Nathan Bransford, Author

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Would You Still Write If You Knew You'd Never Make a Cent?

Just a quick update that I am now back in the office in San Francisco after quite an incredible week in New York. The meetings! The weather! The food! The general sense of panic in the Financial District!

But as much as I fell in love with New York all over again, man oh man is it good to be back in the land of cool nights and driving to the grocery store. Ah, San Francisco, I thank you.

My Inbox could probably compete with Ben Bernake's at this point for sheer madness, so I'm afraid the query moratorium is still in effect. And yes, You Tell Me on a Tuesday - I'm going to go Coffee Talk on you and ask that you "talk amongst yourselves."

I'll give you a topic. Would you still write if you knew you'd never make a cent doing it? Would it change what you write and how you write?

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Hi, My Name Is.... Uh, I'll Have to Get Back to You on That

Day 4. Supplies running short. Fatigue setting in. Considered accosting teenager on subway today who had coffee that smelled good. Thought better of it. Wondering if I'll make it back to California.

Natives are restless.

Ah, just kidding. Things are great here in New York, and it's been really fun to meet with editors, agents and friends. Although I must say that after so many meetings with so many different people at a breakneck pace, my brain feels like it's been run over by a taxi. I didn't go so far as to forget my name as the subject line suggests, but there's still plenty of time for that.

Today I had planned to do sort of a pulse of the industry post, but what I'm constantly reminded of instead is how individual things are for everyone in publishing. We've all read the End of Publishing article and are wondering about the future, but everyone is excited about their lists, ready to find the next great project, and especially in a time where people are on edge, so many people in publishing just really love their jobs.

What are people looking for? Same as always: good books.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


What a city. After punishing me for moving with a heat wave my last visit, New York and I have made amends. The weather is spectacular, the food amazing and the people walking faster than ever.

I'm now halfway through my 2,000+ meetings, which have been great. The pace on these trips is pretty intense. Working in the morning, lunch with an editor and then three hours of back to back meetings.

Oh, you thought I was done? Then it's time for drinks with an editor, some days two, then dinner somewhere that night.

I can't complain though, I'm having a great time and it's so great to see everyone. However, because of this schedule insanity I'm instituting a query moratorium, so if you don't hear back from me this week that's why. If you read the blog and are thinking of querying, waiting a week would be greatly appreciated.

In the meantime, thank you New York! I knew we could still be friends.

Friday, September 19, 2008

This Week in Publishing 9/19/08

I'm off to New York next week for a whirlwind round of approximately 2,274 1/2 meetings, so posting will be sporadic until my return. Now if New York would kindly cooperate and keep its weather below 80 degrees I'd appreciate it. I'm watching you, humidity. Don't get sassy.

It may have been Gut Week in Publishing on this blog, but it was Sequel Week in the rest of publishing. That's because two major, beloved franchises are getting sequels, and not your ordinary "let's just put a sequential number at the end" type either. First, from Penguin's UK blog came word that ARTEMIS FOWL author Eoin Colfer will be writing a sequel to the late Douglas Adams' HITCHHIKER'S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY series. Hyperion will be publishing here in the US. Hope Eoin brought his towel. Meanwhile, Publishers Marketplace brings news that Candice Bushnell just signed a deal with Balzer & Bray to write a YA novel based on Carrie Bradshaw's high school years.

In a move that had me saying "Innnnnnteresting," Sony announced that their Sony Reader would soon be sold in Target stores. The Kindle is still only for sale via Amazon's website. Who wins in the brick and mortar vs. silicon battle of the e-readers? Grab your popcorn and coke, this one is going to be a barnburner.

That sound you heard is the economy melting down! And how are book sales doing? Um... Yeah. Maya Reynolds notes a PW report that book sales took another tumble in July, and are only up 1.7% over last year, compared to 3.2% in the entire retail sector. Blech.

This may explain why telling people to stop writing is a growth industry. Into the territory championed by Sean Lindsay at 101 Reasons to Stop Writing, GalleyCat noted an article by career specialist Penelope Trunk called 5 reasons you don't need to write a book. #4 Reason is that you'll make more money flipping burgers than writing, to which authors everywhere will respond, "Well, YEAH...."

Bestselling suspense author Jeff Abbott noted a recent study on the destructive force of the Internet on writing. Of course, if you're reading this, the Internet is probably distracting you from writing. Ha! The Internet is a clever foe indeed.

My client Jennifer Hubbard, author of the forthcoming BLACK MOUNTAIN ROAD, wrote a seriously awesome post on voice. Among the insightful insights: voice isn't just for first person, and a compelling voice is consistent and yet complex. There's much more, and it's terrific advice.

And finally, you know all those books we were embarrassed we hadn't read? Well, along came British author Richard Wilson with an article on 10 Books NOT to Read Before you Die. Mine is #9, and plenty of popular answers were among those Richard says we shouldn't read.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Gut Busters

I'm officially declaring this Gut Week on the blog. Gut gut gut.

On Monday we talked about how impatience gets in the way of the gut, and on Tuesday... uh.. nevermind, Tuesday doesn't apply, but then yesterday the dominant response to the "how do you know when to listen to your beta readers" was: the gut.

Clearly instincts are absolutely imperative for writers. Good ones will take you all the way to publication and a supplementary income to your day job, bad ones will lead you to write a 1,000 page stream of consciousness memoir written in the second person.

But there's much more to the story than just instincts, because instincts do not just consistently make themselves known in big bold letters. Instead, instincts are a bit like sails on a boat, ready to be blown about by the winds.

The gut is very impressionable! These are but some of the gut busters that can lead a gut to make very bad decisions indeed:

- impatience
- greed
- laziness
- reluctance to kill darlings
- irrational exuberance
- pride
- outside pressure
- delusions of grandeur
- alcohol

The only way to make a gut decision is with a clear head. So before you decide your gut is telling you to just hit send on a 4,000 word query, you might first run a system scan on the gut to see if any these qualities are interfering. And this is just a partial list! Please add your own gut busters in the comments section.

Ultimately: be honest with yourself! A good gut is a terrible thing to waste.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Who Are Your Beta Readers?

After Monday's post on the evils ways of impatience, Margaret Yang initiated a discussion in the comments section about the handiness of beta readers -- those people who read your rough drafts, give you suggestions, and hopefully provide you with a dash of honesty mixed with a spoon-full of encouragement.

So. Who reads your work before you send it out? Whom do you trust? And perhaps most importantly, how to you know when and when not to take their advice?

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

This Week's "End of Publishing As We Know It" Article Is Brought To You By....

New York Magazine!

But there's a reason that I'm highlighting this end-of-publishing article out of so many, rather than just slipping it into This Week in Publishing: it's actually pretty good. It's dishy and trenchant. Of the articles in this extremely crowded genre, there's some good information that everyone should definitely check out.

Now, I have confirmed with people who have been in the business longer than me that the "end of publishing as we know it" sentiment has been around as long as they've been in the business, with everything from the publishing mergers back in the '80s and '90s to that one time Maxwell Perkins ran out of gin being viewed as a harbinger of the publishing apocalypse. So I'm not by any means endorsing the view that we should all just give up and go sell steak knives.

My reaction to the article can be summed up as so: the coming years are indeed going to be tough for publishers as Amazon, Sony and other tech companies muscle in on the publishers' traditional sphere of distribution. And you can see in the article the pressure to come up with some new means of making books that can deliver consistent margins. But at the same time, this is a time of tremendous opportunity for authors, especially those who can deliver an audience consistently.

But what do you think?

Monday, September 15, 2008

Don't Get Caught Up in the Rush

Anyone who has had even a passing acquaintance with the publishing industry knows one inescapable fact: things don't move quickly.

Part of this institutional/traditional, part of this just inevitable due to the fact that it takes a long time to read a book, and in order for a book to be published a whole lot of people have to read it along the way.

But for an aspiring author, there is an even greater danger than getting trapped in the vortex of publishing time. And that danger is impatience.

Impatience is perhaps the single most significant obstacle you will face on the path to publication, and it can pollute your experience in a vast variety of ways. It sneaks in, grows, and then injects its tentacles and poisons you with a toxic brew of frustration and short-sightedness. It feels no pain and can't be reasoned with.

Impatience sits on your shoulder and messes with you at every stage of the publishing process.

Writing: "You're totally finished!"
Revising: "Who needs revisions, it's perfect!"
Research: "I'll just call an agent to ask how to write a query letter."
Querying: "E-mail blast!!!!!!!"
Following up: "Two weeks to read a partial??? Time for an angry e-mail!"

But perhaps the most dangerous period where impatience can affect your judgment comes when you are offered representation and are trying to decide on a course of action.

By the time an author is offered representation, chances are they've been working at it for years and have been dreaming about it for longer. Every cell in their body will be shouting, "Take it! Take it!!!"

But here's the flip side. I have read submissions from authors who had told me they had an offer of representation on the table. I read the work, kept my own impatient instincts in check, and let them know that while I saw a great deal to like in the material, I didn't think the work was ready, and suggested the outlines of some revisions that I hoped they would work with me on. In each of these instances the authors agreed with my revisions, but when faced with an offer of representation from an agent who wanted to submit immediately, they went with the other agent. I wished them the best.

But now twice in the past month authors have come back to me after an unsuccessful submission with the unrevised manuscript, wishing they had taken the time to revise. But at that point I can't really help them -- it's already been seen at the major houses.

Now, who knows what would have happened had I helped them revise -- I'm not trying to say I would have necessarily sold these books had they worked with me, nor do I necessarily blame them for taking the bird in the hand. At the same time, these authors ended up regretting their impatience. Their gut was telling them to take the time to revise, but impatience overruled.

Successful published authors tend to have the patience of saints when it comes to writing and revising -- they've learned that there is no greater danger than putting something out before it's ready.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

RIP David Foster Wallace

Wow. Just incredibly sad news. We've lost an unbelievable talent.

Friday, September 12, 2008

This Week in Publishing 9/12/08

Publishing, in This Week

As alluded to yesterday, in what has to be the greatest tragedy since that time Lauren Conrad went out with that one boring guy who didn't pay attention to her and then the next day Whitney was like, "Whaaaaaat?" and Lauren was like, "I know!"..... Lauren Conrad sold a three book YA series, and chose another agent to query first. The tears! Justin Bobby, if you go and sign up a pirate series without me I may spontaneously combust. You've been warned.

Meanwhile, agent (and former book publicist) Colleen Lindsay over at Fine Print has been blogging up a storm with a series of fantastic posts on book publicity. She has posted on the different publicity/marketing departments, how to work with your publicist and a publicity timeline, the economics behind galleys, and some additional Q&As. Must read, people. Pop quiz on Monday.

The truly indispensable Cynthia Leitich Smith is celebrating the 10th Anniversary of with a 10th Anniversary giveaway! Free stuff! Dogpile!!

In other giveaway news, don't forget that this is your last day to stop by Anne & May and enter to win a signed copy of their new book THE MIRACLE GIRLS. Also don't miss the yodeling chihuahua (no seriously).

Booker Prize shortlist! Adding intrigue, earlier in the year John Sutherland had said that if Salman Rushdie's ENCHANTRESS OF FLORENCE didn't win "I'll curry my proof copy and eat it." ENCHANTRESS didn't make the shortlist, so I have to say, I'm really forward to the YouTube video where Sutherland eats a book.

In honor of the anniversary of 9/11 this week, one of my very first blog readers, Will Entrekin, re-posted his essay on 9/11, and all sales of his short story collection this week will benefit the United Way.

JK Rowling won the lawsuit to block publication of THE HARRY POTTER LEXICON. Publisher Lunch has a great rundown of what it all means. The ruling was somewhat complex, as the judge ruled that the Lexicon used too much of Rowling's own material, but he did not rule out the possibility of a derivative work entirely.

And finally, you knew this was coming........ MONKEYS!!!

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, September 11, 2008


Holy Tyra! Thanks so much to the Blogger team for making this today's Blog of Note, and a warm welcome to everyone visiting for the first time. We talk about books, reality TV shows, publishing, monkeys, writing, and Cormac McCarthy, not necessarily in that order.

If you're a writer (and really, who isn't these days?) be sure and check out the Essentials on the right side of the page, and especially the FAQs.


I've blogged previously about my love of the VH1 show Behind the Music, and honestly, the Very Special Episode on Milli Vanilli is one of the most cherished hours I have ever spent watching television. However, there is one phrase that some people use in query letters that never fails to remind me of the tragic lives of Fab Morvan and Rob Pilatus as documented by a serious narrator on Behind the Music. And that phrase is "is shattered."

"Is shattered" is used a lot in query letters. Here's just a short list of some of the things that I have seen "shattered" in a query letter.

- Someone's faith in the world
- Someone's sense of complacency
- Someone's optimistic outlook
- Someone's heterosexuality

On the one hand this is good -- if something is shattering, it suggests that something is going wrong, which means the book probably has a plot. Plot is good.

On the other hand, "is shattered" is kind of a cliche, and here's why I would hesitate to recommend that people use it.

1) It's passive. "Nathan's day is shattered when he finds out Lauren Conrad sold a book and he wasn't the agent." The passive voice is found in your query!
2) It's vague. What does "is shattered" mean anyway? It's very nonspecific, and when every word counts, it's important to use words that count.
3) Agents see it so often. You couldn't have known this, so as with anything else, don't feel bad if you used it, and there's no way I passed on your query just because you shattered something in your query. And I'm sure "is shattered," as with anything else, has been used effectively sometime somewhere.

So in sum: be careful with "is shattered." If you do, in the immortal words of the Behind the Music narrator, "it all came crashing down."

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

What Book Are You Embarrassed Not To Have Read?

First up, I've had quite the busy week, and unfortunately I haven't been able to get to many questions that have come in on the blog and via e-mail. Also though, I've been getting quite a few questions that have already been covered in the FAQs. Please please please check there first! And thanks so much to the regular readers who have chimed in with answers to some of these questions -- you guys are life-savers.

This week's You Tell Me is a fun one, and it comes via the Washington Post book blog Short Stack.

What book are you embarrassed not to have read?

As a member in good standing of the publishing industry (well, last time I checked), let me tell you that it's not possible to have read everything, and yet there's sometimes an expectation that an agent will have not only heard of every book ever published, but read every book published. Not possible, obviously, but there's still pressure to be conversant about pretty much every book ever published.

But nevertheless, I'll still answer. I've never read THE LORD OF THE RINGS series and I'm embarrassed.

What about you?

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Dutton to Publish Interactive Book

One of the hot deals that happened late this summer was a reported seven figure deal for three books by the creator of CSI. Dutton won the fierce auction, beating out six other houses.

Par for the course, right?

Well, this one is different. The "author" of the project is not really going to be the author. Anthony Zuiker is going to be more like a producer/director, and he'll hire a novelist to write the books. At the end of every five chapters there will be a code in the book that, when you go to your computer, will take you to a two minute filmed vignette that will provide a "cinematic bridge" to the next five chapters. Zuiker will outline the series and direct the vignettes, hoping eventually to turn the project into a feature film.

This isn't the first interactive novel, but it's a pretty big investment, and the fact that such big names are involved gives it buzz.

So... what do you think??

Monday, September 8, 2008

Personalizing vs. Kissing Up

Thanks to everyone I met at the East of Eden Writer's Conference! I had a great time in scenic Salinas.

Also, don't forget that Anne & May are giving away 14 signed copies of THE MIRACLE GIRLS this week, so stop by their blog to enter.

Not sure what's in the proverbial waters, but I've been hearing from people lately that they are specifically choosing not to personalize a query letter because they don't like kissing up to agents.


Trust me, I know the query process is difficult to navigate and is frustrating, and the power imbalance between agent and querying author is not always a fun thing to deal with (at least, that is, until the tables are turned and you have multiple offers of representation and agents are groveling at your feet).

Perhaps the stress of the query process leads people to feel more sensitive to slights, real or perceived. Totally understand that. But anyone deliberately not personalizing is shooting their query in the foot, and then stomping on it and telling the query it was actually left in a bundle by the stork and its real parents are trolls from another planet.

Personalizing is not kissing up. Witness:

"I read your blog." Kiss-up-o-meter: 2/10. The judges note that the phrase does not imply any value judgment, and author could very well feel that the blog is a steaming pile of excrement. But at least it shows the agent that the author is doing their research.

"I noticed that you represented [insert author agent represents]." Kiss-up-o-meter: 1/10. Judges note that the author simply is demonstrating professionalism and research and may not even like said books.

For some reason I think there's an idea percolating out there that we agents want people to kiss our rings and tell us how great we are before we'll even look twice at a query. This is SO SO SO SO not the case. I'm as creeped out by excessive/inappropriate praise as the next agent, particularly when the praise has nothing to do with my job. However, personalizing is not kissing up. It's being professional. And if you're deliberately choosing not to take that path... well, you're sacrificing professionalism for excessive pride. Not a great exchange!

Now, I also should mention that if you are giving vague personalization (like "I see you represent X genre" or "I found you on Agent Query"), this doesn't really count as personalization because it could very easily be said about every agent you're querying. Be specific when you're personalizing.

For the record, I would never reject a query just because it was not personalized. But if you CAN personalize a query, don't shoot your query in the foot, stomp on it and tell it the query it was actually left in a bundle by the stork and its real parents are trolls from another planet by choosing not to. Personalize.

Friday, September 5, 2008

This Week in Publishing 9/5/08

This! Weekinpublishing....

So..... I don't suppose you want a completely free, totally awesome Nintendo DS Lite, do you? Hmm? Oh! You do! Well, you may be in luck because all you have to do is leave a comment with your middle name on my friend Holly's blog, and you too could be the owner of a free Nintendo DS Lite. It's that easy. Once you've left a comment, be sure and check out the rest of Holly's blog (Nothing But Bonfires) because it's seriously awesome.

And in other free-stuff news, Anne & May (Dayton and Vanderbilt) will be giving away 14 signed copies of their new YA book THE MIRACLE GIRLS on Monday, so check that out. This week they're giving a sneak peek at the excellent first chapter.

Moonrat, the wonderful anonymous blogging editor, has done the publishing world, nay, the entire world a tremendous service by posting why you need an agent. I know it's one thing to hear why you need an agent from an agent (I mean, of course we'd say so!), but this is the unvarnished opinion of someone on the other side of the business who, guess what, thinks you need an agent. Truly a must-read.

As you may have heard by now, a draft of part of Stephenie Meyer's new Twilight novel was leaked to the Internet, and as a result she has decided to put the novel on hold. Scary stuff for any author.

How is the publishing industry doing amid a creaky economy? Well, so far the industry has been holding up, but the cracks are starting to show. Via GalleyCat, Publishers Weekly is reporting that bookstore sales fell 7.1% in June, which dropped the increase in sales in 2008 to 3.1%, which is basically on track with retail sales in other industries.

And finally, it seems like people are kind of on edge this week, what with the election, the struggling economy, and the prospect of Ulysses' novel SIXTEEN YEARS OF WRITING hitting the shelves (it explores "themes of loneliness, heartbreak and misanthropy through the revealing lens of a man whose allergy to wood keeps him isolated from his forest community"). So to lighten the mood I thought I would share one of my favorite YouTube videos. I give you............. Lala the shopping penguin.

Have a great weekend! See you at the East of Eden Writing Conference.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Things I Don't Need to Know in a Query

As promised on Tuesday in the word count query stats: things you don't need to include in a query.

I know it's difficult to stare at a blank screen trying to decide what to include and what not to include in a query. Is it necessary to convey a love of writing? What about positive feedback? There's a limited number of words in an ideal query and a whole lot that needs to be conveyed.

Here is a list of things I don't need to see in a query. There are exceptions to most of these rules, so, in the end, use your best judgment. But hopefully this list will help you wield the delete button wisely:

I don't need to know...

- How long it took you to write your manuscript
- How long you researched your manuscript
- How many manuscripts you've written besides the ones you're querying about
- Your Amazon Breakthrough PW Review (please see comments section for explanation)
- How much you love to write
- Your age (unless you're under 18 or if your age is otherwise relevant to the manuscript)
- How much your friends, family, local schoolkids, a paid editor, strangers, and/or anyone else who is not a published author loved your manuscript
- Quotes from anyone who loved your novel, except perhaps for one or two brief quotes from a published author (don't forget I'm taking these with a grain of salt)
- Any rejection letters or references to rejection letters or quotes from rejection letters no matter how positive the person was when they were rejecting you
- What you think the cover should look like
- What publishing houses you think would be a good fit
- A promise that your book will make the bestseller list and/or sell a million copies
- That you've had health and/or mental health problems (unless it specifically relates to the manuscript)
- The moral of your novel
- The themes of your novel (this should be clear from the description of the plot)
- More than two paragraphs of plot description (keep it concise!)
- That you're willing to send a synopsis or outline if I ask for one (I don't generally ask for these, but I'm assuming that if an agent asks you're gonna provide one).
- That your manuscript is completely different than anything that's ever been published (that's basically impossible)
- Apologies for wasting my time (you're not... er, unless your query is too long)

UPDATE: Jennifer Jackson has supplemented this list with some additional things to leave out.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

My Wonder: Rice!

Hey everyone, today is my client Rebecca S. Ramsey's blog party (and her birthday too! Happy Birthday!!). All around the blogosphere people are celebrating their favorite Wonders of the World. Go over to Rebecca's site for a list of links (and check out her archives to see her incredible blog), and have a Wonder-full Wednesday!

My wonder is....

Can you tell what it is??

Oh. It's in the subject line.

It's rice!!!

But not this Rice...

This rice!!!

It's good for breakfast...

It's even good to drink!!!

Just don't drink too much.

My parents are rice farmers. Don't believe me?

That's me standing in a rice field.

It's September, which means it's almost time for harvest!

That means this...

And this...

My dad took that last photo. Pretty amazing, right? His favorite thing in a rice field isn't the rice though. It's these:

Birds love rice too!

But I'm not a farmer. I like this too much:

Don't forget to check out Rebecca's blog, and her book FRENCH BY HEART!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Query Stats by Word Count

Hope everyone had a lovely Labor Day weekend! Back by popular demand......... query stats!! Although this time I did things a little differently.

In the past I've compiled query stats by genre, but those ratios never really changed all that much, so... I kind of got bored of compiling them. Solution: new categories!

I often receive the question: what is the ideal length for a query? Well, now I know. Or at least I have a ballpark.

But first....

Between last Tuesday morning and the time of this post I ran a Word count on every query I received. I (basically) counted everything between "Dear Nathan" and "Sincerely, Author." If the author included sample pages in the body of the e-mail I did not count those. If the author said "please see my synopsis" in lieu of writing an actual query, I counted the synopsis. If the author included a bio or other material after their signature I included that, since that's the type of thing that should go in the body of a query.

I received 180 queries in the last week, which seems a tad lighter than average (probably because of the holiday weekend). Here's the breakdown by number of words.

1-100: 4
100-200: 20
200-300: 46
300-400: 48
400-500: 33
500-600: 14
600-700: 4
700-800: 2
800-900: 1
900-1,000: 1
1,000+: 7

The shortest query I received was about 50 words, the longest was 2,200+.

Why are 200-300 and 300-400 in bold? Well, after doing this for a week I basically decided that there is a sweet spot in query word count between 250 and 350 words. Anything shorter than 250 usually (but not always) seems too short and anything longer than 350 usually (but not always) seems too long.

As you can see from the stats, this means that about half of all queries are the right length while half are either too short or too long.... with a good chunk that are WAY too long.

Keep in mind that this chart doesn't really convey just how long many of these queries look on the page. Everything I've written in this post up to THIS POINT is about 360 words. And it's a lot of words! There were 33 queries that were 400-500 words, which means that they were anywhere from 50-150 words past the "sweet spot." 150 words is a lot. Sometimes there can be a compelling reason for going this long, such as if you need to explain some extenuating situation in addition to the query. But not usually.

And then there were even queries that were way longer than that!

Of these 180 queries, I requested 4. 1 was in the 200-300 range, 2 were in the 300-400 range, and one was 400-500, but had a very good reason for being that long.

Keep those queries at a reasonable length!! I'll soon have a post on things to leave out of a query, which will hopefully help with the editing process.

Related Posts with Thumbnails