This Week in Books 11/4/11

by | Nov 4, 2011 | Uncategorized | 32 comments

This week! Books!

Actually it’s a few weeks of links so be prepared for a full-on link deluge.

Remember back in January when I said the tablets were coming? Well, they definitely are coming fast. Not only does Amazon have the Kindle Fire tablet coming soon, rumors say B&N will debut a new Nook tablet in just a few weeks (disclosure: link is to CNET, I work at CNET). The e-book options, they abound.

And, um, not exactly a coincidence that adult hardcover and paperback sales are down 18% this year. Perhaps even more noteworthy, e-book revenue has surpassed hardcover revenue so far this year.

Speaking of which, CNET next door neighbors GigaOM had a really interesting post about the perils faced by middlemen in publishing. As Amazon executive Russell Grandinetti said, “[T]he only really necessary people in the publishing process now are the
writer and reader. Everyone who stands between those two has both risk
and opportunity.” What do publishers need to do per GigaOM? Give authors what they want and need.

And along those lines, as you may have heard, a while back Amazon gave authors access to Bookscan sales data, one small step to open up some real-time transparency. Now some traditional publishers are finally starting to follow suit.

Meanwhile, do people want interactive e-books? Dueling posts about that topic. Australian author and agent Xavier Waterkeyn talks about transmedia and the interactive project THE CHIMERA VECTOR, while Melville House ripostes that the old fashioned way of reading a book isn’t in need of revision.

Oh, and the Wall Street Journal is starting an e-book bestseller list.

Agent Jane Dystel (aka President Obama’s agent) had a fantastic post lamenting the publishing industry’s fixation on only publishing “sure things.” There is, of course, nothing sure about a “sure thing” in publishing, and when publishers do have a sure thing they often end up overypaying and not making a profit anyway.

On the other hand, Salon has a feature on imprint Harper Perennial and wonders aloud whether it can reinvent publishing. How? Cool writers, low advances, smart design. Sounds kind of like the old days of publishing. What’s new is old, what’s old is new.

A few months back I had a post on writing and striving and THE GREAT GATSBY, and writer Gretchen Brugman used it as a jumping off point for an awesome post about running, literally and figuratively, and hoping and dreaming and the process of becoming. Really great stuff.

In serious Nathan Bransford bait, Nathaniel Philbrick has written a book called WHY READ MOBY-DICK? Yes, you heard right. A book about why you should read MOBY-DICK. Oh hell yes.

Congrats to Julian Barnes, who won the very prestigious Man Booker Prize.

And in other award news, columnist Laura Miller at Salon had some harsh words for the National Book Awards, saying they’re like the Newbery – books someone thinks is good for you whether or not you particularly them very much. One of this year’s NBA judges, Victor LaValle, fired back at Miller, arguing that judges nominate the books they fall in love with. (via John Ochwat)

Oh, and you may heard something about a certain National Book Award debacle in the young adult category.

In Life of the Writer news, From the Write Angle has an awesome survey of writing superstitions, agent Jane Dystel notes that author promotion ain’t what it used to be, agent Rachelle Gardner discusses when to leave your agent, agent Kristin Nelson writes about contract clauses that should scare you, and the New Yorker’s book blog The Book Bench has a really fascinating post on the limits of self-knowledge and the tenuousness of rationality.

Alvina Ling, Executive Editor of Little Brown Children’s Books, wrote a fantastic post on how she edits.

Agent Rachelle Gardner had a contest based on the starting prompt “How many agents does it take to screw in a lightbulb,” and the winning responses were pretty hilarious.

HarperCollins is buying Christian publishing Thomas Nelson.

John Corwin has two posts on how authors can utilize GoodReads (first, second).

And many writers have lent their support to the Occupy movement, adding to the tally at OccupyWriters.

This week in the Forums, a self-published author finds himself on the wrong side of Amazon, seeking advice on the all-important launch party, the notion of a “dream” agent, how do you interact with your favorite writers online?, discussing GAME OF THRONES (which I am now reading), the most efficient way of outlining, and, of course, NaNoWriMo! And specifically amazing daily encouragement from Sommer Leigh.

And finally, as I mentioned I just got back from some travels and along the way I discovered a really cool web series called Sonia’s Travels by Sonia Gil. If you love traveling you’ll be jealous of all the amazing places she’s been. The latest episode is on Valladolid, Mexico. I want to go to there!

Have a great weekend!


  1. Ava Jae

    Awesome roundup as usual, Nathan! Thanks for all the great links!

  2. Mr. D

    Publishers overpaying and then don't make a profit. Interesting…

  3. Jennifer R. Hubbard

    Technically, the only people who have ever been necessary are the reader and the writer. Every other job sprang up in a practical effort to facilitate that relationship: the agents, editors, book designers, publishers, distributors, publicists and marketers, reviewers, booksellers. And we're still going to need most of those jobs because there are millions and millions of books out there, and thousands and thousands of writers. Getting the book from the writer to the reader has to involve some sort of searching and filtering process. It's not possible for a reader to read–or even glance at–or even find–every book in the world.

  4. Anonymous

    Just bought a new tablet, Nextbook, from, and absolutely love it. I can't stop playing with it.

    But, I will say, I still prefer reading books on my dedicated e-reader.

  5. Jacqueline Howett

    Thanks for the links Nathan-that was quite a list! Have a great weekend!

  6. Seabrooke

    Up here in Canada, our major book retailer, Chapters-Indigo, has already released their Kindle Fire competitor, the Kobo Vox, retailing for CA$199. I've heard reviews are good.

  7. Matthew MacNish

    If anything could get you to say hell online Nathan, I should have known it would be Moby Dick.

    And we must discuss ASoIaF (GRRM). What book are you on? And are you weighing in on it in the forums?

  8. Mira


    This is an amazing assortment of links.

    I'll be back after I've read them, but I just needed to weigh in with: Wow.

  9. Robena Grant

    Thanks for all of the links. That's got the weekend covered. ; )

  10. Rick Daley

    Thanks for the link to the Gigaom post. It's in the same spirit as this post on The History of E-Books and The Future of Self-Publishing (disclosure: link is to My Daley Rant, I write My Daley Rant 😉

    The Sure Thing: Oh sweet irony, with publishers only willing to gamble on a sure thing and then turning it into a losing deal.

    In most business cases there is a risk / reward quotient, and in most cases, the bigger the risk, the bigger the potential reward. It's like a monetary investment in bonds, where you may get a 1.5% return but are 99% certain not to lose money, or investing in a high-growth international fund, which may yield 10%-20%, but may also end up at -100%.

    Which leads me to the:

    WORD VERIFICATION: shese. An exasperated sigh, like the one you make when you see how far your 401(k) has sunk.

  11. Anne R. Allen

    I've missed a lot of these because I've been in revision hell, so thanks so much for these Nathan!

    Jane Dystel's plea for sanity is something everyone should read, so they can understand what agents are up against these days.

  12. Diana

    If there are any publishers out there reading your blog, I hope they read this. I stopped buying new books in the bookstore a year ago, because the quality of the content editing of my favorite bestselling authors has deteriorated to the point of being too frustrating and disappointing to read. A few others are on now on my beware of list. This is significant because I am a heavy reader. I buy anywhere from two hundred to five hundred books in a year. My home is like a live in library.

    I never thought there would be a time when I wouldn't snatch a new Nora Roberts book off the shelf, but her bride series was published in trade paperback with no plans for mass market and I just couldn't bring myself to shell out that much
    money when her previous two series were disappointing. I borrowed them from the library and I am now glad that I did NOT buy them. I would be supremely pissed off if I had. Where the hell were her agent and content editor that they didn't pick up on the things that made the stories almost unreadable? Her stand alone stories aren't like that, so it's got to be a failure with the editor.

    I have to wonder how much of their declining booksales are from people like me who sick and tired of spending money and being disappointed. If the editors would do their job and edit those books properly, they wouldn't be losing sure sales to people like me.

    When a heavy reader such as myself stops buying new books, there is a problem in the publishing industry. Someone needs to get their act together and start looking at what the editors aren't doing. If it were up to me, I'd fire the lot and hire people who were willing to carefully edit a bestselling author not blow them off. If they get their knickers in a twist, then show them this post. Seriously.

    Sorry, Nathan, I went on a tear there, but I am really frustrated and angry about this. I've thoroughly analyzed the situation and it's not the author's fault; it is the editor's.

  13. Anonymous

    "full on link deluge" LmAO .. it is raining in L.A. so bring on the links, I say, hot links, pub links, train links. nice to see you back.

  14. Kristin Laughtin

    So does Nathaniel Philbrick’s book just say, “Because it’s Moby-Dick”? That and possibly, “It’s got a giant, angry whale” should be all anyone needs. Everyone else needs to learn!
    Wow, I’m really not a superstitious writer! I’ve never even heard of most of these, but that list was entertaining. I need to examine my own habits to see if I’ve got anything like this.

  15. The English Teacher

    The writing superstitions article made me laugh. I had no idea that people were this crazy about writing…… Funny stuff.

  16. Joanna

    I live just 2 hours from Valladolid… in Merida. We have several strong writers' groups here who would be thrilled to have you come for a visit. Just say the word and we'll take you to Valladolid.

  17. Susan Kaye Quinn

    So interesting, the WSJ e-book bestseller list. My mom actually pointed it out, while she was visiting this week. I looked at it and pointed to two titles. "Those are self-published," I said. She was shocked, went and checked the price (99cents). Amazing, the changes.

  18. Susan Kaye Quinn

    p.s. Thanks so much for the Goodreads links!! Off to read…

  19. marion

    Interesting links.

    Superstitions: I don't think a word (at least) a day is a superstition. It's a good tactic. When you can't get anything down, that one word or phrase could help nudge your subconscious processes along.

    Scary contract clauses: Shouldn't a good agent help you avoid these pitfalls?

  20. Marilyn Peake

    Two weeks of links in one? Huzzah! Awesome!

    I love this: "As Amazon executive Russell Grandinetti said, '[T]he only really necessary people in the publishing process now are the writer and reader. Everyone who stands between those two has both risk and opportunity.' What do publishers need to do per GigaOM? Give authors what they want and need." Publishers giving authors what they want and need? Is that even allowed? HaHa. What an awesome idea! It really is a great time to be a writer!

    I hadn’t heard of WHY READ MOBY-DICK? before seeing it mentioned here in your blog post. Thank you! I, too, love Herman Melville’s MOBY DICK – one of my favorite books, actually.

    Have a great weekend!

  21. Jaimie

    Okay so it's confirmed Rachelle took the "When to leave your agent" post down. I didn't imagine it! I'm not sure why she did. I thought it was a good post.

    Steve Jobs really was brilliant. I remember thinking "Who needs a tablet, we have laptops." But there is clearly a developing market. Wow.

  22. Marilyn Peake

    Oh, and congrats on reading A GAME OF THRONES. What an awesome book! George R. R. Martin’s history is really interesting. In his collection of short stories DREAMSONGS, he talks about his struggle to become published, and how he almost gave up. What a great loss that would have been for readers!

  23. Gretchen

    Thanks so much, Nathan, for the link and for the kind words about my blog post. Glad you liked it, and thanks for the inspiration!

    Definitely going to have to look into the "why read Moby Dick." Just had a conversation about that with my school librarian and we both confessed we'd never read it.

  24. Daniel McNeet


    I want to thank you for the encouragement. When you were an agent you passed on my political thriller, Operation Downfall. You said, you liked it and thought I should be tenacious. I took your advice and the publisher has placed the print and Kindle version on Amazon with the ibook and Nook to follow.

    With respect,
    Daniel McNeet

  25. Daniel McNeet


    I want to thank you for the encouragement. When you were an agent you passed on my political thriller, Operation Downfall. You said, you liked it and thought I should be tenacious. I took your advice and the publisher has placed the print and Kindle version on Amazon with the ibook and Nook to follow.

    With respect,
    Daniel McNeet

  26. Mira

    Well, I was hoping to comment after I'd read the links, but I'm not even halfway through.

    I get all of my information from these posts, Nathan, how would I find out about anything without them??!!


  27. Glenn Ingersoll

    I had a room in a hotel on the plaza in Valladolid – 12 years ago? The place looks about the same, I guess. Had some very nice chicken soup with lime just up the block. I liked the vultures in the parking lot. That was cool. There's a cenote around the corner, right in the middle of town. You can swim in it. We didn't see anybody swimming in it. There was an amateur zoo in the park above the cenote, a monkey in a cage and so on. The animals looked sad.

  28. Aubrie

    I'm excited about the changes with ebooks. It's great to see a bestseller list.

    Thanks for the links.

  29. Heidi

    I work as a merchandiser for a publishing distributor, which means I put the books (and magazines) on the shelf at the grocery store.

    My biggest account has a huge library wall of "Bestsellers," and the usual cookbooks, inspirational, health, etc. And a table of current bestsellers and new releases. Our sales do quite well, especially for a grocery store.

    But a lot of my customers come in, browsing the latest hardcovers (at $20.00 and up) lamenting the e-book phenomenon and feel sorry for me because I have that competition and soon, they believe, I will be out of a job.

    I tell them that it's a very exciting time for publishing. Things will change, there may be fewer hard copies printed – as I think SHOULD be the case – this week we got so many copies of Christopher Paolini's INHERITANCE that they won't all sell, and it's only because the publisher wants to say they have so many books on the ground, publicizing this "huge release." (PW article here:

    But I tell my customers – 1) People are not going to stop reading books. Many customers come in and buy a title even if they have a kindle. But for whatever reason, they want this one in a hard copy – to pass it on to friends, and some even say they miss curling up with a book.

    2) Books are still going to be published. It's just the way in which we read and enjoy them that will change.

    If you talk to Kristen or Tracy over at Bookigee ( They are taking what everyone thinks of as lemons, and making it into AWESOME lemonade. The way you enjoy a book, and everything to do with that book, will be networked. Like a book that was made into a movie? Well, here's the soundtrack. Like an author? Well here's what SHE likes to read…the connections are endless.

    I think the readers and writers who are afraid of the new way books are being published, read and enjoyed are just going to have to get their head around the fact that it's not a bad thing, it's just different.

    Do I miss listening to vinyl records or making mix tapes on my old boom box? A little. But do I love my iPhone? A LOT.

    Change will never stop. And right now, its prey is the book industry. You can either fight it or embrace it.

  30. Cora

    Really great post. Thanks so much for linking to Sonia's Travels and her piece on Valladolid. Been there and lo-o-o-o-ved it.


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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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