Nathan Bransford, Author

Friday, February 17, 2012

This Week in Books 2/17/12

This week! In the books!

Amanda Knox got a $4 million book deal. Let's move on.

No, on second thought, let's not move on. $4 million?!?! To put that in perspective, that is somewhere in between what Dick Cheney got for his memoir and what George W. Bush got for his. While selling foreign and other subsidiary rights will surely help make up some of that total, the book is going to have to sell a ton ton ton ton ton of copies in order to turn a profit. And let's be honest about what's going to happen when that book comes out: Blogs will immediately summarize the juicy parts (if any) so you don't have to read it. Are people really going to buy that book in huge numbers no matter how much is revealed?

In the immortal words of Chris Webber: good luck.

Meanwhile, self-publishing maven J.A. Konrath launched another broadside against the publishing industry, contrasting it with the atmosphere he witnessed while meeting with Amazon. I don't always agree with Konrath, but in this case I think his questions for the industry are spot-on. Is the publishing industry going to dig in to protect the past or are they going to innovate for the future?

You may have heard the news that Penguin is withdrawing its e-books from libraries, a decision that I honestly do not understand save for vague references to library e-distributor Overdrive's association with Amazon. A librarian took to PW to decry the decision.

Publishing industry sage Mike Shatzkin has marked the halfway point through the publishing digital revolution. If you want a great summary of where we are now, this is the post to read.

Some very sad news from the Middle East, where incredible reporter and author Anthony Shadid passed away way too soon from an apparent asthma attack. He was only 43.

In list news, Scholastic and Parent & Child Magazine released a list of the top 100 children's books, and Belgian artist Tom Haentjens is asking people to re-design the covers for a list of the top 100 novels.

This week in the Forums: what's your day job, remembering Jeffrey Zaslow, your most anticipated 2012 releases, and what's your favorite book on the craft of writing?

Comment! of! the! Week! Perennial contender Bryan Russell knocked it out of the park on yesterday's post on lit writers and technophobia:
The internet is the home of mass consumption and mass culture - the common denominator (sometimes the lowest common denominator) is what makes it big on the internet.

And that is not (typically) literary fiction. It's more of a niche market, these days, and is somewhat reliant on traditional forums that support it as important culture.

I think literary writers are probably a little fearful of the literary free-for-all of the internet, of being a small fish in a really big media pond. There's no Amanda Hocking self-pub success stories among literary writers, at least that I've heard of (though I'm sure there's a few doing well in this new market).

I think the old system supported literary fiction, both in terms of exposure and financial support. It was assured a place at the table. The new system? Nothing is guaranteed. And that's probably pretty scare at a time when mass culture seems to be moving ever further away from literary fiction (at least in North America). 
And finally, all the proof you need that nerds now rule the world:

Have a great weekend!


Matthew MacNish said...


WV: Linerie - I kid you not.

Mr. D said...

Amanda proves you don't even have to write a book to get a great deal, just go through hell. Will it be worth it? I don't know. I'm thinking I'd rather just write a great book, and forget the hell.

Jory said...

HarperCollins is creating a new genre - Travel Crime. Wouldn't a Lifetime movie have been more fitting?

Doug said...

Caution on clicking the link to Shatzkin. When I did, my antivirus lit up about requests for malware from a Russian IP address.

Rick Daley said...

At least Amanda Knox has an indisputable reason to do cartwheels now.

Doug said...

I don't think it's possible for the Big 6 to sufficiently innovate for the future. The future is that people will be spending far less money for their reading materials. There simply won't be enough money being spent to support six billion-dollar-a-year behemoths. In twenty years, I doubt there'll be enough to support even one.

Already, the major publishers are seeing the on-coming train. AAP statistics for e-book sales from their reporting publishers show flat sales (about US$80 million/month wholesale) from June through November, which is the most recently reported month. Yesterday, Simon & Schuster reported that "the increase in e-book sales in January wasn't as dramatic as in January 2011."

For the big publishers, e-book sales are flattening out and print sales are continuing to drop. The mass-market paperback format has almost become a niche, with reported sales about the same as e-books had at the end of 2009, when the B&N NOOK was just being introduced.

The e-book world will belong to the smaller publishers, like Amazon, and to self-publishers. There's no way out of this for the Big Publishers. They're going to have to become small publishers, or quit publishing altogether.

Bryan Russell said...

I think Lin could have done it against some other team...

Kristin Laughtin said...

As a fellow library worker, I applaud that librarian's stance. I currently work in an academic library that doesn't get ebooks through Overdrive, but it is a major player in the library market and the pulling out of one of six major publishers does pose trouble to our ability to supply patrons with their books. (Of course we'll continue to get print, but as the article noted, ebooks allowed us to greatly expand our services to patrons who have difficulty getting to the physical library.) It seems it really is one step forward, two steps back with ebooks and libraries these days.

abc said...

I'll probably read the Amanda Knox memoir, and I'm not ashamed to admit it. Is that sad? But really, the poor woman deserves 4 million dollars for all that she's been put through (Cheney on the other hand...)

Steven J. Wangsness said...

(1) How much did Bristol Palin and Levi Johnston get for their "memoirs"? Some people will buy, and read, anything.
(2) If nerds rule the world, how come my ebook's not flying off the "shelves"?

Stephsco said...

This is a great round- up from the week! Sometimes I see links in PW or wherever but don't click to read. this is a good summary.

I am at my wits end with trying to download audiobooks via Overdrive from my libarary. Not compatible with my version of Windows or else not recongized by itunes. It's always something. I really hope library lending media becomes more user friendly. This penguin deal is doing a disservice to libraries.

Jaimie said...

Aren't you glad you're not an agent anymore?

Love this blog and glad you're updating regularly again. :)

Ishta Mercurio said...

Re: Amanda Knox, I don't understand the logic behind paying someone that much money for a book deal.

Even given the justification that celebrity-authored (I know she's not a celebrity in the traditional sense, but everyone knows who she is, which amounts to the same thing) books sell so well that it makes sense for publishers to buy them, if you are counting on high sales to bolster your bank account so you can afford to buy good books by good writers, why pay such a high advance?

It makes no sense.

Elizabeth said...

I find it hard to take Konrath's views with anything more than a pitcher of salt. Not because he's wrong or omg I love the publishing industry and wish ebola on Amazon, or anything, but because his views are so myopic. This is how he sees the world and everyone else who has a different view is destined to die horribly in the publishing apocalypse. I also believe, just by checking in on his blog since before he self-published with Amazon, that if things were different, if he had found similar success with traditional publishers, his opinion would be just as militant, only pro-publishers and anti-Amazon. So make that a bucket of salt, I guess.

I don't think Amazon will kill off the big publishers, though it may cramp their style for a bit. The way Amazon has treated publishers--by undercutting them, etc--will ultimately be how they treat their authors. They'll start taking more rights and offering fewer royalties, and then it'll be just like it is now, only with less distribution and no advances or promotion. And authors will think, "Wow, Amanda Knox got a $4 million deal! Maybe I should try them instead!" and publishing will come alive again, in one incarnation or another.

Just my hopelessly optimistic opinion, of course.

Anonymous said...

I tend to agree with you on the turning a profit thing with Knox. I love bios and non-fiction. I just bought and read three this month But the Knox thing is not something I'd read. I felt sorry for her at times, I wondered about her at times, but I didn't care enough about her to invest the time or money in reading her story. Should be interesting to see how it plays out and if she does earn out.

Mira said...

Yay! This week in books! I really love your Friday posts!

That really was an impressive comment by Bryan. Many complex ideas so nicely summarized and worded.

I think your point about 4 million not being profitable is a good one. My uneducated guess is that there was a bidding war, and publishers panicked.

Sorry to hear about Penguin. Imho that's just bad consumer relations. I believe publishers need to strengthen the POSITIVE impressions of their imprints, not set up a connection in people's minds of Penguin/hates libraires/money hungry/won't read their books. That's the wrong direction to take right now, I think.

So sorry to hear about Anthony Shadid, such a loss.

I also got a virus notice on Shaskin's article.

Very cool list of children's literature. I loved their design with the books you click on. I also really like the idea of designing new covers for classics. I think it's a cool chance for artists to be creative, and may help classics appeal to the younger set.

Such fun links - thanks! I'll probably be back with a separate post re. Konrath - I need to think about that very intense and provacative blog post.

Darley said...

The Amanda Knox deal does sound like too much but I'm certainly curious to see if it pays off.

And JA Konrath seems to be one of the hardest working authors out there, and his opinions (like them or not) are always well thought out.

Unknown said...

The Konrath article was spot on. I found myself ranting at the screen every time I read the standard sanctimonious advice from a well-meaning (agent, editor, publisher) who admonished we unwashed unpublished writers that we ought not make multiple submittals. That it was a cottage industry and they all had cocktails together and would remember our temerity. I fumed when I thought of my career and the hundreds of resumes I had read and how, if I had intimated something like what they were saying, my company would have been slapped with an antitrust suit immediately.
It's still going on. When I was trying to peddle my novel, I was told that it had to be perfect because the big publishers were all downsizing and getting rid of editors ... those who were left devoted their time to acquisition, not grammar. And that I'd better be prepared to promote my book myself because, unless I had gotten a million dollar advance, the publisher wasn't going to do anything. Now that self-publishing is easier than mailing a letter, pundits spout a litany of advantages of going with an old-line publisher, listing precisely the activities that a short time ago they said were no longer provided.
Konrath is spot on. Publishers circled the wagons instead of charging into battle.

Anonymous said...

As someone who leans toward literary writing myself, I resonated with what Bryan wrote. It's not about "who let these people in to the club" but rather, how will I be heard above the crowd if what the Internet reduces everything to is the "least common denominator" not only in terms of access, but in terms of quality. It honestly starts to feel like, why bother- it's like trying to get across a nuanced argument in a packed room. You can try and shout louder, using simpler language, or give up and leave the party. Anyone have an alternative that might offer some comfort or motivation?

Neurotic Workaholic said...

I'm actually curious about her book, because I heard that she kept diaries while she was in prison. And I'm willing to bet that a large portion of that $4 million will go towards paying off her legal fees.

wendy said...

Thanks for these amazing links, Nathan. At first glance I thought Amanda Knox was Amanda Hocking and was gob-smacked and prompted to begin work again on my own PR. But I still don't know who Amanda Knox actually is. (Don't live in States - must google.)

But what do these primeval basketballers have in common with nerds? There are several things I can't stand: sports and alcohol. This must make me: a zombie, an alien, a saint, bebe le strange, a reincarnated pussy cat, enlightened avatar or Wendy Maree Peterson.

Rashad Pharaon said...

Whatever happened to 'advances by big publishers are getting smaller'? $4 million? More than the president's advance on his book?

Neil Larkins said...

You know Amanda Knox: The American girl convicted in Italy for murdering her British roomie -- then got the conviction overturned amidst great controversy. She was demonized by the press and hated by most Italians. Just a few months ago. Can't understand the $4 million advance though. Weren't all the details overwrought by the media already? But like has been said, some people need more, as much as they can get. Will there be enough of these types to make any money? Tick, tick, tick

Meghan Ward said...

Thanks for these links, Nathan! I have no intention of reading the Amanda Knox book any more than I planned to buy the Elizabeth Smart book, but I bet a lot of people will.

As for Konrath, I'm still waiting for a literary fiction writer to make it big self-publishing. It's great that the Amazon model has worked for Joe, but frankly, I have no interest in reading any of his books. I read e-books, but they're all traditionally published (mostly literary) novels. And I'm more than happy to pay $11-$15 for them.

Mira said...

Okay, I read Konraths' article. I think he is dead on point. I hope that people pay attention to what he is saying.

I do wish he wasn't calling people 'whiners' though, because people tend to stop listening and just defend if they feel attacked.

I understand his frustration, it seems like people are saying the same thing over and over, and publishing is just not changing. But I suspect they are starting to listen now, and being more communicative might create more of an alliance.

For example, if Publishing really is financially healthy enough to give a 4 million dollar advance (I admit that surprised me. I always think of publishing as dirt poor and operating out of the basement of someone's house) then getting Publishing to value the author more and legitmately compete with Amazon might benefit everyone.

Maybe. I don't completely agree with Doug above that there is no way out for publishers, I think there is a way out. But it has to happen SOON. The window is closing. And it's so counter-culture, I am pessimistic that publishers will do it.

The only thing Publishers can do that Amazon can't - yet - is create a loyal family feeling for the author. If they strengthen their imprint and treat authors like royalty, thus ensuring their loyalty, they can survive. But nothing else will do it. IMHO.

Doug said...

Re Amanda Knox: I sure don't see how HarperCollins is going to come out ahead on this deal. That kind of memoir sells what, a hundred thousand to half a million copies if it's lucky? I don't see how international distribution would help much, since it's not of much interest outside the US and maybe the UK.

If it sells 200,000 copies, that's $20 per copy in royalties. There's no way for HC to make a profit on that. Even if it hits a half-million copies, that's still $8 per copy in royalties.

Dustin said...

Penguin does it again...
Remember the time they sued one of their authors for self pubbing a short story collection, citing competition with her contracted novels?

What amazes me is most (all?) pub houses are standing around with their thumbs in their butts while Amazon is riding off into the sunrise.

John Stanton said...

So much to comment on!!!!
Must post or my brain will explode!!!

1. I guess I've always felt like lit-fic was a niche. It's good to hear it said aloud.

2. The only advantage big pubs have over indies is piles of money to wave at celebs. It's sad that that's all they have.

3. At a time when the big 6 need to be building an identity with the public, Penguin stepped on its own genitals with the ebook lending thing.

OK.. I feel better.
… back to my real job…

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