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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. 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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577. 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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578. 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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579. 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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580. 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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581. 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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582. 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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583. 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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584. 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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585. Page Critique Monday: My Critique

Over the course of these various page critiques I have been occasionally accused of over-tinkering and impossible-to-please, and so it pleases me to have an entrant where I don't have too many suggestions!

I think this page is in strong shape, and I like this especially: it takes its time and lets the setting unfold. It doesn't try to be overly shocking or clever or try to pull the rug out from under us. It's just a well-written, confident opening.

And that is perfectly fine.

Now, I wouldn't be myself if I didn't have SOME suggestions, which are below. Overall I thought there might be a bit more room for giving more of a hint of Cass' personality and mindset (I'm not quite sure why she's so jumpy), and there were some sentences I'd rejigger to improve the flow. I also think there's room to give the man a bit more personality by giving a sense of why he gruffly sneaks up on her with "This is Private Property" but then doesn't seem to care that she's there.

But overall I think this page is in a good place. Well done.



TITLE: Something in the End
GENRE: Women's Fiction
248 words

Cass walked closer to the rocky Newfoundland shoreline to take more photos. Everything around her was worth shooting. Even the rusted boats had a certain rough charm; every mark on their hulls told stories in some language Cass couldn’t understand I like this a lot and think it gives nice insight into her personality, but I find the semi-colon a little awkward and wonder if it would work better broken up into two sentences.

She walked out onto a deserted pier and continued snapping photos No need to mention taking photos twice in the same paragraph. Gulls circled overhead as fishermen started unloading lobster and crab from crates stored on their decks or below. Cass was thankful for her telephoto lens, allowing her to take photos from a safe distance. She wasn’t sure if the locals would see her presence there as an imposition. Maybe more of a hint of personality or explanation here? Without more context it's tough to know why she's so nervous. Is she just nervous being a tourist?

“This is private property.”

The gruff voice behind her caused Cass to jump "caused Cass to jump" feels a little awkward. Maybe just "made Cass jump?" or "Cass jumped when she heard the gruff voice behind her?". She turned and saw a man strolling down the pier toward her. “I’m sorry, I didn’t know,” she called back, struggling to keep her voice even. As he neared she could see he wasn’t very old, maybe ten years older than she was, with dark hair and a few days worth of beard some other description here (I suggest moving the beard description below).

“No harm. Just letting you know.”

“I’ll go,” she said as he came closer. He was tall, broad-shouldered, with a square jaw, visible despite his short beard through a few days worth of beard (no need to mention the beard twice).

“Stay and keep shooting if you’d like. Makes no difference to me. If he doesn't care why did he gruffly say it's private property? Should there be a hint of softening when he sees he made her nervous? It could give more of a sense of his personality, even if he's a minor character” He walked past her and climbed down a short ladder to a boat below. Cass watched, intrigued already apparent. She had the urge to take his picture but wasn’t sure if he’d mind. Something she couldn’t quite put her finger on stopped her from asking.

586. Page Critique Monday

Congrats to Spain and Octopus Paul for their respective victories in the World Cup! Spain's passing was impressive, but let's face it, Octopus Paul is a living legend.

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.
- 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 252 posts in the thread, and the number that the good machine at random.org gave me was..........

7! Congrats to Cameron Chapman, whose page is below.

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


TITLE: Something in the End
GENRE: Women's Fiction
248 words

Cass walked closer to the rocky Newfoundland shoreline to take more photos. Everything around her was worth shooting. Even the rusted boats had a certain rough charm; every mark on their hulls told stories in some language Cass couldn’t understand.

She walked out onto a deserted pier and continued snapping photos. Gulls circled overhead as fishermen started unloading lobster and crab from crates stored on their decks or below. Cass was thankful for her telephoto lens, allowing her to take photos from a safe distance. She wasn’t sure if the locals would see her presence there as an imposition.

“This is private property.”

The gruff voice behind her caused Cass to jump. She turned and saw a man strolling down the pier toward her. “I’m sorry, I didn’t know,” she called back, struggling to keep her voice even. As he neared she could see he wasn’t very old, maybe ten years older than she was, with dark hair and a few days worth of beard.

“No harm. Just letting you know.”

“I’ll go,” she said as he came closer. He was tall, broad-shouldered, with a square jaw, visible despite his short beard.

“Stay and keep shooting if you’d like. Makes no difference to me.” He walked past her and climbed down a short ladder to a boat below. Cass watched, intrigued. She had the urge to take his picture but wasn’t sure if he’d mind. Something she couldn’t quite put her finger on stopped her from asking.

23 Comments on Page Critique Monday, last added: 7/13/2010
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587. This Week in Publishing

This! Publishing! In the Week!

As we look toward our coming e-future, where we will soon be growing food on the Internet and driving flying books, there have been a series of articles putting the brakes on your technoptimism. First, writing in Slate, Jan Swafford posits that e-books and print books will have to co-exist because.... well, I think because tpyos are easier to sopt on paper? Hard to tell, really. I was reading the article on a screen so...

Next up, John Askins passed along a study that suggests that people read books faster than they read e-books (though a second article notes that overall productivity may increase with e-readers).

And finally, David Brooks took note of a study that showed that giving twelve books to disadvantaged kids at the end of a school year improved their test scores vs. their peers, no doubt because forcing the kids to lug twelve books home in the summer heat scared them away from manual labor and motivated them to do well in school. I may have made that last part up. Brooks is actually making a point about print literary culture vs. the short attention span online world, but again, reading on these screens! I'm not getting anything!! Are you getting this? Should we talk about Jake and Vienna instead?

Big congrats to Eric at Pimp My Novel, who is celebrating his first blogoversary (or is it birthablogday?) with some awesome year in review posts. The first is all about co-op, and second on covers. Next year's birthablogday will recap how he conquered the Internet in only two years.

Author Kiersten White has a great post on the reason why YA paranormal books are still undead and going strong: they're a great metaphor for teen romance.

Agent Mary Kole has a terrific post about the perennial argument about whether books are/should be commerce or art. In reality: they're both.

Via the indispensable Jacket Copy, the Guardian recently published a list of the top 10 English pubs in literature.

And you may have deduced this from my book title, but I have a soft spot for old sci-fi. So naturally I loved io9's awesome roundup of old pulp sci-fi covers.

This week in the Forums: a truly brilliant discussion about absentee parents in young adult literature, does social networking really work, bourbon vs. whisky, and, of course, World Cup Fever! One guess about which color I mean team I'm rooting for

51 Comments on This Week in Publishing, last added: 7/12/2010
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588. Undercooking a Novel

There was a moment on last week's Top Chef that really resonated with me.

Cheftestant Kevin was in the bottom four for a dish that was influenced by his Puerto Rican in-laws. As the Top Chef hosts ripped his dish to the proverbial underseasoned threads, he protested that the dish reflects how his in-laws cook.

Judge Gail Simmons jabbed back, "Are they professional chefs?"

He sheepishly said no, and she reminded him that he is a professional chef and can't just imitate how people cook, he needs to elevate the food.

This exchange reminded me of so many conversations I've had over the years with aspiring writers. Occasionally I'll point out dialogue or events that aren't working, and someone will protest, "But this is how people actually talk," or "This actually happened."

Writing isn't about capturing real life as it actually happens. We have, well, real life for that.

Instead, writers have to elevate life and add spices and all the rest. Writers interpret real life, elevate it, reorder events, and serve up something perfectly balanced and ready for public consumption.

Serving up raw life on the page without cooking it is like putting a beet on a plate and saying dinner is served. It might be a good beet, but that ain't a meal.

76 Comments on Undercooking a Novel, last added: 7/9/2010
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589. You Tell Me: To Know or Not to Know?

First off, I must share some terrific news - ROCK PAPER TIGER by Lisa Brackmann (who you may of course know as commenter Other Lisa) was just named one of the Top 10 Novels of 2010 by Amazon!! And, if that's not enough, keep an eye out for a terrific review in Sunday's edition of the New York Times Book Review. Congrats, Lisa!

Transition.

Once you, the author, is fortunate enough to have your book out on submission to editors, there is somewhat of a decision to make. Would you prefer to see the rejections as they come in? Would you simply want to be notified of their existence? Would you prefer to think said letters do not exist and only be notified when there is good news?

As an agent I usually err on the side of sharing, because quite often the editors' thoughts may spark ideas for revisions and quite often are extremely complimentary of the author even when it's not a perfect fit.

On the other hand, as previously chronicled, even though I know how this process works, when my novel was on submission the process turned me into a quivering mass of Scaredauthor in a week and a half. But I still wanted to read the letters. Basically, if I'm ever taken hostage, all anyone has to do is wave rejection letters under my nose and refuse to show them to me and I'll crack faster than you can say, "It just wasn't for us and we're sure someone else will snatch this up before you know it."

Whether you've been on submission with editors or not, which way would you prefer?

To know or not to know? That is today's question.

107 Comments on You Tell Me: To Know or Not to Know?, last added: 7/9/2010
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590. Page Critique Tuesday: My Critique

Thanks again to Erica for being one of the brave souls to offer up their work for public critique!

There is an immediately apparent personality on display here, and I think we get a good sense of the conflict. There is an engaging hook (kid having to move away, doesn't want to), and let's face it, the prospect of moving to a town named after an Italian scooter couldn't be appealing to any teenager.

I broke my thoughts down into two main sections:

Balancing showing and telling

I'm afraid I didn't feel that the balance between showing and telling is quite working itself out in this page. On the one hand the author demonstrates mood through gesture, which is an example of showing, but I wasn't quite sure that enough was gained from the gestures. On the other hand, there are other moments that are a bit too tell-y.

Let's start with the showing. My reservation with the gestures is that they are a bit too what-you'd-expect-from-a-teenager-who-doesn't-want-to-move. Glares, footstomps, anger at parent... pretty much exactly what you'd anticipate. While I think we do get a basic sense of the narrator's personality, I'm concerned she doesn't quite feel unique enough, and that there could be more gained from some unique reactions and perspectives.

And also cutting against the narration, there are moments when we're told precisely what the protagonist is thinking ("The reference to home bothered me more than I wanted my mom to know.", "The two months after my mom announced we were moving made me feel like I was losing my mind"), and I wanted to see those effects in action and for those feelings to be shown.

I've tackled showing vs. telling before, and my basic rule of thumb is that you shouldn't "tell" universal emotions - instead it's better to show how a character is reacting to those emotions. Better still if that character is reacting to those emotions in a unique fashion. We all experience the same basic emotions - how we react to those emotions is what makes us unique.

Stilted Dialogue

Dialogue does not have to sound precisely like real life, but it has to give enough of an impression of real life dialogue that we believe it. I'm afraid I just didn't believe all of the dialogue here. The mom's first line especially ("Child-like antics really don't suit you, Kenz") feels stilted. Would someone say "Child-like antics?" or would they say something like, "You're acting like a child?" Then again, I love the line, "You have two nights left to mope around.", which reveals more than anything else in that paragraph.

The stilted dialogue is symptomatic of a bit of overwriting in general - the paragraphs feel like they could use some streamlining, which I'll try and pinpoint in the redline.

Still, I feel like there is some promising writing here. Like many of you I really liked the last line, and I'd be curious to see where this goes.

REDLINE

Title: A New Day
Genre: YA comtemporary romance

I slammed the car door and shouldered my way past the men scattered around the front yard Can you shoulder your way through people who are scattered? Don't you normally shoulder your way through a crowd?. I spotted my mother and just about growled at her Do people consciously just about growl? while waving my hands at the moving van. "This is ridiculous. Get my stuff out of there!" I tried not to stomp my foot, but apparently my desperation caused my body parts to take control over my brain this feels overwritten, and a bit too self-aware. She tries not to stomp her foot, does, and then reasons that her desperation is c

58 Comments on Page Critique Tuesday: My Critique, last added: 7/9/2010
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591. Page Critique Tuesday

I'm back in cold and foggy San Francisco, and not a moment too soon, as I understand New York has descended into "Ok this weather is really not funny anymore" territory. 100 degrees and 80%+ humidity? Yikes.

A quick reminder of how these page critiques work:

- If you're interested in submitting a page for a future critique, enter it in this thread in the Forums.
- 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 219 posts in the thread, and the number that the good machine at random.org gave me was..........

132! Congrats to Erica, whose page is below.

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



Title: A New Day
Genre: YA comtemporary romance

I slammed the car door and shouldered my way past the men scattered around the front yard. I spotted my mother and just about growled at her while waving my hands at the moving van. "This is ridiculous. Get my stuff out of there!" I tried not to stomp my foot, but apparently my desperation caused my body parts to take control over my brain.

"Child-like antics really don't suit you, Kenz," my mother replied with a voice that left no doubt that she was sick of me. "You have two nights left to mope around. They're only here for the big furniture this time."

"Fine, I'll sit on lawn chairs and sleep on the floor then. You need to give up this moving idea and stay here with me, because I'm not going anywhere."

"This life isn't for us anymore. We're going home." One finger went up as she saw my mouth open for another protest. "Spend tonight with your friends. Tomorrow's going to be busy and we leave first thing Sunday morning."

I did my best to throw the moving van workers an intimidating glare as I walked past again, but it just made them grin wider. The reference to home bothered me more than I wanted my mom to know.

The two months after my mom announced we were moving made me feel like I was losing my mind. Vespa, Wisconsin was the last place on earth I wanted to live. It was her home, not mine.

43 Comments on Page Critique Tuesday, last added: 7/7/2010
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592. This Week in Publishing

What a week! My visits are always a whirlwind of meetings, lunches, meetings, meetings, drinks, meetings, and meetings, but it's always fun to be here, get a sense of the pulse and make new connections. And thankfully the weather decided to take mercy on me - I was worried there for a moment.

Now then! I did keep track of some of the news and links this week, and I aim to share a few of them with you. Oh - did I mention I'm writing this from my iPad? First iPad-generated post on the blogt! History being made. Only not really. (Please be extra forgiving of typos!)

The cool kids over at Shrinking Violet Promotions have a terrific post on how best to develop a personal brand as an author. The key? Letting it evolve naturally. Much much more in the post, and definitely worth reading.

In this day and age when everyone is wondering what the next vampire/angels/post-apocalyptic/zombies is going to be, agent Rachelle Gardner has a good reminder about what's happening when publishers buy books in hot genres:, it's often about what's selling.

Agent Jim McCarthy from Dystel & Goderich attended a writers conference where they asked him to be positive in a speech, and it got him thinking - are we in publishing actually too nice?

Comment! Of! The! Week! goes to Laurel. Lots of people mentioned overuse of the word "just" as one of their writing tics, but I loved Laurel's way of showing it:

I just can't stop using the word just. It's just so invisible that it just keeps creeping into my MSs no matter how many times I just search and destroy it.

And finally, an enterprising mixologist has created a new cocktail and called it the Literary Agent: part whisky sour, part Hemingway daiquiri. On that note...

Have a great 4th of July weekend!!

10 Comments on This Week in Publishing, last added: 7/2/2010
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593. You Tell Me: What is Your Writing Tic?

It's been a great and wildly busy week in New York thus far! Thankfully the heat has taken some mercy on my San Francisco-acclimated self, and it's cooled off dramatically. And not a moment too soon: I was in serious danger of melting.

Now then. We all have bad writing habits and little tics that creep into our writing. Whether it's overuse of certain gestures (eye-rolling, sighing, etc.), phrases (I mean, like, now then, etc.), or lines of dialogue ("No way," "Yes way," etc.)

I must confess that my writerly tic is characters looking at things (Jacob saw, Jacob looked at, etc.). It ends up being a little redundant and I have to watch myself.

What's yours?

119 Comments on You Tell Me: What is Your Writing Tic?, last added: 7/2/2010
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594. Query Critique Monday: My Critique

Thanks again to childrenschampforlife for submitting the query for critique! I really appreciate the author's willingness to submit for public dissection.

There were some clever turns of phrase in this query and I think the spirit behind it feels jaunty and fun, though the premise and the tone seems a bit on the young side even for middle grade (ages 8-12). I wonder if it's more geared to an early reader or chapter book? Mary Kole has a terrific post about the importance of knowing your category, as well as one about children's book word counts and a category breakdown. It's crucial that you know where your book will land and use the right terminology (and the word count is missing here).

But more troubling, I'm very concerned about the way this reads: the query has typos, sentence fragments, and improper punctuation. It is so so so so so important to put your best foot forward when querying an agent. And there are mistakes made here that authors just shouldn't make. But if this doesn't reflect the author's best attempt and it's simply sloppy, hopefully this will serve as a slap on the wrist.

Lastly - don't send queries exclusively! Don't do it! I don't ask for an exclusive look, and if you query one agent at a time you're going to be old and gray by the time you're finished. Much better to send queries out in batches.

Overall, I enjoy the spirit and tone behind this, but worry about the presentation.



REDLINE:

SUBJECT: Query: The Pompous Pachyderm, middle-grade-Exclusive

"The Pompous Pachyderm." A big nosed bigot of an elephant who comes of age in a place that doesn’t respect animals sentence fragment. He Espen is a selfish, uncivil character who treats his fellow “inmates” at the Calamity Zoo of California like moldy cantaloupe I like this line, but I don't know why inmates is in quotes - I think you can trust the reader to get the joke that he's referring to the zoo animals as inmates._Watching as his parents are sold to a circus while becoming separated from the only trainer he ever knew, furthers his inclinations that he doesn’t need anyone’s help, and he shouldn’t have to help anyone this is a worrisome sentence - it's improperly punctuated, it reads far more adult than the rest of the query, and I'm afraid "furthers his inclinations that he doesn't need anyone's help" doesn't make sense to me. There was also an extra space at the end . Espen shows that elephants are not only one of the largest land mammals on earth but also may have the largest egos I like this, though "one of the largest land mammals" is improper - it would either be "some of the largest land mammals" or "one of the largest types of land mammals".

The animals of Calamity Zoo of California, unnecessary comma end up in various predicaments which our protagonist refuses to help them with another troubling sentence - "various predicaments which our protagonist refuses to help them with" reads very awkwardly. When Espen mistakes a ball, unnecessary comma for his favorite snack (cantaloupe) he gets it stuck in his trunk. He then tantrums and treks off in search of the other animals for help. While on his one man (mammal) another place where I think the author should let the agent just get the human/animal joke

46 Comments on Query Critique Monday: My Critique, last added: 6/23/2010
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595. Query Critique Monday

Monday! And this time we're having a query critique.

We won't be having a critique next Monday as I'll be in the fair City of New York, and posting will be sporadic.

Below is the query, and I'll be back later with a new post containing my critique. Please please please remember the sandwich rule when offering your thoughts: positive, very very constructive thoughts, positive.

As of this posting there were 126 comments in the Query Critique thread - the first was mine. I searched for a number between 2 and 126 on random.org, and the winner was.....

72!

Here's childrenschampforlife's query:

SUBJECT: Query: The Pompous Pachyderm, middle-grade-Exclusive

"The Pompous Pachyderm." A big nose bigot of an elephant who comes of age in a place that doesn’t respect animals. He is a selfish, uncivil character who treats his fellow “inmates” at the Calamity Zoo of California like moldy cantaloupe.Watching as his parents are sold to a circus while becoming separated from the only trainer he ever knew, furthers his inclinations that he doesn’t need anyone’s help, and he shouldn’t have to help anyone . Espen shows that elephants are not only one of the largest land mammals on earth but also may have the largest ego.

The animals of Calamity Zoo of California, end up in various predicaments which our protagonist refuses to help them with. When Espen mistakes a ball, for his favorite snack (cantaloupe) he gets it stuck in his trunk. He then tantrums and treks off in search of the other animals for help. While on his one man (mammal) fellowship he notices the zoo is on fire. Espen then lumbers to where the other species of life are to get him and the zoo some help. The animals all spring to action and work together to get the ball out of Espen's trunk, so he can help put out the fire.

I work within the field of Early Child Hood Education and currently serve as an Associate Teacher. I am also a father of 2 and integrate Erik Erikson’s psychosocial development theory when creating material for children. Thank you for considering “The Pompous Pachyderm”

29 Comments on Query Critique Monday, last added: 6/23/2010
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