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.






Thursday, December 30, 2010

Holiday Repeat: Choose Your Own E-book Adventure

I'm probably not allowed to choose which post is my favorite from 2010, but I'm doing it anyway! It's definitely this one: choose your own e-book future:

We all remember those Choose Your Own Adventure books as kids where you suddenly time travel to the Civil War and you have to decide whether to get on the raft across the river or run away and you have to flip to page 97 to find out if you survived?

Well, should you be intrepid enough to, uh, click on a few links, you're about to Choose Your Own E-book Adventure. Ready the time machine!

I know, I know, some of you are saying, another e-book post. Here's the thing: some of the most common questions I receive these days are along the lines of, "What's going to happen to authors/agents/publishers in the e-book era? Are publishers going to survive? What does it mean for authors?"

And while I try to give a reasonable answer, in the back of my mind I'm thinking, "Well, that depends on lots and lots of factors that are impossible to know at this point." It's really hard to look into the future when X, Y, and Z could throw the whole future into a wildly different outcome. The future might look basically like what we have now, with the major publishers distributing most of the books electronically through e-book stores, or it could look wildly different than that, with the e-book vendors or device makers or some combination being the main game in town.

So. I thought I'd turn some of those variables into a couple different guesses about what different versions of our publishing future might look like. Ready to play? Here we go:

It's 2010. Right now e-books comprise only 3-5% of sales, but some people think e-books represent the future of the book business and will eventually comprise the majority of sales.

Do you think this will happen?

E-books catch on in a big way
E-books remain a niche market






Wednesday, December 29, 2010

How Do You Celebrate After Finishing a Draft?

It's been quite a busy and hectic year for me, which was why it was especially sweet to finish up my first draft of JACOB WONDERBAR #2 yesterday. Whew!!! Other than spending more time polishing and then sending it to my editor for revisions and then possibly a round of revisions after that and then the copyediting and proofs all of which will total dozens of additional hours I AM TOTALLY DONE.

So now I have a very pressing question: how do you celebrate after finishing a draft? And if you haven't had the pleasure of finishing up a completely draft, how do you envision popping open the proverbial champagne once you're done?

My celebrations tend to involve sushi and my guilty pleasure: the computer game Civilization. How about you?






Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Holiday Repeat: Writing Advice From Some Old Guys At My Gym

Here is a repeat post from 2007. I'll be back tomorrow with a fresh You Tell Me. 

Enjoy!

I did not expect to receive writing advice at the gym. I'm not the sociable gym type who knows everyone and asks about their various pets, I like to get in, get out, and go home to complain about how sore I'm going to be the next day.

But there I was, doing my core exercises with one of those exercise orbs (which always ends up making you look rather ridiculous) and I overheard this conversation between two of the gym old timers. Oh, and the conversation is PG-13, so the young and/or faint at heart should go peruse the Sesame Street website for a while (just don't click on the trash can. Seriously, don.... why did you have to click on the trash can???). And for the record, I don't watch the Sopranos.

Old Timer #1: So, how about the Sopranos? Who do you think is gonna get whacked next week?
Old Timer #2: I hope it's the kid. I hate that kid. He's a waste of space.
Old Timer #1: Whaddya mean he's a waste of space?
Old Timer #2: He's got no balls.
Old Timer #1: No balls? Whaddya mean he's got no balls? He's leaving that world behind. He doesn't like the violence. He's going his own way.
Old Timer #2: That's because he's got no balls.
Old Timer #1: So the only way to have balls is to be a violent sociopath?
Old Timer #2: No. But if you don't have balls it's not a choice. If you got no balls you're just a wuss. In order to make a real choice you have to have it in you, only you turn your back. He's just got no balls.

Imagine my surprise.*

The gist of what Old Timer #2 is saying is that in order for a character to make a real choice, he/she has to have the capacity to make both choices he/she is presented with. This is really good writing advice!

One of the best ways to reveal character in a novel is to have the character make a choice because it reveals the character's core values. We all have this innate curiosity about what makes people tick, and when a character makes a decision under pressure when they're faced with a difficult choice, we learn about their priorities and values. Does the character value his pride or his life? Does the character love the girl enough to risk his own neck? Etc. etc.

But in order for this to work, a character has to have the capacity to make both choices. Otherwise your reader will sniff out a false choice a mile a way. So I can see Old Timer #2's point -- if the kid from the Sopranos doesn't follow his father's footsteps it doesn't necessarily mean that his value system is different, he just might not (forgive me) have balls. A more interesting dilemma would be if we got the sense that he DID have courage, but then decided to go his own way. Then it would mean that he was rejecting his father's value system in a real way.

There you have it. Writing advice from the gym.


*The words "imagine my surprise" are an inside joke between me, my fiancee, and the wonderful patrons of San Francisco's greatest bar, John Barleycorn. Larry, the amazing bartender and owner, was working the bar when a homeless man stumbled in with a mysterious paper bag. He walked slowly up to the bar and things got quiet as everyone was wondering what the guy was going to do. Then he opened the bag to reveal a wine bottle with a cork instead of a screw top. He looked up at Larry and said, "Imagine my surprise."

**12/28/10 UPDATE: Sad coda, the John Barleycorn is now closed. Also there is no longer a trash can on the Sesame Street website.






Monday, December 27, 2010

Holiday Repeat: Digging For Mushrooms

Happy Holidays, everyone! I'm going to be running a few posts from Christmases past (or in this case Septembers past) today, Tuesday and Thursday. On Wednesday we'll have a fresh new You Tell Me, and on Friday I'll post a review of This Year in Books. Hint: Agency model. No, please come read the post anyway!!

This here post was from 2007, when I was an agent. Important note: I am no longer an agent. You can stop querying me. Really. (Please.)

Enjoy!

Watch out, because I'm about to get all metaphorical on you.

I recently read a New Yorker article on mushroom pickers (bear with me here). There are these people who go into the forests in Oregon to pick matsutake mushrooms, which are very popular but difficult to find. You see, the matsutake doesn't grow above ground, so the mushroom pickers have to look for small mounds in the ground in certain places near certain trees and dig to see if there's a matsutake there. So there are these people who will see an almost imperceptible mound of dirt and yell out, "MATSUTAKE!"

(I especially like to imagine the part where they yell out "Matsutake!", which I completely made up. In fact I just like saying, "matsutake." I think I'm going to use that when I finish a book or find a good manuscript. The end MATSUTAKE!!)

Anyway, the whole matsutake search is just like being an agent. Mostly. Kind of.

As anyone who has worked in publishing knows, there's a huge psychological difference between reading something as a finished book and reading it in manuscript form. With a book, not only is the reading experience completely different, but when the book is published by real publisher you are absorbing the implicit endorsement through the binding -- someone out there believed in the book and invested in it and thinks the book is good and will sell. Sure, not everyone will like the book, but it still carries that implicit weight of endorsement, particularly one that has already been branded a "classic." It's a mushroom that has already been dug up and cleaned off.

But when the book is just a manuscript, especially one by an unknown author, it is really, really difficult to read something and decide if it is good or will resonate with readers. Really difficult. Finding a mushroom in a small mound of dirt difficult.

Which is why I cringed when I saw the recent New York Times article that highlighted Knopf's old rejection files and readers reports, including the rejection letters for classics like The Diary of Anne Frank and The Good Earth and Lolita.

Let's be honest, people love playing the schadenfreude game with rejected books that went on to be mega-successes (to be fair, the Times article is very balanced). It's extremely tempting to laugh at publishers and agents who missed the big ones, and similarly tempting for publishers and agents to kick themselves when they miss said big ones. But there's a good reason this happens: it's really, really hard. It's subjective. It's slippery. Heck, sometimes an agent or publisher just wasn't the right fit, and even if they had repped/bought the book it might not have caught on like it did because they didn't see what someone else saw in it. The right fit can be everything.

So sure, everyone who has spent much time in publishing has missed one, but it doesn't mean we're stupid. At least I hope not. No one said digging for mushrooms is easy.

MATSUTAKE!!






Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas Eve!

Maddux Lights - Wizards in Winter from Joshua on Vimeo.







Thursday, December 23, 2010

Still Time to Raise Money With Your Comments

The Heifer International fundraiser was supppoooooosed to end last night, but I'm keeping it going for another day. More cheer for a good cause! And all you have to do is leave a comment!

So please stop by Monday's post and leave your comments there.

Meanwhile, these other fabulously generous bloggers have made their own per-comment pledges. Every comment on these blogs means more llamas and bees and sheep for people who need them. Please please stop on by, it just takes a few seconds.

Multiply the giving and comment herewith:

Practically Twisted
Ink Spells (also a pledge to match your donation!)
First Person Irregular
Daily Awesomeness by Louise Curtis
Jenn Hubbard (Blogspot)
or Jenn Hubbard (LiveJournal)
Minus equals plus giving blog
T. H. Mafi - LET'S MAKE SOME MONEY.
Missed My Stop by Robyn Bradley
Tera Lynn Childs
Anna Saikin
Audra Krell
Life and Literary Pursuits of Alexia Chamberlynn
Daily Adventures
4 Free Ways to Be A Christmas Angel
Maybe Genius & The Joy of Giving
Anemone's Assays
my karma ran over my dogma

Thanks, everyone! Here's to making the world a better place in 2011.

UPDATE 12/26:

Donation made!






Wednesday, December 22, 2010

What Book Most Changed Your Life?

First up, speaking of changing lives, there is still time to leave a comment for a great cause! Check out Monday's post, where every comment means $1.00 for Heifer International. There are many other great blogs participating, and please consider making your own pledge! Whatever amount you decide.

Meanwhile, one of the things I love about the holidays is that they seem like a time of possibility. Maybe it's the crisp air, the lights, the tradition, or the spreading of goodwill, but it is definitely a time where life feels a little more magical.

And to that end, I thought I'd bring this around to magical books: which one most changed your life?

I would personally have to go with Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. I just never knew books could be that funny, and reading it in high school literally opened up a whole new universe.

What about you?






Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Fun With Google Ngrams

First up, if you haven't left a comment on yesterday's post, please continue to do so! Every comment means $1.00 more for Heifer International, and please also consider helping out the needy by making your own pledge.

Transition.

Ever wonder how popular a word or phrase or person or thing is over time? Well, wonder no more. Google recently released an incredible new tool that searches across millions of books published in the last 200 years and graphs a word or phrase's popularity of time.

It is called ngram, and it is awesome.

Want to see how it works?

Here's vampires (blue) vs. werewolves (red) vs. zombies (green):


Want to track inventions?

Here's telegraph (blue) vs. telephone (red) vs. Internet (green):


Want to see if your slang matches the time?

Here's mama (blue) vs. papa (red) vs. mom (green) vs. dad (yellow):


Authors?

Here's Faulkner (blue) vs. Fitzgerald (red) vs. Hemingway (red):


Preparation of the potato?

Here's baked potatoes (blue) vs. mashed potatoes (red) vs. french fries (green) vs. potato chips (yellow):


Honestly, I could go on like this all day. And if you want to play along, link to your favorite ngrams in the comment section!

Google ngrams






Monday, December 20, 2010

Making Spirits Bright With Heifer International

'Tis the season for our annual Heifer International blog fundraising goodness!! We are spreading the cheer with one of the most worthy causes out there. All you have to do is leave a comment on this post to help raise money for a great cause, and you too can participate with your own pledge!

You may have already heard of Heifer International, an organization that works to fight hunger by giving needy families around the world and in the United States livestock, training, or other assistance that helps improve their livelihood. Heifer has been recognized for its work in Fast Company and Forbes, among other places.

I know we're still going through some difficult economic times, but if you have anything to spare this holiday season I hope you'll consider making a donation.

In order to encourage people to spread the word, for every comment someone makes in this post between now and 6PM Pacific time on Wednesday, my wife and I will donate $1.00 (up to $1,000)

And, better yet, if you want in on the fun you could do a per-comment pledge on your own blog and enter it into the linky list at the bottom of this post. We can encourage everyone to stop by so we can multiply the giving! Last year we raised over $2,000 together.

In your comment I hope you'll list:

1. Your name
2. Where you're from
3. A wish for 2011
4. (optional) Your own per-comment pledge (amounts totally up to you). Write a dedicated post on your blog for people to leave comments on your blog and link to Heifer and state your pledge. Then enter it into the linky list so everyone can stop by and leave a comment.

Thank you so very very much for making 2010 such a great year, and let's keep the good cheer going into 2011.

UPDATE 12/26:

Donation made!


And thanks to the other generous bloggers/commenters, the total raised so far is nearly $1500 (and some are still in progress).

Thanks so much to everyone for participating!






Friday, December 17, 2010

This Week in Books 12/17/10

Books......... this week!

It was another big week for e-books and e-book readers, so let's get started. First up is my former colleague Sarah LaPolla, who wonders, are we still really worried that e-books are going to destroy the (still here) physical books and the world of books as we know it? Really? Really really?

Meanwhile, another innovation looks poised to change e-books as we know it: a color e-ink will debut at CES in January (disclosure: link is to CNET, I work at CNET). To review: e-ink looks like paper and you can read it in the sun, though color e-ink is not yet capable of rendering video, and some find the colors to be somewhat muted. But soon you won't have to choose between color LED and grayscale e-ink. The times they are a'innovatin'.

Speaking of e-books, Mashable put together a list of five innovative children's e-books on the iPad.

Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg may be Time's new person of the year, but for Publishers Weekly it was B&N CEO Len Riggio. To which the LA Times' Carolyn Kellogg said: um, why?

Speaking of social networking, How Publishing Really Works responded with quite justified irritation and umbrage at a recent interview that was dismissive of the time some agents spend blogging. This is something I will be blogging about in full force, but the idea that agents who blog are somehow less serious or less hardworking than the ones that don't is an idea that was past its time in 2007, let alone 2010. Look around. Every company in the world, big and small, is now trying to figure out how they can utilize social media. Why not agents?

Speaking of agents (and speaking of saying "speaking of"), Mary Kole has a great post about a very common question: do agents remember past submissions?

Reports of new Red Sox star Carl Crawford starting an antiquarian bookstore turn out to have been grossly exaggerated. As you were.

Still wondering what to get that special reader on your X-mas list? Well, the New York Times has one of the most creative gift guides I've ever seen for readers. Let's just hope your 2010 avoided the general economic downturn if you want one of these items. Oh, and the Rejectionist had a list of her favorite books of the year, in which she had choice words for my favorite book of the year.

And my former client Jennifer Hubbard had a truly meaningful and staggering post about the ways in which writing and life interact and inform each other, sometimes in very unpredictable ways.

This week in the Forums, which are officially one year old, Christmas party in the Forums!, how you probably don't want to try and find an agent via Craigslist, the what book are you reading now thread also turns a year old, why we love bad writing, how do you read, and what, exactly, is dark?

And finally, I've long been fascinated by Hong Kong's now-destroyed teeming slum Kowloon Walled City, which if you haven't seen, was an illegal, anarchic, unbelievably dense city populated by over 50,000 people. Sci-fi blog io9 recently uncovered a video of what it was like walking through its dark streets, and it's so far beyond science fiction it's hard to believe it actually existed in real life. Check it out:



Have a great weekend!






Wednesday, December 15, 2010

What Was Your Favorite Book Published in 2010?

It's been a great year in books, whether you were reading pixels or ink, and it's always fun to look back at the year that was.

Two books that were of great significance to me in my former life as an agent (and current life as major fan of my former clients) were released in 2010, Jennifer Hubbard's The Secret Year and Lisa Brackmann's Rock Paper Tiger, and both belong on every best-of year-end list ever anywhere as they're quite thoroughly awesome.

If I had to choose a non-former-client book that was my favorite of 2010, well, I'd have to go with the overdog and cast my vote for Jonathan Franzen's Freedom.

What about you?






Monday, December 13, 2010

Tamales on Christmas Eve

My family has quite a long list of Christmas traditions, from my mom crying every time the choir sings "O Holy Night" at the Christmas Eve service, to my brother being the first one up on Christmas morning, to my dad passing out the presents. But there's one tradition in particular that I started thinking more about recently. And that's tamales on Christmas Eve.

Quick background on tamales. If you haven't had a tamale, well, you are missing out, my friend. Styles vary, but the kind that is popular in my hometown are meat and cheese mixed with a corn dough and wrapped and steamed in a corn husk. Simple and completely delicious. In some places they're wrapped in banana leaves, but I'm partial to the more savory style. They originated in Latin America way way way back when.

Now, it must be said that my family is not Latino and does not have any Latino roots that would result in a tradition like tamales on Christmas Eve. The ancestry we have been able to trace goes back to early America and then back to England.

But what makes these tamales interesting to me isn't just that we American/English types eat them on Christmas Eve. I mean, they're delicious, so why not. But after asking around, I started realizing that we're not the only white family with this exact same tradition.

Colusa

In order to explain why I would find tamales on Christmas Eve significant, I probably should tell you a bit about my hometown. Colusa was founded in the 1850s, and for a long time was a significant port as it was the farthest place north that riverboats could navigate the Sacramento River, meaning all of the produce and grain grown in the region flowed through Colusa to the barges on to destinations elsewhere. From the 1850s onward the population has roughly hovered around 4,000-5,000 people. It remains a major rice growing region, as the hard clay soil common in the area lends itself perfectly to rice.

Local lore has it that the town was founded by Southerners, and that the town voted to secede from the Union during the Civil War. Whether or not that is true or apocryphal, it has always been a place where race and labor relations have experienced flashpoints.

There were major labor battles in the area, including the Wheatland Hop Riot, which resulted in four deaths, and happened just thirty miles away in 1913. And during the 20th Century, Colusa gradually saw a broad demographic shift take place, as the makeup of the migrant farmworker population gradually morphed from refugees from the Midwest Dust Bowl to immigrants from Latin America, and especially Mexico. Over the course of the 20th Century, the town went from a mostly white place with some Chinese-American families to now roughly 55%/45% white/Latino.

Growing up

I should say that I had the incredible fortune of coming from a very open-minded and decidedly non-racist household. My parents both grew up in Colusa, but did not share what are, unfortunately, relatively common negative attitudes toward immigrants.

As I spent time with friends and other families growing up, epithets, stereotypes, and hostility toward Mexican-Americans were commonplace. These stereotypes were exacerbated by economic differences. It's a town where the farmers were almost uniformly white, and the farmworkers almost uniformly from Mexico.

Those attitudes really permeated the atmosphere at school and in the town. When I was in 3rd Grade, at recess one day we kids divided ourselves into a Mexicans vs. Americans soccer match--it wasn't necessarily a hostile division, and at that age I think probably more of a quick way at arriving at roughly even sides rather than something we took overly seriously, but still a sign that even at that age we recognized the divisions. (Fortunately the principal quickly put an end to it and explained that wasn't a divide we should fixate on.)

And during my freshman year of high school, the town was roiled by Prop 187, a controversial voter initiative that would have denied all public services to illegal immigrants, including school and health care. The atmosphere was really charged in my hometown, and the Latino students in my high school staged a walkout in conjunction with a broader town protest. I didn't support the proposition by any means, but race relations being as they were, it honestly didn't really occur to me at the time that I could have attended the protest.

The initiative ended up passing in my county with 77% of the vote, compared to 59% in the state as a whole, though it was eventually ruled unconstitutional.

Tamales

So believe me when I say, this isn't necessarily a town where you'd expect to find a white family eating tamales on Christmas Eve.

And yet my family is not alone in this tradition. The more I've asked around, the more I've heard of families sharing the same tradition, not just in Colusa but in other towns in border states. I don't know that anyone can necessarily put a date to when they started it, but it's an amazing sign of how the people around you can affect your lives and traditions in ways you may not initially expect.

There's something really American to me about all of this. As rough and as haphazard as the melting pot sometimes seems with the hostilities that creep up between cultures and races, we simultaneously grow together in imperceptible and meaningful ways just by living in the same space. We share our best traditions, and one day we wake up and find ourselves closer than we were before. And in my hometown, eating tamales is a way of giving back as well, as the ones we eat are made as part of a Christmas fundraiser to support community projects.

Sure, eating tamales on Christmas Eve doesn't solve the lasting issues in my hometown and doesn't mean everything is perfect. But for one night, people let a new culture into their cherished traditions on one of our most important holidays. Christmas is a time of tradition and family and continuity between generations and years, but also about letting new people into your heart.

Do you have any unique and cherished traditions, and have you thought about what they mean?






Friday, December 10, 2010

This Week in Books 12/10/10

This week in the Books

This should really be titled This Week in the E-books because there was some pretty significant e-book developments this week. The biggie is that after much anticipation, Google launched its e-bookstore this week in a format that can be read on pretty much any browser or device other than the Kindle. Since indie booksellers can utilize the format to sell to consumers, they cheered the news. The eBookstore is being billed as a more open format, but Farhad Manjoo of Slate disagrees with that assessment, noting that Google's format still employs DRM and doesn't truly offer more reading options than Amazon.

And speaking of Amazon, as Google was announcing its foray into e-bookselling, they announced a Kindle web app that will allow readers to read their Kindle books in any browser (disclosure: link is to CNET, I work at CNET).

In print book news..... yeah. Borders lost $74.4 million in the 3rd Quarter.

I love books and I love San Francisco, and I don't know if I've seen a better journalistic take on San Francisco and books than Gregory Dicum's exhaustive and accurate survey of the lively SF literary scene. Whether you're planning a visit or live in the city, definitely check it out.

Books about writing have a long and storied history, and Slate had a fascinating survey of one of the first popular ones: a 1895 Victorian-era guide called How to Write Fiction. Even more interesting, it was written by a 26-year-old with no previous publications other than a self-published poetry chapbook.

There will soon be an onslaught of end-of-the-year best of lists, but all will be hard-pressed to top Flavorwire's survey of the Year in Disturbing Celebrity Book Deals. Oh my.

This week in the Forums, your catch phrases, creating an agent search spreadsheet, sharing your editing tricks, getting through the middle, and a really great question, can you enjoy the book when you can't stand the author?

Comment! of! the! Week! goes to Chuck H, for a hilarious riposte to my post about the importance of exercise:

I'm a grumpy old man. The most exercise I get is rolling out of bed and snagging a cup of coffee. Would more exercise improve my creativity? Probably, but why take the chance?

And finally, John Ochwat passed along an entertaining explanation of one of the mystery of the ages: how the New York Times Bestseller list is created.



Have a great weekend!






Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Do You Listen to Music When You Write?

The idea for this post was recently suggested to me by my pal John Ochwat, and was also a topic in the Forums: do you listen to music when you write? And if so, what do you listen to? Does it relate to your work in progress?

Personally I don't often listen to music much when I write, but lately I've been listening to quite a bit of Iron and Wine. And it relates to Jacob Wonderbar not at all. It's just awesome.

What about you?






Monday, December 6, 2010

The Importance of Exercise for Writers

Now that we are approaching the end of 2010, it will soon be time for our resolutions (or now time for pre-resolutions, as the case may be).

And as you cast your eye toward self-improvement, might I suggest one of the important fundamentals to the healthy and productive writer: exercise.

Not only because writing is a solitary pursuit, that writers sometime need the occasional mood-lift while pondering the depths of the human condition, and because we want to keep writing as long as Louis Auchincloss.

No. Not just those reasons.

Do it for the creativity boost!

I can't quantify this. I don't know if it's been proven by science (Livia? UPDATE: see her comment for the science).I don't know if it's the endorphins talking. All I know is that when I'm stuck on a plot challenge or can't think of where things go next, I exercise. And it's amazing how it unlocks the brain.

And even from a macro sense, I find myself more productive and happier during weeks where I exercise. The ideas and words just tend to flow better.

Am I alone on this? Does exercise help your creativity?

Photo by Gruban via Creative Commons






Friday, December 3, 2010

This Week in Books 12/3/10

This! Books! Week!

NaNoWriMo is over!! Congrats to all participants, and hope everyone is enjoying some non-writing activities. Would you believe that the event produced 2,799,449,947 words? That's two BILLION. Good work, people.

My former client Natalie Whipple has written one of the most beautifully honest posts I've read in an extremely long time. She dared to speak something that writers usually don't discuss: the agony of being on submission for fifteen months. A truly amazing post, and she followed it up with a post on what she learned.

And speaking of great writing advice, agent Rachelle Gardner talks about one of the most important lessons about staying sane as a writer: it doesn't work to compare your situation to others.

My wife sent me this amazing link that really is too incredible for words: Terrifying Nixon-era Children's Books.

But in actually-good book news, just in time for the holidays, my former colleague Sarah LaPolla has an amazing roundup of her favorite books of the year to help inspire your shopping list.

Simon & Schuster gave a book deal to God. Or at least God's Twitter account.

And e-book distributor Smashwords announced that it is ending discounting and is moving to a model where the author or publisher exclusively sets the retail price. CEO Mark Coker explains their reasoning behind the shift. Closely related to all of this, for all you publishing wonks out there, Mike Shatzkin reviews the biggest story in publishing in 2010: the shift to the agency model.

This week in the Forums, the strange things we think about, where do you find your list of agents, history buffs unite, wondering how "terrible" books get published (Nathan gnashes teeth), and what's your addiction?

And finally, via smasover in The Forums, a hilarious video that has been making the rounds: So you wanna write a novel...



Have a great weekend!






Thursday, December 2, 2010

Will You Ever Buy Mostly E-books: The Results

The results!

For the first time in the poll's four year history, more people welcome e-books than say they'd never give up print (as of this writing):

The percentage of people who said you'd have to pry paper books out of their cold dead hands:

2007: 49%
2008: 45%
2009: 37%
2010: 30%

The percentage of people who welcome their coming e-book overlords:

2007: 7%
2008: 11%
2009: 19%
2010: 32%






Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Will You Ever Buy Mostly E-Books?

Get excited, it's time for our annual e-book poll, which I have held every year since 2007: will you ever buy mostly e-books?

Let's get this out of the way first: Yes, I know this isn't the most scientific of polls. Yes, the sample has changed from year to year. Yes, there are two polls from 2009 because I forgot one at the end of '08. Entertainment purposes only!

Here are the past polls:

2007
2008 (technically beginning of '09)
2009

And here is this year's poll. Do you think there will come a time when you buy mostly e-books? Click through for the poll if you're reading via e-mail or in a feed reader:







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