Nathan Bransford, Author


Friday, December 31, 2010

This Year in Books 2010

"Transition" is the word I most associate with 2010. 

2010 will always be a year of major transition for me personally as it was the year I disembarked from an eight-year stint in publishing for a new life in the tech world. But it was also a year of major transition for the industry as a whole. Transition transition transition.

And the effect of all this transition is what I like to call the Big Squeeze.

Whatever the causes, whatever the broader forces at play, the reality is that we as a culture are moving at seemingly every level to a stark divide between the haves and the have nots. Whether it's income distribution or blockbuster movies, books, music, and celebrities, or even when you look at politics, for whatever reason we're at a time of polarization. There are a few people who win and find themselves at the top and have gazillions of dollars and fame and are bigger than ever, and a lot of people below the tip of the pyramid who are part of the long tail and living in the Big Squeeze.

Life inside the Big Squeeze is hard, and chances are if you're reading this blog you've experienced it. You're scrambling with lots of different people to try and get to the top, you have sent queries that have gone unanswered and feel lost in a sea of insurmountable numbers. The competition is ruthless and at times seemingly random. Who knows what will emerge from the scrum and why? But every now and then a book will become a force of nature and reach megabestsellerdom, a level that agents and publishers now increasingly depend upon discovering to make their careers and provide a reliable income/bottom line.

The day to day reality of life in the Big Squeeze is frustrating, especially if you are trying to make a living within that environment. There are obstacles at every turn, the successes are hard won, and the odds are always against you. And for me personally, a new opportunity came along in 2010 that was just so amazing I had to take it, so I'm opting out of the Big Squeeze. (At least for my day job. I'm still in the scrum as an author.)

But the Big Squeeze is about more than just the day to day struggles of trying to make it as a writer in a blockbuster world. It may be inevitable that the supply of books outstrips the demand and this will inexorably drive down e-book prices. There are a whole lot of books out there, and lots of authors who are willing to do whatever it takes to find their audiences.

Enter the agency model in 2010, which is essentially five of the major publishers' attempt to raise the dam to stop a great and probably inevitable flood. They are trying to hold the line at e-book prices above $10 even as the levees are springing leaks right and left, whether it's J.A. Konrath selling his books for cheap, or the thousands of authors out there who are willing to heavily discount or even give away books for free just to find their readership.

Maybe the quality of the books the publishers curate will be sufficient that people will pay a premium for them, and the levees will hold. Or, much like how journalism has been drowned in a sea of free and often inferior online content, prices may have to come down in order to compete with people willing to write for free or near free. The future of the industry as we know it likely hinges on the balance between these competing factors.

Publishers are hoping the levees hold, but there's a lot of water behind those dams.

And yet! If you're an author, things are not so bad as all that. These are tricky times to be a publishing employee, and I don't envy my former comrades-at-arms as they try to navigate these difficult waters. But if you're an author: it's still the best of times.

Your success is still not totally within your hands and the whims of fate are still very much alive, but your success is more in your hands than it ever has been. No manuscript has to disappear into a drawer. The ease of access to the marketplace has never been greater. The ease finding a potential audience has never been greater.

Within the Big Squeeze are so many success stories and so much day to day happiness, people finding their readers and sharing their books with friends and loved ones, and the happy feedback that comes with putting your work out there. As long as you're not counting on megabestsellerdom to satisfy your personal happiness or to pay your bills, there is so much satisfaction to be had.

So the best of times and worst of times continues to be an apt phrase for the book world in this time of transition. It's an industry I'm no longer a part of as an employee, but I'm very much enjoying the ride as an author.






35 comments:

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

Your choice of the word "curate" leapt out at me! I hope that publishers don't become merely displayers of fine art, culled and displayed while the (other) masterpieces sit in the museum vaults. That would be a sad day for everyone.

I agree with your (ever) optimistic tone about the future for authors, though! It's never been easy, and never will be, but it's a journey with more possibility for personal satisfaction.

Happy New Year!

Laurel said...

Happy New Year!

Whatever the transition means for writers, it is definitely bringing good things for readers. Since most of us are both, there are blessings regardless.

Cheers!

Mira said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Martinelli Gold said...

Fantastic outlook that leaves the Big Squeeze looking more like a right-of-passage, and less like a lemon-press.

Thanks! Perfect outlook to start a great writing year.

Mira said...

Whoopsie - I was looking at the wrong post when I wrote my first comment.

This is so well-spoken, and I think an excellent summation. Very well said. It's inspired me to pontificate. (I've already read my post, so I can come back and tell you I definitely pontificate. If you don't want to hear me pontificate, I'd stop reading. Really. Pontification ahead.)

Okay, onto the pontification. It's true, I don't envy those still in publishing, but for authors, we are about to see the golden age. Never before has the author had so much freedom. It's truly wonderful. Because what e-books really means is Freedom of Publishing.

I was just thinking the other day that no one could stop me from being published, and how incredible that is. I don't need to find someone who agrees with me, or shares my vision. I won't find my work forever buried because a small group of people decided my message should not be heard.

This is directly relevant to the first part of your post. The struggle between those who want to garner ALL the power/money, and the rest of us is a constant. I believe many things can help that struggle, but one of the most important is for those who have little power to have both a voice and access to information.

That is what the advent of e-books means, and it's why I welcome it with open arms. Voices can find an audience. The impact of Freedom of Publishing has not yet begun, but I believe it will be profound.

Can I think of a dark side to this, and possible unfortunate detours? Oh yes. But that's always the case, the human race always has to grapple with it's shadow. But Freedom of Publishing is a massive change, something the world has never seen before, and I believe it will ultimately be a tremendous force for good.

That's my belief and hope, and so I welcome e-books with true hope and optimism.

Oh my. Well, then. Enough pontification. I'm going to come back later for my yearly thank you to Nathan - and this one will be a BIG THANK YOU. But for now, I'll stop.

Many blessings to all for 2011! Happy New Year!

J. T. Shea said...

Thanks for your candor, Nathan. Some slightly connected thoughts:-

So agenting was a much bigger squeeze than Social Mediating?

Statistics do not necessarily support what you say about polarization, but many people feel as you do, and we all know the saying about 'lies, damned lies, and statistics'.

We writers are perhaps tempted to imagine agents lounging like Roman emperors, slave girls popping grapes into their mouths as they judge us, thumbs up or thumbs down, mostly thumbs down. Yet most agents never get to represent a megabestseller.

A $10 e-book is probably as profitable for all involved as a $14 trade paperback, excluding the printers and shippers and warehousemen, who are no longer needed. Likewise a $5 e-book and a mass market paperback. But finding/creating an e-book analogue to a $25 hardcover is a greater challenge, particularly since that price is more a matter of windowing than the cost of two pieces of cardboard and a dust jacket.

I do dream of megabestsellerdom, among other seemingly crazy things. Yet I am happy to have written 500 or more comments on your blog and forums this year, for nothing except my own satisfaction and a little attention from others. A paradox!

Pope Mira The First, pontificate to your heart's content! I agree we can all be published now, though I do not want to be underpublished, to borrow a word from Nathan.

abc said...

The husband and I were just having a discussion about polarization (and the haves and have nots and how scary it was all getting here in the USA, etc), so it is interesting to me that you touched on this. In a time in our world and culture when it would be so easy to be a pessimist, I read the optimism in your posts and I feel a little better (the way I feel when I get my fix of Jon Stewart). There are always amazing things happening and amazing people out there in the world and you are one of them. I celebrate all your contributions to my trying-very-hard-to-be-optimistic daily life. A toast to you, Mr. Bransford. Happy 2011.

Anonymous said...

When a mega-star agent like you jumps ship, we all have to read in between the lines.

So sorry, that it's that bad. Really sorry.

And still wishing you the very Very Best.

Man, publishing is in the pitfalls, we thinketh.

Samantha G said...

Happy new year!

I came on this blog hoping for a fresh start in the publishing industry and instead I get this- what a bummer. But, I think what we're really worried about is not the e-book era, but the change. We, as authors, unpublished and published are worried what this means for us after hundreds of years of the paperback and hardback. Sometimes technology sucks- but it can be a good thing. The music industry has accepted the ipod and downloads and has accepted people don't want to go out and buy singles on a CD. It has survived in the tough waters, even though more and more people are illegaly downloading music. The publishing industry needs to follow their example. We will all survive this new round of technology!

(I just realised I'm one of the first commenters of 2011 who come from Britain- hehe.)

Elaine AM Smith said...

Happy New Year!
Here's to bridging divides.
Good luck with the goals you have set yourself for 2011.
(I believe it is all in the strategy;))

Bryan Russell (Ink) said...

"...it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness..."

Jeffrey Ricker said...

The other thing I wonder about is, as a reader, whether it becomes more of a challenge to find books that a) interest you and b) are good. I can't shake the feeling that (please forgive this appallingly bad metaphor) there'll be a lot more books chasing a smaller pool of readers.

Of course, hasn't that been the case for a long time already?

Lindsey Lane said...

And out of the big squeeze will come the wish, the demand, the need for good story. Always.

Nathan, as usual, I appreciate your clear thinking and positive spin on this time of transition. I use the word disequilibrium. Whenever and wherever there is growth, we must go through times of chaos and disequilibrium. Once the ground has shifted, equilibrium will return even though the landscape may be changed. Through it all, though, good stories will remain.

Happy New Year to all.

Robena Grant said...

Well, I'm taking your words with a side order of black-eyed peas and hoping for the best.
May 2011 be good to all of us. Happy New Year!

Lisa Kilian said...

Transition is a very apt word. However, I think the transition is still going to continue through this year and the next and the next. Technology never stops!

Lisa

Anonymous said...

So many people in the United States are finding themselves suddenly homeless, unemployed, and/or seriously ill without medical insurance. Great book on this topic written by Arianna Huffington, founder of The Huffington Post, an Internet newspaper: Third World America: How Our Politicians Are Abandoning the Middle Class and Betraying the American Dream. I find it inspiring that Arianna has given such a huge voice to social issues through a newspaper on the Internet and is now frequently interviewed on TV news.

D.G. Hudson said...

Nathan, best of luck to you as you go forward in your career as an author and in your new job in the tech/media field.

We writers will continue to plod or zoom along, depending on where we are in the writing process. Thanks for answering the question about how long it took you to finish your second book - a previous post. 8 months sounds good to me.

As for publishing, we continue to watch and wait for some of the dust to settle. Even in S. King's The Stand - there were some survivors.

Hello 2011!! I've posted my own writing resolutions on my blog, just to keep me in line.

Kathryn Magendie said...

And Happy New Year to you, too, Nathan! *smiling*

Lexi said...

Right now, I'm struggling to see a downside to the current 'transitions' in the publishing industry.

After a year of submissions (close but no cigar) I self-published my novel in August, catching the first wave of the UK Kindle Store. By tomorrow teatime, I'll have sold my 7,000th ebook.

I cannot tell you how good that feels. Happy new year!

RLS said...

Thanks for the New Years Post. I am relatively new to the publishing world and get nervous when I think about the changes brought on by technology. But then I remember, for me, technology has made my writing life possible. I would never have been able to write and sell my novel if I hadn't hadn't had access to a computer for research (both for plot and publishing biz info--thanks BTW), word processing, portability AND being able to query and send partials/fulls electronically, etc. Yes, I fear piracy and the inevitable e-book-slush pile--but I know I can't have my publisher and eat it too.

Linda Jackson said...

"As long as you're not counting on megabestsellerdom to satisfy your personal happiness or to pay your bills, there is so much satisfaction to be had."

Well said.

The Hack Novelist said...

Thanks for another great and thought provoking post. I will say that in the midst of a shifting publishing paradigm, I do feel encouraged by the freedom that shift may afford aspiring authors.

Best of luck in 2011!

Joanna van der Gracht de Rosado said...

Thank you Nathan for your thoughtful post... Polarizarion is everywhere. In the USA and other "developed" nations perhaps some readers are feeling the effects for the first time but in the "developing" world, we are old hats and you know what... once the slope has gotten slippery, I don't know of any way to turn it back into a level playing field.

Individuals can get their footing IF they are exceptional. Not exceptional by their own standards but by the gold standard. Yes, self esteem is a good thing and dreams keep us going but under this "new order" it takes extremely hard, consistant effort for "we the masses" to break into the inner sanctum.

So boot up, keep your bootie in the chair and write on! When you think your done, edit, edit, edit... rewrite, rewrite,rewrite... promote, promote, promote... The road is long, keep your feet on the ground!

Other Lisa said...

When even Forbes Magazine says the American middle class is dying, you know we've got some pretty big problems.

@Joanna: Individuals can get their footing IF they are exceptional

So true (and I agree with the rest of what you said as well). Personally I'm allowing myself to feel a bit of optimism. But I worry, a lot, about what kind of society we are becoming.

T. Anne said...

Great food for thought. Happy New Year Nathan.

Mira said...

J.T. - I hear you, I have some similar fears. But at least with e-books, if you 'under-publish', you can still publish as many books as you want! Maybe the next one will hit.

So, Nathan, time for my yearly from the heart thank you.

Thank you.

After I recovered from your career switch, I realized how much I really love your blog. I learn so much here!I stretch and grow as a writer - and as a person - and I'm very grateful for that. I'm sure the blog must feel like just one more thing to do sometimes, when you're so busy, and I really appreciate your hard work, your insights, your humor and your consistency.

I said this last year, and I'll say it again now because it's still true. One of your great gifts is that you listen when people say something. When I type my little posts into the little boxes, I always know that you'll listen to what I have to say. That is a very rare gift that you have, one that is valuable on many different levels, and I truly thank you for it.

I hope life sends you much joy in the New Year,with lots of time to rest and have fun, and that you have an extremely happy one!

Anonymous said...

What Nathan decided not to mention is that authors like JA Konrath make MORE money from the sale of a $2.99 eBook than they were from the sale of a $25.00 hardcover.

That is the reality of the eBook world. Both the power and the money are now directly in the control of the author.

The gates are down and it is the gatekeepers who now have their heads in the noose.

Don't let the fact that both of the "Rock Star" Agent Bloggers now no longer work in the publishing industry escape your attention.

John Jack said...

The opposite not quite polar answer to the Big Squeeze is the Big Grab. The haves continue to grab and cling and claim first dibs on their just due slice, while the have nots continue to try to carve out a slice, forelornly, sometimes, all too often abandoning hope and going out on the freebooters' career. C'est la vie.

I'll settle for carving out what I need, be content that I'm not missing out on the material display of ostentatious wealth that attracts freebooters, and conformtable that I don't have to be one. For rich or poor, I'll get by, because I have lots of practice at it.

J. Viser said...

Very good description of the hopes, fears and opportunities in the publishing world today.

The comment on polarization in our culture should be of concern. One of America's greatest strengths has been our unity in times of adversity. At a time when we need unity more than ever, the media and our leaders in nearly every fields are "dividing and conquering" by focusing on the things that divide us.

My first self-published ebook novel, Lie Merchants (www.LieMerchants.com), takes this theme to heart.

I got a lot of personal satisfaction in making my ebook available for sale on the Kindle Store and other online book sellers. I know I have a long road to go in terms of promoting Lie Merchants, but that is true of any new business.

The bottom line is that my book is selling, I am earning profits to recoup my investment in the work. More importantly to me, the ideas in the book are now out there in the marketplace and being disseminated to an audience. No agent or publisher filtered the ideas because they were considered controversial or unusual.

To me, ebooks and self-publishing have given more voices a huge megaphone to exercise our freedom of expression. If we use our new "freedom of publishing" responsibly, then over time like-minded authors can help heal the divisions in our culture and come together for solving many of the big issues that are not being addressed by our leadership today.

Nathan, thank you for being generous and unselfish with your experiences.

J. Viser said...

Very good description of the hopes, fears and opportunities in the publishing world today.

The comment on polarization in our culture should be of concern. One of America's greatest strengths has been our unity in times of adversity. At a time when we need unity more than ever, the media and our leaders in nearly every fields are "dividing and conquering" by focusing on the things that divide us.

My first self-published ebook novel, Lie Merchants (www.LieMerchants.com), takes this theme to heart.

I got a lot of personal satisfaction in making my ebook available for sale on the Kindle Store and other online book sellers. I know I have a long road to go in terms of promoting Lie Merchants, but that is true of any new business.

The bottom line is that my book is selling, I am earning profits to recoup my investment in the work. More importantly to me, the ideas in the book are now out there in the marketplace and being disseminated to an audience. No agent or publisher filtered the ideas because they were considered controversial or unusual.

To me, ebooks and self-publishing have given more voices a huge megaphone to exercise our freedom of expression. If we use our new "freedom of publishing" responsibly, then over time like-minded authors can help heal the divisions in our culture and come together for solving many of the big issues that are not being addressed by our leadership today.

Nathan, thank you for being generous and unselfish with your experiences.

kellerme said...

this broke architect concurs wholeheartedly.....

love the SCRUM.....

kellerme said...

this broke architect concurs wholeheartedly.....

love the SCRUM.....

Elie said...

What if you don't want to get to the top of the pyramid? If you don't care about the pyramid and you just want to be a working writer?
I found this post very bleak.

Lyvia said...

Nathan. First of all Thank You for all the words/blogs and everything in-between.
I am sad and happy for you both- I am not sure if that even makes sense.
I haven't been on here for a while and this is the post I found.
I came here to actually ask you a question. You answered without needing to hear it.

I wish you the best of luck and hope you stay blogging. Your heartfelt posts have been an inspiration to us all. Hey I say you got talent kid!
do keep blogging-
Livi

Natalie Aguirre said...

I'm reading this a bit late but just wanted to say how much I enjoyed it. I'm glad you got your awesome opportunity and took it, even though I know you love publishing.

As an aspiring author, I just try to enjoy the journey and am so glad I have another fulfilling career that pays the bills, I'm good at, and that doesn't so often say "no."

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