Nathan Bransford, Author


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 (coming soon)
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!






Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Loner in the Garret: A Guest Post from Jennifer R. Hubbard


Nathan here! Jennifer Hubbard is a former client of mine, and someone who has written some of my favorite books of all time. I invited her to guest post about her new nonfiction book for writers, Loner in the Garret. Enjoy!

Publishing in the internet era has enabled me to connect with a network of other writers. Which is great, because I’ve needed the support.

After my debut novel came out in 2010, I found myself repeatedly having the same conversations with other writers, conversations in which we charted the roller-coaster peaks and troughs of the publishing experience. We had thought that if we knew the pitfalls ahead of time (bad reviews sting; second books can be hard to write; most books don’t earn out), we could avoid them or at least prepare ourselves for them. We could power through them, laugh them off, or ignore them altogether. 

But knowing about something isn’t the same as living through it.

I found myself getting, and giving, a lot of pep talks. Forming impromptu online writer’s support groups. It was reassuring to realize that we all found this path to be rocky, full of confusing signposts and unexpected turns. Nobody was skipping blithely down a smooth flower-bordered road—at least, not for long. 

I needed quite a few pep talks in my pre-published days, too. Writing requires self-motivation. There’s a lot of solitude and a lot of rejection. A little encouragement comes in handy, and a laugh is always welcome. 

After my third novel, I started working on a writer’s companion, partly as a much-needed a break from the dark and edgy fiction I’d been writing, and partly because we often write the books we want to read. I liked the idea of a writing book that would present short pieces on a multitude of topics, a book that would speak to different moods and places in a writing career. I liked the idea of reading just a page or two at a time, perhaps to kick-start a writing session.

I liked the idea of not being so alone.

Jennifer R. Hubbard is the author of three novels for young adults, several short stories, and a nonfiction book about writing. She lives near Philadelphia with an understanding husband, a pile of books and chocolate, and a melodramatic cat.

Loner in the Garret:
Sometimes the most difficult part of writing is not coming up with a plot or the perfect turn of phrase. It’s getting motivated to sit down and start, or having the confidence to go forward, or finding the courage to move past the sting of rejection. Loner in the Garret: A Writer’s Companion provides inspiration and encouragement for that mental and emotional journey. Covering topics as varied as procrastination, the inner critic, fear, distractions, envy, rejection, joy, and playfulness, it charts the ups and downs of the writing life with honesty, gentle suggestions, and a dash of humor.







Monday, April 6, 2015

What was your favorite experience meeting a writer?


I've been wildly fortunate over the years to have met some of my very favorite authors and have befriended many others. Working in publishing and then going to conferences as a writer is often an exercise in "OMG OMG play it cool, play it cool" when your inner book geek is freaking out about meeting a rock star author.

What's your favorite experience meeting an author?

I have tons of such encounters to choose from, but I think I would have to go with having lunch with S.E. Hinton in Tulsa, Oklahoma and finding out (OMG OMG OMG OMG) that she read my blog. (Here's the interview we did afterwards).

What about you?

Art: Officer and a Laughing Girl by Johannes Vermeer






Thursday, April 2, 2015

Five things Melissa Grey learned while writing The Girl at Midnight


Nathan here! My friend Melissa Grey's new novel The Girl at Midnight will be published on April 28th, and it's already received starred reviews from Kirkus and Booklist. I invited her to write a guest post on her experiences writing her debut novel. Enjoy!

Writing and then subsequently publishing a book is a long, alternately torturous and rewarding experience that teaches you things about yourself you'd never realized before. Here are a few lessons I picked up during the life-affirming, humbling process of writing my first published novel.

1. Having the power of life and death over fictional characters does not make you a god

There's something about writing that makes you feel invincible -- when it's going well, at least. The act of creation is startlingly addictive and deliciously empowering. But being the supreme overlord of a fictional world doesn't mean you don't need things like food and sleep. One cannot function on coffee and dreams alone. You have to take care of yourself, even when the muses are clamoring for your attention.

2. Your inner perfectionist might just be your worst enemy

Imagine the sounds of nails scraping along a chalkboard. Sometimes writing a first draft feels a lot like that. You look at the drivel you've plopped on the page and your teeth hurt because it's so bad. That's okay. It’s allowed to be bad. I had to learn to give myself  permission to be downright awful no matter how badly I wanted to get things right on the first try. Revision is your friend. Revision will save you. But it can't if you never finish the first draft.

3. The shower is an incubator for good ideas

Foiled by writer’s block? Hop in the shower.

Hit a plot snag? Hop in the shower.

Words won't come out right? Hop in the shower.

Starting to smell because you've done nothing but write and eat Cheetos for 4 days? Hop in the shower.

4. Sometimes the best thing you can do is not write

When I was struggling with a pivotal scene in The Girl at Midnight that takes place in the Fifth Avenue branch of the New York Public Library, I put down my pen and went to the actual building I was writing about. I didn't write. I had my emergency notebook just in case but I spent my time really experiencing the building's beautiful architecture and watching the wild assortment of people who visit it. And then I went home and started that tricky scene anew and it clicked into place. Sometimes, you just need a break to jump start your mind.

5. Accepting criticism doesn't mean applying every bit you receive to your work

While writing TGaM I had two critique partners. One of them hated my prologue. The other loved it. One of them adored the first chapter in which we see Ivy’s POV narration (she's the best friend of Echo, the book’s chief protagonist). The other detested it. One of them approves of Caius’ hair style (a little shaggy but still sexy). The other insisted he needed a haircut. You will never please everyone. There will be times when criticisms you receive from trusted sources are in direct opposition to one another. And that's okay. Learning to accept these opposing points of view gracefully while still trusting your gut is a vital skill to develop.

There are other things I leaned during the writing process (lactose-free milk is a touch too sweet for blueberry tea, eating a burrito while crying over your manuscript at 4 o'clock in the morning is a decision you'll later regret, you can't listen to the evil Smurf that lives inside your heard that insists you'll be a failure because that Smurf is wrong and can go to hell), but these are the lessons I know I'll hold closest to my heart as I wrap up this trilogy (it's a trilogy!) and go forth into the wild blue yonder.

Order a signed copy of The Girl at Midnight from Books of Wonder, or check it out at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Indiebound, or Powell's.

Melissa Grey was born and raised in New York City. She wrote her first short story at the age of twelve and hasn't stopped writing since. After earning a degree in fine arts at Yale University, she traveled the world, then returned to New York City where she currently works as a freelance journalist. To learn more about Melissa, visit melissa-grey.com and follow @meligrey on Twitter.






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