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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. 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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2. 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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3. 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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4. Steven Salmon on writing with cerebral palsy

At the Wisconsin Writer's Institute a few weeks back I had the pleasure of meeting Steven Salmon, a blog reader with Cerebral Palsy who has published three books, an impressive output not least of which because he writes using morse code.

He agreed to an interview and here are the responses:

NB: What made you decide to start writing?

SS: I became a writer to show people that a severe physically disabled person can be and are productive valuable members of society if given a chance to succeed. All of my life, I was told "you can't" by disabled advocates. When I graduated from high school with honors, the government labeled me as "unemployable." The government didn't believe that I could work and wouldn't help me go to college. For two years after I graduated from high school I stayed at home doing nothing watching TV and reading sports autobiographies. Living in isolation made me angry. Boredom ate at my heart.  My dream was to attend college. I even contemplated committing suicide. But my mother put me through school herself. I vowed to be the best college student once I enrolled in college.  My strong determination made me want to prove the government wrong. I used my anger to become a productive person: a writer and eventually an author.

NB: What's your writing process like?

SS: I use Morse code to write along with a word prediction program called CoWriter. Morse code allows me to use a mouse. I swing my head back and forth between two buddy buttons attached to a portable metal stand on my wheelchair. I spell out each word one letter at time. CoWriter predicts words that I start to spell allowing me to choose a word that I want from a number list. CoWriter automatically leaves a space to start the next word. When I enter a sentence into a word document or an email, CoWriter automatically leaves two spaces to begin a new sentence. I used to use voice recognition to write, but it didn't work for me anymore because voice recognition started using words instead of using sounds for letters that I was using. A couple of years ago, I started using Morse code to write. Morse code is more accurate than voice recognition for me. I can edit my writing now. 

NB: I was amazed to learn that you write using morse code. Does this process mean you plan your scenes ahead or do you still have room to improvise?

SS: Morse code and CoWriter are just tools giving me the ability to write fast.  When I write, I have a scene in my head.  Usually I write very detailed scenes without outlines or notes. I want a good "working" first draft.  Something that I can build on for a second draft. I want to be able to give it a friend or my literary agent who will edit it.  Then like all writers, I will rewrite the manuscript and edit it again. I write all day every day. Morse code and CoWriter allow me to write late at night. That is important I have care attendants to manage, a manuscript to rewrite for my agent, publicity to do and postings to write for my blog. I love writing at night with a baseball or a basketball game on TV.  I'm all alone writing with my black cat at my side. 

NB: Is there an advantage to thinking about every letter as you go?

SS: There is no real advantage to spelling out one letter at a time. Morse code and CoWriter are just tools allowing me to write like a paintbrush for a painter. It's up to me, the writer to make the words come to life for the reader. There is nothing like knowing that a manuscript is coming together like watching a house going up. A writer is a creator and seeing your writing come together is something to be proud about. At the end of the day the writer has satisfaction seeing the writing in their mind like a carpenter admiring a hard day of work as the sun sets. Only the writer can see it! 

NB: Who is your writing hero?

Larry Watson is my favorite author. He wrote White Crosses, Justice, Orchard and Montana 1948. He taught writing at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point when I was a student there. Larry is my mentor and helped me get my first novel going. He doesn't talk much. But I was one of the few students that he opened up to. It was a privilege to have Larry teach me. We are friends now and email each other. 

NB: Any advice for aspiring writers out there?

SS: My advice to writers is writing is hard work! Writing a day or two a week is not writing. Larry told a writing class once if you want write to get rich writing get out now. If you want to learn how to write to write stay. In my opinion a real writer needs to be passionate about their writing and believe in their writing. There are very few rewards to being a writer. You don't get paid. A writer needs people to confide to sharing the highs and the lows of writing. My college classmates are my confidants. Writers need to have confidants to lean on when nothing seems to be going right or they are pursuing a literary agent. A year ago, I was in a pursuit of an agent trying to impress her by doing several rewrites. I grew frustrated with her, but college classmates kept me focus. They gave me strength when I needed the most. But I got the agent thanks to my classmates. They are my inspiration. 

I'm living a writer's dream. But it's a lot of hard work and long hours just writing. Not many writers are willing to make that kind of sacrifice.  But if a writer wants an agent the writer has to work!  If I have a literary agent, then other writers can to by working each day.  

Not bad for "unemployable" person according to the system. 

Thanks to Steven for participating! Check out his books here.

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5. Self-publishing vs. Traditional: Some Straight Talk

I'm thrilled to have a guest post from Natalie Whipple, one of my former clients, who is now a "hybrid" author with experience with both traditional and self-publishing. She is the author of Transparent and House of Ivy & Sorrow, which comes out today, and Relax, I'm a Ninja, which will come out in June!

Here's Natalie's post:

There is a lot of talk online about legacy versus indie publishing and which is better. People seem to spend so much time focused on defending one side or the other, that the details of what each path actually entails get skewed or lost entirely.

To me, arguing which is “better” is a lot like fighting over whether basketball, baseball, or football is the superior sport. They are all sports, they all have a fan base, and they all bring enjoyment to the people who choose to participate in them. Is there really a “better”? Well, no. They’re just different. Same with legacy and indie publishing.

Maybe I see it this way because I’ve chosen to venture into both legacy and indie publishing. I’m what people are now calling a “hybrid” author. So since I’ve been on both sides, today I want to give out neutral, practical information on the difference between Legacy and Indie. I’ll leave it up to you guys to decide what you think is more advantageous or preferable or whatever.


Most people think of authors selling their books, but really it’s more about selling your creative rights in legacy publishing. A publisher wants to buy your rights to reproduce your words in a certain form—usually a book form. There are also other rights you can sell, like electronic (ebook), cinematic, audio, and translation. In the legacy model, a writer usually obtains an agent who specializes in selling and drawing up fair contracts for these various rights. You get a percentage of profit, your agent gets a cut, and of course so does the publisher.

In indie publishing, a writer keeps all their rights and uses them as they see fit. You could say an indie sells their books because of that. That means they get almost all the profit to themselves, but also have to do all the work themselves as well. Indies effectively become a small publisher of their own work. If they want to sell in audio book format, they have to hire the voice actor and make it happen (yes, you can do that). If they want to translate their novel into Spanish, they can hire someone to do that. Their rights are in their hands, for better or worse.


As alluded to in the previous section, indie publishing is all about control. The writer is in charge. While most authors hire out editors and designers, it’s still the writer who chooses who to work with and what the final product looks like. The writer controls price, marketing, design, everything.

In legacy, a writer gives up a lot of control when they sell rights. Your publisher will decide your cover, the price of the novel, the marketing scope. They will decide when your book releases and when they want to put it out of print. You can argue, but they don’t have to listen.


Legacy authors receive payment in two ways—advance against royalties, and then royalties if the novel “earns out its advance.” Your contract will contain royalty rates for each book format they purchased rights for. Advances are usually paid in segments upon contract signing, D&A, and publication. If you earn royalties, you may see a check every 6 months, sometimes once quarterly.

Indie writers do not receive advances, but begin to immediately make “royalty” on their work. The royalty received is much higher—usually 60-70% (as opposed to 6-25% legacy depending on format). Online distributers usually pay monthly if a threshold of income is achieved (from $10-100 depending on the place), otherwise it will be held to the next month.

Cost To Author

Legacy publishing has very little upfront cost to an aspiring writer (unless you consider time a cost, which is something to consider). Agents don’t take payments, but receive commission upon selling rights to your work. One you sell a novel, you may be paying for your own travel or marketing materials, but overall the cost can be almost zero if you don’t choose to do those things.

Indie publishing does have an upfront cost. The average for a quality product is around $1500 for a first novel, most of which goes to a freelance editor. Other costs can include interior and cover design, ebook formatting, ISBN purchasing, business license, marketing, purchasing hard copy inventory, etc.


Indie publishing can reach many markets it couldn’t previously, thanks to online marketplaces and reduced cost of production in the digital age. An indie writer can make their book available globally without having to own a lot of costly inventory. Legacy publishing still has a leg up in the bookstore and library area, having deep connections and filters that are easy for store/library buyers to use. Though the stigma on indie is slowly lifting, there is still a trust built between established publishers and store/library buyers.


Legacy publishing, in theory, gives an author a marketing plan they wouldn’t be able to accomplish on their own. At minimum, they submit their novels to trade reviewers, make them available in the publisher’s seasonal catalog, and make them more visible to store/library buyers who then champion those books to customers. At best (if you are very lucky), legacy publishers send authors on tour, get them big ad spaces in movie theaters, have features in well-known magazines, get radio and TV spots, etc.

Indie writers are responsible for their own marketing, and it’s really a matter of how much money and hustling they want to put into it. An indie can get ad space—it’s just very pricey. They can get trade reviews and other visibility. They can plan their own tours. They just have to foot the bill for everything. So it’s about maximizing visibility at a reasonable cost.

I hope this clears up some of the differences with legacy and indie publishing. But more than that, I hope it helps people see that both avenues have their pros and cons and aren’t necessarily against each other. Publishing is a hard business, no matter how you decide to tackle it. But I personally have found things to love in both methods, and I hope more writers begin to see that they have options and they don’t need to be afraid to explore them.

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6. The Past Few Weeks in Books 4/11/14

Downtown Brooklyn. I'm on Instagram here
It's been an interesting past few weeks! I had a fantastic time at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Writers' Institute, great meeting all of the writers there, including longtime reader Alison Coffey, who you may know as commenter ABC. Though I was sorry to watch the Badgers lose in the Final Four.

Speaking of the Final Four, propelled his successful choice of UConn to win it all, longtime friend-o-the-blog Peter Dudley won the 2014 Blog Bracket Challenge! Peter, you know where to find me for the prize.

Meanwhile, some interesting links caught my eye in the past few weeks. Here they are.

There continues to be a great deal of discussion in the book world about the state of diversity in the publishing industry, especially following in the wake of Christopher Myers' New York Times article "The Apartheid of Children’s Literature." Sarah McCarry, aka the Rejectionist posted about how the industry can publish more writers of color. Jennifer Pan has an interesting article that argues focusing on diversity numbers alone misses the point. I also participated in an interview with Maya Prasad about the issue.

Independent bookstores have offered the industry a glimmer of hope of late as they have hung on even as chains struggle, but in a further sign of the times, Manhattan bookstores may soon be an endangered species.

Holt Uncensored compares the movie tie-in book editions vs. their originals.

David Gaughran has a terrific post on the ins and outs of e-book pricing. Lots of nuanced discussion.

Reader Tiffany Roger wrote about the ways in which the writing process can sometimes resemble a burning log in the fireplace.

How do editors in different countries edit? Interesting interview with Emma Donahue, Judy Clain and Iris Tupholme.

And Game of Thrones is back!! I can't get enough of this goat mashup:

Have a great weekend!

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7. 8 ways to know if you have a good agent

The author/agent relationship can be a tricky one. There are good agents and bad agents out there, and yet from the author's perspective it can be very difficult to know which type you have. Many authors talk themselves out of their reservations about their agents simply because it's hard to know if your concerns are warranted. And, of course, many writers just feel lucky to have an agent in the first place.

So how do you know if your concerns are justified?

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but here are some things to consider:

1. Your agent should have a proven track record of sales and/or works at a reputable agency.

This is far from the only criteria for determining whether you have a good agent, but it's a mandatory starting place. A good agent should have either a track record of sales to major publishers or have a good deal of experience cutting their teeth at a reputable agency or both.

Remember that every agent starts with zero sales and young agents can often be a good fit for authors because of their ambition and hunger, but they should still know the ropes and have mentors they can draw upon.

Avoid agents who are well-intentioned but are just hanging out a shingle and hoping to learn as they go.

2. Your agent should be a good communicator.

By good communicator, I don't mean that they necessarily reply immediately, though that is always appreciated. Agents are very busy, and even some very good agents can be afflicted with publishing time. The publishing industry can sometimes move slower than a line at the DMV. (For the record, I always tried to get back to my clients within 24 hours and I know many successful and busy agents who stick to a similar timeframe).

What's more important than punctuality is that when you have a question, your agent answers. When you ask for something, your agent delivers. When you want to have a serious conversation, the agent is there to have it.

A good agent doesn't dodge, doesn't hide, is straightforward with you and tells you things you may not always want to hear. If you feel like you are constantly pulling teeth to get the most basic questions answered, you may not have a good agent.

3. Your agent should either live in New York or visit on a regular basis.

An agent doesn't necessarily have to live in New York -- I didn't when I was an agent, nor does my current agent. However, we both visited on a very regular basis because there is no substitute for occasional in-person networking and meetings.

4. Your agent should be able to explain every question you have about your contract or your royalty statements.

Publishing contract clauses can be confusing, royalty statements borderline indecipherable. Your agent should know exactly what they mean and be able to explain them to you.

5. Your agent is completely ethical in how they approach their job.

A good agent will act ethically and advise you to act ethically. If you see your agent act unethically it's only a matter of time until you're on the receiving end.

6. Your agent should pay you on time and send you contracts in a timely fashion.

Most agents have clauses that stipulate that publishers send payments to them, then they take their commission and send you the balance. This is normal.

However, that means it's all the more important that they send your payments and contracts to you on time. Be very wary if you encounter strange delays.

7. Your agent charges you a commission of 15% on domestic contracts, 20% on foreign contracts, and deducts very transparently for reasonable expenses like postage and copying. That's it.

No agent should charge you up front. They only make money when you make money and only charge you separately for things like foreign postage and manuscript copying.

8. You feel comfortable.

This is key.

You have to trust your agent. You have to have a good feeling about them. The communications lines need to be open.

Go with your gut. Don't be overly paranoid, but if you have a bad feeling it behooves you to try to figure out what's wrong. Try to resolve it, and if you can't, part ways as professionally and as amicably as possible.

At the end of the day, having a bad agent is worse than having no agent. You have to be able to have faith that your agent has your best interests at heart and is good for your career.

Any others to add to the list?

Art: Japanese Lantern by Oda Krohg

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8. What I've learned from the sales of How to Write a Novel

One of the best parts about self-publishing is getting nearly real-time data on how and where your book is selling. I'm not one of those writers who feels comfortable posting my exact sales and royalty figures online, but I'm seriously thrilled with how How to Write a Novel is doing and thanks to everyone who has snagged a copy!

As I was compiling some sales figures, I was struck by two findings:

1) People still want the print version

I brought out the print version of How to Write a Novel about a month and a half after the e-book version. I knew I would have to price it higher and wasn't sure there would be sufficient demand to go through the trouble of putting it out in print.


Even priced at $11.99 vs. the e-book's $4.99, the print version has nearly kept pace, and in the past month I've actually been selling more print books than e-books.

Print! There you have it!

2) Amazon dominates e-book sales

We all may know that Amazon has the dominant e-book platform, but it's pretty stark when you see the raw numbers. Here's what my US e-book sales look like broken down by platform:

89.1% of my e-book sales have been through Kindle, 7.55% through Nook, 2.1% through Apple and 1.23% through Kobo.

Now, to be fair, I have run some promotions where I used the Amazon link, but that choice was mainly driven because of the way these numbers looked even before those promotions. It also took longer to get the e-book up on Apple, so I lost some initial sales. But even after accounting for those considerations the numbers wouldn't look that different.

Is Amazon's dominance cause from concern? Have other self-pubbed writers seen something similar?

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9. Page Critique Wednesday and the importance of changing up the action

It's been a criminally long time since I've done a page critique and I hope to be doing these on a much more regular basis!

If you would like to nominate your page for a future Page Critique Event, please enter it in this thread in the Forums.

First I'll 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 kscollier_mehl, whose page is below:

"The Veil" 
After having just placed Adam’s breakfast on the patio table, Kanakanue stood there staring out over the Pacific. For a brief moment he thought he heard shouting. He brushed it off as a usual sound in the mornings of a seagull’s shrill cry coming from the beach. 
“Will there be anything else for you, Adam?” he asked with a strong Hawaiian accent.  
“No Kanakanui that’s all. Thank you,” Adam said, never lifting his eyes from his laptop. 
Buried deep in his work, he rarely paid attention to his surroundings--even in beautiful Maui. 
“Sir,” Kanakanui said, “I think there is someone struggling in the water.” Holding one hand over his eyes like a shield he squinted, pointed toward the beach, and thought for sure he saw a person thrashing between the waves. The whitecaps rolled ashore with a roar. 
Adam glanced up briefly from his work, and scanned the waves. He stood to get a better view. Then a chilling sound echoed across the water to the spot they both stood.  
“Help, someone help, please!” The agonized cry of desperation sounded louder this time. 
Adam and Kanakanue looked at one another then darted down the trail to the ocean’s edge. Adam glanced downward at the red water swirling around his ankles. They rushed past several waves to help the man who had been wrestling to swim to shore. As soon as they reached the swimmer, Adam spotted the shark’s dorsal fin as it headed out to sea.

This is definitely a competently written first page. It sets the scene, it's not difficult to place the action, and it doesn't try too hard to grab the reader by the throat, which is very appreciated. There are some turns of phrase that could perhaps be smoother, but overall I think it reads fine.

My main concern is with the action, which I almost missed.

What's interesting about writing action is that there are many different ways to convey it stylistically. You can do clipped phrases (e.g. "He saw blood. Red everywhere. He ran. The killer was close.) or you could do stream of consciousness (e.g. "He saw blood and there was red everywhere and he ran, heart pounding, sensing the killer was close."), or you can do a mix.

What's most important with action is that you somehow change the pace.

If you're writing a book with spare phrasing, you might consider switching to stream of consciousness with the action (Hemingway does this). If you are more lyrical, you can consider switching to clipped phrasing. With action, something is off. Things have escalated. The best way to convey this is by subtly changing the style.

In this case, the paragraph about the action is told with the same style and tone as Adam staring at his laptop, and I read into it the same level of intensity. I didn't get the sense something really important was happening.

Change up the style and you'll get your reader's heart racing.

Here's my redline:

"The Veil" 
After having just Kanakanue placed Adam’s breakfast on the patio table, Kanakanue and stood there staring stared out over the Pacific. For a brief moment he thought he heard shouting. H, but he brushed it off as a usual morning sound in the mornings of. A seagull’s shrill cry coming from the beach. 
“Will there be anything else for you, Adam?” he asked with a strong Hawaiian accent.  
“No Kanakanui that’s all. Thank you,.” Adam said, never lifted his eyes from his laptop. 
Buried deep in his work, he rarely paid attention to his surroundings--even in beautiful Maui. 
“Sir,” Kanakanui said, “I think there is someone struggling in the water.” Holding one hand over his eyes like a shield he squinted, pointed toward the beach, and thought for sure he saw a person thrashing between the waves. The whitecaps rolled ashore with a roar. 
Adam glanced up briefly from his work, and scanned the waves. He stood to get a better view. Then a chilling sound echoed across the water to the spot they both stood.  
“Help, someone help, please!” The agonized cry of desperation sounded louder this time. 
Adam and Kanakanue looked at one another then darted down the trail to the ocean’s edge. [This is a big gap from the trail to staring down at red water -- needs more description] Adam glanced downward at the red water swirling around his ankles. They rushed past several waves [Can you really "rush past" waves?] to help the man who had been wrestling to swim to shore. As soon as they reached the swimmer him, Adam spotted the shark’s dorsal fin as it headed out to sea.

Thanks again, kscollier_mehl!

Art: Porträt des Erasmus von Rotterdam by Hans Holbein the Younger

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10. Daniel José Older on channeling darkness and writing unique characters

Daniel José Older is a writer on the rise, and Tor recently published his chilling and compelling urban fantasy short story Anyway: Angie.

Daniel was kind enough to join me for a Twitter chat, where we talked about everything from channeling darkness into writing, channeling the voice of a character who is very different from you, and the importance of Twitter to the modern writer.

Check it out:

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11. 6th Annual Blog Bracket Challenge!!

It's mid-March, and you know what that means. Our 6th blog bracket challenge!!

Who is the greatest literary bracket prognosticator of them all?

Probably whoever has not been following basketball year. People, that's how these things work.

All you have to do is pick winners in a tournament of 64 er 68 teams. It is basically mathematically impossible to pick them all correctly. Except I'm totally going to do that this year.

Here we go!

The winner with the most points at the end of the NCAA tournament will win a query critique and a copy of whichever my books you so desire!! (or other suitable agreed-upon prize)

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).

All updates/trahstalking will occur in this dedicated thread in the Forums, so make sure to join us there.

Good luck!!

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12. This Past Few Weeks in Books 3/14/14

Photo by me. I'm on Instagram here.
The! Past! Few! Weeks! In! Books!

Lots and lots and lots of good stuff. Let's get started.

Should books come out faster? The idea has long taken hold with self-publishing, but it's percolating elsewhere. Even traditional publishing imprints are experimenting with releasing series as fast as possible.

Are you putting off reading the rest of this article? Maybe this is why.

My good friend Sarah McCarry, aka The Rejectionist, has continued her incredible interviews with writers who are navigating depression. The latest: Elia OsunaLitsa DremousisJacqui MortonKatherine LockeB R SandersRoxane GayMattilda Bernstein Sycamore and Soren Melville. Must read, all of them.

Meanwhile, in other The Rejectionist news, she wrote an incredibly thought-provoking article arguing that recent dystopian fiction avoids current realities relating to race and gender violence.

In still other The Rejectionist news, a field guide to The Unlikable Female Protagonist.

Is this the year's most mind-expanding book around gender?

Anne Rice has joined the fight against author harassment on Amazon.

Are you interested in writing a picture book? Here are six tips.

Amtrak has launched a seriously awesome plan to start a writer's residency program. However, as Author Beware notes, there are things you should know.

Stephen King: The adverb is not your friend.

And finally, this is the only article about The Bachelor that you need to read. Which is really saying something.

Have a good weekend!!

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13. What are you reading?

It's been a while since I asked this one but I thought I'd get a pulse on the current reading public.

What are you reading at the moment?

I'm reading the fantastic Hollow City by my friend Ransom Riggs. Like many other people I was so impressed by the conceit of the found photographs that give so much peculiar life to Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, yet what really brings these novels to life is Ransom's incredibly deft writing, which is on brilliant display in Hollow City.

Highly recommend.

What about you?

Art: Portrait of a Bibliophile by Anonymous

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14. The temptation of shutting down your social media accounts

We've all been there.

There are times when social media can feel so infuriating, when it feels like all everyone does it look for an excuse to feel outraged, and sometimes you might even find yourself the target of that outrage.

There are times when it feels like other people are so popular, so happy, and you're struck by your own imperfections.

There are times when you feel like you put so much work into just staying above water, doing the bare minimum, to check off a box of "Things Writers Are Supposed to Be Doing," but like the Red Queen in Alice and Wonderland you're just running to stay in the same place.

There are times when it feels tempting to shut it all down, to just retreat into the real world, to let the next fad come and pass and not invest so much time into something so temporal.

It's tempting to want to shut down your social media accounts and not even bother with the difficulties that come with putting yourself out there on the Internet, especially those times when someone out there in cyberland takes time out of their day to try to cut you down to size. The Chinese government invented a chilling term for the practice of seeking out people to shame on the Internet. They call it the Human Flesh Search Engine.

I've felt all of those things at various times over the last seven+ years of blogging (gahh!!!! Seven years WHERE DOES THE TIME GO). But I've never decided to shut it all down. I still have my social accounts, and I still blog.

For one thing, to shut it down feels like a false retreat. Yes, maybe you would feel a short term gain to disappear into virtual darkness and just let the Twitterverse spin on. You may win a temporary reprieve, but as people like Satoshi Nakamoto go to show, the Internet can still find you even (or especially) when you don't want to be found.

It seems like this is the way the world is going whether we like it or not. The future is going to be a confusing mix of public and private, with a heavy emphasis on the public. Even if you have warts out there on the Internet, at least you're out there. At least you have a trail that people can examine and consider the whole, people who know you and can come to your defense. It gives you a voice, even if it can feel at times like there's no escape.

As tempting as it can be to want to hunker down and let the world pass over you, it still seems like you lose still more by retreating into the wilderness. I don't know where this is all going, but I'm excited enough about the future to stay in public on the Internet, even as I wonder sometimes what in the world we're all doing.

Have you ever thought about shutting down your accounts and retreating? What did you decide?

Art: The Red Queen's Race by John Tenniel

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15. You don't have to write every day

One of the most persistent myths in the writing pantheon is that "serious" writers write every day.

Like many myths, this one contains a kernel of truth, namely that many writers do write every day. The rhythm and discipline of sitting down every day is important to some writers, and many of them believe so wholeheartedly in their own process that they elevate this to "requirement" status. They can't imagine not writing every day, so it becomes an ironclad rule and some hector others as unserious.

But you really don't have to write every day. You really don't. I certainly don't write every day.

I'm not a morning person, so I can't wake up early to write in the mornings. And after a long day's work I'm usually too mentally exhausted to write. So I get my writing done on weekends.

Moreover, I find the breaks between writing times to be very beneficial. Those breaks are ideas times, when I'm letting my mind wander, making free associations, and planning what I'm going to write when the weekend comes. By the time I finally get back to the computer, I'm ready.

Does this mean I write more slowly? I don't think so, actually. I wrote all three Jacob Wonderbar novels in 6-8 months. I just had to carve out quite a bit of time on the weekends.

Don't let other writers shame your style. You don't have to write every day. Unless you do. Whatever works for you. Just get the job done.

Art: Captive balloon with clock face and bell, floating above the Eiffel Tower by Camille Grávis

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16. On a Love of Weather

Talking about the weather is almost by definition the height of banality. When you have absolutely nothing else to talk about with someone, well, at least there's the weather. You can chitchat about how nice it is or how horrible or gosh I hear we're going to get some snow tomorrow.

And yet the weather is something that affects us more than nearly any other force. At minimum it affects our day and mood, and at maximum it can destroy our livelihood, homes, and even kill us. It's amazing that people spend so little time thinking about something so important.

For instance, weathermen are a running joke. We marvel at their ineptitude when they predict one inch of rain instead of the two that falls, or if they hype a six inch snowstorm that turns out to be nothing.

Who stops to think about how miraculous it is that we can even vaguely guess the weather a few days in advance? Most people see simplicity where there is endless complexity.

The Science of Prediction

Predicting the weather is not as simple as standing outside, licking a finger and holding it to the air to see which way the wind is blowing. We have hundreds of stations around the globe taking measurements at various levels of the atmosphere. Mounds of data are fed into some of the most powerful computers in existence, which in turn rely on some of the most sophisticated algorithms ever developed.

In order to accurately predict a snowstorm a few days in advance, these computers have to take into account the dynamics at every level of the atmosphere, the shifts in jet streams, the confluence of different storms, and somehow output a reasonable approximation of what will happen in the future.

Maps like this are churned out, which require very advanced knowledge to even interpret. Various weather models are compared against each other in order to come up with a forecast. And yet it's still almost impossible to be completely accurate.

To get a huge snowstorm in New York, you often need a low pressure system tracking up the coast with a lot of moisture and energy that passes near what is called "the benchmark," an arbitrary place in the ocean that is just far enough off the coast to throw snow back at NYC but not so far that it goes out to sea, and a high pressure system in Greenland that acts as an atmospheric dam, slowing down the system so that it deepens and becomes more intense.

Even with all of that needing to come together all at once, a very subtle shift in temperature at the 850mb level of the atmosphere (about 5,000 feet) can mean the difference between snow, sleet, or freezing rain. A few degrees can mean the difference between a raging blizzard and pouring rain. And the intensity of the storm itself affects this temperature. The storm, in effect, creates its own weather dynamic.

This is what you're blaming your weatherman for!! An unexpected shift in winds and intensity that raises or lowers the temperature a few degrees at 5,000 feet in the air.

Weather Nerddom

As I'm sure is now apparent, I've always been somewhat of a weather nerd. I read weather message boards that interpret the latest weather models, have spent years gradually learning the lingo and concepts, and I find it all completely fascinating. The consensus reached on the message boards are far more accurate and up-to-date than anything you see when you type your zip code into weather.com.

Even still, with the information out there, people would often rather trust their own vague intuition. I was stocking up on supplies before Hurricane Sandy and the checkout person scoffed that it was going to be nothing and I was going to have to return everything. I was like, "Um... I think this one is going to be big."

I don't totally blame people. Most people's experience with weather forecasting is limited to oracular weathermen who breezily give a confident forecast without any hint of the complexity at work or their level of confidence in the outcome. Some weather forecasts are a slam dunk because the dynamics are simple, some are highly uncertain because the dynamics are complicated, but they almost never tell you which is which.

Still though. Isn't anyone at least curious?

Weather and Writing

To me, thinking deeply about things like the weather is what it takes to be a writer. I don't mean that all writers are weather nerds (we all have our own weird interests), but in order to be a writer you have to take the parts of life that everyone takes for granted and think about them extremely deeply.

Many people are content to skate on the surface of life and just get through their day. Writers are not like that. We pick apart interactions, we wonder what makes people tick, we don't take the everyday for granted.

Writers can't just see the sun shining outside and let that be the end of their thinking. Much like the weather, it's only when you dig deep and learn everything you can that you can accurately see what is possible.

Art: A Storm on a Mediterranean Coast by Claude-Joseph Vernet

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17. Writing With a Day Job

On last week's episode of Girls, Hannah got a temporary day job in GQ's advertorial department, where she had a taste of success (as well as free snacks).

Her fellow co-workers were fellow aspiring writers, and during a slightly fraught break room chat, they revealed that all of their writing successes came before they had a day job. Hannah quits, not wanting to wake up in ten years having failed to pursue her real writing, but later decides to try to have it both ways and vows to write three hours every night.

I'm sure this episode rang true for many a writer. Barring some sort of independent wealth or a generous benefactor, there are really only two choices:
  • Quit/scale back your day job to have more time to write, plunging yourself into financial uncertainty. 
  • Keep your day job and carve out time for writing in the margins, plunging yourself into creative uncertainty.
There are pros and cons of both courses of actions, of course, and I know writers on both ends of the spectrum. Some writers I know cobble together a freelance life to maintain maximum flexibility while just getting by financially, which gives them enough time to write.

I have thrown myself into my day jobs. 

I probably could, in theory, quit my day job, combine my books income with some writing/editing consulting on the side and cobble together a reasonable living with more time to write. But here's the thing: I like having a career.

It's not just about having a steady paycheck and benefits, which are nothing at all to sneeze at. Having financial security takes a ton of the pressure off of writing, and I completely recognize how fortunate I am in this day and age to even have a good job, especially one where I feel like I'm helping accomplish a greater good. 

For me, one of the most important reasons I like having a day job is balance:
  • Writing can be solitary -- I like going into an office, having a routine, seeing coworkers I like every day, and getting out of my own head.
  • Writing can be frustrating -- I like having something else I'm invested in, particularly in an arena where one's effort is often more closely tied to tangible results. 
And when one is down and gets difficult, often the other is up. It's sort of like having multiple horses in the race. When the writing is tough, it can be nice to go into the office on Monday and feel like I'm not living and dying by the publishing world. When I have a rough day in the office it's nice to be able to go home and write and feel like I have another iron in the fire.

The main drawback of writing with a day job is that it requires a huge amount of discipline. I have to give up things I might otherwise like doing. Namely, enjoying my weekends and many of my weeknights. Instead of going skiing as much as I like or staying in and binging on Netflix I have to convert to what is essentially a six or seven day workweek.

Again, I should be so lucky. And I don't know how this will work once I have a family. 

But if you're in a similar position, just know that you really don't have to quit your day job to write. There's enough time in the day, provided you take advantage of those slivers of time you have available and press forward even when you get tired.

Anyone else out there struggling with this dilemma? How do you make things work?

Art: Hay Harvest at Éragny by Camille Pissarro

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18. Please Try E-mailing Me Again

It pains me to inform you that the contact form on my website is broken. GAH!! Those e-mails you sent (and who knows how many others) have been arriving very inconsistently.

If you sent me a bid for a publishing consultation through the contact form on my site and you haven't received a reply, please e-mail it to me again at nathan [at] nathanbransford.com

Also, if you have ever tried to contact me and I didn't e-mail you back this is probably why. Feel free to try again.

Thank you, and so sorry for the inconvenience!

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19. I'm offering publishing/writing consultations

Inspired by my friend and colleague Christine Pride, I'm going to offer five publishing consultation slots over the next month. During this time you will be free for one hour to ask me anything to your heart's content via Skype or Google Hangout or phone, from feedback on plot to how to go about the traditional or self-publishing process to advice on your query letter to whether Bachelor Juan Pablo is a harbinger of the apocalypse (spoiler: the answer is "yes"). 

Here's how this will work.

I have literally no idea what to charge, and I also want to be fair about how to allocate slots, so I'm going to use a bidding system. 

If you are interested, e-mail me a bid for an hour consultation before 5pm ET on Monday February 17th at nathan [at] nathanbransford.com. That's it. Four slots will go to the four highest bids. However, I know we are in economic crunch times and there are many worthy writers who don't have a lot of cash, so the fifth slot will go to a randomly selected person from among all the bids even if they're not one of the highest bidders. And obviously those who don't get a slot don't pay anything.

A few extra things:
  • I will read up to 25 pages of material in advance of the call
  • Timeslots are only available between 6pm - midnight ET on weekdays and 9am - midnight ET on weekends on account of my day job and sleep requirements. Times to be mutually agreed upon and subject to change in case of emergency and all that.
  • Bids from Bachelor Juan Pablo will be summarily rejected. Juan Pablo, please take a moment and say your goodbyes.
Thanks, everyone! Looking forward to chatting.

Art: Rokoko-Kavaliere im angeregten Gespräch by August Hermann Knoop

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20. Sometimes the Boring Idea is Best

When people set off to write a novel, they often feel as if they need to break every single mold and come up with something no one else has thought of before.

And then, when writing the novel, writers sometimes feel pressure to get their characters from Point A to Point B in the most! exciting! way! possible!

Not only is this way too much pressure to put on yourself, a lot of times it isn't even the best choice for your story. As I say in my guide to writing a novel, "Sometimes a character just needs to stare at the ice floes and contemplate the meaning of life."

You don't have to break every mold to write a novel, and you don't have to try to blow everyone away on every single page. There's a rhythm of ups and down in a novel that can be incompatible with shoving originality and excitement where it doesn't belong. You can also exhaust the reader if you constantly try to blow their minds.

Poor, poor boring idea! You are unappreciated, you are downtrodden, you are the idea of last resort. But sometimes you are the right one for the moment.

Art: In Gedanken by Félix Armand Heullant

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21. The Past Few Weeks in Books 2/7/14

Photo by me. I'm on Instagram here.
There were some good publishing and books links in the past few weeks, and here are the ones that caught my eye.

But first, as I mentioned last week my friend and colleague Christine Pride, who has edited 7 NY Times bestsellers, is offering some private consultations this month. Check it out.

And in April I will be venturing to the lovely state of Wisconsin for the UW-Madison Writers’ Institute! I'll be giving some talks and workshops and would love to see you there if you can make it.

Now then. Links!

Big congrats to Kate DiCamillo, who won the 2014 Newbery Award for Flora and Ulysses, to Brian Floca, who won the Caldecott for Locomotive, to Marcus Sedgwick, who won the Printz for Midwinterblood, and to Markus Zusak, who received the Margaret A. Edwards Award.

Amazon released its list of the bestselling books of 2013, with Inferno by Dan Brown taking the top spot.

Sarah McCarry, aka The Rejectionist, has kicked off the first few entries in her series on writing and depression/mental illness, and it's off to a seriously terrific start. Here are the posts featuring Mairead Case, s.e. smith, Red Mills and Christine Hou.

Author Amanda Hocking had a really great an honest post about hitting a rough spot and not really being sure how much to share online or not.

Ann Morgan decided to read one book from every country in the world. Such a cool project. She shared her favorites with The Atlantic

What makes for better writing - getting more words on the page or working slowly and getting things right the first time? Here's a vote for quantity. I'm not sure I agree. (via Jennifer Hubbard)

And what's the difference between middle grade and YA? Agent Janet Reid describes some of the differences.

The past few weeks in the forums: Title tips, book marketing as a marathon, and query critiques!

And finally, The Beatles' famous impromptu rooftop concert, which ended up being their last, happened 45 years ago. Amazing:

Have a great weekend!

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22. Will there ever be a successful "Netflix for Books?"

Ever since I've been connected to the book world there has always been talk about a "Netflix for books." The latest (very good) comparison was made this week by Peter Osnos in The Atlantic.

It's important to remember, as Osnos does, that the publishing industry innovated with subscription services long before movies ever did. Ever heard of the Book of the Month club? There are also these services that allow you to check out just about any book you want called libraries.

But snark aside, a true subscription service that allows readers to pick the books they want for a monthly fee has proven to be a bit of a white whale for some time.

We seem to be closer than ever. Scribd, Oyster and the Kindle Lending Library are all hoping to be your go-to source for on-demand book rentals, and they've gained more traction than most of these attempts in the past.

And yet is really something people really want? Few people read more than one book a month. That is, in fact, one big source of the appeal of the BOMC. And an e-book rarely costs more than $9.99. And the people who read the most books (such as hard-core genre readers) are the ones who are reading books that are cheaper to begin with. And the library is free. So do we really need a an e-book subscription service?

Call me a skeptic. I spent most of January reading The Secret History by Donna Tartt on my iPad, and it set me back $8.85. That's less than a month of Netflix.

What do you think? Can a subscription service take off?

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23. 3 Things Writers Can Learn From J.K. Rowling's Second-Thoughts About Harry and Hermione

Every newsfeed in the land was abuzz with J.K. Rowling confessing to second thoughts about how she wrapped up the Harry Potter series, and specifically about whether Harry and Hermione should have gotten together. The full interview has not yet been released, but that hasn't stopped the Internet from having a collective freakout, with some people agreeing and some people thinking everything turned out just fine thankyouverymuch.

From the quotes that have been released, it sounds more like she felt like she forced the Ron/Hermione relationship more than flubbing the Harry/Hermione relationship.

Count me in the camp that feels that a lack of chemistry between Harry and Ginny was a bigger problem than an unfulfilled desire to see Harry and Hermione get together, but setting that aside, there's a lot that this reveal tells us about the writing process.

1. Even J.K. Rowling has second-thoughts about her plotlines

Writing a novel can be such a confusing mess. At the end of the day you have to just pick something and go with it, but those nagging second thoughts might never go away.

By the time you read a good book it feels like canon, like it sprung forth fully-formed from its writer. You get lost in it and don't think about all of the difficult choices the author had to make, all of those times when the author went with their best guess about what would work with no prior knowledge of whether it really would make sense and be the best plot.

Second-thoughts and doubts are totally normal. You might feel like you're barely holding things together, and you wouldn't be alone.

2. It's hard for authors to see their works clearly

It's hard to get a sense of the forest from the trees when you spend hundreds of hours getting one inch of bark right at a time. Authors are so deeply immersed in their worlds, see them on such granular levels, that it's hard to have the distance to make the right choices. Or, even if you make the right choice, you might not even be quite sure why.

This is why editors exist. They can take a more objective look and see the forest and help guide writers to make the right choices.

In this case, whatever her second thoughts, I don't know that Rowling was wrong about how she ended up writing the books. Even many years after the series closed I'm sure it's difficult to see things clearly.

3. Authors and readers and books have an uncomfortable relationship

The other day, John Green tweeted that books belong to their readers. Which is true as it goes, (especially if they have purchased them), but books also belong to their authors. What J.K. Rowling says about her works really does change how we look at them.

When Rowling said that Dumbledore was gay that carried a whole lot more weight than if anyone else had said it. Nothing changed in the text, but it certainly changed how people interpreted the books.

The reading experience is ultimately up to the reader, but what the author thinks and says about their work really does matter.

What did you think about this revelation?

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24. How to choose an e-book cover

One of the very best parts of the self-publishing process is that you get to choose your own cover. Revolutionary, I know!

In the traditional publishing process authors almost never have approval over their cover, and it's even somewhat rare to have meaningful consultation. For some authors it can feel like "consultation" is limited to telling the editor how much you love your cover. I was fortunate enough to really love my covers for the Jacob Wonderbar series, but just about every other author I know has gone through cover hell with a publisher.

Here's how I went about choosing my cover:

1. Choosing a designer

This one was pretty easy - over drinks my friend Mari Sheibley mentioned she was working on a cover for a university press, and I asked her if she'd do mine. She is a fabulously talented graphic designer, the brains behind early Foursquare badges and other influential Internet design.

She said yes, and a few weeks later I had concepts.

2. It had to look good as a thumbnail

This is kind of a no-brainer in this day and age. I knew I wanted my title and my name to be readable even if the cover was just a thumbnail so it would pop as people are browsing on Amazon and B&N.

I also knew for branding purposes and general favorite color reasons I wanted to go with an orange color palette. Those were my only two requirements. I left the rest up to Mari.

3. Envisioning how it would look in an e-bookstore

Mari naturally came up with several different awesome cover concepts, which made it really difficult to choose. I polled my friends and there were two main contenders, but people were pretty evenly split on which one they preferred. I kept waffling back and forth.

But then my friend Sharon Vaknin sent me an e-mail that blew my mind. It included these two attachments:

See what she did there? By simply pasting the cover concepts in competitive search results it was totally apparent which one popped more. I went with the one that featured more orange.

Do. This. If you're deciding between two or more covers make sure you know how it will look among other similar books on Amazon and BN.com and Goodreads and everywhere else books appear online. It's wonderfully clarifying.

And there you have it! Fellow self-publishers, how did you go about choosing your cover? Any tricks of the trade?

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25. Private Publishing Consultations

NB: My friend and colleague Christine Pride, who I’ve mentioned here before, is now offering private one-on-one consultations for writers! Christine has worked for Random House and Hyperion and edited eight NY Times bestselling books, so she knows her stuff. And I'm speaking from personal experience, I hired her to edit my guide to writing a novel. 

Grab a session to get some personalized advice. Here’s Christine's note:

Do 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? Would you like some topline feedback about your query letter? Do you have questions about how to get an agent or next steps for your project?

I’m offering a limited number of one hour Skype or phone sessions from February 10th to February 15th. This is your chance to have one-on-one time with an industry veteran to get individualized advice, information and answers.

You can sign up by emailing me at Christine@Christinepride.com. Consultations costs $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.

Please sign up by Friday February 7th.

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

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