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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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576. Page Critique Monday: My Critique

Thanks so much to susanivt for offering her page! I think this opening has a nice spirit to it, and I think it does a good job of kicking off the novel with a whimsical tone and a good sense of character. While beginning with someone waking up is a bit of a standard trope, I nevertheless appreciate that this page doesn't try to do too much and instead just introduces us to the character.

My main concern about this opening is that the writing feels a bit stilted to me.

Stilted writing is a very common pratfall, and I think of it as a combination of three symptoms: 1) imprecision, 2) overly complicated phrasing, 3) the Yoda Effect.

What is the Yoda Effect? Well, I'm sure there's a proper grammar name for it, but it's basically when the verb and subject are reversed in confusing fashion. ("Judge me by my size, do you?", "Impossible to see the future is.") The Yoda Effect creeps into this page in a few places ("his whine announced the Doberman's launch" "Jumping off the bed, Dargo crouched next to her" "His quivering bulk against her side dissolved her anger."), and I think the sentences would read much more smoothly if they were reversed. ("she heard her Doberman's whine before he launched himself on the bed" "Dargo jumped off the bed and crouched next to her" "Her anger dissolved when she felt his quivering bulk against her side")

The result of the combined stilted symptoms is that this page never quite got into a rhythm for me and I didn't always believe the action. While I'm all for physical humor, I just don't know that more is gained by describing her fall with every single action in its parts rather than a more streamlined description. I tend to think that "and she fell off the bed in a heap" works better than "Kathryn flailed beneath the blankets in an attempt to get away. Misjudging the size of her new bed, she spread her arms as she slid over the edge. She managed to grip the flannel sheet and execute an impressive flip onto the floor."

I think this page could work with some polish and I would think about whether a less standard opening could better show this character in her element and possibly introduce some conflict, but it's clear that the author has a strong sense of character and that's an important step.

REDLINE

Kathryn knew she would have a bad day when she woke up to the rumble of the snowplow. Sure enough, his whine I first read this as the whine of the snowplow and wondered why the snowplow was a "he" before I eventually realized it was the dog's whine announced the Doberman's seems odd to me to refer to the dog as "the Doberman" rather than "her Doberman" - this is her pet, right? launch onto her bed see Yoda Effect above. Amid the unpredictable impacts should be "impact" of his paws, Kathryn flailed beneath the blankets in an attempt to get away. Misjudging the size of her new bed, she spread her arms as she slid over the edge. She managed to grip the flannel sheet and execute an impressive flip onto the floor.

Thump! do we need the sound effect?

"Damn it, Dargo! It's just a snowplow for Pete's sake!" May be a personal/geographic response, but I didn't believe the "for Pete's sake" - it seems like something a much older character would say.

Jumping off the bed, Dargo crouched next to her Yoda. His quivering bulk against her side dissolved her anger Yoda.

"It's okay, boy. Nothing's going to hurt you." Bending her arm at an odd angle necessary detail?, she stroked his chest and sighed into the carpet. He pressed his cold nose onto her bare leg and she rolled sideways, driving her elbow into the leg of her nightstand.

"Ouch!"

Her cherry nightstand could withstand t

49 Comments on Page Critique Monday: My Critique, last added: 8/6/2010
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577. Page Critique Monday

I'm back in the office after attending a lovely wedding in Amish country, who I don't suppose are big readers of this blog. Ah well. What they lose in Bachelor references they gain in lack of Bachelor references.

Time for Monday's page critique! Refresher on how this works:

- If you're interested in submitting a page for a future critique, enter it in this thread in the Forums (and be sure and check out the directions in the first post).
- I use a random number generator to select the winning critique.
- Please please please remember the sandwich rule when offering your thoughts: positive, very very constructive thoughts, positive. I mean it. Err on the side of being nice.

As of this posting there were 383 posts in the thread, and the number that the good machine at random.org gave me was..........

192!

Congrats to susanivt, whose page is below.

I'll be back in a bit with my critique.

Title: Hope
Genre: Romance (paranormal)

Kathryn knew she would have a bad day when she woke up to the rumble of the snowplow. Sure enough, his whine announced the Doberman's launch onto her bed. Amid the unpredictable impacts of his paws, Kathryn flailed beneath the blankets in an attempt to get away. Misjudging the size of her new bed, she spread her arms as she slid over the edge. She managed to grip the flannel sheet and execute an impressive flip onto the floor.

Thump!

"Damn it, Dargo! It's just a snowplow for Pete's sake!"

Jumping off the bed, Dargo crouched next to her. His quivering bulk against her side dissolved her anger.

"It's okay, boy. Nothing's going to hurt you." Bending her arm at an odd angle, she stroked his chest and sighed into the carpet. He pressed his cold nose onto her bare leg and she rolled sideways, driving her elbow into the leg of her nightstand.

"Ouch!"

Her cherry nightstand could withstand the tremor, but she couldn't say the same for the item upon it. Looking up, she saw the large display of her alarm clock read 5:14 as it tipped over the edge, hitting her in the forehead.

"God, I hate Mondays."

An hour later, Kathryn stomped her boots in the lobby of Cameron IT Consulting. Leaving a trail of snow, she squeaked along the floor toward the security desk. Chuckling, the guard covered his mouth and turned away.

"Steve, I don't even want to hear it." Kathryn frowned,

24 Comments on Page Critique Monday, last added: 8/3/2010
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578. This Week in Publishing

This Week! In Publishing!

This Friday I am actually out of town and thus may have missed some news from the last few days. Please feel free to fill in any links that I may have missed! (and please forgive iPad-generated typos)

First up, while I really love spam sandwiches, I do not love spam Tweets (see what I did there?). My real Twitter account now has a verified tag, so please make sure the verified one is the one you follow and not one of the phony imposter fakeries.

Mashabale recently polled their readership about their reading preferences, and found that a plurality still prefer paper books to e-books. Though dare I say I anticipate these results chnaging quickly in the coming years.

And speaking of which, the price of e-readers continues to tumble as Amazon debuts a WiFi enabled Kindle for $139 and a 3G device for $189.

If you're looking for new ways to find good books, Lifehacker picked their five favorite book recommendation services: Shelfari, LibraryThing, Amazon, GoodReads and GetGlue. (via PWxyz)

Penguin is celebrating their 75th Anniversary, and Shelf Awareness had a great article about the history of the company, which famously helped popularize a crazy new fad in bookselling called the paperback.

And CNet took a look at e-book self-publishing options, so if you're considering that option you might check that out because it's quite a comprehensive and informative article. (via @JaneFriedman)

This Week in the Forums, the likability factor in TV and books, the temptations of the delete button, and how to write a character that's smarter than you?

Comment! of! the! Week! will! be! pushed! to! next! week!

And finally, argh because the iPad makes it virtually impossible to use YouTube to embed videos, but here's a link to one that has been making the rounds this week. Jane Austen Fight Club

Have a great weekend!

31 Comments on This Week in Publishing, last added: 8/3/2010
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579. Can I Get a Ruling: How Do We Feel About Acknowledgments Sections?

This topic came up in the Forum recently, and I'm curious how The Readers At Large are thinking on the subject.

What do we think about thanking the Academy? Do you like acknowledgment sections? Feel they're self-indulgent? Touching? Do you notice? Not notice?

If you're reading in a feed reader or via e-mail, click through for the fancy dancy poll:

56 Comments on Can I Get a Ruling: How Do We Feel About Acknowledgments Sections?, last added: 8/1/2010
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580. You Tell Me: Who is the Greatest Villain in Fiction?

Mirror mirror on the wall, who is the greatest villain of them all?

Iago?

Ahab?

Fagin?

Voldemort?

Sauron?

Villains are just plain scarier when they only have one name, aren't they?

Who's your choice?

102 Comments on You Tell Me: Who is the Greatest Villain in Fiction?, last added: 7/31/2010
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581. The One Question Writers Should Never Ask Themselves When Reading

Over the course of writing and maintaining this blog, I've found that there is one sure-fire way a commenter can set my teeth on edge and make me bring out the snide comment gun. (Well, I suppose it would work for someone to write an ode to queries beginning with rhetorical questions, but so far I have been spared that unfortunate spectacle.)

Nope. The thing that makes me craziest is when people dismiss any book, especially bestsellers, using the words "trash," "terrible," or "suck" and its variants without further comment, or worse, when people say something along the lines of "well most published books suck anyway." My teeth are chattering at the thought. CH-CH-CH-CHAATTEERRIINNGGG...

Firstly, these books plainly don't suck if they are attracting readers in large numbers. You just don't happen to like them.

Secondly, call me an old fuddy duddy OMG I sound like my parents, but we have brains and we can use words, and in a perfect world those two abilities would combine to form a thought more insightful than "X sucks."

Thirdly, if this is all an aspiring writer is taking from a book, they missed the main point of reading it. All they figured out is whether they liked the book or not.

And quod erat demonstrandum pro quo tempura I don't actually know Latin, the one question that aspiring writers should never ask themselves when reading a book is, "Do I like this?"

Here's the thing about the question "Do I like this?" Who is that question about? Well, it's about you. It's about your taste, and whether the book fit in with your likes and dislikes. It's not about the book. It's about you and whether the book spoke to you.

In other words, all you're learning when you ask "Do I like this?" as you read a book is yourself.

Now, don't get me wrong. Knowing what you like is important. But by the time we're an adult we pretty much know our likes and dislikes. Sure, some things can take us by surprise (like my inexplicable and deep-seated love of The Bachelor), but plumbing the depths of our likes and dislikes is about entertainment, it's not knowledge that is overly helpful as a writer. Knowing your likes and dislikes will help you imitate, but it won't help you learn tools you can really use.

The real question aspiring writers should ask is not whether they liked a book, but whether they think the author accomplished what they set out to accomplish. How good is the book at what it is trying to do? Dan Brown did not set out to be Marilynne Robinson, and Marilynne Robinson does not set out to be Dan Brown. So why judge Dan Brown's prose against Marilynne Robinson's or Marilynne Robinson's chase sequences against Dan Brown's?

If they author set out to write a cracking thriller did they write a cracking thriller? If they wanted to create beautiful prose and make us think deeper about ourselves, how well did they do that?

Once you start looking at an author's intent, you'll start to see where they succeeded and didn't succeed at what they were trying to accomplish. And you'll also start seeing that what most megabestsellers have in common is that the authors were phenomenal at delivering the thing(s) they set out to accomplish and at giving readers the experiences they wanted to give them. You'll start absorbing the positive attributes of books you might not even like all that much.

Asking this question and really thinking about it is the place where nuanced reading starts, and where writers will start noticing craft, technique, and things they can actually use when they write.

So

163 Comments on The One Question Writers Should Never Ask Themselves When Reading, last added: 7/30/2010
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582. Page Critique Monday: My Critique

Thanks again to darylsedore for bravely offering the page. I think this is an interesting high concept beginning, and the page is able to build a suspenseful tone, which I enjoyed. The "bring hammer" part of the premonition was a great touch, and I really want to know why she's under that bridge.

My concerns with this page have to do with the opening lines and with the overall polish.

I'm honestly not quite sure whether the opening rhetorical questions are meant to be taglines or whether they're intended to be the first lines of the manuscript. As someone who doesn't care for queries beginning with rhetorical questions, I'm afraid I'm not usually a fan of them kicking off novels either. I would suggest cutting the two lines and letting the mystery build on its own - "Sarah Roberts looked at her watch again" is a perfectly fine opening line.

And in terms of overall polish, I'm afraid I just didn't feel that the writing was smooth, and I was tripped up by some awkward phrasing and confusing descriptions, which are below in the redline. Lack of precision was the main culprit, and there were places where I thought a better word choice could have been more effective.

With more polish I think the reader will be more engaged as the plot unfolds.

REDLINE

Title: The Precog
Genre: Thriller
Word Count: 250


Would someone die today? Would she be able to save whomever it is she’s supposed to save? Confused by this opening
Sarah Roberts looked at her watch again.

10:15am.

Three minutes until the premonition came true.

This was the fifth one she chose to act on. She’d had seven in the last six months. The first two were neglected Passive voice. She didn’t know was happening then a tad awkward, and a word missing - it took me a little while to realize "then" meant when she was first receiving the premonitions. But now, she followed her notebook details "notebook details" the right word choice? exactly as they were written. Sarah didn’t question the cryptic words. Fear played a role, but confidence won didn't quite understand this - fear played a role in what and confidence won what? If she doesn't question the words, what does she fear?.

She reached back and found a few stray hairs above the nape of her neck. She massaged them until they were firmly in the grip of her fingers "massaged" the right word choice? do we need this sentence? . Then she tugged them out. She closed her eyes and leaned back on the dirty cement. The slight pain that oozed over her skin soothed her does pain "ooze"?, calming the nerves.

Vehicles crossing the bridge above came to her didn't quite understand "came to her". She made a mental note that the next time she had to hover under a bridge waiting for whatever was supposed to happen she would bring a pillow to sit on. The hard cement ground she inhabited angled toward a small river at forty-five degrees. It was hard cement. The grass on either side looked more comfortable, but the message was specific. If there was anything Sarah knew, it was to follow the messages with absolute precision.

Thinking of the message, she recited it in her head; Sit directly in the middle, under the St. Elizabeth Bridge. At 10:18am. Bring hammer great detail.

583. Page Critique Monday

Time for Monday's page critique! Refresher on how this works:

- If you're interested in submitting a page for a future critique, enter it in this thread in the Forums (and be sure and check out the directions in the first post).
- I use a random number generator to select the winning critique.
- Please please please remember the sandwich rule when offering your thoughts: positive, very very constructive thoughts, positive. I mean it. Err on the side of being nice.

As of this posting there were 347 posts in the thread, and the number that the good machine at random.org gave me was..........

10!

Congrats to darylsedore, whose page is below.

I'll be back in a bit with my critique.


Title: The Precog
Genre: Thriller
Word Count: 250


Would someone die today? Would she be able to save whomever it is she’s supposed to save?
Sarah Roberts looked at her watch again.

10:15am.

Three minutes until the premonition came true.

This was the fifth one she chose to act on. She’d had seven in the last six months. The first two were neglected. She didn’t know was happening then. But now, she followed her notebook details exactly as they were written. Sarah didn’t question the cryptic words. Fear played a role, but confidence won.

She reached back and found a few stray hairs above the nape of her neck. She massaged them until they were firmly in the grip of her fingers. Then she tugged them out. She closed her eyes and leaned back on the dirty cement. The slight pain that oozed over her skin soothed her, calming the nerves.

Vehicles crossing the bridge above came to her. She made a mental note that the next time she had to hover under a bridge waiting for whatever was supposed to happen she would bring a pillow to sit on. The ground she inhabited angled toward a small river at forty-five degrees. It was hard cement. The grass on either side looked more comfortable, but the message was specific. If there was anything Sarah knew, it was to follow the messages with absolute precision.

Thinking of the message, she recited it in her head; Sit directly in the middle, under the St. Elizabeth Bridge. At 10:18am. Bring hammer.

29 Comments on Page Critique Monday, last added: 7/29/2010
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584. This Week in Publishing

It was a pretty eventful week in publishing this, um, week so let's get right to it.

The news that everyone is talking about is agent Andrew Wylie's move to deal directly and exclusively with Amazon for e-book rights to many classic works by authors such as Vladimir Nabokov, Hunter S. Thompson, Philip Roth, and more. Basically, the original contracts for these books were signed before e-books were a glimmer in Jeff Bezos' eye, and Wylie is taking the stance that these rights belong to the authors and not the publishers.

This, as they say, is a pretty big deal for publishers. As author Jason Pinter writes in the Huffington Post, backlist sales represent a huge amount of money for publishers, and could drastically affect the publishers' revenue in the future if they don't have e-book rights to their backlist.

The publishers themselves have reacted strongly. Macmillan CEO John Sargent released a strongly worded statement, and Random House announced that they "would be taking appropriate action" and would not do any business with Wylie's agency until the matter is resolved. For his part, Wylie told the Times that Random House's response took him by surprise, and that he needed some time to think about the situation before responding.

For analysis of what this all means and the full ramifications, definitely check out Pinter's HuffPo article, Kassia Krozser's recent post on the matter, and Publishers Weekly's new PWxyz blog has a good roundup of the reactions around the Internet.

And meanwhile, there was other big e-book news as Amazon announced that e-books have been outselling hardcovers on Amazon for several months. It's not quite apples to apples considering the lower price of e-books, but still, another benchmark as e-books continue their rise.

And yet amid all of this e-book hullaballo, @OtherLisa linked to an article about how indie bookstore sales have risen this year. Go indies go!!!!

In life of a writer news, Tahereh has the five stages of querying, Susanna Daniel wrote an article on the quiet hell of taking ten years to write a novel, and oh yeah, now might be a good time to link to San Francisco legend Broke Ass Stuart's guide to the best literary bars in San Francisco.

Oh, and if that doesn't work you can cheer yourself up with the Times' r

38 Comments on This Week in Publishing, last added: 7/26/2010
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585. Top 10 Myths About Our E-book Future

As we look forward to our (mostly) paperless future, I have been noticing a few predictions out there that I do not agree with and wish to quash like bug. I've previously tackled the Top 10 Myths about E-books themselves, but I thought I'd do a broader one about the reading and publishing world as a whole. Behold!

Man, I love that word. Behold! I am wielding an exclamation point! Behold! Behold!

Ahem. Sorry.

Behold!

1. Due to an avalanche of self-published and poorly edited e-books, readers will be submerged in a big pile of suck.

The avalanche is already here. Go to Amazon and you'll find a million books for sale with more uploaded every day, and yet we're all still able to find the books we want to read. You won't have to go wading through a giant slush pile in order to find something to read. Good books will find you, just like they already do.

2. Publishers are going to disappear.

There's more to making a book than uploading it to Amazon. Even in the e-book era publishers offer a range of services that are not easy to duplicate. While they will no longer be the iron-clad necessity that they used to be in the print era, publishers will still be around.

3. Paper books will disappear.

Some people just love the paper, and not to worry. Even in a world where we read primarily e-books, print will still be an option. Where there is a customer, there is a seller.

4. E-books are going to destroy libraries.

As of last October there were over 5,000 libraries who offer e-books. While I haven't yet heard of an e-reader lending program, I have heard of libraries that lend iPods loaded with digital audiobooks, so e-reader programs can't be far behind. (UPDATE: actually they're already here. See comments section for more)

5. All authors will have an equal shot.

The future will definitely be more equal as authors no longer have to scale the print publishing gates in order to find readers and can upload their manuscript to e-bookstores. Everyone will have a chance, but some chances will be more equal than others. The advantage will still go to authors with platforms and those launched by major publishers. Sorry, all you egalitarians out there.

6. The book world will be divided between a few megabestsellers and everyone else selling only two copies. It will be impossible for authors without platforms to get anyone to pay attention to them.

While, as I mentioned in point number 5, the early advantage will go to those with existing platforms, hits will come out of nowhere, including from people without huge platforms and a built-in audience. Just like the Double Rainbow guy. All it takes for a book to go viral is one person recommending a book to two friends and the process repeating several million times.

7. We're all going to drop our e-readers into our bathtubs amid a massive, world-wide power outage and multi-government e-book deletion conspiracy that causes us to permanently lose every book the world has ever published.

Possible. But unlikely.

8. The reading world will be divided between those who can afford an e-reader and those who can't.

While I think this is a legitimate concern, over the lon

29 Comments on Top 10 Myths About Our E-book Future, last added: 7/25/2010
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586. You Tell Me: Which Fictional Characters Would You Want As Parents?

Over in the Forums we've been talking about bad/absentee parents in young adult literature, and yet not all of the characters out there in literature would make terrible parents.

Right?

So. Who in literature would you choose to be your parents?

104 Comments on You Tell Me: Which Fictional Characters Would You Want As Parents?, last added: 7/23/2010
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587. In Praise of Reading Slush

Amid news from Amazon that another domino has fallen in our inevitable (yes... inevitable) conversion to a primarily e-book reading society, there is one relic of the print publishing process that could very well end up falling by the wayside: the slush pile.

Much maligned, much feared, much sneered at, the slush pile is a repository of hopes and dreams for the authors who populate it, and a Herculean and Sisyphean task for those charged with making the pile go away to make way for the deluge still to come. The slush is full of half-baked ideas, the truly out-there, the very occasional undiscovered gems, but mostly good-solid efforts by perfectly respectable writers, who are up against simple math that simply isn't in their favor: maybe one in a thousand, if that, make it from slush pile to publication with a major publisher, and the odds are getting steeper by the day.

And yet with the transition to e-books, the slush pile could very well be one of the print-era relics swept out in the digital tide. When publishing one's book is as simple as uploading a document to an e-bookstore, who needs someone to sort through all those manuscripts to decide which ones should be published?

Writing in Salon, Laura Miller wrote a cautionary article about the literary consequences if everyone can easily become a published author, and she had harsh words for the slush pile:

You've either experienced slush or you haven't, and the difference is not trivial. People who have never had the job of reading through the heaps of unsolicited manuscripts sent to anyone even remotely connected with publishing typically have no inkling of two awful facts: 1) just how much slush is out there, and 2) how really, really, really, really terrible the vast majority of it is. Civilians who kvetch about the bad writing of Dan Brown, Stephenie Meyer or any other hugely popular but critically disdained novelist can talk as much trash as they want about the supposedly low standards of traditional publishing. They haven't seen the vast majority of what didn't get published -- and believe me, if you have, it's enough to make your blood run cold, thinking about that stuff being introduced into the general population.

Needless to say I don't share Miller's fear about releasing the slush into the wild for the reading public to sort out, but I definitely agree with her on one count: the world is divided between those who have read slush and those who haven't.

If you haven't been exposed to the constant fire hose of submissions, if you haven't had to spend afternoons rendering instant value judgments on short summaries of magnum opuses, and developed the ability to instantly tell good writing from bad: well, you're missing out.

If you're a writer, in my opinion there's no better education than reading slush.

Reading slush, of all kinds, trains you to spot what works and what doesn't. It forces you to spot clues that will instantly tip you off to whether a manuscript is working or not, and even better/worse, you'll start spotting them in your own writing. And when a terrifical

116 Comments on In Praise of Reading Slush, last added: 7/23/2010
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588. Page Critique Monday: My Thoughts

Thanks again to KRWriter for venturing the page and to everyone who has already entered their constructive advice. I like the idea of a character staring at Earth and feeling scared about what has happened there, which immediately opens up questions about what could have transpired.

My main concern with this opening is that I fear that it stumbles at one of the most essential functions of a first page: getting the reader into a flow.

Starting to read a book isn't easy, and particularly with an unfamiliar setting it's so important for writers to ease the reader into the world and lead them from one thing to the next so that they can begin to place themselves within the setting. And one of the best ways to create flow is by looking at each paragraph as a cohesive whole - it should have a beginning, middle and end (just like a chapter, and just like the story in its entirety). One thought flows to the next, the sentences flow together, and the next paragraph either starts a new thought or complicates a previous one.

In nearly every paragraph in this page, paragraphs start one way and then veer off in a different direction, and the result is a choppy reading experience that doesn't give the reader a crucial sense of flow.

For instance, the first paragraph starts with description (earth), then veers into exposition (about how people still live there), then back to description (the hand). It just didn't feel like any of the thoughts were properly completed or quite fit together, and I wonder if this paragraph would be more effective if it were rearranged into two paragraphs with completed thoughts, roughly along these lines:

The Earth hung in the blackness, a bright blue and green orb floating in a black sea of stars and silence. Voya placed her hand against the cool glass, sweaty palm hiding Earth from view, as if trying to block it out. The past few sleepless nights found her tossing in turning in a cold sweat, waking from nightmares she couldn’t forget.

Some people still lived on Earth. They chose to stay during the Great Evacuation of 2800. Voya’s people chose to leave the polluted mess and let Earth heal itself. (more here to ground the reader in what actually happened before you get into dreams)

Similarly, the second paragraph seems to veer from dream to awake then back to dream in the third paragraph, and I think it would be more effective if there were one paragraph about where she was sleeping and one paragraph about the dream:

Her dorm room lay in darkness, the only light coming from the stars winking in the sky outside. In a few short hours the morning bell would ring, signaling the start of classes for the day and the beginning of a new school term. Voya climbed back in bed, pulled the covers up to her chin, and squeezed her eyes shut. She was determined to fall asleep again before morning.

The dream started as it always did. Ark2 crashed to Earth, dragging a plume of flames and smoke behind it. Odd, she thought, to be viewing the crash from outside the ship. Usually she viewed it from a window, clinging to a bare pipe or door frame while the ship shuddered and jolted, everything succumbing to flames outside.

(Then a paragraph about Earth's inhabitants attacking the ship in the dream).

If the paragraphs moved from one thing to the next, the flow would be much improved.

All that said, it's still somewhat risky to begin with a dream sequence unless it's absolutely necessary, because without knowing more about the world it's difficult for the reader to know how literally they should take what is transpiring in the dream, and they may well feel like the writer is sending them on a wild goose chase. But I think there is some good material to work with in this page, and with some more organization I think this is going to be an evocative beginning.

More specific thoughts in the redline below:


Title: Untitled
32 Comments on Page Critique Monday: My Thoughts, last added: 7/21/2010
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589. Page Critique Monday

Time for Monday's page critique! Refresher on how this works:

- If you're interested in submitting a page for a future critique, enter it in this thread in the Forums (and be sure and check out the directions in the first post).
- I use a random number generator to select the winning critique.
- Please please please remember the sandwich rule when offering your thoughts: positive, very very constructive thoughts, positive. I mean it. Err on the side of being nice.

As of this posting there were 305 posts in the thread, and the number that the good machine at random.org gave me was..........

82! But that page was disqualified because it was way more than 250 words. The next number was........

200! Congrats to KRWriter, whose page is below.

I'll be back in a bit with my critique.


Title: Untitled
Genre: YA/sci-fi
250 words

The Earth hung in the blackness, a bright blue and green orb floating in a black sea of stars and silence. Some people still lived on Earth. They chose to stay during the Great Evacuation of 2800. Voya’s people chose to leave the polluted mess and let Earth heal itself. Voya placed her hand against the cool glass, sweaty palm hiding Earth from view, as if trying to block it out. The past few sleepless nights found her tossing in turning in a cold sweat, waking from nightmares she couldn’t forget.

In her dreams, Ark2 crashed to Earth. Earth’s inhabitants were rumored to be hostile, and in the dream attacked the fallen ship. Her dorm room lay in darkness, the only light coming from the stars winking in the sky outside. In a few short hours the morning bell would ring, signaling the start of classes for the day and the beginning of a new school term. Voya climbed back in bed, pulled the covers up to her chin, and squeezed her eyes shut. She was determined to fall asleep again before morning.

The dream started as it always did, with Ark2 crashing to Earth, dragging a plume of flames and smoke behind it. Odd, she thought, to be viewing the crash from outside the ship. Usually she viewed it from a window, clinging to a bare pipe or door frame while the ship shuddered and jolted, everything succumbing to flames outside.

37 Comments on Page Critique Monday, last added: 7/19/2010
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590. This Week in Publishing

This week in double rainbows I mean publishing...

Stephen Parrish pointed me to a NY Times survey of the world of book trailers, those magical creatures that use video to convince us we should read books. While only 0.1% of everyone out there decided to purchase a book via a book trailer, the kids these days seem to love them according to an online survey at Teenreads.

And speaking of viral, the I Write Like app was positively ubiquitous this week, though if anyone can prove that it's more than a random author generator I'd love to see it. I plugged the first chapter of JACOB WONDERBAR in and it said I write like James Joyce. So..... yeah. Thank goodness ULYSSES is the most popular novel of all time among children eight to twelve.

William Faulkner speaks!! Some of Faulkner's lectures to students have been uploaded and can be found here. I actually needed some occasional translation help from my Southern wife due to Faulkner's incredible accent, but was totally hooked by his lecture on What Makes Man Endure especially. Faulkner's vision for the last sound on Earth during the end of times: two people arguing about where they're going to go in their spaceship. Oh, actually three, because one will be writing a book about it.

Author Janet Fitch wrote a really terrific Top 10 Tips for Writers, which I thought was way better than most Top 10 Tips for Writers lists. Some of my favorite parts: Write the sentence, not just the story, Kill the Cliche, and most importantly: Write in scenes. (via Jacket Copy)

Society of Authors chair Tom Holland spoke out against industry standard e-book royalties, calling them "not remotely fair."

And over at the Guide to Literary Agents blog, Chuck Sambuchino put together a great overview of the different sections in a nonfiction book proposal.

This week in the Forums: insanely cute kittens, a study shows that competition may impact creativity, which character is the favorite you've ever written, and, of course, how did you come up with that?

Comment! Of! The! Week! goes to Kerry Gans, who I thought had some good insight on the question of why it's so hard to tell whether our own writing is good. Could it be a visual thing?:

Maybe because my typed Word document looks the same as everyone else's typed Word document. What I mean is that you can see that you can't jump as high as the NBA guys, or that the person you drew looks more like freaky tree, or hear that your guitar riff sounds like your cat scratched it out. But my words typed on a page look pretty much the same as JK Rowlings'.

I also think it might be because writing is so much a "felt" art -- you are so invested in what you write that it "feels" go

65 Comments on This Week in Publishing, last added: 7/19/2010
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591. Open Thread!!

We're smack dab in the middle of summer and I have loads of reading to catch up on (who says publishing slows down in the summer??), so I thought I would stand aside for the day and let the discussion go where it may.

Open thread!

What's on your mind?

Oh, also, this video is a gift from me to you:

43 Comments on Open Thread!!, last added: 7/17/2010
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592. You Tell Me: Why is it So Hard to Tell if Our Writing is Good?

Guys playing pickup basketball on the playground don't usually think they can step in and compete in the NBA.

Someone who doesn't own a guitar doesn't usually think he can become the next Jimi Hendrix.

Someone who can't draw doesn't usually think they're the next Georgia O'Keefe.

Why is it so hard for us to tell if we're good writers or not?

Just about every writer at some point has struggled with the Am I Crazies, not really knowing if they have the chops or the ability to make their writing stand out.

And, on the flipside, it sure seems like the majority of people in the world think they can write a book. And not only write a book, but write it as well as a published author. And not only just as well as a published author, but just as well as bestselling published authors who are among the elite in terms of building an audience and having their work catch on with readers. There are lots of people out there who think it's easy, think they could do it, and all but a handful are wrong.

What is it about writing that makes people put on the blinders and fail to recognize their limitations and makes the talented unable to recognize their own goodness?

132 Comments on You Tell Me: Why is it So Hard to Tell if Our Writing is Good?, last added: 7/18/2010
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593. Buckle Up!!

Publishing industry sage Mike Shatzkin wrote a post recently that was dash of smelling salts by way of a sledgehammer.

The post's title says it all: "Where Will Bookstores Be Five Years From Now?"

If you take Shatzkin's premise that e-books will comprise 50% of the book market in five years (which is current conventional wisdom in the industry; Shatzkin actually thinks that's conservative), he estimates that brick and mortar stores' share of the marketplace will likely plummet from approximately 72% of the market today to 25% in five years. (The other 25% in the print market will be made up of print sales via online booksellers.)

72% to 25%. Five years. Yowza.

These last few years have been incredibly tumultuous for the industry. The recession and the Great Digital Transition combined forces to wallop the industry, and the effects are everywhere: shrinking lists, closing imprints, shuttering indie stores, a vanishing mid-list, and belt-tightening across the board.

Things changed a lot in a short period of time. And it's still quite possible that these last few years were a relative walk in the park compared to what's to come.

If 75% to 25% transpires it will have huge implications for the way books are planned, marketed, acquired, published, and discovered. Everything from the seasonal publishing calendar to print runs to marketing campaigns will be in for reevaluation.

And yet...

As I've said before, people are still buying and reading books. The ease of access afforded by e-books might even mean they'll buy more when they can download a book at home rather than planning a trip to the bookstore. To be sure, there is lots still to be worked out on the author side, including paltry royalties and more reliance on authors for platforms and buzz-making.

But the challenges the industry is facing are on the distribution side of things -- it's literally a massive shift in how text gets from author to reader (and how reader discovers author). Anyone who is part of the paper side of things is going to feel the squeeze.

Still, even as seemingly everything changes, there's a lot that will remain the same. Authors will still write books, publishers will still be the go-to place to put a book together and market it, there will be self-publishing for those who want to go it alone, and readers will have still more choice and ease of access. E-readers are steadily getting more affordable ($99 Sony Readers sold out in the blink of an eye) and contrary to the doomsayers, e-books are not an existential threat to the world of literature. Words are words are words are words no matter how you read them (you're reading pixels now, ain't ya?)

It's certainly a wild ride, but it's a roller coaster, not a death spiral.

65 Comments on Buckle Up!!, last added: 7/17/2010
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