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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. Want a free query critique or copy of How to Write a Novel? Let's chat!


I'm working on a very interesting project for a very interesting General Assembly class on product management, and I would love 10-15 minutes of your time today (Saturday) or tomorrow (Sunday) to ask you a few questions. Yes, you! Let's talk!

In exchange, I will give you a free query critique OR a copy of How to Write a Novel.

We'll chat briefly about your experience having your writing critiqued, in addition to such completely optional topics as bad reality television, the weather in your locale in comparison to the weather in Brooklyn (which is fabulous, thanks for asking), and the iPhone 6 ZOMG the iPhone 6.

If you're interested, please shoot me an e-mail at nathan [at ] nathanbransford.com. Offer is good for the first ten people.

Thank you!

Art: A Conversation by Vladimir Makovsky

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2. The Past Few Week in Books 9/19/14

Photo by me. I'm on Instagram here.
Links!

First up, friend of the blog Stephen Parrish is conducting a fundraiser to establish a fellowship in honor of Christine Eldin, a beloved member of the writing community who passed away a few years ago. Please check out the fellowship page, as well as the fundraising page on Indiegogo, where there are many quality items up for bid.

Now that Amazon has launched Amazon Unlimited, the Netflix-for-books-ish subscription service, should self-published authors opt their books in? David Gaughran investigates.

Speaking of Amazon, they recently launched a new program aimed at making it easier for children's book authors to self-publish, with such features as text pop-ups and easier illustration insertion. Very interesting.

Have independent bookstores improbably weathered the e-book transition better than chain stores and are they even on the rise? Zachary Karabell makes the case in Slate.

Do elite MFA programs have a race problem? NPR took an in-depth look.

Don't forget about the discussion forums, where you can have your query critiqued and talk writing with some great authors!

Why in the world does everyone in dystopian movies wear knitwear? Vulture takes a look at the great moments in Dystopian knitwear.

And finally, today is iPhone 6 release day! My good friends at CNET have all the latest reviews. Now if you'll excuse me, I have an iPhone 6 to play with.

Have a great weekend!

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


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

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

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

What about you?

Art: The Bullfight by Auguste-Francois Bonheur

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4. Page Critique: Let actions speak for themselves


Page critique Tuesday!

If you would like to nominate your page for a future Page Critique Event, please enter it in this thread in the Forums. Also, I'm offering personal consultations and edits if you're interested in that.

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 XXX, whose page is below:
Gone, Kitty, Gone: A Brock Rockster Mystery 
Middle-grade mystery/comedy
I smashed my steel-toed loafer through the front door and tumbled in, where I landed face-first on the floor of the large, dark foyer.
“Worst! Day! Ever!” I yelled. I knew everyone in the house was sleeping, but I didn’t care. I was upset, and with good reason.
“Carver!” I picked myself off the ground. “Carver! We need to talk!”
My perfect record had been shattered. When I woke up this morning I had been Brock Rockster, The Boy Who Always Got His Man, the twelve-year-old mustache prodigy and world’s greatest private investigator to the stars. I was untouchable, unstoppable, and undefeated – but not anymore. After today’s calamity, I didn’t know what I was.
I saw a room dimly lit off to the right and stomped toward it, each step echoing through the otherwise silent house. A reading lamp glowed in the room’s far corner over the head of Carver McCarver, who sat at her desk surrounded by stacks of papers and folders.
“Hello, pard,” she said. She finished reading the sheet in front of her before looking up. “Find Mr. Janston’s statue?”
“Janston got his weird little sculpture back just fine, Carver, but it wasn’t me that found it,” I said.
I took my fedora hat off, and Carver tipped her Stetson back in response. Carver was well over ninety years old, but had the energy of someone a third her age, and the wisdom of someone who’d seen the pyramids built.
This is an extremely solid, nay, excellent, nay, nearly flawless first page. The voice is strong, there's some solid wit and humor, the concept is fun, and I enjoyed the descriptions. Very very well done and I want to read more.

I'm going to pick two nits here. The first is a very common mistake, which is over-telling emotion. After Brock stumbles in and yells, "Worst! Day! Ever!” and notes that he doesn't care if he wakes everyone up, it's a bit redundant to then say, "I was upset, and with good reason." It's already apparent.

People often say show-don't-tell, and this is one of those classic cases. Show emotion, don't say what the emotion is. People will get it.

Secondly, people don't generally say each other's names in the middle of a sentence, and it can sometimes break up the flow to include it. I'd remove "Carver" from the second to last paragraph.

But seriously, those are two arguable small changes that are arguable. This is in very good shape. My redline:

Gone, Kitty, Gone: A Brock Rockster Mystery 
Middle-grade mystery/comedy
I smashed my steel-toed loafer through the front door and tumbled in, where I landed face-first on the floor of the large, dark foyer.
“Worst! Day! Ever!” I yelled. I knew everyone in the house was sleeping, but I didn’t care. I had a good reason to be upset.
“Carver!” I picked myself off the ground. “Carver! We need to talk!”
My perfect record had been shattered. When I woke up this morning I had been Brock Rockster, The Boy Who Always Got His Man, the twelve-year-old mustache prodigy and world’s greatest private investigator to the stars. I was untouchable, unstoppable, and undefeated – but not anymore. After today’s calamity, I didn’t know what I was.
I saw a room dimly lit off to the right and stomped toward it, each step echoing through the otherwise silent house. A reading lamp glowed in the room’s far corner over the head of Carver McCarver, who sat at her desk surrounded by stacks of papers and folders.
“Hello, pard,” she said. She finished reading the sheet in front of her before looking up. “Find Mr. Janston’s statue?”
“Janston got his weird little sculpture back just fine, Carver, but it wasn’t me that found it,” I said.
I took my fedora hat off, and Carver tipped her Stetson back in response. Carver was well over ninety years old, but had the energy of someone a third her age, and the wisdom of someone who’d seen the pyramids built.
Nice work!

Art: Sherlock Holmes by Frederic Dorr Steele

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5. Dirty Wings by Sarah McCarry


When someone asks me what all the hullaballoo about YA is these days, I don't start by talking about Twilight or The Hunger Games, I talk about how there is Literature, with a capital L, being written for young readers, books that are both accessible and fun to read but full of meaning, beautiful prose and depth. It's an incredibly exciting time to be a reader, and I'm so jealous of all the Kids These Days who .

Case in point are the books by my good friend Sarah McCarry, first her incredible debut All Our Pretty Songs, but even more especially the prequel Dirty Wings.

Dirty Wings is about the deep, intense friendship of the mothers of the main characters in All Our Pretty Songs, when they were teenagers with hopes and dreams and confusions, and it's told with such beauty and precision.

But hey, don't take my word for it, here's what Kirkus had to say (in a starred review, naturally):
The prose is exquisitely crafted, moving effortlessly from dizzying to heartbreaking. Each setting—an exhaustingly filthy punk house, the New York street where Maia’s hermitlike father suddenly comes to life, the Mexican beach town where the girls’ road trip ends—is vibrantly constructed through careful detail and spare but evocative prose.
A breathtaking companion volume, fully readable on its own and devastating in the context of its predecessor.
Looking to see what all the YA hype is about? READ THIS.

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6. Guest post (and giveaway!) - How and when to revise your manuscript


Nathan here! I'm very pleased to have a guest post today by David Zelster, whose debut novel LUG is going on sale today!

Better yet, we're giving away three signed copies of LUG! All you have to do is leave a comment asking to be entered (non-anonymously please!), and we'll choose three random winners.

Here's David's post:

At every stage of your writing life—from newbie egg, to agented caterpillar, to published butterfly—you will be asked to revise your work. In this guest post, I’d like to share a few of the edits I’ve taken, and not taken, and my golden rule for revising.

The Newbie Egg Stage

When you’re first starting out, your friends and family will dutifully read whatever your hand them. Then they’ll come back to you with stiff little smiles and say things like “it’s good,” “nice work,” and “great job!” The temptation is to believe these oh-so-sweet big fat lies.

Don’t.

In fact, at this point, your job is to try to pry the truth from their stiff little grinning lips. It may take some convincing but, ultimately, they will reveal all.

And then, when they let loose, it’s your turn to grin and bear it.

Here’s a lesson I learned the hard way. Let’s call it:

The Newbie Egg’s Golden Rule of Revising

Almost all readers’ suggestions have something of value. The key is not so much to take them verbatim as to find the underlying problems that inspired the suggestions--problems that the readers are often not even consciously aware of. If you can detect those issues, you can choose the best way to revise.

Once you’ve dived in and taken a pass at fixing the deeper problems, show a few other people your respect. Put your manuscript away for a while. Keep repeating until you’re happy and your readers are no longer just politely grinning. Then, I hope you’ll find yourself in. . .

The Agented Caterpillar Stage

If your agent is worth her salt, she too will have revisions. My agent is Catherine Drayton of InkWell Management. With her permission, I’d like to share a few key excerpts from her LUG edit letter to me:
The Environmental message
I think that the coming of the Ice Age and the parallels with our current environmental crisis are a strong selling point for this book. Lug’s talent is that he is extremely observant and the subtle way you handle this at the moment is perfect. I do however think that you could use some more funny observations from Lug and evidence his frustration that no one else around him seems to notice what is happening to the world. Kids have an uncanny way of zoning in on what’s really important and feel powerful when they can see something that adults can’t. 
Characters
I do think that the relationship between Lug and his father is important and could use development especially in the context of choosing the next big man and banishment from the tribe. I want to see more interaction between Lug and his family at the beginning of the book, especially Big Lug. If we see, clearly, what Lug has—we understand better what he is forced to leave.   
Language
In terms of the language I think that I would tone down the ‘cave man’ talk. It is always risky to use dialect as it can fall very flat and draw attention to the author. Lug is speaking in perfectly formed English so I’d consider having the others do so as well – even if it is in very clipped, short bursts. 
Once you and your agent are happy with your chrysalis...ur...manuscript, my hope is that you’ll emerge into . . .

The Published Butterfly Stage

Once you have an editor at a publishing house, you book is in the final revision phase! Although I was excited to steal almost all of my editor’s suggestions for LUG, I thought it might be useful to share a rare example when I chose not to take one. Here’s an excerpt from an email I sent to my editor on that topic:
In a few places you've asked for the removal of certain words or concepts because they seemed too sophisticated for the Stone Age. I had thought about doing this quite a bit in my first drafts of LUG, and ultimately decided against it. Basically, I concluded that I would not write this story as hard (or even soft) science fiction, but rather as satirical comic fantasy. 
She quickly took the point, helping me to fine tune the intentionally anachronistic words and concepts I used to satirize our society’s inaction on climate change. I’m grateful to all my editors/readers for their enormous help. I also want to say a big thanks to Nathan Bransford for the opportunity to guest post on a blog I’ve found very useful in my own writing life.

Watch the LUG book trailer and learn more about all the books here.

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7. How do you name your characters?


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

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

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

Art: The Gardener by Paul Cezanne

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8. Page Critique: The danger of starting with dialogue


If you would like to nominate your page for a future Page Critique Event, please enter it in this thread in the Forums. Also, I'm offering personal consultations and edits if you're interested in that.

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 ria, whose page is below:
“We have damned the world,” Adriel said. 
“Come again,” Zachery said. 
They stopped at the pond, where Zachery fished some crumbs from his pocket and tossed them towards the ducks. Overhead, the shops and homes of the upper city clung to the walls of Drieh’s three lofty towers. A few rays of morning sunshine dove through chinks between the buildings only to flounder in the gossamer fog among the trees. 
“I’ve felt ripples of energy,” Adriel said. “Here on Altara. And in the netherial. I picked it up a few months ago, and it gets worse every few weeks.” 
He hadn’t felt anything of the sort, and his work relied on the netherial. “And what does this have to do with us damning Altara?” 
“I traced its energy signature back as far as I could and it originates with the Calamity. Something we did back then is building up to... something.” 
He let crumbs fall from his fingers onto the water’s surface. “This makes no sense, Adriel. No one else has felt anything. What you’ve described is impossible.” 
“I only brought this up because I thought you’d care. And I thought you might have felt something in your portals.” 
Zachery looked across the pond. A portal rose between the trees at the far end of the park, two slender pillars of dark rock curving toward each other with an arch of pure magic suspended between them. Anchor and focus, two simple elements that made up one of the most complex constructs on Altara.
There is some great writing here. This: "A few rays of morning sunshine dove through chinks between the buildings only to flounder in the gossamer fog among the trees" is just an awesome and evocative sentence. And the slender pillars of dark rock are also intriguing and mysterious.

I'm afraid I'm a little less sanguine about the dialogue. Here's the challenge of beginning with two people talking to each other: the reader has zero context to understand what they're talking about. They don't know who the characters are, they don't know what world they're in, they probably don't understand the references the characters are making to each other. 

It's sort of like attending a dinner party where everyone makes veiled references so you can't understand what they're really talking about. 

It's not impossible to begin with dialogue, but even if it starts that way it's extremely important to focus on making sure the reader feels very grounded in the story.

With a little more patience and anchoring the story, the dialogue will come alive. 

Here's my redline:
“We have damned the world,” Adriel said. 
“Come again,” Zachery said. 
They Adriel and Zachary stopped at the pond, where Zachery fished some crumbs from his pocket and tossed them towards the ducks. Overhead, the shops and homes of the upper city clung to the walls of Drieh’s three lofty towers. A few rays of morning sunshine dove through chinks between the buildings only to flounder in the gossamer fog among the trees. 
“I’ve felt ripples of energy,” Adriel said. “Here on Altara. And in the netherial. I picked it up a few months ago, and it gets worse every few weeks.” 
He Zachary hadn’t felt anything of the sort, and his work relied on the netherial. [More here on what Zachary is thinking about what Adriel just said in order to help give the reader context, as well as what the netherial is.]  “And what does this have to do with us damning Altara?” “I traced its energy signature back as far as I could and it originates with the Calamity. Something we did back then is building up to... something.”  He let crumbs fall from his fingers onto the water’s surface. 
“This makes no sense, Adriel. No one else has felt anything. What you’ve described is impossible.” 
“I only brought this up because I thought you’d care. And I thought you might have felt something in your portals.” 
Zachery looked across the pond. A portal rose between the trees at the far end of the park, two slender pillars of dark rock curving toward each other with an arch of pure magic suspended between them. Anchor and focus, two simple elements that made up one of the most complex constructs on Altara.
Thanks again, ria!

Art: Reinier Vinkeles by Charles Howard Hodges

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9. What to write about when it feels like everything has already been written


This unnerving moment happens to every writer:

You finally get the nerve to tell someone your idea for a book. You describe your idea, you brace yourself for whether they think it's good or bad, but instead they say, "Oh yeah, that sounds like [X book]."

You blink a few times as your face flushes. Someone already had the same idea??? And the book is already published??

Are you now completely, colossally screwed?

No! You're not. Deep breaths.

There are hundreds of thousands of books out there. The odds that you will come up with completely original book that does not remind anyone of another book is pretty much zero. At the end of the day, originality is somewhat overrated.

Still, it can be disheartening to feel like you're simply retracing someone else's footsteps, and it may leave you bewildered. What do you do?

Here are some scenarios and what to do about them:

When all of your ideas for novels feel like books you have already read:

Keep thinking. Keep brainstorming.

If you're not feeling impressed or excited by your own idea there's no way you're going to sustain enough momentum to write a whole novel. When the writing gets hard it's only your belief in your idea that will sustain you.

Don't settle for an idea that you feel is vaguely uninspiring. Keep pushing yourself to find something better.

When it feels like you are imitating someone else's voice:

When you are just starting out, you may annoy yourself to death because you know you sound exactly like your favorite writer or the most recent book you read. You can't stop yourself from imitating.

This is totally, perfectly okay. Just go with it. Get the words out there. Don't stop writing.

What will happen over time is that you will gradually start to find your own voice. You'll start sounding less like your favorite writer and more like you.

And when you do, you can go back and rewrite the opening part where you were imitating. It will be much easier to go back and revise the voice than it would have been if you had obsessed over your voice from the start.

When you're writing a novel and then find out someone else already had a similar idea:

This is somewhat inevitable. There are tons of books already out there, we've been telling stories for thousands of years, and there are only so many combinations of events that can be shoehorned into a story.

The important thing to focus on is what makes your story unique. You need a unique setting, unique characters, and a unique style.

If the world of your novel feels very different than the previous similar book, chances are people won't even make the connection.

When you look at your unfinished novel and think, "Why in the world is anyone going to care about this with all the other stories out there?"

Have faith!

If every writer who experienced this feeling stopped writing there wouldn't be any books out there at all.

Everyone wonders why anyone would care about their book. Everyone has moments of self-doubt and feeling of futility.

Don't give into these feelings. If you power through and finish your novel you'll be immensely glad you gave your dreams a shot.


Do you ever have these moments of doubt? How did you get through?

Art: View of the Salon Carré at the Louvre by Alexandre Brun

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Art: The Photographer Sescau by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

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11. Bill Watterson on life and creativity


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

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

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

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

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12. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at fifty



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

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

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

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

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13. Advice for young writers


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

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

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

Here's my advice for young writers:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don't be afraid to imitate at first.

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

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

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

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

Don't ever apologize for being a writer.

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

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

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

Writers write.

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

Art: Schreiben der Knabe by Albert Anker

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

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


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

Let's get to it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

19 rare recordings of famous authors.

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

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

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

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


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

Have a great weekend!

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15. ComicCon!


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

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

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

See you there!

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16. The real solution to Amazon vs. Hachette


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Art: Symposium by Akseli Gallen-Kallela

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17. Are you optimistic about the future of books?


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What say you?

Art: A Favourite Author by Poul Friis Nybo

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18. Page critique: Don't overdo it


Page critiques are back!

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

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

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

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

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

 Art: Dempsey and Firpo by George Bellows

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

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

First, 2013:


And now this year:


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

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

What say you?

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20. What are your writing superstitions?


Writers can be a superstitious lot.

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

What are your writing superstitions?

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21. Don't overthink it


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

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

Which is how I very often end up with e-mails like, "OMG I THINK I JUST BLEW IT I E-MAILED AN AGENT AND IT HAD AN EXTRA PERIOD AT THE END OF IT OMG WHAT DO I DO CAN YOU UNSEND E-MAILS PLEASE HELP EMERGENCY EMERGENCY."

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

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

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

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

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

Chances are the answer is no.

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

Art: Mater Dolorosa by Titian

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22. What's your biggest distraction from writing?


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

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

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

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

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

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23. It's better to be a good storyteller than overly realistic


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

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

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

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

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

This is what I realized earlier in my writing days:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Art: Camille au Métier by Claude Monet

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


I'm probably in the minority on this one. 

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

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

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

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

Confession: it kiiiiiiiiiiiind of weirds me out. 

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

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

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


We've all been there.

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

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

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

Art: Jeune homme à la fenêtre by Gustave Caillebotte

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