Nathan Bransford, Author


Tuesday, June 16, 2015

I miss the blogosphere


Where have all the bloggers gone? Long time passing. I want to know.

I miss the blogosphere.

There was a time, between 2007-2009, when everyone had a blog. It was peak blog. Blogspot and Wordpress. Blog rolls and tagging. Blog awards and comments of the week.

I started feeling the decline in 2011, and in 2013 it was really apparent. Now, it's a veritable ghost town.

Maybe I'm just getting old, but I really miss that time. Peak blog coincided with economic calamity, and the entire world was on edge (note: I don't think there was a connection. I think.). But there was something comforting in the sense of simultaneous community and individuality, people pioneering their own space but making sure to check in on what everyone else was doing.

And sure, people are still tweeting and Facebooking and Tumblring, but there was a time when people put their thoughts out there, in detail, took the time to go around and read what other people were thinking, in detail, and left thoughtful comments. In detail.

The blogosphere certainly had its unfortunate flame wars, but it seems like the book portion Twittersphere and Tumblrverse in particular are now optimized for peak outrage, one s***show after the next, with nothing ever meaningful really seeming to come of it.

This is some uncharacteristic techno-nostalgia for me, but I think 2007-2009 was a pretty great time, (Internet-wise at least), when people were putting their thoughts on digital paper and thinking thoughtfully about what other people were writing. And making actual real-life friends! I met some of my dearest friends through my blog.

Am I missing something? Have people picked up and moved to another, better place?

What do you make of the decline of the blogosphere?

Art: Sunland Landscape by Audley Dean Nicols






Monday, June 8, 2015

What I learned about writing from a broken tooth


I recently had quite a health ordeal, and for some reason it reminded me of writing and publishing. Probably because everything does. Bear with me on this one.

A month back, while in the early days of my new job, I bit into a piece of toast and felt a sharp pain in one of my molars. I didn't think that much of it -- I've had some jaw/tooth aches in the past that didn't amount to much -- and I went about my business, planning to check with my dentist if the pain didn't go away. Then, a week later, I proceeded to get immensely sick, coming down with a 104.5 fever. (Spoiler: I survived!)

On top of that, my tooth still hurt like crazy whenever I accidentally bit into something, so as I was recovering from that illness thanks to the miracle of antibiotics, I went to the dentist. Sure enough, I had a broken tooth beyond repair and an infected root. It's probable that my illness was connected to the broken tooth, as a point of entry for some bacteria or another. Annnd I had to have the tooth extracted. Which I really didn't want to do. But I had to.

Now, thankfully, I'm on the other side of everything. My tooth is gone, my gum is healing, I can finally eat normally again, and I'm back to 100% health. Win!!

So why am I telling you this?

Last night as I was eating a delicious crab sandwich without any pain, I got to thinking, "You know what? Having *no* tooth is better than having a broken tooth."

Indeed. And then I saw a commercial for Entourage, which reminded me of agenting, and then THIS BLOG POST WAS BORN.

There are so many times in your publishing life where it's tempting to hold on to something that's broken. Maybe you have an agent who you kind of realize is not a good agent, or you are presented with a publishing deal from a micro publisher you're not totally sure about. But, having an agent is better than having no agent, right?

No.

Just as my broken tooth wound up getting me sick, a bad agent can do immense damage to your career if they send your manuscript around badly. It's harder to find another good agent to take you on, and publishers may not reconsider your manuscript if they've already seen it. They can also set you back from looking for a good agent. And unscrupulous "publishers" out there can take advantage of you financially.

Having *no* agent is better than having a bad agent.
Having *no* publishing deal is better than having a bad publishing deal.

You may worry about the appearances of losing something that felt hard-earned, and no doubt it's painful in the short term, but you have to think of those bad actors like a broken tooth that you need to extract in order to restore yourself to publishing health.

You will heal. You'll get back on track. And you'll realize you're better off. Good riddance, broken molar.

Art: The Toothpuller by Carvaggio






Wednesday, June 3, 2015

How do you keep track of your ideas?


The first rule of inspiration is that the best ideas come to you in the precise moment when you are least equipped to write them down.

How do you make sure you don't lose those ideas? How do you keep track of them?

My method is pretty simple: I email them to myself. Chances are my phone is nearby and if it's not, I'm probably too panicked to have a good idea anyway.

I may have a problem.

What about you?

Art: The Alchymist, In Search of the Philosopher’s Stone by Joseph Wright






Friday, May 22, 2015

The best way to thank a writer: write a review


Read a book you love and want to let the author know how much you enjoyed their work?

Do it publicly. Write a review.

It's hard out there for a writer. There is a vast ocean of books, and making yours stand out is a daunting challenge. So when writers hear directly from readers via email -- yes, absolutely, those notes are deeply appreciated, but I've heard more than one writer say they are tempted to shout from the mountaintops, "PLEASE SAY THAT ON AMAZON."

Or Barnes & Noble. Or Powells. Or Goodreads. Or Twitter. Or a blog. Or all of the above. Something, anything public.

Reviews matter. They make it more likely that other people will buy the book, and sales are what will keep the author's writing career afloat. If you love a book and write a great review you can help cancel out those negative reviews and help the author where it really counts.

Sure, don't hesitate to reach out directly to an author to tell them how much you appreciated their book. They'll love it even more if you include a link to a great review.

Art: The Two Sisters by Auguste Renoir






Wednesday, May 20, 2015

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

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

After very similar results in 2013...


And last year...


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


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

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






Monday, May 18, 2015

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Art: Fishing Boats and Icebergs by William Bradford






Friday, May 15, 2015

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


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

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

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

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

Jacob Wonderbar for President of the Universe:
Amazon
B&N Nook
iBooks
Kobo

Smashwords

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

Smashwords

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

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

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

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

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

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







Hope you enjoy!






Wednesday, May 13, 2015

How do you plan to publish your work in progress?

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

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

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


Create your own user feedback survey

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






Monday, May 11, 2015

How to flesh out a character


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

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

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

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

Here are some tips:

Know what your characters want

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

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

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

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

Imagine your character going through an average day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Know your characters' history

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

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

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


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

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

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






Monday, April 20, 2015

The last few months in books 4/19/15

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New York City literary pub crawl!

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

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


Have a great week!






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