Nathan Bransford, Author

Saturday, June 25, 2011

This Week in Books 6/24/11

This week in Hogwarts...

Yes, the big news about Pottermore was revealed!! Sort of! Okay just a bit! It's actually not coming until July for some people and October for everyone else!

This week J.K. Rowling announced that Pottermore would be an online site that will where you go for Harry Potter e-books, and a unique online reading experience that seems to involve some reader participation. The response was swift and breathless about what this means for the world of books. Is J.K. Rowling self-publishing her e-books? Has she cut out booksellers and Amazon in one fell swoop? If Rowling doesn't need a publisher, what are publishers for?

Slooooooow down, everyone. First off, the Wall Street Journal reported that Scholastic and Bloomsbury UK are receiving a portion of e-book sales and are providing marketing support, so while you could argue that this is a form of self-publishing, it's not exactly cutting traditional publishing out of the loop. And the WSJ also confirmed that Amazon is working with Pottermore to make sure the books will be available on the Kindle, and Sony may be selling branded e-readers through the site.

So yes - it's somewhat unique for a book to be made available through a dedicated site, but let's not go and declare world of publishing completely upended. All the major players will be sitting at the Pottermore table.

Meanwhile, in true self-publishing news, John Locke is the first self-published author to sell one million Kindle e-books, but since he's selling them at $0.99, the LA Times' Carolyn Kellogg asks, "At what cost?"

And the New York Times magazine has a nice profile on eminently sensible self-publishing-turned-traditional-publishing star Amanda Hocking.

GalleyCat picked up our poll on what e-readers should cost and then had a cool post that featured arguments for $0.99, $1.99, $2.99, $5.00, $6.99-$7.99, $9.99 and $12.99-$14.99 price points from industry luminaries. Moby Lives weighed in as well.

And finally (swear) in publishing and e-book news, disaster consultant (yeah) Ray Nagin self-published his memoir and appeared on the Daily Show. He says he self-published because "when you turn your manuscript over to a publisher you never know what's going to happen." Not sure whether he means "They might not make me an offer" or "They might try to edit it," but at the very least this is probably a template for future politicians and authors who want to get their book out quickly. Get it written, get it out there as fast as possible by self-publishing, go on the Daily Show to promote it.

And speaking of speed, agent Rachelle Gardner has a post on why publishing is so slow.

Over at the Passive Voice a great series on how to read book contracts, in this case the non-compete clause. Know what you sign!! (via Mercy Loomis)

And over at Slate, Katie Crouch and Grady Hendrix wrote a snarky article about (essentially) being dragged to write YA when what they really wanted to be doing was writing literary fiction. Tahereh Mafi's response is completely priceless.

This week in the Forums, planning a possible forums meet and greet (Vegas!!!), discussing Pottermore and Rowling, the decline of mass market paperbacks, and discussing those ghastly -ly words and their alternatives.

Comment! of! the! Week! goes to Stephanie Garber, who had a great suggestion on another type of opening to avoid:

I don't have a ton of opening pet-peeves, but I really don't like it when a book starts with the author telling the reader what is about to come, things like:

I found out I had superpowers on my sixteenth birthday...

The day I died started out like a normal Monday...

Everything changed the day the new boy showed up at school...

None of these are real examples, but stuff like this bothers me... I want to read to see what happens next, not be told before it happens :)

And finally, there were some great viral videos making the rounds this week, and my colleague Molly Wood rounded them up into one hilarious compilation:

Have a great weekend!


Suze said...

'Slooooooow down, everyone. First off, the Wall Street Journal reported that Scholastic and Bloomsbury UK are receiving a portion of e-book sales and are providing marketing support, so while you could argue that this is a form of self-publishing, it's not exactly cutting traditional publishing out of the loop.'

This is most decidedly true. Nonetheless, it's a fairly significant move on Rowling's part. Watching ... the rest of us are just watching to see how all of this develops ...

David said...

Nothing Rowling does has significance for those of us who haven't written a bunch of humongous bestsellers.

So while it's an interesting story, and other bestselling writers may choose to do something similar, it doesn't predict the future of publishing for the vast majority of writers.

Jericho Ambrose said...

That bit about the book being available on the Kindle store was something I hadn't heard about. That makes me feel a lot less queasy about JK Rowling's venture. I had this brief moment of fear where every author decided to only sell their books through their websites. I did not want to live in a future where I had to visit one site after another if I wanted to buy a couple of books from different authors.

But the best part about this is the idea of the book might actually evolve. ePub has bee advertised by many has having a ton of potential for a more interactive, or at least more immersive, reading experience. I've yet to see that happen, however if a powerhouse like Rowling manages to enhance the reading experience, books may finally follow the path of more features like a DVD vs VHS.

Very exciting!

D.G. Hudson said...

Interesting video collection with Molly Wood - strange things make us laugh.

JKR can call her own shots now, but she's an exception. She's earned her say by producing a line of books that will define a generation's love for reading, reinvigorated by her great imagination.

It's an exciting time to be watching publishing, but for this writer, I just try not to be overwhelmed.

Have a great weekend, Nathan, and all the loyal Bransfordites! (somehow that sounds like a cult).

David Gaughran said...


It will be available in the Kindle format (mobi), not from the Kindle store.

And re. ePub, it does allow you to do a lot more stuff. However, when 70+% of your sales are in mobi (which is very limited) there isn't much point in doing an enhanced ePub.

Plus, the e-readers can't yet display all the things an ePub can do.

The real limitation here is with the readers that are popular (nook, kobo, kindle) not the file format.

The English Teacher said...

I had great hope that Rowling might be ready to publish some new work, but, I will happily buy e-books of Harry Potter to experience whatever she's got up her sleeve this time, even though I already have a shelf entirely devoted to her books in both US and UK editions.

And, David, I beg to differ with you on the fact that what she does has significance for the rest of the authors in the world. It's true that it may never affect you personally, but, since I am a teacher, I cannot ever forget that Rowling's popularity sparked the interest of not only thousands of readers but of hundreds of YA writers as well. Before Rowling, good YA fiction was fairly rare (yes, there was some, such as Susan Cooper's works), but now it is a HUGE genre. I was teacher before Potter was in print, and I assure you that there has been a vast change in YA literature. Now, if that all happened because of one series of books, who knows what may happen with whatever she's got for us this time?
Locke and Hawking, with their huge e-book sales, have impacted the way people think about self-published books -- and that may affect you eventually. Or if not, it certainly has affected a lot of folks already.
As for me, well, I intend to hold on tight and enjoy the ride. :)

Isabella Amaris said...

Hi Nathan, you mentioned that Rowling isn't exactly cutting traditional publishing out of the loop... But doesn't their role being purely for marketing support in fact point to them not playing a 'traditional publisher' at all in this scenario? Granted, the material she's selling was put out by them in print originally, but if ebooks are taken as a separate market from print, isn't what Rowling's doing now clear-cut self-publishing?

She's directing the operation herself, owning all the rights while outsourcing to others for bits of the ebook pie (an inverted relationship to the normal trad publisher/author relationship). Albeit with a HUGE platform and lots of different experts to outsource work to, what she's doing seems pretty much the same as what ordinary self-publishers who outsource to others are doing, isnt it?... Just on a larger scale...

Okay, labels aside... I think this is going to have a huge impact on the publishing world, maybe even upending it, yes:)... Maybe not immediately, and maybe not in terms of traditional publishers vs self-publishers per se... But for the ebook market generally, I'm guessing Pottermore will hugely open the YA ebook market to new readers cause those who now buy ereaders to read Pottermore's offerings will probably go looking around for other YA ebooks to read once they're done with dear ole Harry:)

Last thought- the nature and build of Pottermore might just provide another working distribution model for authors who are already pretty successful (or their publishing houses) ... which is cool for everyone really... if it happens:)

Anyway, just my 2 cents... and probably a hodge-podge of cents in there from all the discussions going on online that I've been soaking up hehe

Anonymous said...

I heard a rumor that Amazon was aggressively sending mass e-mails to literary agents across the board, asking them to submit new authors for new Amazon publishing ventures. I have no reason to believe this isn't true, and it could mean several things. One of them being that self-published authors without agents aren't going to be taken as seriously over at Amazon as they think they are, and Amazon is vying to be a publisher, in the traditional sense, like the big six.

But still too soon to tell.

Mira said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Domino said...

Is anyone else extremely... underwhelmed by the JK Rowling news? I know she said it wasn't going to be a new book, but somewhere, in my heart of hearts, that's what I thought it was going to be.

Mira said...

Took my post down. Guess there's no need to be so blunt about it all.

Be back later to comment on all of these wonderful links! Thanks for everything you do, Nathan!

Passive Guy said...

Thanks for the mention, Nathan.

Sierra McConnell said...

Oh, yeah! I saw that thing with Ray Nagin in it. It was pretty interesting. He said there were a couple of agents interested in the work but they wanted him to tone this down or that down and it refused to do it. So the best way to get his book out there was to just self-publish it. I think they still have it up on Hulu.

Anonymous said...

I love the viral videos. I wish it came with links on where to find the original video.

I've read the Crouch and Hendrix article. I thought it less complementary of literary fiction than young adult fiction. It sounds like they are having a great time writing young adult fiction. I've gone back and reread the article three times, and I don't get what was so offensive to the writers and readers of YA. Tahereh Mafi ends her post with haters are gonna hate, but Crouch and Hendrix say that they love writing YA. It looks like the ones blowing a gasket are the haters.

I'm totally mystified as to what the problem is.

Tim Greaton said...

Another great blog installment, Nathan!

David Gaughran said...


That's EXACTLY how I see it.

Nathan Bransford said...


I think what people are objecting to is the idea that writing YA is essentially an unserious activity. It's fine and maybe even admirable that the authors don't take themselves too seriously, but I don't think most writers of YA are in it just to cash in and capitalizing on a particular cultural moment, which the authors cop to.


No, I don't think it's clear-cut self-publishing. I think it has elements of it, but these books were originally traditionally published and benefited massively from that process, and traditional publishers are at the table. This is a different form of delivery of the product, but not a different form of producing the product.

Marilyn Peake said...

Personally, I think Pottermore is another watershed moment in publishing, one that marks a real seachange in how things are done. According to The Wall Street Journal article you mentioned, J. K. Rowling is self-publishing her eBooks, retaining all rights to them, and hiring her previous publishing companies for specific jobs she’d like them to do for her. She’s in a position to publish her eBooks however she wants, at whatever price she wants. She’s in charge, not the publishing companies. They might be at the table, but J. K. Rowling’s the boss. That’s hugely different from how things are normally done. Normally, an author can’t set their own eBook prices, are put in a position where their eBooks are two to three times more expensive than their paperback versions (driving away readers who purchase only in eBook format and won’t pay the outlandish prices), have no say in the image on their book covers, etc.

I recently purchased a 99-cent eBook by John Locke, as well as many other inexpensive eBooks by authors who have won book awards and whose books have received great reviews. These aren’t all books by self-published authors, either, as the big publishing houses have been offering some of their eBooks for free as specials, even while they speak out against inexpensive and free eBooks. I find it rather humorous that the article about John Locke talked about how he only made $346,500 in five months on his 99-cent eBooks, but could possibly have made $1 million if his eBooks had been traditionally priced. Hello. Making $346,500 in five months is damn good, and most likely Locke would never have been discovered by readers if his eBooks had been priced at $8, $12, $14, as so many eBooks from traditional publishers are priced. Fans will pay that much money for hugely popular authors like George R. R. Martin, but most readers won’t risk that much money on eBooks by unknown authors.

Isabella Amaris said...

@David - thanks. love your blog, and agree with what you've been saying too:)

@Nathan - I know where you're coming from in saying the books were produced differently from self-published books. But as I personally no longer distinguish between what trad publishers can produce for their authors and what any outsourced experts can produce for self-published authors in this age, 'production' seems a moot point for me.

The reason I interpret Rowling's move as clear-cut self-publishing is because of her control of all the rights to the ebooks, however they were produced.

'Produced', mind you, not 'published'.

Her trad publishers are not publishing her ebooks. They are marketing and promoting them. She is publishing them. Herself. She is controlling distribution, pricing, the outsourcing of expertise - herself. All the above is the very definition of self-publishing. She could very well have outsourced marketing and promotion to another company altogether. She has that right, and the clout. That they're sitting at her table is I suspect either a gesture of goodwill on her part, or something contractual/business oriented (for eg the advertising she would get from her print books referring readers to the ebooks). Either way, their involvement is something SHE is controlling, as evidenced by the fact that she is paying them for their services, and not the other way around.

Anyway, I understand the industry is in a bit of a flux, and many things are probably open to interpretation right now, so maybe we'll just have to agree to disagree on this ha:)

Isabella Amaris said...

hmmmm, after reading Marilyn's comment, just realised that quite a bit what I just said was already mentioned by Marilyn in a way. Sorry for the double-ups!:)

@Marilyn - you read my mind:)

Mira said...

Okay, I read all the links ( Thank you!!), and I'm ready.

First, in terms of Pottermore, I hear what you are saying, Nathan - that she can't be called a self-publisher, because she's not. She traditionally published, and the fact that she is self-publishing her e-books doesn't change that.

So this doesn't speak to whether an author can reach blockbuster status and take control if they start from self-publishing alone. That hasn't happened yet.

On the other hand, it does show that authors can take control, at least in some point in the process, which is a great change. I also think it's a matter of time before someone reaches blockbuster status completely on their own.....but time will tell, and it's true that it hasn't happened yet.

So, other interesting links.

Hmmm. I'd like to see Kellog's figures about how John Locke could be making more money and how they compare. I guess if you throw in paper books, that's true. Personally, I think he's pricing his books too low, no reason to only charge 99 cents for a known author, imho. But maybe he has his reasons.

Couldn't get access to the N.Y. times link. :(

That is so cool that Galley Cat picked up on your poll, Nathan!! Is it weird that I'm really proud of that??

So, what happened with Ray Nagin, that's interesting. Very interesting.

Thanks so much for the link on contract things to watch out for!

I thought the Slate article was kind of amusing. Sorry. It used to make me mad that people wrote for money, because I write for ART. But I've learned to accept that not everyone does. Some people just see this as a business, although I really, really, really don't. But that's okay. Room enough for both.

Good comment of the week, funny compilation video - what did we do before youtube?? - and the forumiters are going to Vegas!! Everyone from the blog should come. We'll shut the place down. Then, we'll probably sit around and argue about self-publishing and forget to leave our hotel rooms, because we know how to REALLY have fun.

Vegas, baby!!

Thanks again for the links, Nathan! Interesting times!

Anonymous said...

@Nathan, Oh. I see. I interpreted it as literary fiction being way too serious. I don't have a dog in this fight as I don't write either YA or literary fiction, so from an objective standpoint it sounds like literary fiction is absolute torture to write with very little reward. As a writer that doesn't appeal to me at all.

Anonymous said...

As for the Slate article, I think part of what bothered people was that it promoted the idea that adult literary fiction novels (and their readers and reviewers) are more sophisticated (and somehow more valuable) than young adult novels and their readers and reviewers. By stating that she drafts very little and that the "kids" don't care about the quality of the writing, that they just want to read the next book in the series, was insulting to the people who read and write those books and do take the time to draft and redraft. And it treated the Young Adult writing market as a genre instead of an age group. There is a variety of genres within the market that range from very commercial to very literary. You don't see YA literary novelists like Gabrielle Zevin, MT Anderson, Sherman Alexie, or Markus Zusak writing articles that suggest the novels they write for a teen audience are inferior in craft or intellect to their adult work. And I think her joking swipe at Twilight (a book published by Crouch's publisher that generated enough income to allow writers like her the opportunity to write for the YA market) was also taken the wrong way. It was a humorous article, but I think a lot of people in the YA world felt laughed at. And that demographic has a real sense of community.

Mira said...

Anon 5:17

Oh, I see! This wasn't about the writing for money/art thing. It was about the the old: Literary fiction is real writing and commercial writing is trivial writing thing? And they sum up YA literature as commercial writing.

I misunderstood. That debate usually makes me see red. Grrrrr.

And as a commercial writer, I say: ha!

That about sums it up.

What I think is that the Slate writers are actually commercial writers, but they don't want to admit it to themselves.

I shall now feel very sad for them, and hope they come to self-acceptance at some point in their conflicted and twisted journeys. Poor things.

Crosby Kenyon said...

Thanks for the reference to Passive Voice. The entire post is chock-full, but as a writer I find the bit on the non-compete clause especially helpful.

marion said...

D.G. Hudson--LOL about the cult.
I'm not a Bransfordite--I'm a Bransfordette.
But Nathan, don't invite me to your sweat lodge!

SBJones said...

Excellent links. Thank you.

Alice Smith said...

Excellent collection of links, thanks Nathan!

Regarding the John Locke "at what cost" article - she estimates if he'd gone through traditional publishing avenues rather than taking Amazon's royalty rate of 35% on .99 books, or $350K, he'd have closer to $1 million. Don't you think part of the reason he's sold so many books is because of the low price and perceived value of getting a book that is well reviewed and entertaining for such a bargain?

Couldn't the same book(s) have given him a paltry midlist experience at a publishing house? It seems too easy to go back and rewrite the experience with his current level of success. Would 1 million people really have lined up to buy these had they cost $25 each?

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