Nathan Bransford, Author

Friday, February 18, 2011

This Week in Books 2/18/11

Very very very sad news this week as, after several years of speculation, Borders has finally succumbed and filed for bankruptcy. It was Chapter 11 bankruptcy (re-org) and not Chapter 7 (Eric from Pimp My Novel had a roundup of the potential difference there), but even still 200 stores will close, and my heart goes out to all those affected. Eric from PMN has an indispensable take on what this means for authors. In the short term, at least, it seems as if this is going to put further pressure on publishers and on the midlist.

Meanwhile, there was an interesting CNET article (disclosure: I work at CNET) asking a very important question and poll: what would you pay for an e-book? The agency model publishers are seeking to hold the line between $10.99 - $14.99 for new release e-books, and it will be interesting to see if consumers will go along with that. Is the perception of value going to be there for an e-book?

And along those lines, I thought Mike Shatzkin had a really interesting take on consumer complaints about DRM, which is that they're not totally valid. His point, in a nutshell: Yes, you can't re-sell your e-books and it's more of a license than true ownership. But when you sell a paperbook you lose ownership of your book, whereas when you send someone a copy of your e-book you still possess it. So why are people insisting on treating them identically? Doesn't the digital model necessitate a new way of thinking about and selling content?

And prospective author J.J. Madden has a great roundup of the recent Digital Book World, and video of some of the people creating the future of publishing.

Now, I did not represent picture books when I was an agent and thus will tell you quite honestly that I know extremely little about them, but someone who does know a thing or two about them is my former colleague Tracy Marchini, who has a really good post on what makes picture books successful.

In contest news, lots percolating around the blogosphere! Blog friends Hannah Moskowitz/Suzanne Young and Kiersten White are hosting contests, and the Texas Observer reached out to let me know about a short story contest guest judged by none other than Larry McMurtry. So be sure and check that out.

Lots and lots of people have reached out to me about this post by Ta-Nehisi Coates about a new documentary on Bad Writing. Which makes me wonder if they're trying to tell me something. Haha. No, and I don't need a breath mint, thank you very much!

In seriously important news, the ship that inspired MOBY-DICK was discovered at the bottom of Davy Jones' Locker!!! No word on Ahab's ivory leg.


And in writing advice news, BookEnds is hosting a weekly query workshop, the Great Rejectionist advises against author envy and suggests remedies, and io9 has a post on how J.K. Rowling brought fantasy to mainstream readers. Worth a read.

Lastly in news, legendary editor Margaret K. McElderry, who still has an eponymous imprint at Simon & Schuster, passed away at age 98.

This week in the Forums, to skip parts of novels or not to skip, do e-books change the way you read?, have you ever gotten tired of your own novel, making details purposeful, and, of course, discussing The Rock's return to wrestling.

Comment(s)! of! the! Week! Yes, comments, as I thought I'd single out two, both on Wednesday's post on whether blogs have peaked. First is from Scott, who points to a really interesting post on whether we're witnessing a consequence of a culture of free content:

I just read an insightful post on another blog addressing this:

Long story short: blogs are free, and bloggers are finding that the cost of actively blogging may outweigh the returns.
And the other I wanted to point to is from Neil Vogler:

Blogging as a popular practice may well have peaked and, in my opinion, so has social media use. Everyone I know seems to be pulling back on their FB usage and limiting their time on Twitter. I think we've gotten past the age of net-based communication as novelty, and what we're seeing now is the beginning of a new age of maturity. A whole bunch of early-adopters and previously heavy users are taking a step back and seeking more of a sense of balance in their everyday lives. Information overload is a real enough hazard, and the dangers of sharing too much detail about your day-today movements on the net are becoming more evident as time goes on. Practices change, habits evolve, and individuals become more discerning with their tastes as time goes on. The question is: where does social media go from here?

And finally, one of the most hilarious bloggers out there, the great Finslippy, also has one of the best book trailers out there for her new book LET'S PANIC ABOUT BABIES. This one is awesome:

Have a great weekend!


Ted Fox said...

Scott (and the other blog) make a good point: To do a blog right, you have to devote significant time to it while knowing in the end, it will probably never be THE way you make a living as a writer. That's why I've been exploring ways to update my content more regularly (now MWF) while keeping it funny and yet not driving myself insane. The answer seems to be making fake greeting cards and web-diary-type movies I don't have to spend as much time thinking about.

I mean ... they're all very well thought-out.

Cathy Yardley said...

Thanks for the great round up!

RE: Blogging... I can understand what he's trying to say. Like social media, it can be a time-suck and feel like a waste. However, I also think that if you're mindful about why you're either blogging or tweeting or posting, it makes a difference. Otherwise, I think that novelists especially will think "it doesn't pay me -- if I'm going to write, I'll work on my novel" to the exclusion of promotion. Especially now, I'd say that's a mistake. You don't need to post a 1k blog daily to promote -- but consistent effort is necessary.

Neil Vogler said...

Woah, thanks Nathan -- comment of the week! I think my commenting career just peaked. It's all downhill from here...

That's an interesting piece about the Bad Writing documentary. Think I want to see that. And actually there's some serious truth in Ta-Nehisi's introductory paragraph: "I think the main reason more people don't write is the sheer terror of confronting yourself on the page." Too true. And that terror never goes away, even as you keep writing: it just keeps evolving into a more sophisticated type of terror.

Have a good weekend, all.

Mr. D said...

10.99 - 14.99 for an eBook? I think I'll stick with print for a while longer.

Diana said...

I don't read ebooks, but I don't see why they should cost more than a mass market paperback. Understandably, you're buying the story not the packaging, but even with traditional print books there is a difference in price between hardback, trade paperback, and mass market paperback. As a reader and a purchaser of books, I see ebooks as being the electronic equivalent to the mass market paperback book. But, Maybe I'm missing something...

Scott said...

Cathy, you bring up a great point that's very relevant to this blog: can active blogging be valuable for novelists?

The post I linked to was about technical writing. I would imagine that an active blog from a domain expert could be instrumental for his/her nonfiction sales, e.g. a fitness guru blogging about fitness will probably help sell his fitness book). But for a fiction author, is blogging worthwhile?

Last I checked (a couple years back), the jury was still out on how much online self-promotion really helps novelists. Is a professional novelist's time better spent maintaining an online presence, or hiding in a cave writing his/her next book?

Anonymous said...

the PMNovel link (second, affect on authors) is broken

Nathan Bransford said...

Thanks anon, should be fixed now.

Sean said...

I agree with Diana and Swampf - I mean, Mr.D, ebooks should be way cheaper. They don't accrue packaging, shipping and storage expenses. So why shouldn't that benefit be passed down to everyone?

Holy crap, I just looked down and my word verification is "greed". No joke.

The Survival Mama said...

I want to weigh in here, but I can't without being I'll bite back the George Costanza comment (the internet is a fad)...

When editors and agents are demanding an online presence for new fiction authors, it's pretty tough to set it aside, whether it's peaked or not. I think until the publishing community defines "platform" and what an online presence needs to look like, authors are going to keep throwing crap against the wall.

and yes...too many cheesburgers isn't good for you either. It's called moderation people. As long as the children are fed, and mostly clean, and you're still finding time to write, I think you MUST also be online...

The Survival Mama

Cathy Yardley said...

Scott: personally, I think blogging can be helpful, if not necessarily crucial.

Personally, I've subscribed to the concept of tribe, rather than platform. If you've got thirty minutes to spend on promo per day, rather than creating "push" information (like a blog) it's more important to connect. Commenting on reader blogs or review sites, participating on a forum, or asking questions/sending direct messages to target readership seems like a better use of time. If you've got a blog that speaks to your readership, then it'll give them a place to go to learn more about you, and hopefully draw them to your books pages while giving them stuff to read while waiting for your next release.

Just honing your craft and pumping out draft at the expense of promotion seems like career suicide these days. Like Survival Mama said, if "you're still finding time to write, I think you MUST also be online..."

Jenn Albin said...

That trailer is awesome. As a mom of two toddlers, all I hear is panic about pediatricians and milestones. Finally a book that exposes the crisis of parenthood.

Kristin Laughtin said...

I've said it many times before: if I can get an $8 mass market paperback, I'll be a little annoyed at the prospect of paying $10-14 for an electronic version. So far I haven't seen too many instances where that's the case, but there are a couple of forthcoming books I had planned to pre-order for my Kindle whose prices made me raise an eyebrow for that reason.

Scott's point about the cost vs. benefits of blogging is great from an economics standpoint. In many cases, yes, it will take time to build an audience and thus "profit" from blogging, but if you keep throwing time and energy in (the "cost") and aren't seeing any returns, and re-evaluate your strategy and still don't see any what point do you begin directing your attention elsewhere.

I also agree that we'll start to see more balanced usage of social media. Eventually it won't be novel anymore, just a normal part of everyday life and marketing, incorporated with everything else we do and not new or exciting or needing to be done 24/7. It'll just happen.

D.G. Hudson said...

Too bad about Borders, but at least they have a fighting chance. (never say die) I hate to see a bookstore go under the hatchet.

Most of us already agree about the state of blogs, but in my mind they have much more staying power than Twitter & FB. Some people just want to connect socially, not necessarily to learn, or listen to others' opinions.

Blogger satisfies that writer urge to say something that others might hear and to practice being concise. (one just has to avoid rants). Know your purpose before you start blogging.

Eric's posts were great explaining the difference between the types of bankruptcy.

Ebook prices - 10.99 seems fair from a buyer's perspective, but most of us would prefer cheaper rates since we don't actually 'own the book'. More ebooks are bought when the rates are less, according to the post I read on J. Konrath's Newbie's Guide to publishing (one author's story this past week).

Wishing everyone a great weekend!

Kiersten White said...

Thanks for linking to the contest, Nathan!

Mira said...

Wow - cool links, thanks so much Nathan.

I'll probably be back, because I haven't even read them, but I did read your post and the comments and have thoughts I want to quickly share.

The first is about needing an on-line presence. I'm afraid I disagree. I think what you need is a good book. Once you have the book published, it might be good to go to some sites and directly market.

But basically, a good book will sell itself. That's especailly true nowadays with word of mouth on the internet being such a powerful force. As for what publishers want - well, frankly, I'm not sure why anyone cares nowadays what publishers want but that's a different dicussion.

What any author needs, and needs to be very honest with themselves about, is a book that people want to read. Shakespeare didn't have a blog, and he did just fine for himself.

On the other hand, a blog for writers can be a fun writing experience, so that's something else altogether.

Actually, I'll be back later for other stuff. So many fun things to have OPINIONS about. And only a small paper this weekend, so I have time to have OPINIONS. Yay!

A Paperback Writer said...

Okay, that book trailer isn't very useful because I still know nothing about the book, BUT IT WAS FREAKIN' HYSTERICALLY FUNNY!!!!
Filmstrips!! Oh my heart. I haven't seen a filmstrip in decades!
Oh my.
Thanks, Nathan.

Doug said...

I'm not clear on the value of that poll today. It's over a year old, and predates the Agency Model.

The Agency Five seem to have pretty much settled in to pricing the e-books for most Big Name novels at $14.99 for new releases, $12.99 when the e-book falls out of the Top 50 or so, and $9.99 when sales really drop off.

It certainly seems that the consumers are paying those prices. The poster child is probably Ken Follett's Fall of Giants. The e-book version has been priced at $19.99 since it was released last September 28th. Almost five months later, it's still #115 on Amazon's best-selling e-books list.

As a separate matter there's the e-book-ifying [look that up in your Funk & Wagnalls] of backlist titles. A number of consumers think that this should be instantaneous and zero-cost, and complain if a backlist title isn't available as e-book or if it costs more than the used paperback. Then they buy the e-book and it's rife with OCR or de-hyphenation errors which would have taken more time and money to find and remove, and the consumers complain about that, too.

Renee Collins said...

Noooooooo, the Great Gatsby video game link isn't working!

Nathan Bransford said...


Thanks for pointing out the date on that post, looks like I had some wires crossed.

Nathan Bransford said...


Should be fixed now

Anonymous said...

The link isn't working.

Nathan Bransford said...


You sure? That one's working for me, anyone else having problems?

Marilyn Peake said...

So many great links! Thank you, Nathan!

Gehayi said...

That book trailer could not have had worse timing--showing up the day that the House of Representatives voted to de-fund Planned Parenthood, 240-185.

Marilyn Peake said...


You probably already posted this link, but I thought it really interesting that Amazon recently announced that, for the first time ever, its electronic books are outselling its paperbacks.

Sheila Cull said...

Great way to summarize what the Borders closings mean to writer's now. Thanks Eric the Pimp!

Anonymous said...

Great Friday This Week in Books!

I have transferred my comment to the forums for a related topic in publishing news:

E-Book Lending

Tana Adams said...

I love the cover of Let's panic, funny and oh so accurate.

About blogging, it's sort of like we're all at some open-all-night writers convention. If everyone stopped blogging it would be akin to everyone leaving the room and the lights being turned out. I think message boards, twitter, facebook all have their place, and I think I prefer twitter above all, but I don't think I'm ready to see blogs go just yet.

Kristy said...

I love taking my son to Borders so he can play in their wonderful kids' section. It is a great place to get kids excited about books. :(

Anna Zagar said...

This Borders catastrophe is no bueno. :(

On a positive note, I will be blogging smarter, not longer. Thanks for that!

Heidi said...

I'm one of those people who seems to be behind on trends. I LOVE blogs, and blogging! I am having so much fun with it, and recently launched another one!

As a writer, it's helped me work, by meeting self-imposed deadlines. I also keep connected by reading what other writers have to say. I don't think I would read as many blogs if I wasn't into it myself. And I learn so much, the more I read. (Like here, on Nathan's blog.)

And I think I'm WAY behind on the ebook trend. It just has no appeal to me. I love books. Regular old books. Sorry, trees. But I am an avid recycler, so I hope that makes up for some of my lovely, pages flipping back and forth, paper books!

You know that smell? As soon as you walk into the library? Mmmmm...ahhhhh...BOOKS. I just don't think a Kindle smells like that.

Anonymous said...

Wow, that's really sad about Border's closing. I remember feeling the same way when my local livery stable went under and the mule skinner's all lost their jobs as well.

Mira said...

That book trailer is the funniest thing ever. I especially like how it describes taking care of a baby as "horrifying monotony". Ha, ha, ha. That's hilarious. I want to read that book, even sans baby. Kudos to them.

I also thought the 'Bad Writing' trailer was funny, but I'm alittle tenative about giving my approval to the whole thing. I really, really, really hope it ends on a hopeful note, and not a discouraging one.

Because discouraging someone who wants to write from writing, well...frankly, interfering with anyone's creative expression is evil. There's no other way to say it. So tenative kudos to that documentary, I'm sure it's funny, but I hope it's not evil.

And I'm truly sorry to hear about Borders. My heart goes out to everyone affected as well. It's heartbreaking. As much as I welcome the technocological change, it's impossible not to be very sad for the losses.

Samantha G said...

I like the idea of e-books going for so much- the average joe writer (pretty much everyone if you're not someone like Stephen King, J.K.Rowling e.t.c.) gets more out of it then.

I have to admit- no idea who or what Borders is- I'm based in the UK. I'm guessing a major bookstore, which in that case, that is extremly sad news indeed.

Publishing is HARD- why couldn't it all be millions of pounds, awards, and a book deal lasting the rest of your life, which guarenteed success no matter what happens? It would be so much easier for everyone like that.

Food for thought hey Nate? (Can I call you Nate- it has a certain ring to it.)

Anonymous said...

eBooks are not print books. I cannot lend out an eBook. I cannot resell an eBook. And I cannot return an eBook.

The one big positive is that I can buy the eBook now, assuming the publisher has made the book available as an eBook.

All these things mixed together have me pricing an eBook at about $1.99. Around the same price as a iPhone app.

With Borders shrinking in my area, and with good used bookstores, I'll stick to free eBooks (I have a Kindle) and used books. I think $10 for an electronic book is pretty crazy.

Elisabeth said...

The io9 link didn't work for me either - the address looked correct, but it was something about Amelia Earhart instead. :)

abc said...

Speaking of The Great Gatsby, well, this:

Huh. Must admit to being a little wary.

Jamie Fox said...

I have grown quite fond of my kindle because I feel like I can read more and faster. I don't pay over $9.99 for a book, however, and there's is no way I'd pay $15 when I can get the hardcover on Amazon for under $12 most of the time! The only reason I got an e-reader in the first place was to save space in my small apartment so I'd definitely go back to print if they raised prices that much. Great blog!

K. C. Blake said...

I very much doubt anyone is going to want to pay that much money for an ebook unless the author is Stephen King. Most people seem to want cheap ebooks (less than a couple dollars) or ones that are entirely free.
On another note: Go Rock!

Larry Czaplyski said...

You can return an ebook and get your money back. Just make sure the author or sales site offers a money back guarantee. Pay Pal is pretty good about this.

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