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Viewing Blog: Nathan Bransford, Most Recent at Top
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Nathan Bransford is the author of JACOB WONDERBAR AND THE COSMIC SPACE KAPOW, a middle grade novel about three kids who blast off into space, break the universe, and have to find their way back home, which will be published by Dial Books for Young Readers in May 2011. He was formerly a literary agent with Curtis Brown Ltd., but is now a publishing civilian working in the tech industry. He lives in San Francisco.
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1. 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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2. Bill Watterson on life and creativity

I make no secret of my incredible affection for Calvin and Hobbes creator Bill Watterson, who on the whole is a pretty reclusive author, but when he speaks he makes it count.

So two great links to share. In the first, Fast Company pulled four great principles on creativity from his interviews in the movie Stripped.

And in the second, Slate reprinted the cartoon blog Zen Pencil's cartoon rendering of part of Bill Watterson's commencement speech at Kenyon College about creating a life that's in tune with your values.

Just about everything I've learned in life seems like it came from Calvin and Hobbes, from the power of imagination to our powerlessness on some days when even lucky rocketship underpants can't help. Bill Watterson is a national treasure.

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3. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at fifty

Happy fiftieth birthday to Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which was originally published in 1964. To celebrate, Penguin has a new paperback edition plus a golden ticket sweepstakes.

It's hard to imagine a book that was more influential for me than Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and all of Roald Dahl's books for that matter, which were so powerful with their combination of humor, heart, but with a very sinister underpinning that perfectly captures what it's like to be 10-12 years old. The world at the age is amazing and funny and wondrous, but also a little scary.

Happy birthday to one of the greatest children's books of all time. While many people's memories of the book are shaped by the equally indelible film version Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (and to a lesser extent the Johnny Depp/Tim Burton version), some of us remember that Veruca Salt wanted a squirrel and not a golden goose, Mike Teavee was overly stretched to ten feet tall, and a vermicious knid is an alien, not a dangerous creature on Loopaland.

What's your memory of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory?

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4. Advice for young writers

I often receive e-mails from young writers in high school and even younger, and I'm always so impressed with them and even a little bit jealous. I had no idea I wanted to be a writer when I was in high school and I rue all those years I could have spent honing my craft. And even if I had known I wanted to be a writer, I didn't have the Internet to reach out to other authors and learn more about what it takes to write a novel.

These young people are getting such a head start on their careers, and I can't wait to see the incredible books they produce.

There's a long tradition of writers offering advice to young writers, perhaps none greater than Rainer Maria Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet. I can't top that, but here's my own modest contribution to the genre.

Here's my advice for young writers:

Don't write for the writer you are now. Write for the writer you're going to become.

Writers aren't born, they are made. It takes most writers years and years to hone their craft, and it's helpful to have had years and years of reading experience now. By the time you've reached high school you have lived enough to have tasted the world and it may feel like you're ready to channel it all into a novel, but don't expect that your writerly success will come immediately.

Yes, there are occasional wunderkinds that defy this rule. But even S.E. Hinton, who published The Outsiders when she was sixteen, had already written several novels before that one.

Within the publishing industry, you won't be judged based on your age, you'll be judged against other writers who have spent years and even decades writing. Being good for your age isn't enough. You have to be good period, and it's difficult to achieve that level with limited experience.

Don't judge your writing success by whether you're able to find publication immediately. Instead, write to get better, write for catharsis and practice and fun. Your future self will be thankful for the time well spent.

Create the world you want, but don't leave the one you're in.

Teenage years can be incredibly difficult. You might feel trapped by parents, peers, or a school that doesn't understand you or even mistreats you. You have limited control over your life even as you're old enough to grasp that there is something more out there, if only you were allowed to go and get it.

Writing can be an incredible release. It gives you the ability to create a world that's better than the one you're living in. It gives you the power you don't have in your day-to-day life.

Use it well. But don't disengage with the world you're living in. Writing can feel like a substitute for real life, but it's important to find people in the real one who you can talk to, whether that's friends, a teacher, or fellow writers. Don't let your characters be a substitute for real-world relationships.

Don't be afraid to imitate at first.

Nearly every writer who starts out can see the fingerprints of their favorite writers in their work. This is normal.

Don't be alarmed if you feel like you're writing someone else's book at first. Push forward. Keep writing. Even take up fan fiction if you want to.

It takes time to learn how to craft a plot, to write sophisticated dialogue, to infuse your work with emotional depth. It takes many writers years to hone these skills.

One thing you can do in the meantime is to find your voice. Write, write, and write some more. In the beginning your work might sound like someone else. But eventually you'll make it your own.

Don't ever apologize for being a writer.

Adults often underestimate teenagers. They treat them as if they are still children, when it's not true, and they may not think you're capable of being a great writer when you absolutely are. Or, possibly worse, they might try to indulge you and be overly enthusiastic, when you know they secretly are not taking you seriously and think your writing is a phase you're going to grow out of.

Your writing is worthwhile. Your writing is important. Don't let anyone tell you any differently.

There are a lot of people in life who never try to achieve their dreams. They would rather sit back and be a critic than an artist, because it's easier to see what's wrong with someone else's work than to create your own. There will always be naysayers. But...

Writers write.

So go for it. There is a whole world waiting for you to bring it to fruition.

Art: Schreiben der Knabe by Albert Anker

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5. The Past Few Week in Books 7/18/14

Photo by me. I'm on Instagram here.
Okay so this is more like the last few months in books because I have fallen down on the job like

but never fear! We have some terrific links for you!

Let's get to it.

Some big news today as Amazon officially rolled out its rumored $9.99 Kindle Unlimited subscription plan. Is this the long-awaited "Netflix of books?"

This was one of my favorite Buzzfeed features in a long time: the book covers of 90s book title mashups (like The Little Prince of Bel Air).

Which rappers are more verbose than Shakespeare, and which... uh, aren't? This chart is awesome. The Wu Tang Clan can hold their craniums high.

It's really important to revise your novel. But when is enough enough? Here are some red flags that you might have revisionitis.

Exposition is so tricky to handle deftly. Writer Jennifer Hubbard talks about the most important part of getting it right: Dole out only the information you need to understand what's happening now.

Nathan Bransford catnip: 4 tips on creativity from the creator of Calvin and Hobbes.

In other Bill Watterson news, OMG new Bill Watterson comic.

Do you have a self-published masterpiece? If so the Guardian wants you to submit it for review. They're choosing one self-published book to be featured each month.

Penguin Random House unveiled their new logo, disappointing everyone who hoped it would be a penguin standing in front of a house. Here is what they come up with instead:

Agent Kristin Nelson has an important reminder for all authors: read your contracts.

19 rare recordings of famous authors.

Jason Song has an interesting article about authors who are turning to young adult fiction.

Tony Horwitz wrote about the travails of being a digital bestseller.

Charlie Jane Anders has a tip for cutting down your novel: outline outline outline.

And finally, friend-of-the-blog Tony Schmiesing is a quadrupalegic skiier whose quest to ski Alaska is truly, truly inspiring:

The Edge of Impossible with Tony Schmiesing from HighFivesFoundation on Vimeo.

Have a great weekend!

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6. ComicCon!

I'm thrilled to be headed back to San Diego in a few weeks for the insanity otherwise known as ComicCon, and I will be participating in two terrific panels!

On Saturday at 6pm, I will be moderating a panel called "Publishing 360: Building a Bestseller," in which we will talk about the different facets of producing a bestseller, from idea to novel to agent to editor to publication. That one will feature Maze Runner author James Dashner and Beautiful Bastard author Christina Lauren, along with their respective agents, Michael Bourret and Holly Root, and their respective editors, Krista Marino and Adam Wilson, and S&S associate director of publicity Kristin Dwyer.

And on Sunday at 1pm, for the fourth consecutive year I'll be moderating What's Hot in Young Adult Fiction, featuring Kresley Cole (The Arcana Chronicles), Kami Garcia (Unbreakable), Tessa Gratton (United States of Asgard series), Tahereh Mafi (The Shatter Me series), Natalie Parker (Beware the Wild), CJ Redwine (The Defiance series), Brendan Reichs (The Virals series), Margaret Stohl (The Icons series), and Scott Westerfeld (Afterworlds).

See you there!

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7. The real solution to Amazon vs. Hachette

Unless you've been living deep in the Amazon (the rainforest, not the retail giant), you have probably heard... and heard... and heard... about Amazon vs. Hachette.

There have been op-eds. Stephen Colbert rants. Letters from angry authors. Counter-letters from angry authors.

You should be rooting for Amazon, says some. No, you should be rooting for Hachette, says others.

At this point, I agree with Evil Wylie:
(But apparently, I do not agree enough to refrain from writing my own blog post about it.)

In case you need a primer, Amazon and Hachette are squaring off over e-book prices. In order to increase their negotiating leverage, Amazon is trying to squeeze Hachette by removing pre-orders for their books and otherwise making them more difficult to procure. This has dragged on for nearly two months, and in order to help quell complaints that it is harming authors, Amazon recently announced a plan to pay authors in full during the dispute, an offer the Authors Guild called "highly disingenuous." (Here's more background from David Streitfeld).

What I find most amazing about this dispute is the extent to which it is a Rorschach Test for your views on the publishing industry writ large. The predictable traditional publishing industry defenders have come out in force against Amazon, and the predictable anti-traditional publishing industry forces (especially certain vocal segments of the self-publishing community) have come out in full-throated Amazonian defense.

Call me crazy, (and yes, I'm not directly affected by this dispute), but I'm not endlessly titillated by the sharp-elbowed negotiations of two massive multinational corporations who are both fighting for their respective financial interests.

Nor do I see it as a referendum on the future of literary culture, which has been on the verge of the apocalypse for the past five hundred years without said apocalypse ever coming to pass.

Instead, I see this as a wakeup call for authors to think about what it is they're actually arguing about.

Here's the thing, authors. Amazon is not your best friend. Amazon is looking out for Amazon.

Hachette is not your best friend, either. Hachette is looking out for Hachette.

Inasmuch as your interests coincide with Amazon and Hachette, they are more than happy to be your friend. And there are great people who work at both companies. But when your interests diverge with theirs and they want to maximize revenue and are able to extract more from you because they've increased their leverage, whose side do you think they're going to choose? Yours or theirs?

Do you endlessly trust Amazon to protect author's interests after they've thoroughly cemented their position as the primary game in town? Are you really happy with the digital royalty traditional publishers are paying?

So where is the for-authors-by-authors publishing option? How about a partnership with the indie bookselling community to create the literary culture we really want instead of hoping that huge corporations are going to come to our rescue? How about instead of picking which intermediary we like better we disintermediate and build a J.K. Rowling-esque option that truly goes directly from author to readers?

Yes yes, easier said than done and someone has to pick up the mantle and do it. I'm, uh, busy with writing and stuff.

But at the very least, count me out of the letters and counter-letters and the flame wars and the bile. Rather than authors fighting it out we should be working together to create something better.

Art: Symposium by Akseli Gallen-Kallela

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8. 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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9. Page critique: Don't overdo it

Page critiques are back!

If you would like to nominate your page for a future page critique, please enter it in this thread in the Forums. I also am offering private critiques and consultations.

First I present the page without comment, then I'll offer my thoughts and a redline. If you choose to offer up your own thoughts, please be exceedingly polite and remember the sandwich rule: Positive, constructive advice, positive.

Random numbers were generated, and thanks to sherifredricks, whose page is below:
Screams of the terrified echoed through the corridors of Rhycious's mind. Shouts from warriors and cries of agony ebbed away as the pounding of his heart crescendoed in ritardando. 
He gripped the rough hewn table in front of him with both hands, forcing himself to concentrate on the picturesque view of the Boronda Forest beyond the kitchen window. Bloody fallen soldiers lay scattered in his reminiscence like the deadfall they were. He and his team of medics couldn't keep up with the gruesome carnage. Body parts flung high in the trees, left to hang, picked clean by scavengers.  
Rhy shook his head and blew a hard breath. Night had fallen hours ago and no Wood Nymphs attacked his fellow herdsmen. No war existed between the races any longer.  
He was safe from the horrific scenes his memory served.  
Sweat dampened his forehead and Rhycious fought the flashback's tidal wave with even, regulated breaths. Gritted teeth unclenched, one facial muscle at a time, his back straightened with determination, vertebrae by vertebrae. He hadn't started the battle that lasted nearly two centuries, but the clashing races damn well made it his emotional baggage.  
He relaxed the anchored grasp of one hand and raised his wrist to see the time. The tremor in his arm caused the digital numbers to dance before his eyes. Pan, help me. The god who reigned over terror and panic must be having a good laugh on his account.
This author can clearly write. But sometimes, even when we sense that we can write well, that can feel like it's not enough. It feels like you should push yourself toward originality with your prose. And that's great. But it's so important not to push yourself too far.

One of the biggest writerly pitfalls is to try to say something simple in a convoluted way. It's one thing to stretch your prose when you're trying to grasp at elucidating a complicated concept. But when you're taking something relatively simple and trying to say it in an unordinary way it can confuse the reader and take them out of the story.

In this case, when the verbiage is pared back you can really see how the story takes shape:
Terrified screams of the terrified echoed through the corridors of Rhycious's mind. Shouts from warriors and cries of agony ebbed away. The pounding of his heart crescendoed in ritardando
He gripped the rough hewn table in front of him with both hands, forcing himself to concentrate on the picturesque view [describe what this view literally looks like] of the Boronda Forest beyond the kitchen window. Bloody fallen soldiers lay scattered in his reminiscenc memories like the deadfall they were. He and His team of medics couldn't keep up with the gruesome carnage. Body parts flung high in the trees, left to hang, picked clean by scavengers.  
Rhy shook his head and blew a hard breath. Night had fallen hours ago and no Wood Nymphs attacked his fellow herdsmen. No war existed between the races any longer.  
He was safe from the horrific scenes of his memory served.  
Sweat dampened his forehead and Rhycious fought the flashback's tidal wave with even, regulated breaths. Gritted teeth unclenched, one facial muscle at a time, he his back straightened his back with determination, vertebrae by vertebrae. He hadn't started the battle that lasted nearly two centuries, but the clashing races damn well made it his emotional baggage ["emotional baggage" feels out of place in this world].  
He relaxed the anchored grasp of one his hand and raised his wrist to see the time. The tremor in his arm caused the digital numbers to dance before his eyes. Pan, help me. The god who reigned over terror and panic must be having a good laugh on his account.
There is a good moment happening here. The writing doesn't have to work too hard to bring it out.

 Art: Dempsey and Firpo by George Bellows

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10. 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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11. 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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12. It's better to be a good storyteller than overly realistic

One of the things I struggled with the most as a young writer was trying to balance creating realistic characters with being a good storyteller.

Here's what I mean. Let's say I was writing a novel where there's a strange but everyday fact of life for the characters in that world, like, instead of air everyone breathes tomato soup. (Bizarre, but yum.)

Since breathing tomato soup is so ordinary to the people in the novel and they can't imagine a world in which they don't breathe tomato soup, it would seem really unrealistic for them to sit around talking about breathing tomato soup. We don't sit around talking about air and explain to each other how it came to be. So why would the characters explain it?

And it may seem awkward and contrary to the flow of the novel to just come out with the explanation explicitly.

Then you go and end up writing a novel where breathing tomato soup is totally unexplained and the reader is completely frustrated and distracted, thinking, "Why in the WORLD are they breathing tomato soup and why is no one explaining it to me???"

This is what I realized earlier in my writing days:

You are not writing for the people in the world of your novel. 

You are writing for the people in OUR world, as in planet Earth, as in a place where we breathe air and need anything different than that explained to us. Always. Always. Always.

No matter where your novel is set, pretend that the narrator has been magically transplanted to Earth and is telling it to us in 2014. They might use their own language to tell it, but they still are giving an Earthling reader in 2014 enough to go on to understand all the eccentricities of their world.

Now, as you are doing that explaining to Earthlings in 2014, this does not mean that two characters should sit around talking about things that would otherwise be ordinary to them. A better approach is to weave exposition in naturally within the context of the narrative and only when the reader needs to know the information because it relates to the plot (I talk a lot more about how to weave in exposition in my guide to writing a novel).

At the end of the day, it's much more important to tell a good story than to stick too closely to what's real. I mean, if a reader were solely interested in reality they wouldn't be reading a novel.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go make a grilled cheese sandwich.

Art: Camille au Métier by Claude Monet

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13. 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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14. Don't overthink it

The publishing process is a stressful one. And despite all our best intentions, I don't know a single person who is able to play it cool all the time.

Everyone, and I mean everyone, stresses out at some point.


And "I don't see this covered in your FAQs, but should I spell out the word "Street" when I provide my mailing address or is "St." okay?"

Deep breaths, people! (Those e-mails are fictional by the way. No authors were harmed in the making of this blog post).

A typo isn't going to sink your query. Fiddling with tiny, inconsequential changes in your manuscript isn't going to be the difference whether someone buys it or not if you decide to self-publish.

Success can seem so fleeting in the publishing process that it can feel like you're about to fall off a cliff at every moment. But it's not true. You're fine.

When you find yourself unsure or spinning, ask yourself a very basic question: "Is this really going to be the thing that sinks my query/manuscript?"

Chances are the answer is no.

The little things won't sink you. It can be tough to distinguish between what's a big deal and not when you're stressed, but try and keep your head.

Art: Mater Dolorosa by Titian

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15. 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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16. How do you plan to publish your WIP? The results!

With all the usual caveats that this is a for-fun unscientific quiz on a cybertown weblog, here's how the publishing plans of those intrepid people who voted on our How do you plan to publish your WIP? quiz compare to the intrepid people who voted on the same quiz in 2013.

First, 2013:

And now this year:

Blink and you might miss the differences. They're basically identical.

What do you make of this? Is this just the vagaries of Internet poll-taking? Or are views toward traditional publishing vs. self-publishing becoming relatively cemented at this point?

What say you?

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17. 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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18. What Jiro Dreams of Sushi means for writers

Like many people I know, I have been seriously obsessed with the documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi, which is available for streaming on Netflix and Amazon.

Jiro Ono has been making sushi for over 70 years. His restaurant, a humble space that is literally located in a subway station, has been awarded three Michelin stars. He recently hosted President Obama.

What emerges from the documentary is the passion of one man who has one overarching ambition: to be the best in the world.

He wakes up every day thinking of how he can make better sushi. As the title of the documentary suggests, he dreams of making sushi. He doesn't take days off if he can help it. He doesn't have hobbies. And he is relentless in training his apprentices (including his sons) to be the absolute best they can be as well.

He very famously asked apprentice Daisuke Nakazawa to make tamago over two hundred times before he finally deemed it acceptable.

As a writer, I found this documentary incredibly inspiring. I only wish I had the same single-minded focus on improving my craft, on waking up every single day to think about how to improve my writing, and never wavering from my own vision.

Of course, Jiro Ono also wishes he had more. At one point in the documentary he wonders what would be possible if he had been born with the taste buds of Joel Robuchon.

Have you seen the documentary? What do you think?

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19. Writing Advice Database

UPDATED 4/19/14

Here is a compendium of the top writing advice posts on the blog. Of course, the best source is my guide How to Write a Novel: 47 Rules for Writing a Stupendously Awesome Novel You Will Love Forever. But these posts will hopefully help you along the way:

Before You Start

The Writing Process


Genres and Classification

Staying sane during the writing/publishing process

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20. I'm offering editing and consultations!

One of the things I loved most about being a literary agent for eight years was working with authors on revisions, and I'm very excited to get back to those roots.

After a (very fun) experiment to test the waters, I'm now officially offering editing and consultation slots! I can help you with:
  • Developmental editing, brainstorming, editorial feedback
  • Query letters
  • Navigating the traditional and self-publishing process
  • Social media for authors
We can arrange a combination of editing and a consultation call or two (or three) via phone or Skype, depending on what you need. 

Contact me at nathan -at- nathanbransford.com if you're interested. Rates and timing depend on the scope of the project and my availability. I regret that I won't be able to take on all projects. Oh, and I'm a terrible copyeditor so if you need that you're much better off elsewhere (and I'd be happy to refer you to someone).

Some of the projects I've helped edit in the past include Rock Paper Tiger, named one of Amazon's Top 100 novels of the year in 2010, and Try Not to Breathe by Jennifer Hubbard, which received starred reviews in Publishers Weekly and Kirkus and for which I provided development feedback.

I realize that not everyone can afford to pay for editing (here are the things to take into account beforehand), and I'll continue to do public page critiques and blog about broader writing topics.


Art: David Rittenhouse by Charles Willson Peale

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21. 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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22. Publishing consultations with Christine Pride

Nathan here! In case you need help from an editor who has worked for Random House and Hyperion and edited eight NY Times bestselling books, Christine Pride is offering consulting slots once again. I believe in her skills so much I hired her to edit my guide to writing a novel

Doing private consultations with writers in February was such a dynamic and productive process I thought I would offer another round of slots. So if you have an idea for a book or a stumbling block in your plot that you’d like to get an editor’s take on; or you would like some top line feedback about your query letter; or if you have questions about how to get an agent or next steps for your project, consider this opportunity to have one-on-one time with an industry veteran to get individualized advice, information and answers.

One hour slots are available (Skype or phone) the week of May 5th and May 12th.  Please sign up by Friday May 2nd.

You can sign up by emailing me at Christine@christinepride.com. Consultations cost $200, paid via Paypal. I am happy to read material in advance of our conversation (for example, a query letter or sample from your work, up to 25 pages), for an additional $25.

I’m really looking forward to talking to you about your ideas and your writing goals and offering helpful consultation!

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23. Can publishers change from funnels to megaphones?

It's no secret that the publishing industry is in the midst of a vast transformation. The question is whether the industry can pivot to a vastly different reality.

I finally caught up with George Packer's excellent article on Amazon and its fraught relationship with the traditional book world, and there was one quote in particular that stood out to me. Russ Grandenetti, Amazon's Kindle vice president said:
The old print world of scarcity—with a limited number of publishers and editors selecting which manuscripts to publish, and a limited number of bookstores selecting which titles to carry—is yielding to a world of digital abundance. Grandinetti told me that, in these new circumstances, a publisher’s job “is to build a megaphone.”
Building a megaphone is a really great metaphor for the value publishers can still bring to the publishing process even as we march steadily into the e-book era. At the end of the day, the publishing process is a series of tasks and services from production to distribution to promotion, and when they're working well, publishers can add tremendous value to a book project. And the most important task in an era of abundance is to help a book rise above the noise.

But do they think of themselves this way? Can they quickly adapt to fulfilling that role?

And most importantly, what does this mean for authors?

The funnel inverts

The old print world really was based on scarcity. There was only so much shelf space in bookstores, therefore there was only so many copies of any book it was profitable to print, therefore it was necessary and profitable to winnow down all the books out there into a select, chosen few.

Publishers added value through the act of curation. Gatekeeping is now treated with derision in some quarters, but it was a terribly important, valuable business activity. Publishers built cachet through quality control, and booksellers and authors alike came to depend upon them for this service.

Publishers were a crucial funnel. They made the system work when it simply wasn't profitable to print every book ever written during the first five hundred years of the printed word.

Now, as so many people have already breathlessly chronicled, the funnel is inverted. We no longer live in a world with limited shelf space, and in fact the complete opposite is true. With e-books and print on demand, the costs of producing an individual book have dropped dramatically.

Because of online bookselling, e-books, and advances in print-on-demand, we live in a world where everything can be published. Everything. As Clay Shirky very famously pointed out, publishing is no longer a job or activity -- it's a button.

The value in publishing is no longer built around scarcity. It's abundance. Instead of culling books into a select few that arrive on bookstore shelves, the value publishers now must bring is helping authors rise above the noise and connecting readers to the books they want to read.

Distribution isn't enough

Right now, the biggest thing publishers can still bring for self-published authors is getting them into the print distribution stream. Print still matters and probably will continue to matter in the near future. Publishers are still the surest way into bookstores and other important outlets like Target and Walmart.

But the importance of bookstore distribution will continue to wane, especially if, say, Barnes & Noble goes bankrupt and e-book adoption continues its steady, inexorable march.

Publishers cannot continue to rely on print distribution as a raison d'être. And in a world where there are tons of talented freelance editors and designers waiting in the wings, many of them former publishing employees, editing and packaging aren't significant differentiators either.

Indeed, authors now have a wide array of choices apart from the traditional publishing industry. It is extremely easy to self-publish, and especially with the paltry e-book royalties offered by traditional publishers, many authors can actually make more money going it alone.

This is a world of choice. There are two major shifts publishers need to make in order to accommodate this shift:
1. They will need to start treating authors as customers
2. They will have to invest in publicity, marketing, and branding
Can they do it?

Authors as customers

When authors have a choice about how and where they publish and many of them experience great success self-publishing, publishers can no longer count on the authors just feeling lucky to be there.

Indeed, there is an undercurrent within the traditional publishing industry (not in all quarters, I want to stress) that authors should be kept on a need-to-know basis, that when it comes to things like choosing covers it's best to let the experts do their job unmolested, that authors are a rather annoying byproduct of the publishing process best kept at arm's length. Authors are often kept in the dark about key decisions that affect their book.

This will have to change. When authors have a choice about where to publish, publishers will have to make themselves appealing to authors. In other words, they'll need to treat the publishing process like a partnership.

At the end of the day, authors will be evaluating their options based on a wide variety of criteria. Especially as we move into a primarily e-book world, authors will be able to accomplish most of the tasks of publishing on their own. No one will have to have a publisher.

If they're going to choose a publisher, they'll need to have confidence it will be a positive experience, that their input will be valued. The next time author's have a choice they will need to feel a reason to return.

Publicity, marketing, branding

When a publisher is excited about a book it's amazing the amount of energy and marketing they can bring. It's not just the ads they place and the campaigns they execute, but even having dozens of employees excitedly talking about a new book with their friends can start the hype machine on its way.

But too often, non-lead titles are simply dropped into the ocean without a plan and nary a cent spent on promotion. It's no secret that the publishing industry doesn't pay well, and this can feel especially reflected in book publicity and marketing departments, which at some publishers can feel like a rotating collection of recent NYU graduates who stay a year or two before decamping for a higher-paying job.

It used to make sense to pick and choose where to spend marketing dollars in the past. To a certain extent, someone walking into a bookstore is faced with a zero-sum choice between books. Publishers invested in the books receiving "co-op" at the front of the store, the rest were left to magically catch fire... somehow.

But that's not the world we live in anymore. Books aren't competing against other books, they're competing against apps and movies and games like 2048 in a vast virtual store and the books aren't all hidden spine out in the back of a bookstore. It now makes more sense than ever to promote every book, and to better take into account the purchasing process of an online book buyer.

There is still value in publishing brands -- people have heard of Penguin and HarperCollins and Simon & Schuster -- but publishers have never thought of these as consumer-facing brands and are squandering their cachet on imprints no one has ever heard of.

Publishers have grown even more reliant on authors promoting themselves at a time when advertising should be the very thing publishers are bringing to the table.

And if publishers aren't bringing promotion to the table and aren't helping a book rise above the noise, when it's so easy to self-publish and the returns-per-copy are so much higher, authors may well ask themselves: why do I have a publisher again?

The future

I have always been optimistic about publishers and feel that their level of preparation for and investment in the e-book era has been sorely underappreciated by outside observers. This isn't an industry full of retrograde dinosaurs, despite what you might read on some other publishing blogs.

But my fear is that the recent ebb in the exponential growth of e-books and feel-good stories about independent bookstores will result in complacency about the shifts that will need to take place.

Publishers really do need to reimagine themselves as megaphones and figure out how they will help authors ascend to another level when they don't have their distribution advantage to rely upon.

Can they turn that funnel inside out?

Art: His Master's Voice by Francis Barraud

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24. 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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25. Brenda Novak's 10th Annual Diabetes Auction!

Bestselling author Brenda Novak is hosting her 10th annual auction to support diabetes research, and I'm thrilled to be a part of it once again!

I'm offering an hour-long Skype consultation that includes reading twenty pages and a query critique.

And there are many, many other great things up for bid, including being named as a character in a David Baldacci novel, tons of agent consultations, and much much more.

Please consider bidding for a great cause!

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