Nathan Bransford, Author

Friday, March 29, 2013

Amazon Acquired Goodreads

In case you missed it yesterday, Amazon acquired Goodreads, the popular book social networking site with over 16 million users (disclosure: link is to CNET, I work there. All opinions expressed here are my own).

When the news broke, quite a few people on Twitter remarked at how much it made sense. And it does: The number one e-bookseller just acquired the number one book social networking site.

But what does this mean for the future?

Amazon acquisitions seem to fall into two broad categories. There are some companies that Amazon buys but then pretty much leaves as-is (IMDB, Shelfari), and there are others that they then integrate closely into their main platform (CreateSpace, Zappos). Which type will Goodreads be?

At first glance, an Amazon/Goodreads partnership opens up some exciting possibilities. Amazon could draw upon your relationships on Goodreads to surface your friend's notes, reviews and progress within an e-book. You could update Goodreads and leave reviews from directly within the Kindle and Kindle apps. Goodreads hinted at this in their announcement about the acquisition.

For the first time ever, books could be truly social.

Amazon could also surface Goodreads reviews on Amazon and add to one of their key value points, and fulfill e-books directly from Goodreads.

But I think the most important element for Amazon was simply to stave off a potential competitor by buying it. Goodreads has the size and critical mass of users to be a viable e-book vendor of its own, one that perhaps could have taken a chunk of Amazon's share. By simply acquiring it and leaving it as is, Amazon has already enhanced its competitive position.

In its announcement and in a subsequent interview, Goodreads pledged to stay an independent entity and for now even retain buy links to other vendors. For readers and users of Goodreads, I can't imagine that Amazon will destroy a still-growing site with such a passionate fan base.

And for publishers... well, it comes on the heels of Bookish going live, and clearly the social element of book reading is still a nut they're waiting to crack.

One thing's for certain: Amazon just got stronger.

What do you make of this acquisition?

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Why the Internet Gave the Bullied Bus Monitor $700,000

Over at Slate, Seth Stevenson revisited last year's viral event of do-gooderism, where an elderly bus monitor was videotaped being bullied on a school bus by some twelve-year-olds being particularly nasty twelve-year-olds.

Hundreds of people, spurred on initially by Reddit, donated to give this woman money for a vacation. But then it just kept going and going. The donations ended up north of $700,000.

Which is great. But of all the people out there who need and deserve money, why $700,000 for this one woman? As Stevenson points out, what about rape victims? Isn't $700,000 for this bus monitor a little overkill?

Stevenson talked with experts on crowd behavior, and they pointed out the extent to which we're drawn to simplicity and concreteness when banding together to take action:
Reicher attributes the giving frenzy, in part, to concretization. “For an abstract idea to affect us,” he says, “it often helps if it’s turned into something concrete and embodied. To say lots of people are suffering is an abstract concept. To see this one woman suffering, and be able to help her, is more concrete.”
This concretization also works in reverse, where people who do stupid, simple wrongs can suffer abuse far disproportionate to their initial errors. A woman who posted a picture flipping off a sign calling for peace and quiet at Arlington Cemetery was the subject of online harassment and ended up losing her job, and I'm sure we all remember the author who shot her mouth off at an online reviewer and was then the subject of an Internet witch hunt.

Unfortunately, as soon as facts get complicated we start disagreeing and it becomes more difficult to channel our collective effort. We should be punishing the architects of the financial crisis and the efforts to mislead the public to war, where the stakes are far greater for us as a society and the misdeeds far worse, but those events are complex and it's difficult to agree upon them. Somehow those misdeeds go unpunished even as we heap our collective rage on people who do one small, stupid thing. 

For better or worse, we're drawn to simplicity even as we have a thirst for collective do-gooderism, and it's heartwarming to let one woman serve as the vessel of our goodwill. I hope it won't stop us from channeling our energy to punish graver mistakes and reward greater successes, even if the facts are more complicated.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

#ThankAWriter Letter 2: Bill Watterson

Maggie Mason and I are writing thank you notes to our five favorite authors in the #ThankAWriter project. This is letter #2. Please join us! See this post to find out how to create a Go Mighty profile and see all the other inspiring letters.

I don't know if there's anyone who inspired me to write children's books more than Calvin & Hobbes author Bill Watterson. I'm hardly alone in my admiration for him, but what's especially amazing to me  is the extent to which I enjoy Calvin & Hobbes comics just as much now as I did when I was a kid.

Here's my thank you note:

Dear Mr. Watterson,

You, perhaps more than any other person, inspired me to write books for children. And most importantly, you taught me that it is important to trust in the intelligence of children. You never dumbed anything down, you always trusted the reader, and the result is that I enjoy "Calvin & Hobbes" just as much at age 32 as I did at age 12.

Your work is a tremendous inspiration and I can't count the number of times I've read the complete series. You also knew how to make an exit so I'll leave this here: THANK YOU.

Nathan Bransford

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Words Have the Power We Give Them

It's interesting to think about what words really are. They're air passing through vocal chords. They're pixels on a page. They're a collection of sounds and shapes that we have collectively decided have meaning. And we bestow certain words with tremendous power.

In the comments of my post about the reaction to The Onion and the Twitterverse finding enemies, we got to talking about the power of words, who can say them, and how much intent matters when they're said.

Why, exactly, do certain words carry so much power? I don't mean that in terms of history, which I understand, or why people take offense to the most hateful words, which I also understand. People are right to be offended by them.

I'm talking about, at a basic level, how did we all collectively arrive at deciding that these words or any words have totemic power?

The reason we decide on certain words to channel such power, I think, is that some words are vessels for very real and complex power disparities that exist in the real world. All of the real hate, sexism, and racism in the world are bestowed upon a few words that can stand in for forces much greater than the syllables themselves, to the point that if you say them out loud you are summoning those powers and placing yourself in league with them.

It's still kind of a strange thing though, when you stop and think about it. Imagine a perfectly non-racist or non-sexist performance artist stepping onto a New York subway and shouting certain words to no one in particular, with no intention other than to say them. Why, exactly, should that person be beat up? What if that person doesn't even understand English or the what the words mean?  (Note: I am not suggesting anyone does this).

When you say certain words in the wrong context or with ill intent, you are summoning an invisible army behind you. You are assuming the mantle of the power of hate, which usually goes unspoken. You are aligning yourself with an ideology people are trying to stamp out. Use them and they may well try to stamp you out. They may be sounds and letters, but we've decided they should mean much more than that.

In some sense words really are magic spells. Say the right syllables and you assume tremendous power. But that too is an illusion, because the words themselves don't actually make you stronger.

There's real power in the world, there is real racism and sexism and oppression. People have suffered from these abuses.

The words themselves, though, are a string of sounds and some scratches on a page. They only have the power that we have collectively decided they should possess.

Art: A vanitas still life with a candle, an inkwell, a quill pen, a skull and books by Michael Conrad Hirt

Monday, March 25, 2013

RIP Google Reader, Long Live Feedly

Google, how could you?!

Yes, it is true. Google is getting rid of Google Reader (link is to CNET, I work there), the much-beloved site that kept us abreast of each other's blogs since 2005. Google Reader is shutting down July 1st.

If you read this blog via Google Reader, you will need to find an alternate feed reader before then. I aim to help!

Here are some worthy alternatives to Google Reader. I'm going to focus on Feedly because it is an incredibly easy way to port over your Google Reader experience, which I feel like has a few drawbacks but quite a few advantages over Reader.

Importing your feeds is easy. Just go to Feedly and add the web app to your browser (Chrome or Firefox only right now):

Then Connect to Google Reader, input your Google login and accept the permission:

And voila! Click on the "All" tab and you already have a pretty comparable experience to Google Reader. 

Or you can use their "Today" view, which gives you a more magazine-y look:

The wide-open format of the open articles took a little getting used to, but I appreciate that the keyboard shortcuts are the same as Google Reader and I really love the "history" tab. I always hated in Google Reader how when I accidentally refreshed a page the article got marked as read and I had to go hunting for it. 

You can also connect your Twitter account to see which articles your friends are sharing, and easily share things to social media or via e-mail.

The mobile app looks great, though there again the gestures took some getting used to. There's no column summary view, so instead you navigate your unread articles by swiping up. Sometimes you see an article display full screen:

Sometimes you get summaries:

You swipe up to get to the next article(s), swiping right to left gives you a selection of articles from around the Internet, and left to right gives you different views and your feed categories.

Here are some more tips on how to get the most out of Feedly.

I'm still very sad to be losing Google Reader, which I appreciated for its bare-bones interface and the fact that it was integrated with Google. Alas, alas.

Have contemplated life beyond Google Reader? Do you have a favorite RSS reader?

Friday, March 22, 2013

The Last Few Weeks in Books 3/21/13

Springtime in Brooklyn
First up: In case you missed it on Wednesday, Maggie Mason and I are kicking off a project where we're writing thank you notes to our favorite writers. Join us in the #ThankAWriter project! Details are here.

Meanwhile: Lots and lots of links, so let's do this quick hit style:

Chinua Achebe, author of Things Fall Apart, has passed away.

Smashwords maven Mark Coker has six tips for reading the tea leaves and figuring out the right remedy when your e-book sales are languishing.

I have competition! Yes, I'm not the only one working on a guide to writing (more info about my project here). Fifty Shades of Grey author E.L. James will soon release In The Fifty Shades of Grey: Inner Goddess (A Journal), which will include writing tips.

An author submitted her unfinished novel to some contests and then noticed similarities in a later published work. She sued. She lost. (The lesson always: Execution is more important than your ideas)

The story of the first novel written on a word processor is fascinating.

I am interviewed by Jeff Rivera (thanks, Jeff!)

Random House digital imprint Hydra was the subject of quite a bit of criticism due to its onerous contract. They eventually caved.

In the wake of Amazon and Apple trying to patent plans to sell used digital content, the New York Times took a look at the history of used books and how "first sale" rules were established.

David Pogue thought a lot about used e-books and arrived at the same place I did: Concerned about whether anyone would ever want to buy a new copy.

David Haglund would like people to stop hating on acknowledgements.

Matthew MacNish asks how you know when you're ready to start telling your story.

My former colleague Tracy Marchini has advice for people thinking of writing a picture book.

A rather awesome 11-year-old took to Kickstarter to raise money for a book project.

Agent Rachelle Gardner looks at the reasons an agent might give up on a project.

The past few week in the Forums: a place to spread the word about your public events, how accurate do you need to be about ancient cultures?, talking third person omniscient, when to use stars and when to use white space, and an oldie but goodie: How many characters do you have?

And finally, a little blast from the past for your Friday. Remember the Secret City drawing show??

Have a great weekend!

Photo by me. I'm on Instagram here.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The #ThankAWriter Project

None of us would be who we are today without the influence of the books we've read throughout our lives. And for those of us who are writers, books have shaped us so much we have chosen to write them ourselves and hopefully leave behind works that resonate with a new generation of readers.

As a way of giving thanks, I'm going to hand write thank you notes to five authors for the impact they've had on my life.

I'm so excited to kick off the #ThankAWriter project with my good friend Maggie Mason, who blogs at Mighty Girl, and is one of the cofounders of Go Mighty, a site built around making a list of your life goals, finding people who can help you achieve them, and sharing your stories as you complete them. My profile is here.

One item on my life list is to give thanks to my favorite authors. So once a week over the next five weeks, Maggie and I are going to hand write thank you notes and then mail or deliver them and post our stories about it. 

Please join us in this project! It's super easy and will be very rewarding. Maggie and I will also be linking to some of our favorites.

Here's all you have to do:

1) Create a profile on Go Mighty

2) Create a life list goal of thanking authors (Here's mine)

3) Every time you write a thank you note, post a photo or the text as a story on GoMighty with a #ThankAWriter tag. Like this one. You can see all the goals and letters here.

That's it!

My first thank you note will come as no surprise to long time readers. Here's my note to Ian McEwan:

Dear Mr. McEwan,

I'm sending you this letter of thanks for being one of the writers who has inspired me and truly changed my life.

To say that I admire your work is an understatement. I believe you to be one of the best, if not the best living writers in the world and I think you're up there with the greats of all time. As a novelist myself I know how difficult it can be to stand back for a moment and see anything but how one could have been still better, but I hope you appreciate what a great accomplishment your novels represent.

When I read AtonementEnduring LoveSaturday, etc., I was an assistant at a literary agency with no idea I'd go on to become a novelist of my own. From you I've learned that one can be literary while maintaining a grasp of the plot, and the importance of complex relationships as a way of learning about characters.

Above all, you've taught me humility. Because I'll never be as good as you.

Thank you for your work, it has impacted me tremendously.

Nathan Bransford

Monday, March 18, 2013

5th Annual Blog Bracket Challenge!

It's NCAA tournament time and we're back with the 5th Annual Blog Bracket Challenge!

Who is the greatest literary bracket prognosticator of them all?

Whichever of you knows least about basketball. Or the most. Or somewhere in between. THESE THINGS ARE TRICKY.

In order to enter, all you have to do is pick winners in a tournament field of 68 teams. You will do well with science or the complete lack thereof. You might have a vaunted "color of uniforms" system, or a "anything but Duke" approach. Whatever your secret is, it will probably be better than mine.

Here we go, this is fun!

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 AND THE INTERSTELLAR TIME WARP!! (or other suitable agreed-upon prize)

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 from last year 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).

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

Good luck!!

Photo: Dr. James Naismith, the inventor of basketball.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

What Are the Best Resources for Self-Publishers?

So. I'm embarking on a project to self-publish a Guide to Writing a Novel.

What are the best resources for self-publishers? What are your favorite blogs, message boards, and books?

Art: The bookbinder by Anonymous

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Finding Calmness in an Age of Distraction

There is a lot to love about the time we live in.

We're more connected to each other than ever. We can be more productive. We can do more with less time. We very often take it for granted.

I remember when my parents had to sit down once a month to "do the bills," which meant spending an entire night writing checks, balancing accounts, licking envelopes, and driving to the post office the next day.

Now, I write precisely one check a month and it's to my landlord, and in fact, it's one of the few times a month I write anything by hand. There are few bills I don't pay automatically, and it's easy to manage things online.

I remember phone chains where people scheduled events and spread the word about changes in meeting times by going down a list and calling people one by one. I remember how precarious it could be to meet someone when they could have an unexpected delay and had no way of letting you know. I remember how I sometimes didn't know baseball scores for two days because the games ended too late to be printed in the next morning's newspaper.

And I'm only 32!

At the same time, as the Arcade Fire memorably put it, We Used to Wait. We used to have to be patient. We didn't have to unplug because the default state was unplugged.

The consequences of this constant bombardment is well-documented, whether it's car accidents caused by texting or an inability to sleep because of blue light from the laptops we tote to bed or chronic short attention spans.

For me personally, I find the consequences most acute when it comes to brainstorming new creative ideas and especially when I try to making decisions.

Creative thinking requires a calmness and a blocking out of distractions in order to let ideas come to you. Decision making requires you to truly be in touch with how you feel and to stop and listen to yourself. They require concentration, which can be in short supply.

It's not at all easy for me to find calm moments when inspiration can strike, so I try to block off one day on the weekend for a trip to the park or a walk through a museum or both. Even then it's hard not to peek at my phone, but the fresh air of the park, the sunshine, the quiet... it's vital. I don't always make it, but I do my best to carve out small spaces for myself when I let myself be still.

As we do more and more sometimes it can be productive do less.

How do you carve out calm moments in a distracted world?

Art: Pastoral Landscape by Alvan Fisher

Monday, March 11, 2013

Writing Guide Update

Thanks so much to everyone for the great response on my guide to writing a novel! I'm so excited to be doing this in Internet era. I mean, instant feedback on what to include and I'm not even done writing it yet.

There were some really awesome ideas and some questions as well. A few answers:
  • This guide is just going to be focused on how to write a novel. Just the writing part of the novel, uh, part. So there won't be anything about query letters or marketing or promotion or anything like that. Assuming this all goes well, however, I could definitely see making those separate projects.
  • A few people asked why I decided to self-publish instead of pursuing traditional publication. To be honest, I never even really considered traditional publication for this. I'm extremely curious about the self-publishing world and thought this would be a great way to experiment with it. My publisher and agent know it's in the works so I didn't shock them with my post, but even if a publisher made me an offer I wouldn't take it (except maybe if the offer was solely for print rights). This is going to be fun. 
  • I don't envision this as just a beginner's guide to writing a novel. I'm really hopeful that even people who have written novels before will enjoy reading it and get something out of it.
  • Other than that, you basically know what I know. Which is very little! I'm so excited to embark on this process and have already started putting out feelers for editors.
Most of all, THANK YOU for the terrific ideas. So exciting. Here's a rundown of the suggestions that people made.

These topics are already in the guide:
  • Revisions
  • Point of view and narrative distance
  • Character development
  • Voice
  • Dialogue
  • Crafting a good opening
  • Choosing what to write about
  • Planner/panster approaches
  • How to find and work with a critique partner
  • How to know when it’s done
  • Conflict
  • Outlining vs. freestyling
  • Writing through the middle when the honeymoon of brand-new-shiny-idea is over
  • Setting
  • Transitions and chapter breaks
  • Structure
  • Likeability
These are ones I'm thinking of adding:
  • How to focus (Nora Murad)
  • Writing description (Judith Rivard)
  • Research (Rick Daley)
  • How to take a vague idea and build around it (Sara)
  • How to get unstuck creatively (Sarah)
  • Humor (Kourtnie McKenzie)
  • Weaving in backstory (David Kazzie)
  • When to break up with a novel (thewriteedge)
And there were also some great suggestions about the nuts-and-bolts of the publishing process, but as mentioned those will be for later projects.

This is already fun. Thanks again, everyone!

Art: Still Life With Books by L. Block

Thursday, March 7, 2013

New Project: A Guide to Writing a Novel!

Now that the Jacob Wonderbar series is wrapped up, I'm very pleased to let you know what I'm doing next: A guide to writing a novel, which I'm planning to self-publish!

I'm incredibly excited to learn more about the self-publishing world, a wondrous land that I currently understand more in theory than in practice. It's going to be an exciting experiment, and one I can't wait to learn from.

And I hope to include you all every step of the way. The reason I'm announcing this now is that I'm planning to open things up and blog about every step of the process, from finding people to edit and copyedit it, to designing the cover, to getting it up for sale, to setting the price, to all the stuff I don't even know about right now but I'm sure will encounter along the way. Are there self-publishing goblins? If you self-publish in the Amazon does it make a sound?

I will soon find out. And then, by the time it's all finished and out there we'll have a virtual guide to self-publishing a book too.

The guide is about 90% written, and is a mix of material drawn from the blog but rewritten and polished with a fine glossy shine plus original material. You may have noticed that I have been light on the writing advice on the blog lately, and that is because I have been channeling my energy into the guide.

Also: I need your help! If there's anything I've learned in the course of writing this blog it's that the commenters are far smarter and experienced than I am, and I'm really looking forward to drawing upon your expertise as I figure out how in the heck one self-publishes a book.

First up in this collaborative experience: Are there any novel-writing topics you would like me to tackle in the guide? If I incorporate your ideas into the guide I will be sure and give you a shout out in the acknowledgements.

Here we go!

Art: Stepan Razin by Boris Kustodiyev {{PD-1923}}

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

When the Twitterverse Finds Enemies

As I'm sure you heard, during the Oscars the humor site The Onion tweeted an extremely unfortunate joke attempt about nine-year-old Oscar nominee Quvenzhan√© Wallis.

The outcry on Twitter started off merely aghast. Then, as can happen when people collectively find something to be outraged about, the anger cascaded and multiplied. People called The Onion out, called for resignations and firings, called for heads, and often in language as offensive as the language people ostensibly found objectionable.

On a night where my Twitter feed had started with people being complete jerks to Anne Hathaway for no apparent reason, all the negative energy swirling around Twitter suddenly found an even easier target.

I'm not defending The Onion's tweet by any means. It wasn't a good joke and they rightly apologized for it.

But it's kind of amazing to me how the Twitterverse can be correct about something but manage to take its self-righteous outrage so far it somehow starts feeling wrong.

It starts feeling like a witch hunt. In a medium that by its nature is effectively devoid of nuance to start with, whatever balance is possible is completely lost. And good luck to anyone who tries to stand in front of the herd and appeal for reason.

It reminded me of a similar feeling after Hurricane Sandy, when Mayor Bloomberg had decided the marathon should proceed. The Twitteverse reacted with complete and hysterical outrage.

Before the marathon was eventually canceled, the runners themselves were called out for their decision to run, nevermind that many had spent the entire year raising money for charity, some had been volunteering to the relief effort leading up to the race, and whether the marathon would go forward or not was outside of their control.

A lot of people on Twitter had tons of ideas about what the runners should be doing with their time, apparently missing the irony that they were doing so while staring at their screens and not really doing anything to help. And if you lived here and tried to volunteer, you may have been turned away as I was because there were already more volunteers than were needed.

A lot of the vitriol was channeled when the New York Post spotted some generators used to power the marathon press tent while some of the city was still blacked out. In classic Twitter fashion people were outraged about it, while missing the nuance that those generators could not have been used to power anyone's home or apartment because of technical limitations, and in the end weren't used at all.

Meanwhile, that same Sunday the New York Giants football game was allowed to proceed in hard-hit New Jersey with nary a complaint on Twitter, despite all of the emergency personnel and food needed for such a huge event. And after the Oscars, I couldn't help but wish that people felt 1/1000th the amount of outrage about 8,000 people in Haiti dying due to alleged U.N. negligence that they did about one stupid tweet.

I initially scoffed when Malcolm Gladwell wrote an article asserting that the revolution will not be tweeted, but I now wonder if he's more correct than I gave him credit for. He argued that the weak ties between people in the social media sphere don't readily lend themselves to actual concrete activism.

I still think Gladwell underestimates social media (it's basic human communication after all). But it does seem to me like it gives people the illusion of action without being actual action. It doesn't readily lend itself to compassion for the people the Twitterverse decides has erred.

Woe betide someone who crosses Twitter, but woe betide us if we don't take a step back from an instantaneous medium devoid of nuance and stop and think. Chances are there's something out there more important to be outraged about and something far more productive we can do to channel our anger.

Art: The Deluge by Francis Danby

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

You Don't Need to Register Copyright for Unpublished Work

Over at Writer Beware, some important information about the various reasons why it's unnecessary to register copyright in a novel prior to publication:

Well, for one thing, you're fully protected by copyright law from the moment you fix your work in tangible form (write down the words). In countries that have an official copyright registration process--and many don't--registration provides no additional copyright protection. 
It does confer various legal benefits. Where available, official registration provides prima facie evidence of copyright ownership that can be used in court. In the US only, registration is a pre-requisite for filing a copyright infringement lawsuit. 
However, you are not in danger of copyright infringement at the submission stage. Many authors have an unreasonable fear of theft by agents and publishers--but good agents and publishers won't risk their reputations this way, and in any case it's easier just to work with you than go to all the trouble of stealing your work and pretending it belongs to someone else. As for bad agents and publishers...they aren't interested in your work at all, only in your money.

Check out the whole post.

Art: The Illustrated Newspaper by Platt Powell Ryder

Monday, March 4, 2013

What Role Should Libraries Have in an Electronic World?

Children's book author Terry Deary stirred up some controversy last month when he said libraries have "had their day" but no longer make sense in today's world. He cites the lack of compensation for authors and damage to bookstores, who have to compete with an institution giving away the book for free:
"People have to make the choice to buy books. People will happily buy a cinema ticket to see Roald Dahl's Matilda, and expect to get the book for free. It doesn't make sense."
Deary may have staked out a particularly anti-library position, but he's hardly the only person within the publishing industry who is grappling with the role of libraries in publishing economics in an electronic world. Penguin was among other publishers who pulled their e-books from libraries before restoring them with a new program.

There's no doubt that libraries have played an important role in society in democratizing access to information and reading, and fostering a love of reading in children. Libraries are also an important source of sales for small presses in particular. They do buy books, and they can be a significant customer for publishers.

At the same time, libraries also foster an expectation that books should be available for free and can potentially undercut an author's sales. They're absolutely indispensable and important for people who can't afford to buy books, but I have to admit that I cringe a bit when well-off people borrow from the library instead of buying the book. Here in the US those print circulations don't result in extra income for the author, though there are some different approaches when it comes to e-lending.

More broadly, as we move to to a world of near-universal Internet access and with it an unprecedented amount of information online for free, are libraries as crucial as they used to be? What role should they play in an electronic era? Should they continue to lend free e-books to customers and what should the economic balance there be?

Art: In der Bibliothek by Maurice Leloir

Friday, March 1, 2013

The Last Few Weeks in Books 3/1/13

Lots of good links from the last few weeks, let's get to it!

It's been tough sledding for Barnes & Noble lately. On the heels of announcing earlier in the year that they plan to shutter one third of their stores (link is to CNET, I work there), they had an earnings call this week in which they revealed that their Nook business is struggling, with losses at $190.4 million. Publisher/editor Peter Osnos notes that B&N has not benefitted greatly from the Borders bankruptcy and wonders if the large chain bookstore is endangered (something I blogged about two years ago), though it should be noted that the stores themselves are still profitable.

The last of the publishers sued by the Department of Justice for conspiring to raise e-books has settled. In a letter to authors, Macmillan CEO John Sargent said "Our company is not large enough to risk a worst case judgment."Apple has not yet settled.

Meanwhile, publishing consultant Mike Shatzkin has an interesting look at some possible directions for the future of e-bookselling, which could get more atomized and dispersed across the Internet rather than concentrated solely with the large online vendors.

In book news, happy book birthday to friend o' the blog Shawn Odyssey, Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson have been cast in the film adaptation of The Book Thief, and I gave my shortest interview ever to Ted Fox.

Two of the world's smallest publishers announced a groundbreaking merger (via The Rejectionist).

Some authors are buying their way onto bestseller lists.

Working with publishers can occasionally be quite frustrating, as one author and independent bookstore recently discovered. When the bookstore wanted to order 450 copies the publisher refused to give them more than 200 (Why? Because they don't do things that way), so the bookstore ended up going to Target to get the books instead.

There really is no such thing as a typical writing path. Malcolm Gladwell has a great post on just how diverse paths to literary success really are.

In writing advice news, Donna Thorland has advice on book trailers, Natalie Whipple has a great post on some of the different things to consider when building a setting.

A blogger plans to review every bestselling book of the year for the past hundred years.

Atari's co-founder has launched a new venture that hopes to make the self-publishing process much easier by giving authors the ability to contract out different parts of the process in exchange for flat rates or royalties.

A designer re-imagined classic albums as book covers (via Simon the Boy).

The Forums!! I have been receiving lots and lots of writing and publishing questions lately, and time constraints prevent me from answering them all. To save time and to hopefully benefit more people, I answer publicly in the Forums, where I am happy to answer any publishing question I can right here. You can also review previous questions.

And finally, a photographer put together a truly incredible and dare I say moving Tumblr of Calvin and Hobbes photoshopped into real landscapes (via Martha Mihalick), but after it went viral it was shut down because of copyright claims. Alas alas.

Have a great weekend!

Photo by me

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