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1. Moneyball for book publishers


Way back in 2007, I wrote about what I called the "holy grail" of book publishing: the blockbuster detector. Inspired by both The Wisdom of Crowds and Moneyball, I wondered about the possibility of a tool that could identify undervalued markets and help predict future sales.

2007, mind you, was the era before the Kindle and iPad even existed. These, of course, opened up a world of possibility, where you could assess on a granular level where people stop reading, and distinguish between books that people buy and books that people actually read.

So naturally, now that it's 2016, there's a company dedicated to helping publishers detect which books might be hits or duds based on the reading habits of beta readers.

This is probably just the tip of the iceberg. Readers and writers, are you alarmed at the idea that your publisher could scale back your marketing budget if people stop reading past page 60 of your novel? Are you excited by the idea you could gain access to this type of data and help you revise?

What do you think?

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2. Do you have a writing New Year's resolution?


It is 2016! Still no flying cars or hoverboards (no, it's not), but um, at least Crystal Pepsi is coming back? Bueller?

Anyway, as we move ever more squarely into the twenty-first century, it is that time of year where we make resolutions for how we will self-improve, conquer worlds, and burn off all those Crystal Pepsi calories.

Do you have a writing-related New Year's resolution?

I'm hoping to make more progress on my sloooooow going novel. And hopefully blog a bit more consistently. And look at Twitter a little more often.

What about you?

Art: The Sun by Edvard Munch

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3. Will you ever buy mostly ebooks? (9th Annual Poll)

Here we are again.

I've been asking this question once a year since 2007, when the Kindle was an inelegant piece of plastic and the iPad was a glimmer in Steve Jobs' eye.

Will you ever buy mostly e-books? Do you already?

Poll below.

Caveats to preempt comments I have heard since 2007. Yes, not a scientific poll, yes, difficult to compare between years, yes, I know you want more poll options because no choice here precisely capture your nuanced opinion and buying habits. Choose the one that is closest enough to your perspective.

Looking forward to seeing what you think!


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4. What is the future of bookstores?


There was some good news in bookstoreland this week as beloved San Francisco science fiction and fantasy bookstore Borderlands announced that they would be able to stay open at least another year thanks to a successful (and unique) crowdfunding and sponsorship campaign. They had previously planned to close in part due to rising minimum wages in San Francisco.

Is this a harbinger of things to come for bookstores?

I've previously predicted that local, independent bookstores would hang on longer than chains, much as indie record stores have persisted even as Virgin, Borders and Tower megastores bit the dust in the music world.

But it seems like even just relying on book sales may not be enough as e-books continue their inexorable march.

What do you think? Can bookstores hang on, and is crowdfunding the answer? Or will bookstores be saved by another force? Or will they eventually be consigned to the past?

Art: Pariser Büchermarkt by Fritz Westendorp

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5. What's your writing routine?


Much like athletes warming up for a big game, just about every writer I know has a routine to get them ready and focused to write.

What's yours?

Mine: I wake up relatively early on the weekend (7:30-8:00am), start up a pot of coffee, go outside to get a bagel or breakfast sandwich, come back, turn on soccer, answer emails, and then get myself started writing.

What about you?

Art: Été by Claude Monet

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6. Would you take money or an award?


You are visited by a genie. He offers you two choices.

One, your book will become a runaway commercial success and you will want for nothing. You will sell bazillions of copies, make bazillions of dollars, but even though it's popular, pretty much everyone thinks your book sucks.

Two, your book will not sell that well, but it will be remembered forever. You will win a major award and be widely regarded as a notable writer, but you will receive very little financial benefit and will have to continue to scramble to make ends meet.

What do you choose?

Art: Lais Corinthiaca by Hans Holbein the Younger

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7. What was your favorite experience meeting a writer?


I've been wildly fortunate over the years to have met some of my very favorite authors and have befriended many others. Working in publishing and then going to conferences as a writer is often an exercise in "OMG OMG play it cool, play it cool" when your inner book geek is freaking out about meeting a rock star author.

What's your favorite experience meeting an author?

I have tons of such encounters to choose from, but I think I would have to go with having lunch with S.E. Hinton in Tulsa, Oklahoma and finding out (OMG OMG OMG OMG) that she read my blog. (Here's the interview we did afterwards).

What about you?

Art: Officer and a Laughing Girl by Johannes Vermeer

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8. How do you plan to publish your work in progress?

Is self-publishing on the ascent? Do people still want the imprimatur of a publisher?

Let's find out. This is the third annual poll. How do you plan to publish your work in progress? Are you a die-hard traditional or self-publisher? Will you consider one or the other depending on circumstances?

Poll below. Please click here if you are reading via e-mail or a feed reader.


Create your own user feedback survey

Art: Richard March Hoe's printing press from History of the Processes of Manufacture by A.H. Jocelyn

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9. How should authors be paid?


There was an interesting kerfuffle recently as Amazon began transitioning some royalties over to pages read, as opposed to downloads. Will Oremus is one who thinks it makes sense.

It got me thinking. How should authors be paid?

What about all those used book sales that authors aren't compensated for? Library borrowings? Back to the patronage system?

Anyone got some creative ideas?

Art: Money to Burn by Victor Dubreuil

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10. What was the inspiration for the title of your WIP?


Titles are tricky.

A great title can catapult a book, a bad title, well, the worst are probably just dull.

How did you think of the title of your WIP or last project?

My current WIP is untitled, but I named Jacob Wonderbar after my favorite coffee drink at Philz. Coffee wins again.

What about you?

Art: Don Quixote in the library by Adolf Schrödter

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11. Do you read multiple books simultaneously or one at a time?


There are two types of readers and two types of readers only.

One type has several different books going. They might have one on their nightstand and one in their backpack, another stashed at work for lunchtime reading and who knows where else. I don't understand these people. They have a wild book love life.

Others, like me, cannot cheat on our current books. We are book monogamists, faithful to the book that currently has our attention even when we're apart and there are tempting new books in front of us.

Which type are you? Do you like having several books going or do you read one at a time?

Art: Interesting Story by Laura Muntz Lyall

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12. How do you plan to publish your work-in-progress?


So. I'm curious if the times they are a-changing.

A year ago, I asked a simple question: how do you plan to publish your work-in-progress?

And now, inspired my long-running poll about buying e-books, I'm asking agin. Do you think the times have changed? Are more people willing to go straight to self-publishing? Are people reconsidering the benefits of traditional publication?

We shall see. Poll below. If you're reading this on a feed reader or via e-mail, please click through to see it.


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13. What are your writing superstitions?


Writers can be a superstitious lot.

A coffee mug that confers special powers. An exacting but necessary pre-writing routine that must be adhered to before sitting down to write. A snack that is crucial for proper brain functioning.

What are your writing superstitions?

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14. What's your biggest distraction from writing?


When my sister told me about the game 2048 I knew I was in trouble.

Most writers I know have an addictive personality. In order to be a writer you kind of have to. If you're the type of person who doesn't feel compulsively like you absolutely have to finish something you may not have the type of drive it takes to

I'm fortunate that I'm not prone to substance abuse, but I am very susceptible to games. When I start, I feel like I have to finish.

2048 is right up my alley in a really bad way. It is a mental puzzle, it's simple, it has an endless challenge. I lost a lot of time playing that game, and yes, the image above is a screenshot of my high score (*shakes fist at sister*).

Games are my biggest source for distraction. What's yours?

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15. Do you talk about your characters as if they're real people?


I'm probably in the minority on this one. 

Sometimes writers talk about their characters as if they're real people. And I don't mean as in, "So and so did such and such," I mean, they talk about their characters as if they are people with their own agency that the author has little control over.

You'll hear things like, "I had big plans for what was going to happen, but then my character Suzy had other ideas!" or "Every time I sat down to write my novel, Suzy just made me take her to the craziest places."

On the one hand, I get it. It can be sort of strange to write a character whose internal logic you learn to obey. You might plan your novel ahead, but when you actually get down to writing it, you know your character's motivations so well you realize your previous plans don't make sense. It can feel like a character is gradually gaining control over your novel.

On the other hand, who is writing this novel?? Who are these characters that are outside of these writers' head and outside of their control? 

Confession: it kiiiiiiiiiiiind of weirds me out. 

Am I alone on this one or are there others out there like me? 

Art: An Eunuch's Dream by Jean-Jules-Antoine Lecomte du Nouÿ

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16. How do you know when to give up on a project?


We've all been there.

Whether it's a heady ten page burst that we realize is terrible the next day or an agonizing decision to put a novel in the draw after years of work, every writer has to give up on some projects. The reasons vary, the amount of pain differs, but we all have to decide that enough is enough.

But how do you know when you've reached that point?

Or, as longtime reader Collin Myers puts it:
I just wonder, at what point do you have to kind of sit back and say, "This isn't going to work. It's not going to turn out the way you envisioned it."
Have you reached this point with a project? How did you know? Did you ever end up regretting turning back?

Art: Jeune homme à la fenêtre by Gustave Caillebotte

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17. Are you optimistic about the future of books?


Something strange has been happening lately: not many of my friends are reading books.

It has happened gradually, almost imperceptibly, but the number of my friends who are reading is on the decline.

Some of this may be my age. Now that I'm approaching my mid thirties, a lot of my friends are in baby zone and are using their rare spare time to sleep.

But a lot of people I know have switched to reading more articles, they binge watch Netflix in their free time, and even smart thinking people don't feel the need to be catching up with the latest hot novel.

I have been optimistic about books for a long time. And I don't see reason to change my tune.

But sometimes... I wonder. With tablets and electronics everywhere, with the Internet evermore at our fingertips... will people still read books like they used to? Will our attention spans survive?

I hope they will. I love movies, I love video games, I love television, but nothing can compare to the emotional depth of reading a book.

No movie can give us the last page of The Great Gatsby. No actual video game is as fun as
reading Ready Player One. The TV version of Game of Thrones is a lot of fun, but the longer it goes on the larger the books loom.

You know this. I know this. But are people going to keep reading?

What say you?

Art: A Favourite Author by Poul Friis Nybo

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18. Which book do you wish were turned into a movie?


Over at io9, Esther Inglis-Arkell ranked ten classic YA books she wished were turned into movies.

I wasn't actually familiar with those, but it definitely got me thinking. Which book do you wish were turned into a movie?

This is a tricky, tricky choice for me. On the one hand, classics like The Great Gatsby and Moby-Dick are difficult to transition to the screen, which gives me pause about picking something too literary. On the other hand, who knew that The Godfather would have been so elevated in Francis Ford Coppola's hands?

It turns out that some of my initial choices are already in the works, including Child 44, which is currently in production, Spin by Robert Charles Wilson, which is rumored to be considered for a TV show, and Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem, also in development.

Thus, I would have to go with The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon. What about you?

(And no, you're not allowed to answer "my own!")

Art: The Photographer Sescau by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

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19. How do you name your characters?


This question comes from reader Puneet Agrawal, who is wondering about a seemingly simple and yet quite complicated and important question: How do you name your characters?

Where do you draw your inspiration? What's your process? Do they just come to you or do you spend time brainstorming? Do you draw upon any resources, like baby name books or census data?

I'm personally partial to naming important characters after coffee drinks. What about you?

Art: The Gardener by Paul Cezanne

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20. What is the biggest obstacle you've overcome to be a writer?


Writing can be tough. And that's even without those external obstacles that can get in the way of achieving writerly dreams.

What's the biggest obstacle you've overcome to be a writer?

Mine was failure to believe that I could actually be a creative person who could actually write a novel. I don't know what I thought a "creative person" was per se, but I did think it wasn't me. That is, until I got over that and decided instead to just go for it.

What about you?

Art: The Bullfight by Auguste-Francois Bonheur

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21. Will you ever buy mostly e-books?

Eighth! Annual! Poll!

I think we need a moment, guys. Eighth. Annual. Some of you probably voted in the first poll, or maybe you missed that one and voted in the second or third, but holy cow! Where did the time go?!

And where in the heck are the flying cars? It's 2014, we should be reading holograms in space or something.

Ahem. Meanwhile, there is a poll that YES WE KNOW is not scientific and is not directly applicable to previous years, but even though I say that every single year there will still be a commenter who insists on pointing out that this poll is not scientific and is not directly applicable to previous years. You may be the commenter who after eight years still insists on pointing this out, and I have to say I kind of begrudgingly love you.

Here are polls past, in case you are curious:

2007
2008 (technically the beginning of '09)
2009
2010
2011
2012
2013

And here is this one. Vote if you dare! Oh, and yes, it's 2014 but you'll still need to click through to the actual post if you're reading this via e-mail or in a feed reader.



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22. What Do Writers Owe the People in Their Lives?


Ta-Nehisi Coates recently featured an interview with William Faulkner that naturally had an incredible array of quotable material, but which focused in part on the responsibility an author has to their art.

The meat:
The writer's only responsibility is to his art. He will be completely ruthless if he is a good one. He has a dream. It anguishes him so much he must get rid of it. He has no peace until then. Everything goes by the board: honor, pride, decency, security, happiness, all, to get the book written. If a writer has to rob his mother, he will not hesitate; the "Ode on a Grecian Urn" is worth any number of old ladies.
Faulkner comes from the kill, maim, dismember school of artistry, where the work is paramount and the lives that are affected are of secondary concern.

Easy to say. Not so much to do.

Many writers I know, especially memoirists or those who pull material from their real lives, grapple with the morality of affecting personal relationships in order to put forth their writing. When I heard him speak a few weeks back, Jonathan Franzen recounted how he hesitated using a thinly veiled version of his brother in The Corrections.

How should a writer navigate this tricky path? Does the work of art ultimately reign supreme over the feelings of the people who may be hurt in the process of creating a book? What should an author be prepared to sacrifice? What do writers owe the other people in their lives?

Photograph of William Faulkner by Carl Van Vechten. Please see the Wikimedia Commons page for information on the Vechten estate's requests for reproducing his photographs.

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23. Which Writer Do You Most Want to Be Friends With?


Let's face it, there are some cool authors out there. Not only do they write awesome books, but they seem like they might be extremely fun to hang out with.

Which author do you most want to befriend?

I've been fortunate to actually become friendly with some writers I admire, but one author I would like to meet is China Miéville, in part because his books are amazing, in part because of interviews like this.

China, if you're reading this, let's go bowling sometime!

What about you?

Art: "Gute Freunde" - Hermann Kern

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24. Which Writers Most Influence Your Work?


No writer lives in a vacuum. We all take inspiration from the people who have come before us. We are moved some of their best ideas, we all start through imitation before we graduate to originality, and it's important to recognize and honor the people who paved the way for your work.

This is an important process, and even as we mature as writers and as human beings we continue to be shaped by those around us and whose work inspires us, just as I've cribbed social media lessons from Tahereh Mafi and The Rejectionist even as they've become real-life friends.

I've asked before who in your life most influenced you on the way but who are the writers who have shaped your work?

For me, it's Bill Watterson, Douglas Adams and Roald Dahl.

Art: Ein Maler bei der Arbeit by Paul Cézanne

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25. What Are the Best Resources for Self-Publishers?


So. I'm embarking on a project to self-publish a Guide to Writing a Novel.

What are the best resources for self-publishers? What are your favorite blogs, message boards, and books?

Art: The bookbinder by Anonymous

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