Nathan Bransford, Author

Friday, April 29, 2011

This Week in Books 4/29/11

This week! Books!

Things are bananas for me at the moment as I gear up for WONDERBAR liftoff, but I did catch a few links this week, and I shall share them with you presently.

First up, Colson Whitehead had a characteristically brilliant and hilarious post on writerly distractions and the Internet. His conclusion: The Internet makes writing less lonely, and it's not to blame for your unfininished novel. You are.

Publishing industry guru Mike Shatzkin has an interest post on how to figure out the best price for e-books. His conclusion: figuring out the right price is harder than it looks. Publishers aren't crazy for resisting low prices, but downward price pressure is inevitable.

The latest celebrity to land a book deal is none other than Levi Johnston, who will be published by Touchstone Fireside. Full disclosure: I work at CNET, which is owned by CBS, which owns Simon & Schuster, which is the parent company of Touchstone Fireside. My opinion about Levi Johnston getting a book deal does not necessarily reflect the opinion of CBS. As you were!

Speaking of celebrity book deals, Jennifer Hubbard has an opinion I share: they don't bother her. People are drawn to names they know and celebrity books sell. Can't fault the publishers.

And in writing advice news, agent Jenn Laughran has a really great post on author-agency agreements.

Oh, and Meghan Ward posted a recent interview I did with the amazing San Francisco Writers' Grotto where I talked about writing and social media.

This week in the Forums, proof of your writerly nerdiness, how much WIP feedback is too much feedback, whether to change the POV, and, of course, retroactive thievery: what happens when someone already had your idea.

Comment! of! the! Week! goes to Anonymous, who had an unfortunate encounter with a spaghetti agent:
This describes my former agent precisely. She offered to represent me after reading a partial of my manuscript at a conference, even though I told her I was still working on revisions. She assured me it was great, and that she would be able to sell it, and that I would have plenty of time to complete revisions before publication. She had good references, and answered all my questions, so I signed with her.

Soon I noticed that the publishing houses she was submitting to weren't exactly a right fit for my manuscript. She would, for example, submit to a publisher that worked exclusively in romance, while my ms doesn't even have romantic elements. Then I discovered from a critique partner who is also represented by this agent that our manuscripts were consistently being submitted to the same publishers at the same time, even though we also don't write the same genre. It seemed like she just sent an editor every manuscript in her arsenal, whether it would be a fit for them or not, and hoped they might like one.

She did get my ms as far as pub board a couple of times, but eventually I decided to end our working relationship, get my ms in the best shape possible, and try again from square 1.

Sometimes when an offer for representation seems to good to be is!
And finally, it's the end of the era for those of us who were into the whole social media thing way back in 2003. Friendster as we know it will soon be no more. Here's a hilarious Onion video to send it off into Internet ancient history:

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

T-minus Two Weeks!

And I have finished copies. Very exciting!! It's all very very real. Or at least as real as it can be when it's a book that involves the breaking the universe.

Just a quick preview of the next few weeks. I am hard at work on a series of posts for next week devoted to revealing How I Write, How I Edit, I shall share my Original WONDERBAR Query Letter, and provide the secrets and the alchemy of creating planets that smell like burp breath. (Kidding about that last part).

And then starting May 9th we shall be hosting a special surprise or two that may involve winning something you may possibly want to own. Specific enough? (Prizes, prizes!)

WONDERBAR officially releases May 12th, and you are invited to the launch party on May 13th.

All this is to say: busy busy! Blogging time limited! But good stuff is in store. And if you haven't yet pre-ordered JACOB WONDERBAR AND THE COSMIC SPACE KAPOW, let me rather ostentatiously present you with some links:

Barnes & Noble!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Do You Keep a Journal?

Promoted from the Forums (Background on Forum Promotion here)

By: CharleeVale

Do you keep a journal?

I don't mean the normal writer's journal, full of notes and ideas and bits of dialogue. I mean a 'dead diary', I did this, I did that journal. I've never been able to. Maybe because spending time writing that doesn't benefit one of my WIPs seems like a waste of time....

But I'm wondering if there are any of you that do, and how you find the time/motivation?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Separating Confidence From Self-Doubt

In the Forums, Akila writes:
Self-doubt feeds the author. Without self-doubt, we don't strive to do our best --- to keep writing despite rejections and humiliations. (See Dean Koontz, for example, who writes: "I have more self-doubt than any writer I’ve ever known. That is one reason I revise every page to the point of absurdity! The positive aspect of self-doubt – if you can channel it into useful activity instead of being paralyzed by it – is that by the time you reach the end of a novel, you know precisely why you made every decision in the narrative, the multiple purposes of every metaphor and image. Having been your own hardest critic you still have dreams but not illusions."). Self-doubt is what propels us to be better, to write better, to fixate on commas and words that most other people ignore.
Writers have a pretty unique challenge.

On the one hand you have to have the confidence to spend and hours at something without really knowing how it's going to turn out, and often without knowing whether you really have the talent or the right idea to execute a story that people are going to love. It takes fortitude, commitment, and a deep confidence that what you're doing is worth it.

On the other hand, you have to have the self-doubt to be critical enough of your own work to make it better. You have to turn a cold eye to your writing to spot flaws and weak spots, to know your own weaknesses, to improve on them, and not get carried away.

These impulses seem contradictory, but I'd actually argue that they're two sides of the same coin: It's all confidence.

To be able to spot your own flaws requires confidence. Staring your own weaknesses and flaws in the face doesn't come from a place of self-doubt, it comes from a place of strength. You have to be a strong person in order to own up to your flaws and to shoulder the responsibility of making your work better.

There are some writers out there who seem so boldly confident and brash, but it's really a mask. When someone suffers from supreme overconfidence and can't see their own flaws, in truth they're not confident at all. They lack the strength to admit their own shortcomings. We all have flaws, but not everyone has the strength to confront them.

And on the flip side, it's important not to overdo the self-doubt and paralyze yourself with indecision either. It's easy to despair that you're not good enough, that you'll never get there, and to magnify the weaknesses in your writing, especially when you're just beginning. That too is what happens when you are approaching writing with insufficient confidence.

The only way to strike the right balance as a writer it is if you build up your confidence in a healthy, clear-headed way.

Confidence will give you the strength to doubt yourself.

Art: Doubts by Henrietta Rae

Monday, April 25, 2011

Spaghetti Agents

One of the hardest things about searching for an agent is that you don't exactly know what kind of an agent you're going to get. Even though you may know the agent by reputation, even though you may ask them every question beforehand, there's a certain leap of faith you take as you sign on with an agent. (I was of course wildly fortunate with my own agent.)

As you're searching, one thing I would advise is to try as best you can to sniff out a spaghetti agent.

What's a spaghetti agent? Well, it's a term I made up. Basically, you know that phrase throwing spaghetti against the wall to see what sticks?

That's a spaghetti agent. They sign up a bunch of writers even when they're unsure about a project, they throw the manuscripts at publishers, and they see what sticks.

On the one hand, this isn't actually the worst strategy in the world. As much as people would like to think that agents are clairvoyant, at the end of the day you never really know what's going to resonate with publishers. So spaghetti agents are acknowledging that fact and are spreading their odds across a lot of different projects.

The problem for writers is that since spaghetti agents will send out projects even when they might be on the fence, they may be sending out projects that aren't quite ready. And in a competitive publishing landscape, it pays for a project to be as ready as humanly possible. Spaghetti agents may also have a shaky reputation with editors because they send out so much stuff and it's not always of the highest quality.

Back when I was an agent, I can't tell you how many times I would find a manuscript that was close-but-not-quite-ready and wanted to work with the writer on an unagented revision, only to be undercut by a spaghetti agent. I would offer to revise, the author would say they had an offer of representation on the table, and then I'd be in a bind. I couldn't really say that I'd take on a project no matter what after a revision, and I couldn't very well advise an author to give up the bird in the hand when they had someone enthusiastic about their work either. So I'd stand aside and let the author go. Sometimes this worked out for the author, quite a few times it didn't.

What can you do as an author?

When you're offered representation, ask good questions. Ask how long they're willing to keep your work on submission. Are they just going to try with the big publishers or are they willing to go down to small presses? It's an important question, because one hallmark of a spaghetti agent is the submit and dash. They'll send a project out to a few editors, gauge the response and then bolt if it's not working quickly. Not every good agent is willing to keep something on submission endlessly so don't put too much stock in this question, but make sure you're comfortable with the answer.

And if you're getting multiple responses of "I like this but don't know if it's quite ready" from some agents but then one wants to go out with it immediately... take a long pause and really really think it through. I'm not necessarily advising giving up the bird in the hand, and don't be paranoid, because this may just be the one agent who really gets your work and they might be completely right that it doesn't need work. But as always, just really, really think it through and make sure it's the right choice.

Having the wrong agent can be worse than having no agent. After working so long on your novel and wanting so badly to go out on submission, it's tempting to want to leap into the arms of the first agent who will have you. But be sure and take your time, do your research, and make sure it's the right fit before proceeding.

Otherwise, your manuscript could get thrown against the publishing wall before it's ready, and you only get one chance to see if it sticks.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

This Week in Books 4/22/11

This week in books! A little late!

First up, there's going to be a JACOB WONDERBAR book party!! And you're invited! The publication of WONDERBAR is just over two weeks away, and on Friday May 13th I'm going to be hosting a reading/launch party at Books Inc. Opera Plaza here in San Francsico. Please come! Mark your calendars! Bring your friends! Bring corndogs! (Okay, corndogs are optional.) May 13th, 7pm, hope to see you there.

Oh, and I also had an interview over at Not an Editor, where I talk about the editing process.

In publishing news, some sad news as yet another memoir has been exposed as perhaps lacking on the truthiness scale. This time it's THREE CUPS OF TEA author Greg Mortensen. INTO THIN AIR author Jon Krakauer published an expose about some of Mortensen's stories, including wandering into a village after being lost climbing K2, and being kidnapped by the Taliban. Among the reactions, Laura Miller at Salon wonders what's the big deal, Jessa Crispin tackles Miller and points out the casual racism of claiming you were kidnapped by Taliban, and Ta-Nehisi Coates wonders if publishers are ever going to have to start fact-checking memoirs, noting how easy it is to spin fiction and claim it's true.

One of the greatest shows on television is entering its final season (or, at least, for those of use who don't have Direct TV) and I'm definitely going to miss it when it's gone. The Millions surveys the literariness of "Friday Night Lights" and places it alongside The Wire and Mad Men in the genre of "TV for readers."

Speaking of readings, Lisa Brackmann passed along a hilarious post from The Onion, and the headline says it all: Author Promoting Book Gives It Her All Whether It's Just 3 People Or A Crowd Of 9 People.

Congrats to the Pulitzer winners! Jennifer Egan came away the winner for fiction with her novel A VISIT FROM THE GOON SQUAD.

In e-book news, Amazon announced that it would soon allow library lending on the Kindle, a feature that already exists on the Nook. And although a small UK publisher previously published an article in the Guardian bemoaning Amazon's terms, another small press came to Amazon's defense with an article saying Amazon isn't the enemy.

In writing advice news, agent Rachelle Gardner has a terrific post on 6 things writers can learn from Ernest Hemingway (having just read A MOVEABLE FEAST myself I found this post spot on), and The Intern talks about the Top 10 reasons you should rewrite that scene,

And in life-of-a-writer news, Shrinking Violet Promotions talks about expectations for middle grade novel debuts (needless to say I read this one with great interest), Tahereh Mafi, who has an amazing new Tumblr blog, posted a hilarious animated GIF rundown of what it's like to get a full manuscript request, and Hannah Moskowitz has a really honest and awesome post about her cover for INVINCIBLE SUMMER. Hannah acknowledges two great things: authors don't always get the cover they imagine, but they're also not the experts one what sells.

Oh, and agent Sarah LaPolla wonders which fictional character would make the best president.

This week in the Forums, discussing the best e-book starting price, what will happen to agents if they're no longer selling books to publishers, whether it's worth it to hire a social media expert, confessing love for Edward Cullen, do you work on more than one book at a time, and what do you write for?

Comment! of! the! Week! goes to Andrew, who has a good counterpoint to my Monday post about 99 cent e-books:
The tragedy of the commons is actually a non-tragedy. Elinor Ostrom won the 2009 Nobel Prize for Economics for showing that commonly owned resources are often very well managed by the local communities that depend on them.

Plus, books aren't exactly a finite resource. The market for books is definitely finite but the creation of books isn't tied to any constrained resource. If anything it's actually the opposite. The act of writing is so pleasurable in itself that the thought of being a successful author is very attractive. So much of your blog is dedicated to trying to prove the opposite :-).

These days it's almost impossible to charge differing prices in the consumer market for the exact same product. Amazon knows all about my past purchases and probably has enough information to be able to charge me more for some stuff than it charges to other people but imagine the bad press it would get if it did that (economists always seem to ignore human psychology for some reason). Even if Amazon could get away with charging me more you'd instantly see companies spring up to take advantage of that price inefficiency by acting as a middleman between people who can buy something cheap and people who actually want that product.

And finally, this video is a few years old but it's been making the rounds again. One man, one city by the Bay, thirty-five years, and 100,000+ toothpicks... (via Curbed)

Scott Weaver's Rolling through the Bay from Learning Studio on Vimeo.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Fate Factor

It's tempting to think that if you just write the perfect book, if you just write the right query, find the right agent and the right publisher, if they just give you the right marketing push, if you just do the right bloggy/Facebooky/Twittery activities, if you get the right reviews.... you totally have it made in the shade.

In other words, it's tempting to think you have control.

And you do have control! Some.

You can write the best book you can. But worse books than yours will go on to be successful.

You can do the best promotion you can. But books that were promoted less than yours will go on to be successful.

You can be courteous and professional to everyone. But people who aren't as nice as you will go on to be successful.

At the end of the day, there's a powerful, important force that you can't control that will determine how successful your book will be. And that's the Fate Factor.

The Shack was self-published with a $300 marketing budget and it went on to be a #1 bestseller.

Christopher Paolini self-published Eragon, he struggled to tour around selling handfuls of copies, until novelist Carl Hiassen's stepson happened to buy it and like it. Hiassen passed it on to Knopf, and the rest, of course, is history.

There are lots and lots of stories like this of books with the most modest of beginnings that hit the right note at the right time, get the right boost at the right time, and take on a life of their own.

That doesn't mean we shouldn't all try and do everything we can. I truly believe that it pays to give yourself every boost you can. Opportunity can't knock if it can't find your door. All that work you put into your book, all that work you put into marketing... it does matter. It does.

It's just that when it's all said and done, the book is going to do what it does. It's going to sell what it sells. And that's alright.

All you can do is try your best and hope the Fate Factor does the rest.

That rhymed.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

When Did You Know You Wanted to Be a Writer?

When did you know you wanted to become a writer? Was it a childhood dream? Something you arrived at kicking and screaming? Was there a particular trigger when you thought to yourself, "You know, what I really want to be doing is staring at a computer screen on my nights and weekends, inventing worlds and stuff"?

I came to the writing game pretty late. I had taken some short story classes in college, wrote a screenplay in my early 20's, but never really thought I'd write a novel. I was 25 before I started writing in earnest, on a novel that didn't work out, and I was 27 when I started JACOB WONDERBAR.

What about you? When did you know you wanted to write?

Art: "Woman Writing a Letter" by Frans van Mieris

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Want to Guest Post? Take to the Forums!

The discussion forums at are a little over a year old, and I'd like to plug a new evolution.

Do you have a post that you'd like to be featured on the main blog? I'm going to use the Forums as a sort of farm team if you will, a test lab, an incubator. I'm going to occasionally take some of the best posts from the Forums and promote them to the main blog to share with everyone else (with attribution and credit and all the rest).

I will be monitoring the Forums for the best posts, which can be posted in any category. Clever rants, informational topics, great questions for discussion... up to you.

Hope to see you there!

Monday, April 18, 2011

99 Cent E-Books and the Tragedy of the Commons

In economics and philosophy, there's a term called the "tragedy of the commons" that I have long maintained applies to the new world of cheap e-books.

Layman's version of the idea of tragedy of the commons: When there is a shared resource that everyone has access to, it's in everyone's rational self-interest to deplete that resource even when no one will benefit when it's gone.

Layman's layman's version. A group of monkeys live near a banana tree. If they just let some of the bananas survive there would be more bananas for everyone. But to an individual hungry monkey, he just wants to eat a banana while he can. By the time everyone has finished acting in their individual interest all the bananas are gone.

You may know this more colloquially as "gettin' while the gettin's good."

I think a case could be made that this is happening in the world of cheap e-books. Only it's not physical or virtual copies that are being depleted.

The Early Mover Advantage

The prominent (mainly self-published) authors who have moved aggressively to discount their e-books have derived a significant benefit from getting there first.

In effect, what they're partly benefiting from is contrast -- e-books by traditional publishers cost anywhere from $9.99 and up. Self-published authors like J.A. Konrath, John Locke, and Amanda Hocking have experimented with $2.99 all the way down to $0.99 and even free.

Buy a book by a traditionally published known author for $10+ or take a chance on an unknown for $1? A lot of people are choosing the latter, better yet still when the author isn't even an unknown.

As documented previously, these authors are able to undercut on pricing in part because they're more efficient than publishers. Konrath, Locke, Hocking and others don't have armies of employees they're paying and a publishing ecosystem to support. They write their books, do a lot of the legwork themselves, and contract out what they can't handle on their own. They can afford to undercut the competition.

Here's where I think the tragedy of the commons kicks in.

Tragedy of the $0.99s

Thought experiment. Let's say that everyone sold their books at $0.99. Stephenie Meyer, J.K. Rowling, James Patterson, J.A. Konrath, Amanda Hocking... everyone.

What would that publishing world look like?

Well, for one, more books would probably be sold overall. But not an exponentially greater number. There's an important constraint that limits the number of books that can be sold: readers' attention.

At the end of the day, there are only so many people in the world who read books and only so much time in the day they spend reading them and so much money they're willing to spend for them. People do buy a few more books than they end up reading, but not that many more.

So basically in this hypothetical you end up with a situation where no one makes much money per copy sold and a good bulk of the readership that would probably have paid more if they had been required to. Unknown authors would no longer derive a benefit from the discounting.

If you think of discounts as resources, those discounts could end up depleted when the early movers drive down prices, and no one is able to derive benefit from them anymore.

And when book prices are $0.99, there would be still more pressure to give books away for free to try and build an audience. It's not that hard to envision a price race all the way down to free for debut authors.

The bananas, in effect, would be gone.

Efficiency Wins

Still, despite the "tragedy" in the title of this post, I didn't make up that term and I'm not so certain this is truly a tragedy.

As I have written in a previous post, human progress is a steady march toward greater efficiency. Economics is all about finding ways to improve productivity and find efficiencies in order to undercut the competition. When resources are freed up and we're no longer fetching our own water and growing our own food and killing our own animals and sewing our own clothing, it frees us up to do things like invent spaceships and post updates on Facebook.

It used to take a monk years to transcribe a single copy of a book. Years! One single copy! Think about what that person's time would cost today in America. We're talking several hundred thousand dollars of labor for one copy of one book.

Now someone can create a copy of a book with a couple of clicks, and that book can be downloaded by millions of people for $0.99 or less. Efficiency allows us all to do more. It's the foundation of the modern life.

Lower prices allow people to spend more money on other things and that's what makes the economic world go 'round.

Price Discovery

And the last concept I'd leave you with is price discovery. As a recent episode of the podcast Planet Money illustrated, one of the new innovations of the recession is the Groupon, which is really a new version of the coupon, which itself was created for purposes of price discovery.

Price discovery works like this: everyone has a price they would pay for something they want. It benefits the seller to charge as much as the buyer is willing to pay, and it benefits the buyer to pay as little as the seller is willing to charge. In the old days, or in other cultures, people used to haggle and negotiate over everything in order to find that optimal price. That's price discovery.

In the modern American world we replaced haggling with retail prices in the name of efficiency, but what is lost there is the ability to try to charge someone what they'd actually be willing to pay.

For instance, I would probably be willing to pay $100 for J.K. Rowling's next book sight unseen, but the publisher probably won't find a way to charge me that. Instead I'll pay the retail price, something between $20-30, and all that money that I was willing to pay will stay with me. That's potential lost profit for the publisher.

But as the Planet Money episode discussed, Groupon is the harbinger of a new interest in price discovery. Very smart people are hard at work at this very moment trying to figure out how to get you to pay what you're actually willing to pay.

Where the Money Will Be Made

And this is where I think the tragedy of the commons will be circumvented. Yes, I do think that for new authors there will be tremendous pressure to give their work away or charge very little for it, just as there is pressure on journalists to work for very little or for free until they've built their career.

But I also think new technology is going to step up to the plate of profit maximization. Once an author has a commodity in high demand, there will be people willing to pay for it and new methods of price discovery to charge accordingly.

Who knows, by the time J.K. Rowling finishes her next book they may well have figured out how to get me to pay $100.

Um. And hopefully not because I told the Internet.

What do you think? Are we headed to free for e-book prices or will we find a way to charge as much as people are willing to pay?

Friday, April 15, 2011

This Week in Books 4/15/11

Books! In! This! Week!

Quiet week on the link front, but there is still some bloggy and articley goodness for your perusal.

First up, big news on the e-reader front as Amazon is launching a $114 ad-supported version of the Kindle. Meaning, there are "special offers" as screensavers. Would you buy the $139 ad-free version or the $114 ad-supported version? (disclosure: article link is to CNET, I work at CNET)

Major congratulations are in order to my former client Lisa Brackmann (who you may know around these parts as Other Lisa), as her debut novel ROCK PAPER TIGER was nominated for Best New Novel in The Strand Critics Awards. (Congrats to the other non-former-client nominees as well). Also, Lisa is in China right now, and be sure and check out her incredible posts about her trip.

Self-publishing sure seems to be on everyone's mind these days -- Anne R. Allen has a post on three things to ask yourself before you jump on the self-publishing bandwagon.

Slate has a terrific profile of one of the greatest journalists working today, David Grann, and some of the techniques he uses to make his stories so uniquely compelling.

Eric from Pimp My Novel wonders if there will soon be such a thing as "bibliophiles" - just as there are audiophiles with their vinyl collections, he wonders if there will be bibliophiles collecting the physical objects and whether that will be a niche crowd.

And, of course, how to turn a book into a vase.

This week in the Forums, e-books may now be the #1 format, sharing resources on cover design, are you participating in the A to Z blog challenge?, would anyone use LinkedIn share buttons if I implemented them, and, of course, why would someone want to take over the world?

Comment! of! the! Week! There were lots of great comments about what people are building, but I have to go with Ulysses for comment of the week:
I love building!

1) Family.
2) Memories.
3) A career.
4) Some stories.
5) My own knowledge.
6) Happiness.
7) A castle out of lego with my daughter.
8) Faith.
9) The world's best steak sandwich.
10) Contradictions.
11) A life.
12) Neural pathways.
13) Muscle mass.
14) A genetic heritage.
15) Relationships.
16) And, of course, a Super-Destructo ray, because sometimes building stuff gets dull. 

And finally, because every week needs more flying corndogs in space.... (and thanks again to Brent Peterson):

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Page Critique Thursday: My Thoughts, and More About Incorporating a High Concept Hook

I have taken past page critique entrants to task (or at least have tried to gently steer them away) when there's a high concept hook right up front in the beginning. Trying to cram the plot into the opening can sometimes feel unnatural.

But here's the thing about this one: I think it works!

Now, personally I still think I'd try to find another way to tip off that she's dead rather than coming out and saying the words "I'm still dead." But I also realize that's highly influenced by my own personal taste, and for the genre I think it's okay as is. Honestly, as far as "Actually, I'm dead" openers (and I have seen a lot in my time as an agent and former agent), I think this one works very well.


Two main reasons:

1) There's a reason the character is thinking about being dead at that precise moment
2) The hook is woven in with the tone and attitude of the rest of the page.

In other words, it feels natural.

I like this page because of the way the narrator experiences the emotions with a mixture of fondness and faintly oppressive routine. It builds such a strong feeling of loneliness.

Now, the character never comes out and says "I'm so lonely," but when you add a character who either by choice or not is forced to watch a loved one day in day out, and who still cares enough about that person to make the best of it and see the good in the situation, it stirs up some strong emotions.

And that's all accomplished through a series of observations and reactions.

No redline, I think it's fine as it is. As mentioned I might try to find a new way of saying "I'm still dead," and I'm not positive about the repetition of "All you have" in "Time is a funny thing to judge when it’s all you have. All you have, and yet you still tend to lose track of it." but I don't think a change is imperative.

Nice work!

Page Critique Thursday!

Here's how these babies work. If you would like to nominate your page for a future Page Critique Event, please enter it in this thread in the Forums. As with past page critiques, I'll first post the page (this post) so people can leave their initial thoughts without being swayed by mine, and then I'll weigh in later with my thoughts and a redline.

As you offer your thoughts, please be exceedingly polite and remember the sandwich rule: positive, constructive polite advice, positive.

Random numbers were generated, and congrats to Regan Leigh, whose page is below:
Title: Mallory
Genre: Adult Paranormal Romance

“Rise and shine, pretty boy!” I shout at him, but he doesn’t respond. Of course not. Almost two months have passed and I’m still dead.

Evan rolls over with a sigh and slaps in the wrong direction for the alarm. I suppress a smile, as if he could see my expression. He stumbles out of bed yawning and stretching. His boxers make a tent and I laugh, feeling awkward as usual.

I follow him into the bathroom, but spin to face the wall when he strips off his plaid underwear and steps into the shower. The hooks clink across the shower rod and I turn back around to wait. Evan has been naked in front of me before, but it always felt too invasive. I choose to look away whenever possible now.

It takes a minute, but soon his ritual morning sounds begin. Evan busts out a few notes that are too sparse to make a real melody, a gruff bird lacking a tune. I chime in with him and try to morph it into a song. Really, he’d be surprised at how good we are at this.

His shower lasts longer than normal, or maybe it just feels that way to me. Time is a funny thing to judge when it’s all you have. All you have, and yet you still tend to lose track of it.

I'll be back at Noon Pacific with my thoughts.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

What Are You Building?

One way of looking at the world is that we spend a lot of our time building stuff. I sit in meetings with computer engineers and developers who are spending their days building one part of the Internet. It's really a new version of an old task. Some people are building families, some are researching, some are creating.

We work and live in many buildings that were built by people long ago, and we're all living atop a giant construction project of knowledge, learning, truths, art, and literature that was built for us by the people who came before.

I have special fondness for people who spend their entire day building, who not only work during the day, but also spend their free time trying to build something lasting for the world.

What are you building?

Photo by Robert Thompson via Creative Commons

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Jacob Wonderbar: The Book Trailer!


Barnes & Noble

Huge, massive thanks to the incredible Brent Peterson for his direction, and who is open for business in case you'd like to utilize his talents:

Illustrations by Christopher S. Jennings and music by Quantum Music Works.

Monday, April 11, 2011

In the Future, Everyone Will Have a Chance. (But Not All Chances Will Be Created Equal)

This is indeed a great time to be an author. No longer must manuscripts disappear into the drawer, never to be heard from again, lacking only a publisher's best guess. Now, no matter what people think of a book, it can be published and try and find its audience.

Everyone, in short, has a shot, and the more people with e-readers the easier it will be to put a book out there to try and reach them.

But it's still important to remember and acknowledge: Not everyone has an equal shot.

The author backed by a publisher and with marketing and who has their book out there in large numbers is still going to have an advantage over an author who is unknown. The author out there with a blog or active in discussion Forums is going to have an advantage over the author who quietly uploads their book to Amazon. Like it or not, celebrities are going to continue to sell a lot of books.

And in fact, there is even some growing evidence to suggest that rather than level the playing field for everyone, the rise of e-books is leading to more polarized sales between the bestselling haves and microselling have-nots. Not less, more.

What does it mean? Well, aside from writing the best book possible, it pays to make your odds as good as possible. Self-published or traditionally published, it means trying to get your book out there to publicize and to make yourself known.

At the end of the day, the book is still the most important factor. All the marketing in the world can't make a hit out of a book that the public doesn't want, and hits can come out of nowhere will the tiniest of beginnings. It's just that the odds are better for the book with the bigger initial boost.

I don't know how productive it is to bemoan that authors are now expected to self-promote, whether they're traditionally published or self-published. It isn't good or bad that authors are now expected to do promote, it just is. It's the time we're living in. The days of being "just an author," if they ever existed, are no more.

Everyone does have a shot, but the best shots go to the authors that are able to give their books a boost.

Friday, April 8, 2011

This Week in Books 4/8/11

Books in this week!

First, big congratulations are in order to Bryce Daniels, who correctly picked UConn to win it all in the Bracket Challenge and came away the winner! Nicely done!

Next year will be my year. NO REALLY this time.

Also, thank you so much to everyone who weighed in this week on Virtual Witch Hunts. There were some other friends of the blog who weighed in on the subject of dealing with reviews, Internet mobs, and how we should conduct ourselves online, so be sure and check out the posts by Sommer Leigh, Matthew MacNish, and Livia Blackburne.

I'm a little late to this post, but writing for Salon, Laura Miller takes a look at the symmetry of Barry Eisler leaving St. Martin's and Amanda Hocking signing with St. Martin's and notes that the one thing they have in common is that they're great at promoting their own work. So, what about the authors who aren't?

ABC News is the latest news outlet to notice this whole self-publishing thing, and it leads with a quote from Zoe Winters, who you may know from this blog and others.

Is it fair for readers to leave one star reviews when they haven't read the book in order to protest high e-book prices? My colleague (and author) David Carnoy wrote an article about that happening to Michael Connelly. His article is very interesting, as is the wide spectrum of opinion in the comments section.

Meanwhile, an independent publisher in the UK discloses the steep terms they have with Amazon and how they actually lose money on every sale. Though her math doesn't actually add up, and it begs the question: If you're losing money on every copy selling through Amazon why sell through Amazon? Not sure I understand the business model.

Agent Jenny Bent, for one, is very happy that we're now seeing what readers really want, and celebrates that self-published books are bypassing the gatekeepers. Why does she feel that way as an agent? She sees herself as a conduit, not a gatekeeper, and herself sees the difference between "reader taste" and "publisher taste."

And a reader passed along some phenomenal book art cut from the pages of books.

This week in the Forums, your must-follow blogs, sci-fi book recommendations, and speaking of sci-fi, is that a poisonous label?, do you worry about word count, and, of course, where to go in the event of a zombie attack.

Comment! of! the! Week! goes to Mira, who managed to sync up my use of Oscar Wilde's not-real quote about haters with an actual quote that echoes our discussion on virtual witch hunts on Tuesday:
...Here's an Oscar Wilde quote for you:

"Always forgive your enemies; nothing annoys them so much".

Oscar Wilde
And finally, I think it's safe to say that most of us love print books. So please steel yourself for the the video in this post by Sweet Juniper, who filmed the inside of an abandoned book depository in Detroit. Never before have books looked this creepy.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

How to Deal With Bad Reviews

Publicly: Ignore them completely.

Privately: Complain like hell to anyone who will listen.

And to cheer yourself up, remember what the great Oscar Wilde used to say:

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Who Should Have the 'Indie' Label: Self-Publishers or Small Presses?

A new term has been cropping up in writing circles, posts, and Forums lately. The self-published author is no more, and from its ashes has risen the terms "Indie Author" and "Indie Publishing" (often presented in opposition to "Legacy" publishing, aka traditional publishing).

Using "Indie" to refer to self-publishing is at least a few years old (IndieReader launched in 2009), but here's the thing that has some people around the Internet confused at least and rankled at worst:

Independent publishers outside of the Big Six, like Soho and Algonquin, have been known as "Indie" publishers for a long time. The authors who are (traditionally) published by them wear their Indie cred with pride.

So does "Indie Publishing" refer to self-publishing or traditionally publishing with a small press? Who gets the Indie banner?

And don't say both, because that would make my head explode.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Virtual Witch Hunts

There was a pretty unfortunate scene at a book blog recently after a reviewer wrote an unfavorable review of a self-published author's book. The author responded with unseemly umbrage and profanity.

And then the Internet got involved.

Literally hundreds and hundreds of commenters piled on the author with snide remarks and scorn. Then the virtual mob took to Amazon, where they trashed her book, wrote faux five star reviews, and are continuing to have a great time at her expense (96 reviews and counting).

They may not have been wielding actual pitchforks and torches, but there are burnt embers all around the Internet.

Now, I want to clearly acknowledge that the author in question behaved extremely unprofessionally. No author, with the singular exception of Emily St. John Mandel, has ever responded to a bad review and come away looking good. Let alone with rudeness and profanity. It was an extremely unprofessional and unfortunate scene.

But did she really deserve this?

The Heart of the Mob

What are the motives of the people trashing this author? Does anyone really think that a virtual mob scene is going to prevent authors from behaving unprofessionally in the future? Authors have been lashing out over bad reviews for several millenia, methinks an Internet freakout will not bring peace in our time.

In truth, the actions of a mob say a lot more about the people participating in them than the person being scorned. And I think in the dark heart of a mob you'll find a quiet sense of relief. People are secretly and ardently glad that they're not the ones being targeted.

You can feel the relief and sense of superiority in numbers behind the mocking: Well, at least I'm not that bad off. And a hundred strangers agree with me.

But really that's a false sense of security. As the old quote goes, "A mob has many heads but no brains."

To Deserve is Divine

The other justification you'll hear is that the person in question deserved it. She brought it on herself by failing to edit her book or behaving unprofessionally or using profanity or etc. etc. And sure, there are consequences for bad behavior.

But what she deserved is compassion.

We've all made mistakes in our worst moments. We've all taken criticism too hard. We've all lashed out when we should have kept quiet. We've all said things we shouldn't have.

Now imagine that the mistake we made was met not with sympathy and fair consequences but with a mob trying to tear down everything we've ever tried to build.

This is a person who just wanted to have their book out there and has the same hopes and dreams as any other writer. Some rude Internet behavior negates all of that? People will ridicule her and scorch the Earth and trash what this author has built in the name of teaching a lesson?

Let's not kid ourselves that a lesson was taught, other than to remind us, yet again, that the Internet is a terrifying place to make a mistake.

Friday, April 1, 2011

This Week in Books 4/1/11

Books this week! Insert April Fool's Joke!

First up, one of my former clients, the great J.N. Duncan, is celebrating the electronic release of his fantastic vampire noir thriller DEADWORLD, which you should absolutely check out! The paperback will follow on Tuesday, so you paper fans don't have to wait long.

We all love libraries, right? Well, author Jennifer Hubbard is organizing her annual library fundraiser, in which you can leave comments around the Internet to raise money for a great cause. Click over! Click over!

Thanks again to Mur Lafferty for contributing Wednesday's guest post on using Kickstarter to fund a self-publishing campaign! Mur and I also had a chance to chat on her podcast, which you can find here.

Further congratulations are in order to Amanda Hocking, who recently sold film rights to her Trylle trilogy, with the co-writer of District 9 set to adapt. (via Stephen Parrish)

Does good writing really matter? Do people care about the standards set collectively by the publishing industry? We're about to find out in the era of self-publishing, and one author, Henry Baum, argues that bad writing doesn't matter. He writes:
At the risk of sounding like a snob: non-sophisticated readers will not care if writing is non-sophisticated, and there are a lot more non-sophisticated readers than sophisticated ones. That’s millions of potential readers.  Publishers might like to believe that they have the finger on the pulse of what sells – or what should sell – but when mediocre writing is becoming a bestseller, this pretty much renders the slush pile meaningless.
Agree? Disagree?

Smashwords CEO Mark Coker took to J.A. Konrath's blog for a guest blog and interview, where he lays out the background behind his e-distributing company. He calls the era of Big Publishing "over," though methinks it's a bit early for that.

There was quite an online kerfuffle this week after a self-published author fired back at her reviewer and some of the people in the comments section. While clearly yet another reminder that an author never wins when responding to a bad review and especially not with rudeness and profanity, am I the only one who sympathizes a bit with the author and not the people who piled on and are currently trashing her book on Amazon without having read it? This is a subject I plan on returning to soon.

Meanwhile, in the traditional publishing world, blogger Perez Hilton got a deal for a children's book. Which has the LA Times' Carolyn Kellogg asking one question: Really?

Borders raised some eyebrows as they sought to pay out $8.3 million in executive bonuses. (via Stephen Parrish)

And Tahereh Mafi has a hilarious new query assistant that you should totally download.

This week in the Forums, the self-published author review flap (with lots of great responses), discussing Barry Eisler's decision to pass up a big book deal, are textbooks obsolete?, a super sad true agent story, how much cursing can you get away with? and, of course, the billion bug highway.

Comment! of! the! Week! I'm going to Twitter for this one, as EvilWylie responded to my question about how authors of the future will make money:

And finally, speaking of libraries, not everyone knows that many libraries offer free e-book downloads. My colleague Sharon Vaknin shows how to set that up:

Have a great weekend!

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