Nathan Bransford, Author

Monday, October 26, 2015

Need a great fall read? Check these out

One of the most rewarding experiences being connected to the writing world is seeing people you think are amazing and talented blow up and become wild successes. This year was an incredibly fruitful time for some of the writers I'm fondest of as both writers and human beings, and I'm delighted to point you to them!

Check these out...

I first met Sarah McCarry way back in 2010, when she was secretly writing her legendary blog The Rejectionist. I finagled a way to meet her in New York and we've been great friends ever since. In addition to publishing the awesome Guillotine chapbooks, she's now the author of the wildly acclaimed trilogy All Our Pretty Songs, Dirty Wings, and now About a Girl

All three books are incredible coming of age stories featuring intertwined characters in different times, with mythology weaving through. Sarah is one of the finest writers I know and even apart from the compelling narratives, the prose alone is worth the purchase.

Back in 2007, I was a literary agent on the hunt for new authors and Lisa Brackmann sent me one of the best query letters I've ever received. A few years and many revisions later, that book became Rock Paper Tiger and received a rave in the New York Times.

Following Hour of the Rat in 2013, Lisa has now completed a trilogy with Dragon Day. One of the most amazing qualities of Lisa's books is the way she's able to weave in seemingly disparate cultural threads, her deep on-the-ground knowledge of China, and a knack for realistic suspense into wildly compelling narratives.

I met Carmiel Banasky through Sarah McCarry a few years ago, and at the time she was putting the finishing touches on an intriguing literary novel. That novel, The Suicide of Claire Bishop found a publisher, rave reviews from everyone, and is now out for you to read.

The Suicide of Claire Bishop has the type of mind-bending plot you don't often find in literary fiction. In the 1950s, a woman's husband commissions a painting for her. The artist disturbingly depicts her suicide, and her life starts to unravel. In the 2000s, a man with schizophrenia comes across the painting and improbably thinks his ex-girlfriend is the artist, which is impossible unless she can time travel. Weaving all this together is some of the best prose I've come across in a long time.

Daniel José Older is one of the last authors I started working with before I left agenting. We went through many rounds of revisions on an incredible young adult novel set in a Brooklyn alive with Afro-Caribbean mythology, where graffiti paintings come alive and dark spirits are threatening.

Shadowshaper is another book that has received starred review after starred review after starred review, and it was so awesome to see it come to life after all the hard work that I saw Daniel put into it.

Anyone who hasn't heard of Ransom Riggs' wildly popular Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children will likely do so in short order when the Tim Burton film adaptation comes out in March.

But in the meantime, you can content yourself with the third book in the series, Library of Souls. These innovative novels combine found photographs that are interwoven into a charming and spine-tingling alternate world.

Can't believe I know these talented people! You can't go wrong with their books.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Your NaNoWriMo Tuneup

The leaves are changing in the northeast and there's a chill in the air. It can only mean one thing: You are about to devote yourself to the greatest writing fest ever scheduled during a month when you are also supposed to spend time with loved ones and eat turkey.

Yes indeed, National Novel Writing Month is nearly upon us once again! Are you going for it? Are you? Are you doing it? Do you hear the pestering in my voice?

Whether you are a first-timer or a veteran, the best advice I have to give you is in the pages of How to Write a Novel: 47 Rules for Writing a Stupendously Awesome Novel You Will Love Forever. Not only does it have all the tips and organization you need to write the best novel you possibly can, its bright orange cover doubles as a seasonal-appropriate piece of flair for your coffee table.

If you prefer your advice in blog form, I aim to please. Here's a selection of links for new novelists and veterans alike:

For first-timers:

For veterans:

For everyone:

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Jonathan Franzen, Kanye West and the cultural appropriation of trolling

It's been ten years now since Kanye West caused an immense stir in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina by staring into a camera and saying, "George Bush doesn't care about black people" next to a memorably dumbfounded Mike Myers. (George Bush later said it was the worst moment of his presidency).

Kanye West has of course gone on to say and do many more brazenly controversial things, including interrupting Taylor Swift's VMA award speech with "Imma let you finish but Beyonce had one of the best music videos of all time," to announcing himself as the successor to Steve Jobs, to most recently rambling at the VMAs before saying he's running for president in 2020.

Love him or hate him (for the record, I'm mostly a fan), Kanye West has mastered the art of capturing attention in the social media and reality TV era. It's not enough to just be a good artist these days (which he is), you also have to fight for attention and eyeballs, and one of the best ways to do that is to do or say something plainly ridiculous and watch it get retweeted through the Internetosphere.

It's why I find Kanye West's much-lampooned video for Bound 2 hilarious, which consists almost entirely of him riding a motorcycle with a naked Kim Kardashian in front of images of iconic American landscape, including stampeding white horses in slow motion. He even premiered it on the Ellen DeGeneres show for some reason. You can almost hear Kanye's challenge to America -- you know this is what you want, you know you will eat this up.

This is the art of the troll - taking our cultural sensitivities and proclivities, countering or fulfilling them in a brazen way, and using our resulting outrage as a ploy to capture our attention. Trolls have been around since the early days of the Internet, and that darkest of art forms has now seemingly risen to great cultural heights.

Jonathan Freezy

No less a personage than eminent Man Of Letters Jonathan Franzen has seemingly taken a page from the Kanye West playbook in advance of the publication of his latest novel, Purity.

In an interview with The Guardian, Franzen professed that he had considered adopting an Iraqi war orphan out of his frustration that young adults are insufficiently angry. Yes. The quote in full:
Oh, it was insane, the idea that Kathy and I were going to adopt an Iraqi war orphan. The whole idea lasted maybe six weeks. And was finally killed by Henry’s response. He made a persuasive case for why that was a bad idea. The main thing it did … one of the things that had put me in mind of adoption was a sense of alienation from the younger generation. They seemed politically not the way they should be as young people. I thought people were supposed to be idealistic and angry. And they seemed kind of cynical and not very angry. At least not in any way that was accessible to me. And part of what journalism is for me is spending time with people who I dislike as a class. But I became very fond of them, and what it did was it cured me of my anger at young people.
Adopting an Iraqi war orphan. Because he's confused why young people are insufficiently angry. In the same era as the Black Lives Matter movement. When Franzen's own greatest source of anger seems to be the plight of North American songbirds. It's completely ridiculous.

The quote reverberated throughout the Internet, just in time for the release of Purity, currently the #13 bestseller on Amazon. (It should also be noted that Kanye West's George Bush Katrina remark came just after the release of his album Late Registration, which went on to sell 3.1 million copies.)

Franzen can't be serious. He has to be trolling. Right? Or is he serious? Do we know? I can't tell. Pretty sure he's trolling. Pretty sure.

Meet the Franzdashians

Kanye West is of course married to Kim Kardashian, reality TV show extraordinaire, who came to fame via the Paris Hilton playbook, and has stayed there ever since via her family's uncanny ability to ensnare our attention.

One of the essential appeals of reality TV isn't that it's real, it's that it blends reality and fiction in a complex way, where we're left puzzling over what's real and what's not. It's why I like The Bachelor so much. It's unreality that somehow creates its own reality, and teasing out what's real is an entertaining but ultimately futile exercise. I mean, can we talk about Bachelor in Paradise??

We're living in an era where we're constantly, relentlessly besieged by fakery -- spam emails, parody Twitter accounts, The Onion, Andy Borowitz, vaccine scares, hoaxes, and conspiracy theories. Every day we have to navigate this miasma and decide what's real. It's why Snopes exists. It seems fitting that our evening entertainment would capitalize on a dynamic that we spend a good chunk of our day navigating.

Franzen has, naturally, disavowed reality TV too. He suggested the "reality" at the start of this quote by Karl Kraus be changed to "reality TV:" "Reality is a meaningless exaggeration of all the details that satire left behind fifty years ago." Yet intentionally or unintentionally, he keeps feeding the beast and forcing us to wonder if his fuddyduddery and provocations are earnest or contrived. He's living out his own personal reality TV show in the old-schoolest way possible, through interviews in the newspapers and magazines that still exist.

All the while, we keep talking about him. I mean, look at me. I'm writing this 1,000 word post about Jonathan Franzen. It's the second time I've done this. I'm unintentionally promoting his book.

He sucked me in. Just like Kanye.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Creativity tip: When you need inspiration, figure out what you need to know

I'm on record saying writer's block doesn't exist.

When I say that, I'm not saying that you won't experience a feeling of idea-lessness or that life circumstances will never get in the way of your writing. Lots of people go through stretches where it is legitimately impossible to write.

What I mean is that most commonly, that feeling of writer's block is just a feeling that you can actually power through.

When you head down that path, the absolute most helpful thing to do is to figure out the problem. Figure out why you can't think of an idea. What is it that you're trying to solve in the book?

Here's what I mean. I'm at a stage in writing my new novel where I legitimately don't know what's going to happen next. And I got stuck. I seriously couldn't think of what to write next. But rather than stare at the blinking cursor of doom, I started creating structure around the problem.

I know that the main character is currently at Point A, and eventually she'll need to get to Point B. So I started cataloguing some of the things that need to happen before Point B. Then I broke it up still further into a series of chapters. I started writing out some of the feelings I want her to experience before Point B, plotting out the ups and downs. I wrote down some of the bigger things I hadn't yet tackled in the narrative but wanted to, such as showing something happening in the broader world.

And I figured out the problem. I need to set a new plot line in motion, and I needed to do more work to get a sense of where she's going before I figure out the next step.

I still don't know precisely is going to happen, but this is the first step toward being unstuck.

Sometimes it doesn't work to confront a lack of ideas head on. It can be far more effective to create some structure around it, figure out what you need to figure out, and then power on through.

Art: Sebastian Hyller by Franz Joseph Winter

Friday, July 31, 2015

How to know when to leave your agent

Not sure what's in the air these days (well, besides nitrogen, oxygen, argon, and the smell of hot dogs seriously where is that coming from), but I've heard from several authors who are wondering whether it is time for them to leave their agent.

Also, I realize that this sounds like a lofty problem for the agent-less, the equivalent of a mansion owner wondering if they should get a new pool to replace the one they have, but I would encourage you all to read this post as well, not only because you may have an agent someday, but also I'm hoping to lay out some of the things you should and shouldn't expect of an agent.

Leaving an agent is a really tough decision, and one you absolutely should not take lightly. You are forgoing an advocate, you could possibly be burning a bridge, and it's incredibly important to act as rationally and non-emotionally as possible. But sometimes it's the right decision.

So. How do you know if you should leave? I'm going to divide this up into good reasons and bad reasons. A HUGE caveat is that every situation is different and you ultimately have to choose the best path for you.

Bad reason: Your agent couldn't sell your book.

Even the best agents strike out sometimes. This doesn't make them a bad agent. Sometimes it just doesn't happen with the first book. If they made a good faith effort to submit it, they did the best they could and it just didn't happen, and they still believe in you, that alone is not a very good reason to leave.

Yes, some agents have more clout than others, but the book itself and serendipity are way more powerful than any agent. If you like your agent and they just couldn't sell your book, I wouldn't hold it against them.

Good reason: Your agent has behaved unprofessionally or unethically

It can be so tricky for authors on the outside to know what constitutes unprofessional and/or unethical in a business that can feel very opaque. Especially one that tolerates a level of eccentricity that would make Edward Scissorhands feel awkward.

But if you find that your agent is being shady or doing something headslappingly bad like blasting your manuscript to 50 editors all at once on the same email thread, have a heart to heart. If they don't have an explanation that satisfies you, you may have your answer.

Bad reason: Your agent doesn't write or call you back immediately

You're not your agent's only client. Days are busy. You have one book to worry about, an agent is juggling dozens.

Give it some time. Be patient. Remember that snails look at publishing and think, "Whoa dudes let's pick up the pace, huh?"

That said...

Good reason: Your agent has gone incommunicado.

You should be able to get in touch with your agent. Maybe not immediately, but within a reasonable time frame. This is actually a very good thing to establish from the outset -- how quickly should be reasonable for responses?

If you try and try and try to get in touch with your agent and you just can't get in touch with them, you may have a problem on your hands.

Bad reason: You want to leave without being transparent about your concerns and giving your agent a chance to respond.

Good relationships depend on trust and communication. If you have concerns, express them. Your agent should appreciate your honesty and have good answers for you.

Especially when so much happens outside of view, and especially because you may not have insight into the customs of the industry, what can seem totally strange at first blush can make much more sense when your agent explains it.

Don't let things linger. If you're concerned, speak up.

Good reason: Your gut is telling you it's time to go.

You've expressed your concerns.

You have given your agent a chance to respond.

You listened to their response in good faith.

You have let some time go by.

You have gotten feedback and perspective from other knowledgable people.

You have reflected.

You aren't taking this decision lightly in the slightest.

You still think it's time to go.

Okay. It's your career. You have to make your choices. If you have acted in good faith, listened, and you just think it's time, it may well be time.

Art: The Signal by William Powell Frith

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

How should authors be paid?

There was an interesting kerfuffle recently as Amazon began transitioning some royalties over to pages read, as opposed to downloads. Will Oremus is one who thinks it makes sense.

It got me thinking. How should authors be paid?

What about all those used book sales that authors aren't compensated for? Library borrowings? Back to the patronage system?

Anyone got some creative ideas?

Art: Money to Burn by Victor Dubreuil

Monday, July 27, 2015

The last few weeks in books 7/27/15

Photo by me. I'm on Instagram here.

It has been a while!

My time has been stretched in the past few weeks due to travel and moving (to Manhattan of all places), but I am now hoping to return to a semi-regular schedule. Hello! Nice to see you.

I've been collecting lots of links over the past few months. Let's see what we've got.

First up, this coming Saturday I'm going to be speaking at the Writers Digest Conference in NYC. There's still time to register! I'll be talking about staying sane during the writing process, which seems like it's not possible but I SWEAR that if you do these things... okay yeah it's not totally possible.

Remember when we all compiled our top 100 movie lists? That was excellent. The BBC went and did their top 100 American movies, and I have to say it's a pretty solid list.

The BookEnds blog is back with a vengeance (well, it's back with some smart and author-informative posts). Some recent ones I took note of are how you should think twice before granting an agent an exclusive, and how if you are seeking publication, it's important that you don't think of it as a hobby, but as a job. That means buckling down, setting deadlines, and pushing through, especially when you don't have the luxury of time. And maybe you should put some thought into your query.

The juggernaut of a franchise known as James Patterson (who also I believe is the name of a writer too), is starting a children's imprint with Little, Brown. And oh by the way Patterson's novels have now sold over 300 million copies.

You're probably not really done writing your book.

E.L. James has a new book out, Grey, told from the perspective of Christian Grey, natch. The sequel I'm waiting for is the novel told from the perspective of Charlie Tango, Christian Grey's helicopter. E.L. James, I'll get you started!
I was born in a warehouse, but I'm so much more than that. They told me I should just fly, hover, do my job reliably, and someday be sold for scrap metal after a long career. They told me I could never attract the attention of a self-made billionaire with a fondness for girls who bite their lips. 
They were wrong. 
I give my inner helicoptress a high five as I settled into the SeaTac tarmac, obeying Christian Grey's skillful, artful commands. If I had a lip I would bite it and shyly mumble my appreciation.
If only they could see me now. 


We all know that writing can be a solitary pursuit, and it can sometimes be tricky to get things done at home when there are things like chores and TV and people who call themselves "family members" trying to distract you. Behold, the rise of the writer's space.

There are a lot of writing competitions out there, some more reputable than others. Writer Beware takes a look at some of the red flags.

And finally, do you want to be a beer editor? I mean, of course you do.

Have a great weekend!

Friday, July 10, 2015

Comic-Con here I come!

I'm psyched to be returning to Comic-Con this weekend for two incredible panels!

Check these out...

Tomorrow at 6pm PT in 25ABC I'm going to be hosting a panel on choosing the right publishing path for you:
Authors Sarah J. Maas (Throne of Glass series), Seanan McGuire (October Daye series), Cora Carmack (Losing It) and Elizabeth Briggs (Chasing the Dream series), along with editor Adam Wilson (Simon & Schuster) and literary agent Holly Root (Waxman Leavell Literary Agency), discuss the various options for publishing fiction and how to determine what works for different genres. Moderated by author, former literary agent, and all-around publishing guru Nathan Bransford.
And then on Sunday, I'm hosting a blockbuster young adult panel at 3:45 in 5AB:
Strong protagonists, engrossing romance, humor, action, and angst! Join panelists for this popular annual Q&A session and chat about the hottest new titles and trends in YA fiction. Moderated by Nathan Bransford (The Jacob Wonderbar series) and featuring Alexandra Bracken (Darkest Minds series), Rae Carson (Girl of Fire and Thorns series), Susan Dennard (Something Strange and Deadly trilogy), Alan Gratz (The League of Seven), Sarah J. Maas (Throne of Glass series), Tahereh Mafi (Shatter Me series), Ransom Riggs (Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children), and Sabaa Tahir (An Ember in the Ashes).
I know!! So excited!

If you're going to be at Comic-Con let me know and/or come say hi. Don't be shy. Unless you're wearing a Greedo costume, in which case you had better watch yourself as me and Han go way back.

See you there!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

I miss the blogosphere

Where have all the bloggers gone? Long time passing. I want to know.

I miss the blogosphere.

There was a time, between 2007-2009, when everyone had a blog. It was peak blog. Blogspot and Wordpress. Blog rolls and tagging. Blog awards and comments of the week.

I started feeling the decline in 2011, and in 2013 it was really apparent. Now, it's a veritable ghost town.

Maybe I'm just getting old, but I really miss that time. Peak blog coincided with economic calamity, and the entire world was on edge (note: I don't think there was a connection. I think.). But there was something comforting in the sense of simultaneous community and individuality, people pioneering their own space but making sure to check in on what everyone else was doing.

And sure, people are still tweeting and Facebooking and Tumblring, but there was a time when people put their thoughts out there, in detail, took the time to go around and read what other people were thinking, in detail, and left thoughtful comments. In detail.

The blogosphere certainly had its unfortunate flame wars, but it seems like the book portion Twittersphere and Tumblrverse in particular are now optimized for peak outrage, one s***show after the next, with nothing ever meaningful really seeming to come of it.

This is some uncharacteristic techno-nostalgia for me, but I think 2007-2009 was a pretty great time, (Internet-wise at least), when people were putting their thoughts on digital paper and thinking thoughtfully about what other people were writing. And making actual real-life friends! I met some of my dearest friends through my blog.

Am I missing something? Have people picked up and moved to another, better place?

What do you make of the decline of the blogosphere?

Art: Sunland Landscape by Audley Dean Nicols

Monday, June 8, 2015

What I learned about writing from a broken tooth

I recently had quite a health ordeal, and for some reason it reminded me of writing and publishing. Probably because everything does. Bear with me on this one.

A month back, while in the early days of my new job, I bit into a piece of toast and felt a sharp pain in one of my molars. I didn't think that much of it -- I've had some jaw/tooth aches in the past that didn't amount to much -- and I went about my business, planning to check with my dentist if the pain didn't go away. Then, a week later, I proceeded to get immensely sick, coming down with a 104.5 fever. (Spoiler: I survived!)

On top of that, my tooth still hurt like crazy whenever I accidentally bit into something, so as I was recovering from that illness thanks to the miracle of antibiotics, I went to the dentist. Sure enough, I had a broken tooth beyond repair and an infected root. It's probable that my illness was connected to the broken tooth, as a point of entry for some bacteria or another. Annnd I had to have the tooth extracted. Which I really didn't want to do. But I had to.

Now, thankfully, I'm on the other side of everything. My tooth is gone, my gum is healing, I can finally eat normally again, and I'm back to 100% health. Win!!

So why am I telling you this?

Last night as I was eating a delicious crab sandwich without any pain, I got to thinking, "You know what? Having *no* tooth is better than having a broken tooth."

Indeed. And then I saw a commercial for Entourage, which reminded me of agenting, and then THIS BLOG POST WAS BORN.

There are so many times in your publishing life where it's tempting to hold on to something that's broken. Maybe you have an agent who you kind of realize is not a good agent, or you are presented with a publishing deal from a micro publisher you're not totally sure about. But, having an agent is better than having no agent, right?


Just as my broken tooth wound up getting me sick, a bad agent can do immense damage to your career if they send your manuscript around badly. It's harder to find another good agent to take you on, and publishers may not reconsider your manuscript if they've already seen it. They can also set you back from looking for a good agent. And unscrupulous "publishers" out there can take advantage of you financially.

Having *no* agent is better than having a bad agent.
Having *no* publishing deal is better than having a bad publishing deal.

You may worry about the appearances of losing something that felt hard-earned, and no doubt it's painful in the short term, but you have to think of those bad actors like a broken tooth that you need to extract in order to restore yourself to publishing health.

You will heal. You'll get back on track. And you'll realize you're better off. Good riddance, broken molar.

Art: The Toothpuller by Carvaggio

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