Nathan Bransford, Author

Friday, April 26, 2013

This Week in Books 4/26/13

Photo by me. I'm on Instagram!
This week in the books!

Thank you so much to everyone who participated in the #ThankAWriter project! Maggie Mason posted a recap, including how her first letter to Thomas Lynch resulted in an amazing gift from the author, some of the excerpts from the letters, and the winner of the first six books in the Penguin Dropcap series. It's never too late to participate if you haven't gotten around to writing your letters.

Meanwhile a very busy couple of weeks for me as I spent some of last week in San Francisco for work, but I was able to snag a few links from the last couple weeks for your enjoyment:

Reader Greg Peisert took the data from my post yesterday about how e-book sales are still on the rise and added very helpful linear and logarithmic trend lines to see where we might be headed. Chances are somewhere between these two lines:

Very cool!

Adam Johnson, who won the Pulitzer Prize in fiction for The Orphan Master's Son. Talk about living the dream for an author.

Other winners:

Drama: Disgraced by Ayad Akhtar
History: Embers of War: The Fall of an Empire and the Making of America’s Vietnam by Fredrik Logevall
Biography: The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo by Tom Reiss
Poetry: Stag’s Leap by Sharon Olds
General Nonfiction: Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America by Gilbert King

Congrats to all the winners!

Author David Gaughran wrote a provocative post about distribution service Argo Nevis, which many top literary agents offer their clients as a self-publishing option. Does it provide a good deal for authors? Gaughran concludes no. The comments section is very interesting, and I left my thoughts there as well.

Lots of writers belong to writing groups. But how many people have to cross a military checkpoint to visit theirs? Reader Nora Lester Murad shared a really great video of her writer's group in Ramallah, Palestine.

Chuck Sambuchino has a great round of advice from agents about what not to do at the beginning of your novel.

Actor Jason Segal landed a book deal for a middle grade series.

GalleyCat rounded up some writing advice for aspiring children's book authors.

And Maggie has an awesome roundup of homemade gift ideas for Mother's Day.

Meanwhile, don't forget about the Forums! If you ever want to ask me a question, connect with writers, or spill what's on your mind, that's the place to do it.

And finally, with the playoffs upon us, I couldn't get enough of Shaq's NBA bloopers of the year:

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

No, E-book Sales Are Not Declining

An idea has taken root in the bookosphere that e-book sales have peaked as the people who want e-books buy e-books and the people who want print continue to buy print. This may be spurred along by a January article by Nicholas Carr arguing that the e-book bubble has burst.

This is not remotely the case. E-book sales aren't declining. E-book sales percentage growth is declining. These are two very, very different things.

The 6.2% rise in book sales in 2012 were propelled to an increase by e-book sales, and in fact, e-book sales for children's books more than doubled. E-book sales were up 41% in 2012. This is less in percentage terms than the exponential 100%+ growth that was seen in previous years, but it still represents a significant rise in sales.

What is misleading about fixating on percentage growth is that it's looking at a market that started at zero five years ago.

Take these stats from the AAP:

E-book sales increase 41% in 2012
E-book sales increase 117% in 2011
E-book sales increase 164% in 2010

Seems like things are really slowing down right?

Let's look at those numbers again in real terms:

E-book sales in 2012: $1.3 billion (+$330.1 million)
E-book sales in 2011: $969.9 million (+$528.6 million)
E-book sales in 2010: $441.3 million (+$274.4 million)
E-book sales in 2009: $166.9 million

Yes, 2011 was a huge increase. But growth in 2012 (41%) was still greater than in 2010, when it represented a 164% increase.

Here's what that looks like in chart form:

That doesn't look like a decline to me.

UPDATE: As David Gaughran notes in the comments, the AAP's stats don't count self-published e-books, which could account for as many as 25% of all e-book sales.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

In Order to Write, Writers Have to Live

When you're in the throes of writing a novel, it's tempting to block life out. It's time-consuming, you're often lost in your own head, and you're trying to live out your dream. But it doesn't work to withdraw from life.

As part of Camp NaNoWriMo I wrote a guest post about the importance of living to the writer. Not least of which because you need to learn from real life, but also because you have to keep cultivating the relationships that give life meaning.

The Value of Life Experience

Art: Luncheon of the Boating Party by Pierre-Auguste Renoir

Monday, April 22, 2013

Estrangement in the Social Media Era

Social media is built around maintaining your relationships. Facebook Timeline was introduced to help you remember your past.

But what happens when relationships fall apart and when there are parts of your past you'd rather not remember? Social media can thrust painful memories on you, often when you least expect it.

I was recently interviewed by the BBC Radio 4's show "Digital Human" about my experience with divorce in the Internet era, along with Becca Bland, who is estranged from her parents.

This is the first time I've given an interview about my divorce, and although it was a bit nervewracking to talk about my personal life, I'm really proud to have been a part of this show. It's a thoughtful examination of an area of modern digital life that is new and challenging but not without hope.

You can stream the show directly from the BBC's site or download it for free from iTunes.

My post from last year on divorce in the Internet era is here.

Art: Portrait of Ambroise Vollard by Paul Cézanne

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Who Owns E-book Rights From Old Publishing Contracts?

Old publishing contracts are usually silent on electronic rights and e-books, which of course may not have been invented when the contract was signed.

So. Does this mean that those rights belong to the original publisher, who can be presumed to have all book rights even if the specific technology wasn't invented yet? Or does it belong to the author, because there is a reserved rights clause that states that all rights not belonging to the publisher (including, presumably, those that have not been invented) belong to the author?

There is a somewhat under-the-radar legal battle going on right now between HarperCollins and Open Road over the e-book rights to Jean Craighead George's Julie of the Wolves that should have significant implications for this landscape moving forward.

The suit hinges over what exactly it means to publishing something "in book form."

There are tons of old publishing contracts out there, and many of them are for books that continue to sell to this day. Whether the original publisher or the author/author's estate has the right to these e-book rights will have a massive impact on the future of the business.

For authors, it can be far more lucrative to sell those rights directly to another publisher or e-publisher than to simply receive an e-book royalty from the original publisher. Meanwhile, publishers have countless backlist titles that could be threatened depending on the specific wording of very very old publishing contracts.

Stay tuned.

Art: Fencing-match by Charles Jean Robineau

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

#ThankAWriter Letter 5: Judy Blume

Maggie Mason and I are writing thank you notes to our five favorite authors in the #ThankAWriter project. This is letter #5. Please join us! See this post to find out how to create a Go Mighty profile and see all the other inspiring lettersEvery one you write and post about on Go Mighty enters you to win the first six books in the Penguin Drop Caps series.

Judy Blume needs no introduction. If you read her books, chances are she changed your life.

Dear Ms. Blume,

You may be known most for your young adult novels, and I loved those too, but the ones that truly had an effect on me were "Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing" and the Fudge series. You taught me that kids books can be funny.

More than that, you brought such an undercurrent of substance, even amid the humor, and it is that combination that influenced me the most when I started writing books on my own.

Now, it is such a pleasure to follow you on Twitter, and I admire you always being current and in the now.

You are a treasure - thank you so much for your work.

Nathan Bransford

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Scott Turow and the (Supposed) Decline of the American Author

In case you missed it last week, Authors Guild President Scott Turow took to the New York Times to shake his fist at the wind, lamenting "the slow death of the American author," which he attributed to, well, pretty much everything.

Techdirt published a very lengthy takedown that is worth reading in full (via agent Ted Weinstein), as did David Gaughran and Barry Eisler.

The article spares no bugaboo, but I want to focus briefly on some of Turow's points:

The Supreme Court devalued copyright by allowing the sale of cheap imported books

As Turow notes, used print book sales have always existed. It hasn't stopped the book business yet, and cheap used books are readily available for every book you could possibly want to buy.

How economically feasible is it to round up used books overseas and ship them across the ocean to dump them on the US market and hope to turn a profit? Is this really a significant problem?

Publishers aren't paying high enough e-book royalties

I actually agree with Turow on this one to a certain extent. Yes, publishers save some money without the infrastructure of print copies, but paper and shipping don't cost that much. The other costs that go into making a book, such as advances, editing, design, infrastructure, etc., still exist in an e-book world.

I don't like the 25% net industry standard royalty for e-book editions. Still, let's take a book where the hardcover is $25.00, the e-book starts at $12.99, the trade paperback is $14.99, and the mass market is $7.99. Here's how the royalties shake out:

Hardcover royalty (typically 10-15% retail): $2.50
E-book (typically 25% on publisher's share of 70% of list price): $2.27
Trade paperback (typically 7.5% retail): $1.12
Mass market (typically 8% retail): $0.63

So for a new e-book, the royalty is somewhere in between a hardcover and a trade paperback. Yes, the e-book royalty decreases with the price, but still. It's not ideal, but is that truly horrible?

Turow: "A search for “Scott Turow free e-books” brought up 10 pirate sites out of the first 10 results on Yahoo, 8 of 8 on Bing and 6 of 10 on Google, with paid ads decorating the margins of all three pages."

This sounds menacing, but as Techdirt pointed out, Turow's bigger problem may be that absolutely no one is actually searching for "Scott Turow free e-books."

Yes, e-book piracy is a problem, or at least a potential problem. But, as always, the music industry's experience is instructive. As iTunes, Pandora and Spotify have allowed consumers to consume music easily and legally: sales are on the rise and piracy is on the wane.

The solution to this is precisely what Turow would probably cite as a "problem:" Cheap e-books and e-book lending programs to discourage piracy. Such as...

Turow argues that libraries lending e-books is a potential danger

Some economic model absolutely needs to be worked out so that libraries won't simply function as a free end-around for traditional e-book sales, downloaded by users who don't even step foot in a library. And that seems to be happening.

Better yet, if publishers are really worried about lack of monetization for lending programs, why don't they start the Spotify of books?

Turow says the decreasing number of publishers in Russia means that "few Russians, let alone Westerners, can name a contemporary Russian author whose work regularly affects the national conversation."

I read a profile of Russian crime novelist and political opposition leader Boris Akunin in The New Yorker just last summer.

Zooming out a bit, I don't mean to be a pollyanna about the dangers facing authors and traditional publishers. We are absolutely in a time of transition, and there will be winners and losers.

My disappointment in the Op-Ed and Turow's seemingly rote hyperbolic response to everything Amazon does is that it fails to provide any realistic solutions to any of these supposed problems, let alone position the Author's Guild to be an advocate for authors in the new world of publishing that we are all living in, whether we want it or not.

The Author's Guild has a Back in Print program that aims to help authors get their print books back for sale with online booksellers. Where is the e-book program? Where are the social media and self-publishing tutorials and programs to help authors make a transition from a world where the midlist is disappearing to one where authors can still find their readers in new ways? (These all may exist - I couldn't find them on the Authors Guild site).

Better yet, why can't the Authors Guild use its clout to proactively work out deals with Amazon and other online booksellers to get better revenue splits for members who self-publish than they can achieve on their own?

The thing is, change is coming. I commend the Authors Guild for advocating for authors' rights, but not every single technological development and act by Amazon is necessarily a bad thing.

Instead of trying to fight the wind, the Authors Guild would serve authors better by building some windmills.

Art: Hl. Hieronymus als Kardinal by El Greco

Monday, April 15, 2013

The Last Few Week in Books 4/15/13

Photo by me. Instagram!
Lots of links!

But first, in case you missed it last week the Louisville Cardinals won the National Championship, which means Susanne7799 was the winner of the 5th Annual Blog Bracket Challenge! By a wide margin, actually. It also means Ted Cross finished in second place for the third consecutive year. Amazing! Ted is officially the Buffalo Bills of the tournament challenge. Susanne, please contact me for your prize, and Ted, contact me as well I'm sure we can think of something to celebrate three years winning silver.

Thanks to BookCourt for hosting me yesterday, and in case you missed that one I have one more upcoming event this Saturday at noon at Books of Wonder in Manhattan. Come on by!

There were two fabulous and thought-provoking articles recently about feminism and young adult fiction that I highly recommend checking out. The first was by Rachel Lieberman, in which she discusses how to develop a good feminist narrative without making it preachy or propaganda. And my good friend Sarah McCarry, aka The Rejectionist, had a tour de force essay in The Rumpus about the implications of reader reactions to Lorraine Scheidt's Uses for Boys.

Authors' Guild president and bestselling author Scott Turow took to the New York Times to blame cheap foreign editions, copyright law, low e-book royalties, search engines, e-book piracy, professors, libraries, the potential of used e-book sales, Amazon, and devaluation of copyright for "the slow death of the American author." I kind of died a slow death while reading that Op-Ed, and plan to devote a full post to it tomorrow.

So, we all know that Fifty Shades of Grey made massive amounts of money. But just how much? Enough to prop up the entire multinational company above Random House.

Why exactly did Amazon acquire Goodreads? I say to eliminate a potential competitor. Jordan Weissman says because Goodreads has remarkable insight into hardcore book buyers. Ezra Klein wonders if it's to hasten social reading.

Agent Rachelle Gardner spotted a great quote about what happens when sales guys run companies instead of product people, and extrapolates to a publishing industry that too often is driven by what sales people think will sell instead of editorial teams.

Reddit's co-founder took to Reddit to ask about which book promotion activities worked. GalleyCat rounded up some of the best suggestions.

Night Shade Books has been on the rocks lately, and is trying to sell to two companies, in a deal many agents and authors have criticized. Agent Andrew Zack sharply criticized the initial deal, which was later improved, Zack and others were more satisfied with that one. If you can trace through all the back and forth it's actually a very good primer on publishing terms and contracts.

In other publishing news, Penguin will sell e-books to libraries again, the Guardian has a solid post on 10 ways self-publishing has changed the books world, and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos reminds shareholders: authors are our customers too.

And Richard Nash has written an article about the business of literature that several people have sent me that is apparently very good but I haven't had a chance to read yet. I will soon! Busy week!

Comment! of! the! past! few! weeks! goes to Michael Offutt, who has an interesting response to the post about whether we'll all be publishers in the future:

Maybe what's needed is a revamp of the traditional publishing model with regard to bookstores. Allow me to explain: 
Best Buy just partnered with Samsung following Apple's model of featuring tech giants having their own stores within a retail space and then having those specialists who work for the parent corporation on site to assist in picking out products. 
Why couldn't Barnes and Noble or another kind of brick and mortar store do the same thing? 
Why couldn't you have retail space divided up among traditional publishers like Random House and Knopf with specialty spaces and employees that work those spaces there to talk about their books?

And finally, if we needed any further proof that success and popularity in the future will be increasingly (if not infinitely) democratized, the NY Times has a really interesting profile of YouTube star Jenna Marbles, who has now racked a billion (yes a billion) views.

Have a great week!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

#ThankAWriter Letter 4: Ann Jonas

Maggie Mason and I are writing thank you notes to our five favorite authors in the #ThankAWriter project. This is letter #4. Please join us! See this post to find out how to create a Go Mighty profile and see all the other inspiring lettersEvery one you write and post about on Go Mighty enters you to win the first six books in the Penguin Drop Caps series.

My fourth letter in the #ThankAWriter project is to Ann Jonas, who wrote and illustrated the first book I remember loving. Round Trip is a picture book that is read straight through, and when you turn the book upside down the illustrations become something entirely different for the trip home. Completely amazing, and it kicked off my lifelong love of books.

Dear Ms. Jonas,

"Round Trip" was the first book I ever remembered being read to me by my parents, and to say that it blew my freaking mind is an understatement. I begged them to read "Round Trip Jonas" (as I called it) nearly every night, and it helped kick off a livelong love of books that culminated in me writing them myself.

Thank you for dreaming up such an incredibly inventive concept and for showing me the worlds that could be revealed through books. "Round Trip" sent me on a happy journey I am still glad to be traveling.

Nathan Bransford

Monday, April 8, 2013

In the Future, Will Everyone Be a Publisher?

A few weeks back, publishing consultant Mike Shatzkin had an interesting post on the fragmentation, or as he calls it, "atomization" of the publishing industry as the act of publishing grows increasing dispersed.
Without the requirement of an organization to reach the public through bookstores and without the requirements of capital or knowledge to create printed books, any organization that is routinely reaching people interested in a common topic — whether or not they are creating content around that topic now, but especially if they do — will find it constructive to publish, and well within their reach and means to do so. 
That is: publishing will become a function of many entities, not a capability reserved to a few insiders who can call themselves an industry...  
This is the atomization of publishing, the dispersal of publishing decisions and the origination of published material from far and wide. In a pretty short time, we will see an industry with a completely different profile than it has had for the past couple of hundred years.
He goes on to say that while the package of services that publishers provide to authors will still have appeal, he's not sure whether those services will be enough to constitute an industry that looks like the one we know.

For now, publishers can still rely on those services and their print distribution to attract authors. In the future, they won't have that. And as those services become the central differentiator, you have to wonder if the adversarial approach publishers occasionally take with authors (slow payments, lack of transparency) will give way to a true service-oriented approach.

When everyone can be a publisher, traditional publishers will have to compete on their service.

Art: Caxton Showing the First Specimen of His Printing to King Edward IV at the Almonry, Westminster by Daniel Maclise

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Upcoming Event Happenings!

New York area people or those who are willing to travel great distances!

I will soon be having two events to support the publication of Jacob Wonderbar and the Interstellar Time Warp and the paperback publication of Jacob Wonderbar for President of the Universe!

First up: BookCourt, in scenic Cobble Hill, which is now my home neighborhood! I'll be reading on Sunday, April 14th at 4pm, and if you mention friend-of-the-blog status there may be an after-reading party at a place as yet to be determined in the Cobble Hill vicinity.

Add this bad boy to your calendar:

Join the Facebook Event

Then! On Saturday, April 20th at 12pm at Books of Wonder in Manhattan, I will be participating in a fantastic day of middle grade wondrousness with Charles Vess, Kevin Sylvester, George O'Connor, Lisa Greenwald, Princess Sophie Mamikonian, Rachel Wise, Peter Lerangis and possibly other people! You don't know.

(Facebook Event to come!)

Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

#ThankAWriter Letter 3: Vikram Seth

Maggie Mason and I are writing thank you notes to our five favorite authors in the #ThankAWriter project. This is letter #3. Please join us! See this post to find out how to create a Go Mighty profile and see all the other inspiring letters.

Important update to the #ThankAWriter project! Now, not only do you have the chance to give thanks to some of your favorite authors, every one you write an post about on Go Mighty enters you to win the first six books in their Penguin Drop Caps series.

My third letter in the #ThankAWriter is to Vikram Seth, author of A Suitable Boy and The Golden Gate, who I took a class from in college.

Dear Vikram,

When I was a senior in college at Stanford I took a small class from you, where you introduced me to The Wife of Martin Guerre and we discussed creativity. I'm not sure if you would remember this conversation, but one day I went to talk to you during office hours and I told you that I thought I wanted to go work in publishing. You looked at me with a slightly horrified expression and said, "Why would you want to do that?!" and then told me that if I could depend at all on some further charity from my parents I should go instead write my first novel because you believed in my writing.

I didn't listen to you. At least not at first. I did go work in publishing and ended up becoming a literary agent. I moved to San Francisco, where I was charmed by The Golden Gate and I was thrilled to be working with talented writers.

But your horrified expression stuck with me. I did go and write a novel. That one didn't work out, and then I really depended on that expression when I wrote my next novel. That one did work out and became the Jacob Wonderbar series for children.

Having the belief of someone as accomplished as you meant such a huge amount to me. Not only did I appreciate that class and not only do I admire your work, I can't thank you enough for that conversation and for the expression on your face.


Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Hands-free Books Are Coming

Credit: Google/Screenshot by me
My friend and colleague Sharon Vaknin recently received word that she is one of the lucky winners of the Google Glass Explorers program, and will soon be able to test out this futuristic device called Google Glass for herself.

What is Google Glass? It's part screen, part camera, part enhanced reality, part translater, part voice assistant, part whatever in the heck we're going to dream up for it to do next. This video shows some of the possibilities. It's not hard to imagine a world where we soon won't have to remember each other's names because our Google Glass will tell us based on facial recognition.

Sharon and I got to chatting about our Google Glass future, and something dawned on me: Hands-free books are coming. The screen will be in front of our eyes. We'll blink to or wave our hands or just think about the page turning or it will just know somehow and it will turn.

And let me tell you this: I, for one, welcome our coming hands-free-books overlords.

Yes yes, the turning of the pages. Yes, the tactile experience of holding something in your hands as you're reading.

Me? I'll be sprawled out on a hammock or easily riding a subway or sweeping my floors or tripping over the sidewalks trying to read and walk down the street. Who knows! I just know I'll be able to read more if I don't have to have something in my hands to do it.

I haven't had a chance to try Google Glass, and from the video it looked like the screen was a bit small for long-form reading. I haven't seen books as a part of its future concepts. This is still in firmly in the hypothetical phase.

But some form of ever-present hands-free screen is coming. It's going to change our lives. And it's just a few steps away from books being beamed directly to our brains.

Count me in. What about you?

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