This Week in Books 3/25/11

by | Mar 26, 2011 | Uncategorized | 32 comments

This week! Books! On Saturday!

Huge news this week, as a federal judge rejected the Google Book Settlement. If you recall, Google had scanned basically every book in the world and was hoping to make them all available. But there are a ton of old books where the rights situation is uncertain. Technically the books are under copyright, but who knows where the rightsholders are. The judge ruled that the settlement effectively gave Google a de facto monopoly over those books. The Author’s Guild and the AAP are hoping to amend the settlement to pass legal muster.

It was the tale of two authors this week. First came news that, as mentioned on Wednesday, bestselling author Barry Eisler passed up a $500,000 deal from a major publisher in order to self-publish. Among Eisler’s reasons were frustration with traditional publisher’s royalties and pricing model, and a desire to get his book out earlier. Industry sage Mike Shatzkin calls it “a key benchmark on the road to wherever it is we’re going.”

Meanwhile, self-published superstar Amanda Hocking went the opposite route and decided to move to a major publisher, to the tune of a $2 million deal with St. Martin’s. Among Hocking’s reasons were wanting to reach readers through bookstores and more editing.

So… who’s right and who’s wrong? As Kassia Krozsser says: they’re both right. And that’s the great thing about this new era. Authors with a following now have a choice about which route they want to pursue. My colleague David Carnoy, author of KNIFE MUSIC, talked about his own move from self-publishing to traditional publishing in a recent interview.

Meanwhile, John Ochwat passed me this link first: E-book Publishing Bingo

Also, Barnes & Noble is still looking for a buyer, and the Economist had an interesting article on the decline of Borders and of bookstores in general.

Introverts unite! Shrinking Violet Promotions had a great post on dispelling myths about introverts.

And agent Jane Dystel has a helpful list of pet peeves, which serve as a guide to a productive relationship between author and agent.

This week in the Forums, how to get your writing mojo back after a long break, discussing the services provided by publishers, story goals changing midstream, and of course, March Madness!

Comment! of! the! Week! There are two comments I wanted to highlight this week. First, the incomporable Bryan Russell on balance:

I think balance, for most people, is a fairly amorphous thing. It’s not something that you have, or don’t have, but something that you are always working toward, something that is always evolving, always shaping itself around new experiences and new parameters in your life.

It’s a matter of degree. Life is always changing, and so the goal of balance, and the processes for finding it, are in constant flux as well. A new concern, a new need, a new friendship, a new hobby, a new responsibility – these things will all transform your idea of balance. They’ll transform, whether to a small degree or a large, what you need, what you want, and, simply, what you can actually accomplish.

And this last point, it seems to me, is important. That evolution toward balance is an evolution toward meeting goals that are within reach, that we can actually accomplish. A plan is great, but if it depends on things out of your hands it’s going to be hard to find balance. You’ll always be needing to do one more thing, and other activities will be pulled along in your wake like a rusty old tailpipe; you might hear the rattle sometimes, but you’ve forgotten how to get to the mechanic’s garage.

And a publishing insider sheds some light on some of the day-to-day irreplaceable elements that keep publishers in New York.

And finally, a video that’s just as mesmerizing now as when I saw it when I was five… crayons! (via Mashable)

Have a great weekend!


  1. Jeigh

    I love the crayons video! They should have just showed that episode every day.

  2. Brit Hvide

    I think that self publishing is appropriate for different people depending on where they are in their career, but that both are extremely difficult and take a lot of skill. I'm interested to see where Amanda Hocking goes with St. Martin's behind her. She's already proven that she's an excellent self-promoter, something most authors forget about. So, now that St. Martin's will be backing her I wonder if her advertising power will just be magnified, or if she will bring a unique WAY of advertising to the industry. It's such an interesting time for the industry!

  3. JohnO

    This of all weeks has been fascinating.

    One of the things I took away from Eisler's talk with J.A. Konrath (I'll admit to skimming some of those 13,000 words) was that one of the main things making it possible for Eisler to make that move was being a big enough established brand in the first place — and for that, he has NY publishers and their marketing muscle to thank.

    From what I recall of Amanda Hocking, book publishers weren't buying. But when she proved that there was a market for her stuff through e-publishing, traditional publishing houses came bearing auction paddles.

    Obviously both authors are helping to remove the self-publishing stigma, and it's clearly having repercussions all over.

    Agent April Eberhardt gave a talk in Portland about this a while back, and noted that self-publishing has some huge advantages, such as ease, low cost, time-to-market, controlling rights (and backlist), and ability to experiment with format and marketing approaches.

    One big drawback remains the stigma, which remains because of all the dreck that's been self-published. But I could easily see the better content crowding out the other stuff, slowly removing the stigma along the way.

    What that also means is that the self-publishing landscape will begin to resemble the traditional publishing landscape, where much of the "shelf space" — in the form of promoted content — gets taken up by people like Hocking and Eisler.

    Also this week, agent Ted Weinstein put a traditional vs. self-publishing spreadsheet online. ( If I were an author of a book with a niche audience, I would do a lot of number crunching on that spreadsheet before deciding to query agents.

  4. Ted Fox

    Maybe if we all pool our money we can buy Barnes & Noble. It is quite simply the best store ever. I hate seeing it passed over like the designated purse-holder at the prom.

  5. Gretchen

    I completely agree that they're both right – self-publishing and traditional. It's nice to see a successful author choose self-publishing, thereby proving that it's not just something people do because they can't get published any other way. Hooray!

    And that crayon video. Awesome! I wonder if they're still made that way today, or if it's even more automated. Regardless, Mr. Rogers has the most soothing voice, doesn't he?

  6. Beth

    The Sesame Street crayon video is better.

    Mr. Rogers is a good guy, but he always puts me to sleep. The Sesame Street video covers the exact same stuff (it's even the same factory) but they make it exciting instead of dead boring.

  7. D.G. Hudson

    Thanks to John for the link to the e-book publishing Bingo – loved the set-up. Yes, as they said: someone had to do it — we're all tired of the same arguments.

    I'm glad to see Google is being kept accountable.

    The introvert posting by Shrinking Violet productions is excellent! I agree with her points — especially that we don't need help — introverts are not socially inept — we just like more intimate settings, or being alone to recharge our batteries.

    Congrats to Bryan, the eloquent one, for being selected as Comment of the Week. Well-deserved.

    Finally, Mr. Rogers, mild-mannered but oh so informative. He suited the times.

    Have a great weekend, all. Thanks for posting on a Saturday, Nathan.

  8. Leila

    It seems that uncertainty in the publishing sphere has become the norm, technology both the platform and the challenge, wider market competition the opportunity and the threat, social media the bridge, and forecasting the future an open field.

  9. D.L. Orton

    The good news about traditional and self-publishing is that you don't have to choose just one. Publishing a book is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor, and with the advent of self-publishing, motivated writers have more options.

    The perceived backlash against traditional publishers is an expression of frustration at the gatekeepers (and the price you pay to get their stamp of approval). With the advent of self-publishing, we have proof that the gatekeepers are often wrong. But, they are quite often right as well, and they can provide services that allow an author to spend more time doing what she loves: writing. And that's good for everyone.

    D.L. Orton

  10. Matt Adams

    A couple of years ago, I thought self-pub vs. traditional publishing was a non-issue.

    You could find so much garbage out in the self-publishing world. Finding the gems took much more time, effort, and patience. Clearly, traditional publishing was the way to go.

    But we've seen a turn in the market and my perception is changing. A few big success stories don't make self-pubbing the ultimate solution, but it's definitely something to think about.

    It's incredible that both Eisler and Hocking can be "right," because they're doing what they believe will benefit them most. There's a lesson in there.

  11. Mira

    Awesome this week in books, Nathan! Wow, thank you!

    So is Google putting out an e-reader? Am I already supposed to know this? If it's not on This Week in Books, I don't know it. I also don't understand how they can scan all the books in the world, while lots of books aren't available as e-books. I'm confused!

    The e-publishing bingo card is funny.

    I want to reiterate my offer to buy Barnes and Noble. I will turn that place around. I forgot how much I was offering, but I currently have $41.89 in liquid cash. If that's not enough, I can borrow the money from Barnes and Noble and pay them back once I buy them. If they don't mind.

    Terrific article about introverts! Yay!

    So, are we going to get a list of author pet peeves about agents soon? Only fair. Mr. Bransford.

    Lovely comment by Bryan. Elegant.

    I also thought the publishing insider had some really interesting points. I am a convert, and do not believe Publishing should leave New York, since they probably own the buildings anyway.

    I love that crayon video! And I miss Mr. Rogers.

    Also, love your week in books, Nathan. Thank you!

  12. Kevin Lynn Helmick

    After giving this some thought this week, both Eisler and Hocking's decisions make sense to me.
    Eisler has the name and the readership. He alao has the money and connections to produce his books faster and exactly the way he wants them, So why not, see waht happens. he wont have any trouble going back to traditional if he wants to.
    Hocking, judgeing by her blog, is an extremly prolific writer. She's probably tired of the chore's involved in editing, marketing, promoting. It's distracting when you'd rather be writing the next book. It sucks.
    I think what self published writers need is a new breed of agent/marketeer/publisist. Individual's who know the book industry,the internet, marketing and advertising and love the sale. And not big company's who want paid up front and just send out a few reviews and blogs and never hear from again. No-commission based sales agents that move books whether it be e-books or whatever.

    Kevin Lynn Helmick

  13. Melissa

    Jane Dystel's blog was rather shocking, a list of every single unprofessional thing authors can do when working with agents and editors. While I read it, I scratched my head and thought, "Why not just dump the client?" Seriously, why waste time on someone with an absent work ethic?

    It will be very interesting to see if Hocking's success translates into print. Many have argued that the reason she was so successful was because she priced her eBooks very low, and the same population who would purchase a 99-cent eBook would never buy a more expensive print novel. I hope this doesn't come back to bite St. Martin's in a tender spot.

  14. Steve Bradley

    Loved the Shrinking Violet article. Anneli Rufus wrote an amazing book, Party of One, which contains many of the same points.

  15. Caethes Faron

    I can't believe you posted that video; that was my favorite episode of Mr. Rogers and the one I always think of when I think of that show. Thanks for that bit of nostalgia.

  16. Phoenix

    After reading the publishing insider's comment about staying in NY, I have to say the reasons given are no different than all the reasons other corporate employees in other industries have given for not relocating or for offshoring.

    Most folk are pushed kicking and screaming into new models, giving every reason in the world to justify how things are. Yet in my experience — having been in an industry that's seen jobs many people claimed couldn't be done offshore or in low-cost hubs around the country be moved to just those locations — people adjust.

    The first couple of years ARE dicey ones. Some people refuse to be uprooted. They quit or figure out how to work remotely. And here's a secret: Sometimes companies are HOPING the higher-paid workers elect to sever their employment so the company is free to hire lower-wage workers. Who usually turn out to be pretty darn competent themselves. It's a little arrogant to think otherwise.

    NO ONE is indispensible. No matter how much you or they believe they are. In two years, few people will even remember those workers who've quit or been laid off. In two years, people will barely remember why they thought elevator decisions or power lunches were so important. In two years, approval chains will be such that the people approving color proofs are the people who created them, not a committee of approvers 5 levels deep.

    Because when a company decides to move or downsize or make other radical changes, processes must change as well. Some people will lose some of their power as decision-making is driven further down into the ranks, and others will gain power. But "how it's done today" is not an excuse for why the same results can't be reached differently — and in some cases even more efficiently — tomorrow.

  17. Libby

    This self-publish or traditional debate will rage for a long time. Hopefully until I'm in a position where it's applicable to me. 🙂

  18. A Paperback Writer

    Loved the crayons video — even if that jazz music in the background was really annoying. 🙂

  19. Anonymous

    Any thoughts about what St Martin's Press was thinking? I think they were so mad at Eisler for making them look washed up they over bid on Hocking just to say see, "we're still here!" Before all this publishing commotion we used to worry about well written queries and books. I've read Hocking's "Switched series and it was less than mediocre. Unless she got touched by the writing fairy, I can't believe that St. Martin's Press can perform magic without writing the book for her. I think they HAD to make this point or else they would lose too much integrity among their own authors.

  20. Anonymous

    I'm not weighing in on the quality of Hocking's books. Evidently, they sold @ .99. But I hope St. Martin's intends to keep them at that price. Otherwise this is yet another example of publisherfail.

  21. Marilyn Peake

    Blogspot said my comment was too long, so I'm going to divide it into different parts…

    PART # 1

    Thank you so much for another great "This Week in Books". I’m so darn excited about the new world of publishing that includes traditional publishing as well as reputable indie and self-publishing, I feel like throwing a party, or at least some confetti.

    I started looking into some of the things that Amanda Hocking said she did, and I’ve discovered a whole new world that augments rather than takes away from the traditional publishing world, and that is an entirely different animal than the self-publishing and indie world of even a couple of years ago.

    The other day it hit me that the new world of indie and self-publishing on Amazon Kindle, for example, feels something like the movie Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. I love that movie, but I had to have some parts of it explained to me because I haven’t played enough video games to intuitively realize exactly what Scott Pilgrim’s world is, that he’s literally living in a video game world. In their description, says, "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is a finger-blistering time capsule of right now, yet in a hundred years it will still be so crammed with charm, wit, brio, and exuberance it will still be irresistible." … and "Many events make almost no sense, but it doesn't matter–sheer narrative ferocity and glee of invention sweep the viewer along." When I talked to people who play a lot of video games, however, all the events in the movie seemed to make perfect sense to them.

    So, how does this relate to the new world of indie and self-publishing, Amanda Hocking and Barry Eisler? In looking at Amanda Hocking’s website, I saw that she recently had a couple of book covers designed by Phatpuppy Art. I went over to that site, spent hours and hours looking at the incredible art, until the visuals occupied space in my mind for days, and I finally commissioned a book cover because I just had to have one for myself. Then I went over to Amazon, where Amanda Hocking had said she took part in discussions and met book bloggers who spread the word about her books. I discovered that there are at least hundreds, possibly thousands, of discussion groups in which people are discussing all kinds of books: traditional, indie, and self-published. I felt lost. I couldn’t even figure out how the groups were organized. People are constantly starting new discussion threads, many threads having over 1,000 comments, some having 3,000+ comments. I almost gave up … Then, like someone learning video games for the first time, the landscape kind of came into focus for me. I started to grasp the organized chaos of constantly evolving discussion threads, I met a few book bloggers and reviewers, and discovered some fantastic books.

  22. Marilyn Peake

    PART # 2

    When I read a recent discussion between Barry Eisler and Joe Konrath, something Barry Eisler said about passing up a $500,000 deal to self-publish suggested to me that self-publishing is becoming more reputable in large part because the younger generation’s leading the way without earlier preconceptions and prejudices about it. Here’s what he said:

    Barry: Here’s something that happened about a year ago. Anecdotal, but still telling, I think. My wife and daughter and I were sitting around the dinner table, talking about what kind of contract I would do next, and with what publisher. And my then eleven-year-old daughter said, "Daddy, why don’t you just self-publish?"

    And I thought, wow, no one would have said something like that even a year ago. I mean, it used to be that self-publishing was what you did if you couldn’t get a traditional deal. And if you were really, really lucky, maybe the self-published route would lead to a real contract with a real publisher.

    But I realized from that one innocent comment from my daughter that the new generation was looking at self-publishing differently. And that the question–"Should I self-publish?"–was going to be asked by more and more authors going forward. And that, over time, more and more of them were going to be answering the question, "Yes."

    This is exactly what’s happening now. I’m not the first example, though I might be a noteworthy one because of the numbers I’m walking away from. But there will be others, more and more of them.

    The new world of indie and self-publishing seems visual, contextual, experiential, interactive. Part of the reader’s experience is online interaction revolving around specific books; and typos can be fixed, books can be reedited and republished, even book covers for any specific book can be changed and uploaded in minutes. Readers can influence an author to make such changes in their books. Books are malleable and much more of an interactive experience today.

  23. Mira

    I'd like to address the idea that Amanda Hocking's book is mediocre.

    Absolutely not.

    I'll admit I'm not done with it yet.

    But it is NOT mediocre.

    So far, I think could have used abit of editing. She tends to rush occasionally.

    But, Amanda Hocking has IT. I don't know what IT is, but as someone who reads YA romance, I can tell you that she has IT. She has the exact same thing that Stephanie Meyers or Suzanne Collins has.

    Whatever it takes to make a successful commercial writer, she has it. As a reader, I recognize it.

    People who say it is mediocre must not like the genre.

    Amanda Hocking would have eventually been found even if she hadn't promoted. Even if her book wasn't 99 cents.

    She has IT.

    Some people have a talent to write literary fiction. Some can write picture books. Some write poetry. Most of those will not sell big. They may win awards, though. It's just a different talent.

    Amanda Hocking can write YA commercial fiction. And that is the reason she sold big.

  24. Melissa


    Dang! PhatPuppy Art is incredible — I'd probably be swayed to buy an eBook just based on one of their covers alone. I have a manuscript I'm not too wild about languishing on my hard drive. Sort of makes me wonder if I should dust it off, purchase one of these covers and run with it under pen name. Thanks for the information!

  25. Red Boot Pearl

    I wish they had a crayon factory in my town v. a dog food factory… I love the smell of a crayons. Dog food on the other hand, not so much.

  26. Marilyn Peake


    I know exactly what you mean! I fell in love with the artwork at Phatpuppy Art. It's so beautiful, I had the artwork dancing around in my head after looking at one picture after another for hours. It's very special.

  27. Lucy

    Ok, that was an awesomely fun video–and I love Mr. Rogers. Thanks, Nathan!

  28. Lucinda Bilya

    Crayons….love it. Every bit as good as potatoe chips.

    Great links, as always, Nathan. Jane's blog about proper manners in author/agent relations surprised me a little because rude is just plain rude and not acceptable in any professional arrangement.

    The attitudes she described are WHY some authors SHOULD go self-publish, do it their way–right or wrong.

    Seeking traditional publishing helps authors profect their talent, learn the craft, and learn manners for success (even jumping through those blazing hoops).

    If an person is hungry, if they need a job to survive, they wouldn't be rude to those with the power to hire them. Query letters are a type of resume and should include respect and cooperation.

    Respect is a two-way street between agent and author, but one thing a lot of authors forget is the same two-way street between agent and publisher/editor. If authors look beyond their own little world or magical words and consider what agents must endure with publishers and editors….the road would be a lot less bumpy for all traveling down it.

    Thanks again for another wonderfully linky blog.


  29. Anonymous

    "Amanda Hocking would have eventually been found even if she hadn't promoted. Even if her book wasn't 99 cents."

    I tend to agree with this. And I know she has been around for a while and writing for a long time, so this isn't exactly an overnight success story. She's worked hard.

    I just hope she knows what she's doing with this St. Martin's contract. I know it's what all writers dream about. But she's already proven herself, and she's done it on her own terms without having to answer to anyone. Now she'll have to deal with what the publishers want. And I can tell you from experience they always want something. When they offer a contract that large, they are buying you and your work. And when they want something they aren't shy about asking for it.

    I hope all works out well for her, and she loves working with a publisher instead of being in control of all her own work. But after working with publishers for many years and getting screwed over (often with a smile) I would have continued self-publishing my work after building such a large readership.

    Unfortunately, her decision to go with St. Martin's Press, suggests innocence. But I have a feeling she's going to be very surprised when they start telling her she can do this and can't do that.

  30. Ishta Mercurio

    Great article on Borders' closing. I loved that detail at the end: than when they did a study on the economic implications of losing a local indie to a big chain, Borders got the shaft. Very interesting.

    BTW, I only saw one comment of the week listed, unless I missed something…

  31. --E

    Phoenix said: "I have to say the reasons given are no different than all the reasons other corporate employees in other industries have given for not relocating or for offshoring."

    –>Which was more or less precisely my point. And yet all sorts of businesses continue to maintain offices in New York and Boston (which has a higher cost of living, thank you), and London, and Tokyo, and, and, and…

    Big publishing remains clumped in NYC because there's no reason–at the corporate level–not to.

    Smaller publishers are typically located in less expensive parts of the country. When they get large, often a NYC publisher buys them out and consolidates all the work to the existing infrastructure in NY. Funny how that happens.

    I would be thrilled to see a smaller publisher grow and not sell out, and instead become a large publisher wherever they happen to be. That's how big publishing will move out of New York.


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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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