubt that it feels a little intrusive to have a book removed from one's device without consent, and Amazon later announced that it would no longer do so in the future. Where I think they really erred was that they didn't recognize that it would be unsettling to consumers (and rich with irony given this is Orwell), and didn't sufficiently lay the groundwork for a forced recall.

But imagine you're a writer (not hard, since 99.9% of the people reading this blog are writers and the other person is my mom). Someone illegally uploads your book. 10,000 people download it and you don't see a dime. Would you want these people/lost customers to continue to read their illegal versions or would you want them properly refunded and the illegal copies removed so they can buy the real version instead? Or better yet have a legal version substituted at the right price? I know there are some "I just want my book read" freevangelists out there, but I still think most people would want the problem rectified if it were possible to do so.

I mean, it's not as if the police says, "Sorry, sir, your house was broken into and then the burgler sold it to another couple for $10. But that couple bought it fair and square so you're just going to have to find a new house, there's nothing we can do about it."

The other tack that analysts have taken is that this reminds people that they don't really own their e-books, and buying books on the Kindle is more akin to a rental. Which, as a Kindle consumer, let me just say: I already know this. Sure, I hope someday that e-books will be truly device agnostic (as opposed to fake device agnostic), so that, much like my music collection, I can move my e-books to a new device when a better e-reader comes along.

But honestly, as a rabid e-book consumer, this isn't something I worry about a great deal. I don't buy e-books for permanence, I buy them for convenience.

If you're reading e-books you've already made the break from the book as a permanent fixture in your home. And then you realize that most people only re-read a fraction of the books they own. I don't worry about keeping every single e-book on my virtual shelf in perpetuity. I'm not really going to re-read them, and if I do want to re-read something again and again I'll either figure out a way to migrate the electronic version I do own, or I'll buy it again in a new format to support the author, or I'll just buy the paper version. And people who are creeped out about the impermanence of digital content tend to stick to paper books to begin with.

So yeah. Amazon can effectively delete your books and e-books are more akin to rentals. Got it.

But it's a pretty fantastical leap from there to assume that they or the government are going to start using these these nefarious devices to control what people read. Sheesh, people, we're not living in a police state (resist political jab). Also: Kindle sales represent at the very most 1-3% of total book sales. Not exactly totalitarian control of the book world. And even if you assume Amazon is bent on world domination they really don't have any incentive to mess with your legally bought Nora Roberts novel, nor do they have or will they have the monopolistic power that people are imagining for such an apocalyptic scenario to come to pass in the future.

What is it about Amazon that causes such hysteria? I mean, I'm in contact with Amazon a lot, and let me tell you: it's a company populated by extremely nice, extremely smart people.

Well, aside from some unforced errors, I do think the suspicion comes down to the fact that Amazon is the 5,000 pound gorilla in the book world and people are worried they are going to eventually possess some sort of book monopoly. Obviously Amazon is having a huge impact on brick and mortar bookstores, people are worried about their power, but perhaps most importantly, because they so firmly represent the new world of books they're basically the receptacle for our anxieties about the future.

I personally think a lot of the fears of Amazon's coming world domination are seriously overblown. Amazon may well emerge from this period of transition in the publishing industry as a dominant player, but it's not as if they're going to be the only player. If Apple and the iPod have taught us anything, killer devices drive where and how people buy digital content, not habituation to retailers such as Amazon. (The Kindle: love it, but not so much a killer device). And if anything, the buying possibilities will be more dispersed and decentralized in the e-book era. Yeah, iTunes is the dominant player in music, but how many places are there on the Internet to buy digital music? A bazillion.

Ultimately, I just can't get too worked up about all of this. If there's anything we should fear from Amazon it's that the mere sight of their logo apparently turns normal people into conspiracy theorists.






Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Best Beach Reads?

Reader Crystal passed along a recent article from NPR soliciting nominations for the best beach reads ever, which they then narrowed down to 100.

What's a beach read? NPR defines:

"When you read one, your surroundings recede, time bends and you're transported, mesmerized, enthralled. These are page turners to be sure, but that doesn't mean they're brainless. This year's list will be fiction only; any genre, any period."

Personally I feel like the key is the page-turning part. You're at the beach! You're relaxing! There are distractions! The brain should not be overly taxed, but the book should still be really fun and engaging to read.

Which is why I was a littttle surprised to see NPR's choices for the top 100, including such literary heavyweights as Dostoyevsky's THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV and Lawrence Durrell's Alexandria Quartet.

Don't get me wrong - I love me some Lawrence Durrell (I represent his estate in the US for crying out loud) and you should absolutely buy JUSTINE and take it to the beach or wherever else you want to read it because it's incredible. It's just not quite what I'd think of as a "beach" read. It's a great literary masterpiece after all, and thus I see it more in the "lounging by the fireplace in cold weather" arena.

I think we can do better than NPR.

So. What are your favorite beach reads of all time?

I'll start with SPHERE by Michael Crichton, CRYPTONOMICON by Neal Stephenson (NPR got that one right), and anything by Jane Austen.

What are your favorites?






Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Please Help: My Partial Request E-mail

Now that I have a Kindle I use it to read all of my partials and full manuscripts. This has completely changed my life because I can read for work anywhere without carrying around manuscript pages. I just e-mail the manuscripts to my dedicated Kindle e-mail address, they download wirelessly whenever I flip the switch on the Kindle, and voila, I can work anytime, anywhere!

But here's the thing: I like to have a brief introduction to the manuscript before I start reading to refresh my memory, so I don't, you know, mistake a YA comedy for a paranormal thriller for the first 10 pages because I misremembered the titles. ("Um... are these kids going to get eaten by a zombie any time soon??").

So I came up with a solution: I ask everyone who sends me a partial to paste their query in the first page of their manuscript. Ah ha! That way I can refresh my memory by reading the query and then move on to the manuscript.

Here's the standard e-mail I send:

"Thank you for your recent note. Would you mind sending me the first 30 pages in a Word attachment? Please paste your below e-mail in the first page of the Word document. I look forward to getting to know your work."

Problem:

This only works about 75% of the time. The other 25% of the time people either send their query as a separate document or just re-paste it in the body of the e-mail instead of the manuscript or just don't include the query entirely. This takes time, and it bothers my efficiency-obsessed self to take up extra time.

First off, I suppose I should ask: is a 25% error rate to be expected? Or is there a problem with my partial request e-mail?

I think it might be a combo, but I'm at a loss at how to rephrase it to make it clearer. So. Do you have any suggestions on the e-mail? Any technical writers who want to take a stab at it? Is it possible to reach a consensus on what this e-mail should be?

Thank you for your help!






Monday, July 20, 2009

Example of a Good Query Letter III

It's been a while since I last featured a stellar query letter that sent me into a partial requesting frenzy, and this time around I thought I'd take a page from Kristin Nelson's book and share the query for a novel that recently sold.

Not only is Lisa Brackmann's debut novel ROCK PAPER TIGER to die for, but when she originally contacted me she wrote one of the best queries I've ever received. (Frequent readers might also know Lisa as blog commenter Other Lisa).

Without further ado:


Dear Mr. Bransford,

The Beijing '08 Olympics are over, the war in Iraq is lost, and former National Guard medic Ellie McEnroe is stuck in China, trying to lose herself in the alien worlds of performance artists and online gamers. When a chance encounter with a Chinese Muslim dissident drops her down a rabbit hole of conspiracies, Ellie must decide who to trust among the artists, dealers, collectors and operatives claiming to be on her side – in particular, a mysterious organization operating within a popular online game.

ROCK PAPER TIGER is a fast-paced, 108,000 word mainstream novel set in a China where the ultra-modern and cutting-edge clash with ancient neighborhoods and traditions, and in an America where the consequences of war reverberate long after the troops have come home. It will appeal to fans of William Gibson’s books with contemporary settings, Laura Lippman’s strong female protagonists, and almost anybody’s whacked-out travelogues about the world’s more surreal places.

I have a background in politics, Chinese history and the entertainment industry. I am working on a pop biography of Zhou Enlai for a small press and with a partner wrote a feature screenplay based on a series of Taiwanese fantasy novels, THE IMMORTALS, which was optioned by ActionGate Films. I was also a contributing editor for TWILIGHT OF EMPIRE: RESPONSES TO OCCUPATION, a collection of essays about the American occupation of Iraq (Perceval Press, 2004). I lived in China, travel there often and speak decent, if not quite fluent, Mandarin.

I’m querying you because you like novels set in foreign countries.

Also, I hate the Lakers.

Best regards,
Lisa


This query is just stellar. It's well-written, it has a nice balance between key details (alien worlds of performance artists and gamers), plot (chance encounter drops her into a rabbit hole of conspiracies), personalization (knows my taste), and most importantly of all, hates the Lakers. I had to restrain myself from immediately offering representation. I waited on the novel though, which was amazing.

Soho Press will be publishing ROCK PAPER TIGER in 2010. Congrats to Lisa!!






Friday, July 17, 2009

This Week in Publishing 7/17/09

This week, publishing!

First off, writer and Star Wars novelist Aaron Allston recently had to undergo some major heart surgery, and the Fandom Association of Central Texas will be hosting a charity auction on July 19th to help him with his medical bills. Please check that out, and see Colleen Lindsay's blog for more info.

It's beach time of year and I know many of you are looking for a great book that can withstand some sand and sun. You don't have to look any further: Friend of the blog Jeff Abbott's awesome new thriller TRUST ME is coming out in just a few days, so now's the time to pre-order or look for it next week at your friendly neighborhood bookseller. Jeff is counting down on his blog with an inside look at how he went about writing it.

Guest blogger week guest blogger Eric's new blog is dropping a massive heap of awesomeness on the Internet, and if you aren't reading and subscribing to his new blog Pimp My Novel, well, you're just beyond hope aren't you?

I'm a big fan of the New Yorker's book blog The Book Bench, and this week they had an interesting summary of an essay by indie publisher Eric Obenauf about the rise of indie publishers and what could cause the downfall of the major publishers. I don't agree with all of Obenauf's claims (I think it may be the first time in recorded history that publishers have ever been accused of embracing e-books too heartily), but his perspective is definitely an interesting one.

Also via the Book Bench I saw this post by agent Anne Hawkins about some of the reasons agents pass on good books. It's an insightful read.

Also in agent news: what Janet said.

Alan Rinzler recently posted a really terrific rundown on what you should look for if you're considering hiring a freelance editor.

In writing and publishing advice news, Margaret Yang pointed me to the incredible writing workshops Lynn Viehl (aka Paperback Writer) has been hosting his week.

And finally, in yet another example of my strange interests....... behold. The past and future of plate tectonics and continental drift!! (via KK Lifestream)



Have a great weekend!






Thursday, July 16, 2009

E-Book Pricing and Publication Debate Erupts

We have ourselves an e-book debate going on.

The whole to-do was started by a Wall Street Journal article about independent publisher Sourcebooks' decision to delay the e-book publication of Kaleb Nation's BRAN HAMBRIC until at least six months after the initial print publication.

Sourcebooks CEO Dominique Raccah stated, "Hardcover books have an audience and we shouldn't cannibalize it" and also expressed concern about $9.95 e-books. Kaleb Nation's agent Richard Curtis concurred.

Trident agent Robert Gottlieb was also quoted thusly regarding simultaneous print and e-book publication: "It's no different than releasing a DVD on the same day that a new movie is released in the movie theaters. Why would you do that?"

The action then moved to the NY Times, where a whole slew of high profile publishing people and authors were quoted as saying essentially, "Thinking about this...... Um, can I get back to you?"

Except for Dominique Raccah, who said, "If you as a consumer can look at a book and say: 'I have two products; one is $27.95, and the other is $9.95. Which should I buy? That's not a difficult decision."

Into the fray jumped Booksquare blogger Kassia Krozser who, after loading her Kindle for a flight, challenged the opinions of Sourcebooks, Curtis, Gottlieb, and the other publishing folk who are skeptical of simultaneous print and e-book publication.

The choice e-book consumers make, she opines, isn't whether to buy a title in hardcover for $27.95 or as an e-book for $9.99. The choice for e-book users is one $9.99 e-book or no book (or, possibly, a different book).

She writes: "Think about it: all your marketing efforts are getting customers to the point of sale…and then you lose them. These readers are not saying, 'Well, that format isn’t available so I’ll just buy this one.'

Nope, they’re saying, 'That format isn’t available so I won’t buy this book at all.'"

Sourcebooks CEO Raccah contacted Krozser, who published Raccah's guest post. Raccah notes that publishers do not have a great deal of control over e-book pricing, and thus, in her opinion the only leverage at their disposal is when and whether to publish an e-book. She also shares Gottlieb's opinion that an e-book publication is akin to a DVD edition of a first run movie. Ultimately, she believes the decision about when and whether to make an e-book available should be made on a book by book basis.

Lastly but not leastly, reader Scott Spern pointed me to an article by Slate writer Jack Shafer who cautions the industry about the perils of resisting our coming $9.99 e-book overlords.

Why? The pirates, of course.

Shafer writes, "While publishers, authors, and agents are well within their rights to attempt to maximize profits by forcing e-book prices up, their efforts may backfire. Put off by higher prices, readers who have grown accustomed to $9.99 Kindle editions may choose to flout copyright law and turn to the lush 'pirate' markets for books on the Internet."

So. After all of this, where do I stand?

A step to the center of Krozser and Shafer, but firmly on the ground of simultaneous publication and the land of $9.99 for most titles.

As many of you know, I'm an e-book fanatic and my opinion is partly borne out of my experience reading for pleasure on the Kindle. As a result, I agree with Kassia that 95% of the time my choice isn't whether I'm going to buy a book on a Kindle or in print. My decision is which book I'm going to buy on the Kindle. (Also I've just given bookstore owners everywhere heart attacks.)

That said, for every book there is a percentage of the audience that is so in love with the author or series that they're going to buy the book no matter what, whether it's available electronically or in hardcover, and they're willing to pay whatever it takes to buy it. If Ian McEwan's next book isn't available on the Kindle you can bet I'm going to buy it anyway (from a bookstore! Owners, you can breathe again!). And of course, I'd imagine Stephenie Meyer's legion of fans would still buy the next TWILIGHT installment if it were printed on poisonous razor blades.

So therefore, for some titles with an extremely rabid fan base, it seems like e-books could potentially cut into hardcover sales if there's a particularly high percentage of fans who are dying to read a title immediately. That's not necessarily a hard and fast reason to deny these fans the ability to read via their preferred method, nor is it stopping a publisher from trying to derive the same revenue per e-book copy as they receive for hardcover regardless of what Amazon decides to charge. But I also agree with Dominique Raccah that these e-book publication decisions should probably be made on a case by case basis.

Ultimately I'm a bit skeptical that there is a great deal of cannibalization going on when e-books and hardcovers are out simultaneously. Like many people, I have a "books I want to read" list about 10,000 pages long. If something is not available in my preferred format it's really easy to just move one notch down the list rather than going and buying it in print.






Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Which Book Would You Want to Be In?

Reader Neil Vogler passed along a recent Guardian post about the number of authors who are auctioning off the chance to name a character in one of their novels.

This sparked Neil's idea for today's You Tell Me: if you could inhabit any book, which would you choose?

I'd go with THE GREAT GATSBY. No! THE SUN ALSO RISES. No! HITCHHIKER'S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY.

What about you?






Tuesday, July 14, 2009

In Praise of "Voluntourism"

Hello! I promised I would tell more about my trip to Peru, and I aim to keep that promise. But first, let's just go ahead and get the picture of me and a really happy llama out of the way.



There.

Now then.

A few months back my group applied for and received a Change Ambassadors Grant from Travelocity's very awesome Travel for Good program. They have a wide variety of service projects to choose from, and we eventually settled on the GlobeAware Care for Cusco program.

Why? Do you SEE the llamas? (Actually we wanted the opportunity to work with the kids)

Background.

Cusco is surrounded by incredibly remote villages that are only reachable, if you have a car, by a two+ hour trip on bumpy dirt roads. Since the people who live there don't have cars, the trip is an arduous one hour walk and a three hour bus ride. Since the parents in the remote villages want to send their kids to Cusco to school so they can have a better future, some Cusqueños opened an "albergue" for these kids to stay in Cusco during the week, to go to school and learn extra Spanish and English in the afternoons and evenings. Then they make the four+ hour return to their villages on the weekends. It's not really an orphanage, but some of the kids who live there are orphans.

The alberque:



Volunteers from the US come to the albergue a few times a year to help improve the house by day and work with the kids to play games and teach English in the evening. The main project we worked on while there was the construction of a stone bench so that the kids could watch each other play futbol and voley (aka volleyball).

Like so:



It really ended up being a fine bench, if I do say so.

The kids were incredible, hilarious, and very eager to improve their lives. They come from some of the most humble and geographically remote places on Earth (I have never seen mountains like the mountains in Peru), and they welcomed us with open arms. They can also play a mean game of Uno.

While there we also....

Went to a remote village to help a family build a new stove out of mud and straw:



Played futbol atop ancient Inca ruins (well, technically the kids played while I choked on thin air from the hike up. Did I mention Cusco is 11,000 feet??):



Celebrated birthdays by stuffing our faces with cake (a tradition, or so they claimed):



Danced:



Wore alpaca wool hats while visiting a pre-Inca volcanic salt farm:



And of course made the trip to Machu Picchu:



All in all it was simply an incredible, amazing trip, and not an exaggeration to say it was life changing. It's easy to get so caught up in life and work and one's own challenges and to forget the incredible need out there both around the world and in our own backyard. I know we're in a tough economic climate, but if you have the opportunity I cannot recommend a volunteer trip enough.

Here are the links again, please check them out and give it some thought!

Travelocity's Travel for Good program
Travelocity's Change Ambassador Grant
GlobeAware






Monday, July 13, 2009

I'm Back! (and a quick note on copyright)

Hola! I'm back from Peru, which was quite an incredible trip. I will have a rundown on the week and an exhortation about the wonders of voluntourism when I'm able to pull it together.

In the meantime, thanks so much to the incredible guest bloggers! I caught up on the comments yesterday and not only did they write awesome posts they also did an admirable job facilitating the discussion in the comments section. Thanks for that.

I'm also pleased that everyone gave Eric the proper encouragement to start a blog. He is now the proud owner of Pimp My Novel, which is already proving to be an indispensable resource in the publishing blogosphere. Set your blasters to "subscribe."

Now then. As I catch up on my overflowing Inbox, just a short post for the FAQs. Reader Riley Corbin wanted to know if you need to file for copyright before you submit to publishers.

The short answer: no, you don't have to.

The slightly longer answer: Please read this post by Jonathan Lyons that deals with everything you need to know about copyright.






Friday, July 10, 2009

Guest Blog Week: Everything You Need to Know About Writing a Novel, in 1000 Words

By: Victoria Mixon

PLOT

Plots are myriad, but plot structure is simple: hook, development (with backstory interwoven), climax.

Shakespeare's five-act play, Syd Field's three-act story, Freytag's triangle (although Freytag called complications climax and climax resolution---causing untold confusion): like a holograph, hook-development-climax works on all levels, from the big picture down through chapters, sequences, scenes, to actual lines of dialog.

"What the hell is this?" Kerouac calls out to Slim in On the Road.

"This is the beginning of the rangelands, boy. Hand me another drink."

Hook your reader (make them curious), tell your story, throw them off a metaphorical cliff when you're done.

The five biggest mistakes in plotting:

1) Starting with backstory. I know, chronology works in life, but not so well in fiction. Chronology did work back when Moll Flanders wanted to tell us all about where she came from before she told us where she was. But that was then. This is now. Hook your reader first. You've got to make them curious before they'll listen.

2) Letting the complications sag. The middle of a book is common bogland, and that's why you hear so many people say, "I started that book, but never finished it." Fitzgerald spent a lot of energy (and his publisher's patience) on the galleys because The Great Gatsby sagged mid-way. It's the writer's job to keep upping the ante on the complications, starting a bigger problem the minute the last one's resolved, keeping the reader turning those pages.

3) Dragging your denouement out. If at all possible, end at the instant of climax, like Henry James in The Turn of the Screw: "His little heart, dispossessed, had stopped." You may grieve to let your characters go, but your reader just wants to find out what happened. And if you're so brilliant they can't let go--wow! Even more reason to quit while you're ahead. The best compliment a writer can get is, "I didn't want that book to end." Hello, Constant Reader.

4) Putting the climax too far from the end. That's what your reader is reading for, and when they've found it--they stop. It's true, some brilliant works have been written where the catastrophe is the hook and the rest of the story is exploration of that catastrophe, but that's sleight-of-hand. The climax is still the point where the writer confronts the reader with the pivotal event. The end.

5) Using a trick ending. Never conceal information from the reader so you can whack them over the head with it on the last page. Even mysteries, which appear to be all about trick endings, give the reader the clues to see through the trick before they get to it. John Gardner was adamant: if you set the reader up to resent you--they will. Good-bye, Constant Reader.

SCENES

Character

It might be your hook that catches the reader's attention, but it's the characters who drag them in and hang onto them for life. Know thy characters. They must be real people, not two-dimensional cartoons, with real bodies, real mannerisms and tics, real foibles, dreams, insights, and idiodicies to be ashamed of. Know them backward and forward. Then don't tell it all. Hemingway said, "The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one ninth of it being above water."

Dialog

Leave out most of the words. No kidding. Leave out oh, well, yes, no, um, uh (definitely these last two). Leave out names except for extreme emphasis. Leave out first articles and even subjects of sentences wherever possible. Do you answer a question with, "It's on the table," or with, "On the table"? Try it and see how much snappier your dialog becomes. For heaven's sake, leave out ellipses. Be like Emily Bronte and use em-dashes instead. Leave off dialog tags. Replace them with brief significant actions or, if you can get away with it, nothing at all. A book filled with characters talking the way we really talk, with tags, goes on forever and bores even the writer to tears.

Unless absolutely necessary, make characters talk at cross-purposes. How many of us actually listen to other people? We don't. We're always thinking about what to say next, when they shut up.

Description

Keep it brief and significant. Raymond Chandler used to be able to burn up the whole first chapter describing a house. You can't do that anymore. Everyone knows what a house looks like. Find those details that make a person, place, or thing important or unique, mention them, and get back to your characters.

Action

F. Scott Fitzgerald said, "Action is character." No matter what complications you throw at your characters, no matter what climax you have in store, each character must act in the only way they know how. If you've got characters who can react in various ways, you don't know your characters well enough. Go back and learn them. They have reasons for only being able to respond under pressure one way. And the different ways different characters deal with trouble is where the tension lies, so it's best to have characters with very different personalities going through this hell together.

Donald Maass also makes the point that action is not necessarily external. Action is very often internal. Conflict is very often internal. Total climactic catastrophe---as we all know---is only too often internal. "Tension on every page," Maass says, and this is about as good as advice gets.

EXPOSITION

Exposition seeks not to just inform but to enlighten. Don't waste your reader's time with explanations. They've got brains. Let them use them. Leave out every explanation that can be inferred from the context. When you must cast light upon a scene, do it in context. Either you need to give the reader a breather between bouts of excitement or the tension can be heightened by knowing a little more about what's going on. Take advantage of pacing to interweave backstory and exposition, but always keep up with your characters.

Go for it.






Thursday, July 9, 2009

Guest Blog Week: The Top 7 Things Every Aspiring Author's Website Must Have

By: Jordan McCollum

Nathan has blogged about author websites, and everything he says is spot on—but, as he freely admits, professional opinions on author websites vary even within the publishing world.

But so far, I'm on the outside of the publishing world. My day job involves learning how to get the most out of your website. So from the perspective of Internet marketing, here are the top seven things every aspiring author's website should have.

7. A blog. All right, all right. I'm a little partial to blogs, but not everyone likes blogs or is good at blogging. And that's okay. If you want to call it an "announcements" section, or call it your "articles," that's fine. But do have at least one section of your site where you can post your news—anything from finishing your latest work in progress to selling a short story. This is also a great place to start gathering a following, especially if you like to connect with other people, share your research and discuss the process of writing.

Free advice: If you already have a blog, you can integrate it with your website. Check out Blogger's Custom Domain feature and host it at http://blog.YOURWEBSITE.com to make sure everyone linking to you is pointing those links to your domain.

6. Social media. This doesn't mean you need to run out and join every social networking site you've never heard of. But it's always a good idea to give your website visitors potential ways to connect with you. So if you're already on MySpace, Facebook or Twitter, or any other large social network, list those somewhere on your site—somewhere easy to find.

5. Search engine presence. Unless your name is John Doe or Mary Smith, it should be fairly easy to find your website by searching for your name in the major search engines (Google, Yahoo and Bing). One good way to start with this is to buy YourName.com. If YourName.com (and YourName.net and YourName.org) is taken, experiment with middle initials, maiden names, hyphens, etc. Still nothing? Maybe you should consider a pen name that would be easier for your readers to remember, too.

Free advice: If you have some competition for your name in search results, put in a little extra legwork to find places to get links back to your site, especially from related sites—guest blogging, article writing, etc. I mean, we are writers here, aren't we?

4. Professional design. For real. This doesn't mean you need to run out and hire a $10,000 website designer, or that your website has to look as awesome as J.K. Rowling's. You don't have to dress like a fashion model to pitch to an agent at a conference.

At the same time, you're not going to wear your ratty jeans and wife beater to a business meeting. Just like your nice pleated khakis, your website needs to look professional: clean, polished, easy to read (spell checked!), easy to navigate. Make it easy for your visitors to find the important stuff on your website (see #1, 2, 3, and 7, at least).

3. An about page. Most of us have an urge to list our friends, spouses, pets, children, favorite television shows, other hobbies, and small collectibles in our query letter. Hopefully, if you're reading Nathan's blog, you'll forbear and omit this paragraph from your query. But your website about page is exactly where you should put all that information. After all, if someone visiting your website wants to know more about you, why not tell them?

2. Your work. No, you probably shouldn't slap your whole manuscript on your website. But you should at least have a short summary of your work on your site. You might also consider a short excerpt—a chapter or less—in addition to your extremely engaging summary. This is also a good place to put your writing credentials (if not under #3 already).

telephone1. A contact page. You'd be amazed how often both aspiring and published authors forget (or don't want) to give their website visitors a way to contact them. Now, odds are low that a literary agent, editor or publisher is going to use your contact page to send you a desperate "Please, please, work with me! Your brilliance makes me cower in inferiority, but I cannot bear the thought of anyone else tainting your work!" note—but there's always the possibility.

Free advice: Use a simple web form instead of listing your email address to avoid spam email harvesters.

What do you think? What else should an aspiring author have on his/her website?

In addition to being an aspiring author herself, Jordan McCollum works in Internet marketing. She is the editor of an Internet marketing news blog, Marketing Pilgrim, as well as the author of a blog on finding fulfillment in motherhood, MamaBlogga. She blogs about writing technique at JordanMcCollum.com. If ever she says anything about starting another blog, please shoot her!

Photo credits: Microphone—RAWKUS; binoculars—Joël Dietlé; telephone—Maria Li






Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Guest Blog Week: What's Your Writing Dream?

Hi everyone! Blogger picked a bad time for its auto publish function to stop working, but I just posted yesterday´s post as well. Please make sure to check it out below this one.

By: Steph Damore (aka Allegory19)

You all have one right? The Best Sellers lists, literary acclaim, book tours, six-figure advances… or maybe your dream is smaller, like walking into the bookstore and seeing your novel on the shelf.

Me?

I have this dream. It’s summer time. I wake up at 6 a.m. and lie in bed for a few minutes. It doesn’t take long for my mind to wake up and the writing to start. Afraid the ideas will slip away, I get up and escape down the hall to the computer room. The house is quiet, and I can just write and write and write.

This is actually the dream that I get to live every day. I’m not published. I’ve never sold any of my work. But I’m blessed.

So what about you? What’s your writing dream?






Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Guest Blog Week: The Five Stages of Querying Grief

By: Kiersten White

Stage One: Denial

This can't be happening to me! Novel is so good! I was supposed to get an agent within days of sending out that first query! There must be some sort of mistake--it's already been three weeks. Sure, everyone else has to go through a long, drawn-out querying process, but not me! There's going to be a request for a full in my inbox RIGHT NOW, I just know it.

Stage Two: Anger

What?!? [Insert Author Name Here] got an agent on her first try! And my book is at least as good as hers! And WHY won't anyone get back to me? I personalized and everything! Don't they understand I'm checking my email every twenty minutes? I HATE THIS! QUERYING IS THE WORST THING EVER! JUST READ MY FREAKING BOOK ALREADY!

Stage Three: Bargaining

Okay. It's okay. If I can just get a request for a full, if an agent will just read the whole thing, I'll be happy. No matter what, I'll be happy then.

No? A partial. Just read a partial, I swear then I'll be happy, I won't complain or freak out or want to give up. Just a partial?

No? Just respond. Anything. Just respond, and I'll be okay, really, I promise. Just a response? Please?

Stage Four: Depression

It's been three weeks. This is it. No one is going to want Novel. They'll never read it, so they'll never know how much fun it is, how well-written it is, how much potential I have as a writer. I'll never get an agent, which means I'll never get published, and there's nothing I can do about it. I suck. I suck, I suck, I suck I suck I suck. And the worst part is that I don't suck, but it doesn't matter, because no one will ever know. I'm never going to be an author. It's over. I'm going to bed. And I'm not getting up again.

Stage Five: Acceptance

Well, it is what it is. I’ve put in the work, I’ll keep at it, and I know I'll be published someday. Maybe an agent will fall in love with Novel. Maybe not. It's more luck than anything else at this point, and I can accept that. Either way, I'll keep writing, and someday, someone will represent me. In the meantime, I’ve got this shiny new idea over here just begging to be written…

Of course, eventually you will make it out of this cycle. But that leads us to the stages of agented submission grief and there’s like 87 of them. One step at a time, right?






Monday, July 6, 2009

Guest Blog Week: Book Sales Demystified

by Eric

I’ve followed Nathan’s blog for close to two years now, and he has done an admirable—nay, outstanding—job of outlining, explaining, reiterating, and overall demystifying the somewhat byzantine method by which manuscripts (produced by you, the author) are acquired, auctioned, sold, &c, and eventually transformed into finished books (purchased by you, the consumer). So first of all, thank you, Nathan, for all you’ve done to make this business a little clearer to the rest of us.

The very last stage of this process, though—the sale of books from publisher to book store to consumer—isn’t really the focus of the blog, and so has received relatively little treatment so far. With Nathan’s permission, I’d like to shed a little light on this last leg of a book’s journey.

I work as a sales assistant at a major trade book publisher (feel free to insert your favorite name here: Penguin, Random House, HarperCollins, &c), which means that my job mostly involves 1.) preparing sales materials for the sales reps who sell the books to a given account, and 2.) keeping track of the promotions we run at said account. Since the account I work on is a national chain (e.g. Barnes & Noble, Borders, Books-A-Million), this is a fairly involved process. How does this affect your book once it’s already survived the gauntlet of critique group, literary agent, and editor?

First, the sales materials. Each book that we publish is grouped according to its on-sale date, usually by month but occasionally by span. (There are three spans: Spring, Summer, and Fall.) Within a certain month or span, different sales reps are responsible for selling different subsets of books to the account (for example, the two reps for whom I work divide the list of one imprint; one sells the hardcovers, the other sells the trade paperbacks and mass-markets). For each title in a subset, it’s my job to create a sales kit. My sales kits generally consist of:

- A cover sheet, unique to the account, that breaks out basic information (author, title, ISBN, &c) and provides the book’s subject code, which determines which buyer at the account is responsible for it and what section of the store the book will eventually live in. Each buyer usually specializes in just a couple of genres/categories.
- A kind of “fact sheet” that summarizes all the important information about the book: title, author, ISBN, &c, as well as marketing information, quotes/blurbs, copy, and “comp” information. Alas, yes, your book will be “comped” to a previously published title—either your last book, if you wrote one, or a book that is similar in content, format, and span/on-sale month, if you didn’t—and the comp’s sales figures factor into the account’s initial buy.
- A full-color copy of the book’s cover.
- Any other promotional materials (additional praise/quotes/blurbs, sell sheets, &c) that may be useful.

The sales reps then meet periodically with the buyers at their account and “pitch” them each title. (You thought the pitch was over with the editor’s acquisition. You were wrong.) These meetings are referred to as “selling in” or “sales calls” and they are the meetings at which initial orders are decided. Simply put, the initial order is the number of copies the account’s buyer wants to purchase in time for the on-sale date; any later orders are considered reorders and are used to replenish stock when it runs low. The sales kits are essential to these meetings—the rep uses them to get the buyers excited and to push them to order quantities that are in line with the publisher’s expectations. This generally involves convincing buyers (via cover images, sales data, praise and quotes from famous critics or authors, &c) to purchase more copies than they otherwise would.

So let’s say your book, I AM PRETTY AWESOME, a literary memoir, gets a 2,000-copy buy at a given account. Not bad! Your previous book, I GUESS I’M OKAY, sold 1,500 copies in its first four weeks and has experienced 80% life-to-date sell-through. (Sell-through is the percentage of books an account sells compared to how many it bought.) Not only that, but a couple of big-time authors have come out to praise it and it got a starred review in Publisher’s Weekly. Both the rep and the buyer are confident that 2,000 is a good number based on this information.

After the sales call, the reps will either enter the orders into our computers themselves or ask me to do it. At this point, the order quantity is called an estimate, since we estimate this is how many copies of each title the account will initially order. (Keep in mind that we tend to sell books to our accounts about five months before they go on sale, so it’s possible substantial changes can occur to the order quantity between the sales call and the placement of the actual initial order.) Once the order comes in, it is compared to the estimate, any discrepancies are worked out between the publisher and the account, and the books are shipped in time for their release date.

In summary: sales of your previous books, sales of “comp” titles, your platform as an author (as described on the fact sheets), the book’s cover, the current economic climate, events in the news, &c all contribute to how many copies of your book a given account will buy. If you’re lucky—either because you’re a big shot or because you happened to write a book about the life and times of Michael Jackson a few months back—the orders for your book could be HUGE, say, 10,000 copies. This will qualify your title for promotion, e.g. placement on that magical table at the front of the store, and so brings us to the second half of my job: promotion, through a system we call co-op.

Co-op, in short, is the process by which we work with an account to determine which of our titles get special treatment: placement at the front of the store, on endcaps, in special displays, &c. The account is paid for running these promotions for a set amount of time, either flat amounts or a certain amount of money per book. Any time you see a title on a major front-of-store display, it’s because that book’s publisher paid the account for the promotion. Stephenie Meyer doesn’t magically get her own table, and those “New Release” tables aren’t populated by the store staff’s personal favorites. The publisher and the account agree on time tables, promotions, and monetary reimbursement, and the account is paid upon completion of those promotions.

Of note: co-op is formalized through a legally binding contract process, so it’s not treated lightly by either the publisher or the account. Once the deal is inked, titles are promoted, and once they’re promoted, the account is paid.

Your next question, I imagine, is probably something along the lines of “holy hell, how do I make sure my book gets co-op? How can I help decide which titles it’s comped to?”

Alas, I’m afraid the answer is: you can’t. The vast majority of titles go to their section (science fiction, literary fiction, biography, &c) at on-sale, and the Grishams, Meyers, and Evanovichs receive co-op. To be sure, they’re not the only ones; new authors do get co-op for their titles. It’s relatively rare, though, so don’t be disappointed if your book isn’t front-of-store come release day, especially if it’s your first one.

I hope I’ve helped dispel at least some of the mystery surrounding book sales without dismaying too many of you—the business side of publishing can seem remarkably dispassionate compared to the creative side. Please leave any questions you have in the comments, and I’ll try to answer as best I can.






Friday, July 3, 2009

Next Week's Guest Bloggers Will Be...

Thank you so much to everyone who entered the guest blog contest! There were over 250+ entries and they were awesome. Very awesome. Some were personal, some were wacky, some were touching, some were hilarious, but all were good in their own way. This was actually one of the most difficult contests I've yet had to judge and I spent a really long time agonizing over the choices.

So -- let me say again, thank you so much to everyone who entered. I wish I had time to thank everyone personally, but... well, I have a plane to catch. So THANK YOU everyone.

You will be in great hands next week. I intentionally chose a variety of publishing topics and authors representing different perspectives, so there will be a little bit of everything.

Without further ado, next week's guest bloggers will be (in no particular order):

Eric
Kiersten White
Jordan McCollum
Victoria Mixon
Steph Damore

Also, please note that all opinions expressed by the guest bloggers are their own and may not necessarily be shared by me, Curtis Brown Ltd., the Internet, and/or Ryan Seacrest.

Enjoy!






Thursday, July 2, 2009

This Week in Publishing 7/2/09

An abbreviated week in publishing as I imagine the Americans among us will be jetting off early this weekend to celebrate our nation's birthday. I'll post the winners of the guest blog contest tomorrow and they'll run next week.

First up, for all you Brits from whom we stole this fine country: longtime friend of the blog and early contest finalist Stuart "Conduit" Neville's book THE TWELVE goes on sale today in the UK!!! The US version, GHOSTS OF BELFAST, publishes in October.

Via John Askins, Malcolm Gladwell published a review/takedown of freevangelist* (*trademarked - must credit Nathan Bransford) Chris Anderson's new book FREE (which had previously been subject to some Wikipedia-plagiarism claims). Gladwell notes that free doesn't really work as a business model. Seth Godin in turn published a takedown of Malcolm Gladwell, saying free is going to happen anyway. Who's right? You decide. Also you don't have to pay to read any of this.

Author/accused memoir fabricator James Frey recently co-wrote a children's book project that sold to HarperCollins and has already been optioned by Michael Bay. The Guardian's book blog has the rundown.

Mike Shatzkin wrote a provocative post on the evolving role of agents in the new publishing landscape, concluding that the new pressures on agents who previously specialized in mid- or lower-tier books (which are disappearing) could result in some new experimentation. It's a thought-provoking article no matter your take on the future of publishing. (Via Jim Duncan's Twitter feed)

And finally, the Millions put together a truly indispensable preview of one of the most indispensable publishing seasons in recent memory. This fall is going to be huge.

­­¡Que tenga un buen fin de semana!






Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Guest Blog Mini-Contest

Now for something a little different.

I'm going to be out of the office next week working at an orphanage in South America through Travelocity's Travel for Good program - more on this when I return. Rather than the usual mix of re-posts and best-of-posts, I thought I'd open things up to you, the bloggers and would-be-bloggers who read the blog.

So. Want to get something off your chest? Want to build some blog traffic? Want to tell the world about your love of reality television shows? Want to mock me mercilessly? Now's your chance.

Here's how this will work:

- Please e-mail a guest post between now and noon Pacific time tomorrow (Thursday) to querycontest@gmail.com.
- Please limit yourself to one entry.
- Please do not e-mail entries to my work address.
- Make sure to format your blog post in block formatting (i.e. single spaced, double spaces between paragraphs, no indenting, plain text) for easy copying and pasting.
- I will choose the five best, most helpful, funniest, awesomest posts to run next week and link to the guest blog author's blog or website or Amazon page or favorite charity or what have you. The topic is totally up to you, although some relevancy to this blog's themes will probably receive preference (but not necessarily!).
- I regret that I will not be able to run every post, and thus some blog post writing may be in vain. But! You can always use the post on your own blog, or, heck use it in your novel. Recycling encouraged!
- Rules and guidelines subject to change without notice.
- Did I mention you only have a little over 24 hours? Sorry for the short deadline!! (Actually it was intentional).

I aim to leave you in good hands. Thanks, everyone.






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