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

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

After very similar results in 2013...


And last year...


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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Art: Fishing Boats and Icebergs by William Bradford

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


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

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

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

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

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

Smashwords

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

Smashwords

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

Jacob Wonderbar and the Cosmic Space Kapow:
Amazon
B&N
CreateSpace

Jacob Wonderbar for President of the Universe:
Amazon
B&N
CreateSpace

Jacob Wonderbar and the Interstellar Time Warp:
Amazon
B&N

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

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







Hope you enjoy!

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

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

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

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


Create your own user feedback survey

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

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5. How to flesh out a character


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

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

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

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

Here are some tips:

Know what your characters want

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

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

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

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

Imagine your character going through an average day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Know your characters' history

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New York City literary pub crawl!

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

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


Have a great week!

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I liked the idea of not being so alone.

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

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

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8. What was your favorite experience meeting a writer?


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

What's your favorite experience meeting an author?

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

What about you?

Art: Officer and a Laughing Girl by Johannes Vermeer

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


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

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

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

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

2. Your inner perfectionist might just be your worst enemy

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

3. The shower is an incubator for good ideas

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

Hit a plot snag? Hop in the shower.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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10. Job change!

Big change!

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

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

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11. 4 ways to avoid screenplayizing your novel



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

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

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

Here's how to avoid screenplayizing your novel:

1) Don't construct a scene around dialogue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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12. Which book have you read the most times?


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

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

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

What about you?

Art: The Story Book by William-Adolphe Bouguereau

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13. 7th Annual Blog Bracket Challenge!!



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

Who is the greatest literary bracket prognosticator of them all?

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

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

Will it be you?

Here's how to enter:

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

2. Make your picks.

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

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

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

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

Good luck!!

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14. Should you self-publish or traditionally publish? 7 questions to ask yourself


To self-publish or traditionally publish. That is the question.

Whether tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of agents and publishers or to take arms against a sea of books on Amazon, and by being among them, rise above? To die, to sleep (oh wait you won't), to sleep perchance to dream of fame and riches... aye there's the rub.

Ahem. Sorry.

So. You have yourself a book. Should you just go ahead and self-publish and see how it does? Should you try your luck with agents and publishers? Should you try agents and publishers first and then self-publish if that doesn't work?

Having traditionally published the Jacob Wonderbar series and self-published How to Write a Novel, I've seen both sides of the publishing world.

Which way should you go? Here are seven questions to ask yourself:

1) Is your book a niche/passion project or does it have broad, national appeal?

In order to attract a traditional publisher, especially one of the major ones, you're going to need to have a book that fits squarely into an established genre, is of appropriate length, and has mass commercial appeal.

Be honest with yourself. Is your book something that has broad, national appeal or is a niche? Is it a potential bestseller or something you just wrote to, say, have your family history recorded for posterity?

If it's hyper-specialized you might want to either try for a similarly specialized publisher, or just go ahead and self-publish. And if it's a passion project without commercial potential you're probably best-served going straight to self-publishing.

2) How much control do you want over the publishing process?

If you go the traditional route, you'll have an agent who will likely want you to edit your work before submission. You will (hopefully) have a publisher who will want you to revise your work. You won't have approval over your cover, and you'll probably only have mutual consent on your book title, meaning if your publisher doesn't like it you'll have to think of a new one that you both can agree upon. You'll probably have limited control over how and where your book is marketed.

Traditional publishing is a group process and you absolutely cede some control over your book. This can be a good thing, chances are you're dealing with experienced people within the publishing industry who are experts in their fields, but you may be frustrated at times with decisions you don't agree with.

Meanwhile, with self-publishing, everything is up to you. Edits, cover, title, fonts, marketing, whether or not you want to include that stream of conscious sequence about the philosophical implications of of cotton candy... all your choice.

3) How much does the validation of traditional publishing matter to you?

The stigma surrounding self-publishing has largely dissipated, but it's not gone entirely.

And there's still something gratifying about doing something as hugely difficult as making it through the traditional publishing process, having your work validated by professionals, and being paid for your efforts. The names Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster... they still matter to many people.

Success is success, and in the end it's the readers who are the ultimate validators. Do you want the validation that comes with traditional publishing? Or are you cool going straight to readers?

4) How important is it for your book to be in bookstores and libraries?

While you might be able to strike up some individual relationships with local bookstores and libraries as a self-published author, the surest route to bookstores and libraries is through traditional publishers, who have wide distribution.

Do you care about being in bookstores? Are you writing in a genre, like books for children, where libraries are super-important? If so, you might want to pursue traditional publication.

5) How capable are you at self-promotion?

There's no guarantee that a publisher is going to adequately promote your book, but they'll at least give you a bit of a boost at bare minimum.

If you self-publish, you're entirely on your own. You don't necessarily have to be a social media maven or a celebrity in order to give your book the boost necessary to generate crucial word of mouth, but you're going to have to do something.

6) Can you afford to invest money in your book?

Say what you will about traditional publishing, but one great thing about it is that it is not very cost prohibitive. You might incur some postage sending your manuscript around or if you choose to pay an editor before pursuing publication, but agents don't charge you until they get commission for selling your book, and publishers pay you.

Self-publishing similarly doesn't have to be hugely cost-prohibitive, but there are a lot of tasks involved in self-publishing, such as generating a cover, editing, copyediting, formatting, self-promotion, that you're either going to have to spend the time to do yourself or pay someone to do for you.

Depending on how much time you have to spend and your level of expertise, you may end up spending a thousand dollars or two to effectively self-publish. Can you afford that? (And you shouldn't necessarily assume you're going to get it back).

7) How patient are you?

Choosing traditional or self-publishing isn't necessarily an either/or decision. You can absolutely decide to pursue traditional publishing first and fall back on self-publishing if you so desire.

But even in the best case scenario, traditional publishing can take forever. It can take a year or more to query agents, and then a year or more to find an editor when you're on submission to publishers, and then even if you get a book deal it can be a year or two after that before your book comes out. It can very easily add up to two or three years or more after you finish your manuscript.

Meanwhile, when I finished How to Write a Novel, it was up for sale a few days later. Self-publishing is practically instantaneous.

Are you the patient type? Do you want to cut to the chase? That can perhaps be the most important factor of all.


How did you decide whether to pursue traditional publishing or self-publishing? Did I miss anything?

Art: Le tour de la France par deux enfants by G. Bruno

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15. Would you take money or an award?


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

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

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

What do you choose?

Art: Lais Corinthiaca by Hans Holbein the Younger

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16. The importance of change in a setting


The setting is often referred to as a novel's canvas, but that's not right at all.

A canvas is blank. It's white. It's unchanging.

If you think of your characters acting within a blank world, no matter how interesting they are it will feel like there's something missing.

Instead, it's crucial to think about what's happening in the broader world of your novel, what is changing, and how these larger forces are impacting your characters. When you do, your novel will feel like more than just an interesting series of events, it will feel deeper, richer, and more meaningful.

One of the (many) elements that elevated Gone Girl above a regular suspense novel was the creeping ways the economic downturn affected the lives of the main characters, from having to move to the Midwest, to the abandoned mall, to Amy's feeling that she couldn't escape her parents' shadow. The characters are acting within a world where they don't have limitless control over their lives.

Or think about the way Sauron is ascendent in The Lord of the Rings, how racial turmoil is a backdrop for To Kill a Mockingbird, how even an apocalyptic setting like Station Eleven is made more interesting by a sense of progress.

The thing about all of this change is that it's feels truer than a static world. We area all living in a world that keeps changing around us, that constrains our choices, that opens up new possibilities, and where new things are invented that alter everything around us.

Map out what's changing in your world just as surely as you map out what your characters do and how they change. Think about your world's government, its moral standards, its religion, its wars, its culture. Find a way to shake things up where it makes sense, and make sure it impacts your characters and plot.

Set that canvas in motion and your characters will feel more alive.

Art: Hungry Lion by Henri Rousseau

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17. Page Critique: Vagueness tends to deflate a mystery



If you would like to nominate your page for a future Page Critique, 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 your own thoughts on the page, please be exceedingly polite. We aim to be positive and helpful.

Random numbers were generated, and thanks to Justin McKean, whose page is below:
The taller stood near the third floor window, scanning the crowd of parade-goers lining the streets. He turned to the shorter and smiled.
“Bigger crowd, yes? Than last year?” the shorter said.
“Last year wasn't as big a deal. Oop – here we go.”
The shorter crossed to the window as well, standing carefully back from it. Outside the number 150 was blazoned on just about everything. One hundred fifty years since the Great Tomes revealing the Builders had been discovered.
A troupe of actors passed, playing out one of the Tome stories. The Tomes claimed an ancient enemy had chased the Builders across the sky and that they had died in a final stand, here, at the valley of Safehaven. Debate about the veracity of the texts shook academic halls for over a century.
The crowd roared. The King arrived, waving and laughing. Richard was in his sixth year as King. Kind, fair, savvy enough to throw a good party regularly, King Richard was the most popular monarch the realm of Safehaven had seen in generations.
The crowds' adulation continued but the King's laughter abruptly stopped because of the arrow which seemed to suddenly appear in his throat. He fell to his hands and knees, then began to get back up again, falling as a second arrow pierced his sternum. The crowd still screamed his name. It took another moment for the tone to change from praise to horror.
Authors sometimes have a tendency to want to create mystery by withholding information. This is a natural impulse, but it can be a very dangerous business.

In this case, while I am definitely intrigued by this world and this king who got rather abruptly shot with an arrow, I kept thinking, "Taller what? Shorter what?" Are these people? Gnomes? Squirrels?

It's so important to pick and choose what you decide to reveal and withhold. This scene would be no less mysterious if we had a better mental image of the people/gnomes/squirrels observing this action, and in fact it would perhaps even heighten the intrigue. Are these people in on the assassination? Are they horrified?

And throughout this page, specificity would go a very long way. My thoughts below are only directional, the author alone knows what's really going on in this scene, but hopefully will illustrate how things can be improved with a bit more illustrative detail.
The taller man stood near the third floor window, scanning the crowd of parade-goers lining the streets. He turned to the shorter his colleague Igor and smiled.
“Bigger crowd than last year, yes? Than last year?Igor said, twirling his uneven mustache.
“Last year wasn't as big a deal. Oop... here we go.”
Igor crossed the dark room to peer out the window as well, standing carefully back from it. Outside, the number 150 was blazoned on just about everything banners, on signs, on balloons, and capes [be specific to create a better mental picture for the reader]. One hundred fifty years since the Great Tomes revealing the Builders had been discovered.
A troupe of actors passed, playing out one of the Tome storyies of the sky chaser ["one of the stories" is vague, better to be specific]. The Tomes claimed an ancient enemy had chased the Builders across the sky and that they had died in a final stand, here, at the valley of Safehaven. The actors, wearing flowing blue tunics, leaped and twirled in a pantomime of a race through the heavens. Debate about the veracity of the texts shook academic halls for over a century.
The crowd roared. The King had arrived, waving and laughing. Richard was in his sixth year as King. Kind, fair, savvy enough to throw a good party regularly, King Richard he was the most popular monarch the realm of Safehaven had seen in generations.
The crowds' adulation continued but tThe King's laughter abruptly stopped because of the when an arrow which seemed to suddenly appeared in his throat. He fell to his hands and knees, then began to get back up again, falling again as a second arrow pierced his sternum. The crowd still screamed his name. It took another moment for the tone to change from praise to horror.
The arrow still perhaps appears a bit too soon in the narrative and it might be better to have more setup on "taller" and "Igor" and Richard and what exactly is going on during this day, but this redline hopefully illustrates how replacing vagueness with specificity will give the reader a better chance at imagining the action and becoming invested in what happens.

Thanks again to Justin McKean, and if you'd like to have your page critiqued you can enter it here.

Art: Coronation of Nicholas II and Alexandra Fyodorovna by Laurits Tuxen

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18. What's your writing routine?


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

What's yours?

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

What about you?

Art: Été by Claude Monet

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19. When the Internet attacks



New York Times magazine has a fascinating article about people whose lives have been destroyed by ill-considered moments on the Internet and the virtual lynch mobs that descended upon them (something I've posted about in the past).

I find this phenomenon pretty terrifying, especially as someone who has blogged for eight years, written over a thousand posts, and said various things over the years that have either been stupid or completely misperceived or both.

Whatever you make of whether the people in the article "deserved" what they had coming to them, I have a hard time seeing how Internet vigilante justice is something that is any way beneficial.

What do you think? Do you trust that the punishment fits the crime? And once a virtual mob starts, how can you stop it?

Art: The Battle of San Jacinto by Henry Arthur McArdle

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20. 4 tips for handling multiple perspectives in a third person narrative


One of the biggest challenges with third person narratives is how to balance multiple perspectives.

This isn't always something beginning writers give much thought. Third person is third person, right? Can't you just jump from one character to another as you need to? Aren't all-seeing perspectives essentially the same?

Nope.

Head jumping can be really confusing for a reader. It can be wildly disorienting to see three, four, five characters' inner thoughts in succession. You stop feeling anchored in a scene and instead feel like you're swimming through a thought explosion.

There are two main ways to solve this: sticking to third person limited (anchored to one character's perspective) or third person omniscient (Gods-eye). But most novels deviate slightly from these strict categories and cheat from time to time.

Rather than telling you "rules" about omniscient vs. limited vs. hybrid, here are some directional tips that will hopefully help you keep the reader feeling anchored in a scene:

1) Consider separating a shift in perspective with chapter or scene breaks

This is the most straightforward approach to multiple perspectives in a third person limited narrative. Pick a character and stick with their perspective through a cohesive chapter or scene. This is how George R.R. Martin handles the Song of Fire and Ice books (aka Game of Thrones). The novels are anchored by several key characters per novel, and we see what is happening through their eyes.

2) If you're going to break perspective within a scene, think of it as keeping a "camera" in place

Occasionally you might want to remove the narrating character and show something that is happening out of their view, whether in order to show the reader something the main character can't see or because it just makes sense for them to bounce for a second.

If you're going to do this, I compare this to keeping a "camera" in place in the scene. Remove the main character, but keep the narrative going with the other characters who remain. Don't suddenly shift deeply into someone else's thoughts and feelings, but it's okay to linger a bit and show something the anchoring character shouldn't be able to see.

When/if the character returns, you can slide back into showing their thoughts.

3) If you're using a more omniscient third person perspective, imagine the narrator as a fully-fledged character

Third person omniscient allows more head-jumping and more flexibility in showing various thoughts and motivations. But it's tricky to keep things consistent and avoid disorientation.

Rather than thinking of the narrative jumping from one character to the next, imagine that there is an unseen narrator who is observing the action.

This does two crucial things. One, it smooths things out for the reader, because rather than taking into account multiple perspectives and biases, you're seeing things essentially from one point of view. The other is that it stops you from diving so deeply into one character that it's jarring to shift to another character's thoughts.

This omniscient narrator doesn't have to actually be a real, named character, but it's helpful to think of them this way so you tell the narrative through a consistent perspective.

4) The more the perspective is limited, the deeper the inner thoughts. The more omniscient the perspective, the shallower the thoughts

This isn't a hard and fast rule, but generally, if you have tied the perspective very closely to one character you can go as deep as you want into what they're thinking. It won't be jarring for the reader to see inner monologues, straightforward thoughts, etc.

If you have a more omniscient perspective that includes multiple characters, you may want to stick more to observing outside, physical actions and general, apparent emotions rather than diving too deeply into what multiple characters are thinking. This way we're seeing what's happening on the outside rather than having to wonder how it is that we're jumping around to what everyone is thinking.


Have you tried balancing multiple perspectives in a novel? How did you handle it?

Art: Hercules Killing the Hydra by Cornelis Cort

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21. New email subscriptions! And more!


After many many lost years not really tending to my blog's e-mail subscriptions, I have finally made the jump to Mailkimp... er... MailChimp, so those of you who subscribe via email should be receiving an email that looks rather better and hopefully does not end up in your spam filters.

If you don't yet subscribe via e-mail and are interested in getting this here blog right in your inbox whenever I post, kindly sign up here.

I also fixed the Facebook sharing, so if you so desire to share any of these posts with your Facebook Friends, you should now be able to choose the art in the past as the thumbnail so it looks prettier.

Lastly, I gave the Forums a long-overdue spam cleanup, so it should once again be safe for your discussions and query critiques.

Basically, I was an Internet Carpenter this weekend.

I'd love to hear your feedback! Anything else you'd like to see that will help you read the blog? (Besides, you know, me actually writing posts).

Art: Russian Empire Postman by Anonymous

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22. Are "brows" disappearing?



I make no secret of my love for the TV spectacle otherwise known as "The Bachelor." We have had some incredible journeys together. And yes, I'm in it for the right reasons.

What I love about "The Bachelor" is that it manages to transcend its utterly insane premise (man/woman searches for love by dating 25 people simultaneously, publicly breaks up with each one at a "rose ceremony") with a mix of sincerity, self-awareness and psychological spectacle.

"The Bachelor" is widely regarded as the ultimate of lowbrow culture, and yet there's this strange fact: it's the most widely watched show among 18-49 year olds who make more than $150,000 a year.

As Fifty Shades of Grey dominates the box office and critics largely dispense with trashing it in favor of a spirit of, "Whatever, it does what it's supposed to do well," I'm wondering if we're entering a time when there's no such thing as highbrow or middlebrow or lowbrow.

Is this the era of the unibrow?

I'm not the first to wonder this, a few months back the Bookends column at the New York Times debated just this topic (as well as revealing the etymology of "highbrow," which got its start in the eugenic-leaning "science" of phrenology. Yikes!)

Thomas Mallon argues that culture has benefited from the collision of art at all levels, noting for instance, "does anyone believe that the American short story has improved by making its initial appearance in literary quarterlies never seen by any brows but the highest?"

Pankaj Mishra argues that the profit motive has leveled out the brows, forcing auteurs to be crowd-pleasers, and obliterating individuality.

Personally, I think the explosion of voices in the world brought to us by the infinite choice of the Internet means that anyone hoping to be heard must also, by necessity, entertain. Even those aspiring to be highbrow and express complexity of thought and emotion must also bow to the reality that they need to capture eyeballs.

Think of John Oliver, wrapping serious advocacy journalism in comedy, or the recent trend of literary genre fiction like Station Eleven.

What do you make of this? Are we worse off because it's hard to imagine a Proust, or even a David Foster Wallace, gaining cultural ground in 2015? Or is a muddling of brows a sign that culture is democratizing?

Art: Retrato del Cardenal Inquisidor Don Fernando Niño de Guevara by El Greco

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23. What is the future of bookstores?


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

Is this a harbinger of things to come for bookstores?

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

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

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

Art: Pariser Büchermarkt by Fritz Westendorp

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24. My blog should now be safe for Outlook


One of the unintended consequences of my switch to MailChimp was that I crashed the poor unsuspecting Outlook users out there.

Sorry! I mean you no harm!

This should now be fixed. If it is not, please let me know and I shall work on another fix ASAP.

And if you don't use Outlook and are wondering why you are reading this post, here is a fantastic cat GIF for you:



Art: Schipbreuk by Henri Adolphe Schaep

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25. Why we write (in GIF form)

We write.

(Source)

We write because we want to change the world.
(Source)

We write because we want to walk a mile in someone else's shoes.
(Source)

We write because we want to travel new places.
(Source)

We write because we want to see what we know in a new way.
(Source)

We write because we want to create.
(Source)

We write because we want to connect.
(Source)

We write because we want to inspire.
(Source)

We write because we want to see the future.
(Source)

We write because we want to remember the past.
(Source)

We write because it's an immense challenge.
(Source)

We write because it's an incredible feeling to finish.
(Source)

We write because we want to make magic.
(Source)

We write because sometimes we just can't deal.
(Source)

We write because we seek the truth.
(Source)

We write because we want justice.
(Source)

We write because we're angry.
(Source)

We write because we're happy.
(Source)

We write because we're lost.
(Source)

We write because we want to find something better.
(Source)

We write because we love.
(Source)

Why do you write?


Want to write your story? Check out my guide to writing a novel, How to Write a Novel: 47 Rules for Writing a Stupendously Awesome Novel That You Will Love Forever, on sale for just $4.99 at:

Amazon Kindle
Apple iBooks
B&N Nook
Kobo
Smashwords

The print edition is on sale for just $11.99 at:

Amazon
Barnes & Noble
CreateSpace

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