This Week in Books 2/4/11

by | Feb 4, 2011 | This Week in Books | 22 comments

Whew! What a week! Paragraphs were read. Winners were crowned. Tiredness was reached.

But I still have a few links for you.

First up, I’m going to start with the sad stuff as there’s not one but two bankruptcies in the news. First is Borders, which is the subject of numerous rumors that it could declare bankruptcy as soon as next week, which could result in the closure of at least 150 of its 650+ stores. And Canada’s largest distributor, H.B. Fenn and Co. has declared bankruptcy, catching the Canadian publishing industry off guard.

Meanwhile, there is actually a looming potential crisis in the e-book world as well. In a not-enough-noticed move, Apple disallowed a Sony e-reader App on the iPad for reasons that could have some larger repercussions. Basically, if an app-maker sell e-books outside of the app store, a little known Apple contract clause states that they have to afford users the ability to buy those e-books within the app as well (which, of course, Apple gets a 30% split on). What does this mean? Well, it potentially means a major showdown with Amazon, whose Kindle app skirts this clause by selling e-books exclusively outside of the Kindle app. Amazon faces a tough choice between allowing sales through its Kindle app and splitting the revenue with Apple or foregoing Apple’s devices entirely. Slate’s Farhad Manjoo has an essential summary of what this all means.

In possible larger-than-all-that news, The Rejectionist has quit her day job and is embarking on new adventures in writing! She commemorated it with a post that is one of the greatest odes to New York I have yet read. Very awesome.

And speaking of awesome, thank you thank you again to everyone who entered and participated in the First Paragraph Challenge! In case you wanted further insight into what does and doesn’t make a good first paragraph, reader Elena Solodow also read all 1500+ paragraphs and has some terrific insight into some of the common pratfalls that fell some of the entries.

If you’re curious about what life as an editor is like (particularly editing prior to the current publishing crunch), Tom Dupree has a really terrific first person account of life working at Bantam in the 1990s. Great paragraph:

For the editor, there are two immensely joyous days in the life of any book. First is the day you call the author or agent and tell them they have a deal. (Or, after an auction, they call you.) Second is the day you get the first carton from the bindery, crack it open, and hold the finished book in your hands for the first time. I have known editors to cry at this second point. Heck, I’ve done it. But in between those two landmarks is the potential — not the certainty, but the serious possibility – of unholy hell.

Well worth a read.

Some serious Nathan Bransford bait: two location in Portland are going to be hosting a 24-hour straight readthrough of MOBY-DICK. (via Bookslut)

And the great Bryan Rusell has an incredible and true post about how originality can kind of be like cover songs: Taking something old and making it new again in genius fashion.

This week in the Forums, debating the semi-autobiographical novel, sharing your one-line pitch, wondering if writers should be reviewers, and of course, Super Bowl!!!

Comment! of! the! Week! Let’s give it up again for Tamar Ossowski, aka Anonymous, our contest winner:

I was born during an electrical storm. They told me when Matilda saw me for the first time the lights flickered, and in that moment of blackness, my sister leaned over and whispered, “I missed you.” Like I had just returned from a trip.

And finally, if you haven’t already, please visit and enter the for the chance to win a $5,000 volunteer vacation!! My voluntourism trip changed my life, and it can change yours too (also: I’m in the video!):

Have a great weekend!


  1. Laura Campbell

    I think a 24-hour read through of Moby Dick sounds like fun. I've never participated in anything like it before. I might join from afar. Enjoy the weekend!

  2. v.n.rieker

    I take my hat off for Borders.

    And the winner has a name! Congrats, Tamar. =D

  3. L.G.Smith

    Ha! I love it. Even your Peruvian hat is orange in the video.

    Happy Friday.

  4. Jenny

    Congrats to Tamar! (I'm glad we know you're name now.)

    That is some bad publishing news. I feel for the families and workers who are affected/potentially affected, in both Borders and HB Fenn–and somehow all this snow makes it worse.

    In the other big news: the whole app debacle is a fascinating thing to watch. The negotiations, the undercutting…it's like Trump's The Apprentice: Bookselling. It'll be interesting to see how these huge companies negotiate the new publishing/bookselling waters.

  5. Jennifer R. Hubbard

    *sigh* What would a week in publishing be without a looming crisis or two? That's the way we roll. Livin' on the edge!

    Yet there's something heartening in the idea that people are still reading Moby-Dick–and making an event out of it.

    And congrats to Tamar, who now has a name!

  6. Elena Solodow

    Thanks for the shout-out, Nathan. Much appreciated!

  7. Stasia

    Thanks for the link to the Rejectionist. So glad I read that post and admire her courage. Congrats also to Tamar–I'd definitely keep reading!

  8. Sarah Allen

    Ooh, the Moby Dick read through sounds amazing! I'm moving to Oregon this summer, and Oregonians doing nerdily awesome stuff like this make me even more excited. Thanks as always for the awesome updates 🙂

    Sarah Allen
    (my creative writing blog)

  9. Mr. D

    Very sorry to hear the news about Borders. Makes you kind of wonder, who or what's next.

  10. J. T. Shea

    Apple vs Amazon! In 3-D and Dynamation! Think what Ray Harryhausen could do with it. A huge female warrior battling a giant fruit! Or just two lumbering dinosaurs?

    Congrats to Tamar Ossowski, whose first paragraph does indeed merit repeating. NOW who says you can't start a book with the weather?

    And I hope the Portlanders have a whale of a time!

  11. M Pax

    Congrats Tamar!

    Wow, will wait to see how the dust settles with Amazon vs. Apple.

    The readathon sounds fun.

  12. Kristin Laughtin

    Oh dear, I can imagine how tempting the MOBY DICK read-through would be for you, after your many mentions of it in the past.

    Congrats again to Tamar and also to Elena for being spot-on in her analysis.

  13. J. T. Shea

    Nathan, if you classify The Rejectionist's post as an 'Ode' to New York I wouldn't like to read your idea of a tirade!

    I totally disagree with Elena Sodolow's advice. I'm sorely tempted to rewrite my first paragraph to incorporate ALL the things she condemns. Particularly bodily functions. Like farts.

    Commenter Stephanie M. Loree always starts her novels with farts, an example we should admire and follow. And, as a reader, I'm eagerly awaiting the PLANETARY farts we can all enjoy in May.

  14. Martinelli Gold

    While reading this entry I looked up and said to my sister, "Oh my gosh, Borders declared bankruptcy."

    "Whoa, how'd that happen?"

    "I know what you're thinking, and no, Barnes and Noble does not own Borders."

    "Oh," she says. "So that's why."

  15. Anne R. Allen

    Congrats on hitting 5000 followers, Nathan!

    And congrats again to Tamar Ossowski for that great paragraph!

  16. Mira

    Wow, 5000?!! Congratulations, Nathan. I think you may have found a niche in this social media thing.

    Congratulations to Tamar, as well. That was a wonderful paragraph.

    I'm sorry to hear that you are tired, Nathan, I know I shouldn't, you can take care of yourself, but I always worry about you. Please make sure you get some rest! We don't want you to burn out or get grumpy. We want you happy.

    So, I'm also sorry to hear about Borders – I have very fond feelings for that bookstore. I'm sorry, too, for all the people affected by all of these changes. That's very difficult.

    I am also (less, but still) sorry for myself, in that if I lose my Kindle on my I-phone, I have no idea how I will read anything ever!! Must these power games affect me personally? I don't mind if they want to do their little power maneuvers, just keep me out of it. Sigh.

    That said, I'm on team Amazon, in that Amazon is wonderful and empowering for the author. I hope they figure out a good counter-move against those Apple bullies.

    I want to wish the Rejectionist good luck! What a courageous move! Good for her. And maybe now she'll tell us her name! Which doesn't really matter, I'm just nosy.

    I enjoyed Dupree's article, and I thought both Bryan and Elena has good stuff to say.

    I haven't read Moby Dick yet. Is it a good book? Just wondering.

    I loved the video. I couldn't tell who was you, Nathan, until I noticed that one guy had a little orange spot, right on the top of his hat. Guess what? That was you!!! You were chopping away, doing good work, it was awesome.

    Thanks for all the links and for the contest this week – this blog is so fun! 🙂

  17. Nathan Bransford

    Thank you! And thanks everyone for befriending the blog, I really appreciate it.

  18. Chuck H.

    Congrats to Tamar!!

    I'm standing on the sidelines looking at all the troubles in publishing and thinking, "Maybe I should just do this writing thing for fun."

    And now how does that go? "Call me Ishmael. . . "

  19. D.G. Hudson

    I agree – it's a sad day when another brick crumbles in the publishing industry. When bookstores close, distributors go under, and unemployment follows for the support industries.

    Whether the effect is caused by bad decisions to publish (vacant celebrity books, copycat trend books, promoted best-sellers that don't pan out, etc)– this will affect writers by narrowing the funnel that writers must navigate to get published — the traditional way. Is that hill we must climb getting steeper?

    Great post by INK (Bryan)about the cover songs/story idea. Sage advice. Inspiration can come from anywhere, but make it your own.

    Writers can be inspired by the work of another, but has the issue of intellectual property rights (i.e., the original idea) become a legal entity that can be protected? I'd have to research that, I know. Will do – when & if I have the time. I'd rather be writing.

    Thanks for the links, Nathan.

  20. narminella from Azerbaijan

    I wonder, why there is so many novels in the recent years? Most of them are from young authors. Why do young writers tend to novel, but not to poem or short story or other literary forms? Novel is something related with individualism. Do you think behind this quantity of novel-writing process there is any philosophical or sociological objective reason?
    For example, in Turkey, in Azerbaijan, in Russia in 2010 there was published too many novels, never before there was such a current of novelists. I wonder is there same process in Western countries?

  21. Anonymous

    "An article on Tuesday about Apple’s tightening of its control of the App Store misstated part of its policy. While the company is requiring e-book purchases within apps to go through its payment system, customers can still use apps to access e-books and other content they bought elsewhere. It is not the case that access to that content will be cut off."

    Emergency over. Apple didn't change any policy and Amazon's Kindle App requires no change.

    Please continue with your regular broadcast, already in progress.

  22. Anonymous

    Sorry, I forgot: thank you very much for answer in advance, Nathan.

    A journalist from Azerbaijan:-)


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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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