Nathan Bransford, Author

Friday, March 30, 2007

This Week In Publishing 3/30/07

From my lips to Oprah's ears, right? Right? No? SHOOT. In a rather shocking announcement, or at least as shocking an announcement as is possible in the book world, Oprah has chosen Cormac McCarthy's THE ROAD (previously discussed on this blog) as her next book club pick. Cormac McCarthy!! The guy who does not give interviews, lives anonymously somewhere in the Southwest, and writes books that feature violence, cannibalism and horses, will soon be sitting on Oprah's couch. I'm stunned. Next up for Oprah's book club: JD Salinger, Bobby Fischer, Elvis Presley and Tupac Shakur.

In other, decidedly less shocking book news, newspapers have discovered that the whole end-of-the-world apocalyptic novel thing might be popular. The LA Times is all over this development, and cites the aforementioned THE ROAD as one of the examples that the apocalypse isn't just for the Left Behind series anymore. Isn't it refreshing to see that we've totally come to terms with dying in a horrific global catastrophe?

Also in LA Times news, the standalone book review section will soon get out of the Sunday issue's car. Beginning on April 15th the book review section will merge with the Opinion section, and more book reviews will also be scattered throughout the rest of the newspaper. The LA Times, strangely, is not all over this development. Editor & Publisher is though, and you can find out more here.

Racing to fill the vacuum left by the retirement of PODymouth, there are two new blogs that will review self-published books: POD Critic and iUniverse Book Reviews. I salute these hardy souls and wish them godspeed on their quest for the holy grail. Watch out for the Knights of Ni.

Exciting news, authors now have a way to track their Amazon ranking! Not that anyone does that. Or knows the exact minute every hour their sales ranking will update. Or tracks it twenty four hours a day on separate computers to maintain accuracy. As linked to by Thomas Nelson CEO/Blogger Michael Hyatt, the website TitleZ does everything for you, including graphs and charts and records of your top and low ranking -- better yet, you can even track your bitter rivals I mean fellow authors. Even more amazing, the TitleZ website has not yet crashed under the weight of thousands of authors frantically signing up. Oh, and the service is free. For now.

The Hugo Award nominees for Science Fiction have been announced, and best of luck to the nominees. The winners will be presented with a spaceship that will cause catastrophic global warming and wipe out the human race unless the winner can successfully use the ship to secure a base on a new planet that is guarded by homicidal plants, a super hot alien girl, and one very smart orangutan.

And finally, have you ever watched American Idol and thought to yourself, "You know, I really like this show except for all the singing?" I know I have! Well, we're all in luck because in the UK they are going to start an American Idol for books. Yes, you've heard correctly, an American Idol for books. As reported by The Bookseller and Publisher's Lunch, Simon Cowell's brother is launching a show on Britain's ITV in which aspiring authors will pitch their projects to the other Cowell, agent Ali Gunn, and an as yet to be determined bestselling author. The guy with the completely true memoir about his alien encounters will be the new Sanjaya.

Have a great weekend everyone!!

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Themes Schmemes

So you know how you spent four or more years in college learning about what books mean and how to analyze novels for hidden meaning, and where you learned that the best books are the ones with subtext upon which you can write a twenty page paper on the use of metaphor as an elucidation of the philosophical constructs of the protagonist's society?

Yeah. Forget all that.

I get quite a few query letters that sound like this (btw this is made up, I will never make fun of your query letter in this space, agent's honor):

"My novel explores themes of love and themes of passion. The protagonist fights against the evils inherent in our society and must come to terms with his inner sense of frustration and futility. But ultimately the novel is about how we as human beings must develop a sense of self and prevail in the face of society's obstacles."

No offense to myself for writing that, but that does not exactly make me want to read more of my own writing.

It's really the oldest writing advice in the book: Show don't tell. College teaches you to tell. It teaches you to look for subtext and it conditions you think you should pack your novel full of references and themes so future scholars will have a job. And then people write their query like it's a term paper.

I'm not (praise Tyra) planning on writing a twenty page paper on your novel, so don't tell me what your novel is about. Tell me what happens. And hopefully you've written a novel in which things actually do happen. Because I like novels where things happen. Happening is good.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Brick and Mortar or Plastic and Silicon?

As I mentioned in last week's "This Week in Publishing," Borders is working on some new strategery that includes both the internets and their brick and mortar stores.

So this got me to thinking (a dangerous thing, to be exercised with great caution): which way do you see the future headed? Which way will things trend: will the internet inspire new innovations that make bookstores appealing destinations for browsing, hanging out and (hopefully) buying, or does the convenience of the internet and the ability to easily find new and obscure books make the bookstore obsolete? Will there be fewer but bigger book superstores or more but smaller niche bookstores? Will our robot overlords make us eat books for survival, and if so, will we be delivered daily rations or will we have to go to the book/grocery store?


I'd also like to give a shout out to one of my very favorite bookstores, Borderlands in San Francisco's Mission District, home of Ripley the ridiculously awesome hairless sphinx and official mascot of Borderlands. If Ripley had been born a couple of thousand years ago we might all today be worshipping at shrines dedicated to her awesomeness and offering sacrifices of catnip and sunscreen.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Make Our Lives Easier

So I was watching The Hills on MTV last night, or at least it was on while I was reading (my girlfriend is a big fan), and there was a pretty amazing moment between this girl Heidi and her sketchy boyfriend Spencer. You see. Heidi and Spencer were talking about moving in together, and Spencer was sketchily applying some pressure to make this happen. At the very end, whilst sitting in Spencer's fancy car, Heidi said, "My answer is no," and Spencer, not missing a sketchy beat, countered with, "Sweet, my answer is get out of my car."


My mind immediately began racing as I thought of the many uses of this amazing comeback.

Girlfriend: "I think we should watch Say Anything tonight instead of Kicking and Screaming."
Me: "Sweet, my answer is get out of my car."

Contracts person: "I'm sorry, I can't grant you this point."
Me: "Sweet, my answer is get out of my car."

Random person on the street: "Your shoelace is untied."
Me: "Sweet, my answer is get out of my car."

Unfortunately, I'm just not this mean. Which may explain why I'm not currently on a reality TV show.

Anyway, on to the actual post.

I touched on this in a previous post on the wonders of Google, and I think it bears repeating because lately some query letters writers have been making life difficult.

Here's the thing about technology. It saves time. But it doesn't actually save time equally. You can use technology to save yourself time at the expense of a prospective agent's time, or you can use technology to save your prospective agent time at the expense of yours. And I am imploring you, both for my own sake and for your prospects of success, to save your prospective agent's time.

Example A: E-mail makes it extremely easy to e-mail a bunch of people at once. You could either fire off a hundred identical letters to random agents, meaning that quite a few agents will be getting queries that aren't remotely right for them, or you could take the time to research agents individually. Take the time.

Example B: You could just send out a link to your website and ask agents to go find take a look, meaning that they have to go to their browser, hope the website is working, hunt around for the material and risk that the link is actually spam, or you could take the time to write a proper query letter and include a link to your website just in case the agent is curious. Take the time.

Example C: You could mention an agent's blog for some brownie points without taking a look through the archives, or you could read a lot of what they've posted and make sure you are following the advice they have given in the past (such as, ahem, the part about queries beginning with rhetorical questions). Take the time.

Example D: You could send off a first draft that doesn't represent your best work, or you could sit down, send it off to critique groups and revise revise revise. Take the time.

It's easier than ever before to use the internet to find information about agents. It used to be ridiculously hard -- you had to buy books, spend time at the library, you had to have connections.... I don't know how anyone ever got an agent, frankly. Now it's really easy to find information, and yet people aren't even taking the time to look for it. I don't understand it.

So yeah -- this is probably a "preaching to the choir" post, but please please take the time to do your research, write a great query letter, and personalize it. Otherwise you just might be hearing the words, "Sweet, my answer is get out of my car."

Monday, March 26, 2007

When Should You Give Up?

I have a great deal on my plate at the moment (said dish is heavier than Charles Barkley's plate at Thanksgiving), and I guess I didn't realize I was blogging on a punctual basis until people started e-mailing me this afternoon wondering about my well-being. I'm ok! Heh heh, if the San Francisco Police Department is reading this, I swear I wasn't the one who put out an all points bulletin requesting that all available assistants in the San Francisco area to please report to my office. That was a prank. From some other literary agent.

One of the questions I often get is: how many query rejections one should suffer before enough is enough. Is there a magic number? With apologies to Sean Lindsay at the hilarious blog 101 Reasons to Stop Writing (who would probably answer "immediately"), when should you stop writing queries?

This isn't one I can answer (which is why I chose to blog about it on a busy day). You have to answer it for yourself.

To be sure, there are some finite limitations here. There are only so many reputable agents out there, and that's further limited by the necessity of finding someone who represents your genre. But aside from that, it's up to you -- if you are no longer enjoying the process, if your personal life is suffering, if you have been called out in 101reasonstostopwriting.... maybe it's time to call it quits.

I'm not someone who says "never give up." If the process of trying to find an agent is getting you down, if it's interfering with your happiness, maybe you should shelve your novel to focus on rejoining the world. Maybe put it in a drawer and focus on writing another one that's even better. But one thing I tell people who are getting down by the business side of writing is to stop playing the "if only" game.

The "if only" game goes something like this: "If only" I had an agent I would be happy. Then that inevitably leads to the next step: "if only" I had a publisher I would be happy. "If only" I sold X copies I would be happy. Which leads to "if only" I were a bestseller I would be happy. And so on and so on. Happiness is always just over the horizon.

In my opinion, the only way to be happy in this business is to somehow avoid playing that game and appreciate every step. There's not a bed of roses waiting for you after every hill. Try to focus on enjoying each step as much as possible -- if it's not making you happy, then maybe you should put down the pen respond to my APB requesting immediate faxing assistance at..... Oh wait. That wasn't me, I swear!

Friday, March 23, 2007

This Week in Publishing 3/23/07

In This Week Publishing:

The International Thriller Writers have announced their candidates for the Thriller Awards, and those lucky nominees can be found here. The winners will be presented with an award that will turn into a bomb in thirty minutes unless they can successfully unravel a governmental conspiracy that involves a shoe, the Justice Department, and one very smart orangutan.

The newest mogul in book publishing has been shot multiple times and likes to wear a bulletproof vest. No, I'm not talking about Goil from Top Design -- none other than 50 Cent has become a book magnate, capitalizing on the somewhat controversial and pulpy genre "urban fiction" or "street lit" with his own imprint, G-Unit Books, part of Pocket Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, which is a division of Viacom, which, you guessed it, owns MTV. The LA Times, needless to say, is all over this story, and you can read more about it here. My favorite part of the article is that Vibe's editor in chief Danyel Smith calls 50 Cent "the gangster style Oprah." You really have to hand it to Mr. Cent.

HarperSF, a division of HarperCollins that specializes in religion and spirituality, had apparently been receiving cookbook proposals because they had San Francisco in their title, so they're dropping the whole SF thing and are now going to be called HarperOne. Which probably means that they will now receive math proposals.

In a recent press release and as reported by Shelf Awareness, Publishers Lunch and others, Borders announced that they are going to be slimming down, getting in shape and dropping the extra pounds for summer. On their to-do list: downsize number of Walden stores, establish own e-commerce website, end international expansion, establish digital centers in existing superstores, make celebrity books, construct new superstore prototype, world domination. (I made up the part about world domination, but I'm sure the thought crossed their minds.)

And finally, a big thanks to Publisher's Lunch for pointing me to this BBC article. You see, poor, very deceased Jane Austen was deemed too ugly for the cover of a new edition of her nephew's memoir, and the publisher, no doubt inspired by the recent episode of America's Next Top Model, decided to give her a makeover, including a weave and new makeup. Jane Austen's ghost reportedly broke down in tears, at which point Jay Manuel said she wasn't fierce enough and told her to leave his set.

Have a great weekend everyone!

Thursday, March 22, 2007

101 Things in Queries That Catch My Eye (Or At Least As Many As I Can Think Of)

Similar to my fascination with shiny objects and sports on high definition television, there are certain things writers do in query letters that catch my eye, leaving me transfixed and occasionally drooling. Some things in a query letter catch my eye in a bad way -- I still receive a bazillion query letters that begin with rhetorical questions, and I react like a wounded character in a bad war movie. ("I.... I can't... make it... You go on without me.") But there are many ways to activate the reptillian section of the brain and make me think, "query letter good me happy."

Here are as many as I can think of, in the order in which my scattered and very busy brain comes up with them (i.e. not necessarily by order of importance, except for the first one, which definitely is the most important). Also please note that a good query letter does not have to have all or even any of these elements, but these are the ones that help signal to me that a good query letter experience is happening.

1. A Personalized Letter - Here's the thing. Yes, I love being flattered by query letter writers who mention that they read the blog, and yes, it makes me blush and sputter, "Gee golly, little ole me?" but it's also no coincidence that the people who actually take the time to Google me and read the blog also write the best query letters. If you're Googling me and reading my blog and other agent blogs it shows that you're taking the time to be a well-educated and well-prepared writer, which reflects well on your dedication to the craft and business of writing. So it's not even so much that I'm more likely to request your manuscript because I'm flattered -- a personalized letter is just a tipoff that the query letter is probably going to be good and that I should stop staring at the shiny objects and pay attention to the query letter.

2. Credentials - Credentials aren't mandatory if you have a great story. But if you are a LA Times bestseller or an Edgar Award Winner, I'm probably going to pay attention to your query letter (and probably also spit out my coffee in excitement). Publications in literary journals and the few magazines that still publish short stories = also good.

3. Humor - We love the funny.

4. Length - If you haven't already, please take a look at my post Anatomy of a Good Query Letter, because I think that is the perfect length for a query letter. Long enough to convey the information it needs to convey, not so long that it's overkill. There is definitely such a thing as too short, and I'd say 85% of query letters are too long, with a full 50% being way too long.

5. A killer plot - great plots leap off the page. And the heart of the plot, as Jessica Faust pointed out in a really great post yesterday, is conflict. Describe a great central conflict and I'll be interested.

6. You know how in your Outlook inbox the "from" lists who the e-mail is from? That should be your name, properly spelled. It's not hard to set -- work with your e-mail program. Sometimes it's a bizarre username or e-mail address that has me cringing before I open up the e-mail.

7. Title - A great title always catches my eye, although to be honest bad titles stick out a whole lot more than good ones.

8. I am a sucker for: historical fiction, very well-written literary fiction and memoir, sports, fiction that takes place in other countries, philosophical science fiction, narrative nonfiction, and international affairs. I consider many different genres, but I'm a sucker for these.

9. Journalists - journalists are good writers (since, you know, that's how they make their living), so I always pay extra close attention to query letters from journalists.

10. Ambition - I'm always impressed by people who have really thrown themselves into writing, like people who start reading series, who start online communities, who start anthologies, and who are intimately involved with writing and really take it to the next level. It's another sign that they're really serious about this whole writing thing.

11. Referrals - A friend of one of my clients or a friend is a friend of mine. Unless you're a Laker fan.

12. MFA Graduates - I mean, you went to school for it, right?

13. Previously published - This one kind of goes without saying. If you've been published it's a good thing. I'd like to take this opportunity, though, to point out that if you have self-published a novel you should not call yourself a "published" writer in a query letter. In industry parlance "published" means published through a publishing company that paid you an advance and (hopefully) royalties.

14. Contact info listed in your query - You'd think this would go without saying but...

15. No attachments - I don't open them (unless I ask for them).

16. Gimmick-free - I'm not a gimmick guy. Your protagonist probably shouldn't "write" your query letter, there's no real need to think out of the box and get all wacky on me. Just write a good solid query letter. Trust me, I've seen it all, and if it's something I haven't seen before I'll probably just be scared.

17. Website - Please please please don't send me off to your website to look at your material in lieu of a query. Just write me a query. However, if you do have a cool website definitely include a link. Especially if it's a shiny website or one that shows streaming videos of sporting events.

18. Cool characters - It's very very difficult to make a character come alive in such a short letter, but make that happen. It's all about the details.

19. Word count - I don't really notice word count unless it's over 175,000 words, in which case I'm going to need a little convincing. Much like hiking across a desert without water, I could probably be persuaded to do it but there had better be a darn good reason for it.

20. Mentioning how much you love my clients - This probably goes in the "personalize" paragraph, but this always makes me insanely happy. However this means you really do have to have read books by my clients, no falsies!

21. GOOD WRITING - The best for last. Good writing trumps all.

Ok, so I didn't quite make it to 101. Still, this should give you plenty to go on as you're writing those quer.... Oh! Coins!

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Do You Notice Imprints?

Thank you thank you thank you to everyone who sent in suggestions for the blog, they should keep me busy for the next few months. You people are very smart and your suggestions similarly glisten with your prodigious collective wit and wisdom: the people have spoken, and the people want monkeys. Actually they want more inside dish.

A few things to keep in mind as you wonder why in the world I'm not blogging about my juicy horror stories: since this is not an anonymous blog I am thusly constrained by the fact that people know who I am, where I work, and even though I know karate I don't really fancy people coming into my office and testing my skills in revenge for a nasty blog post. Especially since I'm lying about knowing karate.

Oh, and one more thing -- there were some suggestions that I point out trends and things like that. While I'm happy to point out trends that I think are very funny, as I posted a few weeks back I don't really follow trends that closely, nor do I think you should. If you follow the trends too closely you're going to be behind the curve on the next trend. However, if you want to get a sense of the big new books that are going to be coming out in the future, Buzz Girl's blog is a great resource.

And now, in keeping with the week of feedback, here's this week's You Tell Me.

So, not sure if you've noticed, but publishing has a very curious system where the name of an "imprint" is listed on the jacket of the book, usually at the base of the spine (i.e. Nan A. Talese, Crown, Dutton, etc. etc.). This is not necessarily the company that published the book, it's called the "imprint." It may be the publisher or it may be a division within a publisher or it may be a division within a division of a publisher. And if this sounds confusing it took me my first two years in publishing just to sort all this out.

By way of example, the US division of Random House, the biggest publisher, is divided into groups (i.e. Doubleday Broadway, Crown, Random House Children's, Knopf, etc.). Within those groups are imprints. So, within Doubleday Broadway you have not only the Doubleday and Broadway imprints, but also Flying Dolphin, Nan A. Talese, Currency, and several others. Confused? Good!

Now, one of the main reasons these imprints exist is that each has its own unique character. For instance, the Nan A. Talese imprint (headed by none other than publishing icon and living legend Nan Talese), is known for its incredible literary merit. Harlequin has imprints divided by categories of romance. So when an agent is shopping a project, it helps to match the project with the right imprint, and similarly, booksellers can use imprints as a sort of shorthand to get a sense of which type of books will come from a publisher.

Well. Late last year the publisher Thomas Nelson dissolved its imprints!! Thomas Nelson CEO/blogger Michael Hyatt told PW, "The only ones who care about imprints are publishers, and they are expensive to maintain." Thomas Nelson is now reorganized as an imprint-free zone.

So here's the thing about imprints: in a world where it's becoming increasingly difficult to tell the difference between a self-published book and a book from a commercial publisher, it seems like imprints really could function as a brand. If consumers were aware that they existed they could be a way of distinguishing between a book that carries the investment of a mainstream publisher and a self-published book. On the other hand, while it is sometimes helpful for me to know where to shop a book, maybe this is just an inside baseball thing.

You tell me -- do you notice an imprint when you are buying a book? Has the name on the spine (the imprint, not the author) ever influenced one of your book buying decisions?


Tuesday, March 20, 2007

What Blog Features/Topics Would You Like to See?

This is fast becoming feedback week at blog central. As I sat staring at the screen last night trying to think of something to blog about, it hit me. I don't know! I'd like to make the blog more helpful to you, the esteemed readers, so please let me know what you'd like to see on the blog. More features? More Q&A's? More guest bloggers? More monkeys?

Please make out your requests in writing, and please keep in mind that while we do our best to serve you we are limited by the bounds of good taste and decency. Strict? Maybe. I assure you that the blog is ruled with an iron fist and a tender hand.

Send on the suggestions, and, as always, watch out for banana peels.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Our Books, Ourselves?

I was at a dinner party over the weekend, where I wasn't even kicked out for being a literary agent. The people at the party were mostly tech types -- someone brought a couple of small carved pieces of metal that apparently do something very cool, and after several years of intense studying I might actually be able to tell you what that is.

The problem with these tech types is that they often are also really smart when it comes to books, making me feel very inadequate. Couldn't they at least be illiterate to even the playing field??? It's not like I could walk into their jobs and talk about how to algorithm the prime of silicon squared, or whatever the heck it is they do. So sure enough, someone at the party made a very interesting point about the process of buying books.

Her hypothesis, which was offered, by the way, over fabulous homemade chicken and dumplings and mac & cheese courtesy of a future food world star, is that when people buy books it reflects what we want to be. In other words, the process of buying books is aspirational, and what we buy says something about how we see ourselves and what we want to become.

I'm not sure I always agree (after all, one of my recent purchases was Christopher Moore's YOU SUCK, which hopefully doesn't suggest that I have a self-esteem crisis), but I thought this topic was provocative enough for a mini-Monday edition of You Tell Me. Does our purchase of books say more about us than meets the eye? Are books merely entertainment or is there something deeper at play, and does how we see ourselves play a role?

Friday, March 16, 2007

This Week in Publishing 3/16/07

Publishing this week in:

Even though my Cardinal were destroyed by the Cardinals in the opening round of the NCAA tournament, I’m comforted by the fact that my bracket stands at a cool 15 out of 16 picks, with my one mistake being my sentimental Stanford pick. This unquestionably means that I will be wrong on all 16 games today.

Are you ready for some Potter mania? Scholastic just announced an astounding, astonishing, astronomical, and every other “ast” word you can think of, 12 MILLION COPY FIRST PRINTING for the new Harry Potter book. With a cover price of $34.99, this means that the first printing alone is greater than the GDP of 13 countries (yes, I did the math). Hey Tonga, better get cracking on that YA novel you’ve been putting off writing.

Thomas Nelson CEO Michael Hyatt happens to be an avid blogger, and he had his peeps compile a list of the ten biggest publishers. Find out which multinational corporation sells more books than all the other multinational corporations here. I’ll give you a hint. The biggest publisher starts with an R and ends with andom House.

And finally, as reported by Gawker, lit blog The Millions has thrown down with lit journal n+1 over an n+1 article that said lit blogs “represent a perfection of the outsourcing ethos of contemporary capitalism,” and where it was generally suggested that lit blogs were a nonserious medium (um, I’ll plead guilty on that one). In response, The Millions sent back this withering salvo (along with some interesting, thoughtful discourse): “[n+1]’s editors are prodigiously gifted, respected, drowning in indie cred,' and despite (or because of) such stimulating missteps as 'The Blog Reflex,' the journal provides a much-needed antidote to the inanities of consumer culture.” TAKE THAT, n+1.

Have a good weekend everyone!

Thursday, March 15, 2007

The First Rule of Publishing: There Are No Rules

March Madness is here, and although I have mostly only digressed about bad TV in this blog I also am a bit of a die-hard basketball fan. As in when they advertised a contest with a grand prize custom Sacramento Kings room (complete with purple walls and Kings memorabilia) my girlfriend had to tell me to not get any ideas. I have been known to shout at the TV during games, which scares my dog to death. I heart basketball. So it is with great pain that I write this blog as my college team, Stanford, is down 26 POINTS AT THE HALF. What are they trying to do to me???

When I'm not watching my team get utterly destroyed at the hands of Rick Pitino and his gimmicky but always annoyingly effective full court presses and zones, I have been spending some time over with the good people at the Absolute Write message board, where I've been answering questions from aspiring authors. As best I can. Really, I'm trying. The thing about publishing questions is that they're ridiculously hard to answer, because you're trying to give people general advice that applies to all such situations, but in an industry where there are something like 125,000 books published every year there is no such thing as a general rule. So the Q&A's sometimes go something like this (these are made up, in case your hyperbole detector is in for repairs):

Questioner: How do I get my monkey novel published?
Me: Well, what you should do is write the whole thing, revise revise revise, query agents, and make sure that your book is a stand-alone work because you should listen to your agent and editor on whether to make it a series.
Third person: Actually, I got my monkey series published after only writing two pages, I didn't have an agent, and now I'm a major bestseller. How you like them bananas?
Me: Oh.

So who's right, me or the mega-bestseller? Well, both of us, because we just outlined two paths to success. I would argue, though, that although there are always always always exceptions that you hear about, I try to give people the solution that I think has the best chance of success. You're facing long odds on the road to publication, and I always think it's important to make those odds as good as possible by choosing the route with the best odds.

HOWEVER. I also don't have a monopoly on the best-route advice, nor is there even such a thing as a guaranteed path to get your book published by a publishing house. I offer but one perspective, and it's important to get a range of advice from publishing blogs, from talking with authors, from joining message boards like Absolute Write, and then, once you've heard a veritable cacophony of perspectives, choose your own path.

And whatever you do, be prepared for the press when you play Louisville. And try not to lose by 25 points. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to bang my head against my desk for a while.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

What's the Next Big Thing?

I'm always the last to find out about things, such as the time when I turned to my girlfriend a year ago and said, "So the thing about the Pussycat Dolls is that they're transgender, right?" You see, I had confused them for a burlesque act, and let's just say I haven't quite lived that one down, especially now that they are looking for a new pussycat doll, and while yes, they might be confused for a burlesque act they're not that kind of burlesque act. Other amazing revelations-to-Nathan include learning what "Free Bird" means, uh, today, and that time I thought Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie's adopted child was named Zathura.

Luckily for me and my clients I'm way more on top of book matters. I read THE DA VINCI CODE before it came out, I was totally on top of the whole vampire thing and I love making fun of people at parties for not knowing who Ian McEwan and Jonathan Lethem are. (This last part is false, which is why I still get invited to parties).

So right now my ear is to the ground of the publishing world, and I'm wondering what the next big thing is going to be. As you may have noticed, the publishing industry loves its hits, and when it comes to fiction we're actually sort of due for another big breakout novel from a relatively unknown author. A few years back it was THE LOVELY BONES by Alice Sebold, and in the last couple of years we were in the throes of DA VINCI CODE mania. To be sure this year there have been breakouts like SPECIAL TOPICS IN CALAMITY PHYSICS, WATER FOR ELEPHANTS and THE THIRTEENTH TALE (among others), but for the last six months the bestseller lists have almost read like a who's who of veteran bestselling authors (King, Crichton, Patterson, Robb, Patterson, Steel, Albom, Connelly, Patterson, Evanovich, Patterson and Patterson).

So. Break out your crystal balls and tarot cards and make a prediction. What do you think is going to be the next big thing? Is it going to be a spy novel? A breakout graphic novel like PERSEPOLIS? A knockout vampire book? A space opera about a boy and his dog?

Also, you're not allowed to vote for yourself.


Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Young Adult Literature Stock Alert: Buy Buy Buy

Thanks again to Ex Publishing Insider for her very entertaining jaunt down memory lane as she recalled the life of an editor, which I'm told did not even land her back on the therapist's couch. Success! Hopefully we'll have some more inside glimpses into the life of publishing types, as availability permits.

For those financial types out there, I'm going to put on my Jim Cramer excited suit and tell you that you need to start buying stock in young adult fiction because they're on a big hot streak, beating the market and leading to talk of a golden age. I just bought 500 shares in KL Going's SAINT IGGY and I've got my eye on the paperback edition of IN THE BREAK. (If you think you can't buy stock in books, check out how Po Bronson awesomely sold shares for his novel BOMBARDIERS).

Is it a golden age? As this article from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (best newspaper name ever?) points out, teens are snapping up young adult novels like their parents told them not to. All the cool kids are reading! Haven't you heard? Illiteracy is like so lame.

The article gives a few possible explanations for the boom, including a growing teen population that grew up on Harry Potter and a rise in quality in young adult literature. I wonder if perhaps with the advent of internet we have become much more of a reading culture, and that is trickling down to books? Also, much of today's young adult literature is filled with real themes and edgy topics, which might make them more appealing to young people.

In any event, for an industry that usually fears that young people will up and stop reading books (and thus not grow up to buy books), this is ridiculously welcome news.

What do you think is behind the boom? Good books? More reading?

Monday, March 12, 2007

Guest Blogger: An Ex Publishing Insider Talks About What Editors Really Do (Part 2)

Ex Publishing Insider is back by popular demand for the second part of her critically acclaimed explanation of what editors do. When we left poor author Herbert he had just gotten a book deal but had been told by Editor Jane that his publication date was two years away. Here's the second part of what happens when editors stop being polite and start getting real:

What Does An Editor Do (Part 2)

By Ex Publishing Insider

11) For a few months nothing happens while Jane must tend to other books she needs to buy and the books she’s currently publishing. There are author parties to attend, marketing and publicity plans to approve, and various authors and agents that must be kept happy. Oh yes, and she has a husband and a family that she’s neglecting.

12) Then Jane edits Herbert’s book. She rips out the first two chapters that are dull and beside the point and suggests completely cutting “Sophie,” who is a sex maniac and two-dimensional, also known as Herbert’s favorite character. She suggests speeding up certain sections, and slowing down others. She hates the ending, and most importantly the title has to go. Herbert receives the news and calls his agent to complain. The agent works overtime to calm him down.

13) Over the next year, Herbert and Jane go through three drafts together. It’s practically not even the same book anymore. True, Herbert did all of the writing, but without Jane’s guidance…it would be half the book it is now. Herbert learns that writing is a much more collaborative process than he thought. And he’s even learning to love the new title that Jane came up with.

14) Jane announces she is finally happy with the book, but Herbert is a little confused, as he knows it is still rife with typos. This is when Jane explains that the book is about to be sent to the copyediting department.

15) Months later, Herbert gets a printed copy of his manuscript littered with tiny red marks. It turns out that copyeditors are grammar ninjas and even people who think they have flawless grammar are woefully mistaken.

16) For the next few months, Herbert is working with everyone at the publishing house BUT Jane. A publicist calls. The marketing team emails. The copyeditors are hounding him. But Jane is nowhere to be seen. What Herbert can’t see though is that Jane is in-house approving every single step made for the book. She is writing his cover copy, she is tweaking the marketing plan, she is throwing out cover art sketches and demanding new ones. She is talking it up at cocktail parties. Jane has her hands in every aspect of the book at this point, and the final approval on everything. It’s a good thing for Herbert that Jane knows what she is doing.

17) At long last, Herbert’s publication date is approaching. Most of the people in his family have forgiven him for being so moody for that past two years because they’re all hoping that they’re in the book. Jane sends him a congratulation and crosses her fingers that Publishers Weekly appreciates the book. Meanwhile, her new assistant (the last one left to go to law school) has just plunked down a huge stack of manuscripts on her desk and one has just caught her eye. Who knows why? Maybe it was something she ate.

(This is Nathan again: thanks very much to Ex Publishing Insider for taking the time to guest blog!)

Friday, March 9, 2007

This Week in Publishing 3/9/07

This week in the industry that is publishing:

A couple of great new author websites: Bestselling author Torey Hayden has started a very fascinating blog, where she talks about her writing career as well as her work in child psychology. My wonderful and amazing client Rebecca Ramsey has started a myspace page as well as a website. Her debut memoir FRENCH BY HEART, about her Southern family's hilarious and heartwarming four years living in France, will be published by Broadway Books in April. And lastly, another wonderful and amazing client, Jack Lopez, has a website here. The paperback edition of his magnificent (seriously, it's amazing) young adult novel IN THE BREAK will be released on April 1st. IN THE BREAK was recently chosen as a 2007 pick of the New York Public Library's Books for the Teen Age -- congratulations to Jack!

This promotional part of the blog is brought to you by Dove's campaign for real beauty.

Well, you know how fascinated I've been by the phenomenon that is THE SECRET, and apparently I'm not alone. Not only are there now somwhere between three million and four quadrillion copies in print, I just saw this little number in Publishers Marketplace: Thomas Dunne Books just acquired a book called THE SECRET OF "THE SECRET", which looks at the phenomena behind THE SECRET, including the authors and its origins. Holy cow. The secret of THE SECRET??? Thomas Dunne Books, you just blew my mind.

Author and former editor Edward Tenner wrote a really fascinating article for the Chronicle of Higher Education, in which he discusses the effects of digital media on books. He does not, thank heavens, believe that reading online media will necessarily come at the expense of books. So hey, by my calculations that means that if you read this blog no poor author will go starving. Group hug!

And finally... uh, well, actually that's about it. Slow week in publishing. Class dismissed. See you on Monday for the much-awaited Part 2 of Ex Publishing Insider's post on what editors do, and of course, the final word on Herbert's road to being a published author. Have a great weekend everyone!

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Guest Blogger: An Ex Publishing Insider Talks About What Editors Really Do (Part 1 of a 2 part series)

Are you excited by the very long title of this post? Well, you're in for a big ole treat, because an ex-editor at a big New York publishing house has been kind enough to give you the scoop on what editors really do. The long nights. The paper stock decisions. The coffee stains on manuscripts. Oh, what a glamorous life they live.

Please note that the views and opinions of Ex Publishing Insider are her own, and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the Nathan Bransford blog or its corporate partners. Ha, I've always wanted to say that.

Oh, and editors do a lot, and so this is going to be a two part series. You have Part 1 today, and then Part 2 on Monday. Enjoy!

What Does An Editor Do

By Ex Publishing Insider

Well the bar has been set awfully high by Nathan Bransford, Literary Agent, for a post that is both witty and informative. I’m excited to have this opportunity to guest blog, but also sort of chewing my nails down to the quick. Take it easy on me, Bran Fans!

After graduating from school, I got into my head the wacky idea that I might want to work in the New York book publishing world. Eventually I talked my way into a job in the editorial department at a big publishing company. I worked there for four years, and slowly became an editor who bought and edited her own books, thus learning the answer to at least one of life’s great questions: What do editors do?

Editors do edit. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves here. Why don’t we follow one book through its entire publishing process to show what the editor does? And because editors seem to do an awful lot, this will be a two-part series.

1) Herbert Smith is an aspiring writer. It’s all he’s ever dreamed of doing, and if he does dream of something else at night, he promptly wakes up in the morning and chastises himself. He sweats blood and tears for many years and finally writes the great American novel. Somehow through a connection and prayers to a god no one has ever heard of, he finds a literary agent and at last the ball is moving. He will get an editor!

2) But wait, Herbert. Not so fast. First your literary agent is requesting significant changes to your manuscript. Herbert mutters something about “I thought this was the editor’s job” but makes the changes anyway. Finally, after an additional six months, the agent is sending out Herbert’s book!

3) Herbert’s book is sent out to a bunch of editors around the country that Herbert’s agent thinks might like the work. This critical step is probably the most important thing an editor does. An editor buys books. Let that sink in. An editor buys books. In any given day, a high-ranking editor will receive between 3 and 10 agented manuscripts (if she works in fiction) or 3 and 10 agented proposals and partial manuscripts (if in nonfiction). The editor then uses her assistant to screen out any obvious Nos, like a book outside of the editor’s specialty, a book that is positively crazy, a book that is unfortunately exactly like another book they just bought, etc. Meanwhile, Herbert waits and yells abusive things at his cat and thinks of firing his agent because this is just taking way too long.

4) Jane Bookworm is an editor at a big publishing house, and her assistant has just plopped today’s selection of agented manuscripts on her desk. Each one has a little slip of paper called a reader’s report, which the assistant may or may not have written from the agent’s letter, depending on if the assistant is loving this very underpaid job or just biding time until law school. Jane flips through the stack and something about Herbert’s novel catches her eye. Perhaps she’s been thinking that zombies are the next big thing, perhaps it was something she ate for breakfast, perhaps she’s crazy, but she takes a chunk home with her to Brooklyn that night. Meanwhile, people in Herbert’s family are thinking of staging an intervention.

5) Jane reads a chunk of the book that night and actually loves it. She’s surprised (as you always are) and makes a mental note to read more the following day. But then Jane’s week is taken up by a battery of very necessary meetings for the books she’s actually publishing at this very moment, and so she doesn’t get back to the book for a month.

6) Finally Herbert’s agent calls Jane and asks about her children and tells her he admires the latest book she edited and then asks how it’s going with Herbert’s manuscript. Jane says something vague, but she is reminded that she needs to finish it. She finishes the manuscript that day and is excited. She wants to make an offer. But back in Texas, Herbert vows never to write again and tries to take up a new hobby, like stamp collecting maybe.

7) The next day, Jane goes on the campaign trail for Herbert’s book. While buying a book is important, it also costs a lot of money and is a serious gamble for the company and thus a consensus must be reached among some of the editors that this book is “good.” She starts talking it up to editors within her division that she thinks will like it and passes out pieces of it.

8) A week later, several editors have said that they like the book at one of the board meetings. The Editor in Chief has given Jane permission to offer a small amount of money to the agent. Jane is excited.

9) When Herbert gets the call he at first believes it to be a prank from his ne’er-do-well nephew. But after a few weeks of back and forth, Jane and Herbert’s agent come to a deal, and Herbert is hospitalized for nearly dying of happiness.

10) Jane has her assistant begin drafting the contract and writes Herbert a warm note. Two years from now, he’ll be a publishing writer. Wait, what? Yes, two years.

(This is Nathan talking again): Will Herbert like the cover of his book? Will he be eviscerated by Kirkus? Will he be an old man by the time his book is published? Find out...... next week!!

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

What is the Best Writing Advice You Have Ever Received?

Another Wednesday, another chance to be heard loud and clear.

Also, perhaps more importantly, it is makeover night on America's Next Top Model, and frankly I couldn't be more excited. Who is going to freak the blank out when Tyra decides she wants to pull out the clippers and make someone bald? Will it be Natasha the Texan/Russian mail order bride or will it be one of the two plus sized models? Which top model aspirant will be the subject of Jay's wrath when she starts getting teary at her fallen hair thus proving that she doesn't want this enough and doesn't fully appreciate how many thousands of young girls would love to be in her shoes and therefore is not top model material???? I may die of anticipation.

Anyway, here is your actual query on which to utter a rejoinder:

What is the best piece of writing advice you have ever received ever?

Here's mine: "Writers write." So simple. So profound. So maddeningly ambiguous. Sigh.

Discuss amongst yourselves.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Publishing Myths 101: Editors Don't Edit

Another day another feature. Every, uh.... whenever I think of one, I'm going to display a commonly held belief about the publishing industry and then either debunk it or admit "yeah, actually that one's kinda true."

First up, only the most prevalent and widespread belief about publishing ever!! And that is: editors do not edit anymore, they just plop a book down on the market in whatever shape the author left it in, and thus poor authors are left wandering in the wilderness, editless and alone, looking up the sky and shrieking, "If only my editor edited my work!! Why God?? Why?????"

Now, first off, distinctions must be made here. There is a common sub-myth that editors are the ones who spot the typos and punctuation errors, and some people out there delight in finding typos as proof that the publishing industry doesn't care about the English language and is headed straight down the toilet. (Uh... it's a typo, not the apocalypse.) But anyway, the people responsible for catching said typos are "copy-editors," who are actually a magical breed of elves whose ears turn white when they see an improper comma splice. Humans need not apply.

On Thursday I'm going to have a guest blogger post on the many, many hats of an editor, but, I can tell you now (spoiler alert!!) that one of the biggest responsibilities of an editor is to take a manuscript and make it better.

Now, as you may have noticed, I'm pretty short in the tooth and thus can't really tell you what things were like in the publishing industry 50 years ago. Maybe editors back then edited more and things were all rosy and happy and sepia colored (I mean, what else were they going to do with their evenings besides edit books, they didn't have America's Next Top Model back then). BUT. I can tell you that the editors of today edit. There are ridiculously talented editors out there who can take a manuscript and make some truly magnificent suggestions that make the book so much better. They go through manuscripts with a fine toothed comb and suggest line edits and overall edits and title changes and are there on the phone when a panicked author can't decide whether the clone of Jesus should become a church leader or the new host of American Idol.

So, in case you just skipped to the end: The publishing myth that Editors don't edit: FALSE

Monday, March 5, 2007

Setting the Pace

Hello everyone, hope you had a great weekend. I would like to thank the good people at Squaw Valley for an excellent day of skiing on Saturday. You all have yourself quite a nice mountain.

First in the order of business: I've been receiving some queries lately with "book proposal contest" in the subject line. Whaaa? Did I start a book proposal contest without knowing it? I mean, I know I occasionally talk in my sleep, but I don't tend to go around starting contests. So uh, no, there is no book proposal contest that I am aware of.

Now for the actual post: One of the very most difficult elements of writing to master is pacing -- the rhythm of a novel. Much like music, novels have a rhythm -- you sort of expect things to unfold at a certain speed, things usually pick up at the end, and in the middle, if you're ever thinking to yourself "man, this is getting slow," by "slow" you mean things are not happening at the pace you expect as a reader. Aside from plot, I'd say pacing is probably the second most important thing I look for when I'm reading a novel, and it is one of the very most difficult elements of writing to describe, let alone master.

BUT. Pacing is really important. Readers depend on pacing, especially in commercial fiction, even if they're not even aware of it. I've seen a lot of people people malign THE DA VINCI CODE, but wow did that novel have some of the best pacing I've ever read. Dan Brown is a master of pacing -- I seriously couldn't put THE DA VINCI CODE down (when I wasn't holding it up to a mirror).

So what, really, is pacing? Well, I thought a lot about this when I was skiing down Squaw's bizarrely unmarked trails, and here's what I came up with (your definition may vary, void where prohibited):

Pacing is the length of time between moments of conflict.

Here's some (mumbo jumbo) human psychology (that I completely made up) for you: the human mind craves order. When a conflict arises in a novel, the brain wants to find out how it is resolved. When someone commits a crime, the brain wants to know if they are going to get caught. When someone has a fight with another character, the brain wants to know if they're going to make up. When a character is walking toward a banana peel on the floor, the brain wants to know if a monkey put it there. (ha! Did you think someone was going to slip and fall? That's called a reversal. Learn it. Also the monkey sees dead people and is Keyser Soze.) So conflict creates an unanswered question, and you turn the page to find out the answer.

If you were to take out a novel and tick off instances of conflict, you'd find that in most novels there's a certain rhythm to the way things unfold. In the beginning there's a big unanswered question (the BUQ, if you will), and then as the character heads toward answering that BUQ, things happen at a certain pace. Conflicts happen quickly as the author builds toward climaxes, and then usually there's some room for the reader to catch their breath with a slower pace. New conflicts are introduced just as old ones are resolved.

If there's a very slow part in a novel, it's often because there is no conflict -- things are just happening. A reader craves the unanswered questions in order to keep on going. This rhythm of the novel is something that separates professional writers from amateurs -- some people have that rhythm in their blood and don't even have to think about it, other people have to really work hard at it.

So the next time you read a book you can't put down, think beyond what is happening on the page and pick apart the rhythm of a novel. Mark down the moments of conflict and see how the author plays with that rhythm.

And who knows, with enough practice, maybe you'll win that contest that I didn't start.

Friday, March 2, 2007

This Week in Publishing 3/2/07

THIS WEEK in publishing:

Of course, of course. I should have known that my post about how great it is to live in San Francisco would spawn an earthquake. But it was very small (4.2) and no literary agents were harmed.

In actual publishing news, Random UK has been split asunder! Actually they've just reorganized themselves into two separate divisions. On one side you have CHA (aka "the Jets"), comprised of Century, Hutchinson, William Heinemann, Arrow, Random House Audio and Random House Books. And on the other you have CCV (aka "the Sharks"), comprised of Jonathan Cape, Chatto & Windus, Harvill Secker, Yellow Jersey Press, Vintage and Pimlico. The two new companies plan to snap their fingers as they walk down the street, engage in balletic knife battles, and fight for the hand of Maria.

Did you read CONFESSIONS OF A VIDEO VIXEN and IT'S NO SECRET: FROM NAS TO JAY-Z, FROM SEDUCTION TO SCANDAL -- A HIP-HOP HELEN OF TROY TELLS ALL and think to yourself, "Wow, I sure wish there were more books like this!" Well, you're in luck. The latest in the burgeoning genre of celebrity tell-all books (and I mean tell-all) was released this week: SECRETS OF A HOLLYWOOD SUPER MADAM by Jody "Babydol" (sic) Gibson. The LA Times is, of course, all over this story, and has the scoop here.

Man, people sure love them some secrets. Simon & Schuster just announced that they have gone back to press for a ridonkulous, pretty much unprecedented two million copy reprint for THE SECRET. Two million. To put that in perspective, that's a two... with six zeroes after it. The ridonkulous, pretty much unprecedented reprinting brings THE SECRET up to 3.75 million copies in print. I guess author Rhonda Byrne used the secret 4,000 years in the making and thought really hard about selling a bazillion copies, which so far is working.

And finally, a big happy birthday to THE CAT IN THE HAT, who turned 50 this week. If The Cat is anything like my parents, he will now commence complaining that he is too young to be receiving mailings from the AARP.

Have a great weekend everyone!

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Why My Heart Is in San Francisco (and the rest of my body as well)

People often ask me why I live in San Francisco when most of the publishing industry is based in New York. The conversation usually goes something like this:

Person: Why do you live in San Francisco when most of publishing is in New York?
Me: You mean, besides the weather, the friendly people, access to unparalleled tomatoes in the summer, a lively arts and restaurant scene, and the fact that you can go to the beach, hike in a redwood forest, drink wine in Napa and hit the ski slopes on consecutive days?
Person: I hate people from California.

But in all seriousness, there are some really great non-tomato-related reasons why I made the decision, after two years working in Manhattan and living in Brooklyn, to return to the West Coast. Yes, most of the publishing industry is based in New York, and yes, you can get perfectly decent (but not transcendent) tomatoes in Union Square at the farmer's market, so why make the switch?

First off, I have never lived in a city that loves its writers as much as San Francisco. I mean, if you go to a reading here the mood in the crowd is somewhere between awe and outright idol worship. San Francisco loves its writers in the way people in Los Angles love their movie stars, and almost as much as New Yorkers love telling people which subway lines to take to get somewhere. As a result, there is an amazing, thriving writing community here, and it's a wonderful thing to be a part of. And this is an underserved community when it comes to publishing connections (shh, don't tell anyone), and thus I'm much better able to meet new unagented writers than I was in New York. I still represent writers around the country and the world, some of whom I've never met face to face, but there's something to be said for having a non-New York centered degrees of separation. I'm MUCH closer to Kevin Bacon.

As I mentioned in the agent panel at the San Francisco Writer's Conference, it's also really great to be swimming in non-New York cultural waters. The publishing industry has a tendency to be pretty New York-centric, and I've found that being exposed to different trends, fads, newspapers, etc. in a different part of the country has made me better able to discover new writers and to anticipate what the rest of the non-New York based country is thinking about.

And really, I am fortunate, with Curtis Brown, to have the best of both worlds -- I am in San Francisco, but I have the resources of a larger New York based agency behind me.

There are, of course, some small drawbacks. It is a bit more difficult to network face to face with New York publishing types, but in this respect I am fortunate -- I am a part of a general ongoing dispersal of the publishing industry around the country. It's much more common to work in publishing and not live in New York than ever before, and this has broken down many of the biases against hinterland agents and editors. And because of newfangled devices like the telephone and e-mail, especially with my generation, people are much more comfortable networking via technology than in the past. The book parties and cocktail hours, once the main way to brush elbows with the publishing industry powers, are almost extinct as publishers focus on more cost effective ways of selling books.

I've been completely thrilled by my move to San Francisco, and while I certainly miss my friends back in New York (not to mention the Gowanus Yacht Club), I have met new talented writers, I'm invigorated by the writing scene, and it's been a great career move as well. And did I mention how easy it is to go to the beach, hike in a redwood forest, drink wine in Napa and go skiing? I must have forgotten.

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