RWA implodes (This week in books)

by | Jan 3, 2020 | This Week in Books | 1 comment

The Arctic. Photo by me. Follow me on Instagram!

This week! Books! New decade!

RIP to legendary Knopf leader Sonny Mehta, whose influence on the world of literature would be hard to overstate. I particularly liked this quote, spotted by Publishers Lunch:

I don’t think you can work in this business without faith or optimism. Reading a manuscript, sensing something special about it, and believing you can find a readership for it, is an article of faith. In publishing, belief is the common denominator.

The publishing world’s latest s***show is brought to you by the Romance Writers of America (RWA), which, well… it’s a lot. Claire Ryan has a helpful summary of what’s been happening.

Speaking of 2019, it was not exactly a banner year for literary adaptations at the box office. Fortune delves into what happened.

Vox looked back at the decade of ebooks and why the ebook revolution never quite materialized. While the article provides good context for why ebooks still cost so much, I personally think it underplays the extent to which publishers aren’t just trying to fight an Amazon monopoly with their ebook strategy but also to maintain a robust print distribution and bookstore infrastructure. Their ability to get print books in front of readers remains arguably their biggest value prop, and losing it would be an existential threat.

Writing in The New Yorker, Adam Gopnik explores the evidence for happy endings and mythological depictions in stories painted on cave walls.

While he’s best known for The Polar Express and Jumanji, picture book author Chris Van Allsburg also created a prescient eco-dystopian book called Just a Dream. Gizmodo checked in with him on what he thinks now.

Author Jennifer Hubbard writes about the benefits and drawbacks of the double-hustle (familiar to many writers), trying to manage both a day job and a writing life.

When a story becomes a phenomenon, it can be difficult to remember what it was like when it was first released. Tim Kreider tries to re-contextualize Star Wars as a product of its particular time.

This week in bestsellers

Here are the top five NY Times bestsellers in a few key categories. (All links are affiliate links):

Adult print and e-book fiction:

  1. Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
  2. The Guardians by John Grisham
  3. The Institute by Stephen King
  4. The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski
  5. The Night Fire by Michael Connelly

Adult print and e-book nonfiction:

  1. Educated by Tara Westover
  2. Becoming by Michelle Obama
  3. Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell
  4. Me by Elton John
  5. Sam Houston and the Alamo Avengers by Brian Kilmeade

Young adult hardcover:

  1. Children of Virtue and Vengeance by Tomi Adeyemi
  2. Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
  3. Five Feet Apart by Rachael Lippincott with Mikki Daughtry and Tobias Iaconis
  4. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
  5. One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus

Middle grade hardcover:

  1. The Complete Cookbook for Young Chefs by America’s Test Kitchen Kids
  2. Diary of an Awesome Friendly Kid by Jeff Kinney
  3. Ali Cross by James Patterson
  4. A Tale of Magic… by Chris Colfer
  5. The Complete Baking Book for Young Chefs by America’s Test Kitchen Kids

This week on the blog

Don’t forget that you can nominate your first page and query for a free critique on the blog:

In case you missed them, here are this week’s posts:

Comment! of! the! week! goes to John Shea, who has some thoughts on productivity but could use our help:

But, if a million monkeys could write the Bible, eventually, I’m sure just a few thousand could write a novel. Now, where do I get a few thousand monkeys? Amazon or Ebay?

And finally, I enjoyed this fascinating article on the influence of the superrich on museums and the way they both shape perceptions of value in the art world and tamp down the types of art that would threaten their status.

Have a great weekend!

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1 Comment


    Regarding the RWA implosion, I was not impressed by Courtney Milan’s original accusations, which condemned as racist things like getting a half-Chinese, half-European character’s eye color wrong (aparently they never have blue eyes) and having Nineteenth-Century Chinese characters touch each other too much. Those are innocent mistakes at most, not racism. But others has since highlighted a number of real and serious allegations of racism and other forms of discrimination in the RWA, as your link outlines.

    One disturbing aspect of these recent publishing controverseys is how the racist opinions of fictional characters are sometimes assumed to represent the author’s opinions. If that bizarre conflation of fantasy and reality continues authors will not be able to create villains at all, certainly not racist ones. While art is important, and life does indeed sometimes imitate it, we should not be overly concerned about the rights and wrongs of imaginary people. We real people have more than enough real problems.

    I DON’T think George Lucas really wants to conquer the universe, for example, or Thomas Harris is in the habit of eating his friend’s livers with some fava beans and a nice Chianti!


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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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