These Past Few Weeks in Books 8/24/12

by | Aug 24, 2012 | Uncategorized | 13 comments

Whew! It’s been a little while since our last link roundup and I have quite a few links to share.

But! First! I’m hoping to be on a rather fantastic social media panel at South By Southwest 2013 with such luminaries as Veronica Belmont, Brian Tong and Maya Grinberg but I need your help! Please vote for our panel, Social Media Shootout, at the SXSW Panel Picker site. Registering is easy, I promise.

Now then, on to the links.

So I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the Internet happens to be rather awesome. One side effect of Internet awesomeness is that literary agent scams are on the wane, but, as Author Beware points out, they still exist so please be vigilant.

Stephen Parrish, who you may know from around these parts, is hosting an awesome flash fiction contest, check it out!

Remember the whole Google Book Search scanning settlement thing? Yeah. Well, newly uncovered documents suggest that the book scanning was originally aimed at combatting Amazon.

In case you missed it (or, as the kids now say, #ICYMI), NPR released a list of the 100 best ever teen novels of all time, quite a few of which were not exactly teen novels.

Want to be challenged? Check out this list of the most difficult books of all time.

If you want to be challenged in a different way, you may wish to know that Fifty Shades of Grey is the UK’s bestselling book of all time.

Fifty Shades author E.L. James may top this list next year, but for now, James Patterson is still the world’s top earning earning authors, with a cool $94 million in the past year.

Signs are increasing that e-book sales are leveling off. Mike Shatzkin wonders if the revolution has moved to evolution.

An annual favorite, the winners of the Bulwer-Lytton bad writing fiction contest have been announced. The winner is definitely a doozy.

We have addressed “publishing time” on this here blog before, but editor Cheryl Klein had a great recent post that covers six reasons why everything in publishing takes so long.

And there was quite a bru-ha-ha over a site called Lendink, which used a legal mechanism for lending e-books, which many authors freaked out about. Writer Beware used it as a cautionary about the need for Internet restraint.

This week in the Forums, writers who run, is a low-selling self-published book “baggage?”,  should writers self-censor on social media, in memory of the great authors who have died this year, what’s your editing style, and most/least favorite characters.

Comment! Of! The! Week! A.C. Tidwell wrote a fantastically interesting response to the post about whether the publishing industry does or doesn’t care about good writing. It’s long, but I want to print it in full:

I think that the publishing industry has a rich history of setting the bar of what is considered posh and what is considered subpar. I also think there is something to be said for writing that qualifies as high quality (tight prose, language, requires something from readers, thought provoking, cerebral) and something that is low quality (uses tropes and not for satire, follows a paint-by-numbers structure, reuses character-types from pop culture or Mary Sue archetypes, poor prose, abundance of dead metaphors, plot heavy). One affects you long after you put it down. The other is easy. So, I actually think that the publishing industry is an excellent buffer against most subpar writing. With mass media, internet, and indie publishing, there is a large amount of mediocre to poor writers out there. The market is oversaturated. But this doesn’t reflect the industry, per se, it reflects our society. In America, in particular, we ask very little from our literature, television or film. Instead we want to be entertained in a non-thought provoking way. This is a symptom of our times and the stress of recession. Art generally falls by the wayside in terms making us thoughtful consumers. We want escapism and safety when we have to worry about unemployment and food. It’s why we’ll read the same type of romance or sci-fi story over and over, knowing exactly how it will end, the only difference being character names and slight alterations in plot. Our reading standards decrease, because, hey we’ve done this before…I know how it ends…and that is one less thing to worry about. 

I haven’t read Shades of Gray but I do remember when Twilight came out. I couldn’t simply dismiss it so I had to do research. So after reading the series I asked my students what appealed to them. It turns out it was a romance they’d heard before, written in the same type of wish-fulfillment fantasy that Hollywood makes large profits on. They were never really concerned with the outcome. Instead, the story gathered all the filmmaking and gothic romance tropes together in one place. It was icing. The sweet part without the cake.  

I think the publishing industry should keep their standards and perhaps make them even more rigorous. I know that is disappointing to hear but take it with a grain of salt because it’s all relative. Having said that, I think that indie publishing is the place for fanfiction to grow. Everyone wants to be a writer. I’ve seen an explosion in the amount of students queued for my classes. It’s good for the market as a whole as it brings in new readers. I also think that big publishing should be hesitant to jump into that pool completely. For one, it will delegitimize the industry, something that will only be realized in 20 years when they look back at the current trend and say, “Oh right. How could we have thought The Bachelor could win us an Emmy?” But don’t shun it either. Hold writing contests with submission fees and award small publishing prizes for amateur fan fiction writers. Recognize the group and make a profit too. But at the same time, publishers have to realize it’s a temporary niche market. Very few people will quote Shades of Gray in twenty years. Remember to leave room for the other writers who we will be talking about. When our society no longer just wants to sit down and let a low quality book just wash over them, I can only hope we don’t ignore the next Fitzgerald simply because he/she didn’t sell an extraordinary amount of books on Amazon. We just can’t let that dictate greatness. Sorry for the long post.

And finally, I’ve been loving Best Coast’s new album lately. Summer is almost over but enjoy it while you can!

Have a great weekend!


  1. Jaimie

    Holy crap, AC Tidwell's comment was amazing.

  2. Renee DeAngelo

    Love A. C. Tidwell's comment. Voted for your panel…good luck!

  3. D.G. Hudson

    Yes, I think AC Tidwell says it well.

    And I agree, everyone wants to be a writer these days. I especially liked the comment:
    'Very few people will quote Shades of Gray in twenty years.' (another Lolita)

    Have a great weekend!

  4. Kristin Laughtin

    Bulwer-Lytton: Purposeful exercises in overwrought, purple, over-the-top description. You can't help but love whoever wins each year.

    I don't get to claim intellectual superiority with the most difficult books list, because I haven't read any of them. However, I have read books by several of those authors. That counts, right?

  5. Peter Dudley

    Thanks for the roundup, especially the link to Parrish's contest.

  6. Anonymous

    Hi Nathan,

    Thank you very much for the links. I always look forward to this specific weekly feature because it narrows down some good reads (since I cant read everything or find everything on my own 🙂 ).

    I'd like to know your thought on the site above that has the flash fiction contest. It's great to see you link it because now I know it is safe and legitimate.
    But I'm wondering, for someone like me (very new to writing, no crit partners, still finding my way), would it be silly for me to send something in ? I think (I'm not sure) that from what I read on the site there, they post all entries ? I worry about jumping too soon and posting up something foolish and tragic with my name on it and looking back after a while (when my writing is more advanced) and thinking "oh crap" 🙂
    Any thoughts on how to navigate those kinds of waters when still so new and *rough* with writing and not wanting to screw up (publicly)?

  7. Anonymous

    Wow, James Patterson is …just wow.

    I read an article linked within the article you linked and was surprised to see Stephen King call him a "terrible writer" (or so the article said). Now I'm curious.

    I'm starting to wonder just how many published authors out there are likable. Or how many of them dislike (publicly) one another. I never follow those things so I guess it never struck me it occurred. Obviously I live an isolated life!

    I admit that the only James Patterson books I've read are directed to MG/childrens. Oh well! Apparently he has enough readers anyway 🙂

  8. Laura

    I'm curious to hear what you think about authors on places like goodreads, Nathan. Can an aspiring or new author give honest reviews to books, even if he really hated a few? Or could this be something that comes back to haunt you?

    I've noticed that many YA authors on the site only give positive 4-5 star reviews, which makes me question their veracity, or perhaps they're only reviewing the books they liked. Either way, a self censorship of some kind is happening because not everything you read is going to be awesome.

  9. Anonymous

    Re the above comment with goodreads…can I go on goodreads just to track my read books , but NOT rate them ? (i don't care if others rate books, if that's what they like to do; but I don't I guess…to each their own!). For example, some of my literary friends would cringe at "Doctor Proctor's Fart Powder" but I thought it was great 🙂

  10. Mira

    Cool links, thanks.

    I like the new site by Stephen Parrish, and another regular around here, Peter Dudley, it looks very cool. That type of collective is a terrific way for writers to network and have their work be shown – both the site bloggers, and those who visit. Great idea!

    The Button-Lytton entries were hilarious.

    A.C. Tidwell wrote a great post. I don't agree with everything Tidwell said, but I think the argument was compelling and eloquent.

    So, I'm not sure e-book sales are leveling off. I don't know why Shatzkin thinks so, I can't access the report he credits, but it's counter-intuitive. From what I understand, e-books are just entering International markets. For example, Amazon just launched a Kindle store in India this week. Schools are making e-readers available to classes, textbooks are moving into the digital market, movies are starting to give e-books for free if you come buy a ticket. E-books are mainstreaming as we speak.

    So, if it's slowing, I suspect it's just a temporary lull.

    Besides, e-book prices have been kept artificially high. It will be interesting to see the impact on the market if/when the DOJ settlements are approved, and prices start to lower.

    Thanks for the list of the top teen novels, I made a few bookmarks to look into them. And the list of the most difficult books – I made bookmarks of those to avoid!

  11. AR

    This is the second story you've linked to, Nathan, that claimed some super-selling status to "Fifty Shades of Self-Loathing" and in both articles I felt the wording was a little odd and very few details were given. I think these are promotional press-releases and probably give an exaggerated impression of the popularity of the books. Sure, they're selling a lot – especially given all the hype and the "forbidden" nature of the content. But check out this wiki article.

    In what sense is this a best selling book? The promoters just aren't telling us – because the whole point of the story is to get us to buy.


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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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