This Week in Books 12/17/10

by | Dec 17, 2010 | Uncategorized | 51 comments

Books……… this week!

It was another big week for e-books and e-book readers, so let’s get started. First up is my former colleague Sarah LaPolla, who wonders, are we still really worried that e-books are going to destroy the (still here) physical books and the world of books as we know it? Really? Really really?

Meanwhile, another innovation looks poised to change e-books as we know it: a color e-ink will debut at CES in January (disclosure: link is to CNET, I work at CNET). To review: e-ink looks like paper and you can read it in the sun, though color e-ink is not yet capable of rendering video, and some find the colors to be somewhat muted. But soon you won’t have to choose between color LED and grayscale e-ink. The times they are a’innovatin’.

Speaking of e-books, Mashable put together a list of five innovative children’s e-books on the iPad.

Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg may be Time’s new person of the year, but for Publishers Weekly it was B&N CEO Len Riggio. To which the LA Times’ Carolyn Kellogg said: um, why?

Speaking of social networking, How Publishing Really Works responded with quite justified irritation and umbrage at a recent interview that was dismissive of the time some agents spend blogging. This is something I will be blogging about in full force, but the idea that agents who blog are somehow less serious or less hardworking than the ones that don’t is an idea that was past its time in 2007, let alone 2010. Look around. Every company in the world, big and small, is now trying to figure out how they can utilize social media. Why not agents?

Speaking of agents (and speaking of saying “speaking of”), Mary Kole has a great post about a very common question: do agents remember past submissions?

Reports of new Red Sox star Carl Crawford starting an antiquarian bookstore turn out to have been grossly exaggerated. As you were.

Still wondering what to get that special reader on your X-mas list? Well, the New York Times has one of the most creative gift guides I’ve ever seen for readers. Let’s just hope your 2010 avoided the general economic downturn if you want one of these items. Oh, and the Rejectionist had a list of her favorite books of the year, in which she had choice words for my favorite book of the year.

And my former client Jennifer Hubbard had a truly meaningful and staggering post about the ways in which writing and life interact and inform each other, sometimes in very unpredictable ways.

This week in the Forums, which are officially one year old, Christmas party in the Forums!, how you probably don’t want to try and find an agent via Craigslist, the what book are you reading now thread also turns a year old, why we love bad writing, how do you read, and what, exactly, is dark?

And finally, I’ve long been fascinated by Hong Kong’s now-destroyed teeming slum Kowloon Walled City, which if you haven’t seen, was an illegal, anarchic, unbelievably dense city populated by over 50,000 people. Sci-fi blog io9 recently uncovered a video of what it was like walking through its dark streets, and it’s so far beyond science fiction it’s hard to believe it actually existed in real life. Check it out:

Have a great weekend!


  1. All Adither

    I always so look forward to This Week In Books. It's like my (insert insanely popular TV show here).

  2. Karli

    I can't believe that most of the book blogging community knew Redsox news before I did. I used to be such a good fan.

    I'm going to go wallow in my guilt.

  3. Matthew Rush

    I will say one thing for your new job – your blog posts go up a lot earlier in the day! Which rules, BTW.

  4. Moses Siregar III

    Yeah, I really don't agree with the criticisms of blogging agents.

  5. swampfox

    Regarding ebooks vs print books, I truly believe in the peaceful coexistence of both.

  6. The Rejectionist

    The Rejectionist has choice words for EVERYTHING, alas. Hazard of the profession.

  7. David

    Is it my imagination, or has Nathan's blogging mojo returned? It seemed to be waning during the waning days of his being an agent.

    It seems to be back for the Friday posts, at any rate.

  8. abc

    What a disturbing video. I can not imagine. I'm claustrophobic and depressed just watching it. Eek!

    I love blogging agents!

  9. Nathan Bransford


    Thanks. Being as busy as I was the last two months does not a good blogger make. Things should be back to normal soon.

  10. Josin L. McQuein

    I'm grinning like an idiot over color e-Ink. My eyes rejoice! YAY!

    And that video is amazing and disturbing. I'd heard of Kowloon before, but never seen pictures. It has to be one of the most visible "off the grid" existences ever constructed.

  11. The Red Angel

    This is a great post Nathan! Lots of good stuff here…I love that LJ post about the interactions about writing and life. Very thought-provoking and well-written. And true.


  12. Heidi

    I'm procrastinating on studying for my finals right now – German and Linguistics. When I clicked on the video and it started narrating in German, I took it as a "get back to work, slacker" sign. 😀

  13. Anonymous

    So the Rejectionist has a sense of humor about as dry as bread crumb ashes in the bottom of a burned out toaster after a kitchen fire?

    Bet he/she/it didn't note the hilarious connection in Franzen's Freedom between tomcat lothario Richard Katz and Walter Berglund's loathing of free ranging cats preying on songbirds, at least.

  14. Jennifer R. Hubbard

    I never felt short-changed in the slightest by having a blogging agent. Once agents fulfill their obligations to their clients, what they do with their time after that is their own business.

    Thanks for linking to my post.

  15. mark c

    that video was sick. in every sense of that word.

  16. Peter Dudley

    I love this feature of your blog, but to be honest it would be more useful if you did a "NEXT Week in Books." I'm sure you're working on it, and I await it with bated breath.

  17. Stephanie

    I have one thing to say to all that (althought it was all VERY informative), please, please, please DO NOT stop blogging. Not you or any other agent I follow. The blogs are so helpful, especially yours and one other agents, a Ms. Daphne Unfeasible. (She posts shoes! Te-he!)
    I don't think it discredits you. If anything, I give more credit to you that you not only take the time to do so, but that you care to do it in order to help readers and writers, and keep us in the loop with pertinent information we wouldn't otherwise have the know-how or capability of obtaining.
    So blog on!

  18. Anonymous

    I have no problem with agents who blog. The tweeters on the other hand are mostly inane.

  19. D.G. Hudson

    Sarah's post is interesting. I like her take on this same-old same-old argument. Perhaps writers just like to keep a discussion going.

    Liked the look of the color e-ink, but price is always going to be a factor in saturation of the market.

    Re – Kowloon Walled City – wouldn't want to get lost there, I'd never find my way out. Creepy place, but people on the fringes don't have a lot of choices, do they?

    Jennifer Hubbard's post is a great one to read now, when we have family obligations and writing time may be limited. We only have to justify our not writing to ourselves – our worst critic.

  20. Mira

    Try that again –

    Lots and lots of wonderful links! Thank you, Nathan!

    I haven't had a chance to read them yet, so I'll be back to comment.

    I did watch the video. That is disturbing. I think of the children that were raised in that environment without schooling and without knowing a different way of life. That type of economic exploitation just shouldn't exist.

    The world can be very harsh. Some people are dealt such difficult hands. Those of us who are much luckier need to work to change this. I think, anyway.

    Okay. Off to read the links and be back to comment.

  21. A Paperback Writer

    That video — wow.
    I'd never heard of that place before. Very, very strange.

  22. J. T. Shea

    Agents spend too much time blogging? What about writers spending too much time commenting on blogs? Oh, wait…

    So, the Rejectionist thinks FREEDOM is 'a hackneyed rewrite of MADAME BOVARY' and has thrown down the gauntlet? Choice words, indeed! In the movies, this is where you would pick up the gauntlet, slap her across the face with it, cross swords, duel all around the place, wreck all the decor and kill half the not-so-innocent bystanders, before running Rej (for short) through. But that would be trite misogyny, of course.

    Should I abandon my rewrite of MADAME BOVARY set during the 1916 Irish Revolution? I was going to call it RYAN'S DAUGHTER…

    What about MADAME BOVARY on a stinking seamship…sinking steamship? And does TITANIC sound big enough for a title?

    Sorry about the Craigslist ad, Nathan. I knew I shouldn't have post it in Orange County.

    I share your fascination with the old Kowloon Walled City, which indeed looked and sounded like something out of a dystopian fantasy.

  23. Other Lisa


    (I hope I don't need to say this again).

    As a former Film/TV industry person, I can tell you that KOWLOON: WALLED CITY is on nearly every art director's bookshelf. I bought several copies for the research department I used to run, in fact.

  24. Anonymous

    So the agent that disses blogging agents also says he doubts he'll find much of value in the slush pile.

    It seems to me that agents who blog do it for a combo of 2 reasons–to market themselves and to give something back.

    That guy is chasing the Jhumpa Lahiris. He doesn't particularly want the unknown new writer as a client. And he clearly could care less about nuturing the same.

    So he won't ever have the thrill of discovering someone amazing out of the slush, or feeling like he's given back to the writing community from whose work he makes a living. But why dis agents who find meaning in both?

  25. Anonymous

    Jackie Pullinger (the lady in the video) wrote a book called Chasing the Dragon. It's heavy on the Christianity but gives you a close up of the Walled City. It's an interesting read if you want to know more….

  26. T. Anne

    I feel more connected with blogging agents. It makes them real, exposes their human side. 😉 Have a wonderful weekend Nathan!

    BTW, that video was more than creepy. Those poor souls that live there have seared themselves into my mind. Interesting.

  27. Anonymous

    The interview and article about blogging agents never said they don't work as hard as those who don't blog. At least two agents who became extremely popular for blogging quit their jobs as literary agents after a few years. Other popular blogging agents never seem to discover the writers who go on to become extremely successful. Frequent blogging and focusing on all the writing out there on the Internet in a way that actually finds the gems may simply involve two completely different skill sets.

    Anon @8:23 AM, December 18 – If you read the original interview, you'll see that the agent in the interview is definitely taking on new writers, but is actively seeking them out on the Internet, rather than signing all his authors based on short query letters. He's even offered representation to talented authors who haven't written a novel because he believes enough in their ability to accomplish that. As a result of that method, he's sold some rather intriguing novels to publishers! Most popular blogging agents are forever preaching to writers ("Do this! Do that! Never do this … or that!"), rather than using out-of-the-box ways to seek out writers who have demonstrate creativity and talent.

  28. Anonymous

    My last sentence should have said, "who have demonstrated." Sorry about the typo.
    – Anon @1:06 PM

  29. Kristy

    Will have to check out some of those lists. I'm curious. All I know in the world of books right now is that it's not a bad time to be Franzen.

  30. Mira

    Well, I'm not ready to comment on all the links yet, but I'll weigh in on the CONTROVERSIAL HOT topic: blogging agents, because it's fun to weigh in on controversial topics.

    So, I have a few things to say, and here they are:

    a. This young agent seems like an intelligent, talented guy, but he needs to be more careful. After you are critical of your colleagues and dismissive of the slush pile, going on to say 'no offense' and 'I look at everything' won't stop your colleagues and writers from getting really pissed off. And when those colleagues blog, and have thousands of followers, well, unless you want that kind of public pressure, it's just not a good idea.

    b. There is a HUGE difference between looking for non-fiction writers and fiction writers. For non-fiction, this agent's approach is aggressive, smart and successful. But it wouldn't work for finding that elusive fiction break out. For that, you need to spread your net as far and wide as possible and go to the slush for the true talent.

    c. The business is changing drastically and any agent smart enough to use social media and market himself to writers MAY survive the loss of print publishing. Agents are quickly becoming optional, and anyone who wants to be in demand needs to market themselves.

    I think this guy is talented and smart. I wish him luck, and expect he'lll be very successful. But he really needs to be more careful. He might take a lesson from you, Nathan. You're a outstanding role model for a positive public presence.

  31. Nathan Bransford


    That's really not true. Many popular blogging agents have found and represent really great books and authors. Jane Dystel, Betsy Lerner, Kristin Nelson…. all of them represent big bestsellers. There are other blogging agents who are/were younger and starting out their careers, but it's seriously erroneous to suggest that there is some sort of separate skillset.

    And a lot of people have left publishing in the last two years for a lot of reasons.

  32. Nathan Bransford

    And by the way, Jane Dystel is Barack Obama's agent. I don't suspect he's sweating that his agent has a blog.

  33. Anonymous

    Nathan Bransford said…

    "That's really not true. Many popular blogging agents have found and represent really great books and authors. Jane Dystel, Betsy Lerner, Kristin Nelson…. all of them represent big bestsellers. There are other blogging agents who are/were younger and starting out their careers, but it's seriously erroneous to suggest that there is some sort of separate skillset.

    "And a lot of people have left publishing in the last two years for a lot of reasons."

    I followed my agent's blog for about three years and she eventually contacted me about a multi-book deal. (She also takes queries.) And, to be honest, I wasn't even reading her blog to find an agent. I just liked it and kept commenting. And I'd never even queried her. Sometimes it just works out and the timing is good.

  34. J. T. Shea

    Anonymous 1:06 pm, if you really think popular blogging agents never seem to discover the writers who go on to become extremely successful, check out Kristin Nelson's (Pub Rants) latest post, about her 2009 sales. I doubt she is alone.

    Mira, interesting points, though I don't agree we are going to lose print publishing or that agents are becoming optional. I suspect agents' future role in publishing will be even bigger than it is now.

    Nathan, James Coburn played the title role in the 1967 movie THE PRESIDENT'S ANALYST. I wonder who might play Jane Dystel in THE PRESIDENT'S AGENT?

  35. Anonymous

    Though I could be wrong, and have been in the past, I tend to think the agent in question who said he doesn't like to read queries, thinks blogging is too time consuming, and thinks social networks are a waste of time is just doing a number on the readers. In other words, he's making it all up as he goes along and doesn't fully grasp the power of social networking. Because if he did, he wouldn't have made such wide comments in public.

    The boy has a a lot to learn. Publishing is a small industry and you run into the same people all the time. And no one I know can afford to be that smug unless they just don't know any better.

    But, as I said, I could be wrong 🙂

  36. Anonymous

    For all of you criticizing the agent who simply expressed an opinion that he feels blogging can get in the way of agenting, and predicting that he'll now fail in his role as an agent because he's surely alienated so many people in the publishing world with his fairly innocuous remarks, are you even aware of some of the deals he's made? In a huge auction, he sold a fairly existential novel by a debut author to Little, Brown and Co. for a $650,000 advance and also managed to negotiate for the debut author to have his book edited by his dream editor, the person who edited INFINITE JEST. I don't think he's having much difficulty succeeding in the world of publishing. It seems to me that he would be the type of agent whose advice could be very valuable!

  37. Anonymous

    Right now, I also feel "quite justified irritation and umbrage". Over and over and over again, writers are told that it's fine for them to be criticized by agents online as long as the agent never mentions their name. Over and over and over again, writers are preached at and instructed by blogging agents, as if writers are complete and utter morons. They're told that all of this is a valuable learning tool, suck it up, stop being so thin-skinned, blah, blah, blah. But the minute an approach to agenting is mildly criticized, without any particular agent being mentioned by name, there's immediate outrage. What happened to sucking it up and using criticism as a valuable learning tool?

  38. Sheila Cull

    does anybody know, "The Simon Cowell of publishing," Alan Rinzler?

  39. Anonymous

    "In a huge auction, he sold a fairly existential novel by a debut author to Little, Brown and Co. for a $650,000 advance and also managed to negotiate for the debut author to have his book edited by his dream editor, the person who edited INFINITE JEST. I don't think he's having much difficulty succeeding in the world of publishing. It seems to me that he would be the type of agent whose advice could be very valuable!"

    So what's the point? I didn't see anyone knock him…I just saw people comment about his negative, left-handed reaction to blogging agents. Noah Lukeman blogs and he's one of the best agents in the world. Blogging for most people takes about fifteen minutes out of their day. Tweeting and FB take two or three minutes. It's not an all day event to network on the Internet and I'm quite sure agents who do blog and tweet still have plenty of time left to do all the exciting things Mr. Paris-Lamb does.

    All agents work differently and with their own set of personal rules. Which is what makes them all unique. And to knock any one agent in particular…for blogging or keeping up with social networks…shows either arrogance or inexperience.

  40. Anonymous

    Sheila, Alan Rinzler is awesome, a truly helpful and fantastic Editor!

  41. Anonymous

    I find it very interesting that here on this Blog two extremely successful people in publishing, Editor Alan Rinzler and Literary Agent Chris Parris-Lamb, are being criticized and mocked after only one interview in which Chris made some comments about how it might be more productive to spend less time online. Sounds like sour grapes and mean gossip aimed at specific, highly successful people. Ironically, it's the same kind of sour-grapes comments that writers are reprimanded by agents for making against published authors like Stephenie Meyer because, writers are told, agents and editors who liked her work knew what they were doing. The mean-spirited comments here on this Blog kind of prove the point made by Chris Parris-Lamb – perhaps it would be more productive to chat less online. There's a kind of mob mentality on a lot of writing sites that's the exact opposite of the kind of independent thinking needed to create great books.

  42. Anonymous

    Anon @10:37 AM, December 19 – I made my point right before the part you quoted. My comment was directed to people warning that Chris Parris-Lamb may have jeopardized his career by the kinds of comments he made about agents blogging. Considering the high degree of success he's having in the world of publishing, I don't think his career's in jeopardy. That's my point.

  43. Mira

    Is there something wrong with me that I find this type of internet tiff to be highly entertaining? On the other hand, it's getting rather personal, which seems unneccessary. And on the other other hand, there were a few more links, and I'd like to start addressing them. Because it's Sunday, and that's WHAT I DO.

    So, first, in terms of color I-Ink, that is just AWESOME. Isn't it amazing that we don't even know we NEED something until suddenly there is something like color E-Ink and we suddenly NEED it more than life itself? Speaking of which, I have a message to the New York Times creative gift guide person. Here is the message: ARRRGGHHH. Stop making me NEED things. OMG. Did you see the stuff on that list? Did you? Did you? I was hit by such a wave of NEED when I saw that stuff, I had to go lie down for an hour. Too bad I didn't have an I-PAD CHAIR to lie down in. Someday. I will have it.

    So, all these capitals wore me out. I'm going to take a break later when I shall have equally wise and AWESOME things to say about the other links.

  44. J. T. Shea

    Anonymous 10:16 pm, 'Fairly Existential Novels'? Sounds like an interesting new category. I must check it out.

    BTW, could all you anonymous guys and gals use your writer's imaginations to dream up names for yourselves and save us all some confusion? Unless you're all writing Fairly Existential Novels with characters called 'Anonymous 12 pm' or 'Anonymous 3:15 pm' or 'Anonymous Way Too Early In The Damned Morning'?

  45. Anonymous

    "Anonymous said…
    Anon @10:37 AM, December 19 – I made my point right before the part you quoted. My comment was directed to people warning that Chris Parris-Lamb may have jeopardized his career by the kinds of comments he made about agents blogging. Considering the high degree of success he's having in the world of publishing, I don't think his career's in jeopardy. That's my point."

    I see. Well, the good thing for him is no one really knows him very well anyway (I checked with a few people I know who know everyone…there's a reason I comment anonymously) so I guess only time will tell. And sometimes it takes an off-handed comment like he made to garner publicity he doesn't have. I wouldn't be surprised if he knew all along he'd create a minor scuffle with that interview.

  46. Anonymous

    Anon @4:17 PM, December 19 –

    Seriously, you're saying no one really knows him very well anyway? Chris Parris-Lamb is a fairly new agent, but he's been written about in numerous magazines, appeared at conferences, and negotiated some rather spectacular deals for writers. Some of his amazing deals and his determination are discussed here.

  47. Mira

    Well, all the excitement appears to have calmed down, so it's time to address the rest of these wonderful links.

    Speaking of internet tussles, is there going to be a literary showdown between the Rejectionist and Nathan? Oh boy, I hope so. And though I think the Rejectionist is very funny, obviously I'm totally on Team Nathan, which means I think Freedom is the best book of the year. I haven't read it, but the cover of that book is absolutely gorgeous, so there you go. In fact, if I ever write a book, I want that same cover. Anyway, Team Nathan all the way, and I'll bring the popcorn.

    The interactive childrens' books were AMAZING. I would have loved that when I was a kid, and I'll secretly buy them as an adult. They take pop-up books to a whole new level.

    Speaking of which, do you think there's a market for interactive adult picture books? There might be some money in that. And if anyone knows how to copyright that idea, please if there is any justice in the world, they will contact me immediately. We'll be rich beyond our wildest dreams.

    I don't know what an antiquarian bookstore is, and there was some mention of sports, so no more to say about that. In terms of Mary Cole's article, I think the odds are agents won't remember one query out of 15,000, so folks should go ahead and requery. Again, not much more to say on that one.

    So, you left out Sandra Bullock, who won People magazine's woman of the year, Nathan, but I forgive you. Especially since the 'um, why' question works there too. As for why Len Riggio is PW's person of the year, I think it's their way of saying "Please stay in business, Len Riggio."

    Which leads me to my next thorny topic, which is to address Sarah LaPolla's thoughtful post, and JT's comment to me, that print publishing will survive. I'm sorry. I just can't see how printers will stay in business once the bookstores go under. But maybe I'm wrong. My being wrong is not an uncommon occurence.

    I thought Jennifer's post was beautifully written.

    Okay then, a new exiting week to come. Yay! Hope everyone had a great weekend! Thanks for the wonderful links, Nathan!

  48. Anonymous

    Would you want that agent as your agent? Yes, surely.

    Were his comments a bit snarky? Absolutely–he said once you sign with a blogging agent wouldn't you prefer they were "working" instead of being on line.

    Boy has tude, will probably take him far, but he was definitely disses his colleagues who blog.

  49. Barbara's Spot on the Blog

    Thanks for the mention of Kowloon – on China's mainland (although Kowloon is considered part of Hong Kong island). I'll have to read more about this wall.

    When in China many years ago we were boarding a boat for a river cruise. It was to be a cruise and a meal … until I saw them dippling the dishes of the previous group's meal in the dirty Li river… no soap required.

    I'm sure it's different now–at least I hope it is 🙂

  50. Anonymous

    Anon @6:44 AM on December 20 said, "Would you want that agent as your agent? Yes, surely."

    Me, too! I think any writer who wants to succeed in writing, rather than spending most of their time chatting online and becoming BFFs with chatty agents would want to be represented by him. He values good literature, is capable of speaking out about flaws in the publishing industry, and he's proven that he can negotiate spectacular deals for debut authors!

  51. J. T. Shea

    'We'll be rich beyond our wildest dreams.' Careful, Mira, I've got some pretty wild dreams!

    I commented in more detail about print books on Sarah LaPolla's blog.

    'My being wrong is not an uncommon occurrence.' I, on the other hand, am never wrong. I'm infallible. True as my name is Benedict the 16th. Oh, wait…

    The anonymous bashers of blogging agents would impress me more if:-
    1 They weren't anonymous.
    2 They weren't commenting on an ex-agent's blog when they should be writing their damn books!


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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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