Nathan Bransford, Author

Friday, April 30, 2010

This Week in Publishing 4/30/10


The big news this week is courtesy of the Crown Group at Random House, which underwent its second reorganization in a year. Lots of people reporting to different people and imprints created and closed and you can find the details here.

Mike Shatzkin had a great series of posts this week on what he would have said at the London Book Fair were it not for the unpronounceable volcano spewing ash everywhere and messing up travel plans. In particular I want to highlight Part II, in which he has an overview of how he sees the next twenty years in books unfolding. Brace yourselves paper friends, because he's envisioning a world of ubiquitous screens and paper books as mere antiques and collectibles, which will have a massive impact on the role of publishers and the value of content.

And speaking of which, io9 linked to a really cool and exhaustive illustration that shows precisely how a paper book is made.

There are now quite a few publishing types on The Twitter, and publishers are taking to the Tweetwaves to give away books and give inside info. Follow the Reader has a list of their favorite Tweeting publishers. In other social media news, FinePrint also had a quick post that discusses the most important element in a blog's success: voice.

In publishing advice news, Jessica Faust at BookEnds had a great post where she kept track of why she was passing on queries (most common reason: a project just not feeling different or special enough), and Editorial Anonymous has a really fascinating post about the balance between deciding whether a children's book will appeal to kids or adults, and which is more important.

Eric from Pimp My Novel had a great post this week on making sure you know your non-compete clause before you decide to post content on the web, and he also has a refresher myth-busting post on some common misconceptions about the biz.

This week in the Forums, I reorganized the Feedback Forum so you can now go straight to sections on Queries, Excerpts, and Synopses. There's also a Forum dedicated to connecting with critique partners. Also this week: kick-yourself moments after noticing a glaring typo after sending it, the Internet's crowdsourced book club pick (one guess who the author is), and still trying to figure out... actually Lost was a repeat.

Comment! Of! The! Week!! Actually there were lots of really great comments this week and thanks to everyone who participated in Be an Agent for a Day II. Rather than pick just one comment, I'd like to thank the participating authors once again for their intrepid bravery.

And finally, it's iPad 3G release day, and when mine arrives I can hardly wait to keep reading LOTR on a bigger screen. What would Tolkien think?

Have a great weekend!


WriterGirl said...

I think I'm going to have to stop reading all these publishing articles about the end of books. It's depressing me. I don't want browsing in a book store to be like antique shopping! I don't want to read everything off a screen. I don't want to have to wade through ten billion self published e-titles to find a decent story! Maybe I'm getting the wrong end of the stick but it all seems a bit gloomy :(

Josin L. McQuein said...

I wonder how the reports of iPad contributing to insomnia (because of the back-lit screen) will affect its use as an e-reader vs. Kindle or nook.

MJR said...

I agree 100% with WriterGirl above....and, in fact, there was an interesting PW article last week about how hard it is to browse on the apple bookstore...(as compared to Amazon or regular bookstore).

Marilyn Peake said...

Thanks so much for hosting Be an Agent for a Day II. It was both fun and educational!

It does seem like the future of books is most likely digital. I think we’re on the brink of huge changes in our world. Sometimes it feels like we’re living in a science fiction novel, which is probably the primary reason for so much unrest and bickering. Many people don’t like change.

I see you your eBook technology and raise you an even more amazing event within the world of story-telling: James Cameron, Director of THE TERMINATOR movies, TITANIC and AVATAR, will help NASA design a high-resolution 3-D camera for a mission to Mars scheduled for next year. That is so incredibly cool!

Sometimes we take for granted how globally connected we are on the Internet. This week, I discovered an amazing trailer for the first science fiction film to ever come out of Kenya: PUMZI, which played at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival. The trailer is AMAZING!

Have a great weekend!

Kourtnie McKenzie said...

I imagine Tolkien would love the timelessness of his novels as they appear on your iPad's screen. :)

Ink said...

I think Tolkien would say that you have "a mind of metal and wheels and do not care for growing things".


(You did ask...)

Kelly said...

Had to stop reading Shatzkin's post halfway through. I got too freaked out!

Graham Bradley said...

WriterGirl hit it head-on. I hate to go against the grain of the industry experts, but the thought of traditional bookstores as we know them getting shut down in favor of digital devices is really depressing. You don't just go to a bookstore to shop, you go for the experience. I like getting stuff on Amazon, but Amazon will never feel the same as when you hit up a ma-and-pa independent bookstore or even a Barnes & Noble.

Nothing will ever feel as good as an in-print book in my hands.

Nathan Bransford said...


Actually Mike Shatzkin's article envisions some bookstores still surviving even in a digital-centric book environment. He doesn't envision print going away entirely.

I think it's also important to bear in mind that in the future screens are going to have a lot more in common with paper. There will be flexible and foldable displays, e-ink will get better, the technology will get cheaper, and a lot of the frustrations people have with the technology now will gradually melt away.

I still can't get over the idea that instantaneous access to almost every book ever written will soon be ubiquitous. How is that a bad thing??

John said...

What about publishing news today makes people want to write anymore?

When considering how much goes into writing a book, does anyone feel like these dwindling incentives are still enough to pursue a literary career?

How many talented authors would craft lengthy, thoughtful works, knowing that their effort will never result in meaningful compensation?

Yes, some writers perform the act because they're driven by a deep inner need. Well, I suspect that "need" for a lot of writers is having a supplemental income. I can't see too many authors signing contracts for no advance and no royalties.

Perhaps this is an extreme example, but how far off is this from reality?

Judging from Amazon comment threads, people have come to expect certain prices. And they won't stand going beyond that $9.99 mental barrier. How long before it's $5? Will there come a time when people complain they're not getting these products for free?

Publishing has always been a business.

If people keep demanding more for less, my question to them is, When you're stranded on that physical or metaphorical desert island, do you want the company of a good book or not?

Nathan Bransford said...


I really believe that it's a challenging time for publishers, but it's never been a better time to be an author.

Dave F. said...

Journals by Philip K. Dick to be published in 2011
The Associated Press
Thursday, April 29, 2010; 9:30 PM

NEW YORK -- Journals kept by science fiction great Philip K. Dick about his visionary experiences are being published next year.

"The Exegesis," long an object of fascination for the author's fans, will be released in the Fall 2011 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, the publisher announced Thursday.

Dick is known for such visionary works as "The Man in the High Castle" and "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?," the basis for the film "Blade Runner."

Dick died in 1982 at age 53.

The reporter did a lousy job -- movies include: Total Recall, Minority Report, Screamers, A Scanner Darkly, Next...
Novels: Radio Free Albemuth, Valis, Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said, The Man in the High Castle, Game Players of Titan...

Ed Miracle said...

So, according to Mike Shatkin, we writers no longer get in line at the Publisher's Ball, to see if anyone will dance with us. In 20 years, we will have to get in line at the Web Community, who will graciously allow us to post our "content" for zero compensation, in the hopes that "eyeballs" will deign to pick up our dance card?

Somehow the value-stream seems to have turned bass-akwards here. We're supposed to cough up hard-won "content" and hope somebody throws us a fish?

Where's the hope in that?

A Paperback Writer said...

I'm pleased to see you're reading LOTR. Perhaps your past sins of omission (at least of that book, anyway) may now be forgiven.

Adventures in Children's Publishing said...

Love the reorganization on the forums and the query blunder section. That's going to make so many writers feel a little less stupidly alone! (Including me.)

Kimber An said...

"kick-yourself moments after noticing a glaring typo after sending it,"

Much too clumsy to kick myself, but I do have a bruised forehead and a dent in my desk this week.

But, you know, after a while, you learn to shrug it off and it doesn't feel like the end of the world when it happens anymore. We all do are darnedest, but no one's perfect.

Haste yee back ;-) said...

Re: Editorial Anonymous... yes, it a fascinating read - adult vs kids, purse strings and who to write for...

I contrast this with this week agent presented on Casey McCormick's blog stating emphatically what she does NOT want.(Boy books about sports and gross bug books)!

I gotta wonder -- does this agent know boys and their fascinations at all?

Yes, I know, I'm politically incorrect saying this!

Haste yee back ;-)

Ashley A. said...

Marilyn has mad html skillz. I've got to give this a try:

Here's another little piece on e-books.

Anonymous said...

Nathan, you bave (and like) a kindle, right? I'm not the most techy person so maybe this is just user error on my part, but what really bugs me is not knowing what page I'm on. It gives you a sense of where you're at in a story. I know the kindle gives the percent but it's not a page number. I think that's waht got me with the ipad ads--you actually know where you are in the same way as if you were holding the book.

I got my kindle about two months before the ipad came out and now I'm regretting it. I am on board with ebooks, but the experience needs to be like reading a book.

Off to check out the forums--I just accidentally sent out a short story via online sub that was SINGLE-SPACED. Ack!

Anonymous said... be consistent, I just posted a comment with a typo!

Catherine Gayle said...

You're reading LOTR? That's awesome. It is a mammoth of a book, but very well worth the time.

ryan field said...

The post about common misconceptions was interesting.

Have fun with your ipad.

Nathan Bransford said...


Yeah, I agree about the page numbers, I find it frustrating. I like the Kindle iPhone app because you can at least get a rough sense of how far in you are, but it would be nice to have actual page numbers. I'm looking forward to checking out iBooks.

Anonymous said...

Nathan, I'm amazed at the time and effort you put into your blog. That's why I check in every day. Thanks for the wonderful service you provide. I appreciate it!

Kate Evangelista said...

Thanks for the great links. Iron Man II on the agenda.

T. Anne said...

Have a great weekend Nathan. I'm featuring The Secret Year on my blog Monday as a part of the 'spread the awesome' blogfest.

D. G. Hudson said...

I tend to agree with WriterGirl, since I checked out a few of the links in today's post. My take on this? Most of the changes which are forecast will take place gradually, and those that don't will impact everyone. The image of the (film) Matrix's 'connection to the Grid' kept running through my mind as I read Shatzkin's post. Hm-mm.

But -- Eric's blog (Pimp My Novel), on the other hand, had some great information on it, which serves to lift our writing spirits a bit.

Have a great weekend everyone, and especially Nathan. Thanks for all you do, sir.

Mira said...

I think Tolkein would be cool with the I-Pad. But first, you'd have to open it. Which can only occur on the 29 of February, when the dark of the sun meets the sun of the dark and some extinct animal....yawns. Yes, yawns. That's the best I got. Plus, um, can openers. Can openers and...uh....light bulbs. Light bulbs would be involved. And red licorice. And bananas.

Okay, now I'm just thinking up random stuff.

Wonderful links - I think - I haven't read them yet. But you picked them out, Nathan, so I'm sure they're AWESOME. :)

I'll be back to comment on the posts later this weekend, because I will have OPINIONS.

I'm in a good mood.

I hope everyone else is also in a good mood and has a great weekend!

D. G. Hudson said...

Eric's post on Thursday, April 29, 2010 about 'common misconceptions' was the one I was referring to.
Thought I should clarify that.

Anonymous said...

I stopped reading Michael Shatzkin's article, too...what a nightmare. Thank God that dreadful future world he envisions hasn't arrived yet. I hope (pray) it never does.

Ishta Mercurio said...

First, thanks for rearranging the forum, Nathan. It looks great!

I haven't had a chance to read the links yet - over here in the GTA we're experiencing a heatwave and my garden has been in need of some serious upkeep, so I spent the day raking gravel and cutting dead branches off of lilacs and pulling all sorts of weeds. I'm hoping to get to them this weekend, when it finally rains.

But, I wanted to respond to something Nathan said:

"I still can't get over the idea that instantaneous access to almost every book ever written will soon be ubiquitous. How is that a bad thing??"

My immediate thought after reading that was this: if everyone can have access to a digital record of any book on Earth at the click of a button, then the entire digital record of a book can be erased at the click of a button, too. And that's scary.

Maybe I've just been reading too much socio-political dystopian stuff lately; I just finished THE HUNGER GAMES and CATCHING FIRE, (both amazing - go buy them right now!!!), and they struck me as LORD OF THE FLIES meets FAHRENHEIT 451, so that might just be where my head is right now. But still, now that I've had that thought, I can't get rid of it.

Amanda said...

I doubt the idea of reading books on screen is never going to gain great popularity. I would rebel! I love going to sleep to a good book and flipping through the pages. Couldn't imagine it being near as enjoyable on screen. I love the smell of a brand new book. It gives me a thrill.

Dan said...

I like Shatzkin's enthusiasm about new technologies, but I disagree with his forecasts. He's predicting universal adoption of technologies that don't exist yet.

There is still a huge segment of the public that is uncomfortable with computers and does not use the internet at all. Cell phones currently have wide adoption, but only a small subset of the population is carrying smart phones with data plans. It's difficult to see these technologies gaining universal adoption.

Devices get cheaper, but service tends not to; your broadband might be faster than it was ten years ago, but it costs you the same amount or more, and your phone data plan is a separate fee. If you want a 3G iPad that can be online anywhere, you have to have an additional data plan for that. The necessary precondition to wide acceptance of smartphones is for the cost of home broadband and smartphone data to be folded into a single service that costs the same as broadband.

And Shatzkin is also predicting an iPad revolution that I don't agree is going to happen; I'm not sure that there is a mass market for a device that is larger than a smartphone, but smaller than a notebook computer. And neither of those devices is poised to wipe out paper; nobody wants to read long-form content on either of them. Some people like reading books on e-readers, but e-readers are single purpose devices with special screens for reading print.

Text is the easiest kind of file to transfer over the internet, so e-books have been technically possible since the mid-nineties, but people do not want to read books on the kinds of screens that they use for all the other things people do with screens. And a single purpose device for reading books is likely to remain niche.

Shatzkin proposes a hypothetical device that folds or rolls up to the size of a smartphone, but can telescope to the size of an iPad. 20 years is a long time in terms of technology, but that's really pushing it. To replace paper, this magic device that is suitable for all purposes will have to be invented, and get higher levels of market penetration than broadband internet currently has in the US.

Paper is very cheap. It doesn't need speculative technology to bend or fold. If it is lost or damaged, the investment is relatively minor. The public at large does not seem to be clamoring to read books on screens instead of paper. Screens require battery power. They are hard to view in direct sunlight. They are expensive, and they are fragile.

Paper is also good for the book business. The need for bookstore distribution keeps bookstores and publishers in business. Because books are totally analog, they are relatively insulated from the kind of piracy that destroyed the music industry.

Nothing except gadget lust is driving publishing in this direction. These devices don't improve the experience at all. Shatzkin is right that 20 years is a long time for technology. But paper has been around for a long time, and current technology is very far from replacing it.

Nathan Bransford said...


Prototypes of flexible displays and color e-ink are already in the works. This technology isn't twenty years away, it's a year or two away. It's not science fiction.

Publishers aren't driving anyone to change and in some cases are resisting change. Consumers are going to drive this change. Ebooks are an inevitability because consumers are going to buy them in greater and greater numbers as devices become cheaper and more ubiquitous.

Nathan Bransford said...

And by the way I left that comment via an iPad.

treeoflife said...

I think a major point of the article is that the changes will happen slowly. He's not saying all book stores will be boarded up in 2 years, or ever for that matter.

There is, and will continue to be, a large amount of people who will like paper books and bookstores. I'm one of them. But in 20 years, there'll be a lot less of us.

I will buy an e-reader, eventually.

There's no doubt that over the next twenty years, the major publishing industry will decline relative to the size of the economy, but it will still be large and significant. There will be a role for publishers, 100 years from now.

I might anger a lot of people for saying this, especially after this week's topic, but it's a fact: I won't pay one cent for a book (or e-book) that was turned down by every agent and publisher. Just because writers can circumvent the whole system and self-publish doesn't mean people will pay for it. I'll take a chance on a new writer, but only if they're good enough to survive the brutally hard process that is required to get published.

Sure, some good books may get rejected all around, maybe, but it'd be an unlikely scenario. I'm not spending my money hoping for the highly unprobable.

Dan said...


E-ink is great for books and not great for anything else. It is readable in all the kinds of light that paper is readable, the power consumption is very low, so you can take it on a trip without packing an AC adapter. This technology will improve and maybe get cheaper. But e-ink is always going to be a limited market. People who buy fewer than ten books a year are not going to be very interested in e-ink, even if a hypothetical device blows modern Kindles out of the water and costs only $99.

I can imagine digital distribution replacing textbooks, just as databases have largely replaced encyclopedias and legal references. But doubt a single-purpose screen for reading text will ever render paper obsolete.

If e-books are going to replace paper, the technology for them will have to piggyback on some other ubiquitous device, and that device will have to offer as good or better a book-reading experience than paper.

Multipurpose devices, screens that are designed for computing and gaming and video playback, are going to continue to be much worse than paper for the purpose of reading books. They are backlit, and hard to read from angles or in sunlight. They draw a lot of power. Battery and screen technologies tend not to advance as rapidly as processor and storage technology. And encompassing book-reading under the umbrella of things laptops or smartphones do doesn't seem to be a priority for makers of multipurpose devices. That's why the Kindle offers a much better reading experience than the iPad.

And, in a hypothetical society where everyone had a data capable smartphone and a broadband computer terminal, most people probably still wouldn't read books on either of these devices. And the jury is still out on whether there will be mass acceptance of an iPad-like intermediate device between a phone and a computer. Shatzkin glosses over this very open question by postulating a phone that can expand into a pad. He could also postulate a screen that has both e-ink and high-def LCD capabilities. Because, despite all the technical reasons it might be implausible, technology moves fast and 20 years is a long time. But we have to assume developers of multipurpose iPad-like devices will prioritize their hardware development around replacing paper books, rather than games, video and internet applications and that seems unlikely for the foreseeable future.

And the mere existence of Shatzkin's hypothetical technology still would not put an end to paper; to do that, these screens would have to garner near universal adoption. If you look at broadband adoption patterns and the difference between higher-end smartphones and the kinds of cell phones less-affluent people use, that is a real challenge. A lot of Americans still don't even have cable television.

Of course, even if e-books become just 20% of total book sales, it will totally change book sales, and possibly render current retail or publishing business models obsolete. But I am skeptical about a paperless future.

treeoflife said...

RE a paperless future, I agree with Dan that paper will never become completely obsolete, however I do see a day in the distant future when it is pretty darn close.

When it comes to books, I think that one day 90%+ of book sales will be e-books. I doubt it'll be in twenty years, but it'll probably be before forty years.

It's inevitable, and it's all about simple economics. The technology will get there, and be cheap enough. It's infinitely less expensive to send a text file than print, transport, and display a stack of paper. Sure paper books will have their nostalgic and collector following, but one day, a long time from now, they'll be but a small minority.

John Kurt said...

I agree that books will, over time, disappear... I disagree with Mr. Shatzkin's assertions that local storage or the local hard drive will disappear.

It will just change format and type. Processing and graphics continue to exceed networking throughput. Until that changes, we wont see everything we "own" digitally on the network. Only the smaller files, like today, will exist there.

I have a post about it here:

Chuck H. said...

Fortunately, since I'm such an old fart, by the time the "paperless" future arrives, I'll be dead--probably clutching a real book of paper, perhaps leather bound and gold embossed.

Haste yee back ;-) said...

Chuck, now that's a thought -- presenting St. Peter with a leather bound gold embossed edition of DANTE'S INFERNO!

Haste yee back ;-)

Anonymous said...

I'm late to the show here, but I am really motivated to add my two cents.

In fact, I'm pretty pissed about the way this growing fear about ebooks is crippling many aspiring authors.

It is no fun to witness, especially for one who is overwhelming optimistic about the future of publishing.

Writing is a thankless task at the best of times. We all know it requires both confidence and fragility. Not to mention more than a little 'I'm gonna show you' attitude.

Remember one thing guys; successful authors don't need an author platform, a facebook fan page, 1000 'true friend' twitter followers, a book trailer, a past success or even a $9.99 price point.

Authors need a good f#@king story.

Forget all the industry bullshit for a moment and give yourself a chance to hide from the 'business' of publishing. Switch off from it and go back to what you do best. You bastards are writers, for Christ's sake! Not publishing trend analysts. Let's break this down: your success as an author requires a writing tool (pen, computer) and some imagination. Same as it ever was.

If your story is brilliant, people will want to read it despite your social media failings. Hell, readers won't care if it is a an ebook or print book. They want to be entertained.

Have faith. Not in God or your publisher. In your craft.

Sorry for the ANON posting, Nathan. Feel free to kill the rant if you want.

treeoflife said...

@Anon 3:44pm:

Awesome post/rant. I give you a standing ovation!

You are 100% correct.

John Kurt said...

@Anon 3:44pm:

Ditto on the standing ovation. Wish you weren't Anon. Congratz on the great post.


Trace said...

Anon, I agree with you. Thank you for that. I'm applauding too!

Other Lisa said...

That was a nice rant.

Anonymous said...

Anon - amazing "rant". Hope you don't mind, but I'm saving bits as a reminder. Thank you for the important reminder.

Steppe said...

The illusive dream transmutation is that a good story can go viral on electronic formats where as the old formats are controlled by the old stories and the old gatekeepers.

It really is about the thrill of having a purpose and that purpose being the creation and honing of a good story that reflects a part of your soul/essence; what people sometimes call a voice or compelling narrative

The pressure to meet certain page flow basics and grammatical unity derived by reading about the art of writing is relevant and a positive force but before some external success can be found that lasts and grows the writing comes first. Keen observation talents often are just as good as lengthy life experience.

"A story/rose by any other name is still a story/rose."

I'm allergic to some ink and chemicals involved in dust jackets so my bias grows daily. My purchase is always hard cover and judged by the aesthetics of the paper and binding.
Great story and lousy publisher budget
usually ends my interest.

Tagline: "E" is for me.

Mira said...

Crazy busy this weekend. But I still want to have OPINIONS, even it it's too late for anyone to read them....

Well, my take on reorgs is they are either a chance to cut costs - or more likely - given the times - search for leadership and a new vision - which is very, very hard on the employees, but makes alot of sense.

Mike's article was frustrating for me - I'm not sure why, but I have the hardest time following him - it may be my mind doesn't work in the same way. Clearly he's brilliant. But from what I understood, I think he's right about central digital storage. I would disagree on a couple of points. I don't think we're talking 20 years, I think we're talking 10. I also would go in a different direction than content ownership - which strikes me as hard to pull off. I think it's going to be about author dynasties. You can see it happening with James Patterson and Neil Gaiman. Authors will have followers. How that will fall out in terms of authors working for publishers or the reverse I don't know.

I liked the article by Ed. Anon about children/parents. I thought Eric's list about misconceptions about the biz was great, except I disagreed about the query, of course.

I love the forums. They are so much fun.

I WANT an I-Pad. That's all. There's not much more to say there. I WANT one. I wish they would stop doing that to me!!!! It's like they want to make me want things. Very inconsiderate.

Fun links, Nathan - thank you! Looking forward to this week, which will result in new links and new OPINIONS. Very fun.

Marjorie said...

This IS a great week in publishing! I just launched my new cartoon blog!

Katherine said...

Anonymous at 3:44 PM days ago.

I'm late to the party as well, but it needs to be said, again.

Thank you!

"Authors need a good f#@king story."

That's right...that's all there is to it. Stay the course and write as well as you can. Stay focused on the writing.

Tiffany said...

how does the change in book publishing (switching to ipads and kindles, etc.) affect childrens and YA? Specifically, because the audience as a whole may not have as much access to ereaders?

p.s. I always love the week in publishing posts- I feel up to date in a world I know so little about!

J. T. Shea said...

Regarding Non Compete Clauses, it seems blindingly obvious to me that if an agent wishes to withhold E-Book or Graphic Novel rights, he or she should include contract language specifically excluding those rights from the provisions of the Non Compete Clause. I am amazed agents do not seem to have a fairly standard way of dealing with this. If, in the negotiations, the agent has withheld certain rights, and the publisher has agreed, that verbal agreement should be spelled out in the language of the written contract. If the publisher baulks at that then they are not in fact agreeing to the withholding of the rights.

Nathan Bransford said...


It's not that simple, but it's not something I can really blog about either.

J. T. Shea said...

I do imagine that in publishing, as elsewhere, there is tension between ‘boilerplate’ and custom and the handmade nature of individual deals. My concern was first sparked by Kristin Nelson’s post in November last, and then by the post by Eric (Pimp My Novel) you mentioned, and Marilynn Byerly’s comments on the last. It all sounded like a case of Sudden Rediscovery Of The Obvious(!?) That Non Compete Clauses might be used and abused in that way was known since the original Rosetta case.
I would be very surprised if the matter is new to you or Curtis Brown, and, of course, I do not need to know your trade secrets. In just the last few months I have learned more about publishing from you than from any other commentator I have read either in print or on the Internet.

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