Nathan Bransford, Author

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Why the Harry Potter E-books Are and Aren't a Really Big Deal

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is the last tome of a hardcover that I lugged around on vacation. It took up seemingly half my suitcase and weighed a ton, but because it wasn't available in e-book form and because I don't believe in piracy, I carried that thing across the country.

Now I'm thrilled to have the entire Harry Potter series resting weightlessly within my iPad.

As you have likely heard, Harry Potter is available in e-book form. And not just in e-book form, but available only through Pottermore, the digital extension of the Harry Potter brand. No other e-book vendor has it for sale, including the e-book behemoths like Amazon, B&N and iBooks. And the e-books are published by Rowling herself.

Yeah, wow.

Why This is a Big Deal

J.K. Rowling just did an entire end-around on the entire publishing world in many, many ways.

Most of the focus has been on how these are for sale only from the author, and rightly so. Even Amazon is playing ball, listing the books for sale but referring people to Pottermore to make the purchase.

And the manner in which these e-books are being distributed is revolutionary.  They're being sold without DRM but with digital watermarks to guard against piracy. Each purchaser has 8 digital copies they can download in various formats, and it's very easy to convert to the most popular devices. I had the e-books on my iPad within minutes.

The approach to DRM is, ironically enough, extremely similar to my earlier post on what good a good approach to DRM would look like - you can convert the files to any device and you have a sufficient number of copies for yourself and others... Only there's no DRM. Ha! 10 points for Gryffindor.

So let's talk about this. No publisher. The author as e-distributor. No DRM.

Should the e-book big boys be shaking in their boots? Could authors and publishers play on their own in a world where they don't actually have to sell through Amazon?

Rowling has certainly woken people up to this possibility. After all, in a Google world do you really have to have a central vendor? If people go looking for a book can't they get it just as easily from going to the author's site as they do from Amazon or iBooks?

Did the game just change for everyone?

Why This Isn't a Big Deal

My opinion? Yeah... not so much.

There is basically one author in the world who can pull this off. And she's the one who is doing it.

Okay, there may be a few more. But in order for this to work in 2012, an author has to build an entire  distribution platform themselves that is compatible with different e-book formats. They have to draw people to that site and handle financial transactions and customer service and all the other million things that go along with selling stuff. It takes massive scale.

If I were to try to pull this off as a self-publisher, even on a smaller scale, I'd still miss out on being discovered by people who hadn't heard of me but were recommended within the e-book stores, where the majority of people will be looking for their books for the foreseeable future. Would the extra 30% of selling the e-books myself and getting 100% of the revenue be worth the hassle and potential lost sales and the cost/pain of maintaining some sort of sales infrastructure? I'm not so sure. Even if a cheap and easy sales distribution platform emerges there are still headaches involved in being a vendor.

There is certainly a possibility of fragmentation in the e-book marketplace if, say, a major publisher or two or three decided they only wanted to sell e-books directly to consumers in Pottermore-esque fashion and withdrew from Amazon and B&N and iBooks. That could really shake up the book world.

But as revolutionary as Pottermore is, I still have a hard time seeing the utopia of an author doing everything themselves from writing to selling ever being the norm.

At least, not until I get my hands on a time-turner.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Jacob Wonderbar for President of the Universe: The Book Trailer!

Huge thanks to Brent Peterson for his fantastic work. Check him out at

Illustrations by Christopher S. Jennings

Order Jacob Wonderbar for President of the Universe today at your local bookstore or:
Amazon (hardcover)!
Amazon (Kindle)!
Barnes & Noble (hardcover)!
Barnes & Noble (Nook)!
Books Inc!

Monday, March 26, 2012

Be Wary of Anyone Who Tries To Tell You There's Only One Way to Find Successful Publication

I have tweeted this before, but it's worth saying this in a blog post and reiterating it once again for good measure:

Be wary of anyone who tells you there's only one way to go about the publishing process.

There are as many ways to find success writing books as there are books. Anyone who tells you that the only right way is traditional publishing or self-publishing or with an agent or without an agent is probably simply telling you what has worked for them and projecting that experience onto you. Either that or they're trying to sell you something.

There's only one person who knows what's best for your manuscript: You.

Do your research, follow your gut, figure out what works best for you. And if the first thing doesn't work try something else. And if that doesn't work try a third way.

There's no map to finding success with books. There's just a constant journey.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Jacob Wonderbar for President of the Universe


(And yes, that's a space monkey in the top right corner).

Presidential campaigns are all fun and games until someone threatens to blow up your home planet.

When Jacob Wonderbar receives a message that he's been nominated for President of the Universe, he, Sarah Daisy, and Dexter immediately return to space. But Jacob's archnemesis, Prince Mick Cracken, is running as well, and his campaign tactics involve kidnappings and rogue space monkeys.

After surviving corndog-eating contests and insult debates, Jacob discovers the stakes for this election are even higher than he imagined: A military group wants to destroy Planet Earth, and the President of the Universe is the only person who can stop them. Hold on to your space helmet!

I'm so grateful to Christopher S. Jennings for his amazing illustrations and Greg Stadnyk for the cover design.

Available for sale in a bookstore near you and online at:

Amazon (Kindle)
Amazon (paperback)
B&N (Nook)
B&N (paperback)

Add JACOB WONDERBAR to your favorite books on Facebook by clicking this Like button, or visit the JACOB WONDERBAR FOR PRESIDENT OF THE UNIVERSE Facebook page:

Or add it to GoodReads:

Jacob Wonderbar for President of the Universe (Jacob Wonderbar, #2)

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Beware of Stories

When I was in 8th grade I heard a really great motivational speaker who warned about the danger of stories. He talked about how powerful stories are to us, how entranced people can become by them, and how ultimately dangerous a good story can be sometimes.

He talked about Jim Jones and his promise of utopia, and Hitler, whose narratives led the world to its darkest moments in history.

I wouldn't say that as a society we're necessarily more susceptible to stories than we were in the past -- humans are humans after all -- but modern storytelling methods, delivered by the Internet, are breathtaking in their immediacy and power.

We have instantaneously available videos, shared to us and discussable within minutes. We have first-hand accounts delivered as soon as they can be uploaded. When these stories have gauzy (and often fake) authenticity of amateurism and the weight of mass approval behind them (look how many times this video has been watched!) it's easy to be swept along for the ride.

I was reminded of that motivational speech this week (though obviously on a drastically smaller scale) when it emerged that This American Life was forced to retract a story about Apple's Foxconn manufacturing facilities due to inaccuracies, and filmmaker behind the Kony 2012 viral video was proven to be, at best, a seemingly troubled individual, and at worst, someone who encourages "slacktivism," whose charity's finances have been questioned, and who could reinforce pernicious stereotypes and actually make a complicated situation worse.

What these episodes have in common is that they prey on idealism and human compassion, emotions that are best stirred through storytelling. Facts are complex; reality is messy. Storytelling strips the elements that don't fit the narrative and reduces life into something more comprehensible and stirring. There's some truth there, sure, but the full picture is way more complicated.

These are very different situations, but both of these storytellers have taken real problems that absolutely deserve our attention and ended up undermining our focus.

When stories are mistaken for truth, intentionally or unintentionally, it's so easy to be misled, which is why Mike Daisey's "falsehoods serving a greater truth" argument never works for me. If there's a grain of truth within the story, why not shine the line on that?

Stories are amazing, they give meaning to life, they help us understand the world. But it's easy to be led astray.

Art: Pied Piper by Kate Greenaway

Monday, March 19, 2012

Last Week in Books 3/19/12

Last week! Books!

First up, if you're in the San Francisco area it has come to my attention that there's a pretty cool film festival going on that's built around cell phone cameras and nonprofessional cameras the like. It's called the Disposable Film Festival, and it was recently covered by the Wall Street Journal.

Now then. As we know, last week's big news was word that the Department of Justice is threatening to sue 5 of the Big 6 publishers and Apple for collusion over e-book prices, which I relayed in Thursday's post. That will definitely be something we will keeping an eye on, and in the meantime, the comments section of Thursday's post is fascinating and absolutely worth a read.

In other book news, there were some really great posts on writing and author promotions this week. In no particular order...

Dear Editor had an interesting series on editing, and I was interviewed on my process. That be here (scroll down on the blue bar on the right to see the interview).

Agent Rachelle Gardner has posts on 8 things writers should know about Goodreads and a guest blogger on the 5 most common mistakes author websites make (despite my many mistakes I managed to dodge these 5).

Agent Jessica Faust at BookEnds has an interesting post on the evolution of her query letter as time became more and more pressing - it shows the same whittling down that many agents go through.

And over at the Daily Beast, Pamela Redmond Satran picks up where the legendary 101 Reasons to Stop Writing literally left off - here are 22 more reasons to stop writing.

This Week in the Forums, the Bransford Blog Challenge is in full effect and I'm very nearly in last place (tourney talk here), your all-time favorite movies, funny typos, what separates a novel from a short story, and how do you introduce a character's conflicting desires?

Comment! of! the! Week! There were a ton of amazing comments on Thursday's post, but I'm going with Jim Duncan and Mira, who I think add some great counterpoints to what I said:

Jim Duncan:
...I believe the loss of agency model will have some serious effects, spoken of already. Readers and Amazon are the only winners here. Authors across the spectrum will lose to varying degrees. Publishers will lose. Bookstores will lose.

No matter the winner, I have a difficult time supporting anything that benefits Amazon's predatory pricing practices. More annoyed the DoJ isn't going after them as well, because beefing up Amazon's ability undercut every bookseller out there is the last thing we really need to be doing. This isn't free market competition, it's a financial behemoth using it's massive resources to destroy competition.

And my biggest issue with this is that Amazon doesn't give one iota about books, whereas booksellers do. Amazon is not in the business of selling story. Amazing literature or total crap, it's all the same to them. Books are a meaningless widget to them, a sale item to get the consumer in the door. It's a gateway product, meant to entice you in to buy other things. I imagine they could discount books down to zero and still come out ahead due to the money spent by consumers drawn in through books.

I read books, and I like to spend as little as I have to, but I'm also an author, and seeing my work, the hours upon hours work, pouring my creativity into a story get turned into a meaningless item to wave at consumers, really, really bothers me.

Don't get me wrong. I want as many people to read my stories as possible. I like having people read them. It's very satisfying to know that my work is appreciated, that I can bring a few hours entertainment to several thousand readers. But I don't want to do it at the expense of the art of storytelling. Art is far to significant a cultural element to be relegated to the bargain bin at the dollar store. It's worth more than the cup of coffee bought to sip on while reading it.

So, regardless of who benefits or what those benefits might end up being, these economic forces that are driving book values toward zero are just wrong.
...Jim - I think I understand your point. Let me know if I'm wrong, but it's not really about making money for you, it's the idea that a writer can work for three years on a story that then sells for a dollar.

I get it. I don't want that either.

But I guess I'm alittle more optimistic that as things fall out, there will be price scaling. In other words, a new author might charge a dollar for a book, but a well-known, sought after author could demand higher prices.

I also have faith in the corporate desire to make money. They may be willing to price a song at a buck, but to make that the default price for a book? I guess I don't see Amazon or anyone doing that. Good books are not as plentiful as good songs. They take tremendous skill to craft, and that skill is rare. I just don't think it would make sense for a corporation to devalue books to that level. They'd lose money.

I could be wrong, of course.

But again - it's not Amazon that's charging a dollar for a book. It's self-publishers. They are experimenting with pricing as a means to draw customers. Once they have a customer base, they tend to raise their prices.

I'm not going to argue about Amazon not valuing a story because they use business tactics - I still don't see how you get that conclusion, exactly, but what I do think Amazon doing is letting the writer take the driver's seat, which includes pricing their own books.
And finally, this is one of the more mesmerizing things I've seen lately: Every hour of the moon throughout 2012 (via io9)

Have a great week!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Why the DOJ's Potential Lawsuit Over the Agency Model is a Really Big Deal

It's difficult to overstate how big of a deal it is to bookselling culture that the Department of Justice is reportedly planning to sue five publishers and Apple for colluding over e-book prices*.

In order to understand why this is a big deal, here's a brief recap of what led us here (this summary is described in greater detail in my post Why Some E-Books Cost More Than the Hardcover).

Wholesale vs. Agency

At the time Amazon kicked off the modern e-book market with the introduction of the Kindle, e-books were sold according to the traditional wholesale model. Essentially, publishers set a cover price and they got half, the bookseller got half. If a book was listed at $25, publishers got $12.50 on an e-book sale, the bookseller got $12.50.

Problem was from publishers' perspective, Amazon was selling some e-books at $9.99 and taking a loss on those sales, all the while locking readers into their proprietary format. Not only did this devalue what consumers felt a book "should" cost, publishers were worried that competitors wouldn't be able to enter the e-book space because they wouldn't be able to compete with Amazon's prices. No competitors would mean a virtual monopoly for Amazon, and publishers were presumably concerned about Amazon's ability to then dictate terms.

Along comes Apple and the iPad. Steve Jobs talked the publishers into the agency model - publishers set their own prices and they get 70% of the proceeds.

The irony is that the agency model actually meant publishers received less money per copy sold. Napkin math for wholesale: $25 cover price, they got $12.50. Agency: Price that e-book at $14.99 and they get $10.50.

Publishers then turned around and imposed that agency deal on Amazon, which is the subject of the DOJ investigation. The end result: There really is more competition in the e-book world, but prices are higher than they likely would be if Amazon and others were able to discount as they saw fit.

Competing on Price

I don't presume to know what the end result of the current discussions will be and it appears that there are a range of possible outcomes. But if it ends up meaning the end of the agency model this will have massive, massive repercussions across the book business.

Up until now, conscious or not, consumers have grown accustomed to the idea that e-books cost what they cost. The decision of what e-reader to buy or which app to read on has largely been driven by user experience preferences.

Do you like the feel of the nook? The ease of the Kindle app? The pretty iBooks page animation? Those are the decisions people have been basing their decisions on - the reading and buying experience.

But if the agency model is dismantled in whole or in part and Amazon and others can go back to pricing as they see fit, suddenly price is going to be at the forefront of consumer choice.

It doesn't take a genius to see that Amazon and their deep pockets are going to have a big advantage in that environment.

Who wins?

The irony of returning to the wholesale model is that publishers may actually make more money per e-book copy sold even as prices go down for consumers.

This sounds like a win win for publishers, but it ignores the big losers: traditional bookstores, who will be even less able to compete with cheaper e-books. Publishers are not eager to lose those outlets and will be forced to wind down huge print operations as print continues its (inevitable in my opinion) decline. Print won't go away entirely, but it will be a tough transition for publishers, which is why they may have tried to slow down e-books with higher prices.

This is the point that author and Authors' Guild president Scott Turow made in a recent post:
Given the chance, any rational publisher would have leapt at Apple’s offer and clung to it like a life raft. Amazon was using e-book discounting to destroy bookselling, making it uneconomic for physical bookstores to keep their doors open. 
That said, it's also worth considering author Barry Eisler's rejoinder to Turow:
Maybe Scott would also argue that Apple is destroying computer-selling by selling so many computers, but logically, it’s pretty hard to see how someone could destroy bookselling by selling tons of books. 
What about authors? Well, if agency goes away, in the short term they may make more per copy along with publishers since most e-book royalties are based on the publishers' net. But in the long term they'll also have to contend with an inevitably shrinking pie. And as Mike Shatzkin points out, self-publishers who have banked on getting attention through low prices won't stand out as much if all prices are low.

So who wins?

In my opinion: Readers. Yes, there are dangers to publishers, which may result in collateral damage to authors. There are certainly dangers to non-deep-pocketed e-booksellers. It would be chaotic to say the least to have lots of different e-book prices and to have to contend with different formats and standards and try to decide where you're going to buy your e-books.

But if the agency model is dismantled, e-books are getting cheaper and the book market will steadily get more efficient.

More books for less money?

As a reader: sign me up.

*Disclaimer: I am an employee of CNET, which is owned by CBS, which is the parent company of Simon & Schuster, which is one of the companies named by the DOJ. I have no direct connection to Simon & Schuster or any knowledge of its operations. The opinions expressed herein are entirely my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of CBS or anyone else for that matter.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The 4th Annual Blog Bracket Challenge!!

Dr. James Naismith, inventor of basketball
Whew! I'm back from the nerdfest that is South By Southwest Interactive down in Austin, Texas, which was quite an enjoyable time. Not least of which because I saw competitive eating legend Takeru Kobayashi eat 13 grilled cheeses in 1 minute.

No, really. I have the video.

Meanwhile, it's NCAA tournament time and we're back with the 4th Annual Blog Bracket Challenge!

Who is the greatest literary bracket picker of them all?

You might be saying: "Wait. I know nothing about basketball." Well, you're in luck. You're absolutely going to win. 

All you have to do is pick winners in a tournament field of 64 (er, 65, er, 68) and you're probably better off picking based on colors and/or mascots and/or funny names than anything resembling science.

The winner with the most points at the end of the NCAA tournament will win a query critique and a signed galley of JACOB WONDERBAR FOR PRESIDENT OF THE UNIVERSE!!

Here's how to enter:

1. Go to the front page of the ESPN tournament challenge:

2. Make your picks.

3. If you have an ESPN username and password you can log in when you submit your picks, otherwise you may need to create a new user ID and password. But don't worry, it's not onerous and you can decline to receive updates in case you're spam conscious.

4. Hover over the link that says "My Groups" and then click "Create or Join a Group"

5. Search for "Bransford Blog Challenge." Enter the password, which is "rhetorical" and then click Join Group.

Then you're all set! You can make changes to your bracket by clicking on it until it locks on Thursday (and yes, there are play-in games before then, but the bracket still doesn't lock until Thursday).

Please limit yourself to one entry

All updates/trahstalking will occur in this dedicated thread in the Forums, so make sure to join us there.

Good luck!!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Is There a Self-Publishing Bubble?

There has been a lot of talk lately about a self-publishing "bubble." There was the Guardian article in January, a response by Melville House, and the idea has been percolating around the Internet ever since.

Having emerged from a decade of bubbles in our economy, it may be natural to see some parallels between the self-publishing revolution and a new gold rush. There were a few early people striking the mother lode, a rush of excitement, and now it's off to the races.

So is it a bubble? Is all the initial enthusiasm about self-publishing going to wear off? Is the bubble going to burst?

Shifting Attention

There's another parallel that comes to mind, and that's the blog bubble. A couple of years ago you weren't a living breathing human if you didn't have a blog. Everyone was blogging, everyone was commenting, blogging was the way people connected with each other and promoted their work. It was new and fun and exciting.

Now... not so much. There are definitely still people in the blogging game (as you well know since you're reading one right now), but blogging has seemingly peaked, replaced by activity on other social media.

Is the same thing going to happen with e-publishing? Will people put their book out there, struggle to build a following, and then have their attention diverted elsewhere?

What's Permanent About Writing

I say no. We're not in a bubble. This is not a temporary blip.

There are sooo many people who are writing books out there. There even more who want to write a book and believe they have a book in them. There are thousands upon thousands of unpublished manuscripts out there and even more in progress.

And it's not new. People have been writing books for years.

Blogging was a blip. Books are far more central to our culture and are far, far more glamorized than blogs. Lots of people want to grow up and be a famous author. Fewer want to be a famous blogger.

And the ease of entry into the self-publishing game is only getting smoother. Right now it's still somewhat challenging to make your book available in all channels, but those barriers are coming down. There is a massive supply of books in the pipeline.

Get used to the self-publishing boom. We're just getting started.

Art: Soap Bubbles by Jean Siméon Chardin

Monday, March 5, 2012

Last Week in Books 3/5/12

Last week! Books!

Hello from a plane leaving Las Vegas, where I had a fantastic time at the kickoff of the Bransforumfest 2012 writing retreat! Some of the great people who met in the Forums are in Vegas talking writing, drinking caffeinated beverages, occupying Starbucks, sampling some of Vegas' fine cuisine, and generally being rather awesome. I already can't wait until next year!

Meanwhile, yes, this be big book news: Apple is hosting an iPad event on Wednesday in San Francisco (disclosure: link is to CNET I work at CNET). Will the number of people with tablets continue to grow? And will they read on them or play Angry Birds?

Adding to the growing canon of "Do Authors Still Ned Publishers" posts, Alex Rider author Anthony Horowitz wrote a wide-ranging article for the Guardian. His conclusion: Yes, they do. Well, sort of.

So you want to work in the publishing publishing? Jessica Faust at BookEnds has suggestions for someone thinking of packing up and moving to NYC to pursue the publishing dream.

Over at the Dystel & Goderich blog is an awesome conversation between agent Michael Bourrett and editor Molly O'Neill. The topic: Everything you ever wanted to know about middle grade... and were willing to ask.

In life of the author news, Natalie Whipple has a really great post on the 10 things she wishes she would have done differently on her way to publication.

And in quite intriguing news that combines two of my favorite things, Downton Abbey director Brian Percival may adapt The Book Thief.

This week in the Forums: Which characters did you wish dead, RIP Jan Berenstein, do love interest characters need to be sexy, and how you deal with the am-I-crazies.

Comment! of! the! Week! There were lots of thoughtful and interesting posts on whether publishers have a perception problem, but for some counterbalance I thought I'd go with Jo Eberhardt:
Are they plagued by a public perception problem? Amongst writers, certainly. But the average non-writer (whether they read or not) has no idea who or what the "Big Six" even is, let alone how the publishing industry actually works.

The entire debate reminds me of my days at university (about a billion years ago) where I spent a lot of time with IT geeks. Oh, the heated debates about the evils of Microsoft vs the integrity of Apple and the stability and geek-chic coolness of Linux as an operating system. Start an IT geek talking about reverse engineered operating systems and you'd be treated to a veritble diatribe proclaiming the inevitable end of draconian companies in the light of open-source alternatives.

But fast-forward to today and Microsoft is still around. Why? Because all the general public wants is an inexpensive, user-friendly computer system that allows them to check Facebook and watch videos of cats.

As long as traditional publishers provide a quality product at a reasonable price, through expected distribution systems, the "public perception problem" is going to remain largely confined to writers.
And finally, you know you're sad you didn't get Bransforumfest swag:

Have a great week!

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