Nathan Bransford, Author


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.






Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Job change!

Big change!

Today is my last day at Freelancers Union, on Monday I'm entering the world of finance and will be working for a hedge fund. Having worked now in publishing, tech, the nonprofit sector, and soon in finance, I'm leaving no stone in the economy unturned.

It's been a great year and a half at Freelancers Union, and looking forward to exciting things ahead.






Thursday, March 19, 2015

4 ways to avoid screenplayizing your novel



One of my favorite jokes on The Office is when Dwight Schrute boasts, "I know everything about film. I've seen over 240 of them."

It's funny because it sounds reasonable at first, but then you realize that's seriously nothing -- when you think about how many movies you've actually seen, it's surely thousands, not to mention thousands of hours of scripted TV shows (that's also when you realize just how much time you actually have on your hands).

When we tell stories, it's almost impossible to get movies and TV shows out of our heads. So when you sit down to write a scene, it's exceedingly natural to think of it like a scene in the movies. But it's also extremely problematic. Books are wholly different beasts than movies.

Here's how to avoid screenplayizing your novel:

1) Don't construct a scene around dialogue

Two people simply talking is not at all interesting on the page, no matter how scintillating the dialogue.

In movies, watching two people just talk can be fascinating because we are actually watching the actors and we're absorbing way more than just the words they're speaking. We're seeing their facial expressions, their gestures, we're hearing their vocal inflection, we're absorbing the setting, and there are sound effects and music and countless other small sources of input. Reduce all of that to simply words, and you have yourself a hollow experience.

Instead, it's up to writers to set the scene, to give the nonverbal cues, to articulate the physical action, and create a full picture of what's happening. Elmore Leonard probably came as close as you can to successfully constructing novels wholly around dialogue, but his approach was more about economy of nonverbal cues than it was about removing them entirely.

2) Don't rely on the reader to imagine a scene

Novel writers are not screenwriters. They're also directors, actors, sound engineers, cinematographers, key grips, best boys... you get the idea.

When you're writing a screenplay, all you have to do is say that the scene takes place in Rick's Café Américain and it's up to the director and movie crew to figure out what that looks like.

When you're writing a novel, you have to describe the interior and provide all five senses for the reader. They simply won't know what things look like unless you tell them.

Many writers feel like they're being boring when they take some time to set the scene, but it's so crucial for the reader to be able to physically place themselves within a scene and have enough context to picture what is happening. You don't have to overdo it describing everyday items -- a hammer is just a hammer unless you specify otherwise -- but it's not the reader's job to fill in all the missing details.

3) Remember that books are about your characters' inner lives 

Movies are about the exterior. They show characters moving physically through a world. Even when they're intensely personal and even when there is voiceover narration, we don't generally see a character's inner thoughts. Instead, we deduce motivation by what we see in a character's actions and expressions.

Novels are about the interior. They're more personal and more connected to a character's thoughts and emotions.  Even action-packed genre novels, which have much in common with movies, have more emotional context than their cinematic counterparts.

Don't neglect the interior by keeping everything in dialogue-driven scenes. Make sure your reader is in touch with your characters' emotions and motivations.

4) If you're going to draw upon movies, think cinematically and not screenplay-y.

None of this is to say that movies can't be an inspiration for the way you write. But if you're going to incorporate some movie tropes, set aside dialogue and instead think about physical actions.

One of my favorite series of scenes from the past few years was in Rainbow Rowell's Eleanor & Park. In the opening stages of the novel, the two eponymous protagonists oh so gradually escalate their relationship over the course of several morning bus rides largely without talking to each other at all. Instead, they're simply sharing comics back and forth, then sharing music.

What's important about these scenes are the gestures, those little physically acted moments. Park holding open his comics so Eleanor can see them, Eleanor showing interest and moving a little closer, escalating to sharing music.

Don't think about what characters are saying, think much more about what they're doing.


Have you noticed novels that read like screenplays? How do you avoid movies getting in your head?






Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Which book have you read the most times?


We all have a book we return to again and again.

Some people re-read A Christmas Carol every December, some have tattered, falling-apart copies of Harry Potter.

I've read Moby-Dick, The Great Gatsby, Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and The Elfstones of Shannara three times each, but nothing compares to the countless number of times I read Rifles for Watie growing up, which I found endlessly fascinating as a pre-teen.

What about you?

Art: The Story Book by William-Adolphe Bouguereau






Tuesday, March 17, 2015

7th Annual Blog Bracket Challenge!!



It's mid-March, and you know what that means. Our 7th blog bracket challenge!!

Who is the greatest literary bracket prognosticator of them all?

We'll see. I didn't watch a single game of basketball this year, so you'd better watch out for my picks.

As always, the winner of the Blog Bracket challenge will win a query critique or other agreed-upon prize.

Will it be you?

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).

Good luck!!







Monday, March 16, 2015

Should you self-publish or traditionally publish? 7 questions to ask yourself


To self-publish or traditionally publish. That is the question.

Whether tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of agents and publishers or to take arms against a sea of books on Amazon, and by being among them, rise above? To die, to sleep (oh wait you won't), to sleep perchance to dream of fame and riches... aye there's the rub.

Ahem. Sorry.

So. You have yourself a book. Should you just go ahead and self-publish and see how it does? Should you try your luck with agents and publishers? Should you try agents and publishers first and then self-publish if that doesn't work?

Having traditionally published the Jacob Wonderbar series and self-published How to Write a Novel, I've seen both sides of the publishing world.

Which way should you go? Here are seven questions to ask yourself:

1) Is your book a niche/passion project or does it have broad, national appeal?

In order to attract a traditional publisher, especially one of the major ones, you're going to need to have a book that fits squarely into an established genre, is of appropriate length, and has mass commercial appeal.

Be honest with yourself. Is your book something that has broad, national appeal or is a niche? Is it a potential bestseller or something you just wrote to, say, have your family history recorded for posterity?

If it's hyper-specialized you might want to either try for a similarly specialized publisher, or just go ahead and self-publish. And if it's a passion project without commercial potential you're probably best-served going straight to self-publishing.

2) How much control do you want over the publishing process?

If you go the traditional route, you'll have an agent who will likely want you to edit your work before submission. You will (hopefully) have a publisher who will want you to revise your work. You won't have approval over your cover, and you'll probably only have mutual consent on your book title, meaning if your publisher doesn't like it you'll have to think of a new one that you both can agree upon. You'll probably have limited control over how and where your book is marketed.

Traditional publishing is a group process and you absolutely cede some control over your book. This can be a good thing, chances are you're dealing with experienced people within the publishing industry who are experts in their fields, but you may be frustrated at times with decisions you don't agree with.

Meanwhile, with self-publishing, everything is up to you. Edits, cover, title, fonts, marketing, whether or not you want to include that stream of conscious sequence about the philosophical implications of of cotton candy... all your choice.

3) How much does the validation of traditional publishing matter to you?

The stigma surrounding self-publishing has largely dissipated, but it's not gone entirely.

And there's still something gratifying about doing something as hugely difficult as making it through the traditional publishing process, having your work validated by professionals, and being paid for your efforts. The names Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster... they still matter to many people.

Success is success, and in the end it's the readers who are the ultimate validators. Do you want the validation that comes with traditional publishing? Or are you cool going straight to readers?

4) How important is it for your book to be in bookstores and libraries?

While you might be able to strike up some individual relationships with local bookstores and libraries as a self-published author, the surest route to bookstores and libraries is through traditional publishers, who have wide distribution.

Do you care about being in bookstores? Are you writing in a genre, like books for children, where libraries are super-important? If so, you might want to pursue traditional publication.

5) How capable are you at self-promotion?

There's no guarantee that a publisher is going to adequately promote your book, but they'll at least give you a bit of a boost at bare minimum.

If you self-publish, you're entirely on your own. You don't necessarily have to be a social media maven or a celebrity in order to give your book the boost necessary to generate crucial word of mouth, but you're going to have to do something.

6) Can you afford to invest money in your book?

Say what you will about traditional publishing, but one great thing about it is that it is not very cost prohibitive. You might incur some postage sending your manuscript around or if you choose to pay an editor before pursuing publication, but agents don't charge you until they get commission for selling your book, and publishers pay you.

Self-publishing similarly doesn't have to be hugely cost-prohibitive, but there are a lot of tasks involved in self-publishing, such as generating a cover, editing, copyediting, formatting, self-promotion, that you're either going to have to spend the time to do yourself or pay someone to do for you.

Depending on how much time you have to spend and your level of expertise, you may end up spending a thousand dollars or two to effectively self-publish. Can you afford that? (And you shouldn't necessarily assume you're going to get it back).

7) How patient are you?

Choosing traditional or self-publishing isn't necessarily an either/or decision. You can absolutely decide to pursue traditional publishing first and fall back on self-publishing if you so desire.

But even in the best case scenario, traditional publishing can take forever. It can take a year or more to query agents, and then a year or more to find an editor when you're on submission to publishers, and then even if you get a book deal it can be a year or two after that before your book comes out. It can very easily add up to two or three years or more after you finish your manuscript.

Meanwhile, when I finished How to Write a Novel, it was up for sale a few days later. Self-publishing is practically instantaneous.

Are you the patient type? Do you want to cut to the chase? That can perhaps be the most important factor of all.


How did you decide whether to pursue traditional publishing or self-publishing? Did I miss anything?

Art: Le tour de la France par deux enfants by G. Bruno






Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Would you take money or an award?


You are visited by a genie. He offers you two choices.

One, your book will become a runaway commercial success and you will want for nothing. You will sell bazillions of copies, make bazillions of dollars, but even though it's popular, pretty much everyone thinks your book sucks.

Two, your book will not sell that well, but it will be remembered forever. You will win a major award and be widely regarded as a notable writer, but you will receive very little financial benefit and will have to continue to scramble to make ends meet.

What do you choose?

Art: Lais Corinthiaca by Hans Holbein the Younger






Monday, March 9, 2015

The importance of change in a setting


The setting is often referred to as a novel's canvas, but that's not right at all.

A canvas is blank. It's white. It's unchanging.

If you think of your characters acting within a blank world, no matter how interesting they are it will feel like there's something missing.

Instead, it's crucial to think about what's happening in the broader world of your novel, what is changing, and how these larger forces are impacting your characters. When you do, your novel will feel like more than just an interesting series of events, it will feel deeper, richer, and more meaningful.

One of the (many) elements that elevated Gone Girl above a regular suspense novel was the creeping ways the economic downturn affected the lives of the main characters, from having to move to the Midwest, to the abandoned mall, to Amy's feeling that she couldn't escape her parents' shadow. The characters are acting within a world where they don't have limitless control over their lives.

Or think about the way Sauron is ascendent in The Lord of the Rings, how racial turmoil is a backdrop for To Kill a Mockingbird, how even an apocalyptic setting like Station Eleven is made more interesting by a sense of progress.

The thing about all of this change is that it's feels truer than a static world. We area all living in a world that keeps changing around us, that constrains our choices, that opens up new possibilities, and where new things are invented that alter everything around us.

Map out what's changing in your world just as surely as you map out what your characters do and how they change. Think about your world's government, its moral standards, its religion, its wars, its culture. Find a way to shake things up where it makes sense, and make sure it impacts your characters and plot.

Set that canvas in motion and your characters will feel more alive.

Art: Hungry Lion by Henri Rousseau






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