Nathan Bransford, Author

Friday, April 30, 2010

This Week in Publishing 4/30/10


The big news this week is courtesy of the Crown Group at Random House, which underwent its second reorganization in a year. Lots of people reporting to different people and imprints created and closed and you can find the details here.

Mike Shatzkin had a great series of posts this week on what he would have said at the London Book Fair were it not for the unpronounceable volcano spewing ash everywhere and messing up travel plans. In particular I want to highlight Part II, in which he has an overview of how he sees the next twenty years in books unfolding. Brace yourselves paper friends, because he's envisioning a world of ubiquitous screens and paper books as mere antiques and collectibles, which will have a massive impact on the role of publishers and the value of content.

And speaking of which, io9 linked to a really cool and exhaustive illustration that shows precisely how a paper book is made.

There are now quite a few publishing types on The Twitter, and publishers are taking to the Tweetwaves to give away books and give inside info. Follow the Reader has a list of their favorite Tweeting publishers. In other social media news, FinePrint also had a quick post that discusses the most important element in a blog's success: voice.

In publishing advice news, Jessica Faust at BookEnds had a great post where she kept track of why she was passing on queries (most common reason: a project just not feeling different or special enough), and Editorial Anonymous has a really fascinating post about the balance between deciding whether a children's book will appeal to kids or adults, and which is more important.

Eric from Pimp My Novel had a great post this week on making sure you know your non-compete clause before you decide to post content on the web, and he also has a refresher myth-busting post on some common misconceptions about the biz.

This week in the Forums, I reorganized the Feedback Forum so you can now go straight to sections on Queries, Excerpts, and Synopses. There's also a Forum dedicated to connecting with critique partners. Also this week: kick-yourself moments after noticing a glaring typo after sending it, the Internet's crowdsourced book club pick (one guess who the author is), and still trying to figure out... actually Lost was a repeat.

Comment! Of! The! Week!! Actually there were lots of really great comments this week and thanks to everyone who participated in Be an Agent for a Day II. Rather than pick just one comment, I'd like to thank the participating authors once again for their intrepid bravery.

And finally, it's iPad 3G release day, and when mine arrives I can hardly wait to keep reading LOTR on a bigger screen. What would Tolkien think?

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Be An Agent for a Day II: So What Do We Think?

The voting is in, and wouldn't you know: as of this writing the project that received the most votes as a query also received the most votes as a partial.

The query system works perfectly, right?!!

As always: it's not quite that simple.

Without prejudging what conclusions people have reached, there are three main things that I personally hope people take away from the experiment:

1) The query system isn't perfect.

When I read the queries, I thought all of them were strong in their own way, especially for a random sample. In the end though, I thought the two most promising queries were SHORELINE and UNREALITY CHICK. SHORELINE had an intriguing plot but I worried that the description of the narrative felt a little scattered, and UNREALITY CHICK had a compelling voice though I worried that the query relied too much on the voice and lacked plot detail. Since a strong voice is rarer and more difficult to convey in a query, I ultimately voted for UNREALITY CHICK as the best query.

However, I ended up changing my vote when it came to the sample pages. While again I thought all five samples were good in their own way, I thought SHORELINE had the most engaging and polished writing and it had my vote.

So. Even an agent changes his vote from query to sample pages. Does this mean the query system is broken?

Again, not that simple. Even though some queries were stronger than others, I think the strengths and weaknesses in each query did actually reflect strengths and weaknesses in the corresponding manuscripts, just as tends to happen in real life. Is it an exact one-to-one match between query and manuscript? Definitely not, which is why some queries fall through the cracks and why everyone should strive to write the best query possible. SHORELINE probably showed the largest disparity between query and manuscript, which is reflected in the voting. But across the board, my likes/concerns in the queries really did correspond to the likes/concerns I had about the manuscripts.

I think you can also see why I now ask that people send the first five pages with their queries.

Ultimately, while the queries were definitely good, I don't think I would have requested partials in real life, and I believe the partials need some more work and polish before they'd be ready. But very solid efforts all around and keep in mind that...

2) Taste is subjective.

I don't think I'm going to win a Nobel Prize for showing that the query process is subjective, but a subpoint I want to make is: subjective is not the same as arbitrary. Even people looking hard for the best arrive at different decisions and have different criteria for what that means. Everyone who participated in this experiment was approaching with roughly the same goals, and yet even the winning choice in both polls had less than a majority of the vote.

Same thing in real life. When agents talk about the importance of fit and loving a work, this is what they're talking about. Even a group of very informed agents will have different opinions on the same queries and manuscripts, and they're bringing years of expertise and experience to bear. It's not a sign the system is broken, it's built into the system: there are lots of agents (and opinions) in the sea.

3) Time is of the essence.

And the last thing I want to suggest is to consider how long it took to read and think about each of these queries and samples, and multiply it by ten a day and consider that behind each query is a writer whose hopes and dreams are hinging on your undivided attention. It's just not possible to give every single manuscript an in-depth look at 30 or more pages. Some sort of shorthand is necessary.

And all things considered, given the time constraints I still don't know if there's a better replacement out there for a query + short sample, even with its imperfections. Queries really do give an agent insight into the overall work, with the sample pages providing another glimpse.

Queries aren't perfect, but they're the best system we have.

But enough about my thoughts, what do YOU think?

Did this experiment increase or decrease your faith in the query process? How much of each sample did you need to make a decision? Do you have confidence in your choice? Has it changed the way you look at queries?

And of course, one last thanks to the talented participants for offering their query and samples! I'll leave it to each of them to decide if they want to de-anonymize themselves and talk about their experience.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Be An Agent for a Day II: The Pages

Alright then! You have seen the queries, now it's time to take a look at the pages to see which partial you think represents the strongest work and would be most likely to sell to a publisher. Thinking like an agent and setting aside which one you would be most likely to read in your spare time, which one do you think has the best chance of selling? Like the busy Agent for a Day that you are, you only need to read as far as you need to in order to make a decision.

I created individual posts for each of the entries so as not to make this post 150 pages long. Here they are (please ignore all formatting issues, which are due to copying over, though this is actually true to life):


Annnnnd as I mentioned yesterday, please be exceedingly, ridiculously, incredibly nice to the participants who have so bravely offered their queries and sample pages to science.

The poll!! (click through if you're reading in an RSS feed or via e-mail):

UPDATE 2:59 Whoops! While housecleaning on the blog I accidentally published a rough draft of tomorrow's post, which may have been caught by some feed readers. Sorry for the inconvenience, full post tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Be an Agent for a Day II: The Queries!

First off, thank you so much to the 150+ very intrepid souls who volunteered their queries and pages for public consumption and our sort-of-scientific test of the query process.

Here's how I whittled them down to five. I classified the queries loosely by genre (fantasy, urban fantasy, paranormal, etc. lumped together and romantic suspense, thriller, mystery, etc. lumped together), then checked to see which genre had the most entries. And yes indeed, YA Fantasy narrowly edged out mystery/suspense!

I then used the random number generator at to select the five entries.

As you read the queries, please remember the purpose of this experiment: you are thinking like an agent. You are not looking for the best query according to the rules of blogging agents or what you personally would choose to read in your spare time. You are looking for the query that you think will have the best written pages and that you think has the most potential of selling to a publisher. Your job depends, in fact, on looking past the query. (Hopefully the writers helped you with queries that reflect the pages, which is why we blogging agents spend so much time dispensing advice.)

Please be exceedingly, ridiculously, incredibly nice to the participants who so bravely offered their queries to science. If I see one anonymous commenter who comes in and is all, "Meh meh meh I don't like any of them mine's way better I'm so awesome because no one knows who I am" I will confiscate everyone's science kits and I mean it!!

Now then. There is a poll at the end of the post. Please vote for the query you would be most likely to request if you were an agent. If you subscribe by e-mail or in an RSS reader you will need to click through to see the poll, and e-mail subscribers, please do not e-mail me your votes.

Here are the queries!


Dear Agent for a Day,

Everything Dominic Taylor thought he knew about the universe was shattered when he followed his classmate through a door, and into another world. While trying to get home he is pulled into a war between man and myth that had been going on for centuries. He soon learns that the reasons behind the war are more complex than man’s fear of the supernatural. The only way he can return home is by finding what his deceased father’s research calls the Source, but no one could have guessed what he would find instead.

In the 70,000 words of I’m a Nobody Dominic struggles to find a place where he fits in, to rise above the crimes of the father he never met, and to come to terms with who, and what, he is.

I chose to submit this novel for your consideration after joining your blog. It’s been very helpful for preparing my manuscript and query letter, and I saw you represent most genres. Upon your request I am prepared to send the complete manuscript. This is my first novel.

Thank you for taking the time to consider my Novel.

Author #1



Dear Agent for a Day,

Presley O’Connor expects a memorable senior year. What she doesn’t expect is the letter that arrives on her eighteenth birthday with her mutilated senior picture and a wish for a happy last birthday.

A serial killer has chosen her for his sixth victim, but his presence is affecting more than just Presley. Reid Montgomery, a guy she had a massive crush on three years before, is having visions of her abduction and murder. Visions aren’t new to Reid. His family has been under a 400 year old spell that allows them to save others and to find their soul mates. Seeing her in the vision, he knows exactly why he must save her.

When the killer moves to kidnap Presley on Christmas Eve, Reid arrives just in time to save her. The love between Presley and Reid is immediate and powerful. Presley believes nothing will ever stand in the way of their happiness. Reid sees a different picture and as the killer escapes from jail determined to add her to his collection of victims, Reid is unable to stop him. This time saving Presley will take all Reid’s magic, love, and more.

My YA paranormal romance, I WOULD HAVE LOVED YOU ANYWAY, is complete at 92,000 words. I am prepared to send a partial or full manuscript upon your request. Thank you for your time and consideration of my novel.

Author #2



Dear Agent for a Day,

Sixteen-year-old Maya Georgiou is a beautiful ocean nymph faced with an impossible decision. She must choose between sacrificing Nate, the only boy she’s ever cared about, to a Greek Goddess with insane demands - or take his place instead.

SHORELINE, complete at 65,000 words, follows Maya as she and her family move back to Bar Harbor, Maine to help the sickly marine life developing offshore. As they settle in the tiny town, Maya finds herself intrigued by the sullen (albeit gorgeous) waiter at the local resort.

After a brief, rocky start, Maya and Nate fall for each other, but the rest of Maya’s world deteriorates. Her attempts to cure the ailing ocean creatures continue to fail, all while her family schemes to destroy her love life. In a shocking revelation they disclose one final, horrific family secret. Maya is not just an ocean nymph. She is also a Siren and must make a deadly sacrifice to appease the Goddess Persephone.

Maya has only days to make her decision. Does she spare Nate by succumbing to the sickness that is literally drowning her alive? Or does she convince him to plunge into the ocean abyss where he will die to fulfill her ancestral obligations?

Although Shoreline is a standalone novel, I have outlined a sequel and have completed another young adult urban fantasy novel.

I freelance for several websites with an audience of teens and young adults and am a member of SCBWI and YALitChat. I’m published in non-fiction, with titles including The Everything Card Games Book and The Everything Lateral Thinking Puzzles Book.

Attached please find the first 30 pages, as requested.

Thank you in advance for your time,
Author #3



Dear Agent for a Day,

Sometimes you go looking for fate, hoping to find a path to greatness. Sometimes she breaks down your door with an apocalyptic grin and drags you out in the alley.

For Kayden Verus, it’s the latter. Fate blessed him with super powers: good looks, superior strength, a killer smile, and more confidence than a seventeen-year-old kid should have. He never realized that she’d come looking for payback.

His story begins with a simple fact: Phaedons exist. They are physical representations of life’s virtues and one of them was Kayden’s father. Upon learning this, he leaves his small town safety to find his true identity at the prestigious Summit High School.

Instead of fate though, he is greeted by mythical creatures called Shades trying to end his life. He is able to foil their murder attempt but he can’t stop them from dragging him into the middle of the ancient war between the Phaedons and the Diotriphe family that controls them.

Enter Ailia. There’s only one thing that can conquer a cocky young man with cosmetic super powers: a beautiful girl with actual super powers. Like all boys, he’s helpless. She captivates him at first site but her sadistic tendencies and unhinged nature might kill him long before he discovers which side she’s actually on.

Black Emeralds is complete at 105,000 words and is of the young adult genre.

I am a first time author with a business undergrad from Millikin University and an MBA from Washington University in St. Louis.

Thank you for your time.

Author #4



Dear Agent for a Day,

When faced with the grim prospect of another year of being the nicest, quietest girl in high school, Rebecca Rogers decides it's time to get wild. Sure, she's afraid of the dark, heights, big bugs, and cute guys, but she decides the key to coolness lies in overcoming her fears one at a time. She starts with heights. Unfortunately, the tree she chooses to climb turns out to be the tallest object on the highest hill in an expected thunder storm. Rebecca jumps to escape a lightning strike and falls into a fantastic new world.

Though she's pretty sure she must be lying in a hospital somewhere and experiencing the world's wildest coma-induced nightmare, she's soon facing monsters, handsome princes, and evil villains with diabolical plans to take over this very scary world. Can she save the hottie, defeat the baddie, and run like hell from everything else? Some people are born with courage - Rebecca is having it thrust upon her.

"Unreality Chick" is a fast and funny 50,000 word young adult fantasy novel. I am the author of [a variety of work-for-hire things] and this is my first original novel.

Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Best Wishes,
Author #5

Monday, April 26, 2010

Be An Agent for a Day II: A Sort of Scientific Test of the Query Process

On Thursday we discussed the query process and whether or not queries adequately reflect a underlying work's quality. Can someone really make an assessment of a book project based on a query? Really really?

Let's test it out. Here's how this is going to work.

Today I will be soliciting queries from you, the esteemed readership of this blog. I will semi-randomly select five of them. (I say semi-randomly because I'm going to choose one genre from which to select the five queries, which should eliminate any possible Internet genre bias.)

Tomorrow I will post the five queries on the blog. There will be a poll and everyone will have an opportunity to vote on which one they would request if they were an agent.

On Wednesday I will post links to the first thirty pages of these novels so that everyone will have an opportunity to take a look and vote on which partial they think is the most likely to sell to a publisher (and like any busy agent, you need only read as much of each as you need to make a decision).

On Thursday we shall compare notes, see if the most-requested queries corresponded with the most-liked pages, and discuss What We Think and What We Have Learned.

On Friday we dance!!! (Just kidding, on Friday we recap This Week in Publishing).

If you'd like to volunteer your query and first 30 pages for public consumption/semi-competition, please e-mail said query and pages to [redacted]. UPDATE 9:22 PM PDT: ENTRIES ARE CLOSED! THANKS TO EVERYONE FOR ENTERING! It would be great if we could leave the sample pages up as long as possible so that people can continue to check out this sort-of-scientific experiment, but after the contest concludes if you need/want me to take your pages down for any reason I shall do so, and of course all rights belong to you. If you are chosen, please keep your identity/participation top secret while the experiment is going on so as not to compromise the voting.

In case you missed last year's Be an Agent for a Day event, the posts can be found here.


Well, sort of...

Friday, April 23, 2010

This Week in Publishing 4/23/10

Pub! Lishing! Publishing This Week!

Your friendly neighborhood Amazon had a banner quarter in the first three months of 2010, as their revenue rose a rather significant 46%, to $7.13 billion, and net income rose 68% to $299 million. The Kindle continues to be their largest-selling item.

Meanwhile, in some non-iPad Apple news that I haven't seen mentioned elsewhere around the Internet, I received an interesting e-mail the other day that seems to indicate that Apple is getting into the self-publishing (or at least book printing) game. In the latest version of iPhoto they are making it pretty easy to design and print a book using your photos. Prices range from $9.99 for a medium sized wire-bound book to $49.99 for an extra large hardcover. UPDATE: Apparently this has been possible for a long time! Who knew! Um. I guess everyone but me.

The science fiction blog io9 spotted an awesome blog dedicated to the worst Science Fiction and Fantasy book covers in history, and the great Charlie Jane Anders has an awesome list of four danger signs to look for before you send it out to agents.

Author and former editor Jason Pinter challenges the notion that men don't read, and argues that some structural and marketing issues in publishing are preventing the industry from adequately reaching male readers.

Further to my post on the Science of Buzz, Ben Casnocha had a recent post on some research into what makes things interesting. Essentially it's novelty in an easily comprehensible fashion, and interest can be heightened with increasing familiarity and knowledge. Which, uh, I find interesting. (via Andrew Sullivan)

Writing for the Atlantic, David Corn has a post on the overwhelming information we are assaulted with in the era of the Internet, and how hard it is to actually find time to enjoy media for frivolity's sake. Spontaneous Public Service Announcement: Please remember to have fun with your Interwebz!!!

And speaking of frivolity, Tahereh has a pretty spectacular mockup of the cover of the first issue of Querypolitan Magazine, including 50 query tips and "Signs the Rejectionist is into you and/or your novel." Genius!!

Over at Rachelle Gardner's awesome blog, she asks her readers why they want to be published, and as always the responses are very interesting.

This week in the Forums, some awesome new videos of the sun, whether to craft symbolism or not, when you should call yourself a writer, and while we still aren't sure what's happening on Lost, on his blog reader Steve Fuller has a hilarious ode to Lost in the form of rewritten lyrics to "We Didn't Start the Fire."

Comment(s)! Of! The week! go to Carol Newman Cronin and Susan Fletcher, two of the many lives touched by Emmy Jacobson:

Carol Newman Cronin:
I never met "EJ," but we exchanged some correspondence (real letters on paper) that were very special to me. She was my grandmother's agent in the 1970-80's and when I decided to pursue a fiction career, I sent her my novel-that-should-have-stayed-in-the-drawer. She was very generous with her time and tactful with her advice. I'm so glad I sent her a copy of my first published fiction, "Oliver's Surprise," last fall as a thank you, and I hope she enjoyed it. RIP, EJ. Curtis Brown and the fiction world will continue, but an era has ended.

Susan Fletcher:
Thanks for this, Nathan. Emmy was my agent. She kept me grounded. She had no time for the latest new trend, maybe because she'd seen so many of them come and go. "Write the book you want to write," she said. "Can't wait to read it." Thank you, Emmy.

Almost finally, Michelle Kerns tallied 50 of the greatest literary insults of all time. There are some really amazing quotes in there, including Lord Byron calling John Keats' poetry "trash," but wow, never realized how much Faulkner disliked Mark Twain: "A hack writer who would not have been considered fourth rate in Europe, who tricked out a few of the old proven sure fire literary skeletons with sufficient local color to intrigue the superficial and the lazy." (via the DGLM blog)

And finally finally, please stay tuned next week for Be An Agent for a Day II: A Sort-of-Scientific experiment!

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Can I Get a Ruling: Do You Think the Query Process Works?

It's that time again! Yes, it's that semi-regular blog feature wherein I ask people to rule on the pressing questions of the day, or at least the questions that I have randomly alighted upon and deciding they are pressing.

This question is a simple one. I thought I would poll the authortariat with a rather basic question. Agents across the land have decided upon a system whereby authors may send a brief description of their work to agents, who then decide whether or not they would like to see more.

No one much likes it, nearly everyone, at some point, has to go through it if they want to be published (including me).

Do you ultimately have faith in the query system? Do you think it works? Do you think it succeeds more than it fails? Do you think there is a better way?

Here be the poll (e-mail and feed reader subscribers will need to click through to see it):

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

When Do You Know if a Project is Going to Work or Not?

I'm sure we all have novels that we gave up on after 10, 20, 50 pages, because while we were excited at first it just didn't end up working. When do you reach that point when you know a novel is going to work? When do you know when it's an idea you want to stick with to the very end of the novel?

As reader Roberto Suarez Soto asks:

You may start your book strong and confident, or doubtful and hesitating. But there's a point when you know that it's going to work ... or not. Maybe your initial strength diluted away, or maybe your initial doubts created a lot of conflict that ignited your plot. By that point your book should have momentum, should propel itself onwards; if it doesn't, you should hit "delete" and start anew.

When do people reach that point? After the first chapter? After the first paragraph? After the first word?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Science of Buzz

Fads, crazes, hysterias, and other contagious social phenomena have long been a mysterious and occasionally hilarious part of human history. From meowing nuns to the Backstreet Boys, we humans have periodically been overtaken by curious mass obsessions for reasons that have never been entirely clear.

At least, until now. Science is catching up with buzz.

The Internet, as many a breathless commentator has told us, is greasing the wheels of the buzz machine like never before. The conversations and blog posts and general idea-spreading afforded by the Internet allows people around the world to instantly satiate society's pressing need for videos of children in a post-anesthesia haze and, or course, cute cats. Like a class of sneezing kindergartners, we are exposing and infecting each other with viral curiosities like never before, and this is allowing previously obscure media to come out of nowhere and catch on in a major way.

The mechanics of how buzz starts, keeps going, and eventually reaches saturation is not merely an object of curiosity for scientists. It's also big business.

Malcolm Gladwell, as is his wont, was at the cusp of addressing our Internet-era curiosity with how exactly this whole social viral process works in his book The Tipping Point. Gladwell identified what he saw as the mavens, the connectors, and salesmen who identified and spread social phenomena.

But while much of The Tipping Point was grounded in science, the process of how exactly an idea spreads from one person to the next was ultimately somewhat mysterious. For most of human history there was no real way of quantifying or tracking one person having a conversation with another person and saying, "OMG, there is this thing called a Slinky and it's seriously blowing my mind."

Now, however, we're having conversations on the Internet that everyone can see, record, and analyze.

During the aughts, as we were in the process of succumbing to a curious social contagion that led us to believe that stock markets reflected purely rational thought, we saw the rise of electronic futures markets to predict everything from presidential elections to whether Buzz Aldrin would win Dancing With the Stars. The theory being that if everyone is betting based on their individual knowledge and economic self-interest they will be able to predict the future better than an individual prognosticator/Nostradamus, an idea explored in James Surowiecki's The Wisdom of Crowds.

But wouldn't you know: it turns out that word of mouth can beat the market.

I recently had an opportunity to speak with Bernardo Huberman at HP's Social Computing Labs, who co-authored a fascinating study with Sitaram Asur that suggests the enormous potential in harnessing the power of the Internet to finally quantify word of mouth. Huberman and Asur tracked all the mentions on Twitter of upcoming movies leading up to their release, and they discovered that by measuring the number of times a movie was Tweeted they could predict a movie's opening gross more accurately than the Hollywood Stock Exchange.

Taking things one step further, they devised a method of tracking whether people were speaking positively and negatively about movies on Twitter after it came out. This improves the predictive power somewhat, but it turns out that Tweet-rate is still nearly as important after the movie comes out as before.

Their conclusion:

"While in this study we focused on the problem of predicting box office revenues of movies for the sake of having a clear metric of comparison with other methods, this method can be extended to a large panoply of topics, ranging from the future rating of products to agenda setting and election outcomes. At a deeper level, this work shows how social media expresses a collective wisdom which, when properly tapped, can yield an extremely powerful and accurate indicator of future outcomes."

It seems like a simple idea: of course people talking about a movie are more likely to go see it. But this is merely an initial step in quantifying buzz's power and how it spreads. Surely scientific analysis of stickiness, staying power, influence, advertising effectiveness, and Justin Bieber can't be far behind.

This could also potentially open up a world in which movies, books, music, and other media aren't simply dropped into the culture pond to see if they float, but rather they could be better marketed, and perhaps their eventual success more accurately predicted in advance. This could, at least theoretically, lead to some crucial reduction of uncertainty in businesses that have often been based on everyone's best guesses.

Not only is the Internet allowing us to exchange ideas faster than ever before, it's also allowing us to figure out the science of how word of mouth spreads. Buzz is going scientific.

Originally posted at the Huffington Post

Monday, April 19, 2010

Emilie Jacobson

Curtis Brown Ltd. lost a beloved family member last week when Emilie Jacobson passed away at age 85. Emmy started working at Curtis Brown in 1946, and though she had planned an upcoming retirement, she was working tirelessly to the very end.

She didn't love e-mail and would brag that when the Internet or e-mail server went down she could still get work done on her typewriter, but she still gamely kept on top of new technology. And in fact just a couple of weeks ago she sent me an idea for a blog post that I was planning to tackle very soon:

Incidentally, out of curiosity I looked recently at your blog about writing a synopsis. You’re right, it’s a pain and, actually, what counts is how the skeleton is eventually clothed. Nevertheless, there’s a crucial point that you might want to address if you return to the subject. I find that more often than not the author concocts essentially a blurb, not a synopsis. Might be useful to discuss the difference. (The other common mistake is a lettered and numbered construction, the kind of “outline” one is taught in school.)

Emmy's client Emily St. John Mandel recently posted a beautiful tribute at The Millions that captures Emmy's spirit and dedication:

Emilie was so much a part of Curtis Brown that it was almost impossible to conceive of her being outside it, no longer coming into this office every day. I asked what she planned to do after retirement. She said she thought it would take her about a year to clean the stacks of manuscripts out of the closets in her apartment, and then she was going to read for pleasure. She thought she might like to do some writing. We talked about books for a while—she’d just read and loved The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. We spoke about her career.

“You were my first champion,” I told her. I told her how much I appreciated everything she’d done for me, the faith she’d always had in my work.

She smiled and began reminiscing about other firsts: a piece of Joyce Maynard’s that she placed in The New York Times when Maynard was eighteen (“An 18-Year-Old Looks Back On Life”), a John Knowles story that eventually became the climactic scene in A Separate Peace. She asked if I was working on a new novel and I told her that I was.

“Oh, this is why I’ve delayed retirement for so long,” she said. “I always want to see what everyone’s going to do next.”

Emmy was an immensely classy lady who saw many evolutions of the publishing industry--when she started, the magazine industry was so robust her job was to place stories and articles in periodicals. But while the industry changed around her, her dedicated work for her clients never wavered.

She was similarly supportive of her colleagues, and I'd always make sure to visit her office for some friendly advice when I worked in New York and then always when I returned for a visit.

It really is hard to imagine Curtis Brown without her. We'll miss her very, very much.

Friday, April 16, 2010

This Week in Publishing 4/16/10

This week... the publishing...

I'm very pleased to announce that my wonderful and brilliant colleague Sarah LaPolla is now officially taking on clients! Check out her bio on the Curtis Brown website, and her genres of interest include literary fiction, narrative nonfiction, urban fantasy, paranormal romance, science fiction, literary horror, and young adult fiction

In volcano news, yes, the publishing industry has been affected by the unpronounceable Icelandic volcano (Eyjafjallajokull for those keeping score), and much travel has been disrupted for the upcoming London Book Fair. The people running the book fair are gamely saying the show will go on, but many a travel plan is in doubt.

Meanwhile, you remember how the NY Times Ethcisist said that it was okay to pirate e-books if you bought the hardcover? Well, @KatieAlender was kind enough to point me to a very curious decision in which the Ethicist rendered nearly an exact opposite opinion when it came to hotel minibars.

The ALA released its list of most-challenged books, and in addition to the usual suspects are some head-scratchers (TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD? Really??).

Veteran editor Ann Patty wrote a provocative article wondering if editors should receive royalties, and wonders about the role of editors in the future as the publishing industry changes. Bloomsbury publisher Peter Ginna notes that there are many different arrangements out there, from freelance editors receiving royalties to publishing employees receiving profit sharing considerations.

In book publicity news, Simon Owens looks at the way book publicity is changing in the iPad era, Penny Sansevieri looks at what makes some authors fail, and Joe Berkowitz looks at the curious recent history of books with CONFESSIONS in the title.

Rachelle Gardner has a great reminder about two things every published author should keep track of: your income and your book sales. Don't get caught by the tax man! Or by the future editor who might want to know your sales numbers.

Reader Leon Sterling pointed me to this interesting article about how some sites are re-thinking and prohibiting anonymous commenting. This is always a topic that I'm evaluating, and sentiment seems to be building against anons.

Who is the richest fictional character of them all? Forbes has a pretty hilarious ranking, and coming in at first place with a net worth of $34.1 billion is Carlisle Cullen. Scrooge McDuck is just behind, with his Number One Dime failing to propel him to the top of the list. (via Haley Walter)

This week in the Forums: which celebrities have you met (and one member's incredible chess game with a grand master), all your Twitter are belong to the Library of Congress, what to do when new book ideas disrupt your work in progress, how reading habits influence writing, and yes, still trying to figure out what's happening on Lost.

Comment! of! the! Week! goes to..... Alma, in Monday's post on handling the query deluge. She has a sure-fire way of filtering out the queries I definitely want to read:

You could run an automated process that would dump them into a database and then run a query against it with the keywords of the SPECIFIC things you're looking for "(monkey + dinosaur) + protagonist", say, and a stoplist of the things are you don't want ("on lithium", "the next stephanie meyer/jk rowling"). Then you only read the queries with the desired keywords and don't hit against the stoplist. (And, uhm, yes, repeat offenders' names could be on the stoplist.)

Monkeys and dinosaurs? Yes, please!!

And finally, yesterday I linked to a video on a cat loving the iPad. Now..... the iPad dog has his own review. Will this Corgi like the iPad as much as the cat? (via GalleyCat)

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Video Day!

First up, it is officially Operation Teen Book Drop Day, a wonderful day celebrating young adult literature, in which authors are leaving copies of their books in public and publishers are donating 10,000 books to teens on Native and tribal lands. Check out Cynthia Leitich Smith's and Kiersten White's blogs for more.

Now then. There have been some great book-related videos making their way around the Internet, and rather than cram them all at the end of This Week in Publishing I thought I'd put them in one post. You know: kind of like how when you were in school and the teacher
didn't make a lesson planhad some REALLY EDUCATIONAL videos to show you.

(e-mail subscribers, you'll need to click through to the blog to see the videos)

First up, over the weekend I burned through Major Gap Book The Hobbit (loved!) and am now into FOTR, so I was particularly thrilled to see this new movie trailer mashup, which gives "Shining" a run for its money: Wes Anderson's "Fellowship of the Ring" (via Andrew Sullivan):

Next up, for those of you who still don't believe me that e-books will allow books to get better (or at least more beautiful), check out this book trailer for an Alice in Wonderland iPad app:

If you want to get a sense of what reading a non-enhanced e-book is like on the iPad, TeleRead recently reviewed the new Kobo iPad app:

And, of course, now it's time for the obligatory cat video!! Via Mashable, cats love the iPad:

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

What is the One Book That Every Writer Should Read?

Reading is, dare I say, important to being a writer. (Controversial statement, I know.)

But if you had to choose one book that you think every writer should read, which one would it be?

The perfect novel? A guide to writing? Strunk & White?

I'm going with The Great Gatsby. It may not be my favorite novel of all time, but I think it's perhaps the most perfectly written.

Which one would you choose?

(This post was inspired by a recent Forum discussion)

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Greatest Strength of a Writer: Willpower

In a strange twist of either delusions of grandeur or masochism, writers have done their best to convince the world that writing is a wondrous pursuit filled with nothing but sudden bursts of inspiration and creativity after painful writer's block.

You know how it goes in the movies and on TV: The morose writer will be walking down the street and a stranger will say to them, "Hey, jerkwad, what are you staring at?" and then the writer will get a funny little smile and walk a little faster and then pretty soon they're skipping down the street toward their typewriter shouting, "Jerkwad! Jerkwad!! BY GOD I'VE GOT IT!!!!" and then there's a montage of them frantically typing out their future bestseller.

I don't know about your writing process, but that isn't how mine works.

Sure, there are Eureka moments walking down the street or in the shower or while at the zoo ("Monkeys... MONKEYS!!!"), but if novelists wrote only when they were inspired it would take a hundred years to string together a novel. If you're really going to finish one, you're not only going to have to spend quite a lot of time writing and revising when you don't feel like it, you're going to have to spend quite a lot of time writing when you would rather be lighting your toes on fire.

The great Jane Yolen has a name for this: BIC. Butt. In. Chair. That is the writing process. Butt in chair.

You could also call it:

OMGTWISNTBICGOBINTW: "Oh my god the weather is so nice today but I can't go outside because I need to write."

IRWICGTTBGBIHTW: "I really wish I could go to that baseball game but I have to write."

DMMIJGTSATBCSUITOS: "Don't mind me, I'm just going to stare at this blank computer screen until I think of something."

Just about everyone on the planet thinks about writing a novel at some point. Many of them really could and many of them could do it really well.

But there's only one way to actually do it: BIC. Powering through when you want to stop, blocking out days on the calendar when there are more fun things you could be doing, staring at the pad or screen early mornings and late nights, and most of all, setting aside your doubts along the way.

And that's of course even before you summon your willpower to try and jump through the hoops necessary to get the thing published.

If writing is always fun you may be doing it wrong.

Monday, April 12, 2010

How Would You Handle the Query Deluge?

I'm not complaining. That needs to be said up front. Not. Complaining. I love queries, I want queries, that's not what this is about. Cool? Cool.

Now that we have that out of the way, let me just level with you: the number of queries coming in is rising every single day, and it's kind of a mixed blessing. On the one hand, just by sheer numbers there are more good projects coming in than ever. This is great!

On the other hand, the "frivolous queries" that read like a Craigslist personal ad are also on the increase, and disproportionately so. For every one extra good query I receive a day I'm receiving two extra bad ones. This is bad! (and it seems it's not just me)

As you probably know, query-answering time is in addition to day-in/day-out tasks that are very much a full-time job on their own. It's not like I can divide my day between mornings dealing with clients and agent stuff, and afternoons devoted to queries. Every minute/hour/several hours I'm spending answering queries is a minute/hour/several hours extending my day. So far I have been able to manage everything and still maintain a roughly-twenty-four hour response time for queries, two weeks for partials, and a month for fulls, but that pace is getting more challenging by the week.

So. What would you do? How would you manage the unsoliciteds when they are forever threatening to overtake the ramparts? Would you only respond to the ones that follow guidelines? Still respond to everyone? Develop a more stringent incoming-query system?

As you answer, let's say for the purposes of this discussion hiring an intern or assistant isn't possible. What would you do if you were an agent?

Friday, April 9, 2010

This Week in Publishing 4/9/10

This week! Publishing!

So apparently the iPad is still for sale. Amid news that Apple's iBooks has registered 600,000 downloaded books (note: not necessarily sales) so far compared to 450,000 iPads sold. While many are excited by the iBooks app, TeleRead wonders if the iBooks will be publisher's Waterloo (via @DonLinn).

Meanwhile, former Random House CEO Peter Olson has some tough words for book publishers, who he perceives as "scared" of the coming e-book era. Olson: "In a sense, many book publishers are trying to buy time, to postpone a reckoning with reality."

And amid the shift to e-books and all the disruptions it's bringing, Smithsonian Magazine looks back at another format change that rocked the publishing world: paperbacks. (via John Ochwat in The Forums)

Ever wondered how to pronounce author names like Chuck Palahniuk and Jhumpa Lahiri? Buzzfeed spotted a helpful link.

The Guardian UK is wondering about a trend in children's literature: why are there so many bad parents?

In author advice news, the Rejectionist would like MFA grads to wake up and smell the real world publishing industry roses, Eric from Pimp My Novel explores the world of trade paperback originals and asks if you're 100% completely no seriously this time sure you want to self-publish, and if you're thinking about paying for a critique at a writer's conference, Editorial Anonymous has some very helpful tips.

This week in the Forums... people discuss their favorite writing/procrastination tipple, what makes you re-read certain books, what did adverbs ever do to you, and, of course, actually we may be starting to find some clarity about Lost.

Comment! Of! The! Week! goes to.......... Amy, whose comment notes a very successful DRM program that is working in the world of video games and wonders if its principles could be applied to books. An excerpt:

I hate DRM, but I accept DRM on my Steam games (and prefer buying from Steam than from anywhere else, even if the Steam version is not discounted from retail) because what they offer is so compelling. I own the game forever! I can install it anywhere and on anything! I can even let a friend play it--though while my friend is playing, I can't use my Steam games myself. (This restriction is 100% fair.)

Steam has turned this DRM-hater into an eager, satisfied, and loyal customer. I wish the publishing industry would come up with something equivalent. Realistically, a Steam-for-books isn't feasible until e-readers are better and cheaper. But I hope that's the direction the industry is heading in. I don't think it will get far trying to persuade readers to buy the same book twice at full retail price.

And finally, this isn't strictly book related, but Mashable had a pretty great list of the Top 10 Recut Movie Trailers. My favorite has to be Shining, a romantic comedy about a hilarious dad struggling with a writing project:

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

John Green and Dynamic Character Relationships

John Green's Looking for Alaska is a (deservedly) much-loved and much-awarded young adult novel, which, if you haven't read it, pertinent to yesterday's discussion let me give you the "OMG you haven't read Looking for Alaska?!" treatment.

For those who have Looking for Alaska on their "gap" book list, the basic plot is this: a boy, quickly nicknamed Pudge by his roommate "The Colonel," is attending a boarding school and develops a very strong crush on a girl named Alaska (not a nickname), who is beautiful but flighty/uneven/intense. She has a boyfriend but she seems somewhat intrigued by Pudge, and their relationship forms the backbone of the book as they embark upon pranks and general attempts to survive high school.

In addition to unteachable writing techniques like a perfect pitch ear for dialogue and what must be a painfully photographic memory of what it was like to be in high school, the way Green crafts the relationship between Pudge and Alaska is an incredible illustration of how to develop an interesting relationship between two characters.

Every single interaction between Pudge and Alaska advances their relationship in a series of incremental steps that swing between positive and negative emotion, with each interaction more intense than the last. One encounter will leave Pudge feeling like Alaska is the greatest girl in the world, the next minute he feels like she's ignoring him or she's mean to him, and each time he experiences a swing between positive and negative he feels it that much more acutely than the last time.

If you were to map out their interactions over the course of the book, it would look something like this (the question mark is there to avoid a spoiler of whether it ends on an up or down note):

Part of these swings are due to Alaska's wild personality, but this is an almost textbook way to develop an intense relationship on the page. The variance between up and down moments creates suspense as the reader wonders which way it's going to end up going, and since we feel each up and down more acutely than the last, the reader becomes increasingly invested in the relationship. Each time the line swings up to a positive experience it feels earned because Pudge had to suffer through the last negative one.

Too often when aspiring writers try to craft jousting or intense relationships between characters, the relationships will feel one-note because the characters have roughly the same level of interactions over the course of the book with, say, a positive spike at the end if the they get together. They may well be interesting characters, but when every interaction between them ends in the same mixed place, there isn't the same feeling of investment and suspense. If the relationship doesn't grow in intensity or change dynamics, the reader will very quickly decide they know what they need to know about the relationship and won't be that interested in where it ends up.

On the other hand, when the relationship-o-meter swings between positive and negative poles it feels more true to life. Add increasing intensity and the reader won't be able to turn the page fast enough to see what happens.

What I find interesting about this dynamic is that it's not generally how real life works. Our opinions about people do not tend to swing wildly back and forth based on every interaction we have with them. For the most part our interactions with the people we care about don't tend to end on a definitively positive or definitively negative moments annnnnnd scene. Even when we fight things tend to feel somewhat mixed and muddled.

And yet, on the page (or screen) it works beautifully. The quick swings between up and down in Looking for Alaska evoke the confusion and intensity of first love. We feel connected to the relationship because the characters had to earn it. We learn more about the characters by seeing how they deal with different levels of feelings.

Whenever two characters feel intensely about each other, this formula helps bring the relationship to life.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

What Are Your "Gap" Books?

You know how sometimes you'll be talking to a group of people and someone will be like, "Dude, how great was that part in Harry Potter when such and such happens?" and you're the one person in the world who hasn't read Harry Potter and you quietly admit this and they're like, "YOU HAVEN'T READ HARRY POTTER??? What is wrong with you?!?!"


We all have our "gap" books, those books that everyone in the world has read and talks about all the time and look we are really meaning to read them but we're all very busy and there are a lot of books to read and no one could possibly be expected to read them all and why do I have to defend myself aha;sldkjf;aj

Anyway, my name is Nathan Bransford. I have not read The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Yes. I know.

What are some of your gap books?

(*For the record I've read Harry Potter.)

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Way Cocktail Parties Should Really Go

Person #1: Wow, you're a reviser? A published reviser??

Person #2: Yeah. I've revised five books now.

Person #1: Oh my god!! I can't believe I'm actually talking to a published reviser!! How glamorous is that?

Person #2: Well, it's hard work actually. I put a lot of time into my revisions.

Person #1: But to see your revisions on the shelf? What is that like?

Person #2: I've been revising since I was twelve, so.... it's kind of a dream.

Person #1: Wow. Aren't all revisers super rich?

Person #2: Not really. You'd be surprised at how little revisers make. I still have a day job, though of course the dream is to be a full-time reviser.

Person #1: You know... I've always thought everyone has one revision in them. Someday I'm just going to sit down and revise my memoir.

Person #2: Well... revising isn't that easy. You don't just sit down and revise, you should really study the craft.

Person #1: Oh nonsense, how hard could revising a book be?

Person #2: Would you look at that, my drink is empty. I'd better head to the bar. Nice meeting you. Good luck with that revision.

PS: CONGRATULATIONS to Ashley A. for correctly picking Duke as the NCAA National Champion and for winning the 2nd Annual Blog Bracket Challenge!! Thanks so much to everyone for participating.

Monday, April 5, 2010

A Matter of Ethics

Over the weekend, the New York Times "Ethicist" wrote a rather controversial post defending the ethics of illegally downloading an e-book when you own the hardcover.

The Ethicist writes:

Your subsequent downloading is akin to buying a CD, then copying it to your iPod. Buying a book or a piece of music should be regarded as a license to enjoy it on any platform. Sadly, the anachronistic conventions of bookselling and copyright law lag the technology. Thus you've violated the publishing company's legal right to control the distribution of its intellectual property, but you've done no harm or so little as to meet my threshold of acceptability.

Aside from being quite surprised that Ethicists are in the habit of encouraging people to break the law, I found this to be an astounding and irresponsible response.

It's one thing for an Ethicist to remind a reader that they are within their ethical (and though I'm not a lawyer, likely legal) rights to create their own e-book by scanning their book into a computer strictly for personal and not-for-profit use. This is the proper CD-ripping analogy. It's taking something you own and converting it to another format through your own time and effort, whether that's making an electronic file or taking a book apart to wallpaper your house.

The fact is, buying a hardcover (or CD or DVD or paperback) does not grant someone the right to own a work in all platforms in perpetuity. I mean, this: "Buying a book or a piece of music should be regarded as a license to enjoy it on any platform" is an extraordinarily sweeping opinion. Any platform? Should we get the paperback for free when we buy the hardcover? Should we be able to get into the movie for free when we own the paperback? Those are just different platforms, right? Should I have shoplifted the DVDs when I switched over from my VHS collection? What exactly are we talking about here?

An e-book is a fundamentally different product than a hardcover - it's searchable, it's electronic, it's portable, it doesn't weigh anything. It allows you to do things that you can't do with a hardcover. Not everyone obviously thinks it's an improvement, but I think we can all agree that it's a different product. They may be the same words, but it most definitely is not the same thing.

It may seem like it's a trivial distinction to make when the resulting file from scanning yourself vs. pirating a book is potentially almost the same, but that's where the line between ethical/legal and unethical/illegal is drawn for a reason. In the first version, you're adding the value yourself through your own effort (just as taking notes in your own margins adds a form of value). By downloading a file illegally you're misappropriating that added value from the only people (the publisher and author and e-booksellers) who are legally and ethically entitled to profit from it. That's why we have copyright law. That's where we've chosen to draw the line.

This is all completely setting aside the question of whether publishers should bundle hardcovers and e-books for sale - lots of people have expressed a desire for a situation where you, say, pay $2 or $4 or however much more for a hardcover and get the e-book for free. It's a great idea! I suspect the fact that isn't yet possible for most books is because of the logistical challenges involved, but it's one that I hope publishers will continue to explore (see Joseph Selby's comment for more background, and Mayowa points out that B&N has announced they would experiment with bundling).

But the fact that it's not yet possible as a matter of course doesn't then justify theft - I mean, I personally think it's a great idea for supermarkets to sell peanut butter and jelly together for a discount, but if my local supermarket doesn't do this it doesn't mean I get to shoplift the jelly.

This is also setting aside the justifications people come up with when it comes to piracy - that people buy more when they pirate, that piracy does not necessarily equal loss of sale, that stealing a digital product is not the same thing as stealing a tangible object etc. etc. Look: we live in a society where the seller gets to determine the terms of sale. If it really is financially advantageous to allow things to be readily available for free or very cheaply or unencumbered with DRM let the sellers (the publishers and the authors and booksellers) make that decision. If it's better financially for the parties involved, let the market move in that direction. Support the companies who have policies you like with your dollars, not through illegal activity.

The electronic era is full of possibility as well as potential downfalls, and I think we need to get past the idea that an electronic format is value-less relative to print. It has value. It is a different product. You can add that value yourself by converting something you bought, or you can pay for a new file.

If you're stealing that value by downloading someone else's e-book illegally: it's copyright infringement.

It really is a matter of ethics. Oh. Also the law.

Friday, April 2, 2010

This Week in Publishing 4/2/10


OMG why didn't anyone tell me Apple's coming out with this tablet device thingy?! No seriously, is anyone talking about it? CAN ANYONE TELL ME WHAT IT'S CALLED?

Um. Sorry.

Let's just get all the iPad-related news out of the way, hmmm? In case you haven't heard the 3G-less versions are dropping tomorrow, David Pogue is half-fan/half-skeptic, Vook is releasing 19 iPad friendly titles, Harper and Simon have come to terms with Amazon on the agency model but Penguin and Hachette are having hiccups/disagreements/depends on who you believe, and dear god, with this many games on the iPad let's hope people also read books.

There is one iPad article that I actually want to highlight, because it's probably the biggest deal in terms of the iPad and the future of publishing. The Wall Street Journal has a report (snippet except for subscribers) wondering if Amazon is going to actually become the dominant bookseller on the iPad because Apple doesn't include the iBooks app pre-loaded, the iBookstore doesn't yet work on the iPhone (unlike the Kindle app), and Amazon already has an existing customer base who can easily transfer their e-book titles from the Kindle to the iPad (if this sounds familiar it was previously predicted by Peter Ginna). Will people gravitate to the Kindle app or the iBooks app? The reason this question is such a big deal is, as we all remember, the Agency Five publishers are actually giving up per-copy revenue in order to have (only slightly) more control over pricing and to hopefully open up the market to other vendors. Worst case scenario for the Agency Five: the market doesn't open, Amazon still dominates, and agency model publishers (and authors) are receiving less money per copy.

In other big news this week: BORDERS LIVES! They were able to secure financing to pay off some debt and will live to sell books another day.

Oh, and an author named Stephenie Meyer proves that the novella isn't dead.

In publishing demystified news, Moonrat (who is celebrating 500,000 hits, congrats and deserved!) talks about what goes into the all-important decision about which books become "lead titles", Eric at Pimp My Novel has a great list of publishing abbreviations, defined, and the NY Times tells us that science is busy figuring out why we read (via @annedayton)

Meanwhile, lots of people wonder what an agent's inbox actually looks like, and while we can't of course show you, the Rejectionist came up with the next best thing: a look at queries by comparing them to Craigslist personal ads. Probably 10-20% of my queries actually sound and are spelled like #4 on Le R's list (well, minus the whole looking-for-a-date-thing).

In life after publishing/re-finding publishing news, Bruce Tracy wrote an incredibly moving, gripping, honest, and all-out wonderful article about what it was like to be laid off after a twenty+ year career in publishing. (via @ColleenLindsay)

This week in the Forums: I'm soliciting blog contest ideas, puppies!, how important are character names, all things world building, and yes, still trying to figure out what in the heck is happening on Lost.

Also, Kristi from How Did You Get There was kind enough to include me in her series where she remixes interviews and spins them into a sitcom scene.

The! comment! of! the! week! goes..... to..... Sam Hranac on which book is the most influential of all time:

Nathan - are you trying to tell us the The Little Engine that Could is secular? Wake up, man!

As for my choice, I would have to say the question cannot be answered. But if you held a gun to my head, I would say the McDonalds Training Manual

And finally, I'll end this list of links with a really nice post by author R.L. LeFevers at one of my favorite blogs, Shrinking Violet Promotions, about the pleasures of unplugging from the Internet for a while and cutting back on the number of blogs she follows in order to feed the creative process.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Importance of the Pitch

Thanks very much to Janet Goldstein for recording this video at the San Miguel Writer's conference wherein I talk about the importance of the pitch and knowing the essence of your book:

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