Nathan Bransford, Author


Monday, November 29, 2010

Last Week in Books 11/26/10

We are a little late on This Week in Books, what with the post-Thanksgiving food coma and Christmas tree procuring, but there were tons of great links last week, so let's check out what all happened.

Also, a bit of a programming change. I'm in crunch-time mode for the delivery of JACOB WONDERBAR #2, and will need more minutes out of the day to spare for writing and editing. So I'm going to move over to a Monday/Wednesday/Friday blog schedule for December, and am hopeful to get back on our regular programming come January.

News!

The big news of the week was that HarperCollins sued Gawker for posting excerpts from Sarah Palin's new book, following Palin's tweet, "Isn't that illegal?" A federal judge subsequently ordered Gawker to take down the excerpts in advance of a hearing, and Harper and Gawker ended up settling the lawsuit. Gawker agreed not to post the excerpt in the future, and no word on any financial considerations.

And Borders announced that they were closing seventeen more stores, though they also announced that they will be using Google's Local Availability to create a more interactive shopping experience.

Slate had an excerpt of a fantastic article by Chad Harbach that is running in n+1, about the rise of MFA programs and the literary balance of power between the MFA world and the  New York publishing industry, and its effects on writers and literature. Some really great insights, factoids, and analysis and I highly, highly recommend reading it all the way through. Best factoid: did you know that the number of degree-granting creative writing programs has risen from 79 in 1975 to 854 now?

Your friend and mine The Rejectionist is having another uncontest, this one a Participatory Self-Actualization Opportunity wherein she is hosting pre-resolutions for the New Year. Because all resolutions are likely best if they are pre-tried. Also, don't miss the Rejectionist's The Book Release Party: A Tragic Monologue.

In agent and publishing advice news, Jessica Faust at BookEnds has an interesting post on the what-to-knows about launching your book via the Kindle, The Write Thing has an extensive post about creating a writing bible (via GalleyCat), and Eric from Pimp My Novel gives you everything you need to know about returns (and why debut authors shouldn't necessarily wish for their demise).

In an article for Shrinking Violet Promotions, my former client Jennifer Hubbard talks a bit about how to build a following online, and also reveals a bit about how she and I maintained our separate blog presences while also maintaining a positive working relationship that kept the things that needed to be confidential confidential. Jennifer also rounded up four YA novels where the main boy character is a nice, good guy.

The Lonely Planet had a roundup of their choices for the Top 10 bookstores in the world, and the LA Times book blog has an incredible photo of Lello Bookshop in Lisbon, one of the honorees.

And blogger Metalia has a hilarious post and two great cover ideas for her book idea for a book about a year of reading books about people doing weird things for a year.

This week in the Forums, don't forget about the Query Critique Forum, where there are people helping each other perfect their query and offer feedback for each other. Some other topics of discussion this week: some people somehow find a way to upstage the Turducken (warning, the video isn't for the faint of meat), our favorite mis-heard song lyrics, discussing muses and being the creator vs. the channel for creation of writing, and now that NaNoWriMo is just about over (congrats to all participants!), discussing successful post-NaNo strategies.

Comment! of! the! Week! goes to Nate Wilson, who had hilarious gallows humor about the post about the Nine Circles of Writing Hell:

It appears my circles have formed into a hellish Venn diagram from which my novels can never hope to escape. That's not good, right?
And finally, this isn't publishing related, but I found it extremely fascinating. It's an evolving map that shows 88 years of the shifting red-blue divide (via TPM):



Have a great weekend! I mean, week!






Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!



Hope you have enough butter.






Wednesday, November 24, 2010

What is Your Favorite Thanksgiving Dish?

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving here in the USA, and for all of you folks outside the US who may not have experienced a traditional American Thanksgiving, it is quite the calorie-fest.

We gather together to ingest copious amounts of turkey, gravy, stuffing, honey baked ham, cranberry sauce, deviled eggs, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, scalloped potatoes, baked potatoes, basically lots of potatoes, our aunts' amazing casseroles, something green that we pretend is healthy, rolls, cornbread, butter, and honey. Oh, and that's before we get to dessert, where there's pumpkin bread, pumpkin pie, apple pie, sweet potato pie, pecan pie, whipped cream, ice cream, and a nap from pancreatic shock.

And if that's not enough, some enterprising folks have recently decided that the Thanksgiving feast wasn't insane enough, and came up with inventions such as deep fried turkeys and a turducken, which is a turkey stuffed with a chicken stuffed with a duck. And yes, there are even deep fried turduckens.

And on top of all that, there are Thanksgiving-specific regional and ethnic traditions that means everyone has their own unique Thanksgiving meal.

It is America, and it is awesome.

So. For those of you who have been fortunate enough to participate in this feast, what is your favorite dish? Which one keeps you salivating all morning long at the mere thought of eating it?

For me personally, I have been, and always will be, a pumpkin pie man. Can't get enough of the pumpkin pie.

What about you?






Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Nine Circles of Writing Hell

El Coloso by Francisco de Goya
With apologies to Dante Alighieri...

We have all probably started ill-fated novels that, shall we say, did not go where we wanted them to go. For one reason or another, either our will or our preparation or the idea failed us, and sure enough, they ended up in novel hell.

Based on the Nine Circles of Hell in Dante's Divine Comedy, here are the nine circles of writing hell.

Save your novel from these sins, my fellow writers! Repent before it is too late!

First Circle - Limbo

Hello shiny idea for a novel! Should I write you? Should I not write you? Maybe I'll write a few pages and see how you go. Should I... oohhh Farmville.

Second Circle - Lust

Novel, you are so brilliant, you shine like a beautiful bright beacon, nay, like filigree sparkling in the darkest of unlit nights. Everything you do is wonderful, to change but one of your words would be a sin unto mankind. Whatever you want novel, whether it's second person stream of consciousness or an illogical plot twist or overwrought prose that makes people blush, you can have it, please take it, it's yours. I LOVE YOU, NOVEL.

Third Circle - Gluttony

No time to eat. No time to work. No time for breaks. No time to attend to essential hygiene. Twenty-six-hours straight. MUST. WRITE. NOVEL. I. WILL. NOT. BURN. OUT.

Okay, I'm starting to get burned out...

Fourth Circle - Greed

Dude, Stephenie Meyer wrote that vampire book in like six weeks or something and now she's a gagillionaire. How hard can it be?!

Fifth Circle - Anger

I hate agents, I hate query letters, I hate rejection letters, I hate editors, I hate published authors, I hate unpublished authors, I hate periods, I hate exclamation points, I hate semi-colons, I hate paper, I hate words, I hate the space between words, and most of all, I HATE THIS FREAKING NOVEL!!!

Sixth Circle - Heresy

You know what novel I don't like? The Great Gatsby. I mean, what's the big deal?! Green lights and drunks and parties and blah blah blah? What a bunch of trash. I threw that book across the room. That Scott person needs to get a clue, I can't believe anyone published him. And DON'T GET ME STARTED on how much editing he needed.

Seventh Circle - Violence

Oh, you think you're reeeeallll clever, don't you, Manuscript. You think you're smart and witty and amazing and your characters are funny and you're going to make people cry. Well, how about I introduce you to my friend MR. SHREDDER!!! Mwa ha ha ha ha ha.....

Eighth Circle - Fraud

Oprah won't REALLY care if I make up this memoir...

Ninth Circle - Treachery

This novel doesn't need revisions. I don't need to write a good query letter. Who needs to take the time to research agents? This novel is gold, baby, gold!!

What could possibly go wrong?






Monday, November 22, 2010

Seven Tips on How to Build a Following Online

1. Be consistent. We are all creatures of online habit, and if you are hoping to build traffic and a regular audience, it's essential to worm your way into people's routines (much harder than actually getting them to like you!). And in order to do this, it's important to have a posting frequency that your audience knows and expects. Whether you blog/Tweet/Tumble once a day, five times a day, or once a week (but not less than that), know thy social media schedule and keep it holy.

2. Reach out and comment someone. The best way to build traffic is to be noticed. Pick a few well-trafficked blogs and/or Forums, become a fixture, get to know the regulars, write witty comments, and try to attract people naturally your way. The more you invest in other people, and I mean genuinely invest in them, the more they'll be willing to return the favor. Better yet, you might even make some wonderful real-life friends.

3. Take the long view. A following is not built overnight. When impatience enters the picture there's a temptation to be overly controversial, which is a good short-term way of getting traffic, but damaging in the long term. If you make everyone mad people will definitely stop by, but chances are they won't be back.

4. Find your niche. The Internet abhors a vacuum, and it's important to think about what unique information or perspective you will provide. Be as unique and interesting as possible, and make yourself stand out from the pack.

5. Short paragraphs. There are few things less inviting than a massive wall of text. Twitter forces you to be brief, but everywhere else make your paragraphs short and punchy.

6. SEO. SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. Think about your post titles and imagine what someone would Google if they wanted to know about the topic you're talking about. The more links you receive from other sources the higher your search results, and the more natural traffic you'll receive.

7. Be selfless. It's not about you, it's about your readers and followers. Think about what you are providing them and deliver the goods.






Friday, November 19, 2010

This Week in Books 11/19/10

This week en los libros...

Query critique Friday/Saturday/Sunday! Yes, it is that time of week, wherein we critique a page or query (this week a query). The query for critique is up in the Forums. UPDATE: my critique and more about the importance of conveying your protagonist's motivation, posted here.

Meanwhile, the books had a week...

There were some pretty great articles this week about where things stand in the publishing business. First up was Publishers Weekly, who discusses how authors who may previously been published by one of the major publishers are now being published by smaller presses that are taking advantage of the titles that the bigs are passing up. Meanwhile, my mom sent me an article from Stanford Magazine, which has a great overview of the current landscape in electronic and print publishing, and describes how this is simultaneously the best of times and the worst of times in the business.

And Publishing Perspectives has an article by the great agent Betsy Lerner (whose blog you should be following as it is amazing), who writes about whether you should or shouldn't be embracing Twitter and social media, and what it means to be an author in the new era. Lerner's advice: get on it, people. Priceless quote for which we should all be paying Lerner cashmoney/first borns:
Writing is easy compared to finding an audience... People who have long given up on Santa, on lower taxes, on the likelihood of Lindsay Lohan’s rehabilitation, still believe that Oprah would like their book. Is this the Quixotic self-belief that compels a person to write in the first place? Or that leads him to be believe that his book should be a bestseller, and that everyone on the planet would like it, no matter that it’s about copper buttons in 18th Century France.
Actually the quote is even more priceless without the ellipsis, so click on through and check it out.

Meanwhile, e-readers are expected to be a big hit this holiday season, and some are suggesting that this is the tipping point for e-book sales.

But amid all of this transition, very very sad news this week as venerable 18-year-old Tricycle Press, which was recently acquired by Random House, was shuttered this week and its editorial staff let go. Blech.

Jim Duncan has a great post this week about Amazon's reviews problem and how there's really no way of controlling whether or not someone reviewing a book has actually read it.

The National Book Awards were announced! Patti Smith won for nonfiction and Jaimy Gordon for fiction.

And finally, Kate Shafer Testerman had a great breakdown of the business of book packagers, and differentiates between the reputable ones and a certain other one that came to light recently.

This week in the Forums, how to handle a request for an exclusive, should you reply to an agent who passed, writing fight scenes, non-stereotypical relationships, and are you more likely to buy a book that won an award?

Comment(s)! of! the! Week! You know, when I posted on Wednesday about everyone's greatest fear about writing, I thought it might be a little dreary. But you know what? I found it really amazing how many people weighed in with fears, at every stage of the publishing process. There's something really comforting about knowing we're all in it together. Collective comments of the week!

And last but not least, I really enjoyed the movie The Social Network and couldn't get enough of this parody, which shows The Social Network as directed by some other famous filmmakers:



Have a great weekend!






Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Importance of Being Yourself

Oscar Wilde, photograph by Napoleon Sarony

The query process is understandably terrifying. In fact, I'm pretty sure they use it as a torture device in some countries. And that's even before you jump online and find out that every agent has a slightly different idea of what makes a good query and every discussion forum has a different formula and next thing you know you'll find yourself checking yourself into an asylum as a precautionary measure.

Lost in all of this is perhaps the most important element of the query: YOU.

You! The writer! The personage! The prodigiously talented talent!

A few months back, Jessica Faust at BookEnds had some terrific advice: don't try and write a query that will appeal to everyone, write the best query you can that will appeal to many.

Not only is this terrific advice, it doesn't just apply to queries - in fact I would carry this forward to the actual writing as well. It doesn't work to write the book that you think you should write or that you think is what the market wants or that everyone in the world will like. Don't try to write for everyone, write for many. And that "many" can be just as many people as you want.

And it doesn't just apply to queries and manuscripts, it applies to how you conduct yourself and think of yourself as a writer. Sometimes I think people get so nervous about doing the wrong thing they button themselves up and hide away their real self. And sure, put on some nice clothes and put your best foot forward, but don't lose yourself in the process. If someone doesn't want to work with the real you, trust me, you don't want to work with them either.

Queries, manuscripts, correspondence: the absolute best thing you can do is to just be yourself.






Wednesday, November 17, 2010

What Is Your Greatest Fear as a Writer?

Writers are by nature intense creatures. I really believe people who are creatively inclined tend to experience life, well, more intensely than other humans.

Combine that with trying to break into or stay afloat in a tough publishing business, and the writerly pursuit is not without its fears and anxieties.

So what is your greatest fear as a writer? A horrible review? People not liking your book? Obscurity? Paper cuts?






Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Why I'm Still Optimistic About the Future of Books

In March of last year I published a post called Why I'm Optimistic About the Future of Books, wherein I discussed the idea that despite the then-current difficulties of the business (which have morphed into still-current difficulties), ultimately e-books and the Internet are great things for books and everything will be fine. Everyone has a shot, people have more opportunities than ever to find the books they want to read, and eliminating distribution barriers will mean that books are not sent into drawers never to be heard from again.

And in fact, I gave a speech on said subject just a few months ago at the Central Coast Writers Conference.

So. Now that I've jumped ship and left the publishing industry for the tech world, how do I really feel?

Um. Well. The same way.

I really think the present is good for books and the future is good for books. People love to read books, they're not going anywhere, and the Internet is making it easier to find great books. Me leaving the business is not a sign that I think everything is heading down the tubes.

Sure, change is disruptive and this isn't to overlook the significant challenges the industry will face as we move into the new era. And in future posts I'll outline some of the obstacles I see coming down the pike (spoiler alert: I think agents and publishers will still be around in the new era).

But as a reader and as an author, I really do think it's a wonderfully exciting time for books. Authors have a chance to reach out to their readers like never before, readers have an opportunity to discover books they may not have heard of before, and technology will enable books to be delivered faster and more cheaply than ever before.

And that's still pretty great.


Image source






Monday, November 15, 2010

Alan Greenspan and the Greatness of Admitting You're Wrong

Note: And now for something a little different!

My wife left town a few weeks ago for a work trip, and like any thirty-year-old man away from the watchful eye of his spouse, I cued up PBS' Frontline documentary about unregulated derivatives and the early warning signs of the financial crisis.

You know women, always keeping a man from his current events documentaries. Am I right, fellas??

The documentary mainly centered on a battle of minds between Alan Greenspan, ardent de-regulator and chairman of the Federal Reserve, and Brooksley Born, who wanted to regulate financial derivatives. (Bear with me, this post will get interesting. I think.)

Backstory on Greenspan. He believed in the purity and rationality of financial markets, and thought that any attempt by the government to meddle with the markets was doomed to fail. And he believed this with an almost religious zeal. Greenspan was heavily influenced by the libertarian philosophy of Ayn Rand, and was a member of Rand's inner circle, to the extent that she stood beside him when he was sworn in as Chair of the Council of Economic Advisors.

Well, we all know what happened. While serving as Chairman of the Federal Reserve for nearly twenty years during a period of nearly unprecedented prosperity, Greenspan succeeded in his efforts to persuade the country that a largely unregulated financial market was the way to go.

Then we experienced the greatest financial meltdown since the Great Depression, and guess what, financial derivatives and deregulation played a big role in that crisis.

Now. You're Alan Greenspan. One of the biggest calamities in financial history just occurred. You have just spent your entire working life trying to achieve a goal, you did it with incredible zeal, and you were so talented you succeeded at obtaining it. But just as you're walking out the door having completed your life's work, something goes very very wrong that strikes at the heart of everything you worked for.

What do you do?

I would wager that at least 95% of the human population would blame external factors. They'd say, "Oh, well, such and such couldn't have been anticipated!" Or they would point to the fact that not all of their suggestions were implemented, and say, "The problem is that people didn't listen to me enough."

Not Greenspan. In one of the most arresting moments in THE ENTIRE PBS SPECIAL ON FINANCIAL DERIVATIVES WHICH WAS BASICALLY THE CHUCK NORRIS ACTION MOVIE OF FINANCIAL DOCUMENTARIES, in October of 2008 Greenspan went before a Congressional Committee and said something pretty profound:

I was wrong.

And not a measly little, "I was a little bit wrong." Representative Henry Waxman asked Greenspan point blank if he was wrong about the events surrounding the crisis or whether his entire world view had been wrong:

Waxman: “In other words, you found that your view of the world, your ideology, was not right, it was not working."
Greenspan: “Absolutely, precisely. You know, that’s precisely the reason I was shocked, because I have been going for 40 years or more with very considerable evidence that it was working exceptionally well.”

!!!!

(In an action movie that's where a tanker truck would explode.)

We all know that it's not easy to admit when we're wrong. Heck, it's not even easy to always spot when we are wrong in the first place. The brain wants to think it's right.

And it's another thing entirely to admit that we've been wrong about something on the order of an entire worldview. This was essentially Greenspan's religion, and at the end of his life he realized the foundation was shaky. That's a really big thing to admit to yourself, let alone to Congress. What is it like to look back on a life's worth of work and realize you went astray?

And sure, it's probably better to be, you know, correct in the first place than to have a deathbed conversion after things have already burned to the ground.

But I still think there's something great about Greenspan admitting he was wrong. We live in a world that is perpetually torn asunder by divisions and partisanship and circles where there's no such thing as being wrong as long as you're on the right team. Sometimes it feels like the truth is being splintered into a million pieces, and everyone gets their own little sliver to call their own, and the whole idea of truth is perpetually in the eye of the beholder.

But Greenspan looked at the facts, he looked as his track record and beliefs, and he couldn't square it. And there's something kind of amazing about someone standing up and saying, "You know what? I was wrong."






Saturday, November 13, 2010

New Ways to Follow the Blog

Happy Saturday!

Just a quick housecleaning note to let you know that there are now two new ways to follow the blog. I'm now syndicating this blog on Tumblr, so if you follow me there you'll get regular blog updates.

The blog is also now available for subscription via the Kindle for all of you e-book readers out there.

That is all! See you on Monday.






Friday, November 12, 2010

This Week in Books 11/12/10

Surprise!

It's our new Friday feature, This Week in Books. Which will look a lot like This Week in Publishing! Only, since I'm not working in publishing I thought it should have a new name. Thus: This Week in Books. Stay tuned on Friday for your linkage goodness.

FIRST AND MOST IMPORTANTLY! It's still HARRY POTTER week, so please please don't miss the bottom of this post, where you'll have your chance to end HARRY POTTER week with a contribution of your own.

We're also bringing back Page Critique Fridays. Page Critique Fridays may not be complete until Page Critique Saturday or Page Critique Sunday, but the page up for critique is posted in the Forums. UPDATE: My critique and the importance of specificity posted here.

Meanwhile, I've been storing up lots of links over the past few weeks, and off we go!

How are the NaNoWriMo-ers doing?? There was actually a bit of controversy around NaNoWriMo as Laura Miller posted an article calling NaNoWriMo a waste of time and energy, while Carolyn Kellogg riposted point by point with a post called 12 Reasons to Ignore the Naysayers. Where do you stand?

Lots and lots of e-book news this week. The NY Times announced that they will have an e-book bestseller list in 2011 that will divide e-books into fiction and nonfiction, Engadget has a preview of a color e-ink reader arriving in China in March, Eric from Pimp My Novel notes that e-books are closing in on the $1 billion a year benchmark, and CNET (where, disclosure, I am employed), has a comprehensive post on how to self-publish an e-book as well as a breakdown of Kindle vs. Nook vs. iPad.

And in less than rosy news, GalleyCat picked up on a report that adult hardcover sales were down 40% in September, and overall sales were down 12%. Yikes. But speaking of those e-books, they were up 158%.

In really creepy and weird news, there was a significant controversy at Amazon this week around a guide to pedophilia that was self-published as an e-book. Amazon initially defended its decision to sell the book, stating to TechCrunch, "Amazon believes it is censorship not to sell certain books simply because we or others believe their message is objectionable," but by this afternoon the book had been de-listed without further statement by Amazon.

The Wall Street Journal confirmed a rumor that was making the rounds while I was in New York: Random House is significantly reducing its office space and will be leasing out the rest. Random House spokesman Stuart Applebaum states that this is not a sign that the company is planning layoffs.

In honor of the new fictional Roger Sterling memoir, the Onion AV Club surveyed 30-plus books written by fictional characters (via BookSlut). Which fictional character do you want to see write a memoir? I'm going with Omar from The Wire.

There were two separate posts on the benefits and consequences of the Internet and social networking. Veronica Roth talked about how sometimes not writing is as important as writing, and Sarah LaPolla wonders if social networking is making us dumb (hint: her conclusion is rosier than that).

And the great Tahereh has a great and accurate list of 7 Things Your Characters Do Too Much.

This week in the Forums, talking about my decision to leave agenting and what it's like being an agent, debating the Kindle vs. Nook, your daily NaNoWriMo encouragement courtesy of Somner Leigh, do you have to be serious?, and what to do when you're losing the spark.

Comment! Of! The! Week! goes to Lindsey, who put a great image together with the concept of J.K. Rowling, clutch writer:
Here's my image of Rowling's final clutch touchdown: My daughter and I are standing in the parking lot of BookPeople in Austin, Texas. It is the midnight release of the seventh book. Thousands of people up and waiting. The Austin Symphony is playing Hedwig's Theme. Bookstore employees and fans are dressed as HP characters. All manner of games, mazes and foods related to the world of HP are tucked into different areas of the parking lot. My daughter looks around at some of the fans and says, "They're so old." (She was ten, 'they' were 20-somethings.) And that's when I got Rowling's amazing play: She reached generations of readers with this story. She created a world and we all entered in. Parents, grandparents, children, teens...we all know what a muggle is.
What a run, what a marathon.
And finally, a massive, huge, endless thank you to all of your kind words this week as I made my transition from the publishing world to the tech world. I can't say enough how thankful I am for the kindness of the Internet and this community! I never knew when I started this blog that it would lead to so many great friendships (and if I had, I would have started it in like 1992). Thank you thank you. I really, truly appreciate it.

LAST BUT NOT LEAST. It's been a blast hosting HARRY POTTER week, but now it's your turn!! If you'd like to write your own HARRY POTTER/J.K. Rowling post, add it to the list below. And be sure and stop back by to see what everyone else posted!



Have a great weekend!






Thursday, November 11, 2010

J.K. Rowling and the Art of Being a Clutch Writer

In sports there's an elusive and important quality called clutchness: the ability to deliver under pressure. From Michael Jordan to Robert Horry to Joe Montana, there have always been performers who rise to the occasion, even beyond the occasion, when it matters the most. Through determination, focus, imperviousness to pressure, they come up big when it counts.

If there were ever a clutch writer, it's J.K. Rowling.

But what does that mean for writing? In sports, clutchness means hitting a big shot, leading a winning touchdown drive, or getting an important hit when it matters. One play or a couple of plays requiring focus and determination.

To be a clutch writer is something else entirely. It's a long, slow burn of dealing with daily distractions while staying on course. It's a marathon, not a few key moments of focus.

J.K. Rowling had to have faced some of the greatest pressure of any modern writer. Not only was she hugely successful, but we're now in the era of paparazzi and the Internet. While, yes, I would assume phenomenal success does come with its rewards, it also surely comes with manifold distractions: the pressure of living up the expectations of a rabid fan base, sudden loss of privacy, lawsuits from nutjobs, not to mention the temptation of resting on one's laurels and letting your writerly guard down.

And that's what's so amazing to me about Rowling. She never stopped improving. While Order of the Phoenix was my favorite in the series, that has more to do with its place in the series rather than the overall quality of the writing and the work, which just kept getting better. And in order to get better at something you can't be self-satisfied and think you've made it and become convinced of your own genius. You have to keep digging deep and keep being skeptical of yourself and keep trying to spot your own flaws and resist the temptations that come along with success. And that is hard!!

That's what's clutch about J.K. Rowling. She led us on seven consecutive touchdown drives over the course of ten years, never wavering in focus and quality, and always coming up big when it mattered the most.

And maybe some of that ability to stay grounded has to do with her phenomenal track record in charitable giving. Wikipedia has a whole section devoted to the many ways she's given back, including a recent £10 million donation to multiple sclerosis research.

That is perhaps the most inspiring thing of all - you can be both a phenomenally successful writer and a great human.

But it doesn't hurt to be clutch.

Image source






Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Which HARRY POTTER Book Is The Best?

Alright folks, time for the question and debate of the ages!! You ready? You sure??? Here we go...

Of the seven Harry Potter novels, which one do you think is the best of them all?

Poll below (and please click through if you're reading via an RSS feed or via e-mail):




Have you voted? Cool. (Don't want to sway the results)

My choice is Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Perhaps the darkest of all seven of the books, this one really delved into Harry coming into his own and spending much of the novel feeling sorry for himself. The weight of the world was really resting on his shoulders, and he had one of literature's great villains, Dolores Umbridge, to contend with. And, well, we all know what happened in the end (but I won't spoil it for those who don't know).

For emotional depth and range, Harry coming of age, not to mention my favorite cover.... to me, Order of the Phoenix is the novel that delves the deepest, and for that reason it's my pick for best of the seven.

What about you? What made you pick your favorite?






Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Five Writing Tips From Reading J.K. Rowling's HARRY POTTER

Reading the seven books in the Harry Potter series is like taking a master class on plot and character development and world building and pacing, and, well, pretty much everything else that goes into writing one of the most beloved series of all time. It would take an entire book to delve into all of the way the series succeeds, but I thought I'd hone in on a few elements that really stood out to me and what writers can take away from them.

1. You can accomplish amazing things with a third person limited perspective

In case you aren't familiar with the definition, third person limited means that the novel is told through one character's perspective and only that character's perspective (in this case: Harry's). We only know that one character's thoughts and don't otherwise jump into another character's head. Other than the very beginning of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's/Philosopher's Stone and a few other scattered moments throughout the series, we only know what Harry knows and only see what Harry sees.

This very constrained perspective is a big part of what makes the story great. We really feel close to Harry and his struggle, as the rest of the world of Harry Potter is literally on the outside. Like Harry, we're gradually getting to know this magical world, we learn the answer to the mysteries at the same time that Harry learns them, and feel anchored to Harry throughout the series.

But this limitation isn't without its immense narrative challenges. At some point the characters need to know what's going on in the broader world. And Rowling is remarkably adept at finding creative and suspenseful ways to let Harry learn what he needs to know: he overhears things while using the invisibility cloak, he sees things through the pensieve, he sees things in newspapers, and he develops a tenuous connection with Voldemort so he can see some of what is going on with him as well.

Yes, all of these things are amazingly clever as elements of Harry's world, but they also solve sticky narrative moments: they turn info dumps into fully-realized scenes, they let Harry see things he wouldn't be able to otherwise, and they get around the challenges posed by constraining the narrative to what the protagonist knows.

So if you're going to write in first person or third person limited, try to think of creative ways to let your characters in on the things they need to know.

2. Don't be afraid to show your characters' flaws

Yesterday's blog post is a testament to how many beloved characters J.K. Rowling created. And part of what makes her characters so amazing is that they aren't perfect people.

When we fall in love with our own characters we have a tendency to be too good to them. We can't bear to see them do something bad or do something that might make the reader love them less than we love them. Rowling does not possess this fear.

Harry, let's be honest, can be kind of a jerk sometimes, particularly in Order of the Phoenix. And this is amazing! He is not perfect. He's growing up. He's going through a really dark time. And the fact that he's feeling sorry for himself before moving on and embracing what he has to do is part of what makes the second half of the series so powerful.

Even Dumbledore can be imperious and careless sometimes. Rowling knows her characters' flaws just as well as she knows their strengths. And that's what makes them so great.

3. Making it look easy is really really hard

One of the greatest achievements of the series is just how unputdownable it is. In terms of flow and rhythm and scene to scene and book to book construction, reading Harry Potter is just. so. easy.

And when it's so darn easy to read, it's tempting to feel like it sprung forth fully formed from Rowling's pen and was correspondingly easy to write.

Nuh uh. As anyone who has written a book knows, building a compulsively readable 700 page book with intricate plotting and incredible polish is not just something that happened.

I don't know Rowling, nor have I read much about her writing habits, but she has to be one of the hardest working writers in the business. These books didn''t just happen. Yes, she's obviously phenomenally talented, but don't for a moment forget the rule of ducks: look pretty on the surface and paddle like heck under water.

Rowling was paddling like heck to write these books.

4. "You might try and go easy on the adverbs when the emotion is apparent from the dialogue,"

Nathan said apologetically.

5. Have fun with your world

To be sure, Rowling is not afraid to go dark or kill off beloved characters like it's the end of a Shakespeare play. But while so much of the Harry Potter series is chilling and thrilling, the reason we care so much is that the world Rowling created and want to spend so much time there is that it's just so darn charming.

Peeves and the Bloody Baron and the Weasley twins and Hagrid's antics and Arthur Weasley's fascination with Muggles and Luna Lovegood. There is so much of Harry Potter's world that's charming and funny and endearing.

The grimmer things get in Harry Potter, the more we crave those innocent and hilarious moments and want the characters to set things right. The charming-ness of the world is the foundation for the depth of the danger and suspense to come. 

And there's only one way to make a world charming: by loving the world you're creating, spending time with it, and infusing it with personality, humor, and spirit.






Monday, November 8, 2010

Who is Your Favorite Character in Harry Potter?

Alright witches and wizards, now that the release of the first installment of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is just a few weeks away, I thought I'd break out the butterbeer and pumpkin juice and celebrate one of the greatest series of books in history, Muggle or otherwise...

HARRY POTTER!

Confession. I came a bit late to the Hogwarts Express. I read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone in college and always planned to read the rest at some point, but Merlin's beard people, those books are LARGE. It's a commitment, and there were always so many other books and manuscripts that were pressing.

Well, this summer I received the boxed set for my birthday and plowed through those books faster than you can say "expecto patronum." (By the way, my Patronus is a space monkey. In case you're wondering).

When I read the series I was just stunned at Rowling's talent, ambition, the depth of the world building, the immediacy of the characters, the attention to detail. To say I admire Rowling is kind of like saying Dobby sort of likes Harry. I kept putting down the books, looking at my wife, and crying, "It's not fair. This is so good. It's not fair."

But rather than just talk about how awesome Harry Potter is (AND I COULD GO ON), I thought we'd delve a little deeper into some of the writerly things that make Harry Potter so great.

So stay tuned for a week of Harry Potter themed posts!

In the meantime, one of the more stunning things to me about Harry Potter, which I will talk more about tomorrow, is how much Rowling is able to accomplish with a third person limited perspective. With a few scattered exceptions, we're only inside Harry's head, seeing his thoughts, and seeing everyone else filtered through Harry's perspective.

It's astounding how many compelling, memorable, hilarious, and terrifying characters Rowling draws with that constraint. We know so much about what makes the other characters tick, and yet we're never seeing their thoughts. Go look! Not a single "Hermione thought such and such."

So. Before we delve into how she does it, let's talk favorites.

Who is your favorite character??






Friday, November 5, 2010

Transition

It’s with a huge mix of emotions (insert: wonderment, excitement, sadness, nostalgia) that I let you know that this is my last day as a literary agent. I am leaving the world of publishing to work at the tech news/review site CNET, where I will be helping to coordinate social media strategy. I’m extremely excited about this new challenge and opportunity (particularly since I’ve been such a fan of CNET over the years), though I will be sad that I'll no longer be working with my amazing clients and colleagues. It has been truly incredible to work with my clients, who are so inspiring and amazing and I know are destined for very fruitful careers. I am leaving them in supremely capable hands, and I will continue to be fans of their work long into the future.

But! The blog and Forums will live on. The topics will change just a bit as I will no longer be in the query trenches, but I still plan to continue to post about writing, books, and whatever strikes my fancy (monkeys) and hope you’ll stick around for the next phase in the blog’s evolution. One thing that has not changed and will not change is my passion for books and writing and I hope this will continue to be a friendly place where writers come together to talk writing and help each other out. This has become such an amazing, positive community thanks to you, and I feel honored to be a part of it.

Let me also say that I have not lost my optimism about the future of books. I really do believe that the present and future is great. Heck, I wouldn’t be spending so much time writing books if I thought all hope was lost. This is more about me being excited about this new opportunity and being very passionate about social media than it is about the current state or future of publishing.

These last few weeks have been a whirlwind, and I wish I could have taken each and every one of you out for a beer to say thanks and tell you in person. Very sorry if I haven’t had the chance to notify you personally. But this isn’t goodbye! See you here on Monday.






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Wednesday, November 3, 2010

What's the Genre of Your WIP?

Now that NaNoWriMo is in full effect, I thought I'd return to a post from approximately a year ago to see which way the genre winds are blowing in late 2010. Will the breakdown be the same as last year? Is there a genre or two that are growing in popularity?

Poll below.

Also, I know genre distinctions are blurry, so just pick one in case there's overlap. And remember, when in doubt: go with the section of the bookstore your book would be stocked in. As before, I added "paranormal" to the categories even though it's not typically a bookstore section simply because there are so many people writing about vampires, werewolves, etc.

My answers is still the same as last year: middle grade science fiction.







Monday, November 1, 2010

NYC!

These streets will make you feel brand new. Or so Jay Z and Alicia Keys tell me.

Last year around this time I was in New York when the Yankees won the World Series, and now I'm back just in time for the Giants to.......

Yeah, not going to jinx that one. Come onnnnnnnnnnnnn Tim Lincecum!! You can do it!

Also, you may have noticed that the blog was down for a bit this morning. That was 110% the fault of the Texas Rangers (I suspect Nolan Ryan himself), but please bear with me as there may be a few things being fixed in the meantime.

This post is dedicated to Madison Bumgarner's awesomeness.

Meanwhile, posting may be a bit sporadic this week as I'm busy living out this video:







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