Nathan Bransford, Author


Friday, April 21, 2017

This week in books 4/21/17

I grew up in these fields. Follow me on Instagram: @nathanbransford
Hello! How are you doing on this lovely Friday?

Did I mention the discussion Forums are freshly redesigned and awaiting your visit? Well, just in case you need further enticement, please know that I am always looking for fresh content on this blog, and I love to "promote" great Forum posts to the main blog -- with full credit and attribution and all that.

In fact, one of my favorite posts on the blog originated in the Forums! So take to the Forums and prosper.

Now then. I saw some good books and publishing links around the Internet, and here they are:

Forget the smell of paper, I have long awaited the time when we could simply upload books to our brains. So naturally I couldn't click fast enough on this link: What If We Could Upload Books to Our Brains? It me!!! But instead of hearing about how this glorious future is imminent... the author of the article is really skeptical and argues against the whole enterprise. Le sigh.

What do editors do? A LOT.

Writing a memoir? I'm not! But I did really enjoy this very good post over at The Creative Penn on writing memoirs. Good stuff.

Are you a writer on the organized side? You may enjoy these really awesome spreadsheets reader Annie Neugebauer has created to help with all sorts of stages of the publishing process.

Ever wonder what it's like to work with an agent? Author Bethany Neal has 8 unexpected things she learned along the way.

And, of course, a taxonomy of Amazon reviewers.

This week in the Forums...

Soccer!
Nominate Your Query for a Critique on the Blog
Nominate Your First Page for a Critique on the Blog
What's the longest you've gone without writing?

Comment! of! the! week! goes to our friend John T. Shea, for his defense of Felix the Cat as the greatest fictional hero of all time:
I like Jim Hawkins too, to the point of naming my WIP's protagonist Jimmy in his honor. But I must point out two things he and all the other nominees for greatest fictional hero lack. None of them are cats, and none of them have magical bags of tricks. Felix alone passes both tests. I rest my case!
And finally, I'm a huge Survivor fan, and it was a seriously, genuinely shocking moment when contestant Zeke Smith was maliciously outed as being transgender by a fellow contestant. His article about the experience is incredible and inspiring and well worth your time.

I’m available for manuscript edits, query critiques, and consultations! And if you like this post, check out my guide to writing a novel.






Thursday, April 20, 2017

How to determine your price point when self-publishing


One of the great things about self-publishing is that you have control over your price point.

Want to experiment? Want to drop the price for a promo? The self-publishing world is your oyster! And, like, the price is the pearl! Do you want to see how far I can go with this metaphor? No? Okay!

Chances are you're going to want to be a little strategic. Here are some tips on how to go about it:

1) Get in touch with your goals

Reflect a little bit on what you're hoping to achieve with your book.

Do you want to build up your name recognition and reach a wide audience? Might want to go for a lower price point.

Do you want to maximize your revenue? Might want to go a little higher.

Do you want to be a symbol of everything that's wrong with the world? Make one copy, charge a million dollars, and see which nefarious cartoon villain buys it!

Your book might even be incidental to your goals, like a speaking career or a building brand, which could mean a lower or higher price point depending on what you're going for.

Just know what you want before you jump in.

2) Research the competition

This is a no-brainer. See what others are charging and know where you'll be in the marketplace. You can either go with the flow, undercut, or aim a little higher, but this is crucial information so you know where you stand.

3) Get some feedback

Bounce around your ideas, and if you have a community, try to talk to them too. I took a poll when I was launching How to Write a Novel, and the community's vote of $4.99 matched my hunch so I went with that.

4) Take an educated guess when you launch

Don't overthink it. You're not locked into a price, you can change as you go.

5) Experiment with price drops and raises

Gauge the impact of price drops and raises on sales until you settle into a sweet spot. These can either be as a specific promo, or you can just quietly change the price and see if it impacts sales.

If you publish via KDP, as you go along Amazon also has a tool that will gauge your optimal price point relative to your subject matter and sales so far. You can use that for further inspiration for experiments.

6) Check your numbers against your goals

Watch your numbers and see how things are going relative to your goal. If you just want your book out there, your KPI is your sales. If you are maximizing for money, your KPI is your revenue. If you are maximizing for reputation, your KPI may be your reviews.


As you can probably tell, this isn't rocket science. Don't agonize. Just know what you want, know what you're measuring, and experiment until you're in the sweet spot.

I’m available for manuscript edits, query critiques, and consultations! And if you like this post, check out my guide to writing a novel.

Art: Beim Notar by Josef Wagner-Höhenberg







Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Who is the greatest hero in fiction?


Harry Potter. Alice. James Bond. Frodo Baggins.

There are so many great heroes in literature, fictional characters who inspire us, beguile us, and make us wonder how we'd fare in a fictional realm where everything hinges on our character and courage.

Who's the greatest of them all?

I’m available for manuscript edits, query critiques, and consultations! And if you like this post, check out my guide to writing a novel.

Art: Cover of Fantastic Adventures, January 1951






Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Page Critique Tuesday: Anchor the reader


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

Also, if you'd like to test your editing chops, keep your eye on this area! I'll post the pages and queries a few days before a page critique so you can see how your redline compares to mine.

Now then. Time for the Page Critique. First I'll present the page without comment, then I'll offer my thoughts and a redline. If you choose to offer your own thoughts on the page, please be polite. We aim to be positive and helpful.

Random numbers were generated, and thanks to RKeelan, whose page is below:
Title: Immortal
Genre: Fantasy

"The fate of all Creation pivots about certain moments in time and space. One such moment approaches. It is yet distant to you, but to me it is perilously close. I have devised a plan—a grand plan—to employ this moment. You, Nathaniel, shall be my instrument."
It was a woman's voice, husky and low, a dangerous voice that invited confidence and blotted out doubt.
"And why would I do that?"
I spoke aloud—unnecessary, as the voice was only in my head, but speaking was easier than not. I'd heard her—Celeste—ever since a traumatic incident in my past which I preferred not to dwell on.
"You are my most trusted servant and dearest friend, Nathaniel," she said. "Contemplating personal benefit at a time like this is crass and unseemly, but in consideration of your service I shall grant you wealth and power beyond—"
"Pass."
"Pass?" The voice sounded closer now, standing right next to me. "On wealth and power?"
"I am content as I am."
"You are a slave."
"In the eyes of little men I am a slave. By my own reckoning I am—"
"Bloody Ancestors, Nathan, are you talking to yourself again?" That was Darius. He was real. "You know I hate that."
"I apologize, master. I didn’t realize you were here."
Darius, a bald head on a round torso with no neck in between, stood in the doorway, frowning at me. The folds of his toga hung about him less than
There are some good ingredients in this first page. I like how the ominous voice in Nathaniel/Nathan's head contrasts with the breeziness of his voice (also um are you trying to tell me something), and I liked the physical description of Darius as a bald head on a round torso.

Still, I had a few concerns with the opening. It's so so important to anchor the reader to ease them into the story, and there are two elements here that I think interfered with said anchoring and left me a little unmoored.

First, the opening paragraph of dialogue felt a little overstuffed, and it took a little too long for me to figure out what was going on. I wasn't sure what was gained by waiting for more dialogue to reveal who Celeste was, since the narrator already knew.

Second, I worry this page relies too much on dialogue and doesn't do enough to anchor us in a physical space. We don't need endless detail, but anything you can do to help us imagine the character in a particular place will reduce the amount of work we have to do to figure out what's going on.

Imagine the reader as if they're waking up in a dark room and you, the author, are steadily adding detail to help them see what's around them. If all they hear are voices they're still in the dark.

That said, because there's some good stuff here it wasn't too hard to streamline and round this into shape. With a bit more detail I think the reader will be intrigued to know what happens next.

Here's my redline:
Title: Immortal
Genre: Fantasy

"The fate of all creation pivots about certain moments in time and space. One such moment approaches. It is yet distant to you, but to me it is perilously close. I have devised a plan—a grand plan—to employ this moment. You, Nathaniel, shall be my instrument."
It was a woman's voice, husky and low, a dangerous voice that invited confidence and blotted out doubt. I'd heard her—Celeste—ever since a traumatic incident in my past, which I preferred not to dwell on. [More grounding detail would be helpful here or after the next line to anchor the reader. Where is Nathaniel?]
"And why would I do that?"
I spoke aloud—unnecessary, as the voice was only in my head, but speaking was easier than not. I'd heard her—Celeste—ever since a traumatic incident in my past which I preferred not to dwell on.
"You are my most trusted servant and dearest friend., Nathaniel," she said. "Contemplating personal benefit at a time like this is crass and unseemly, but in consideration of your service I shall grant you wealth and power beyond—"
"Pass."
"Pass?" The voice sounded closer now, standing right next to me. "On wealth and power?"
"I am content as I am."
"You are a slave."
"In the eyes of little men I am a slave. By my own reckoning I am—"
"Bloody Ancestors, Nathan, are you talking to yourself again?" That was Darius. He was real [I like the frankness of this line, shows personality]. "You know I hate that."
"I apologize, master. I didn’t realize you were here."
Darius, a bald head on a round torso with no neck in between, stood in the doorway, frowning at me. The folds of his toga hung about him less than
I’m available for manuscript edits, query critiques, and consultations! And if you like this post, check out my guide to writing a novel.

Art: Aldus Manutius' printer's device






Monday, April 17, 2017

6 writing tips from Hamilton


Hey so I'm not sure if you've heard, but there's the musical called Hamilton and it's pretty good.

I finally had the chance to see this rather incredible blockbuster show a few months back, and it's one of those rare pieces of art that manages to live up to whatever crazy expectations have been established for it. It's really, truly good.

And I was especially pleased to learn that writing is hugely central to the story in Hamilton. In the very first song, about Alexander Hamilton's childhood, James Madison raps that Hamilton "Put a pencil to his temple, connected it to his brain," and the rest becomes history. (How awesome is it to write the words "James Madison raps.")

Alexander Hamilton lived and ultimately died from his writing. From his early days, to his letters during the American Revolution, to the Federalist Papers, to the editorials that soured his relationship with Aaron Burr, writing was everything to Hamilton.

And within Hamilton and through Lin-Manuel Miranda's experience writing it, I found some inspiration that has helped me think about my own writing. (Mild spoilers below)

Don't throw away your shot 

Let's start with the obvious one.

It's impossible to watch "Hamilton" and not want to immediately run home and start writing. Characters marvel how Hamilton is writing "like he's running out of time," and Hamilton repeatedly vows that he's not going to throw away his shot.

Hamilton, through and through, is a writer, and a massively driven one.

Hamilton raps that "I'm just like my country, I'm young scrappy and hungry" and when he agrees to be George Washington's right hand man he immediately starts cataloguing the letters he needs to write.

Hamilton is hungry, writing is deeply woven into his identity, and the scrappy way he's presented in Hamilton is infectious.

It's all about the story

Lin-Manuel Miranda took copious, at times wild liberties with Hamilton's life and nearly everyone in the musical.

For just one illustrative example, there's a moment where Aaron Burr raps that Martha Washington named her feral tomcat after Hamilton, and Hamilton says, "That's true!"

It's not true. But it's a funny moment!

Would Hamilton be better if Miranda had strictly stuck to historical accuracy? No! He opts for meaning and story over strict accuracy, and Hamilton is better as a result.

Don't neglect your personal life

Hamilton was a rising star, before he was brought down politically by one of the early country's first sex scandals, where he was caught paying hush money to his lover's husband. Which also led to...

Don't be overconfident

Hamilton is so used to solving problems through writing that he catastrophically miscalculates with the Reynolds Pamphlet, where he confesses the affair and self-immolates his political career.

He thinks he can save himself with his writing. He can't. Jefferson, Madison, and Burr cackle that "he's never gon' be president now" and "You ever see somebody ruin their own life?"

Hamilton's pride also led him to accept Aaron Burr's challenge for a duel, which of course led to his untimely death and one of the greatest commercials of all time.

Take the time you need

It took Miranda six years to write Hamilton. It was worth it.

Keep writing

Let's take this one straight from the man himself (if you're reading this via email, please click through to see the tweet):
Got it? Good.

Now don't throw away your shot.

And if you want to hear from Miranda himself, check out this interview with the Nieman Foundation, this summary of some lessons from Hamilton: The Revolution, and this interview with NPR.

Have you seen Hamilton? What did you think, and what inspiration did you take from it?

I’m available for manuscript edits, query critiques, and consultations! And if you like this post, check out my guide to writing a novel.






Friday, April 14, 2017

This week in books 4/14/17

Photo by me. Follow me on Instagram! @nathanbransford
Five posts in five days?

"This week in books" posted actually, ya know, weekly?

Yes.

Guys we're doing this. Lots of fun things afoot. I'm focused on all this full time and I'd love to hear any thoughts and ideas you have for making this place better. Topics? Posting frequency? More cowbell space monkeys?

Now then! I spotted some good links around the Internet and, well, here they are:

Pulitzers were announced! And the big winner for fiction was none other than Colson Whitehead for his much-praised Underground Railroad. Congratulations!!

"Worldbuilding" is a phrase that's tossed around a lot, but what does it really mean? How much is it really necessary? Over at Electric Literature, Lincoln Michel makes the case that the entire concept is overrated.

The Verge had a great interview with John Scalzi about his ten-year book deal, the future of publishing, and his struggles writing in the age of Trump.

The New York Times is broadening its books coverage, with new contributors and columnists. Thumbs up to that one. (via The Millions)

Have you participated in #pitmad? Agent Jessica Faust at BookEnds thinks it's all fine and dandy but don't neglect your actual query time.

Also from BookEnds: The Top 10 reasons your submission got rejected (which actually has twelve reasons).

GEEKING OUT OVER BOOK SPINES

And this is a sponsored post but who cares when it's called 10 great books for booze loving book nerds.

This week in the Forums (redesigned! de-spamified!)...

Have you self-published audio?
How do you get yourself out of a writing rut?
Nominate Your First Page for a Critique on the Blog!
Nominate Your Query for a Critique on the Blog!
Ask Nathan (I'm back baby!)

Comment! of! the! Week! goes to Jennifer Hubbard, who artfully took my "life of the writer" post on rejecting other people's "script" for you and used it for some very good writing advice:
This is also a useful concept for writing, because we can improve our dialogue by not letting it fall into recitations of rote scripts, and seeking where we can cut the scripts of have the characters break them. 
And finally...

What's that you say? Disney is filing a patent for "Westworld"-style soft humanoids?

Yeah everything is fine.

Have a great weekend!

I’m available for manuscript edits, query critiques, and consultations! And if you like this post, check out my guide to writing a novel.






Thursday, April 13, 2017

Unlocking creativity through meditation


I know, I know, I'm like a thousand years late to the party.

I had resisted actively meditating for the longest time.

Why?

Look. I grew up shooting crawdads on a rice farm. I may have all the outward appearance of a hippieish liberal coastal elite but on the inside I'm pretty innately suspicious of things that, in rural California, we call "a little woo-woo."

But my previous employer offered subsidized classes on transcendental meditation (yes, the hedge fund), and I signed on up. The classes were taught by the David Lynch Foundation (yes, the director).

I've meditated almost every day ever since.

In addition to reducing stress and all the other well-catalogued benefits, I've noticed two profound impacts on my creativity:

1) It quiets that buzzing voice in your head

We all have running dialogues in our head with tons and tons of *shoulds* (I should do this, I should do that, you should do this, you shouldn't do that)....

Sometimes that voice in your head can get really, really loud, especially when you should be focusing on things like your writing and that significant other who is moving their mouth in a strange way oh wait they're talking I should probably listen right now.

Meditation quiets all that down. The voice goes from loud and distracting to more like a manageable whisper.

2) You have some pretty great ideas while meditating 

One of the things I like about transcendental meditation is that you don't actually try to force yourself not to have thoughts.

Which is good, because sometimes some pretty good ideas pop into my head.

These ideas can occasionally be harebrained -- much like being inebriated, sometimes things like a REALLY GOOD IDEA while you're meditating but when you're fully conscious they seem a little ludicrous.

Other times, they really do help.


So... just do it. I wish I had started earlier. Whether your idea of meditating is walking through a forest or doing acupuncture or praying or whatever else, just make sure to incorporate some quiet, distraction-free time into your day.

Your creativity will thank you.

Anyone else out there meditate? Any favorite techniques or resources?

I’m available for manuscript edits, query critiques, and consultations! And if you like this post, check out my guide to writing a novel.

Art: The Philosopher in Meditation by Rembrandt






Wednesday, April 12, 2017

What are your favorite podcasts?


Podcasts are quite the rage these days! All the people, walking and driving and around listening to things and learning. It's rather quite something.

What are some of your favorites?

I've long been a Planet Money fan, but I'm looking for some new ones, especially some good ones related to writing.

What say you?

I’m available for manuscript edits, query critiques, and consultations! And kindly check out my guide to writing a novel.

Art: His Master's Voice by Francis Barraud






Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Enter for a chance to have your page or query critiqued!


Over the weekend, I sent the fabulous subscribers of this blog a survey. One of the main things these lovely individuals told me is that they wanted to bring back page and query critiques.

CONSIDER IT DONE.

(Oh - are you not an email subscriber? Well then you just might want to click here).

In order to give everyone a fresh shot at having their page critiqued, I started new threads in the Brand Spanking Newly Redesigned and De-Spamified Forums (and my heartfelt apologies to the regulars for the previous neglect).

If you've entered your page or query before, you'll need to enter again. (This way we're not critiquing people from, like, five years ago, who knows what they're up to these days).

Enter your query or first page here for a chance to have your work critiqued publicly for free:
Nominate Your First Page for a Critique
Nominate Your Query for a Critique

I'll plan to do these critiques about once a week.

And if your critiquing needs are more pressing, I'm offering edits and consultations!

Art: Die Würfelspieler by Claus Meyer






Monday, April 10, 2017

The script


Whether you realize it or not, you and I and everyone else walks around with scripts that we deploy in common social situations.
When someone dies, we express sympathy, and they say, "Thank you." 
When someone gets a promotion, we express excitement, and they say, "Thank you." 
When someone keeps making the same relationship mistakes, we express bewilderment, and they say, "I know, why do you think I drink so much."
This is all well and good and natural. They're frameworks that help us from having to start from scratch every single time we encounter an emotion in the wild.

But there's an unintended consequence to these scripts: they are rote, they are unthinking, and they don't allow for nuance or complexity.

When people direct "the script" at you, it can feel as if they're boxing you into feeling a certain way. You start to think you're *supposed* to feel in the exact way they think you should feel. And when you deviate from "the script," people may react with confusion or even outright hostility.
When someone dies, what if you also feel some relief? 
When you get a promotion, what if you secretly want to quit your job? 
When you keep making relationship mistakes, what if you secretly love the drama?
Authors can feel this acutely when you ascend a rung on your publishing journey. You spend so much time writing a novel, so much time trying to find an agent, and then when you find one, according to "the script" you should be filled with unbridled joy, not, well, joy mixed with terror and doubt.

Then when you find a publisher, according to "the script" your problems are *really* solved. And good luck trying to complain about anything ever again when you're a bestseller.

The best people in your life will give you the freedom to deviate from the script and see you with all the nuance and complexity you possess. Because it's *OKAY* to feel something other than what you're "supposed" to feel. You're a human being, not a robot.

Seek out these good people who will let you complain when you're "supposed" to be happy and let you be happy when you're "supposed" to be sad.

But most importantly, ignore the rigid people out there who try to make you feel badly because you're flipping their script. They're not seeing you as a human being, they're seeing you as a faulty computer program.

It's fine if you are terrified after you get an agent.

It's fine if you feel more down after publishing a book than you were before it was published.

It's fine if you are filled with terror, doubt, elation, sadness, confusion, all at once, and/or separately at different times of the day.

The publishing journey is tough enough without being boxed into feeling something you don't actually feel. Toss the script out the window and let yourself be a human being.

I’m available for manuscript edits, query critiques, and consultations! And if you like this post, check out my guide to writing a novel.

Art: Two Wives by Carl Bloch






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