Nathan Bransford, Author


Saturday, April 19, 2014

Writing Advice Database

UPDATED 4/19/14

Here is a compendium of the top writing advice posts on the blog. Of course, the best source is my guide How to Write a Novel: 47 Rules for Writing a Stupendously Awesome Novel You Will Love Forever. But these posts will hopefully help you along the way:

Before You Start

The Writing Process

Revising

Genres and Classification

Staying sane during the writing/publishing process






Thursday, April 17, 2014

Steven Salmon on writing with cerebral palsy


At the Wisconsin Writer's Institute a few weeks back I had the pleasure of meeting Steven Salmon, a blog reader with Cerebral Palsy who has published three books, an impressive output not least of which because he writes using morse code.

He agreed to an interview and here are the responses:

NB: What made you decide to start writing?

SS: I became a writer to show people that a severe physically disabled person can be and are productive valuable members of society if given a chance to succeed. All of my life, I was told "you can't" by disabled advocates. When I graduated from high school with honors, the government labeled me as "unemployable." The government didn't believe that I could work and wouldn't help me go to college. For two years after I graduated from high school I stayed at home doing nothing watching TV and reading sports autobiographies. Living in isolation made me angry. Boredom ate at my heart.  My dream was to attend college. I even contemplated committing suicide. But my mother put me through school herself. I vowed to be the best college student once I enrolled in college.  My strong determination made me want to prove the government wrong. I used my anger to become a productive person: a writer and eventually an author.

NB: What's your writing process like?

SS: I use Morse code to write along with a word prediction program called CoWriter. Morse code allows me to use a mouse. I swing my head back and forth between two buddy buttons attached to a portable metal stand on my wheelchair. I spell out each word one letter at time. CoWriter predicts words that I start to spell allowing me to choose a word that I want from a number list. CoWriter automatically leaves a space to start the next word. When I enter a sentence into a word document or an email, CoWriter automatically leaves two spaces to begin a new sentence. I used to use voice recognition to write, but it didn't work for me anymore because voice recognition started using words instead of using sounds for letters that I was using. A couple of years ago, I started using Morse code to write. Morse code is more accurate than voice recognition for me. I can edit my writing now. 

NB: I was amazed to learn that you write using morse code. Does this process mean you plan your scenes ahead or do you still have room to improvise?

SS: Morse code and CoWriter are just tools giving me the ability to write fast.  When I write, I have a scene in my head.  Usually I write very detailed scenes without outlines or notes. I want a good "working" first draft.  Something that I can build on for a second draft. I want to be able to give it a friend or my literary agent who will edit it.  Then like all writers, I will rewrite the manuscript and edit it again. I write all day every day. Morse code and CoWriter allow me to write late at night. That is important I have care attendants to manage, a manuscript to rewrite for my agent, publicity to do and postings to write for my blog. I love writing at night with a baseball or a basketball game on TV.  I'm all alone writing with my black cat at my side. 

NB: Is there an advantage to thinking about every letter as you go?

SS: There is no real advantage to spelling out one letter at a time. Morse code and CoWriter are just tools allowing me to write like a paintbrush for a painter. It's up to me, the writer to make the words come to life for the reader. There is nothing like knowing that a manuscript is coming together like watching a house going up. A writer is a creator and seeing your writing come together is something to be proud about. At the end of the day the writer has satisfaction seeing the writing in their mind like a carpenter admiring a hard day of work as the sun sets. Only the writer can see it! 

NB: Who is your writing hero?

Larry Watson is my favorite author. He wrote White Crosses, Justice, Orchard and Montana 1948. He taught writing at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point when I was a student there. Larry is my mentor and helped me get my first novel going. He doesn't talk much. But I was one of the few students that he opened up to. It was a privilege to have Larry teach me. We are friends now and email each other. 

NB: Any advice for aspiring writers out there?

SS: My advice to writers is writing is hard work! Writing a day or two a week is not writing. Larry told a writing class once if you want write to get rich writing get out now. If you want to learn how to write to write stay. In my opinion a real writer needs to be passionate about their writing and believe in their writing. There are very few rewards to being a writer. You don't get paid. A writer needs people to confide to sharing the highs and the lows of writing. My college classmates are my confidants. Writers need to have confidants to lean on when nothing seems to be going right or they are pursuing a literary agent. A year ago, I was in a pursuit of an agent trying to impress her by doing several rewrites. I grew frustrated with her, but college classmates kept me focus. They gave me strength when I needed the most. But I got the agent thanks to my classmates. They are my inspiration. 

I'm living a writer's dream. But it's a lot of hard work and long hours just writing. Not many writers are willing to make that kind of sacrifice.  But if a writer wants an agent the writer has to work!  If I have a literary agent, then other writers can to by working each day.  

Not bad for "unemployable" person according to the system. 

Thanks to Steven for participating! Check out his books here.






Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Self-publishing vs. Traditional: Some Straight Talk


I'm thrilled to have a guest post from Natalie Whipple, one of my former clients, who is now a "hybrid" author with experience with both traditional and self-publishing. She is the author of Transparent and House of Ivy & Sorrow, which comes out today, and Relax, I'm a Ninja, which will come out in June!

Here's Natalie's post:

There is a lot of talk online about legacy versus indie publishing and which is better. People seem to spend so much time focused on defending one side or the other, that the details of what each path actually entails get skewed or lost entirely.

To me, arguing which is “better” is a lot like fighting over whether basketball, baseball, or football is the superior sport. They are all sports, they all have a fan base, and they all bring enjoyment to the people who choose to participate in them. Is there really a “better”? Well, no. They’re just different. Same with legacy and indie publishing.

Maybe I see it this way because I’ve chosen to venture into both legacy and indie publishing. I’m what people are now calling a “hybrid” author. So since I’ve been on both sides, today I want to give out neutral, practical information on the difference between Legacy and Indie. I’ll leave it up to you guys to decide what you think is more advantageous or preferable or whatever.

Rights

Most people think of authors selling their books, but really it’s more about selling your creative rights in legacy publishing. A publisher wants to buy your rights to reproduce your words in a certain form—usually a book form. There are also other rights you can sell, like electronic (ebook), cinematic, audio, and translation. In the legacy model, a writer usually obtains an agent who specializes in selling and drawing up fair contracts for these various rights. You get a percentage of profit, your agent gets a cut, and of course so does the publisher.

In indie publishing, a writer keeps all their rights and uses them as they see fit. You could say an indie sells their books because of that. That means they get almost all the profit to themselves, but also have to do all the work themselves as well. Indies effectively become a small publisher of their own work. If they want to sell in audio book format, they have to hire the voice actor and make it happen (yes, you can do that). If they want to translate their novel into Spanish, they can hire someone to do that. Their rights are in their hands, for better or worse.

Control

As alluded to in the previous section, indie publishing is all about control. The writer is in charge. While most authors hire out editors and designers, it’s still the writer who chooses who to work with and what the final product looks like. The writer controls price, marketing, design, everything.

In legacy, a writer gives up a lot of control when they sell rights. Your publisher will decide your cover, the price of the novel, the marketing scope. They will decide when your book releases and when they want to put it out of print. You can argue, but they don’t have to listen.

Payment

Legacy authors receive payment in two ways—advance against royalties, and then royalties if the novel “earns out its advance.” Your contract will contain royalty rates for each book format they purchased rights for. Advances are usually paid in segments upon contract signing, D&A, and publication. If you earn royalties, you may see a check every 6 months, sometimes once quarterly.

Indie writers do not receive advances, but begin to immediately make “royalty” on their work. The royalty received is much higher—usually 60-70% (as opposed to 6-25% legacy depending on format). Online distributers usually pay monthly if a threshold of income is achieved (from $10-100 depending on the place), otherwise it will be held to the next month.

Cost To Author

Legacy publishing has very little upfront cost to an aspiring writer (unless you consider time a cost, which is something to consider). Agents don’t take payments, but receive commission upon selling rights to your work. One you sell a novel, you may be paying for your own travel or marketing materials, but overall the cost can be almost zero if you don’t choose to do those things.

Indie publishing does have an upfront cost. The average for a quality product is around $1500 for a first novel, most of which goes to a freelance editor. Other costs can include interior and cover design, ebook formatting, ISBN purchasing, business license, marketing, purchasing hard copy inventory, etc.

Distribution

Indie publishing can reach many markets it couldn’t previously, thanks to online marketplaces and reduced cost of production in the digital age. An indie writer can make their book available globally without having to own a lot of costly inventory. Legacy publishing still has a leg up in the bookstore and library area, having deep connections and filters that are easy for store/library buyers to use. Though the stigma on indie is slowly lifting, there is still a trust built between established publishers and store/library buyers.

Marketing

Legacy publishing, in theory, gives an author a marketing plan they wouldn’t be able to accomplish on their own. At minimum, they submit their novels to trade reviewers, make them available in the publisher’s seasonal catalog, and make them more visible to store/library buyers who then champion those books to customers. At best (if you are very lucky), legacy publishers send authors on tour, get them big ad spaces in movie theaters, have features in well-known magazines, get radio and TV spots, etc.

Indie writers are responsible for their own marketing, and it’s really a matter of how much money and hustling they want to put into it. An indie can get ad space—it’s just very pricey. They can get trade reviews and other visibility. They can plan their own tours. They just have to foot the bill for everything. So it’s about maximizing visibility at a reasonable cost.


I hope this clears up some of the differences with legacy and indie publishing. But more than that, I hope it helps people see that both avenues have their pros and cons and aren’t necessarily against each other. Publishing is a hard business, no matter how you decide to tackle it. But I personally have found things to love in both methods, and I hope more writers begin to see that they have options and they don’t need to be afraid to explore them.






Friday, April 11, 2014

The Past Few Weeks in Books 4/11/14

Downtown Brooklyn. I'm on Instagram here
It's been an interesting past few weeks! I had a fantastic time at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Writers' Institute, great meeting all of the writers there, including longtime reader Alison Coffey, who you may know as commenter ABC. Though I was sorry to watch the Badgers lose in the Final Four.

Speaking of the Final Four, propelled his successful choice of UConn to win it all, longtime friend-o-the-blog Peter Dudley won the 2014 Blog Bracket Challenge! Peter, you know where to find me for the prize.

Meanwhile, some interesting links caught my eye in the past few weeks. Here they are.

There continues to be a great deal of discussion in the book world about the state of diversity in the publishing industry, especially following in the wake of Christopher Myers' New York Times article "The Apartheid of Children’s Literature." Sarah McCarry, aka the Rejectionist posted about how the industry can publish more writers of color. Jennifer Pan has an interesting article that argues focusing on diversity numbers alone misses the point. I also participated in an interview with Maya Prasad about the issue.

Independent bookstores have offered the industry a glimmer of hope of late as they have hung on even as chains struggle, but in a further sign of the times, Manhattan bookstores may soon be an endangered species.

Holt Uncensored compares the movie tie-in book editions vs. their originals.

David Gaughran has a terrific post on the ins and outs of e-book pricing. Lots of nuanced discussion.

Reader Tiffany Roger wrote about the ways in which the writing process can sometimes resemble a burning log in the fireplace.

How do editors in different countries edit? Interesting interview with Emma Donahue, Judy Clain and Iris Tupholme.

And Game of Thrones is back!! I can't get enough of this goat mashup:


Have a great weekend!






Monday, April 7, 2014

8 ways to know if you have a good agent


The author/agent relationship can be a tricky one. There are good agents and bad agents out there, and yet from the author's perspective it can be very difficult to know which type you have. Many authors talk themselves out of their reservations about their agents simply because it's hard to know if your concerns are warranted. And, of course, many writers just feel lucky to have an agent in the first place.

So how do you know if your concerns are justified?

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but here are some things to consider:

1. Your agent should have a proven track record of sales and/or works at a reputable agency.

This is far from the only criteria for determining whether you have a good agent, but it's a mandatory starting place. A good agent should have either a track record of sales to major publishers or have a good deal of experience cutting their teeth at a reputable agency or both.

Remember that every agent starts with zero sales and young agents can often be a good fit for authors because of their ambition and hunger, but they should still know the ropes and have mentors they can draw upon.

Avoid agents who are well-intentioned but are just hanging out a shingle and hoping to learn as they go.

2. Your agent should be a good communicator.

By good communicator, I don't mean that they necessarily reply immediately, though that is always appreciated. Agents are very busy, and even some very good agents can be afflicted with publishing time. The publishing industry can sometimes move slower than a line at the DMV. (For the record, I always tried to get back to my clients within 24 hours and I know many successful and busy agents who stick to a similar timeframe).

What's more important than punctuality is that when you have a question, your agent answers. When you ask for something, your agent delivers. When you want to have a serious conversation, the agent is there to have it.

A good agent doesn't dodge, doesn't hide, is straightforward with you and tells you things you may not always want to hear. If you feel like you are constantly pulling teeth to get the most basic questions answered, you may not have a good agent.

3. Your agent should either live in New York or visit on a regular basis.

An agent doesn't necessarily have to live in New York -- I didn't when I was an agent, nor does my agent. However, we both visited on a very regular basis because there is no substitute for occasional in-person networking and meetings.

4. Your agent should be able to explain every question you have about your contract or your royalty statements.

Publishing contract clauses can be confusing, royalty statements borderline indecipherable. Your agent should know exactly what they mean and be able to explain them to you.

5. Your agent is completely ethical in how they approach their job.

A good agent will act ethically and advise you to act ethically. If you see your agent act unethically it's only a matter of time until you're on the receiving end.

6. Your agent should pay you on time and send you contracts in a timely fashion.

Most agents have clauses that stipulate that publishers send payments to them, then they take their commission and send you the balance. This is normal.

However, that means it's all the more important that they send your payments and contracts to you on time. Be very wary if you encounter strange delays.

7. Your agent charges you a commission of 15% on domestic contracts, 20% on foreign contracts, and deducts very transparently for reasonable expenses like postage and copying. That's it.

No agent should charge you up front. They only make money when you make money and only charge you separately for things like foreign postage and manuscript copying.

8. You feel comfortable.

This is key.

You have to trust your agent. You have to have a good feeling about them. The communications lines need to be open.

Go with your gut. Don't be overly paranoid, but if you have a bad feeling it behooves you to try to figure out what's wrong. Try to resolve it, and if you can't, part ways as professionally and as amicably as possible.

At the end of the day, having a bad agent is worse than having no agent. You have to be able to have faith that your agent has your best interests at heart and is good for your career.


Any others to add to the list?

Art: Japanese Lantern by Oda Krohg






Thursday, April 3, 2014

What I've learned from the sales of How to Write a Novel


One of the best parts about self-publishing is getting nearly real-time data on how and where your book is selling. I'm not one of those writers who feels comfortable posting my exact sales and royalty figures online, but I'm seriously thrilled with how How to Write a Novel is doing and thanks to everyone who has snagged a copy!

As I was compiling some sales figures, I was struck by two findings:

1) People still want the print version

I brought out the print version of How to Write a Novel about a month and a half after the e-book version. I knew I would have to price it higher and wasn't sure there would be sufficient demand to go through the trouble of putting it out in print.

Well.

Even priced at $11.99 vs. the e-book's $4.99, the print version has nearly kept pace, and in the past month I've actually been selling more print books than e-books.

Print! There you have it!

2) Amazon dominates e-book sales

We all may know that Amazon has the dominant e-book platform, but it's pretty stark when you see the raw numbers. Here's what my US e-book sales look like broken down by platform:

89.1% of my e-book sales have been through Kindle, 7.55% through Nook, 2.1% through Apple and 1.23% through Kobo.

Now, to be fair, I have run some promotions where I used the Amazon link, but that choice was mainly driven because of the way these numbers looked even before those promotions. It also took longer to get the e-book up on Apple, so I lost some initial sales. But even after accounting for those considerations the numbers wouldn't look that different.

Is Amazon's dominance cause for concern? Have other self-pubbed writers seen something similar?






Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Page Critique Wednesday and the importance of changing up the action


It's been a criminally long time since I've done a page critique and I hope to be doing these on a much more regular basis!

If you would like to nominate your page for a future Page Critique Event, please enter it in this thread in the Forums.

First I'll present the page without comment, then I'll offer my thoughts and a redline. If you choose to offer up your own thoughts, please be exceedingly polite and remember the sandwich rule: Positive, constructive advice, positive.

Random numbers were generated, and thanks to kscollier_mehl, whose page is below:

"The Veil" 
After having just placed Adam’s breakfast on the patio table, Kanakanue stood there staring out over the Pacific. For a brief moment he thought he heard shouting. He brushed it off as a usual sound in the mornings of a seagull’s shrill cry coming from the beach. 
“Will there be anything else for you, Adam?” he asked with a strong Hawaiian accent.  
“No Kanakanui that’s all. Thank you,” Adam said, never lifting his eyes from his laptop. 
Buried deep in his work, he rarely paid attention to his surroundings--even in beautiful Maui. 
“Sir,” Kanakanui said, “I think there is someone struggling in the water.” Holding one hand over his eyes like a shield he squinted, pointed toward the beach, and thought for sure he saw a person thrashing between the waves. The whitecaps rolled ashore with a roar. 
Adam glanced up briefly from his work, and scanned the waves. He stood to get a better view. Then a chilling sound echoed across the water to the spot they both stood.  
“Help, someone help, please!” The agonized cry of desperation sounded louder this time. 
Adam and Kanakanue looked at one another then darted down the trail to the ocean’s edge. Adam glanced downward at the red water swirling around his ankles. They rushed past several waves to help the man who had been wrestling to swim to shore. As soon as they reached the swimmer, Adam spotted the shark’s dorsal fin as it headed out to sea.

This is definitely a competently written first page. It sets the scene, it's not difficult to place the action, and it doesn't try too hard to grab the reader by the throat, which is very appreciated. There are some turns of phrase that could perhaps be smoother, but overall I think it reads fine.

My main concern is with the action, which I almost missed.

What's interesting about writing action is that there are many different ways to convey it stylistically. You can do clipped phrases (e.g. "He saw blood. Red everywhere. He ran. The killer was close.) or you could do stream of consciousness (e.g. "He saw blood and there was red everywhere and he ran, heart pounding, sensing the killer was close."), or you can do a mix.

What's most important with action is that you somehow change the pace.

If you're writing a book with spare phrasing, you might consider switching to stream of consciousness with the action (Hemingway does this). If you are more lyrical, you can consider switching to clipped phrasing. With action, something is off. Things have escalated. The best way to convey this is by subtly changing the style.

In this case, the paragraph about the action is told with the same style and tone as Adam staring at his laptop, and I read into it the same level of intensity. I didn't get the sense something really important was happening.

Change up the style and you'll get your reader's heart racing.

Here's my redline:

"The Veil" 
After having just Kanakanue placed Adam’s breakfast on the patio table, Kanakanue and stood there staring stared out over the Pacific. For a brief moment he thought he heard shouting. H, but he brushed it off as a usual morning sound in the mornings of. A seagull’s shrill cry coming from the beach. 
“Will there be anything else for you, Adam?” he asked with a strong Hawaiian accent.  
“No Kanakanui that’s all. Thank you,.” Adam said, never lifted his eyes from his laptop. 
Buried deep in his work, he rarely paid attention to his surroundings--even in beautiful Maui. 
“Sir,” Kanakanui said, “I think there is someone struggling in the water.” Holding one hand over his eyes like a shield he squinted, pointed toward the beach, and thought for sure he saw a person thrashing between the waves. The whitecaps rolled ashore with a roar. 
Adam glanced up briefly from his work, and scanned the waves. He stood to get a better view. Then a chilling sound echoed across the water to the spot they both stood.  
“Help, someone help, please!” The agonized cry of desperation sounded louder this time. 
Adam and Kanakanue looked at one another then darted down the trail to the ocean’s edge. [This is a big gap from the trail to staring down at red water -- needs more description] Adam glanced downward at the red water swirling around his ankles. They rushed past several waves [Can you really "rush past" waves?] to help the man who had been wrestling to swim to shore. As soon as they reached the swimmer him, Adam spotted the shark’s dorsal fin as it headed out to sea.

Thanks again, kscollier_mehl!

Art: Porträt des Erasmus von Rotterdam by Hans Holbein the Younger






Monday, March 31, 2014

Daniel José Older on channeling darkness and writing unique characters


Daniel José Older is a writer on the rise, and Tor recently published his chilling and compelling urban fantasy short story Anyway: Angie.

Daniel was kind enough to join me for a Twitter chat, where we talked about everything from channeling darkness into writing, channeling the voice of a character who is very different from you, and the importance of Twitter to the modern writer.

Check it out:







































































Monday, March 17, 2014

6th Annual Blog Bracket Challenge!!


It's mid-March, and you know what that means. Our 6th blog bracket challenge!!

Who is the greatest literary bracket prognosticator of them all?

Probably whoever has not been following basketball this year. People, that's how these things work.

All you have to do is pick winners in a tournament of 64 er 68 teams. It is basically mathematically impossible to pick them all correctly. Except I'm totally going to do that this year.

Here we go!

The winner with the most points at the end of the NCAA tournament will win a query critique and a copy of whichever of my books you so desire!! (or other suitable agreed-upon prize)

Here's how to enter:

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

2. Make your picks.

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

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

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

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

All updates/trahstalking will occur in this dedicated thread in the Forums, so make sure to join us there.

Good luck!!






Friday, March 14, 2014

This Past Few Weeks in Books 3/14/14

Photo by me. I'm on Instagram here.
The! Past! Few! Weeks! In! Books!

Lots and lots and lots of good stuff. Let's get started.

Should books come out faster? The idea has long taken hold with self-publishing, but it's percolating elsewhere. Even traditional publishing imprints are experimenting with releasing series as fast as possible.

Are you putting off reading the rest of this article? Maybe this is why.

My good friend Sarah McCarry, aka The Rejectionist, has continued her incredible interviews with writers who are navigating depression. The latest: Elia OsunaLitsa DremousisJacqui MortonKatherine LockeB R SandersRoxane GayMattilda Bernstein Sycamore and Soren Melville. Must read, all of them.

Meanwhile, in other The Rejectionist news, she wrote an incredibly thought-provoking article arguing that recent dystopian fiction avoids current realities relating to race and gender violence.

In still other The Rejectionist news, a field guide to The Unlikable Female Protagonist.

Is this the year's most mind-expanding book around gender?

Anne Rice has joined the fight against author harassment on Amazon.

Are you interested in writing a picture book? Here are six tips.

Amtrak has launched a seriously awesome plan to start a writer's residency program. However, as Author Beware notes, there are things you should know.

Stephen King: The adverb is not your friend.

And finally, this is the only article about The Bachelor that you need to read. Which is really saying something.

Have a good weekend!!






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