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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. You Tell Me: Who Has the Worst Job in Fiction?

For some reason I got to thinking this morning about how innkeepers in fantasy novels really have it made. Everyone always seems to have a good time, it's warm and cozy inside, there's a fire going, the ale is flowing, and the place is usually packed. At least, until the hero shows up, gets attacked, and everyone starts breaking stuff.

So. Who has the worst job in fiction?

Is it the non-hero who accompanies two main characters on a dangerous mission in science fiction?

An orc soldier (smelly AND dangerous)?

James Bond's mechanic?

109 Comments on You Tell Me: Who Has the Worst Job in Fiction?, last added: 9/25/2010
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577. The One Thousandth Post Giveaway

One thousand! One grand! 1,000! 1k! A G! M in roman numerals!

Facts about the number 1,000:

- The year 1,000 started on a Monday on the Gregorian calendar
- The ancient Egyptians represented the number 1,000 as a lotus flower
- The 1,000th richest person in the world is worth just over a billion dollars.
- 1,000 years from now we may finally have flying cars no for real this time.

Also:

This here is the one thousandth post on this blog! And there's only one thing to say, which is THANK YOU VERY MUCH SERIOUSLY THANK YOU for reading, for commenting (I have read all 110,575 comments), and making this whole blogging thing so much fun for me.

And in honor of the thousandth post, I thought I'd give ONE THOUSAND QUERY CRITIQUES FOR COMMENTERS! Oh. Wait. Got that reversed.

Let's try that again:

THE ONE THOUSANDTH COMMENTER ON THIS POST GETS A QUERY PLUS FIRST FIVE PAGES CRITIQUE! Which can be done over e-mail at the commenter's convenience.

Will we get to 1,000 comments? Well, I'm not sure.... But then again, I didn't ever think I'd get to 1,000 posts either.

Thanks again everyone! Looking forward to 1,000 more.

118 Comments on The One Thousandth Post Giveaway, last added: 9/25/2010
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578. What Platform Means for Writers

Thanks so much to the organizers, faculty, and attendees of the Central Coast Writers Conference for a fantastic weekend! It was such a great opportunity to meet with eager and enthusiastic writers (including a group of wildly intelligent and talented teen writers). I spoke about why I'm optimistic about the future of books despite the challenging climate, and it was a pleasure to hear Jay Asher's inspirational talk about how his writing journey originally started at the CCWC. Now, of course, he's the author of THIRTEEN REASONS WHY, which first landed on the bestseller list six months after publication, showing how it was propelled to success by a groundswell of word of mouth.

In National Book Award finalist Kathleen Duey's most excellent workshop on writing for children, a question came up about "platform," and what exactly that means. You hear so much talk of platform these days and about how it's important, but what in the heck is it?

Well, platform is one of those nebulous concepts that will result in a thousand different definitions if you ask a thousand different individuals. But here's how I think of it: platform is the number of eyeballs you can summon as you promote your book.

A "platform" may be comprised of an Internet or media presence, a very strong reputation in a particular field, a TV show, affiliation with a popular brand, a connection to a popular writing collective, celebrity status, or ownership of the world's largest soapbox.

When it comes to platform: publishers want authors to have it, especially for nonfiction, and it doesn't hurt for fiction either.

That's because especially for nonfiction, we trust and consider brands when making our purchasing decisions. We want to buy our books from the world's foremost authority on the subject. But just as importantly, a big platform allows an author to effectively promote their work.

Hence, publishers want you to have it. It's not everything, and don't get carried away trying to build platform at the expense of writing your book. But in your spare time as you're writing, it can be helpful to get to work building that giant soapbox.

Photo by  Zipacna1

59 Comments on What Platform Means for Writers, last added: 9/24/2010
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579. This Week in Publishing 9/17/10

This Week In... Yeah I'm not here.

At this very moment I am likely in the car driving down to the lovely town of San Luis Obispo for the Central Coast Writers Conference. I might even be eating an In 'N Out Burger this very second. YOU DON'T KNOW. But as a result of my traveling, there will be no Page Critique Friday this week.

Also, I prepared this post to run in advance, so this news is all current as of 8pm Thursday night. Hopefully the industry is still there in the morning.

This week!

It is truly the end of the era as one of the great publishing blogs is closing shop. Moonrat gave us four great years at Editorial Ass but is moving on to other projects. Her blog will be missed!

Right now those purchasing e-readers have to choose between black and white e-Ink (which looks like ink on paper) and color LED (which is tough to read in the sun). Well, pretty soon color will be coming to e-Ink. The color in the current prototypes are a little drowned out, but the technology is evolving.

In publishing news, after the departure of publisher Jonathan Karp to Simon & Schuster, the imprint Twelve has hired Susan Lehman as their new publisher. And while it hasn't been officially confirmed as of press time (ha! press time. As in the time I press the publish button time), rumor has it that none other than Jonathan Franzen's FREEDOM will be the next pick in Oprah's book club.

Is the present tense taking over literature? That is a concern of Philip Pullman, who took a look at the Booker shortlist, noticed that three are in present, and called the present tense a "silly affectation" which "does nothing but annoy." Hate to hear what he'd think of second person future. "It will be a dark and stormy night. You will be very cold and wet." UPDATE: this summary was originally a little garbled and I misspelled Pullman's name. Whoops! Sorry! "You will regret rushing through putting together This Week in Publishing."

Contrary to the myth of the loner creative genius, there's a terrific article in Slate that examines the incredible potency of creative partnerships, including not only the classic McCartney/Lennon combo, but some bookish examples as well, such as the influence of legendary editor Maxwell Perkins. Behind some of the most creative people in the world were hidden partners that influenced, challenged, and elevated their art.

Ever wondered what the differences are between middle grade and young adult literature? Well, it goes farther than just the age of the protagonists. Hannah Moskowitz has a really awesome post about some of the thematic differences and necessities of the different genres. Really worth a full read because a summary won't do it justice.

In case you need any evidence about how the world is changing and bringing readers closer together, just check out this incredible post - a THE SECRET YEAR blog tour in Brazil! Now, bear in mind that this book hasn't been released in Portuguese. These are readers who are reading the book in English and discussing. The Internet continues to blow my mind.

Lastly, extremely sad news this week as David Thompson, beloved co-owner of Houston's indie store Murder By the Book,

38 Comments on This Week in Publishing 9/17/10, last added: 9/20/2010
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580. When Dreams Become Expectations

There is a famous psychological study that shows that people who win the lottery and people who are involved in catastrophic accidents return to the same original base level of happiness after two years. People who make more than $75,000 are barely affected by further raises at all.

Success and fortune is normative. When we experience success, no matter how great, we first experience a blip of happiness, then we get used to it and start looking for what's around the bend.

And for writers, as previously chronicled, this leads to the "If-Only Game." If I could only find an agent, then I'll be happy. When you get that agent it becomes: If only I could find a publisher, then I'll be happy. If only I could make the bestseller list, then I'll be happy. If only I could have as many Twitter followers as Neil Gaiman, then I'll be happy. We allow our success to be the new normal and aren't satisfied even when we reach the next milestone because there's always another milestone to be had.

But I think there's another hidden danger for writers that can dampen writerly happiness: using our daydreams to get us through the tough times.

You know how it goes. You face a difficult time while writing, you don't want to do it, you're putting in such incredible hard work, and your mind starts drifting to your book being published and taking off and becoming a bestseller and being the next HARRY POTTER only more popular (don't worry, we're all J.K. Rowlings before publication) and sitting on Oprah's couch and building A FLOATING CASTLE IN THE SKY TRUST US WE'LL BE RICH ENOUGH. And you use those dreams to power through the difficult stretches and redouble your efforts.

And that's perfectly natural! No judging.

But these dreams are sort of like the dark side of the force. Use them too much and you'll turn into a Sith Lord.

When you allow daydreams to fill that gap to get you through the tough times, or even when you're just letting your imagination get the best of you, the dreams can gradually evolve into the reason you were writing in the first place. They were how you got through the tough times, so now they have to come true for it to be worth it. They start to become a crutch--take that crutch away and you fall over because you were leaning on an endlessly elusive dream.

Those dreams can morph into expectations without the writer even noticing it. You start thinking, if this doesn't happen, what were all those hours for? Why am I dealing with this frustration if it's not going to amount to anything? Why am I doing this?

And after those dreams are eroded by reality, suddenly there's a hollow place where those dreams used to reside. It doesn't feel worth it anymore, even if you've achieved modest success that you should be extremely proud of, and would have made you happy if your expectations were in check.

Careful with those dreams. They seem so bright and shiny and harmless and they can help you out through the tough times and it's so fun to let your imagination run wild for a little while, but eventually you'll hollow out and get all wrinkly and pale and lightning will start shooting from your fingertips.
581. You Tell Me: Have You Faced Writer Burnout? How Do You Escape It?

Yesterday's post about how social media fatigue may be afflicting the Internet got me thinking about how hard it is for writers to escape periodic or even prolonged burnout. We're all trying to juggle writing with the modern life and the daily demands of day jobs, chores, blogs, commuting, cooking, sleeping, reality television programs, and oh yeah families and friends remember them?

Writing takes time that is not in ready supply, endurance that can be sapped, attention that can waver, confidence that can ebb, and dreams that can be dashed. It's the brain's version of a marathon.

And that's before you face the publication process, with its waiting and inevitable frustrations.

Have you ever gotten burned out by at all? How do you escape it so you can keep going?

96 Comments on You Tell Me: Have You Faced Writer Burnout? How Do You Escape It?, last added: 9/18/2010
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582. Can I Get a Ruling: Does Social Media Help Sell Books?

I've noticed what appears to be a percolating trend out there on the Internet: fatigue with social media. From people letting their blogs slide to celebrities quitting Twitter to an entire university taking a week off, it seems like quite a few people out there are needing a break from the web.

Though, I suppose if you're taking a break from the Internet it means you're not reading this right now. Conundrum. WHAT IF I YELL OUT LOUD CAN YOU HEAR ME??!!

Anyway, according to my completely unscientific Pulse-of-the-Internet-Meter (patent pending I'll sell it to you for seven billion dollars), it seems that a lot of people out there are having a collective "Wait, why am I doing this again?" moment when it comes to social media. So I thought I'd circle that back to books and a recent topic in the Forums:

Does social media work? Does it help sell books? Have you bought books because you heard of them through social media? Or do you simply follow the people whose books you're already familiar with? Do you think the time spent is worthwhile or is it a glorified time-waster? Are certain activities more productive than others?

Poll below. If you're reading via e-mail or an RSS feed you'll need to click through to see it.

71 Comments on Can I Get a Ruling: Does Social Media Help Sell Books?, last added: 9/18/2010
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583. On the Experience of Seeing Your Cover for the First Time

I have been casting about for the proper metaphor for seeing the cover of your book for the first time. One writer I know compared it to childbirth: After a lot of hard work you get to see what your baby looks like. But then, well, I'm pretty sure people always like their babies, and they don't always like their covers (though I sure love mine!)

Then I was thinking it was kind of like pottery, how you spin a pot and throw some glaze on there and put it in the kiln and it comes out looking shiny. But that's not quite right either, because you pretty much know what a pot is going to look like when it comes out.

It resists comparison, people.

As an agent, I have heard many authors say that seeing the cover was when the whole publishing process seemed "real." And now I see what they mean. It does seem more real.

Only: I think I misunderstood what people meant by "real."

I had always thought it felt "real" for writers because the cover made the whole thing look more like an actual book. And yeah, that's probably a part of it. But that's not really how I experienced the "real" thing. There was more to it than that.

Up until that point when you see the cover, it's difficult to imagine that someone else reading your book will have a different imagination of how things look and feel than you. As a writer, you have a certain idea of the physical and artistic aesthetic of the book: what the characters look like, which parts of the book comprise the essence, and what people will take away from it.

So when you see the cover for the first time, at first there's inevitably a "Whoa, this wasn't how I was picturing it." And of course it wasn't how you were picturing it! No one is going to interpret a book the same way you do, even though you wrote the darn thing.

But then, when the cover is good, there's quickly a dawning that it captures the essence of the book. It's not your imagination you're seeing represented... and yet it is. It may not be how you physically pictured it, and yet there's something there that is so so so right.

The real metaphor, I realized, is that the cover process is kind of like a physical manifestation of the writing and reading experience itself. People are out there reading your book, and they're not picturing the same castle that you were picturing when you wrote it, and they're not imagining the characters looking the same way as you were, and they're not seeing the same fields and mountains. What's happening in the minds-eye is unique to every reader.

And yet despite those differences, there is an essence that binds the writer and reader, a shared kernel that is hopefully passed through the words. We don't often get those different interpretations drawn out for our viewing pleasure, but when the cover comes along, it's "real" because it's a reminder that a book isn't all yours anymore. It will soon belong to readers, who will picture a different character and world than you were picturing, while hopefully absorbing the essence what you were truly going for.

I couldn't be happier with how the cover for JACOB WONDERBAR turned out!! When I saw these characters illustrated I couldn't believe how well they were captured. Thank you so much to Christopher S. Jennings for the illustration and Greg Stadnyk for the design!

83 Comments on On the Experience of Seeing Your Cover for the First Time, last added: 9/17/2010
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584. This Week in Publishing 9/10/10

This Week in Publishing!

First up, just wanted to give everyone a heads up that I've been experiencing some e-mail technical difficulties and some queries have disappeared into the great electronic ether. My policy is still to respond to all queries, so if you sent me a query and didn't hear back within a week or two please try again. Whenever you follow-up, please include the original query.

Also, Sheriff in the Forums Ink/Bryan Russell will soon be participating in the Terry Fox Run for cancer research! Please stop by his blog and consider donating, it's a great cause.

And it's Friday, which means it's time for a Page Critique. The page up for critique is posted in the forums, so check that out.

On to the links!

There has been an interesting discussion percolating around the writing blogosphere this week about the effect the Internet is having on writing and the life of a writer. Hannah Moskowitz wondered what effect Internet groupthink and such a tightly knit writing community is having on YA literature. Ally Carter talked about The Crazies, a reaction to the anxiety and helplessness writers feel during the writing and publication process, and how to combat them. And Natalie Whipple talked about putting the cart before the horse and the temptation of acting like a writer at the expense of being a writer.

And speaking of the effect of the Internet on writing and books, journalist Jack Shafer had an essay on the changing role of books in his life, noting how when we're curious about someone we now turn first to the Internet rather than to a book, and how he no longer feels the same attachments to books he once did. He writes, "Books are being replaced by reading." Agent Michael Stearns had a similar feeling about how books disappear into the iPad rather than being physical presences that remind us of their need to be read.

In award news, the much-anticipated Booker shortlist was announced, and congrats to China Mieville and Paolo Bacigalupi, who tied for Best Novel at the Hugo Awards. And now that it's September already it's Fall for the publishing world (gah!!), which means it's time for, as the NY Times puts it, The Big Books.

Tony Blair's memoir was released amid a great deal of egg throwing and protesting at his readings. Wow. Just for the record, I don't mind if people throw food at me when my book comes out, provided they are cupcakes (soft and delicious!)

Laura Miller at Salon took a look at TWILIGHT and HUNGER GAMES series and came away with a provocative question: is Bella a more empowered heroine than Katniss? Meanwhile, science fiction living legend and Twitter maven William Gibson just released his new novel ZERO HIST

31 Comments on This Week in Publishing 9/10/10, last added: 9/13/2010
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585. Seven Keys to Writing Good Dialogue

It goes without saying (but watch me say it) that dialogue is one of the very most crucial elements in a novel. Great dialogue can make a novel sing. Bad dialogue can sink it like a stone.

Here are a few ideas on what makes good dialogue work:

1. Good dialogue is not weighed down by exposition

When the dialogue is carrying exposition and trying to tell the reader too much, characters end up saying a lot of very unnatural and unwieldy things. You'll see things like:

"Remember that time we stole the frog from Miss Jenkins and she ended up giving us two hours of detention and that's how we met?"
"Yeah, totally! And now we're in 6th Grade and have to dissect frogs for our science project, which is due tomorrow. I don't know how we're going to get it finished in time."

So much of this dialogue would already be already apparent to the characters. They'd know how they met without having to talk about it, they'd know they're in 6th grade without having to talk about it, they'd know the science project is due without talking about it. So it's very clear to the reader that they're not talking to each other: they're really talking to the reader.

Exposition and dialogue only really mesh when one character genuinely doesn't know what the other character is telling them and it's natural for them to explain at the moment they're explaining it. Otherwise, if you're just trying to smush in info, your reader is going to spot it a mile away.

2. Good dialogue has a purpose and builds toward something.

Sometimes you'll see characters in novels bantering back and forth in a way that is meant to reveal character or fill space. Unless it's just so insanely unbelievably clever that the writer makes it work, usually this feels hollow and, well, boring.

A good conversation is an escalation. The dialogue is about something and builds toward something. If things stay even and neutral, the dialogue just feels empty.

Characters in a novel never just talk. There's always more to it.

3. Good dialogue evokes the way people actually talk in real life without actually sounding precisely like the way people talk in real life.

Paraphrasing Elmore Leonard, good writers leave out the boring parts. This goes doubly for dialogue: it's usually best to cut to the chase rather than spending time on the pleasantries that normal people use in everyday conversation.

In real life our conversations wander around all over the place, and a transcribed real life conversation is a meandering mess of free association and stutters. In a novel, a good conversation is focused and has a point.

And in a novel, dialect, slang, and voice is used sparingly. Just a hint of flavor is enough. As my client Jennifer Hubbard wrote, "good dialogue sounds like conversation, but is not an exact reproduction of conversation."

4. Good dialogue reveals personality, and characters only very rarely say precisely what they are thinking.

Human beings are not very articulate creatures. Despite all the words at our disposal, words tend to fail us at key moments, and even when we know what we want to say we spend a whole lot of time trying to describe and articulate what we feel without being quite able to do it properly. We misunderstand, overemphasize, underemphasize, grasp at what we mea

42 Comments on Seven Keys to Writing Good Dialogue, last added: 9/13/2010
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586. You Tell Me: Which Writer Would You Most Like to Meet?

Simple You Tell Me today.

Which writer would you most like to meet?

Let's go with one dead and one living.

For me:

Dead - F. Scott Fitzgerald. He'd know the trendy spot to hang out and we'd have a great time until he stuck me with the bill at the end of the night. (Kidding! I would have insisted on paying. My imagination is quite thorough.)
Living - J.K. Rowling. SO MANY QUESTIONS.

How about you?

31 Comments on You Tell Me: Which Writer Would You Most Like to Meet?, last added: 9/11/2010
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587. How to Deal With Contradictory Query Advice

Just this morning out in the Literary Agentosphere there are two great posts that have wonderful advice. Rachelle Gardner delves into pen names and whether you need one, and Janet Reid's Query Shark offers feedback on a query.

There's just one problem for the compulsive reader of agent blogs: Rachelle thinks you should query as your pen name, and I think you should query as yourself. And Janet wants you to discard your prologue when you're sending the first five pages, whereas I want to see how you think the novel begins.

What in the world is a conscientious writer to do about all the contradictory advice out there?? It's hard enough just to write a query, let alone writing it when you're being spun in circles.

Here's a checklist:

1. Take a Deep Breath: As long as you're getting the big stuff right, you're going to be fine. You don't need to have every single little teeny tiny thing perfect. You can get my name or gender wrong and I still might request your pages (just did this last week in fact). I'm not going to reject you because you sent me the first five pages of Chapter 1 instead of your Prologue if I like the idea and your writing. Don't sweat the small stuff. Because really: if an agent is going to reject your query over some small niggling detail, are they someone you'd want to work with anyway?

2. Remember That Agent Blogs Are Just Trying to Help: I know how tempting it is to throw up your hands and just think that literary agents are so many Goldilocks with completely different ideas of how hot the porridge should be. Please just remember that we offer so much advice because people ask. We get e-mails and comments all the time asking about everything from paper size to fonts to anglicized spelling to serial commas. So we try to help, and we're not always going to agree on everything. Personally, when I'm wearing my author hat I'd rather have too much information than too little, so I tend to err on the side of dispensing too much agent advice. It's up to you to decide which advice you agree with and which you don't. Just remember that we're trying to help, not trying to make your life miserable.

3. Not All Publishing Advice is Created Equal:  I went back and looked at some of my early blog posts, and holy cow after just four years they're already wildly out of date. Consider the source, consider the freshness of the advice, and beware of anyone who tries to tell you that there's one way and only one way to find successful publication. Occasionally an author out there somewhere will have a sense that the way they found success is The Way That Should Work For Everyone, whereas people who have worked across the publishing spectrum have seen the proverbial cat skinned in an impossibly vast number of ways.

4. Try As Best You Can to Meet an Agent's Specifications, But Don't Go C

27 Comments on How to Deal With Contradictory Query Advice, last added: 9/10/2010
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588. This Week in Publishing 9/3/10

This Week In Publishing!

Page Critique Friday!! Please stop by the Forums for your Page Critiquing Pleasure. That is, if you are not already splayed on a beach somewhere in anticipation of Labor Day Weekend and SNIFF the end of summer FOR THE LOVE OF SUNSHINE SUMMER WHERE DID YOU GO??

UPDATE: my critique and more about the danger of expository dialogue posted here.

Meanwhile, links!! I have had quite the busy week so I may have missed some news items - if you spotted a good link please share it in the comments!

First, in Truly Important Publishing News, EW wonders why there have been no authors on Dancing With the Stars. YEAH. WHERE ARE THEY?? Then again, Elaine Benes worked in publishing on Seinfeld and we all know how that turned out.

There have been some more interesting Future of Publishing discussions around the blogosphere this week. Tim Ferriss of the Four Hour Workweek has a far-ranging discussion of the economics of print vs. e-books and what this means for authors, and concludes that save for a few exceptions, traditional is still the way to go. And Kassia Krozser at Booksquare has a nuanced take on the idea of books and value and what happens to the collective notion of publishers' value when they let established authors rest on their laurels and publish books they know to be of questionable quality.

Also a new book social networking community has launched! The Reading Room allows its users to generate reading groups and features a list of free e-books to peruse. Check it out.

In the wake of all the talk of whether NY Times favors men vs. women, Slate ran the numbers on the reviews for adult fiction and found that men received 62% of the reviews and 71% of the coveted double reviews (a review in the weekday paper plus a review in the Sunday TBR). They caution that missing from the analysis is the number of overall adult fiction novels that are published by men vs. women.

The $99 e-reader is here! Fresh off news that Borders will be selling Build-A-Bears (some people thought this was a spoof but it's true and hey whatever works, Borders! No judging here), they will also be selling $99 Aluratek e-readers featuring the Kobo bookstore. Meanwhile, Sony came out with a new generation of e-readers priced at $179, $229, and $279 depending on size, features, storage, and 3G capabilities. And on the horizon is an Android powered 7" tablet designed by Samsung, which will feature a bookreading App by Kobo.

Set

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589. The Pernicious Momentum of First Ideas

Ever since I put the final period at the end of the last sentence of JACOB WONDERBAR AND THE COSMIC SPACE KAPOW, I had always imagined the beginning of #2 starting a very certain particular way. It was unexpected! Shocking! A little bit unsettling!

But after I submitted a partial to my editor, she came back and said (very politely): the opening didn't work. My agent (very politely) agreed.

GAH!

But... but... I wanted to sputter, this is how I always imagined it. It's part of the fabric of the novel. How can I write this novel if this isn't the beginning?

Then I took a step back and realized something: they were totally right. It didn't work! Not even a little!

Thankfully, trained publishing professionals saved me from one of the deadliest foes of the writer: the first idea.

First ideas are much like first loves. You fall so hard for someone, they are your everything, you love them to the point of rendering you completely bonkers. Then there's a calamitous breakup, and you think the world is quite possibly going to explode. Then some time passes and you realize that person was perhaps quite nice but you know what they kind of smelled funny and maybe I should have wondered about that throwing star collection before I found one stuck ominously in the dashboard of my car.

Um. Where was I? Oh yes. First ideas.

The point is this: first ideas have a tendency to become intertwined with your conception of the entire novel. You start to think: this is how this character is. This is how this world is. This is how this novel is. If it doesn't work, well I guess the whole thing isn't going to work.

But who owns those characters? Who owns that world? You do! You're the writer. You can change it to make it work. You really can. You own your character and plot and setting.

Every book on writing I have ever read talks about how dangerous your first ideas are, and it's positively absolutely true. Some say you have to think of ten bad ideas to find every good one, some say you should discard five GOOD ideas for every one you keep, Stephen King advocates darling killing, etc. etc. The one thing all this advice has in common is that no idea should be sacred. If it doesn't work it doesn't work.

It's so important to move past those first ideas and to avoid making them too intertwined with how you envision the entire project. Obviously you can't change a novel beyond a point where it stops being the story you want to tell, but short of that, everything is changeable.

Take a throwing star to that first idea. Your second or tenth or hundredth idea is bound to be better.

25 Comments on The Pernicious Momentum of First Ideas, last added: 9/25/2010
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590. You Tell Me: Does Angst Help You Write?

There is perhaps no archetype more persistent throughout the history of art and literature and art than that of the tortured artist. From the tragically real cases (like Ernest Hemingway, Virginia Woolf, and David Foster Wallace), to self-conscious poseurs (who shall remain nameless), angst-filled writers in both fiction and real life are an enduring staple in culture.

Is there something to it? Is there a link between creativity and the darker sides of life? Does angst help you write?

For me, I can't get a lick done when I'm feeling down. But then again, my books involve corn dogs and space monkeys.

What about you?

160 Comments on You Tell Me: Does Angst Help You Write?, last added: 9/4/2010
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591. Franzen, FREEDOM and the Era of the Blockbuster

You may have heard from, oh, I don't know, the Time Magazine cover or the Vogue profile or the rave reviews or the Picoult/Weiner spat or the author video where Franzen says he doesn't like author videos or the fact that the President of the United States was spotted with it..... anyway, you might have heard that Jonathan Franzen has a new novel out today, his first since THE CORRECTIONS, and it's a pretty big deal.

I haven't yet read FREEDOM, but from the early reviews this novel is everything that our Internet-manic, high concept craving, supposedly dumbed down culture is not. It "[deconstructs] a family’s history to give us a wide-angled portrait of the country as it rumbled into the materialistic 1990s." (NY Times) It explores "the unresolved tensions, the messiness of emotion, of love and longing, that possesses even the most willfully ordinary of lives." (LA Times).

You can't exactly Tweet a summary of what this book is about. Whether you like Franzen's books or not (as you can probably tell: I'm a big fan), it's a novel that punches a gaping hole through the remarkably persistent idea that the publishing industry, and the culture as a whole, is only interested in high concept schlock and the lowest common denominator.

On the other hand, FREEDOM, in its bigness, in its You Must Read This To Be a Thinking Person in America, is already a novel of the times - the big books getting steadily bigger, accumulating hype with gravitational pull, and then there's everything else fighting for attention.

We seem to be a culture that is simultaneously craving books that fit our exact specifications at the same time that we want the shared experience of reading something, loving it, and sharing that experience with our friends (virtual and real life). Culture seems to be moving two contradictory ways - fracturing into ever-smaller niches at the same time that it's coalescing around a few massively popular books and movies. We normally think of the blockbusters in terms of James Patterson, Suzanne Collins, and Stephenie Meyer, but even in literary fiction you have your FREEDOMs and OSCAR WAOs.

And in a still further sign of the time, even though Franzen once said of his disdain for novels in e-book form, "Am I fetishizing ink and paper? Sure, and I'm fetishizing truth and integrity too," FREEDOM is available for sale as an e-book simultaneously with the hardcover.

What do you think? Will you be reading FREEDOM?
592. What High Concept Means

High concept
Ah, high concept.

If high concept were a person it would be a teenager because it's often totally misunderstood. If high concept were a tool it would be a sledgehammer. If high concept were a okay I'll stop now.

So what does high concept mean?

High concept means that a novel/movie/TV show's plot can be described very succinctly in appealing fashion.

Kid wins a golden ticket to a mysterious candy factory? High concept.
Wizard school? High concept.
There's this guy who walks around Dublin for a day and thinks about a lot of things in chapters written in different styles and he goes to a funeral and does some other stuff but otherwise not much happens? Not high concept.

High concept is very often misunderstood because what it sounds like it means and what it actually means are basically completely opposite. It doesn't mean sophisticated (opposite), it doesn't mean cerebral (opposite), it doesn't mean difficult to describe (opposite). And it's very important to know what it means because although high concept is often a term used derogatorily, I am hearing from more and more editors that they want high concept novels, even for literary fiction.

Why? Well, my hunch is that the more media, the more Tweets, the more links we're constantly besieged with, the more readers are drawn to hooks that we can easily understand and digest.

So not only do you need to know what high concept means, you might also want to consider embracing it if you're thinking of a new project. But only if it's true to the story you want to tell.

101 Comments on What High Concept Means, last added: 9/2/2010
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593. This Week in Publishing 8/27/10

Thissssssssss Weeeeeeek... InPublishing

Page Critique Friday is alive and well!! It's happening over in the Forums. You do not need to register in the Forums to check out the Page Critique thread, but you will have to register if you'd like to leave a comment. To register, just click here and it should be quite self-explanatory. Other than that it's the same as before, so stop on by.

Lots and lots of news this week, so let's get started.

First up, the most comprehensive review I have ever seen about the relative environmental benefits of e-books vs. paper books was published by Slate's The Green Lantern. The winner? E-books on every count, provided you read more than 18 books on an iPad and 23 books on a Kindle. Even on chemicals/metals, often cited as a problem with e-readers, the Green Lantern judged the side-effects of producing ink more harmful than the metals that go into e-readers. Worth a read.

Random House and agent Andrew Wylie have settled their standoff over the rights to backlist e-book titles that Wylie had announced would be exclusively published by Amazon. In the end, Random House and Wylie came to terms, and the e-books will be published by Random House after all. Word this morning is that Wylie and Penguin are negotiating as well. Bloomsbury publisher Peter Ginna has a great analysis of some of the implications. While early reports tended to characterize this as a "win" for Random House, Ginna points out that it really depends on the deal that was struck (and the ones yet to be struck).

In further e-book news, PWxyz spotted a good explanation from Wired about the economics of e-book pricing, another e-book domino has fallen as Laura Lippman's brand new bestseller is selling more e-books than hardcovers, there's a color e-reader called the Literati coming, the Wall Street Journal took a look at the reading habits of e-book readers (hint: they read more), Seth Godin made some publishing waves as he said in an interview that he will no longer publish the traditional way (citing the frustration of the long wait and filters of traditional publishing), and oh yeah, the NY Times had an article about digital devices and learning and attention spans but I've already ohmigod how awesome was Project Runway last night????

And yeah yeah news news, what about e-books and author revenue? Well, Mike Shatzkin has a really great post explaining how the royalty ma

51 Comments on This Week in Publishing 8/27/10, last added: 8/31/2010
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594. You Tell Me: If You Were King/Queen of the Publishing Industry, What Would Be Your First Order of Business?

You know. Besides giving yourself a billion dollar advance for your work in progress and more marketing hype than a new Apple gadget.

Would you rule with an iron fist or a tender hand? What would you want to see accomplished first?

98 Comments on You Tell Me: If You Were King/Queen of the Publishing Industry, What Would Be Your First Order of Business?, last added: 8/21/2010
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595. How to Write a Query Letter

Proper technique
Once you have followed the gentle suggestions in the How to Write a Novel post and done gone and written yourself a novel, (or if you've written a nonfiction book proposal), it is then time to see what the world thinks of it. The first step in this process if you are seeking traditional publication is to find an agent.

Please check out this post about how to find a literary agent, since a query letter is not the only way of going about it. But chances are you will at some point have to sit down and write one of these beastly missives. Here's how you do it.

What to Know Before You Start

A query letter is part business letter, part creative writing exercise, part introduction, part death defying leap through a flaming hoop. (Don't worry, you won't catch fire and die during the query process though it may feel precisely like that at times). In essence: it is a letter describing your project.

The first thing to know about writing query letters is that there are as many opinions out on the Internet about query letters as there are, well, opinions on the Internet. You will find lots of dos and don'ts and peeves and strategies and formulas. The important thing to remember about this is that everyone is wrong except for me. (Just kidding. The important thing to remember is that you will need to choose the ideas that work best for you).

As the immortal Douglas Adams said, don't panic! Write the best letter you can, be yourself, don't overthink it too much, don't sweat it if you realize the second after you sent it that you made a typo or accidentally called me Vicky. If an agent is going to get mad or reject you over something trivial like that they're probably not the type of person you'd want to work with anyway.

Clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose.

(For Further Reading):
Get the Big Stuff Right
Can You Query If You Are An Unpublished Novelist and Your Novel Isn't Finished?
The Common Sense and Decency Rule
Why It's So Important to Learn to Summarize Your Work

Research and Personalization

The second thing to do before you write the query is to research. This is because you need to do your darndest to:

1) Figure out which agents would be the right fit for your work - Three basic things to figure out: a) does the agent represent your genre, b) do they represent something too similar to your project, c) do they seem like they would be a good fit for you. The answers should be a) yes, b) no, c) yes.
2) Figure out the agent's submission procedure

52 Comments on How to Write a Query Letter, last added: 8/21/2010
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