Category Archives: trends

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Collapse of the Kindle?

E-readers like Amazon’s Kindle have forever changed the publishing world, but are we seeing the beginning of the end of the e-reader? Amazon has been getting its fair share of bad press lately, and now it can apparently add declining Kindle sales to its list of troubles.

I absolutely loved Jennifer Maloney’s piece in The Wall Street Journal, and in my opinion, I think she is right: the phone will drive future book sales—not the e-reader. With our increasingly mobile lifestyle, convenience and the ability to multitask are king, and our phones afford us both. I bought the iPhone 6 Plus, in part, so I could take advantage of the huge screen and read whenever I had a moment, which is exactly what I’ve done. My Kindle has been useless ever since (and to be honest, I think I lost it but don’t really care). Carrying around a phone and an e-reader seems counterproductive when just one can easily accomplish the task.

I’m very curious to see how publishers take advantage of this burgeoning trend to package books for the mobile phone. Amazon’s dominance in the book and e-book marketplace began, in part, because of the Kindle and the necessity for a complete book buying ecosystem to accompany the e-reader. Amazon’s Fire phone was a bust, so what does it mean for the retail giant as Apple, Google, and other players continue to flesh out their bookstores and build up lively reader communities for phone readers?

How do you read e-books? An e-reader? Tablet? Smartphone? Over someone else’s shoulder? Oh, and this drinkable book is amazing. Just another reason why print books are best.

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Trust me–or don’t!

The Unreliable Narrator seems to be all the rage in fiction right now. And why not? It’s a great way to surprise a reader, and to keep us guessing. The most popular current example is Gillian Flynn’s GONE GIRL, in which things are never quite what we gather from the two conflicting narrative voices. Paula Hawkins’s THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN uses the same technique, with the added trick of a narrator who is an alcoholic with a tendency to drink herself into memory-wiping stupors. We constantly are forced to wonder just how trustworthy her impressions really are.

Alfred Hitchock, of all people, ran up against critical brickbats by using an unreliable-narrator flashback in his 1950 film STAGE FRIGHT. By showing a leading character’s false alibi as a flashback, Hitchcock was pulling a fast one on his audience. Until then, showing someone’s narrative of a flashback on-screen had always been considered to represent the truth. Viewers had always assumed they could count on that. Unless it was clearly stated that each character had a different version of the truth—as was done that same year in Kurosawa’s Rashomon—there was an unspoken contract between filmmaker and viewer that flashbacks equaled truth.

I’ve just finished Renée Knight’s DISCLAIMER, which takes the unreliable-narrator technique to a whole new level. And I must say, I like it even more than THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN because it mixes in a juicy dose of meticulously-plotted revenge. Rather brilliantly, Knight piles on twist after twist toward the end, making us feel guilty for assigning blame based on whose story we were believing all along.

What are some of your own favorite examples of unreliable narration? I’d love to know. (But please do us all a favor and try to avoid spoilers!)

Characteristics of a great thriller

Publishing is trendy—as in, it’s an industry dominated by trends, like pretty much every other industry. It’s not hard to understand why. Demand for books in a certain genre increases. Publishers acquire more books in said genre. And right now, thriller is that genre.

Thrillers have always sold, but Gillian Flynn’s GONE GIRL hit the big screen last year and demand for the genre grew. THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN by Paula Hawkins enjoyed some serious pre-publication buzz and came out of the gates at a full sprint this January. It’s been at, or near, the top of all bestseller lists since. Renee Knight’s debut, DISCLAIMER, comes out in a week, and it has drawn comparisons to both GONE GIRL and THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN. And on the eve of the London Book Fair this year, a professor at Oberlin College saw his debut thriller go for 7 figures in a two-book deal!

So clearly thrillers are hot. But what makes them great? What differentiates a top tier thriller from an average one? What do you think? Sound off in the comments.

Oh, and if you think you’ve written a top tier thriller, do send it my way. I wouldn’t hate reading it…

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Fifty Shades: The Movie

So FIFTY SHADES OF GREY by E.L. James finally hit the big screen this past weekend after what seemed like a million bumps in the road, including losing actors left and right. It made a splash in the box office just as it did in the publishing industry. The movie brought in $94 million its opening weekend: the highest-grossing President’s Day Weekend ever.

But how long will the film industry feel the ripples of this splash? The book was/is an absolute phenomenon. James’s Fifty Shades series has sold an absurd amount of copies—both when it was self-published and after Random House picked it up. Imitators and parodies of the books soon appeared on shelves and e-bookstores. It’s paved the way for other fan fiction and other self-published authors to have a chance to land with a big publisher and/or movie studio.

So will we begin to see more erotica made into films? Given the success of Fifty Shades on opening weekend, it’d be easy to definitively answer yes. However, reading is an intrinsically private experience, which lends itself to fantasy. Watching explicit scenes on a big screen in a room full of people is a different matter entirely. Could Fifty Shades be an exception?

Your guess is as good as mine: What do you think?

P.S. Saw American Sniper this weekend. The movie ended, and everyone walked out silently, somberly. No one said a word. A completely full theater, and not one sound was made. I’ve never experienced anything like that before. What did you think of this movie/book? I’d like to hear your thoughts on this one, too.

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A call for new material

Covers

Last Thursday, during an interview I was giving, I was asked about new trends in our business.  It is always so difficult to predict these but it does seem to me that there is definitely an increased interest in thrillers and mysteries lately.

Just look at the enormous success of GONE GIRL by Gillian Flynn, IN THE WOODS by Tana French, Chelsea Cain’s HEART SICK and its sequels,  and our own MURDER AS A FINE ART.  What I’m looking for in this category is “fresh” and “new,” character driven material featuring strong writing and plenty of twists.  Definitely not “old fashioned” as so many of the scripts I see are.

So, this is a call for that kind of fiction.   I would be excited to consider what you have to offer, especially if you have already had success in the category even in the self-published arena.

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I like reading YA and I don’t care who knows

I’ve always felt secretly awkward of the fact that I love young-adult fiction. I mean, can you blame me? Just look at how the phenomenon of adults reading YA has been dissected.

With so much analysis aimed at those of us adults who read YA, we needed a hero, someone to stand up and say nay, it’s not weird. And then I came across this game changer from John Green. (Who else?) And now I’m not hesitant to admit it. I love reading YA. I want to shout it from a mountaintop.

Do you qualify as a YA addict? Gotta love the shout-outs to Richelle Mead and James Dashner…but don’t stop your YA reading list there! Many of our clients are doing awesome things in YA!

Now, to get to the point of this post, I’ve been searching for a series that can live up to the recent ending of, what is scientifically speaking, the best YA series of all time: The Wheel of Time. Any suggestions? Anyone? Bueller?

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Less is more

I judge books by their covers. Literally. And so does everyone else.

Lately, I’ve handed down some pretty harsh judgments. Not many covers have really called to me in recent months. In fact, the covers that catch my eye tend to be the least obnoxious, the ones with the simplest designs and quietest colors.

For instance, check out Boris Kachka’s HOTHOUSE.

 

 

I mean, c’mon. That’s a pretty cool cover. Nice color contrast and some fancy text. This book has absolutely everything going for it. Check out Jane’s post, and you’ll see what I mean.

 

What about this one?

 

 

Chad Harbach’s THE ART OF FIELDING has a pretty similar style to Kachka’s HOTHOUSE, and again, I love it. When in doubt, you can’t go wrong designing a book cover with some nice colors, and flowing script.

 

Once again, less is more:

 

 

One of my all-time favorite reads, too. But I’ll get to that in another blog.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: this guy just doesn’t like book covers with pictures. Wrong!

 

 

One chair leaning against another chair: that’s some real stuff. Simple yet beautiful.

And the minimalist cover to end all minimalist covers:

 

In case you missed it:

 

Who wouldn’t want to pick this book up and see what it’s about? ONE RED PAPERCLIP by Kyle MacDonald may just have the best cover of them all.

So I guess I’m a minimalist. (What would my parents think?) How about you guys? What are some of your favorite book covers?

Let’s think about the ladies

Let’s think about the ladies

There’s a really thought-provoking piece published this week in The Atlantic about books that are focused on women finding or yearning for love in fiction rather than other things in life like career or themselves. I think teens and younger adults are so focused on boys and love that it’s obvious to look to a love interest for drama, and I think there is a perception that most books need a “love interest” to work in the market.

I think the expansion of the children’s market, YA in particular, over the last few years have produced a great number of smart, thoughtful books with female protagonists grappling with real emotional issues other than love, including my own Brianna on the Brink by Nicole McInnes, which begins with a sexual liaison but evolves into so much more.  The author of The Atlantic piece, Kelsey McKinney, also points to a coming-of-age family drama with no love story that sounds terrific called Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson. It was published decades ago.

Cheryl Klein over at Scholastic tweeted the piece and said that she too is looking for this kind of material. In her words: “I would LOVE more YA about young women finding careers, or their life’s work & own worth, exclusive of love interest. Tho I love love too. I was obsessed with my future as a teenager: what college to attend, what career would suit me. Not things I see a lot in mss.” It’s rare to find that kind of direct feedback from an editor who reads for a living and sees a lot of submissions. The message is that there is room in the market, which is the opposite of what agents and editors  are usually saying!

And I agree that there is room for growth here. As McKinney says in her smart piece: “I wanted to drive On the Road and stop off in small towns and drink more than was probably appropriate. I wanted to question who I was and be my own Catcher in the Rye. There are no Jack Kerouacs or Holden Caulfields for girls. Literary girls don’t take road-trips to find themselves; they take trips to find men.” What about a modern female-driven version of On the Road? I’d love to read that, and I’d love to sell it too and pass it down to my four daughters.

So, if any of you aspiring authors have books with strong female protagonists contemplating their futures in a unique and independent way, please send them along.

Creatures of Habit

Over the weekend my roommate was showing me an app on his smartphone, one that analyses your sleeping pattern. You place your smartphone in bed and by charting your movements the app is able to determine whether you are in a deep sleep state or a light sleep state. The app then programs your alarm to wake you up in the light sleep phase closest to the time you wish to wake up, thus ensuring that you will start off your day bright eyed and bushy tailed.

What interested me about this device however is that its output consists of graphs, numbers and statistics, data which does not visually reflect the more subjective and emotional side of sleep, which is dreams. Does the empirical complement or explain the ethereal? Can raw data explain why I always miss the last minute winning goal for my boyhood soccer team? (It’s a recurring dream, so I’ll always get another chance).

With this swirling around my head, I was drawn to this article on the Guardian. The article posits that e-books are a different genre from print books because, “With the book, the reader’s relationship to the text is private, and the book is continuous over space, time and reader. Neither of these propositions is necessarily the case with the e-book. The e-book gathers a great deal of information about our reading habits: when we start to read, when we stop, how quickly or slowly we read, when we skip pages, when we re-read, what we choose to highlight, what we choose to read next.”

To link my personal anecdote with the article – will the e-book and its possibility to trace and digest our preferences change the role of our relationship with books? Much like the alarm being set to suit the sleeper, will the e-book become malleable to the reader’s preferences?

I am still chewing this over and over. I see the journalist’s point, that by being able to extrapolate a reader’s reading habits through an e-book we would be able to see what kind of reader we are through a set of data, that can then be used to adapt the text, “If 50% of readers stopped reading you postmodernist thriller at page 98, the publisher might recommend that for Version 2.0, the plot twist on page 110 be brought forward.”

It is indeed an interesting perspective to the future , but is not yet the reality, which is why I am still mulling over the possibilities over private vs. public reading habits. In the meantime, let me know what you think of this article. Is this the way you view e-books? I’ll get back to you in a future blog post with more thoughts on this debate and I’ll let you know if I ever score that winning goal!

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Lincoln Love

I can’t say that I’m much of a history buff, but there was an interesting article that caught my eye in the Wall Street Journal last week about the overwhelming amount of books there are in the market about President Lincoln. Of course it’s clear that books about Honest Abe sell nicely—just take a look at Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard’s Killing Lincoln or Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals. And according to the article, a minimum of 20 more books about Lincoln are set to be published in the next year!

But what I hadn’t thought about before that the article explained so well is how one subject—or one person, really—can reach such a wide audience. Besides for the obvious fascinating and fatal historical events, Lincoln as a man was beyond extraordinary. For one, he’s the perfect example of someone who achieved the American Dream, all while experiencing personal tragedies. But, part of what makes him so interesting is that, as the article points out, he is still mysterious: “Scholars continue to debate how and when he came to the decision to end slavery.”

But, if you’re already sick of him, the buzzed about Lincoln movie with Spielberg directing and starring the masterful Daniel Day Lewis is sure to rekindle the flame!

What about you all? Are you a Lincoln buff or is there someone else in history that you prefer to read about?