Nathan Bransford, Author


Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Happy pub day to Tahereh Mafi and Furthermore!


It seems like just yesterday when Tahereh Mafi was the aspiring author behind the wildly inventive publishing blog Querypolitan, but now, several years later, she's the NY Times bestselling author of the Shatter Me series, a fashion icon, and is set to launch a wildly inventive new middle grade series with Furthermore.

Furthermore has already received starred reviews from Kirkus and Publishers Weekly, and if that's not enough, Tahereh is set to appear on the Late Show with Seth Myers. I know!!

Congrats to my brilliant and wonderful friend Tahereh and hey, what are you waiting for, go get Furthermore.






Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The quest


One of the most interesting things about novels is the extent to which the very thing a novel is about -- a quest -- is also the thing that best describes the writing of the novel itself.

Our characters go on a quest. We go on a quest to tell their story.

Our characters struggle. We struggle. Our characters strive. We strive.

This is one reason Moby-Dick is my favorite novel. It's truly an insane novel. Meandering, strange, packed full of things that don't belong, filled with moments of brilliance and stretches of tedium. What better living metaphor to the writing process than a psychotic chase for a white whale who may or may not exist, has already taken its adversary's leg, and who most likely wants him dead?

And, similarly, I've already written about how the striving of Jay Gatsby in The Great Gatsby is best understood as a writer's own wish that the world would conform to our wishes rather than what exists in front of us.

So naturally I was drawn to an article in Quartz yesterday about the secret to happiness: always wanting and pursuing more.

Science, take it away!
Neuroscientist Jaak Panskepp argues that of seven core instincts in the human brain (anger, fear, panic-grief, maternal care, pleasure/lust, play, and seeking), seeking is the most important... It can also explain why, if rats are given access to a lever that causes them to receive an electric shock, they will repeatedly electrocute themselves. 
Panskepp notes in his book, Affective Neuroscience, that the rats do not seem to find electrocution pleasurable. “Self-stimulating animals look excessively excited, even crazed, when they worked for this kind of stimulation,” he writes. Instead of being driven by any reward, he argues, the rats were motivated by the need to seek itself.
Yes, you read that right. When rats are given a means of shocking themselves, they will go ahead and do that even though it's completely unpleasurable.

The quest to explore our surroundings and boundaries is powerful. So is the drive to tell the story. And explore still more in the process.

Art: Illustration from an early edition of Moby-Dick by A. Burnham Shute






Monday, May 16, 2016

What are your favorite action scenes in literature?


A great action scene is so much more than just an exciting moment in a novel. They're great because we're invested in the outcome, hanging on the edge of our seat, hoping our favorite characters survive as they propel themselves through physical space.

What are some of your favorite action scenes in literature?

Art: Tiger Hunt by Peter Paul Rubens






Monday, April 25, 2016

YALLWEST!!



I'm psyched to be making the trip west this weekend for YALLWEST, a fantastic festival in Santa Monica featuring some of the best YA authors on the planet. If you're in the Los Angeles area, I highly recommend stopping on by! It's free and open to the public aside from a few ticketed events.

There are keynotes featuring the likes of Rainbow Rowell, Sana Amanat, Soman Chainani & Melissa de la Cruz, Matt de la Peña, Jason Reynolds, Marie Lu and Tahereh Mafi, tons of great panels, and fun events like the Smackdown.

I'll be participating in said Smackdown, I'll be reading some cringeworthy writing from my teen days (I am completely mentally unprepared to do this and am breaking into a cold sweat just thinking about it), and will be on a panel about outer space. Oh, and I'll be signing books at 4pm on Sunday.

Check out the fantastic schedule and hope to see you there!






Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Moneyball for book publishers


Way back in 2007, I wrote about what I called the "holy grail" of book publishing: the blockbuster detector. Inspired by both The Wisdom of Crowds and Moneyball, I wondered about the possibility of a tool that could identify undervalued markets and help predict future sales.

2007, mind you, was the era before the Kindle and iPad even existed. These, of course, opened up a world of possibility, where you could assess on a granular level where people stop reading, and distinguish between books that people buy and books that people actually read.

So naturally, now that it's 2016, there's a company dedicated to helping publishers detect which books might be hits or duds based on the reading habits of beta readers.

This is probably just the tip of the iceberg. Readers and writers, are you alarmed at the idea that your publisher could scale back your marketing budget if people stop reading past page 60 of your novel? Are you excited by the idea you could gain access to this type of data and help you revise?

What do you think?






Tuesday, March 15, 2016

8th Annual Blog Bracket Challenge!


It's mid-March, and you know what that means. Our 8th! Annual! Blog bracket challenge!!

Who is the greatest literary bracket prognosticator of them all?

We'll see. It's probably not me. In fact it's probably you.

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, February 1, 2016

How to find and work with a freelance editor


Nathan here! My good friend Christine Pride is a talented freelance editor who has worked for Random House and Hyperion and edited eight NY Times bestselling books. Oh, and I also hired her to edit my guide to writing a novel.

Christine has a wealth of experience, and I'm excited to share her post on how best to work with a freelance editor. 

Thank you Nathan! It’s so nice to be “here” in this vibrant community of writers.

When I decided to leave the “cushy” comforts of corporate publishing in the fall of 2012 to strike out on my own as an editorial consultant, it was with the idea of, among other things, ditching all of the less appealing aspects of the job (endless meetings, office politics, etc.) to focus more on what I love: the actual editing. And true to my wishes, the purity of the work has been a real treat, and incredibly fulfilling and meaningful—beyond what I could even have hoped.

(The freedom to wear loungewear in the office is icing on the cake.)

In the past three years, I’ve worked with more than a hundred writers, across many different genres, to help them refine their projects and improve their craft; to commit to their goals and deadlines, and to navigate through the publishing process, which let’s be honest can be both mystifying and intimidating. I’m so proud of the successes so many of them have experienced and are cheering them the loudest knowing just how hard they’ve worked and how much they’ve invested.

It’s no secret that getting an agent or a book deal is no easy feat. That’s true today more than ever given the changes in the industry, which have left agents and publishers with less of the time, resources and inclination to take a chance on a flyer or to invest in what we would sometimes call, “fixer uppers,” the books that show promise but need quite a bit of editorial work to be ready for primetime. So it’s more important than ever before that when you approach an agent with your work it is as polished, perfected and as salable as possible for you to have the best chance at success.

Meanwhile, the self-publishing marketplace is growing exponentially, and gives writers a wonderful (and often lucrative) pathway to bring their books to readers. But in that landscape too, the bar is high and readers have come to expect that the quality and caliber of the product will be on par with those coming from a corporate publisher.

A professional can offer you the unbiased feedback and narrative insight in terms of what readers, agents and editors are looking for that can take your book from good to great.

That said, though the benefits might be clear, it’s a big decision, and it’s a big investment, of hundreds or thousands of dollars, not to mention your precious time in addressing the feedback and suggestions from your editor. So you want to carefully consider whether it’s right for you and if you decide that it is, to go into the process armed with as much information possible to make the most of the process.

With that in mind, I offer you these tips:

Do your research

As you would if you were looking for a doctor, contractor or nanny, hiring any professional requires you to vet them in terms of their experience, expertise and fit with your particular needs.

It’s always nice to start with a referral, if you know any fellow writers who have successfully worked with an editor. You can also be in touch with literary agents you admire to ask them (or someone on their staff) for a recommendation. Agents often have a team of “go to” independent editors to whom they refer clients (because as I said they often don’t have time to do the editorial shaping themselves, even if they see promise in a project). You can also comb through other resources like writer focused websites (like this terrific one!) or publications like Poets and Writers or Narrative where editors may advertise.

Once you have a name, or a few, you’ll want to Google them and make sure they have solid credentials, a professional presence online and testimonials. Bear in mind that not all editors have the same level of experience. An editor or agent who has worked in the industry is going to have an insider perspective, along with keen editorial insights honed from working in the trenches. Which is not to say that you wouldn’t have a wonderful experience with an editor who hasn’t worked at one of the big publishing houses, but that experience does offer a premium.

It’s always nice to have a chat with the editor (or editors) you’re considering as well, to talk a little more about your project and to get a gut feel for him or her. Do you enjoy talking to this person (after all you will likely be doing a lot of that)? Is this someone you could trust with your work? Do they have experience and/or in interest in the type of book you’re writing?

Many editors will also agree to do a sample edit of ten or so pages. I, personally, don’t think sample edits are a very useful tool since edits are so holistic and it’s the bigger picture feedback on the plot, characters, etc. that’s going to make the most impact on your book. But if you just want to get a sense of what an edit from this person will look like, this could be helpful to you.

Be clear about your needs, goals and expectations 

There are many different points in your writing journey that you may want to consult with a professional editor. Don’t be afraid to tailor the services to exactly what’s going to be most helpful to you; most editors are happy to be flexible in terms of services and collaborative style.

Maybe you’d just like a topline read and some overall honest feedback. Perhaps you need a review of your query letter to make sure it hits the mark. Maybe you’d like to talk through a new book idea before you get too far down the road with it. Or, as is the most common, maybe you have a finished draft and would like the editor to provide detailed margin and line notes and an editorial letter (known as a development edit) to guide your next revision.

Make sure your editor knows your ultimate goals—to get an agent, to self-publish, to hone your craft, etc. Being clear about your goals and expectations will make sure you and your editor have the most productive collaboration.

Be mindful of your budget

A comprehensive development edit is likely going to run you in the range of $1500 and up, depending on a variety of factors. Some editors will charge by the hour and some will offer a flat fee; it’s typical that half will be due when you start the scope of work and half will be due when it’s complete. Don’t be afraid to say to your editor, “Look, I have $2000 to spend here, what’s the best way to maximize that?”

There are ways to cut corners and an editor will often give you different options that are within your budget. You can also shop around because prices can vary from editor to editor based on their level of experience and demand. Also remember that this expense could be tax deductible in most cases—check with your accountant or the IRS.

One way to keep costs down (and to work most effectively) is to polish and perfect your project as much as you can before you invite the help of an editor. This is where your writing group comes in handy or your friend who’s willing to read. This initial (free) feedback can help you address obvious trouble/blind spots, getting you that much farther down the road. Or you may approach an editor for top-line feedback first and then do a preliminary revision for returning to them for a deeper edit. 

Be open-minded and willing to do the work

Any collaboration with an editor is only going to be as good as the work you put into it. Revising and responding to feedback is JUST as important to being a successful writer as raw talent itself. I would argue even more so.

When I was an in-house editor the average book I acquired would still go through two to four more rounds of edits and that was after the author got a book deal! So imagine the rounds of revisions to get it to that point.

Prepare yourself for that and know that a good editor is going to give you a lot of notes, thoughts and ideas and you should have an open mind in terms of any and all feedback and options presented. A teacher, a coach, a friend, a mentor and a writing adviser, the best freelance editors are all of that rolled into one (with a dash of therapist thrown in for good measure!)

The right collaboration can be meaningful, productive and get you closer to your writing goals and I hope this information and advice gives you a better understanding of the process and how to make the most of it.

Good luck out there and happy writing!






Monday, January 11, 2016

How not to write a novel


Nathan here. I first met my friend Julia Forster a decade ago when we were assistants to two US and UK agents who worked closely together. She's now an accomplished author, and her novel What a Way to Go was published on Thursday by Atlantic Books in the UK. I invited her to write a guest post on the writing process. Enjoy!

In the autumn of 2002 I upped sticks from Bristol, England and rented a room in Kensington, Brooklyn for three months. I had an idea for a novel. It was to be set across two locations – New York and Venice.

The book would follow a young girl, Paige, who dreamt of being a cartographer. She was best friends with a boy called Sebastian who had dyslexia. He wanted to build gondolas.

I spent three months “researching” New York, haunting Park Slope coffee shops and bookstores. I volunteered at the Park Slope Food Co-op, and then as a magician’s assistant. I ate a lot of organic broccoli from the Food Co-op but also maxed out on American Pancakes.

One day, I walked straight into Paul Auster outside the Community Bookstore in Park Slope in which I’d had my first ever taste of Green Tea. I grinned at the author inanely, and stepped aside.

I didn’t read much (although I did obsess over Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, which I borrowed from the Brooklyn Public Library) and I wrote even less.

In December, I came back to the UK and realised that, while I had a wealth of ethnographic research and a massive overdraft to boot, I had no book. There was also no plot, no real sense of who my characters were, nor what made them tick.

Fast-forward two years and I was now based in London and working in Soho at a small literary agency. One Friday evening, on my commute home walking alongside the Thames on the South Bank, it struck me that the canvas I had chosen was too epic for me to handle. I decided to shrink it, and write an entirely different book, this time an autobiography.

It would be set in the middle of England where I grew up. My parents had divorced when I was five, so I was brought up in two family homes, one in a town called Northampton with my Mum (population 180,000) and, every other weekend, I was based in a small village with my Dad (population 180).

Over the course of the next year, I drafted 80,000 words. Only then did I realise the two major shortcomings with this project:

1) Nothing happened to me.

2) Nobody knew who I was.

I consigned the book to live under the bed. It served as quite good sound insulation. Aged 32, I moved to rural mid-Wales, with a partner and a three year-old daughter and a nine month-old son. If I turned my back for more than two seconds, my crawling baby son would be found fingering plug sockets or head-butting skirting boards.

By the age of three, he’d been hospitalised twice for whacking his prominent forehead, once having to be put under general anaesthetic in order to stitch his wound up again.

And it was under these circumstances – when I had been reduced to survival mode and when my horizons only reached as far as when I could reasonably consume another cup of strong coffee – that I managed to write the book that would find its way into print, What a Way to Go.

Can you picture those old-fashioned T-model Fords, the ones which needed a metal hand-crank to get the engine to fire? You’d put the crank into the front of the car, engage the ratchets, and then manually heave it round until the engine stuttered into life.


That was my brain.

My synapses hadn’t fired for that long that to begin with, the connections mis-fired.

For example, you would have thought that in order to commence a novel, you’d launch Word or Scrivener. Well, I launched the Excel application and began to compose my novel in tiny little cells on a spreadsheet.

I am not kidding when I say it took me three months to realise the error of my ways. By that time I was halfway through a six-month writers’ bursary which had been kindly awarded to me by Literature Wales.

By then, I was caffeine-addled and desperate. Turns out, this was the best state of mind in which to write.

I completed What a Way to Go over the next 18 months. I wrote as if my life depended on it, because it turned out that it did.

More about What a Way to Go: It’s 1988. 12-year-old Harper Richardson's parents are divorced. Her mum got custody of her, the Mini, and five hundred tins of baked beans. Her dad got a mouldering cottage in a Midlands backwater village and default membership of the Lone Rangers single parents' club. Harper got questionable dress sense, a zest for life, two gerbils, and her Chambers dictionary, and the responsibility of fixing her parents' broken hearts...

Set against a backdrop of high hairdos and higher interest rates, pop music
and puberty, divorce and death, What a Way to Go is a warm, wise and witty tale of one girl tackling the business of growing up while those around her try not to fall apart.






Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Jacob Wonderbar for President of the Universe resembles... the 2016 American Presidential Election



When I wrote Jacob Wonderbar for President of the Universe in 2009-2010, I definitely tried to weave in some political satire that would resonate with kids who have to listen when their parents watch the news, and who have probably experienced a school election or two themselves.

Little did I know this novel would start to resemble the present in some weird ways.

Quick plot summary for those who haven't read it: the king of the universe has decided to abdicate the throne in favor of space's first democratic election, and since no self-respecting space human wants to listen to an adult give speeches (shudder), it is up to Mick Cracken, space buccaneer extraordinaire, and Jacob Wonderbar, Earth-born prankster with a heart of gold, to vie for the presidency.

Jacob wants to do a good job as president of the universe. Mick? Not so much. He promises nothing but entertainment.

They visit the planet full of journalists (imagine CNN's studios, but like, a whole planet), and Mick gives this speech:
Mick flashed his best cocky smile. "To the finest reporters and journalists in the universe, guardians of free speech and keepers of liberty. I bow down before your beauty and intelligence, you peerless scribes of truth and wisdom." 
The reporters nodded to each other and smiled. There was a smattering of applause. Jacob didn't know what to do and locked eyes with Sarah Daisy, who shook her head and shrugged. 
Mick paused for a moment, basking in the glow of attention. Finally he began to speak. 
"My administration will be full of corruption and scandal. There will be foul tricks and dirty deeds. I will disgrace the office, and my mistakes will force me to beg for mercy." Mick looked up at the reporters. "There will probably be tears." 
The reporters murmured to each other appreciatively. 
"As the universe's most famous space buccaneer, I couldn't be more unqualified for this office. I cannot promise you that I will be competent  or wise or good or even sort of good. You will often wonder how and why you elected me in the first place. That is, if I don't steal votes outright." Mick winked, and the reporters laughed. "There will always be a scandal to follow. Always a conspiracy to unravel. Constant speculation about whether I will be forced to resign. 
"Above all else, you will never be bored. I will break every single promise I make to you, except for this one, which I will hold dear: My speeches will be short." 
The room grew quiet in excitement and anticipation. 
"And that is why it gives me great pleasure to announce my candidacy for president of the universe." 
The reporters rose to their feet and cheered wildly. Mick raised his hands above his head and shook them in triumph.

Annnnd here we are. If you'd like to read more about the campaign antics, Jacob Wonderbar for President of the Universe is for sale on Amazon and B&N.






Tuesday, January 5, 2016

What are your favorite still-active blogs?



I've mentioned previously that the blogosphere is feeling a little quieter lately, but maybe I'm just not looking in the right places.

What are some of your favorite still-active writing and publishing blogs? Who's out there still innovating and keeping the people talking?






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