Nathan Bransford, Author

Friday, February 10, 2017

The past few weeks in books 2/10/17

We've had some weather. I'm on Instagram @NathanBransford
Well, it's certainly been an interesting few weeks, and I have accordingly collected some interesting articles and blog posts that caught my eye. It wouldn't be fair to hoard them myself, so here they are!

Oh, publishing industry assistants. Underpaid, overqualified, rejecting everything in sight. Jessica Faust has an ode to you.

Congrats to the Edgar Award nominees! (That's the one for the mysteries).

Want to hire a freelance editor? Here are 5 things you should do first.

One of the best ways to find an agent is via a referral. But how do you get one? Agent Wendy Lawton has great advice on the key: invest in other writers over a long period of time.

Agent Jessica Faust has some advice on writing in difficult times (as nearly everyone finds our current era).

How does one become as prolific as Isaac Asmiov? Charles Chu plundered his autobiography for tips on never running out of ideas, including one great idea: don't fight getting stuck, work on something else for a while.

The NY Times had some great interviews with interesting authors lately, including John Edgar Wideman and Roxane Gay.

And this publishing industry article by Mike Shatzkin is super wonky as always, but it has an important central thesis: ebook sales probably aren't slowing down, and Amazon is still gobbling everything.

In politics and books news, Philip Roth had some thoughts on the parallels between his 2004 book The Plot Against America, which imagined FDR losing the 1940 to surprise populist/Nazi sympathizer Charles Lindbergh, and our current surprise populist president. Roth thought it was more comprehensible that Lindbergh could have won in 1940 than Trump today.

And the NY Times took a fresh look at the parallels between our present time and Sinclair Lewis' novel It Can't Happen Here, which imagined a populist president coming to power in the 1930s.

Both of these books, incidentally, are selling like hotcakes on Amazon at the moment.

And in politics and culture news, is Netflix and the niche-ificaiton of media (I made up that phrase) deepening our cultural echo chambers?

Editor Joy Peskin bravely slammed Simon & Schuster for giving Milo Yiannopoulos a book deal, a rare example of on-the-record intra-publishing criticism.

Slate had a look at how reality TV narratives (including my beloved The Bachelor) help explain Donald Tump.

And in quite the sign of the times, the New Yorker wants you to know it has a way to submit tips completely securely.

Comment! of! the! week! goes to David, whose brevity in response to "How are you doing?" is a great example of doing a lot with a few words:
No longer unspeakably depressed. Just grimly resigned.
And finally, if you need some inspiration for the weekend, my friend Maya Neria has an awesome post on Medium about the power of believing in change.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Are people persuadable?

One of the things I've found fascinating throughout the election and beyond, is the extent to which people are, or aren't persuadable.
  • Is there really such a thing as a swing voter? 
  • What makes people change their minds?
  • What are the lines in the sand that trigger reversals of opinion?
  • When we sit around talking about politics with people who disagree with us, are we just wasting our time?
In the aftermath of the election, few things have felt more urgent to liberals than to understand why people voted as they did and the need to try to persuade the persuadable.

But is this a lost cause?

Quartz recently published an article on the scientific! proven! way to have conversations across party lines. And then an article in The Atlantic posited that instead of being all conversational maybe you really should just call people racist.

Color me a bit skeptical that there's a formula to persuasion. When people are confronted with information that runs counter to their pre-conceived ideas, don't most people tend to double-down? Don't most people decide first with their gut and then back into the evidence?

But people do change their mind, don't they? What happens when they do?

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

The curse of having too much time

My new writing haunt - the Rose Room at the NYPL. I'm on Instagram @nathanbransford
When I was laid off at my previous job a few months back I was suddenly confronted with a problem I hadn't experienced since my college years: I had all the time in the world.

And yes! I chose the words "confronted" and "problem" intentionally! I had no idea it was going to be as much of a challenge to write when I had more time than less time.

When I was laid off I had YUGE plans with what I was going to do with my free time. I was going to write! I was going to travel! I was going to go to museums! I was going to blog! I was going to edit people's novels! I was going to job hunt! I was going to be one of those people sitting in a cafe at 2pm on a Tuesday making everyone with a day job wonder "Who has time to sit in a cafe at 2pm on a Tuesday?" I WAS GOING TO BE THAT GUY.

And I did do all of those things! Well. Except the writing part...

Here's the thing I didn't appreciate about being really busy with a day job: you have structure. You have things you must do because of such practical realities like "paying your rent" and "paying adequate attention to people who love you."

Want to write while you have a full time job? Chances are you have two or three choices when you can possibly write. So you better do it then. And when you have time? Better get crackin'.

There's something about being busy that made me commit to writing in the few openings in my schedule whether I wanted to or not. For me, it was the weekends or bust.

When you have all the time in the world? You have endless choice, it's easy to put off writing ("I have time! I can do it later!"), and you have to go out of your way to create structure.

The good news is that I have begun to turn the corner, and have started organizing my day around job hunting, then writing, then leaving some time for other pursuits. I forced myself to create some structure so I wouldn't neglect the writing.

And in the meantime, I'll be that guy making the tourists wonder, "What New Yorker has time to sit in the Rose Room at 2pm on a Tuesday?"

Have you struggled to create structure when you suddenly have time? How did you do it?

Thursday, February 2, 2017

How are you staying productive?

We were already living in an era of distraction, and that was before a polarizing presidential election and breaking news coming at us fast and furious. My social media feeds used to be an eclectic mix of a range of interests. Now? 100% politics.

I keep getting sucked into reading the news, getting into discussions, waiting to see what is going to happen next, and not getting nearly enough writing done.

I've never lived in a time less-suited for quiet concentration. And yet isn't that precisely what we all need right now?

How are you staying productive? Anyone managing to block out the noise? Any tips?

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

How are you doing?

There's a lot that I've been intending to blog about recently, things related to books, writing, and all the things that used to fill the pixels on these pages. But then I read the news or go on my social feeds, and writing seems like the last thing on anyone's mind.

And in a way, the things I want to write about feel so trivial in comparison to the news every day.

I'll get back to those other topics in the coming days and weeks, but for now, let's start here:

How are you doing?

Maybe you're feeling great about things, maybe you're angry, maybe you're terrified. But it seems like a good time to check in.

Art: Christ in the Storm on the Lake of Galilee by Rembrandt

Monday, January 30, 2017

10 year blogoversary!!!

The blog circa 2007
Ten years ago today, after dabbling in Myspace for a bit, I signed up and threw up this post. I don't even really know how people found it in the beginning (this was before Twitter was a thing), but then Miss Snark linked to me one day and things started taking off.

And here we are in 2017! Still going!

Here are some stats from the past ten years:

  • 1,679 posts (read them all here!)
  • 27 posts tagged Monkeys
  • 11 people who were finalists in blog contests went on to be published authors (Stuart Neville! Victoria Schwab! Terry DeHart! Michelle Hodkin! Michelle Davidson Argyle! Joshua McCune! Natalie Whipple! Josin L. McQuein! Jeanne Ryan! Peter Cooper! Travis Erwin!)
  • 150,245 comments (AND HOLY COW I'VE READ EVERY SINGLE ONE)
  • 461,455 pageviews on The Publishing Process in GIF Form (top post of all time)
  • 12,565,254 pageviews overall and counting
Some highlights:
Some of you have been with me from the very beginning, through thick and thin, and all I can say is... 


Thank you. It's not an exaggeration to say that starting this blog has literally transformed my life. I've met some of my best friends through this blog, it started me on a new career path, I've learned a ton, and it's been incredibly fun along the way.

Here's to ten more years!

Sunday, January 29, 2017

The Mother of Exiles

Unless you are Native American, if you live in the United States you are either descended from immigrants or are an immigrant yourself. And unless you are, say, purely descended from the inhabitants of the Mayflower, at one time or another you or your ancestors were probably unfairly maligned, feared, discriminated against, or even openly persecuted for being outsiders. A good number of our forebears were either brought here against their will or were fleeing atrocities overseas.

The Statue of Liberty was a gift from France to commemorate the end of slavery and the centennial of the American democratic experiment. To help raise money for the base of the statue, Emma Lazarus, the daughter of Jewish immigrants from Germany and Portugal, wrote a poem contrasting the ancient Colossus of Rhodes, which she likened to a giant conquerer, with the "Mother of Exiles":
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame. 
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
We, as Americans, have fallen short of these ideals time and again, most commonly because of misplaced fear. For just one example from many, in the days after Holocaust Remembrance Day, it's worth remembering that we turned away thousands of Jewish refugees, many of whom were ultimately killed by the Nazis, because of misguided fear that they were Nazi spies.

If only we were all as brave as the immigrants and refugees who left everything behind for the beacon of liberty.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Why writing is like the pyramids

One of my high school English teachers (shout to Mr. Winthrop!) once said that the books we were going to read that year were on par with humankind's greatest achievements in any sphere, including the pyramids.

I was reminded of this comparison when I recently traveled to Teotihuacan in Mexico and climbed the Pyramid of the Sun. Not only are great novels truly singular achievements, but my trip got me thinking about the extent to which writing a novel is... sort of like building a pyramid.

You work so hard for so long... and that's just to finish the base

The base of the Pyramid of the Sun is so big (see above) you can't even really get it into one photo unless you are very, very far away. It's 720 feet long and 760 feet wide!

Can you imagine the immense amount of work it took just to do the first layer?? It must have felt amazing to begin such a lofty promise... and then it took a ton of work... and when that first layer was done, they must have known they had an incredibly long way to go.

And that reminded me of the first 50-75 pages of a novel. You're psyched! You're going to write the greatest novel of all time! And then you get started. And it takes so much work. And even when you get that initial base going, it almost feels impossible how much is still yet to be written.

Everything is building toward the point of the pyramid

All of those stones, all that work, builds on itself toward the capstone on top. Or, I guess in the case of Teotihuacan, the altar, since the top is flat.

In your novel, it's all about that climax. Every metaphorical stone you put in place should lead to a very satisfying conclusion. Sure, maybe people will notice the sides of the pyramid, but their eyes are always going to go upward.

Finishing is deceptively hard

One of the best things about finishing the first layer is that no other layer will be as big and wide. Every layer after that is going to require fewer stones. But... the farther you go, the higher you have to lift.

This reminds me of ending a novel. On the one hand, you're so close! You can see the end! You're really going to finish the novel!

But in reality, it's so hard to get that ending just right. With all of the different plot threads unfolding, every chapter toward the end feels far more difficult.

Sacrifices will be made

Many of the Mesoamerican pyramids were consecrated with human sacrifice. In the case of the Aztec Templo Mayor, those may have numbered somewhere in the thousands.

And yes. You and those around you will make sacrifices along the way.

But when you're done, you'll have something to marvel at forever.

Monday, January 9, 2017

The past few weeks in books 1/9/17

Hi! I've been traveling. Also I'm on Instagram here: @nathanbransford
Happy 2017! Good riddance 2016!

So. Where were we?

Thank you for bearing with some quietness on the blog front as I traveled around the holidays and restocked my zombie-proof survival bunker for the year ahead. (Just kidding. But then again maybe I should have...)

I have a Pyramid of the Sun-sized collection of links for you. Let's get to it!

So that HBO show Westworld came and went and we haven't even really talked about it have we? What did you think?? Have you figured out who the Hosts are amongst your friends and family? Do tell in the comments. Meanwhile, Writers Digest used the show as inspiration to talk about how the idea of Cornerstones are useful when thinking about your fictional characters.

Goodreads revealed its Readers' Choice Awards in several categories. Congrats to all the winners!

If you had Patti Smith on your "Who will accept Bob Dylan's Nobel Prize for Literature" Bingo card, congrats, you win!

In "Um how did they get a book deal again" news, there was quite a controversy in December over the book Bad Little Children's Books, which was a compendium of (invented) offensive children's book covers, which Claire Fallon at HuffPo rightly called out as indeed offensive but also unfunny.

And this other unfortunate person that the media for some reason insists on calling a "right wing provocateur" got a book deal from Simon & Schuster sparking some talk of a boycott but frankly I don't want to give said individual any more publicity than he has already received and think silence would be a better punishment so yeah NO LINK FOR YOU.

In other news, Fight Club (the novel, not necessarily the movie) is being embraced by people who seem not to be grasping its message, even as it appears more relevant than ever.

Alan Burdick has a great rumination on time in The New Yorker.

Dominique Matti has a great rumination on self-publishing while broke on Medium.

And speaking of self-publishing while broke, Maria Konnikova wrote a great article on the secret formula of resilience, which has what I think is an important message for writers. In a study of resilient kids, the ones who succeeded embraced as much control as possible over their destiny.

And speaking of articles that aren't about writing that still reminded me of writing, the band OK Go reflected on what made their viral videos go viral.

New interesting blog alert! My mom pointed me to this blog about a woman who is pursuing a dream of opening a bed & breakfast and blogging about her reflections along the way.

This probably deserves its own post, but Buzzfeed's Tasty cookbook was sold exclusively through a single site... and it's one of the bestselling cookbooks of the year.

And you know that old maxim "show don't tell?" Well, that goes for queries too.

In books and politics news, Sophie McKeand writes about the serious question facing writers today: speak up or be silent? (via Julia Forster). And there was another post over at LitReactor that took the opposite tack and suggested being silent about politics, which generated quite the discussion on Twitter, but that post appears to be no more.

And in politics-politics news, certain members of the far right have been expelled from Twitter. This is where some of them are going.

Ta-Nehisi Coates reflected on what it meant to have a black president.

With all that has happened these past few years, have we given up on tech optimism?

And still struggling to make sense of what happened in 2016? Here are some psychological studies that help explain the election.

No Comment! of! the! Week! as I have not been posting consistently, but do keep those comments coming for future awards purposes!

And finally, in what may be the most important article of 2016, if not the decade, io9 reflects on what Jones the cat is thinking in these incredible Alien promotional posters.

Have a great week!

Monday, December 19, 2016

8th Annual Heifer International Fundraiser!

It's that time of year!

This is the eighth year in a row for our Heifer fundraiser! In a time of so much strife in the world, an organization that tries to alleviate hunger is as important as ever.

Here's how this works. All you have to do is help spread the word by:

1) Leaving a comment on this post (bonus points for sharing it so others hear about Heifer and leave their own comments).

2) Tweet a link to this post ( and include the hashtag #NBHeifer

3) OR even easier, just retweet this tweet:

4) OR donate directly by going to this page:

Do one of those things? I'll donate $2.00, up to a max of $2,000.

While you're at it...

5) Click over to other participating blogs at the bottom of this post and leave comments there too
6) Make your own per-comment or tweet pledge and I'll link to you/tweet you!

If you want in on the fun and make a per-comment or tweet pledge on your own just leave a comment with a link to your blog post or tweet announcing your pledge or e-mail it to me and I'll feature it in this post.

Heifer International is an organization that fights hunger by giving families around the world livestock, training, or other assistance that helps improve their livelihood. Heifer has been recognized for its work in Fast Company and Forbes, among other places.

If you have anything to spare this holiday season I hope you'll consider making a donation. Over the past years we have raised over $12,000 together, which is quite something. Here's that link again to donate directly.

Thanks, everyone!

Participating blogs/Twitter handles:


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