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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. Need a great fall read? Check these out

One of the most rewarding experiences being connected to the writing world is seeing people you think are amazing and talented blow up and become wild successes. This year was an incredibly fruitful time for some of the writers I'm fondest of as both writers and human beings, and I'm delighted to point you to them!

Check these out...

I first met Sarah McCarry way back in 2010, when she was secretly writing her legendary blog The Rejectionist. I finagled a way to meet her in New York and we've been great friends ever since. In addition to publishing the awesome Guillotine chapbooks, she's now the author of the wildly acclaimed trilogy All Our Pretty Songs, Dirty Wings, and now About a Girl

All three books are incredible coming of age stories featuring intertwined characters in different times, with mythology weaving through. Sarah is one of the finest writers I know and even apart from the compelling narratives, the prose alone is worth the purchase.

Back in 2007, I was a literary agent on the hunt for new authors and Lisa Brackmann sent me one of the best query letters I've ever received. A few years and many revisions later, that book became Rock Paper Tiger and received a rave in the New York Times.

Following Hour of the Rat in 2013, Lisa has now completed a trilogy with Dragon Day. One of the most amazing qualities of Lisa's books is the way she's able to weave in seemingly disparate cultural threads, her deep on-the-ground knowledge of China, and a knack for realistic suspense into wildly compelling narratives.

I met Carmiel Banasky through Sarah McCarry a few years ago, and at the time she was putting the finishing touches on an intriguing literary novel. That novel, The Suicide of Claire Bishop found a publisher, rave reviews from everyone, and is now out for you to read.

The Suicide of Claire Bishop has the type of mind-bending plot you don't often find in literary fiction. In the 1950s, a woman's husband commissions a painting for her. The artist disturbingly depicts her suicide, and her life starts to unravel. In the 2000s, a man with schizophrenia comes across the painting and improbably thinks his ex-girlfriend is the artist, which is impossible unless she can time travel. Weaving all this together is some of the best prose I've come across in a long time.

Daniel José Older is one of the last authors I started working with before I left agenting. We went through many rounds of revisions on an incredible young adult novel set in a Brooklyn alive with Afro-Caribbean mythology, where graffiti paintings come alive and dark spirits are threatening.

Shadowshaper is another book that has received starred review after starred review after starred review, and it was so awesome to see it come to life after all the hard work that I saw Daniel put into it.

Anyone who hasn't heard of Ransom Riggs' wildly popular Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children will likely do so in short order when the Tim Burton film adaptation comes out in March.

But in the meantime, you can content yourself with the third book in the series, Library of Souls. These innovative novels combine found photographs that are interwoven into a charming and spine-tingling alternate world.

Can't believe I know these talented people! You can't go wrong with their books.

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2. Your NaNoWriMo Tuneup

The leaves are changing in the northeast and there's a chill in the air. It can only mean one thing: You are about to devote yourself to the greatest writing fest ever scheduled during a month when you are also supposed to spend time with loved ones and eat turkey.

Yes indeed, National Novel Writing Month is nearly upon us once again! Are you going for it? Are you? Are you doing it? Do you hear the pestering in my voice?

Whether you are a first-timer or a veteran, the best advice I have to give you is in the pages of How to Write a Novel: 47 Rules for Writing a Stupendously Awesome Novel You Will Love Forever. Not only does it have all the tips and organization you need to write the best novel you possibly can, its bright orange cover doubles as a seasonal-appropriate piece of flair for your coffee table.

If you prefer your advice in blog form, I aim to please. Here's a selection of links for new novelists and veterans alike:

For first-timers:

For veterans:

For everyone:

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3. Jonathan Franzen, Kanye West and the cultural appropation of trolling

It's been ten years now since Kanye West caused an immense stir in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina by staring into a camera and saying, "George Bush doesn't care about black people" next to a memorably dumbfounded Mike Myers. (George Bush later said it was the worst moment of his presidency).

Kanye West has of course gone on to say and do many more brazenly controversial things, including interrupting Taylor Swift's VMA award speech with "Imma let you finish but Beyonce had one of the best music videos of all time," to announcing himself as the successor to Steve Jobs, to most recently rambling at the VMAs before saying he's running for president in 2020.

Love him or hate him (for the record, I'm mostly a fan), Kanye West has mastered the art of capturing attention in the social media and reality TV era. It's not enough to just be a good artist these days (which he is), you also have to fight for attention and eyeballs, and one of the best ways to do that is to do or say something plainly ridiculous and watch it get retweeted through the Internetosphere.

It's why I find Kanye West's much-lampooned video for Bound 2 hilarious, which consists almost entirely of him riding a motorcycle with a naked Kim Kardashian in front of images of iconic American landscape, including stampeding white horses in slow motion. He even premiered it on the Ellen DeGeneres show for some reason. You can almost hear Kanye's challenge to America -- you know this is what you want, you know you will eat this up.

This is the art of the troll - taking our cultural sensitivities and proclivities, countering or fulfilling them in a brazen way, and using our resulting outrage as a ploy to capture our attention. Trolls have been around since the early days of the Internet, and that darkest of art forms has now seemingly risen to great cultural heights.

Jonathan Freezy

No less a personage than eminent Man Of Letters Jonathan Franzen has seemingly taken a page from the Kanye West playbook in advance of the publication of his latest novel, Purity.

In an interview with The Guardian, Franzen professed that he had considered adopting an Iraqi war orphan out of his frustration that young adults are insufficiently angry. Yes. The quote in full:
Oh, it was insane, the idea that Kathy and I were going to adopt an Iraqi war orphan. The whole idea lasted maybe six weeks. And was finally killed by Henry’s response. He made a persuasive case for why that was a bad idea. The main thing it did … one of the things that had put me in mind of adoption was a sense of alienation from the younger generation. They seemed politically not the way they should be as young people. I thought people were supposed to be idealistic and angry. And they seemed kind of cynical and not very angry. At least not in any way that was accessible to me. And part of what journalism is for me is spending time with people who I dislike as a class. But I became very fond of them, and what it did was it cured me of my anger at young people.
Adopting an Iraqi war orphan. Because he's confused why young people are insufficiently angry. In the same era as the Black Lives Matter movement. When Franzen's own greatest source of anger seems to be the plight of North American songbirds. It's completely ridiculous.

The quote reverberated throughout the Internet, just in time for the release of Purity, currently the #13 bestseller on Amazon. (It should also be noted that Kanye West's George Bush Katrina remark came just after the release of his album Late Registration, which went on to sell 3.1 million copies.)

Franzen can't be serious. He has to be trolling. Right? Or is he serious? Do we know? I can't tell. Pretty sure he's trolling. Pretty sure.

Meet the Franzdashians

Kanye West is of course married to Kim Kardashian, reality TV show extraordinaire, who came to fame via the Paris Hilton playbook, and has stayed there ever since via her family's uncanny ability to ensnare our attention.

One of the essential appeals of reality TV isn't that it's real, it's that it blends reality and fiction in a complex way, where we're left puzzling over what's real and what's not. It's why I like The Bachelor so much. It's unreality that somehow creates its own reality, and teasing out what's real is an entertaining but ultimately futile exercise. I mean, can we talk about Bachelor in Paradise??

We're living in an era where we're constantly, relentlessly besieged by fakery -- spam emails, parody Twitter accounts, The Onion, Andy Borowitz, vaccine scares, hoaxes, and conspiracy theories. Every day we have to navigate this miasma and decide what's real. It's why Snopes exists. It seems fitting that our evening entertainment would capitalize on a dynamic that we spend a good chunk of our day navigating.

Franzen has, naturally, disavowed reality TV too. He suggested the "reality" at the start of this quote by Karl Kraus be changed to "reality TV:" "Reality is a meaningless exaggeration of all the details that satire left behind fifty years ago." Yet intentionally or unintentionally, he keeps feeding the beast and forcing us to wonder if his fuddyduddery and provocations are earnest or contrived. He's living out his own personal reality TV show in the old-schoolest way possible, through interviews in the newspapers and magazines that still exist.

All the while, we keep talking about him. I mean, look at me. I'm writing this 1,000 word post about Jonathan Franzen. It's the second time I've done this. I'm unintentionally promoting his book.

He sucked me in. Just like Kanye.

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4. Creativity tip: When you need inspiration, figure out what you need to know

I'm on record saying writer's block doesn't exist.

When I say that, I'm not saying that you won't experience a feeling of idea-lessness or that life circumstances will never get in the way of your writing. Lots of people go through stretches where it is legitimately impossible to write.

What I mean is that most commonly, that feeling of writer's block is just a feeling that you can actually power through.

When you head down that path, the absolute most helpful thing to do is to figure out the problem. Figure out why you can't think of an idea. What is it that you're trying to solve in the book?

Here's what I mean. I'm at a stage in writing my new novel where I legitimately don't know what's going to happen next. And I got stuck. I seriously couldn't think of what to write next. But rather than stare at the blinking cursor of doom, I started creating structure around the problem.

I know that the main character is currently at Point A, and eventually she'll need to get to Point B. So I started cataloguing some of the things that need to happen before Point B. Then I broke it up still further into a series of chapters. I started writing out some of the feelings I want her to experience before Point B, plotting out the ups and downs. I wrote down some of the bigger things I hadn't yet tackled in the narrative but wanted to, such as showing something happening in the broader world.

And I figured out the problem. I need to set a new plot line in motion, and I needed to do more work to get a sense of where she's going before I figure out the next step.

I still don't know precisely is going to happen, but this is the first step toward being unstuck.

Sometimes it doesn't work to confront a lack of ideas head on. It can be far more effective to create some structure around it, figure out what you need to figure out, and then power on through.

Art: Sebastian Hyller by Franz Joseph Winter

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5. How to know when to leave your agent

Not sure what's in the air these days (well, besides nitrogen, oxygen, argon, and the smell of hot dogs seriously where is that coming from), but I've heard from several authors who are wondering whether it is time for them to leave their agent.

Also, I realize that this sounds like a lofty problem for the agent-less, the equivalent of a mansion owner wondering if they should get a new pool to replace the one they have, but I would encourage you all to read this post as well, not only because you may have an agent someday, but also I'm hoping to lay out some of the things you should and shouldn't expect of an agent.

Leaving an agent is a really tough decision, and one you absolutely should not take lightly. You are forgoing an advocate, you could possibly be burning a bridge, and it's incredibly important to act as rationally and non-emotionally as possible. But sometimes it's the right decision.

So. How do you know if you should leave? I'm going to divide this up into good reasons and bad reasons. A HUGE caveat is that every situation is different and you ultimately have to choose the best path for you.

Bad reason: Your agent couldn't sell your book.

Even the best agents strike out sometimes. This doesn't make them a bad agent. Sometimes it just doesn't happen with the first book. If they made a good faith effort to submit it, they did the best they could and it just didn't happen, and they still believe in you, that alone is not a very good reason to leave.

Yes, some agents have more clout than others, but the book itself and serendipity are way more powerful than any agent. If you like your agent and they just couldn't sell your book, I wouldn't hold it against them.

Good reason: Your agent has behaved unprofessionally or unethically

It can be so tricky for authors on the outside to know what constitutes unprofessional and/or unethical in a business that can feel very opaque. Especially one that tolerates a level of eccentricity that would make Edward Scissorhands feel awkward.

But if you find that your agent is being shady or doing something headslappingly bad like blasting your manuscript to 50 editors all at once on the same email thread, have a heart to heart. If they don't have an explanation that satisfies you, you may have your answer.

Bad reason: Your agent doesn't write or call you back immediately

You're not your agent's only client. Days are busy. You have one book to worry about, an agent is juggling dozens.

Give it some time. Be patient. Remember that snails look at publishing and think, "Whoa dudes let's pick up the pace, huh?"

That said...

Good reason: Your agent has gone incommunicado.

You should be able to get in touch with your agent. Maybe not immediately, but within a reasonable time frame. This is actually a very good thing to establish from the outset -- how quickly should be reasonable for responses?

If you try and try and try to get in touch with your agent and you just can't get in touch with them, you may have a problem on your hands.

Bad reason: You want to leave without being transparent about your concerns and giving your agent a chance to respond.

Good relationships depend on trust and communication. If you have concerns, express them. Your agent should appreciate your honesty and have good answers for you.

Especially when so much happens outside of view, and especially because you may not have insight into the customs of the industry, what can seem totally strange at first blush can make much more sense when your agent explains it.

Don't let things linger. If you're concerned, speak up.

Good reason: Your gut is telling you it's time to go.

You've expressed your concerns.

You have given your agent a chance to respond.

You listened to their response in good faith.

You have let some time go by.

You have gotten feedback and perspective from other knowledgable people.

You have reflected.

You aren't taking this decision lightly in the slightest.

You still think it's time to go.

Okay. It's your career. You have to make your choices. If you have acted in good faith, listened, and you just think it's time, it may well be time.

Art: The Signal by William Powell Frith

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6. 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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7. The last few weeks in books 7/27/15

Photo by me. I'm on Instagram here.

It has been a while!

My time has been stretched in the past few weeks due to travel and moving (to Manhattan of all places), but I am now hoping to return to a semi-regular schedule. Hello! Nice to see you.

I've been collecting lots of links over the past few months. Let's see what we've got.

First up, this coming Saturday I'm going to be speaking at the Writers Digest Conference in NYC. There's still time to register! I'll be talking about staying sane during the writing process, which seems like it's not possible but I SWEAR that if you do these things... okay yeah it's not totally possible.

Remember when we all compiled our top 100 movie lists? That was excellent. The BBC went and did their top 100 American movies, and I have to say it's a pretty solid list.

The BookEnds blog is back with a vengeance (well, it's back with some smart and author-informative posts). Some recent ones I took note of are how you should think twice before granting an agent an exclusive, and how if you are seeking publication, it's important that you don't think of it as a hobby, but as a job. That means buckling down, setting deadlines, and pushing through, especially when you don't have the luxury of time. And maybe you should put some thought into your query.

The juggernaut of a franchise known as James Patterson (who also I believe is the name of a writer too), is starting a children's imprint with Little, Brown. And oh by the way Patterson's novels have now sold over 300 million copies.

You're probably not really done writing your book.

E.L. James has a new book out, Grey, told from the perspective of Christian Grey, natch. The sequel I'm waiting for is the novel told from the perspective of Charlie Tango, Christian Grey's helicopter. E.L. James, I'll get you started!
I was born in a warehouse, but I'm so much more than that. They told me I should just fly, hover, do my job reliably, and someday be sold for scrap metal after a long career. They told me I could never attract the attention of a self-made billionaire with a fondness for girls who bite their lips. 
They were wrong. 
I give my inner helicoptress a high five as I settled into the SeaTac tarmac, obeying Christian Grey's skillful, artful commands. If I had a lip I would bite it and shyly mumble my appreciation.
If only they could see me now. 


We all know that writing can be a solitary pursuit, and it can sometimes be tricky to get things done at home when there are things like chores and TV and people who call themselves "family members" trying to distract you. Behold, the rise of the writer's space.

There are a lot of writing competitions out there, some more reputable than others. Writer Beware takes a look at some of the red flags.

And finally, do you want to be a beer editor? I mean, of course you do.

Have a great weekend!

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8. Comic-Con here I come!

I'm psyched to be returning to Comic-Con this weekend for two incredible panels!

Check these out...

Tomorrow at 6pm PT in 25ABC I'm going to be hosting a panel on choosing the right publishing path for you:
Authors Sarah J. Maas (Throne of Glass series), Seanan McGuire (October Daye series), Cora Carmack (Losing It) and Elizabeth Briggs (Chasing the Dream series), along with editor Adam Wilson (Simon & Schuster) and literary agent Holly Root (Waxman Leavell Literary Agency), discuss the various options for publishing fiction and how to determine what works for different genres. Moderated by author, former literary agent, and all-around publishing guru Nathan Bransford.
And then on Sunday, I'm hosting a blockbuster young adult panel at 3:45 in 5AB:
Strong protagonists, engrossing romance, humor, action, and angst! Join panelists for this popular annual Q&A session and chat about the hottest new titles and trends in YA fiction. Moderated by Nathan Bransford (The Jacob Wonderbar series) and featuring Alexandra Bracken (Darkest Minds series), Rae Carson (Girl of Fire and Thorns series), Susan Dennard (Something Strange and Deadly trilogy), Alan Gratz (The League of Seven), Sarah J. Maas (Throne of Glass series), Tahereh Mafi (Shatter Me series), Ransom Riggs (Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children), and Sabaa Tahir (An Ember in the Ashes).
I know!! So excited!

If you're going to be at Comic-Con let me know and/or come say hi. Don't be shy. Unless you're wearing a Greedo costume, in which case you had better watch yourself as me and Han go way back.

See you there!

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9. I miss the blogosphere

Where have all the bloggers gone? Long time passing. I want to know.

I miss the blogosphere.

There was a time, between 2007-2009, when everyone had a blog. It was peak blog. Blogspot and Wordpress. Blog rolls and tagging. Blog awards and comments of the week.

I started feeling the decline in 2011, and in 2013 it was really apparent. Now, it's a veritable ghost town.

Maybe I'm just getting old, but I really miss that time. Peak blog coincided with economic calamity, and the entire world was on edge (note: I don't think there was a connection. I think.). But there was something comforting in the sense of simultaneous community and individuality, people pioneering their own space but making sure to check in on what everyone else was doing.

And sure, people are still tweeting and Facebooking and Tumblring, but there was a time when people put their thoughts out there, in detail, took the time to go around and read what other people were thinking, in detail, and left thoughtful comments. In detail.

The blogosphere certainly had its unfortunate flame wars, but it seems like the book portion Twittersphere and Tumblrverse in particular are now optimized for peak outrage, one s***show after the next, with nothing ever meaningful really seeming to come of it.

This is some uncharacteristic techno-nostalgia for me, but I think 2007-2009 was a pretty great time, (Internet-wise at least), when people were putting their thoughts on digital paper and thinking thoughtfully about what other people were writing. And making actual real-life friends! I met some of my dearest friends through my blog.

Am I missing something? Have people picked up and moved to another, better place?

What do you make of the decline of the blogosphere?

Art: Sunland Landscape by Audley Dean Nicols

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10. What I learned about writing from a broken tooth

I recently had quite a health ordeal, and for some reason it reminded me of writing and publishing. Probably because everything does. Bear with me on this one.

A month back, while in the early days of my new job, I bit into a piece of toast and felt a sharp pain in one of my molars. I didn't think that much of it -- I've had some jaw/tooth aches in the past that didn't amount to much -- and I went about my business, planning to check with my dentist if the pain didn't go away. Then, a week later, I proceeded to get immensely sick, coming down with a 104.5 fever. (Spoiler: I survived!)

On top of that, my tooth still hurt like crazy whenever I accidentally bit into something, so as I was recovering from that illness thanks to the miracle of antibiotics, I went to the dentist. Sure enough, I had a broken tooth beyond repair and an infected root. It's probable that my illness was connected to the broken tooth, as a point of entry for some bacteria or another. Annnd I had to have the tooth extracted. Which I really didn't want to do. But I had to.

Now, thankfully, I'm on the other side of everything. My tooth is gone, my gum is healing, I can finally eat normally again, and I'm back to 100% health. Win!!

So why am I telling you this?

Last night as I was eating a delicious crab sandwich without any pain, I got to thinking, "You know what? Having *no* tooth is better than having a broken tooth."

Indeed. And then I saw a commercial for Entourage, which reminded me of agenting, and then THIS BLOG POST WAS BORN.

There are so many times in your publishing life where it's tempting to hold on to something that's broken. Maybe you have an agent who you kind of realize is not a good agent, or you are presented with a publishing deal from a micro publisher you're not totally sure about. But, having an agent is better than having no agent, right?


Just as my broken tooth wound up getting me sick, a bad agent can do immense damage to your career if they send your manuscript around badly. It's harder to find another good agent to take you on, and publishers may not reconsider your manuscript if they've already seen it. They can also set you back from looking for a good agent. And unscrupulous "publishers" out there can take advantage of you financially.

Having *no* agent is better than having a bad agent.
Having *no* publishing deal is better than having a bad publishing deal.

You may worry about the appearances of losing something that felt hard-earned, and no doubt it's painful in the short term, but you have to think of those bad actors like a broken tooth that you need to extract in order to restore yourself to publishing health.

You will heal. You'll get back on track. And you'll realize you're better off. Good riddance, broken molar.

Art: The Toothpuller by Carvaggio

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11. How do you keep track of your ideas?

The first rule of inspiration is that the best ideas come to you in the precise moment when you are least equipped to write them down.

How do you make sure you don't lose those ideas? How do you keep track of them?

My method is pretty simple: I email them to myself. Chances are my phone is nearby and if it's not, I'm probably too panicked to have a good idea anyway.

I may have a problem.

What about you?

Art: The Alchymist, In Search of the Philosopher’s Stone by Joseph Wright

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12. The best way to thank a writer: write a review

Read a book you love and want to let the author know how much you enjoyed their work?

Do it publicly. Write a review.

It's hard out there for a writer. There is a vast ocean of books, and making yours stand out is a daunting challenge. So when writers hear directly from readers via email -- yes, absolutely, those notes are deeply appreciated, but I've heard more than one writer say they are tempted to shout from the mountaintops, "PLEASE SAY THAT ON AMAZON."

Or Barnes & Noble. Or Powells. Or Goodreads. Or Twitter. Or a blog. Or all of the above. Something, anything public.

Reviews matter. They make it more likely that other people will buy the book, and sales are what will keep the author's writing career afloat. If you love a book and write a great review you can help cancel out those negative reviews and help the author where it really counts.

Sure, don't hesitate to reach out directly to an author to tell them how much you appreciated their book. They'll love it even more if you include a link to a great review.

Art: The Two Sisters by Auguste Renoir

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13. How will you publish your work in progress? The results!

With the obvious caveats that this isn't scientific, different audiences, etc., here are the results! How are we planning to publish our work in progress? Let's find out.

After very similar results in 2013...

And last year...

We have a bit of a change this year! The number of people planning to self-publish and not even considering traditional has risen from 10% to 15%:

Though the people who are still planning to go traditional first is still roughly the same.

What do you make of these results? Will these approaches change over time or have people solidified into traditional and self-publishing camps?

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14. What's in a finished novel should represent a mere fraction of your ideas

You've probably heard the old writing adage "kill your darlings." What this means, essentially, is that you shouldn't be so attached to something in your novel, whether it's a passage of beautiful prose or a whole plotline, that you wouldn't kill it if it would be an improvement.

And it's right. It's so important to do whatever it takes to make your novel better, and even more importantly, to avoid stuffing your novel with every good idea you've ever had or beautiful sentence you've written.

But there's more to leaving things out of your novel than that.

You shouldn't even plan to include all the ideas you have in your drafts. As I alluded to in last week's post on fleshing out characters, there is a ton you should know about your characters and setting that probably won't ever make it into the novel. You should be thinking of some of these ideas with no plans whatsoever to include them unless you really need to.

As the painting atop this post alludes, a novel should be a tip of the iceberg above a much larger base. That base is everything you know about your characters' back stories, the history of your setting and your characters' forefathers, the technology, the government, etc. etc. etc. Chances are only a fraction of this knowledge will ever come into play, because the key to exposition is to only tell the reader what they actually need to know to understand the events of the novel. (I talk much more about exposition in How to Write a Novel). 

George R.R. Martin is both an exemplar of this rule and a bit of a cautionary tale. Reading the Song of Ice and Fire novels (better known as Game of Thrones), you have an incredible sense of a rich thousand-plus year history of a land where Martin seems to know every speck of dirt. You really have the sense that Martin could, given enough time, write the entire history with as much detail as he has written in the five novels and that he has already invented it all. On the other hand, sometimes it can be confusing and interminable in those novels when this knowledge creeps in arbitrarily.

Know the history of your settings and characters. Use the knowledge well. Just don't use it all.

Art: Fishing Boats and Icebergs by William Bradford

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15. The Jacob Wonderbar books are on sale for $2.99 each for a limited time!

My out-of-this world space adventure series now has an out-of-this world price!

Ha. Ha ha. Someone please write my marketing copy.

Anyway, I'm extremely pleased to announce that for a limited time you can purchase the e-book editions of Jacob Wonderbar and the Cosmic Space Kapow, Jacob Wonderbar for President of the Universe, and Jacob Wonderbar and the Interstellar Time Warp for the quite reasonable price of $2.99 each!

Jacob Wonderbar and the Cosmic Space Kapow:
B&N Nook
iBooks (coming soon)

Jacob Wonderbar for President of the Universe:
B&N Nook
iBooks (coming soon)


Jacob Wonderbar and the Interstellar Time Warp: 
B&N Nook
iBooks (coming soon)


And if print is your thing, the print books are for sale for $11 at:

Jacob Wonderbar and the Cosmic Space Kapow:

Jacob Wonderbar for President of the Universe:

Jacob Wonderbar and the Interstellar Time Warp:

In case you don't simply purchase books solely on their low low prices, I should say that Booklist called book #1 "fast-paced and hilarious," and Kirkus said of #2 it's a "slapstick space saga [that] is as much fun as the first."

Or, just watch these radical book trailers by the great Brent Peterson:

Hope you enjoy!

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16. 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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17. How to flesh out a character

Great characters leap off the page and take up residence in our brains. Every quirk, every bit of dialogue, every small detail just reinforces their realness.

But anyone who has written a novel knows that creating characters like that is really, really hard.

Many times characters start off, well, flat. They are plugging a necessary hole in the plot, and you may struggle to breathe life into them. Or they might feel like any other generic character, or, worse, the feel like you're imitating a character from another book or movie.

How do you transform a two-dimensional character into three? How do you perform CPR on a lifeless character?

Here are some tips:

Know what your characters want

This is by far the most important element in bringing a character to life. Every character must want something, and they should be actively trying to get that thing, in such a way that brings them into conflict with other characters and the setting.

We learn a ton about characters by knowing what they value and how they go about trying to get the things they want, especially when they're faced with tradeoffs. Are they in it for themselves or will they do the right thing? Are they ingenious or will they use brute force? Will they give up or persevere?

I talk about this extensively in How to Write a Novel, and there's a slightly less polished version in this blog post.

But whenever you have a lifeless character, you probably have a character who is just going through the motions instead of trying to make their own reality.

Imagine your character going through an average day

This is some of the best writing advice I've ever received, courtesy of A Suitable Boy author Vikram Seth: just imagine your character going through their day.

It's so simple, and yet so very effective.

Imagine this character waking up. Where are they? Are they in a bed? Are they in a cave in the woods? What's around them when they wake up? Are there posters on the walls? Are there paintings? What do they look like?

What do they do after they wake up? Do they shower? Do they shave? If they shave, how do they shave? Do they put on makeup? Are they in a rush? Do they take forever? What does their hair look like?

What do they eat for breakfast? Do they start by hunting for food? How do they do that? Is it prepared for them?

Who else is there? Does the character live with their parents? With a clan?

And so on and so on. By the time you're done, you'll know a remarkable amount about your character. This will also help with...

Know your characters' history

This may never even enter into the novel, and unless it's relevant to the plot, it shouldn't make it into the novel. (More on this in a subsequent post).

But you should know the basic history of every single one of your characters. Where were they born? Who were their parents? What was the arc of their life? How did they arrive at such a place in life that they're making it into the events of the novel?

The more important the character, the more you should know about their history. Catalog all of this in your series bible.

From there, you should have a reasonably three-dimensional character, and then it's a matter of making them come alive for your reader through good description and dialogue.

But that will be easy. At that point, your character will be fighting their way onto the page.

Art: Portrait of a Woman, Female Figure by Georges Braque

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18. The last few months in books 4/19/15

Photo by me. I'm on Instagram here.
Remind me not to announce job changes on April Fool's Day.

But to circle back, yes, it's real that I'm now working for a hedge fund. I know! I'm hoping that blogging will pick up as I get used to my routine, but my new job will prevent me from being very active on social media during working hours. I'll still pre-schedule posts to appear midday, but I probably won't be tweeting until night. Even more than before, the best way to keep up with new posts is to subscribe via email.

It's been a while since I've done a link roundup, and I have quite a few to share! Let's get to it.

First and most importantly, a belated congrats to JSC for winning the Blog Bracket Challenge! One of these years I'm going to win this thing, but lord knows it's not going to be a year where Duke wins it all.

Big news on the fake review front as Amazon is taking legal action against three companies it accuses of selling fake reviews.

Julie Strauss-Gabel is a powerhouse editor who edits a slew of bestselling authors, including a guy named John Green, and her very honest edits make the whole thing work. The New York Times has a great profile of her.

I'm on the record urging everyone to stick mainly to said/asked dialogue tags because deviating is really distracting. Can you get away with varying it up? Yes, but sparingly, says Charlie Jane Anders in io9.

Further proof that writers are the best insulters, especially when they're insulting other writers.

Advice for young writers by Andrew Solomon, building off of Rainer Maria Rilke's classic Letters to a Young Poet (which if you haven't read, well, it's time).

Can you judge a book by a cover? Um. These Kindle cover disasters had better hope not.

Why do some books become remembered as classics? There were two interesting articles about this phenomenon, one that looks at The Great Gatsby, and another that looks at posthumous fame more generally.

Steven Spielberg is going to direct a film adaptation of Ready Player One, which I'm extremely psyched about.

New York City literary pub crawl!

Superagent Jane Dystel writes about a way of thinking about nonfiction book proposals.

And finally, I love me some San Francisco, even better when it's edited to look like Batman's Gotham City. (via io9)

Have a great week!

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19. 7th Annual Blog Bracket Challenge!!

It's mid-March, and you know what that means. Our 7th blog bracket challenge!!

Who is the greatest literary bracket prognosticator of them all?

We'll see. I didn't watch a single game of basketball this year, so you'd better watch out for my picks.

As always, the winner of the Blog Bracket challenge will win a query critique or other agreed-upon prize.

Will it be you?

Here's how to enter:

1. Go to the front page of the ESPN tournament challenge: http://games.espn.go.com/tcmen/frontpage

2. Make your picks.

3. If you have an ESPN username and password from last year you can log in when you submit your picks, and you can also just click to rejoin the Bransford Blog Challenge. Otherwise you may need to create a new user ID and password. But don't worry, it's not onerous and you can decline to receive updates in case you're spam conscious.

4. Hover over the link that says "My Groups" and then click "Create or Join a Group"

5. Search for "Bransford Blog Challenge." Enter the password, which is "rhetorical" and then click Join Group.

Then you're all set! You can make changes to your bracket by clicking on it until it locks on Thursday (and yes, there are play-in games before then, but the bracket still doesn't lock until Thursday).

Good luck!!

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20. 4 ways to avoid screenplayizing your novel

One of my favorite jokes on The Office is when Dwight Schrute boasts, "I know everything about film. I've seen over 240 of them."

It's funny because it sounds reasonable at first, but then you realize that's seriously nothing -- when you think about how many movies you've actually seen, it's surely thousands, not to mention thousands of hours of scripted TV shows (that's also when you realize just how much time you actually have on your hands).

When we tell stories, it's almost impossible to get movies and TV shows out of our heads. So when you sit down to write a scene, it's exceedingly natural to think of it like a scene in the movies. But it's also extremely problematic. Books are wholly different beasts than movies.

Here's how to avoid screenplayizing your novel:

1) Don't construct a scene around dialogue

Two people simply talking is not at all interesting on the page, no matter how scintillating the dialogue.

In movies, watching two people just talk can be fascinating because we are actually watching the actors and we're absorbing way more than just the words they're speaking. We're seeing their facial expressions, their gestures, we're hearing their vocal inflection, we're absorbing the setting, and there are sound effects and music and countless other small sources of input. Reduce all of that to simply words, and you have yourself a hollow experience.

Instead, it's up to writers to set the scene, to give the nonverbal cues, to articulate the physical action, and create a full picture of what's happening. Elmore Leonard probably came as close as you can to successfully constructing novels wholly around dialogue, but his approach was more about economy of nonverbal cues than it was about removing them entirely.

2) Don't rely on the reader to imagine a scene

Novel writers are not screenwriters. They're also directors, actors, sound engineers, cinematographers, key grips, best boys... you get the idea.

When you're writing a screenplay, all you have to do is say that the scene takes place in Rick's Café Américain and it's up to the director and movie crew to figure out what that looks like.

When you're writing a novel, you have to describe the interior and provide all five senses for the reader. They simply won't know what things look like unless you tell them.

Many writers feel like they're being boring when they take some time to set the scene, but it's so crucial for the reader to be able to physically place themselves within a scene and have enough context to picture what is happening. You don't have to overdo it describing everyday items -- a hammer is just a hammer unless you specify otherwise -- but it's not the reader's job to fill in all the missing details.

3) Remember that books are about your characters' inner lives 

Movies are about the exterior. They show characters moving physically through a world. Even when they're intensely personal and even when there is voiceover narration, we don't generally see a character's inner thoughts. Instead, we deduce motivation by what we see in a character's actions and expressions.

Novels are about the interior. They're more personal and more connected to a character's thoughts and emotions.  Even action-packed genre novels, which have much in common with movies, have more emotional context than their cinematic counterparts.

Don't neglect the interior by keeping everything in dialogue-driven scenes. Make sure your reader is in touch with your characters' emotions and motivations.

4) If you're going to draw upon movies, think cinematically and not screenplay-y.

None of this is to say that movies can't be an inspiration for the way you write. But if you're going to incorporate some movie tropes, set aside dialogue and instead think about physical actions.

One of my favorite series of scenes from the past few years was in Rainbow Rowell's Eleanor & Park. In the opening stages of the novel, the two eponymous protagonists oh so gradually escalate their relationship over the course of several morning bus rides largely without talking to each other at all. Instead, they're simply sharing comics back and forth, then sharing music.

What's important about these scenes are the gestures, those little physically acted moments. Park holding open his comics so Eleanor can see them, Eleanor showing interest and moving a little closer, escalating to sharing music.

Don't think about what characters are saying, think much more about what they're doing.

Have you noticed novels that read like screenplays? How do you avoid movies getting in your head?

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21. Which book have you read the most times?

We all have a book we return to again and again.

Some people re-read A Christmas Carol every December, some have tattered, falling-apart copies of Harry Potter.

I've read Moby-Dick, The Great Gatsby, Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and The Elfstones of Shannara three times each, but nothing compares to the countless number of times I read Rifles for Watie growing up, which I found endlessly fascinating as a pre-teen.

What about you?

Art: The Story Book by William-Adolphe Bouguereau

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22. Job change!

Big change!

Today is my last day at Freelancers Union, on Monday I'm entering the world of finance and will be working for the hedge fund Bridgewater Associates. Having worked now in publishing, tech, the nonprofit sector, and soon in finance, I'm leaving no stone in the economy unturned.

It's been a great year and a half at Freelancers Union, and looking forward to exciting things ahead.

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23. Five things Melissa Grey learned while writing The Girl at Midnight

Nathan here! My friend Melissa Grey's new novel The Girl at Midnight will be published on April 28th, and it's already received starred reviews from Kirkus and Booklist. I invited her to write a guest post on her experiences writing her debut novel. Enjoy!

Writing and then subsequently publishing a book is a long, alternately torturous and rewarding experience that teaches you things about yourself you'd never realized before. Here are a few lessons I picked up during the life-affirming, humbling process of writing my first published novel.

1. Having the power of life and death over fictional characters does not make you a god

There's something about writing that makes you feel invincible -- when it's going well, at least. The act of creation is startlingly addictive and deliciously empowering. But being the supreme overlord of a fictional world doesn't mean you don't need things like food and sleep. One cannot function on coffee and dreams alone. You have to take care of yourself, even when the muses are clamoring for your attention.

2. Your inner perfectionist might just be your worst enemy

Imagine the sounds of nails scraping along a chalkboard. Sometimes writing a first draft feels a lot like that. You look at the drivel you've plopped on the page and your teeth hurt because it's so bad. That's okay. It’s allowed to be bad. I had to learn to give myself  permission to be downright awful no matter how badly I wanted to get things right on the first try. Revision is your friend. Revision will save you. But it can't if you never finish the first draft.

3. The shower is an incubator for good ideas

Foiled by writer’s block? Hop in the shower.

Hit a plot snag? Hop in the shower.

Words won't come out right? Hop in the shower.

Starting to smell because you've done nothing but write and eat Cheetos for 4 days? Hop in the shower.

4. Sometimes the best thing you can do is not write

When I was struggling with a pivotal scene in The Girl at Midnight that takes place in the Fifth Avenue branch of the New York Public Library, I put down my pen and went to the actual building I was writing about. I didn't write. I had my emergency notebook just in case but I spent my time really experiencing the building's beautiful architecture and watching the wild assortment of people who visit it. And then I went home and started that tricky scene anew and it clicked into place. Sometimes, you just need a break to jump start your mind.

5. Accepting criticism doesn't mean applying every bit you receive to your work

While writing TGaM I had two critique partners. One of them hated my prologue. The other loved it. One of them adored the first chapter in which we see Ivy’s POV narration (she's the best friend of Echo, the book’s chief protagonist). The other detested it. One of them approves of Caius’ hair style (a little shaggy but still sexy). The other insisted he needed a haircut. You will never please everyone. There will be times when criticisms you receive from trusted sources are in direct opposition to one another. And that's okay. Learning to accept these opposing points of view gracefully while still trusting your gut is a vital skill to develop.

There are other things I leaned during the writing process (lactose-free milk is a touch too sweet for blueberry tea, eating a burrito while crying over your manuscript at 4 o'clock in the morning is a decision you'll later regret, you can't listen to the evil Smurf that lives inside your heard that insists you'll be a failure because that Smurf is wrong and can go to hell), but these are the lessons I know I'll hold closest to my heart as I wrap up this trilogy (it's a trilogy!) and go forth into the wild blue yonder.

Order a signed copy of The Girl at Midnight from Books of Wonder, or check it out at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Indiebound, or Powell's.

Melissa Grey was born and raised in New York City. She wrote her first short story at the age of twelve and hasn't stopped writing since. After earning a degree in fine arts at Yale University, she traveled the world, then returned to New York City where she currently works as a freelance journalist. To learn more about Melissa, visit melissa-grey.com and follow @meligrey on Twitter.

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24. 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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25. Loner in the Garret: A Guest Post from Jennifer R. Hubbard

Nathan here! Jennifer Hubbard is a former client of mine, and someone who has written some of my favorite books of all time. I invited her to guest post about her new nonfiction book for writers, Loner in the Garret. Enjoy!

Publishing in the internet era has enabled me to connect with a network of other writers. Which is great, because I’ve needed the support.

After my debut novel came out in 2010, I found myself repeatedly having the same conversations with other writers, conversations in which we charted the roller-coaster peaks and troughs of the publishing experience. We had thought that if we knew the pitfalls ahead of time (bad reviews sting; second books can be hard to write; most books don’t earn out), we could avoid them or at least prepare ourselves for them. We could power through them, laugh them off, or ignore them altogether. 

But knowing about something isn’t the same as living through it.

I found myself getting, and giving, a lot of pep talks. Forming impromptu online writer’s support groups. It was reassuring to realize that we all found this path to be rocky, full of confusing signposts and unexpected turns. Nobody was skipping blithely down a smooth flower-bordered road—at least, not for long. 

I needed quite a few pep talks in my pre-published days, too. Writing requires self-motivation. There’s a lot of solitude and a lot of rejection. A little encouragement comes in handy, and a laugh is always welcome. 

After my third novel, I started working on a writer’s companion, partly as a much-needed a break from the dark and edgy fiction I’d been writing, and partly because we often write the books we want to read. I liked the idea of a writing book that would present short pieces on a multitude of topics, a book that would speak to different moods and places in a writing career. I liked the idea of reading just a page or two at a time, perhaps to kick-start a writing session.

I liked the idea of not being so alone.

Jennifer R. Hubbard is the author of three novels for young adults, several short stories, and a nonfiction book about writing. She lives near Philadelphia with an understanding husband, a pile of books and chocolate, and a melodramatic cat.

Loner in the Garret:
Sometimes the most difficult part of writing is not coming up with a plot or the perfect turn of phrase. It’s getting motivated to sit down and start, or having the confidence to go forward, or finding the courage to move past the sting of rejection. Loner in the Garret: A Writer’s Companion provides inspiration and encouragement for that mental and emotional journey. Covering topics as varied as procrastination, the inner critic, fear, distractions, envy, rejection, joy, and playfulness, it charts the ups and downs of the writing life with honesty, gentle suggestions, and a dash of humor.

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