This Week in Books 12/10/10

by | Dec 10, 2010 | Uncategorized | 38 comments

This week in the Books

This should really be titled This Week in the E-books because there was some pretty significant e-book developments this week. The biggie is that after much anticipation, Google launched its e-bookstore this week in a format that can be read on pretty much any browser or device other than the Kindle. Since indie booksellers can utilize the format to sell to consumers, they cheered the news. The eBookstore is being billed as a more open format, but Farhad Manjoo of Slate disagrees with that assessment, noting that Google’s format still employs DRM and doesn’t truly offer more reading options than Amazon.

And speaking of Amazon, as Google was announcing its foray into e-bookselling, they announced a Kindle web app that will allow readers to read their Kindle books in any browser (disclosure: link is to CNET, I work at CNET).

In print book news….. yeah. Borders lost $74.4 million in the 3rd Quarter.

I love books and I love San Francisco, and I don’t know if I’ve seen a better journalistic take on San Francisco and books than Gregory Dicum’s exhaustive and accurate survey of the lively SF literary scene. Whether you’re planning a visit or live in the city, definitely check it out.

Books about writing have a long and storied history, and Slate had a fascinating survey of one of the first popular ones: a 1895 Victorian-era guide called How to Write Fiction. Even more interesting, it was written by a 26-year-old with no previous publications other than a self-published poetry chapbook.

There will soon be an onslaught of end-of-the-year best of lists, but all will be hard-pressed to top Flavorwire’s survey of the Year in Disturbing Celebrity Book Deals. Oh my.

This week in the Forums, your catch phrases, creating an agent search spreadsheet, sharing your editing tricks, getting through the middle, and a really great question, can you enjoy the book when you can’t stand the author?

Comment! of! the! Week! goes to Chuck H, for a hilarious riposte to my post about the importance of exercise:

I’m a grumpy old man. The most exercise I get is rolling out of bed and snagging a cup of coffee. Would more exercise improve my creativity? Probably, but why take the chance?

And finally, John Ochwat passed along an entertaining explanation of one of the mystery of the ages: how the New York Times Bestseller list is created.

Have a great weekend!


  1. RobynBradley

    One of the flagship radio stations out here in Boston used to sound the "cowbell" to get the weekend started…and I kinda feel that way about your "This week in books" posts. Thank you for sharing the great reads I missed, such as the "How to Write Like a Victorian" link from Slate. Happy weekend to you and all of your readers! 🙂

  2. Rick Daley

    Cue the onslaught of publishing-is-broken-because-Christine-O'Donnel-can-get-a-contract-and-I-can't comments in 3…2…

  3. Anonymous

    I stopped buying books based on NYT list a couple years ago . . . it's a publishing marketing tool, nothing more.

  4. Bryan Russell (Ink)

    Okay, now I want to visit San Francisco more than ever. And just wander around bookstores for, like, a month.

  5. Doug Pardee

    Not only did Borders lose almost $75 million in the third quarter, that loss took them across the border into the land of negative shareholder equity. The company's liabilities now exceed its physical assets.

    Despite that, this week there was the silly notion that Borders would borrow almost $1 billion in order to buy Barnes & Noble, producing a combined company with a massive negative equity, drowning in debt, and with no cash flow to service that debt—both Borders and B&N are currently showing negative cash flows (EBIT). Why anyone thought that the proposed 100%-leveraged purchase was a good idea, I don't know.

  6. Susan Kaye Quinn

    I loved the video, although I'm not sure I understand the process for NYT bestseller much better now. Although I was surprised that no one seems to know if Amazon counts. Really? When they sell crazy amounts of books?

    Sometimes it's better to have the illusion than to know how the sausage is made. 🙂

  7. Sommer Leigh

    I'm sad to hear about Borders right now. I actually love the Borders near my house with an excellent staff of booksellers who remember me and often recommend things to me based on books they've sold me in the past.

    The only indie store that hasn't closed down in my town caters mostly to older buyers. In fact, they keep their small selection of YA books near the cash register so they can keep an eye on their teenage readers and escort them out as soon as they've made a purchase. Teenage loitering is not permitted. It is this practice that soured me to them, so if I don't buy online I buy from Borders.

  8. J. T. Shea

    So, Farhad Manjoo thinks the US Department of Agriculture's MANUAL OF THE GRASSES OF THE UNITED STATES will be of little interest? Just wait for the graphic novel and the movie!

    STALLONE (gravelly voice):- 'Get ready, you guys! I'm going to mow you down by the millions! None shall escape! But if any do, there's always the herbicide! Die, grasses, die!'

    Congratulations, Chuck H. but you're still a veritable hive of activity. Rolling out of bed for coffee? Chancy! Get a coffee machine with a timer next to the bed, within easy arm's reach.

  9. D.G. Hudson

    As for the SF literary scene, I don't understand why The City Lights Bookstore isn't featured. We've made trips to SF specifically to visit the store that fostered such authors as Kerouac, and was run by Ferlinghetti. I think Gregory Dicum's post is incomplete since I saw no mention of this bookstore. (perhaps he's just covering the Mission district?? the latest trendy?) Hmmm.

    Loved Flavorwire's survey of the Year in Disturbing Celebrity Book Deals. So, so true. Most thinking people could care less about celebrities and their tales.

    Sorry, but I got bored before the explanation of the NY Times bestseller lists video was done.

    Interesting info about the Kindle App – will we hear more about this in your posts, Nathan?

    Hope everyone has a great weekend.

  10. T. Anne

    I'm going to check out the google bookstore. Thanx for the links! Have a great weekend Nathan!

  11. Matthew Rush

    I'd read that Mike the Situation Book. I would like to learn how to creep on girls …

    … wait. What does that even mean?

  12. Doug Pardee

    Re Borders: John Thompson, author of Merchants of Culture, said in an interview with The Brooklyn Rail, "the whole [publishing] industry depends on those big retail chains pushing all that content out there in the marketplace. That’s where 95 percent of the revenue is coming from. … If Borders closes it will be catastrophic for the publishing houses because Borders owes them so much money and they would have to return all the stock and so forth."

  13. Chris Phillips

    The NYT video was great. Good stuff to know.

  14. Matthew Rush

    My god that article about the SF lit scene! I've been to San Francisco several times … but I had no idea.

  15. Jennifer R. Hubbard

    An indie owner told me they don't want Borders to go under, because then all that stock would flood the market at discount prices.

    Also this week, Amazon's offer of yet another thing for authors to check obsessively. Aka, the ability to see 4 weeks' worth of their Bookscan numbers and a year's worth of their Amazon rankings for free.

  16. Bryan Russell (Ink)

    @D.G. Hudson,

    Did you click through all the pages on the San Fran article? He does talk about stopping at City Lights and notes the history Ginsberg, Kerouac and Ferlinghetti (along with some of the other book areas in the city outside The Mission)

  17. Mira

    Well, sadly I'm not going to riff anymore on your decision to go to M,W,F posting……Although I could keep going forever, since there is no logical end point to that type of thing, it's occured to me that you seem to need time and space to recuperate, Nathan.

    Well, I'VE BEEN THERE. Just last June, after my horrendous year of school/work was over, I could barely even talk to people for months. So, I respect that you'll be back when you're ready.

    In the meantime, lots of good links, thank you! I thought the Disturbing Celebrity book deals was funny, especially when the author pointed out that usually you have to be able to read a book to write one. That's a terrible thing to say! But funny.

    I really enjoy Jackson Pearce's videos, she's fun to watch. And I did not know that the NY Times List was basically a marketing strategy. That sort of sucks, actually – false advertising and manipulative, really. Right? That's right, right?

    Other good stuff, yay! I'll be back after I've read them.


  18. hannah

    No mention of the Bookscan thing, Nathan? It's all I've been hearing about lately…I'd love to know your thoughts.

  19. Nathan Bransford


    Didn't see that until after press time. Interesting that authors will now have access to that information. One more thing to obsess over, yes, but there hasn't been a way to easily get that information before, and since it can affect whether a publisher offers on a future book, better to know than not know. I think it's a good thing.

  20. Karen Peterson

    Hi, Nathan. Any thoughts on the possibility of a Borders/B&N merger?

  21. hannah


    Same. I'm confused, honestly, by all the panic about it. We're already neurotic, you know? The information is out there, and it involves me, so I want to know about it. Information is power.

  22. D.G. Hudson

    @Bryan (INK): No I didn't, I read what I thought was most of it, and left the article, thinking (wrongly) that City Lights had been forgotten. (My impatience gets me in trouble sometimes. . .)

    I did check online to see if City Lights was still in operation and it is. I bought early copies of Ginsberg, and Kerouac in that store, and other hard to find books. That was before they named the alley after Kerouac.

    Thanks for setting me straight, INK. I better add more patience to my list of things I need to improve in 2011 – eh?

  23. Anonymous

    Yeah, who wants to read about Susan Boyle, a phenomenon, or Christine O'Donnell, a pioneer in American politics? They might even wind up getting the Nobel Peace prize this year, heaven forbid.

  24. Sean Patrick Reardon

    Great info. Really liked the ebook pricing and ebook review links as well.

  25. taratyler

    Hey! I already have an agent spreadsheet – I like to keep track of my rejections.

  26. ICQB

    The NYT video was interesting. Also, maybe a little interesting about Amazon rankings, I have a short Christmas story for sale as an ebook on Amazon. Last month, selling an average of only 2 books per day, it ranked consistantly in the top 10 bestselling children's Christmas ebooks on Amazon. So who can tell what rankings really mean?

  27. Chuck H.

    Thanks for the nod, Mr. Bransford. And, as always, thanks for the links. I'll get to them eventually.

    @J. T. Shea. I've flirted with the idea of just having an IV with a timer hooked up to me while I sleep but I'm not sure that would be comfortable enough to allow me to get my usual 10-12 hours of beauty rest.

    Have a great weekend everybody.

  28. J. T. Shea

    Matthew, I think creeping on girls is like walking all over them, but more quietly.

    I found the Flavorwire 'one paragraph per page' article much more irritating than the celebrity book deals. In fact, I'm sorry to hear one of the celebrities, Paul The Psychic Octopus, didn't live long enough to write his book. He had his own built-in ink and all!

    Mira, I bet we could buy Borders for fifty cents now. I'll search my pockets later.

    Chuck H., great minds think alike. My next WIP already has a scene where a guy has an IV caffeine system in bed, to wake him up and give him enough energy to make coffee!

  29. Mira

    J.T., We can't buy Borders, we don't have fifty cents. I've got all our liquid assets ($42.50) on hold, waiting for Barnes and Noble to get back to us. They sure are taking their time, but I assume they're just playing hard to get.

    So, I've had a chance to read the rest of the links, and I'm back! Yay!

    So, about the e-book thing – so, if I understand correctly you no longer need either an e-reader or a smartphone to read e-books? You can read them on any computer with either a Google or Amazon app?

    So basically, everyone can read e-books now?


    So, this whole thing is about to go alot faster than I anticipated. I give it a year or two at the most. Boy, Nathan, you ARE SMART.

    So, I'm going to move on, because the whole transition to e-book thing is intense.

    The link to the first writing how-to book was wonderful. It's great. I loved this quote especially:

    "Appalling. As if there were not enough novels already. … [Now] we are to have our young maidens trained to the business, and let loose upon the world, in batches, every year to pursue their devastating calling"

    Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha. Oh my goodness. Well, at least times have changed, and now people welcome new writers, who are busy downloading their works to Kindle, with open arms! Welcome, writers, welcome!

    I thought Chuck's comment was funny.

    Okay, I'm done. Another exciting week to come. What will happen next????

    Hope everyone is having a nice weekend, and has a great Monday!

  30. Anonymous

    "So, about the e-book thing – so, if I understand correctly you no longer need either an e-reader or a smartphone to read e-books? You can read them on any computer with either a Google or Amazon app?

    "So basically, everyone can read e-books now?"

    Mira…this isn't something new. I've been reading e-books on my computer now for years…long before e-readers became so popular.

    But now I'm wondering if other people think they can only read e-books on e-readers. Wow…never thought about this. I just thought everyone with a computer knew they could download books from places like fictionwise right to their computer.

  31. Mira

    Anon – no, I had no idea!

    And I've been following the e-book thing. Granted, I'm not that tech savvy, but I would bet lots of folks think as I did…..

  32. Sheila Cull

    Thank you, again, for the juicy information.

  33. Anonymous

    "Anon – no, I had no idea!

    "And I've been following the e-book thing. Granted, I'm not that tech savvy, but I would bet lots of folks think as I did….."

    Mira…you sparked something very interesting. I'm starting to think a lot of people don't know they can read e-books on their computers. Thanks for commenting. It's one of the best comments I've read on a thread all year. And I think it's important for authors to get this info out to readers.

  34. Mira

    Wow Anon. What a nice compliment. I'm beaming. I'm really glad my comment was helpful to you.

    Thanks. 🙂

  35. J. T. Shea

    Mira, if Borders do try to take over B & N they could both go bust, and we could buy them both and have some of the $42.50 left over for the New Year sales! Two for the price one!

    And I second Anonymous 8:18 am's congratulations to you. The only reason anything is ever obvious to anyone is because someone had the guts to admit they didn't know everything, and asked the obvious question. Tech-savvy people are not always good at explaining their tech, as anyone who's ever tried to read a manual for a computer or computer-related gadget can confirm.


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Hi, I’m Nathan. I’m the author of How to Write a Novel and the Jacob Wonderbar series, which was published by Penguin. I used to be a literary agent at Curtis Brown Ltd. and I’m dedicated to helping authors chase their dreams. Let me help you with your book!

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