These Past Few Weeks in Books 7/27/12

by | Jul 27, 2012 | Uncategorized | 23 comments

Lots and lots and lots of links for you. All good ones too, swear! Let’s get to it.

Blogger Penelope Trunk wrote one of the more controversial publishing posts I’ve read in some time. She accepted an advance from a major publisher, and after being wildly unimpressed with their marketing plans she decided to keep the advance, pull the book, and self-publish instead. Absolutely worth a read. I’m not exactly sure how contractually this all was worked out, but I’ve heard from quite a few authors who are/were similarly underwhelmed by their publishers’ ability to market online. (It’s also worth reading the follow-up interview by

Meanwhile, book blogger John Self took a measured approach to Trunk’s post, expressing sympathy for the publishers who are dealing with a wildly fragmented landscape. He decided to take it upon himself to promote the heck out of a new book he liked. He ended up very pleased with the result and urges people to promote the authors they love.

In further controversial book news, Penguin recently acquired self-publishing conglomerate Author Solutions, which has been accused of a slew of shady business practices. Both industry watchdog Writer Beware and author David Gaughrin are openly wondering if Penguin are going to clean up Author Solutions’ business practices.

A giant Wal-Mart in Texas was converted into a giant library, and the photos are pretty amazing. Lots of box stores are shuttering as more commerce moves online, and hopefully this will serve as a model for what’s possible with those empty spaces.

Author Sarah Manguso wrote a post on advice for young writers, which I partly admire but mostly fear for its ruthless efficiency. (Sample: “Don’t give favors to people or institutions that lack authority or consequence.”) I’m honestly not even sure whether it’s real or satire. What do you think? (via Janet Reid)

I don’t know if you’ve heard of this book called Fifty Shades of Grey, but it’s kind of popular at the moment. It’s not without its controversy, however. Blogger Melissa Jenna wrote a post that has generated a staggering response (1,800+ comments!!), criticizing Fifty Shades of Grey and a movie I had never heard of called “Magic Mike” as “mommy porn” and suggesting that wives spend their time spicing up their own sex lives rather than reading Fifty Shades.

Literary agents are sometimes inaccurately maligned for being shady, but the New Yorker profiled an influential one who truly was.

Goodreads is a site where both authors and reviewers behave badly, and one user has taken it upon themselves to create a list of authors who respond badly to negative reviews. Is this fair game or two wrongs not making a right? (via The Millions)

Why do so many book covers look alike? The Atlantic investigates.

The author of the much-beloved Encyclopedia Brown series passed away. Author Cynthia Leitich Smith has a great roundup of tributes.

And for all you bloggers/Pinterest users out there, please read Roni Loren’s post about how she was sued for using a copyrighted image. Don’t let it happen to you. (via Kristin Nelson)

This week in the Forums, favorite writing podcasts, advice for a self-published author looking for an agent, ongoing rejection stats, Blogger vs. WordPress, your favorite writing tips, and is it okay to use real places in novels?

And finally, my good friend Sharon Vaknin is going to be a regular on the nationally syndicated PBS show America’s Heartland starting in September. Her segment is called Farm to Fork, and it looks awesome:

Have a great week!


  1. Anonymous

    "I don't know if you've heard of this book called Fifty Shades of Grey, but it's kind of popular at the moment."

    Ha! There is a book coming out this fall about 50 writers on 50 Shades and all kinds of things are going to be discussed.

    Good links. I saw the one about the photos and the litigation and it freaked me out so much I went back and double-checked all my old photos in posts.

    I truly believe this type of litigation is going to become more popular in time now that more people are using the Internet. And anyone blogging for fun needs to realize they have to stay within the law. My prediction is we'll be seeing more defamation suits in the coming years.

  2. Lisa Shafer

    Heh, the first thing I thought of when you mentioned the discussion on writing about real places is that if it's not okay, then author Ian Rankin is in BIG trouble! Ha! (In other words, it's obviously okay.)

    This is a very timely round up, Nathan. Thanks for posting.

  3. LilySea

    In context, the Manguso advice sounds perfectly real to me. And really good.

  4. Matthew MacNish

    Sigh. If only there were more hours in the day. Or less hours in my shifts at work.

  5. Stephsco

    Roni Loren's post is definitely worth reading; a great reality check for all of us casual bloggers who might not understand that just because other people grab pictures from a basic google image search doesn't mean it's not stealing. Go check your blogs!

    I'm surprised that one post on 50 Shades has so many comments given the "mommy porn" tag has been slung around for months in the media. I'm so puzzled why that book hit it so big; I guess it's one of the reminders that we never can predict what will hit big. I had a friend tell me she is reading 50 Shades because: "it's something to read." I almost keeled over into 50 plus books form my To Read pile. I DON'T GET IT FOLKS.

    I really liked that article on how an author took to marketing someone else's book, that's so encouraging! It makes me want to tweet the crap out of some of my favorites 🙂 I think if a book is quality, that kind of grassroots success is attainable if we work together to support each other. Thanks for all the links!

  6. Neurotic Workaholic

    I read Penelope Trunk's post, but I don't really agree with it. Just because she had a bad experience with one publisher, that doesn't mean all major publishers are like that. I also don't think it was right for her to keep the advance. She should have given it back, and I don't think she should brag about keeping it either.

  7. Kristin Laughtin

    Trunk's post is interesting, but I find myself wavering over what I think of it. On the one hand, it does sound like that publicity department is out of touch. On the other, her account seems a bit truncated and biased, and I suspect there is more to the story. Even if there's not, I'm not really surprised by too much, since it's been drilled into my head through so many writing/agent blogs that authors have to do so much more of their publicity now. (That scares me, but I accept it as generally true.) The whole article has a rather smug air that degrades some of my sympathy, too, which is pretty odd for a righteous warrior vs. giant evil corporation piece. I'm not quite sure what I think yet.

    RE: Manguso's post: I agree with many points, but also find her a bit too harsh and impractical. I get that it's something of a "tough love" piece, and that she must be a very direct and forthright person, but I kept thinking to exceptions to some of her rules. Like the one you quoted, for example. Obviously you don't want to waste too much time on favors to your detriment, but early in your career, it might be worth it to swap manuscripts with another aspiring author and do a beta read. Who knows if that person will rise to a level of authority that will benefit you later? Ahh, so there's my objection: these rules read very hard-and-fast, and I'm an "there are always exceptions" persons. But I don't think they're entirely without merit, just that one should think about whether each rule is applicable in each specific context.

    The Atlantic's article on book covers was interesting, but it just seems obvious to me. Trends come and go, and certain elements are used to appeal to different portions of the psyche. Just like any other form of advertisement.

  8. Lee Ann Setzer

    "…the very violence these books purport to eschew is inherent to the appeal of the books. Teaching nonviolence with a book where the slickly entertaining violence is the main attraction is like using pornography to teach abstinence."

    I've been feeling this (esp. regarding Hunger Games) for a while–violence that entertains people is not much of a vehicle for social change. Thanks for saying it so well!

  9. Bryan Russell

    How can someone sign a contract to provide a book and then not provide the book… and then keep the money? Isn't that basically a failure to meet the terms of the contract?

  10. Mira

    Actually, I think there's a misunderstanding here (as stated in PaidContent's article) that Penelope pulled her book.

    Actually, the publisher dropped her.

    This is what she wrote:

    "In the middle of the meeting, the high-up guy who had come in to make peace got so fed up he said, “If you don’t stop berating our publicity department we are not going to publish your book.”

    She said that was fine, and they came to a parting of the ways. Evidentally, publishers can't ask for the advance back if they are the ones to drop you.

  11. Mira

    Oh, and thanks for all the great links, Nathan! They will definitely keep me busy this weekend!

  12. Erika

    I really appreciate how you address authors in both traditional and non traditional publishing. Your reflections continue to help me generate a fair picture of the publishing industry. Thank you!

  13. wendy

    I, too, was puzzled how Penelope Trunk was able to keep her advance. Explanation from Mira makes sense, though.

    I'll have to read Fifty Shades to see what makes it so captivating…bad word choice?

    Interesting that Penguin would aquire a company like Author Solutions. Why would a leading publishing company want to be linked with one that was shady? Won't it take sometime for AS to live down their reputation?

    Also interesting to see more and more business moving online. I guess that's because it's cheaper to operate a business this way, and more people are becoming aware how easy it is to shop from home. I speculate that here in Australia – where we seem to have practically no manufacturing industry and yet our economy is thriving? – more people will seek to make a living by opening their own business online, mostly selling imported merchandise from China.

    Thanks for stories and links, Nathan.

  14. Jaimie

    Sarah Manguso's post = "How to Be Miserable"

  15. Anonymous


    "Your reflections continue to help me generate a fair picture of the publishing industry"

    Not so long as he leaves off major news. No mention of the class action suit against Harlequin or the DOJ response putting the publishers in their place?

    • Nathan Bransford


      I love this idea that I'm conspiratorially leaving out news. Sometimes I just don't get to everything, sometimes I miss some things, sometimes I forget. If there's a link that you think is important to share I'd love it I'd you'd just post it in the comments section rather than questioning my motives.

  16. Anonymous


    "I love this idea that I'm conspiratorially leaving out news".

    I did not say you were conspiring. You left out ground-breaking news. In doing so, you did not represent a fair picture of the publishing industry.

    Url to three authors filing a class action suit against Harlequin:

    Url to the DOJ response "slamming" Apple and publishers:

  17. Anonymous

    Roni Loren. One word: SCARY!
    (Several words for me: You've been right, old man, in not blogging and staying away from fb. You don't need it.)

  18. Marla Warren

    "I don't know if you've heard of this book called Fifty Shades of Grey, but it's kind of popular at the moment."

    I work in a bookstore and 50 Shades is what I call DEHTLIU (Don't even have to look it up).

    When customers ask if I've read the book, I say, "Not yet, but it's very popular." This seems to be a diplomatically effective response.

    I may read the parody that just came out:

    Fifty Shames of Earl Grey (Fifty Shames #1)by Andrew Shaffer

    It looks very funny.

  19. Gretchen

    I would definitely call the Manguso piece satire. The most brilliant satire often leaves people offended, outraged, and/or scratching their heads wondering of it's for real.

    The message I get from hers? "You'll never get rid of some of the messy parts of life. If you want to put yourself in a box to keep all the garbage out, this is what it's going to look like. Go for it."

    Plus, it would be too heartbreaking to believe it was actually sincere.

  20. Jaimie

    I agree, Gretchen. It's like she's saying "My advice to young writers? Stop looking for advice."

  21. Melissa Jenna Godsey

    Ha! I read you regularly, so seeing your mention of my Fifty Shades post was a delightful surprise. Our Internet was just switched on at our new house (THANK GOODNESS), so I was catching up on my blog-reading, and BOOM. There I am. So, thank you for the mention!


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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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