This! Week!…… Publishing!
The saga that is the Google Books settlement looks like it’s going to take a bit longer to resolve as the Department of Justice urged some changes to the settlement, and the federal judge handling matters postponed a hearing on October 7 to give everyone some time for changes.
Meanwhile: new e-reader device! Verizon, Best Buy and B&N are teaming up to promote the iRex, a reader that will be stocked in Best Buy and will have 3G wireless. Very exciting.
Mike Shatzkin posted recently on an idea that has been percolating, well, a really long time: publishers need to be better at branding, and in particular knowing the difference between business-to-business branding vs. business-to-consumer branding. In other words: I know what the Knopf brand means because I’m a literary agent, but does anyone in a bookstore check the spine before they buy?
The Millions polled a wide range of bookish types on the best novels published so far in the aughts and counted down from twenty. I can’t quibble with the choice for number one.
Over at Slate they asked a very pressing question: when have vampires NOT been popular? The article includes a pretty spectacular graph charting the few times in the last 50 years that vampires haven’t been insanely popular.
The Washington Post recently featured a very good illustration of something you probably already know if you read publishing blogs: authors have to promote themselves. It’s nothing new to those plugged in, but it’s a good illustration of the way things often work these days nonetheless.
Over in the UK, a man sued Tesco for discriminating against his religious beliefs by forcing him to remove his hood while in the store. What makes the story ten shades of awesome is that the guy is the founder of the Jedi religion (yes, Star Wars as actual religion) and he believes being forced to remove his hood in public is humiliating and discriminatory. I can only conclude that his attempts at Jedi-mind tricks on store employees failed. Tesco released a statement noting that Obi-Wan Kenobi, Yoda, and Luke Skywalker all appeared in public without hoods and only the Emperor always kept his hood on. Ouch. Looks like someone needs to go back to Dagobah to brush up on his Jedi history. (via Boing Boing)
In publishing advice news, the blog How Publishing Really Works has a succinct but incisive post on making the leap from self-published to published. Basically: you gotta have sales.
The Upstart Crow Agency has a bright and shiny new blog, and they ask a very good discussion question: what manuscripts are in your drawer?
Rachelle Gardner has some very good writerly advice: it’s important to have a proactive protagonist.
Almost finally, Margaret Yang was the first to point me to this poem by Jim C. Hines about reading slush……. in the form of a Dr. Seuss poem. Very cool.
And finally finally, this spectacular video combines two of my great loves: time-lapse photography and, well, the San Francisco Bay Area (via Andrew Sullivan). Enjoy!
Another Cloud Reel… from Delrious on Vimeo.
Have a great weekend!
Marilyn Peake says
Speaking of vampires, has anyone here read THE HISTORIAN by Elizabeth Kostova? I’m reading it now and find it amazing. It includes a great deal of historical information and intriguing description of places in Europe and the Middle East, and the factual background makes the vampire stories seem real. I think THE HISTORIAN is incredibly well-written, reminds me of older books I’ve read in which geographical places are an important part of the novel.
I liked The Historian, but didn't love it. I was happy that the vampires were villains, for one thing, rather than, um, sparkly. There were a lot of things to admire in it, though at times the prose and characters lacked a little resonance for me. That's more subjective taste than a critique, though.
Marilyn Peake says
OK, I posted a "pitch" about one of my drawer novels on the Upstart Crow site. Limited to 25 words, it allowed me to completely avoid mention of the questionable writing in said novel 🙂 Anyone else here taking the Upstart Crow challenge?
Do not mention The Drawer. It is Forbidden.
Marilyn Peake says
Oh, c'mon, Ink. You know you wanna do it. Any poorly-written novel can have its image tightened up and spit-polished in 25 words or less. 🙂
My pitch is still awaiting approval for posting at the Upstart Crow site, but should appear there soon.
It cannot be done, for The Drawer is defended by booby traps so devious and terrible they would make even Indiana Jones's hat fall to pieces. Plus the garden of man-eating plants surrounding it. Plus plus the Bog of Eternal Stench around that. Plus plus plus the Pit of Despair surrounding all that. Plus plus plus plus the Vlad-inspired Forest of the Impaled just to scare off the intrepid.
So you see my predicament.
While I don't normally look for certain publishers in the bookstore, I do tend to notice them when I have the books at home. I kind of get the idea of who likes more traditional stories and who is look for more edgy material.
Of course, Intel began branding this year, and they don't even sell anything to consumers directly, but the commercials are catchy. Intel, Sponsors of Tomorrow. Certainly a publishing house could do the same thing.
Hollie Sessoms says
Ha! Are you sure that guy was the founder of the Jedi religion? I thought my two boys were.
Marilyn Peake says
Hmmmm … I think I understand your predicament. Sounds risky. 🙂
I'll reprise here what I said on Rachelle's blog about proactive protagonists. Robert Heinlein's novel Job:A Comedy of Justice features a protagonist that is buffeted about by incomprehensible and uncontrollable forces at every stage of the story. And, it is an excellent book.
This is also from Rachelle's blog. She posted about the WaPo article, and though I couldn't address the question she posed, the article did spark me to an enjoyable flight of fancy which I'll share here:
I can't answer the question directly, as posed, because my experience as a writer is still quite new – a prologue and 3 chapters of a YA novel. So, any thoughts of becoming "published" are far in the future. That being said, it's a very interesting subject to me nonetheless. Interestingly, my novel is about high school students who start a band, and one of the subplots will be how the protagonist uses the insights gained in the "New Media" class she's taking to help promote the band.
There are many parallels between what is described in the linked article, and the shift in music marketing starting about 5 years ago. Because of that time lag, there might be useful insights for writers in the way the shifts in music marketing have played out. The last of the label-created stars were probably those of the generation of Avril Lavigne. In that model, the relatively unknown but talented musician signs a big-dollar contract with megalabel which then provides full-service image enhancement for the public persona. And a "star" is born.
That was the point where I became interested in the questions of music marketing and star creation, due to having a young friend who was an aspiring musician, and started studying web resources on the subject.
What I found was that the landscape was changing even as I attempted to map it. The first noticible shift was that more responsiblity was placed on the band to "build their story" – to become well known locally/regionally and have a pre-existing fan base. Rather than promising to make you popular, the A & R guys (and gals) wanted to find you already becoming popuular on your own.
Trend 2A & 2B. The Empire Strikes Back.
The decline of traditional starmaking represented a decisive victory for decentralized media. But the old school centralized outlets (Network TV, etc.) were not to be counted out of the game yet. The first noticible trend was an attempt to leverage the name recognition of performers who were already well-known from other entertainment contexts. This had mixed results. Jessica Simpson of MTV Nick & Jesica fame could at least sing. But she doesn't seem to have had enduring star quality. Her sister Ashlee could not sing. Nor could Hilary Duff. Pre-existing name recognition without underlying musical talent seems to have been a losing proposition. And then some unknown person(s) had a stroke of pure inspiration. Turn starmaking from a cost center into a profit center – and American Idol was born.
The key elements that make it work, IMO, are talent screening at the entry level, reality-show drama in the competition phase, and mass-based fan participation in the decisions.
In writing, we appear to still be at the beginning of the "build your story" stage. But what if the parallel developments between the two industries held solid? Imagine a reality TV show (or website, or youtube series, or whatever). Call it "America's Next Best-Seller". Have judges, eliminations, drama, personality, audience participation. The whole nine yards. Grab Stephen King and Cory Doctorow as judges. Find some big name critic with good stage presence as the "Simon Cowell" character. Promise publishing contracts to the winner(s).
Okay – this is blatant fantasy. I have no idea if it could work or not. But fun to speculate, no?
Meanwhile, those who have finished books, get out and "build your stories".
Coral Press says
I love this style of roundup links!! Great way to spend my weekend. Also, I'm surprised you didn't mention the NYTimes article from the other day about e-reader formats. I'm too lazy to look up the link (maybe because I'm bitter that it didn't mention Coral Press), but the people it did reference seem pretty on the ball.
Dawn Maria says
Nathan, you just validated what I've known for years- geeks are a force to be reckoned with no matter what side of a lawsuit they're on.
Nathan Bransford says
if you want to write a review like that you can put your real name by it. This isn't the place for Amazon style reviews.
Okay, I browsed the links. Good ones.
Nathan – 'jedi mind tricks' – you're funny. And that whole situation with the jedi religion thing was hilarious. I loved that the corporation actually 'proved' that they did not violate his religion. Funny stuff. Also funny was the whole vampire article. The 'Garlic' years. Funny.
The Washington post article was interesting. It's nice to have a breakdown of different things that authors can do that can work. I hope someone creates a blog or something that gives authors ideas of how to market themselves – since most of us aren't naturals at it.
Marilyn, thanks for thinking I'm funny. 🙂 And I would think some existentialist wrote a book like that – Kafka, or something. I'll leave it to you and Ink to know which one – I'm in awe of both of your literary expertise.
Jen C – thanks. Come back to S.F. soon! 🙂
That would be sort of interesting… but I think watching people read a book is inherently less interesting than watching people sing and perform (or even model). Watching people read is… not so exciting. I suppose you could do performance readings… but do you think anyone would watch that? People pack into concerts and shows everywhere… while literary readings are, one might say, a tough sell. Even when the "sell" is free admittance.
Though it would be neat to see literary readings gaining a renewed interest in our culture, though it would tend to favour performers, perhaps, rather than writers. (Or, rather, favour writers who are excellent performers rather than ones who would rather stay and type in their root cellars, since a vocal performance is very different than the reading experience)
That just gave me an idea about a post or a you tell me… Readings: Good or bad? Helpful to see? Helpful to do? I wonder how many writers these days go to actual readings, and how often, and whether these are beneficial experiences or not.
Marilyn Peake says
"And I would think some existentialist wrote a book like that – Kafka, or something. I'll leave it to you and Ink to know which one – I'm in awe of both of your literary expertise."
Thanks, Mira! When you jokingly suggested writing a book about someone staring at a wall, I thought back to the good ol’ days when philosophical books based on similar premises were bestsellers. Examples: 1.) Kafka’s METAMORPHOSIS in which a traveling salesman wakes up as an insect and his family cares for him without showing any overt signs of love. 2.) THE MYTH OF SISYPHUS, an essay in which Albert Camus discusses the idea that life might have no meaning and describes a man who must repeatedly push a boulder uphill, only to have it fall back down again. 3.) WAITING FOR GODOT, a play by Samuel Beckett, in which two men wait for someone else to show up. 4.) MAGISTER LUDI, or THE GLASS BEAD GAME, a novel by Hermann Hesse in which scholars play intellectual bead games. Ahhhh, yes, existentialism. Has its day passed?
Marilyn Peake says
Your ideas are well thought out and may result in a great novel. However, after you publish your first book, you’ll probably discover why public readings don’t sell very many books today unless the author already has access to widespread distribution and expensive advertising for their books. Readings used to result in increased book sales, back before there were so many books and so many authors and so many competing sources of entertainment. I know an eBook author who became a bestselling author on eBook sites when his books caught on at Science Fiction conventions, but even then he only earned $10,000 per year from his writing. Most eBook and small press authors don’t make nearly that much money – selling 300 copies total of a small press book is considered very successful. Many authors do lots of readings – at conventions, Renaissance Festivals, bookstores (including the large chains, Borders and Barnes and Noble). At each book signing at a bookstore, selling ten copies of a book is considered good. I read an interview with Brunonia Barry in which she discussed how she moved her novel, THE LACE READER, from self-published book to publication by a big publishing house and making the New York Times Best Seller list – she first invested $50,000 in book promotion for the self-published version.
Today, people want visual. Even singers are usually required to dance, to be in amazingly good physical shape, to be beautiful, and to produce visually appealing videos. Janis Joplin, exactly the way she was in her heyday, would have a very hard time making it as a singer today.
Marilyn Peake says
I should add that, if a writer doesn’t need to make a living from their writing, they can establish a very nice niche for themselves as a writer in today’s world. If their book gets good reviews and they connect with online writers’ communities, a writer can get lots of opportunities to do public readings and talks. Science Fiction/Fantasy conventions and indie bookstores are especially open to small press and self-published authors with books that have gotten good reviews. However, the author usually needs to pay the cost of travel and hotel for all their appearances, so having many appearances can get expensive.
Um, let's try that again.
Marilyn – exactly! I knew I could count on you – you're so literary. 🙂
And I do think that Rachelle has a good point – especially in today's marketplace. But there is room for coloring outside the lines.
I'm sure someday the pen of the existentialists will be picked up by someone – the themes still exist.
I read the "authors have to promote themselves" link and it left me thinking, why go with traditional publishers then?
Why not just self-publish?
You have to offer something more than just printing our books…I mean jeez, seriously.
Thanks for the links! I loved the poem!
Jen C says
Marilyn / Ink, I'm about 40 pages in to Cloud Atlas. While I was finding it interesting, I admit I had to look up a synopsis because it was driving me crazy not understanding what the book was about (no helpful write up on the cover…).
I'm weird like that, I can't read a book or watch a movie unless I know what the general story line is. So now I will hopefully be able to get into it more! I love the style of writing so far…
Jen C says
Mira – I'm already saving my pennies and my annual leave to come back ASAP! I'm having pink lemonade withdrawals… darned if I can find anywhere to buy it back home!
Caroline Starr Rose says
No THE CRIMSON PETAL AND THE WHITE?
Marilyn Peake says
Yeah, David Mitchell’s CLOUD ATLAS is a strange but wonderful book – each story in the book leads to the next story. I was lucky to have read CLOUD ATLAS for an online book club discussion in a group that includes quite a few college professors and very involved discussions. My favorite chapters were the futuristic AN ORISON OF SONMI~451 and SLOOSHA’S CROSSIN’ AN’ EV’RYTHIN’ AFTER. For me, I found it best to read that last chapter slowly. It takes place in a post-apocalyptic world, and the language is very odd. My interpretation is that language had broken down and might also have included bits of different languages. Once I looked at it that way, I found the language beautiful and facinating, and the chapter was easier to understand. It’s also really interesting how a comet-shaped tattoo appears throughout the stories. Have fun! I think I may eventually reread that book, I enjoyed it so much.
Hoogly – I thought of that too. With e-books especially, the trend toward author self-marketing may increase the author's independence. In the long run, this could be a good thing.
Jen C – all you do to make pink lemonade is add cranberry juice. You must bring this delicacy to down under – how sad that Australia doesn't know pink lemonade rosy goodness!
Jen C says
I'm up to the second part now, but I flipped ahead to check out what the other parts were (bad, I know! I also have a bad habit of reading the last line of a book just after I've started it!). It's like, not much has happened but it keeps drawing me back to it every night! Amazing cover, too.
I am so useless in the kitchen I don't know how successful I'd be in making my own lemonade. But yeah, anytime I say pink lemonade to Aussies they think I mean fizzy red stuff! Sigh…. I also miss cookie dough ice cream, and Butterfingers and grits and chicken pot pie and unbelievably huge portion sizes…
"I am a hands-on agent and will often work with authors on revisions before offering representation so that we can both get a sense of how well we work together."
This struck me as odd. With all due respect, why should we specialist authors consider an "agent" to be qualified enough to do the work of an editor with regard to manuscript changes?
Nathan Bransford says
You don't have to make any changes an agent recommends. Totally up to you.
But speaking for myself, if you don't trust me enough to consider my comments or if you are questioning my qualifications to even make suggestions I think it's probably a sign we shouldn't work together.
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