Nathan Bransford, Author

Monday, January 31, 2011

SUFPC Word Cloud!!

I have read all 1500+ entries! I think I pulled a paragraph muscle in the process, but I have decided on the finalists. All shall be revealed tomorrow.

In the meantime, a contest tradition, the Stupendously Ultimate Word Cloud courtesy of the good folks at Wordle!!

And before I announce the finalists, now's your chance to single out some of your favorites. For those of you who braved the multitudes of paragraphs, which ones were your favorites and why?

Friday, January 28, 2011

This Week in Books 1/28/11

And... the... finalists... are...

Yeah, still working on that. But!! I shall have them ready for you early next week. I think. There are a lot of them. Soon! Meanwhile, there was a Week in Books....

Before we get to the books, remember when I went to Peru on a volunteer vacation and it changed my life? Well! You have this opportunity too! Please visit Volunteer Journals at Travelocity, and all you have to do is enter a video for a chance to win a volunteer vacation. People, voluntourism is the greatest thing ever. Enter! Enter! Enter!!

And books:

Another domino in the path toward e-book-adoption has fallen. In their recent earnings report, Amazon reported the Kindle e-books now outsell paperbacks on Amazon. The e-books, they are selling like mad! (disclosure: link is to CNET, I work at CNET.)

Lots of people talking about Stanely Fish's book about how to write a sentence, and writer Adam Haslett took on Stanley Fish's book, and placed it in context with that tome extolling the terse sentence, Strunk & White. (via The Book Bench) Meanwhile, Slate took a look at Stanley Fish's Top 5 Sentences of all Time. Which are rather top.

And speaking of great sentences, there was a great feature this week over at the Quentessentially Questionable Query Experiment, where my friend Matt Rush interviewed my other friend Bryan Russell about his rather impressive query for his novel THE DREAM OF CROWS. Much insightfulness resulted.

In writing advice news, my former colleague agent Sarah LaPolla breaks down different pitch session attendee types, Eric from Pimp My Novel reminds us of a very important fact of life: this is a business, my dear friend the Rejectionist talks about Inappropriate Agent Behaviors and a Five Step Program for Exiting, my former client Jennifer Hubbard talks about the necessity of taking a break (she's right), and and agent Rachelle Gardner talks about the importance of having a core group of fans.

Oh, and Nabokov was right about the butterflies.

This week in the Forums, getting ready for the Super Bowl, talking about HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX, sharing your first paragraph, and how do you decide on a title?

Comment! of! the! Week! There were many great comments about the post on what keeps you reading a book, but I decided to go with Tammy for brevity and insightfulness:

I like the first line to be short and seemingly impossible.

And finally, it's been hotter than summer here in San Francsico, but I know all of you folks back East and in Europe have been having the winter from the opposite of Hades. Of all the things I've seen, this is probably the craziest. Frozen bubbles!!

Have a great weekend!!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

SUFPC Update!

Still time to enter the Stupendously Ultimate First Paragraph Challenge! As of this writing 1,296 of your closest friends have already entered, so why not you? I'm sure your paragraph is just as good as theirs!

If you do enter, please be sure and do so in the official contest thread. You have until 4pm Pacific time.


- So far I have read 500 entries. It is going to be very difficult to choose the finalists! I am a little rusty now that I no longer read queries, but am swiftly getting back into the swing of things.

- I have lately been seeing some duplicate posts duplicate posts. Please do remember that the blog displays comments in chunks of 200, so you may not immediately see your comment. There are little buttons at the top and bottom of the comment section that will help you navigate to the end of the comment chain.

- I shall hold off on providing my thoughts on the entries for now, but thoughts will be provided in due time.

- If you are new and are enjoying the contest experience, please join the discussion Forums! There are many great topics being discussed, a place to ask me questions, Forums to get feedback on your queries and manuscript, and much more. They will literally change your life. Okay, not literally. Please join!

- That is all! Enjoy!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

What Makes You Read On?

If you haven't already entered the 4th Annual Stupendously Ultimate First Paragraph Challenge, please do so in the official contest thread! Win partial consideration by Catherine Drayton and a signed ARC of JACOB WONDERBAR AND THE COSMIC SPACE KAPOW!

One of the things I love about the annual first paragraph contest is just seeing the sheer number of ways you can start a book. Violent, sedate, loud, quiet, profound, prosaic, rapturous, reserved.... every possibility is on display in just this one contest.

So what do you like to see in the opening pages of a book?

We've all picked up books in a bookstore or perused them online. What makes you decide to read on and decide to buy the book? Is there a common element that keeps you reading or something you look for in an opening? How do you know you're in good hands?

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Want to Know What an Agent's Inbox Looks Like? Read Contest Entries!

If you haven't already entered the 4th Annual Stupendously Ultimate First Paragraph Challenge, please do so in the official contest thread! Win partial consideration by Catherine Drayton and a signed ARC of JACOB WONDERBAR AND THE COSMIC SPACE KAPOW!

I've blogged before about how helpful it is to read slush to get a sense of what works and what doesn't work, and to gain an appreciation for the difficulty of making snap judgments on a huge number of different works at once.

But short of getting a job at a literary agency, what's the next best thing? Reading contest entries! The quality is similar, the experience of jumping from one world to the next is similar, and while after your first fifty the paragraphs may blur together, you'll notice the good ones really standing out.

So I'd encourage people to go through the contest entries, see which ones are your favorite, and then think about why they're your favorite.

There's a lot to learn from having to decide which ones you think are the best.

Monday, January 24, 2011

The 4th Sort-of-Annual Stupendously Ultimate First Paragraph Challenge

It's time of the granddaddy of them all, our sort-of-annual first paragraph challenge! Will your paragraph wow the masses? Do you have the first paragraph to end all first paragraphs?

We shall soon find out.

Let's get to the good stuff. THE PRIZES!


1) The opportunity to have a partial manuscript considered by my utterly fantastic agent, Catherine Drayton of InkWell, whose clients include bestselling authors such as Markus Zusak (The Book Thief), John Flanagan (The Ranger's Apprentice series) and Becca Fitzpatrick (Hush Hush), among others.

2) A signed advance copy of my novel, JACOB WONDERBAR AND THE COSMIC SPACE KAPOW, which is coming out in May:

3) The pride of knowing your paragraph was like the platonic ideal of first paragraphs it was so awesome.

The FABULOUS RUNNERS UP will receive the satisfaction of knowing that they were among the very best, as well as a query critique from yours truly.

There may also be honorable mentions, where still more satisfaction will be had.

So! Here's how this works. Please read these rules carefully:

a) This is a for-fun contest. Rules may be adjusted without notice, but this one will always remain: please don't take the contest overly seriously. This is for fun. Yes, the grand prize is awesome and I would have kidnapped a baby koala bear to have my manuscript considered by Catherine Drayton without so much as a query, but don't let that detract from the for-funness of the contest. For fun. Seriously.

b) Please post the first paragraph of any work-in-progress in the comments section of THIS POST. Please do not e-mail me your submission. The deadline for entry is THURSDAY 4pm Pacific time, at which point entries will be closed. Finalists will be announced.... sometime after that. (Possibly Friday, possibly the following Monday, possibly the year 2032 but probably not the year 2032). When the finalists are announced you will exercise your democratic rights to vote for a stupendously ultimate winner.

c) Please please check and double-check and triple-check your entry before posting. But if you spot an error after posting: please do not re-post your entry. I go through the entries sequentially and the repeated deja vu repeated deja vu from reading the same entry only slightly different makes my head spin. I'm not worried about typos, nor should you be.

d) You may enter once, once you may enter, and enter once you may. If you post anonymously, make sure you leave your name.

e) Spreading word about the contest is strongly encouraged.

f) I will be sole judge of the finalists. You the people will be the sole judge of the ultimate winner.

g) I am not imposing a word count on the paragraphs. However, a paragraph that is overly long may lose points in the judge's eyes. Use your own discretion.

h) Please remember that the paragraph needs to be a paragraph, not multiple paragraphs masquerading as one paragraph.

i) You must be at least 14 years old and less than 147 years old to enter. No exceptions.

j) I'm on Twitter! You can find me at @nathanbransford and I may be posting updates about the contest.

That is all.

GOOD LUCK! May the best paragraph win and may it be rather awesome.

Friday, January 21, 2011

This Week in Books 1/21/11

Light news this week! It's This Week in Books on a diet. We're keeping our New Year's Resolutions after all.

Let's see what have we here. The good people at NPR are launching a new short fiction contest, but SPEAKING OF CONTESTS, I know those NPR people are great and all that with their insightful commentary and amazing radio programs, but WE ARE HAVING A CONTEST NEXT WEEK RIGHT HERE! Prizes and riches beyond compare (not really) hang in the balance!! Fun beyond compare (really)!! An ARC of a certain space adventure involving universe breaking will be given away! There will be more prizes than that!

This blog. Monday. Be there. Er. Here.

(Don't worry, there are more links.)

In e-book news, writing for my employer CNET, David Katzmaier talked about how he borrowed a Kindle and was completely sold that e-readers are an improvement over paper. Only there was one problem with the Kindle: it's not easy to borrow e-books from libraries (as it is with the Sony Reader). So he's not buying a Kindle.

Writing in the Guardian, Laura Miller notices an interesting fact of 21st Century life absent from much of contemporary literature: this little thing called the Internet. (via Stephen Parrish)

Could one of the perennial debates in writing circles be settled at long last? Slate's Farhad Manjoo launched an impassioned broadside against the wasteful, malicious scourge of the writing world: two spaces after a period. I used to be a two-space sinner, but I have repented and seen the light, hallelujah.

The great Janet Reid tackles a very important topic necessary of distinction: the difference between a query and a pitch. Know it.

Now, I didn't read the Babysitter's Club books as I was busy at the time playing baseball and watching Star Wars (not at the same time, though that would be awesome). Where were we? Oh. Babysitter's Club. I'm told that this is a hilarious post if you were a fan. (via my friend Holly Burns)

This week in the Forums, how to deal with writer's butt, organizing your submissions, have you read THE CITY AND THE CITY? I want to talk!, how to handle subchapters, and what makes you good at what you do?

Comment! of! the! Week! there were tons of great Twitter tips in yesterday's post about how to use Twitter and I'd hate to single out just one, so I'm going with a collective comment of the week for that thread. Thanks everyone!

And finally, via Sommer Leigh in the Forums, Ira Glass and the radio program This American Life is one of the great treasures in both America and life, and he sat down for a really great series of chats about storytelling. It's an absolute must see, especially the first one:

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

How to Use Twitter

I'll be honest, I was a bit skeptical of The Twitter when it first appeared on the social media scene.

"What's that you say?" I asked. "140 characters? What can you do with that?"

Turns out: A lot actually.

Twitter is awesome. Awesome I tell you! It is the end of boredom, it is an incredible way to feel instantly connected with faraway people (even celebrities and other people you don't know), it is the Great Font of Interesting Stuff.

But it can be intimidating at first.

For those who haven't checked it out, Twitter is basically a stream of posts by people you follow, all less than 140 characters. And you Tweet short messages to your own followers. It's pretty much that simple.

So! Here are a few tips on how best to use Twitter:

Pick a Good Username

This is, admittedly, not that easy now that there are millions of people using Twitter. But your username is you on Twitter. It's how people communicate with you, it's how you'll be identified. So don't go choosing @LoserMcLoserMan and be like, "Oh, well, I'll go changing that later," or "I'll just go by my display name.

You can't. You are @LoserMcLoserMan forever. (Ok, well, according to the comments section you can change it but still.)

So choose wisely, and since every character counts, err on the side of short. The people who want to mention you will thank you.

Follow Interesting People

The best way to enjoy Twitter is by following very interesting people. You can always check out Twitter's Who to Follow suggestions to browse by your interests, you can search for your favorite celebrities, or just see who is being retweeted a lot by your friends and follow them. Your Twitter experience is really only as good as the people you follow and interact with.

Once the number of people you follow grows to a certain point, you can create lists like "Friends" and "Celebrities" and "Reality TV Stars" so you can keep things manageable and quickly check in on the people whose Tweets you don't want to miss.

And, ahem, shameless plug and all that, I'm on Twitter here.

Tweet What You're Best At

For the most part Twitter is super easy. You just write something short, hit Tweet, and there you go. Boom. You just told people about how you saw a cat jump in a toilet. And the Internet thanks you.

But to really build a following, it's important to be useful in some way. Some people scour the Internet and find really great links. Some people participate and organize chats. Some people are funny. Some people are clever. Some people are interesting.

But as always: just be yourself. You'll have the most fun that way and it's really the most effective way anyway.

Use URL Shorteners

140 characters isn't much, especially when you're sharing links. So! If you want to share a link, you'll need to use a link shortener.

What's a link shortener? It basically turns this: into this: When people click on the short link it opens up as the big link.

There are two main ways of going about the shortening of links. If you see an official Tweet button (like the one at the bottom of this post), you can always click on one of those and they'll usually use Twitter's own shortener.

Otherwise, some people swear by

(Wonky explanation for the differences of opinion between vs. that you should skip unless you're really curious: On, the displays as the big link you're sharing once you post even though Twitter doesn't count those extra characters toward your 140. So the advantage is that people can easily see what they're clicking on and may be more likely to click on them. But some people swear by because it makes it easier to copy that link into another Tweet. vs. is sort of like the Jets and the Sharks of the Twitter world. And there are other rebels out there as well.)

Learn What @replies Mean and What They Do

There is a crucial principle about Twitter that even some relatively experienced Tweeters sometimes miss. And that is the @reply.

When you start a post with @NathanBransford, not everyone who follows you sees that Tweet. Only your followers who follow @NathanBransford see it.

This is a completely genius feature. It means that people only see back and forth conversations that are relevant to them--you only see replies between people you follow. But it also means that if you want to mention @NathanBransford to more than just people who follow me, you'll have to start with something other than the @. Like a period. Or a word.

Also, as Corinne points out, if you actually click the Reply button rather than simply typing @Corinne, in New Twitter people will be able to easily see the conversation thread.

Have Good Twitter Manners

Sure, with only 140 characters it's tempting to just grab someone's link and Tweet it to your followers. But if you use someone's link it's important to give them credit with their full Twitter handle, such as "via @colsonwhitehead" or even just "(@colsonwhitehead)"

Also you should be following @colsonwhitehead. That is important. Not because you have to follow someone whose links you used, but rather because @colsonwhitehead is hilarious.


A hashtag is a word with a # at the front. People use this on Twitter to make a topic easily searchable. You can click on a hashtagged word and see real-time search results of people using that hashtag on Twitter. So if you wanted to have a live chat or if there's a popular topic of the moment, you can see real-time dialogue. (See Colleen's comment for more on following chats)

Hashtags have also become somewhat of an inside joke, and people sometimes like to use hashtags at the end of their posts to be funny even when it's not a popular term. Like #Justsayin.


When you see a funny or insightful post, it's really fun to retweet that post to your followers.

There are two ways to retweet. One is old school, one is new school.

Old school: Tweeting "RT @personsusername Their Tweet"

New school: Twitter has an official retweet button. This will retweet that person's Tweet to your followers. This is also partly how Twitter's "Top Tweets" are determined - by the number of people who retweeted them using the retweet button.

Again, there are different schools of thought about this, but I lean toward the new school. It can be a little jarring when someone uses the New School retweet and someone I don't know shows up in my feed, but it seems to me like it's the best way of really giving that person credit for their amazing Tweet.

(See sheribomb's comment for another important distinction on new vs. old)

Have Fun

The best thing about Twitter is the spirit. There's something about that 140 character limit that makes people witty and funny and wise. You'd think having such a short space would dumb things down, but it's almost like meter in poetry--the constraint makes people work harder to say things that count.

So enjoy it!

And keep an eye out for hilarious cats.

Please add your own Twitter tips in the comments section, and I'll add especially good ones to the post!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

You Tell Me: What Is Your Favorite Song of All Time?

Ah yes, we are continuing to branch out on this blog. First writing, then baby elephant videos, now.......


It's ever the steady evolution.

Ahem. So. If you had to pick one. Just one. Just one song to listen to the rest of your life, your favorite song of all time, the one that speaks to you, the one that practically IS you, the one that you hold above all others.

Just one!!!

Which one is it?

I would have to go with......

"Little Eyes" by Yo La Tengo. No! "Star Witness" by Neko Case. No! "Non Je Regrette Rien" by Edith Piaf. No! "Oh Yoko" by John Lennon. No! "Georgia On My Mind" by Ray Charles.

As you can see the rules are a bit loose on this one. Let's go with songS.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Page Critique Tuesday: My Thoughts

Back with my thoughts on the page posted earlier, and I have to say:

This page is in quite good shape! And that's because it is effective at one of the best ways of building suspense: provoking questions.

Suspense is all about withholding information. Mystery at its core is about not knowing something you want to know. But too often when people try and build suspense, they do it by holding out on the reader. The characters may know the history of a situation, but the conveniently don't fill in the reader. The characters have a good sense of what could be happening in a given situation, but they conveniently don't think about those things.

Especially in first person and third person limited, unless you're dealing with an unreliable narrator, the reader should really know what the character knows.

In this case: we do know everything the (third person limited) protagonist knows! And it's suspenseful because she doesn't know exactly what's happening.

The suspense is built through images that beg questions: why does this young man look old? Why is he wearing a heavy coat in July? Why is one hand jittering while the other is still? Then there are some obstacles in the way that build further tension: a distracting patron and a bad layout to the library. It all builds steadily, one thing leading to the next, and I think it's quite effective.

Just about the only main thing I would suggest actually has to do with the first line. While I really like the details throughout this page, the first line feels a bit detached to me. It's a bit too much telling (caught her attention) rather than showing her attention being caught through action (Judith looked up/stopped what she was doing/dropped something), and it seems like a bit of a missed opportunity to show Judith's personality.

But still, a very solid start, and I think this page has promise. Nice work!

Title: The Pigeon Drop
Genre: Mystery

The young man caught Judith's attention the moment he entered the library. show this

It wasn't just the way his gaze skittered away from hers, never landing on anything for more than a split second, or the way he huddled inside his long black duster, which was far too heavy for July. That described most of the high school students who schlepped in every afternoon to hang around the manga. Nice kids, most of them.

But this young man was older, with dry, mumbling lips in a jaundiced face. And while his left hand clenched and jittered not sure about using both "skittered" and "jittered" so close to one another at his side, his right stayed in his coat pocket, steady as a rock.

It could be his favorite crack pipe. But Judith didn’t think so.

Unfortunately, she was trapped by a patron who wasn't going to stop asking the same question until she received the exact answer she wanted. Judith watched the young man with peripheral vision until he disappeared into the mysteries.

Judith frowned. The original layout of this floor--perfectly acceptable a century ago, when most behavior problems could be controlled with a glare and a finger to one's lips like this detail—was a security nightmare unrelieved by the single camera aimed at the cash register at the circulation desk. But adding more cameras cost money, and any reorganization of the massive mahogany bookcases would have to wait until the carpet was finally replaced. The Board was reluctant to authorize either "without real reason."

Judith hoped the young man wouldn't provide one.

Page Critique Tuesday!

It has been some time since we have had a page critique, but I am back in the page critique saddle, True Grit style. Watch out Tom Chaney, I'm gunnin' for you and I have a mean streak.

Actually I'm pretty nice.

Now then! If you would like to nominate your page for a future Page Critique Event despite its recent bout of inconsistent appearances, please enter it in this thread in the Forums. As with past page critiques, I'll first post the page (this post) so people can leave their initial thoughts without being swayed by mine, and then I'll weigh in later with my thoughts and a redline.

As of this writing there are 558 pages up for critique. The good people at say the page should be.....


Congrats to SarahW, whose page is below. As you offer your critique, please remember the sandwich rule: positive, very polite constructive criticism, positive. Any rude comments will be met with swift justice.

Title: The Pigeon Drop
Genre: Mystery

The young man caught Judith's attention the moment he entered the library.

It wasn't just the way his gaze skittered away from hers, never landing on anything for more than a split second, or the way he huddled inside his long black duster, which was far too heavy for July. That described most of the high school students who schlepped in every afternoon to hang around the manga. Nice kids, most of them.

But this young man was older, with dry, mumbling lips in a jaundiced face. And while his left hand clenched and jittered at his side, his right stayed in his coat pocket, steady as a rock.

It could be his favorite crack pipe. But Judith didn’t think so.

Unfortunately, she was trapped by a patron who wasn't going to stop asking the same question until she received the exact answer she wanted. Judith watched the young man with peripheral vision until he disappeared into the mysteries.

Judith frowned. The original layout of this floor--perfectly acceptable a century ago, when most behavior problems could be controlled with a glare and a finger to one's lips—was a security nightmare unrelieved by the single camera aimed at the cash register at the circulation desk. But adding more cameras cost money, and any reorganization of the massive mahogany bookcases would have to wait until the carpet was finally replaced. The Board was reluctant to authorize either "without real reason."

Judith hoped the young man wouldn't provide one.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Let's not forget what this day is about.

"The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice." - Martin Luther King, Jr.

Friday, January 14, 2011

This Week in Books 1/14/11

This week! The books!

I don't know if it's the new year or the chilly weather or the fact that everyone is dusting off their shiny new e-reader for a little "Holy cow I'm not reading on paper anymore," but there were quite a few Future of Publishing articles this week, so let's get right to them, hmmm?

First off, agent Mary Kole has a really interesting article about the future of agenting, in which agents offer up some visions of what's to come. And though I'm of course no longer an agent, I chimed in with a shorter version of what I said yesterday. The future, it is most definitely coming.

Meanwhile, industry sage Mike Shatzkin has a characteristically insigutful post about differentiating the purpose of Digital Rights Management (DRM) between stopping piracy (hint: not very good at it) vs. stopping casual sharing (hint: actually pretty good at it). Probably a large part of why you're not going to see it go away any time soon.

And further to this whole future business, my good friend Eric from Pimp My Novel has a great post on brand management and how publishers are not adapting quickly enough to the new landscape and are still continuing to muddle their own brands with imprints that only matter to insiders. It's been two months since I left agenting and I already am forgetting basically all imprints, but just off the top of my head, Random House alone contains: Random House, Knopf, Crown, Crown Forum, Broadway, Nan A. Talese, Spiegel & Grau, Three Rivers Press, Doubleday, Dial Press, Bantam, Doubleday Religion, Harmony, Waterbrook, Ballantine, Clarkson Potter, Vintage, Anchor, Dell, Del Rey, Triumph, Pantheon, Knopf Children's, Random House Children's, Delacorte, Schwartz & Wade, Wendy Lamb, and I'm sure I'm forgetting plenty. And that is just Random House!!!

And finally in the future of publishing, if you want one of those newfangled Kindle thingamajigs, reader Steve Fuller is happily giving one away! Stop by to find out how to win.

On Wednesday we discussed the balance between writing and life, and there were two pretty moving posts this week about that tenuous balance between grief and books and writing. Stephen Parrish received permission to reprint a transcript of David Foster Wallace's funeral, and it's an incredibly moving outpouring from the people who knew him. And over at HTML Giant, Kyle Minor reflects on reading as an escape from some of the horrors of life and death (via Bookslut). I'm not sure if you'll read two more moving links this week.

The ALA has come and gone and some of the most cherished awards in young people's literature were announced. Congrats to Clare Vanderpool for winning the Newbery for MOON OVER MANIFEST, Philip C. Stead and Erin E. Stead won the Caldecot for A SICK DAY FOR AMOS McGEE, Paolo Bacigalupi won the Printz for SHIP BREAKER, and Rita Williams-Garcia won the Coretta Scott King Award for ONE CRAZY SUMMER. Congratulations, all!

And are you curious about which books were bestsellers the week you were born? Wonder no more.

I know I have been woefully negligent about our Page Critique Fridays as I've gone through quite a busy stretch, but rest assured, I shall resume them soon enough!

This week in the Forums, the joy of cooking, all things waiting, people's first e-book experiences, how to know when to move on from a manuscript, and the 10,000th Forum post!

Comment! of! the! Week! There were tons of really great comments in response to yesterday's post about the future of agenting, and I thought I would single out Porter Anderson's, reprinted in full:

Picking up on Reena's good comment, I think I see the lifespan of publishers shortening faster than that of agents, Nathan. This is because an agent's role is morphing into something that includes vehicle design, not just content. The agent already is doing the work of acquiring editors, often of publicity departments, and is advising and negotiating pathways to distribution, more and more of which lie outside traditional routes.

While offshore and film rights negotiations, of course, may remain closer to current patterns, the the future of smart agenting lies in the transmedia efforts being tracked by Digital Book World's Guy LeCharles Gonzalez ( ), by Jane Friedman ( ) and by rich-media developmental specialists like Dan Blank of We Grow Media ( ).

In the same way that authors are hustling to embrace and capitalize on the potentials of the e-phenomena, a clever agent can become, him- or herself, an enabling mentor and impresario, guiding authors to recast and envision projects to achieve their transmedial possibilities.

As Jimmy Cramer ( ) loves to say, there's always a bull market somewhere. An agent's job is rapidly becoming that of the experienced scout who can get to the top of the hill, see where the new markets are rising, and signal back down to her or his authors the best concepts, techniques, and evocations of storytelling to deploy.

And finally, there have been some serious links this week, but this should cheer you up. There is no happiness like the happiness of a baby elephant at the beach (via Sarah LaPolla):

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Greatest Challenge Agents Will Face: Standardization of Terms

I want to emphasize up front that the views here expressed are completely my own and may not reflect the views of my previous employer.

You know that phrase about how a combative person could start a fight in an empty room? Well, agents could start a negotiation in an empty room.

And because of that, despite what you may hear in some circles, I really, truly don't think agents are going away in the new era of publishing. Agents are way too important to the business, authors need advocates, and whatever frustrations the unpublished may have with the whole getting-an-agent process, I think it's pretty telling that authors don't just ditch their agents the minute they finally get a deal.

Agents are not just gatekeepers, and they are very important for authors who want to maximize their revenue and stay in the publishing game. They serve as an important point of continuity, they are great at getting the most out of an author's potential, and heck, I was an agent in real life and I still have an agent. She's a crucial and indispensable part of my career as a writer.

But even if I feel very strongly that agents will survive into the e-book era, the times are definitely changing, and old systems are facing new challenges.

And what's the biggest challenge agents will face? I wonder if it's standardization of terms.

The unpublished often believe that agents exist because of the publishing funnel, and to be sure, that has helped cement agents' central importance to the publishing business. But what really enables agents to exist is the fact that up until recently, every deal, big or small, was up for negotiation--the size of the advance, the terms of the contract, the rights up for discussion. As long as there were complex facets to a publishing deal and those elements were up for discussion, authors needed an experienced advocate to get the best terms.

But technology and scale are increasingly facilitating one-size-fits-all deal models that are fair for all parties. And that, I think, is potentially a threat to the future of agenting as we know it.

Apple's iTunes and App stores have been revolutionary in many respects, but perhaps the most revolutionary is the one-size-fits-all 70/30 revenue split for all apps and content. Big companies, small companies, in between companies, it's a 70/30 split. That's the deal. That 70/30 split is so powerful it even caused most major publishers to adopt the model across the board for e-books.

Don't like the 70/30 split? Well, too bad. It's not up for negotiation.

And what happens if/when this is applied to the publishing world? You're already seeing this essential model utilized by e-book distributors like Smashwords, who take a standard percentage cut for e-distributing your book. If you sell 5 copies or 500,000, it's the same split. Everyone gets the same deal, and there's no room for negotiation.

And if there's nothing to negotiate, do you really need an agent?

Well, you might actually! There are still subsidiary rights to consider, like film and foreign rights (assuming you're big enough to be offered foreign rights and film deals), and thinking about the various elements that go into making a book, having an agent can provide some of that crucial cachet that can help a book's success.

But I wonder if the old agenting model of taking 15% commission is increasingly only going to be viable for agents representing the biggest of authors: the writers who have enough clout to have publishers fighting to offer them large advances and who, therefore, have the ability to negotiate their own terms, and who are generating sufficient revenue.

But everyone else? In the e-book era, I think you'll increasingly see advances give way to a more standardized split in revenue based on actual copies sold. And when that happens, agents will have their traditional role challenged and will have to find new ways to stay relevant if there are no significant terms to negotiate. And if the trend of polarization between blockbusters and everyone else continues, you could see this squeeze even further.

If there's nothing meaningful to negotiate, an author may well need someone to help them navigate the ins and outs of the publication process. So will some agents then move to some sort of billable hourly rate or a consulting model or some other flexible combination? We shall see.

I really truly don't think agents will go away, but I wonder if agents of the future may have to adapt to an unfamiliar new foe: standardization.

Image source

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

How Do You Balance Writing and Life?

We all know that writing can be both a solitary pursuit and one that takes an incredible amount of time. Honing one's craft over hundreds and thousands of hours while sitting quietly in front of a notepad or computer screen is often time not spent out in the world, engaging with friends and loved ones.

It's time where we're happily lost in our own head, creating our own worlds during the time we're not out living in the real one. Writing can be a dazzling, fulfilling, and meaningful time, but life can beckon and intrude into that space, and not always unfairly. Sometimes it's life that must come first.

As Jennifer Hubbard wrote in her truly magical post about the topic:

Sometimes the writing desk is a solace, an escape from tedium or pain in daily life.

Sometimes writing is a celebration. Sometimes it's a way to process painful truths.

Writing is a life examined, which is supposed to be a life worth living. But a life can't be spent only writing.

Sometimes we put down writing for a while. Sometimes it refuses to be put down.

So how do you strike the right balance between writing and living? How do you know when it's time for writing and time for life? How much living is necessary to be a good writer, and how much writing is necessary for you to live?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Way Cocktail Parties Should Really Go Part II

Following Part I

Person #1: You know what drives me crazy? I just can't believe how many insanely wonderful books are out there. I don't even know what publishers are thinking publishing all those insanely wonderful books.

Person #2: I know! I walk into a bookstore and I can't even find a book to read because there are so many insanely wonderful books to choose from.

Person #1: You know I read an entire book the other day and I found ZERO TYPOS?

Person #2: Ugh. How anything gets published with zero typos I'll never know. Do you know how easy they are to miss?

Person #1: Zero typos! I swear! I was so impressed I threw it across the room.

Person #2: You know what I've heard? There aren't any editors who don't edit anymore.

Person #1: No!!!

Person #2: Yes!! It's true.

Person #1: Well, you know what publishers really care about... publishing good books.

Person #2: It's a scandal.

Person #1: An outrage.

Person #2: There are just too many great writers out there to choose from. That's why publishing isn't going down in flames.

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Last Few Weeks in Books 1/10/11

All the best stories and links for your reading perusal! These go back a few weeks since the holidays and CES put a wrench in my normal blogging schedule.

First up, I often receive questions about who I'd recommend for book publicity and marketing, and you're in luck. One of my friends, and a wildly talented PR and marketing expert, Maria Menenses Gutierrez, has started up a marketing company called Milesmaria (Facebook page here). In their words, "Buzz around a new book, a media plan for your new indie film, helping to build and brand your company, our plan of action will work towards making sure your audience knows about your story." So if you have a book and need some help with buzz, check them out.

Also this week in plugs, Will Entrekin is one of the very first people I knew who really mastered social media and was a large help when I was building my Myspace blog (oh, 2006!). He and Australian co-author Simon Smithson have made waves with their short story collection SPARKS. So please do check that out as well.

The links!

One of the major news stories of the last month has been the ongoing Wikileaks saga, and it's something I've watched with complete fascination because it so starkly illustrates the effect the Internet is having on society. In one of the best and most fascinating blog posts I've ever read, science fiction author and futurist Bruce Sterling tackles his thoughts on Wikileaks, which he actually feels quite ambivalent about despite his long fascination with hackers and his sense of Wikileaks' inevitability. Definitely worth a read in full despite the post's length. (via io9)

And speaking of the future, on Friday I mentioned just how many tablets were debuted at CES, and wondered about the implications the tablet explosion would have on the world of books. Well, PWxyz is wondering the same thing. In a post called, Where Are All the Publishers?, Calvin Reid tracked down a few of the publishing types at CES, but was left wondering why publishers weren't more fully engaging with the show.

Borders could very well be on the ropes as they have suspended some payments to publishers, and at least one of the Big Six publishers have stopped sending them books. Yikes.

2011 marks the sesquicentennial of the start of the Civil War, and there's surely going to be quite a lot of attention and renewed interest in it. Salon rounded up their picks for the Top 12 books about the Civil War, including my favorite, BATTLE CRY OF FREEDOM.

Mashable had a post by the president of McGraw-Hill Professional about five e-book trends to watch in 2011, including that prices will have to stay above $9.99 and that publishers will be more important than ever. On the flipside you have Smashwords CEO Mark Coker, who offered up his own five predictions for 2011, which include agents writing the new chapter in the digital revolution by bypassing publishers and e-book prices will have to come down. Here's my prediction: one of them will be right.

Author Natalie Whipple has a terrific post about a common trap that can prevent writers from being sympathetic with people farther along in the publishing process than they are: the "at least you have" game. (At least you have a finished manuscript... at least you have an agent... at least you're published...) The thing is, there are difficulties and frustrations and doubt no matter how far you are along in the process, and we can all be there for each other.

And in writing advice news, Editorial Anonymous discusses the thorny topic of how to leave your agent, and Anthony Bourdain offered up some good advice to bloggers.

These past few weeks in the Forums, the best forum posts of 2010, whether author websites should reflect the author, the genre, or the book, discussing the controversial Huck Finn news, your favorite character names, (un)realistic young character dialogue, and how to know where your story should begin.

Comment! of! the! weeks! goes to Anonymous, who had a great response to the post about blogging agents and about polarized responses on the Internet in general, which I thought I'd post in full:

The discussion here in which there appears to be primarily two sides ("Yay, online socializing for literary agents" vs. "Boo Hiss, online socializing for literary agents"), rather than a more nuanced consideration of how best to offer debut authors lucrative careers, reminds me of a book published last year by Knopf, YOU ARE NOT A GADGET: A MANIFESTO by tech expert Jaron Lanier. This book is an Amazon Best Book of the Month, January 2010, and the author is described by Amazon as a "longtime tech guru/visionary/dreadlocked genius (and progenitor of virtual reality)". Here's a quote from a Q & A with Lanier on Amazon:

Question: You say that we’ve devalued intellectual achievement. How?

Jaron Lanier: On one level, the Internet has become anti-intellectual because Web 2.0 collectivism has killed the individual voice. It is increasingly disheartening to write about any topic in depth these days, because people will only read what the first link from a search engine directs them to, and that will typically be the collective expression of the Wikipedia. Or, if the issue is contentious, people will congregate into partisan online bubbles in which their views are reinforced. I don’t think a collective voice can be effective for many topics, such as history--and neither can a partisan mob. Collectives have a power to distort history in a way that damages minority viewpoints and calcifies the art of interpretation. Only the quirkiness of considered individual expression can cut through the nonsense of mob--and that is the reason intellectual activity is important.

And finally, CNET (where, disclosure, I work) named the Motrola Xoom tablet the Best of Show at CES, one of the approximately 50 different tablets (seriously) that were debuted at the trade show. Devices like these are coming very very soon, they're going to be very common, and I think they'll have huge implications on the world of books:

Have a great weekend!

Friday, January 7, 2011

The Tablets Are Coming, The Tablets are Coming

I'm in Las Vegas this week at the International Consumer Electronics Show, aka CES, and if there's one hot device out there this year it's the tablet. Tablet tablet tablet.

People have been joking that it's raining tablets in the desert. Seemingly every company even tangentially related to creating consumer electronics is debuting their own tablet, and that's on top of the iPad, which some people think could sell as many as 65 million units worldwide this year. (Disclosure: links are to CNET, I work at CNET, and the views expressed herein are solely my own).

What does this tablet explosion mean for books? Well, more and more and more people out there in the coming year are going to own devices that they can read e-books on. All of that competition will inevitably drive down prices. And even if someone buys a tablet for gaming or to watch movies, they still will own an e-reader and will easily be able to download and read books should one strike their fancy.

It's funny to look back on my original Kindle post way back in November 2007, when the e-book future was still very murky. Here's an excerpt:

In my opinion there will never be a widely used iPod of books, a device that people buy specifically for books -- e-books will take off when they can be easily downloaded and easily read on a device like a larger iPhone-of-the-future, something people already have, which evens out the economics since you don't have to plop down a significant chunk of money before you even buy a book. This would give e-books the decisive edge in economics, which might just tip the world of books toward e-books. Until then? Printed page for most of us.

Those larger-iPhones-of-the-future are here, and the economics are a-changing. The future is still unknown, but looking around at all these tablets at CES, I have to say, the future is coming very very quickly. And with e-ink readers starting to hover around $100, it's not as significant an investment for a device that does one thing very well.

Do you think the tipping point has arrived? Are you planning on getting a tablet this year?

If you're interested in the latest from CES be sure and follow CNET on Twitter and Facebook! I'll be back here on Monday with Last Week in Books.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

How to Write a Good Blog Comment

Photo by Ped-X-Ing via Creative Commons
The art of writing blog comments may at first blush seem like a frivolous and unimportant one, but that is not actually the case!

Writing excellent blog comments is perhaps the very best way to build your own blog and/or social media presence. Consider a blog comment an audition to show off your own personal awesomeness.

Not all blog comments are created equal. Here are some good rules of thumb as you work your way up to becoming a blog comment ninja.

Read the Post You're Commenting On, Then At Least Scan it Again

Yes, this takes time and the careful suppression of twitchy fingers. But there is no quicker way to leave an ineffective blog comment than to miss something in the actual post or to accuse the poster of saying something they didn't actually say.

Accuracy is important. Good blog comments take into account the entire post and then come up with a good and original response. So not only take the time to actually really read the post, keep the comment on topic rather than bringing in an outside and unrelated agenda.

That said......

Get There Early

The most effective and influential comments are near the top of the comments section. Don't work so fast writing your comment that you don't leave a good one, but don't dillydally either. Having a great comment in the first five to ten comments will get you noticed and will also probably result in a better discussion after your comment, which will please your host.

Scan the Other Comments First

Some might say that you should read every comment before yours. But people, it's a busy world out there. It's probably not strictly necessary.

But! At least go through and scan to see if someone else has said what you're about to say. The first commenter who makes the Lady Gaga comparison is savvy. The tenth person who does it is annoying.

Give the Blogger the Benefit of the Doubt

While it is oh-so-tempting to spout off when someone says something inaccurate or that you don't agree with, you don't look better for stooping to that blogger's level and engaging in a rant. Even if they deserve it.

Try and at least give the blogger the benefit of the doubt. They might not have meant for things to come out the way they did, and even if they did mean it, you look like the bigger person for treating them with patience and respect and staying above the fray.

Be Interesting and/or Funny

Have an interesting perspective. Bring interesting and/or rare pieces of knowledge. But most of all, be funny.

When it comes to good blog comments, funny wins every time.

Become a Regular

The very best way to be noticed isn't with one really great comment, but rather with consistently good comments in the same place(s) over time. If you become a regular and valued commenter on a blog or site, the other readers of that site will take notice and are more likely to come your way.

Much like Cheers, you want to go where everybody knows your name.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

What Are Your New Year's Resolutions?

Another year dawns, and it's time to make our personal improvement project goals! Unless of course you're resolving not to resolve. No judging here.

I personally like the whole New Year's Resolution tradition because I like to think things can keep improving in the world, and the only way that can happen is one person at a time. The truth is, we can all be better than we are currently, and I like that we begin each year with that thought in mind. Even if our diets are then promptly felled by Mr. Burrito.

Mr. Burrito, why must you be so delicious?? Your accomplices Chips & Guac are not helping matters.

My resolutions for 2011 are (in varying degrees of seriousness):

- No more random gray hairs. Seriously scalp, you have your instructions, get it in gear.
- Happier dog
- Moving it up to level 4 on the exercise bike. Watch out, people.
- Continue to resist computer games. No time. No.... ok just one more round of Civilization.
- Be a better writer and exorcise my writerly tics like the demons they are.
- Finally use one of those tire pressure thingies
- Find three good new bands. No more post-early-20's-musical-discovering-laziness.
- A more perfect harmony between work, writing, relationships, and fun. My fellow writers, is that not the dream?

What about you?

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Can I Get a Ruling: How Do You Feel About Blogging Agents?

Yesterday I wrote a defense of agents who take the time to blog. But what do you think?

Would you want an agent who blogs? Does an agent blogging make you more or less inclined to work with them? If you had a choice between agents, would it matter in your decision?

There is a poll below, and you'll need to click through to the post if you're reading in a feed reader or via e-mail.

Monday, January 3, 2011

In Defense of Blogging Agents

One of the ideas that still seems to be common around the Internet these days is that agents who blog are somehow less serious, less committed to their jobs, or are too busy spending time on the Internet that they should otherwise be spending on their clients.

As someone who spent part of my time blogging about The Hills and other assorted reality television shows, I can see how charges of unseriousness may be appealing! One might even say, "Sweet, my answer is get out of my car."

But for this first post of 2011, during a time when Facebook is fast becoming the biggest site on the entire Internet, venture capitalists are pouring money into social media startups, and every company on Earth is trying to figure out how to harness the power of social media, it's just a tad strange to me that people are still denigrating the agents who are trying to use blogs, Facebook, and Twitter to further their own careers and their clients' careers.

It sure seems like we're witnessing a revolution in the way in which we connect with each other, including the way we hear about and discover books, and it behooves agents to stay abreast of those changes.

Now, to be sure, situations vary, and I'm not saying that all blogging/Tweeting agents are wholly created equal or that all uses of social media are uniformly positive. But social media is a powerful tool, and there are quite a few agents out there using it as a force for good.

Let's examine some of the myths about blogging agents, and hopefully dispel them:

Myth: Only small-time agents blog.

Among the many agents who blog include Jane Dystel, blogging at the Dystel and Goderich blog. Among her clients are...... one President Obama. How about Betsy Lerner, agent for National Book Award winner Patti Smith? How about Kristin Nelson? Her numbers for 2010 weren't too shabby. On Twitter you have Curtis Brown UK agent/managing director Jonnny Geller.

I could go on (and apologies to the ones I'm leaving off this cursory list -- you are awesome too!)

There are blogging agents across the career spectrum, from the just-starting-out to the extremely well-established. Trying to paint all blogging agents with one brushstroke is going to inherently be inaccurate. There are agents of all stripes utilizing social media.

Myth: Real agents don't have time to blog/Tweet/Facebook because they're too busy

There is enough time in the day.

One of the inevitabilities of being an agent using social media is that your clients follow you and know rather precisely how much time you're spending online. And if an agent were really spending too much time online instead of attending to their needs: their clients would know it. And they wouldn't be happy.

In fact, the agents I know personally who utilize social media tend to be among the most passionate and ambitious about their work. These are the people who are working more than full time jobs and still trying to help out the unpublished and promote their clients' work on top of that. They're passionate enough to be blogging and Tweeting in addition to their jobs, not instead of their jobs.

But while there may well be agents out there who overdo it, social media needn't consume one's life and doesn't have to take up too much time. While I was an agent I was spending about half an hour writing each post on this blog and another half hour or so reading comments. One hour a day. That's a TV show. Or my daily time on the bus (during which I usually read comments). And even on top of that I would store up posts on the weekends in case things were crazy during the week.

There really is enough time in the day.

Myth: The fact that a few blogging agents have left publishing is proof that they were more serious about blogging than about publishing

This is the one that I've been occasionally roped into for whatever reason.

The truth is that a lot of people have left publishing in the last few years for a variety of reasons, just as a lot of people have decided to pursue a career in publishing in the last few years for a variety of reasons. Turnover is inevitable in any industry, particularly one in a period of transition. And I don't think there's any evidence to suggest that blogging agents are more likely to leave publishing than non-blogging agents. I certainly always always knew that being an agent came before blogging, and I took my job extremely seriously. My bosses, clients, and colleagues were reading my blog. If I wasn't getting my job done because I was blogging, they all would have known it.

Myth: There is one right way to be an agent

Every agent plays to their own personal strengths. Some agents are fabulously well-connected, with ties to elite social circles and are able to hobnob with all the right people. Some agents are gossip hounds, knowing everything about everyone and making it their business to have all the best and latest information. Some agents are mega-readers, and have read every writer on the planet and scour the small presses and lit journals for talent. Some agents have ties to MFA programs and use those connections to find up-and-comers.

Some agents are good at social media, and use that to their advantage to find new clients and cast a wide net.

There is no one right or wrong way to be an agent, and in any competitive industry it pays to utilize your own strengths. Everyone has to find the strategy that works for them, and saying that this or that strategy is unserious or doesn't work is foolhardy.

But really all you need to know about agents and social media is this: it works. Authors are able to get a preview of an agent's style and see if they'd like to work with them, agents using social media are casting a wider net and finding the authors they want to represent, and authors using social media are more educated about the business, better connected, and better able to make good decisions about their career.

Facility in social media is a new competitive advantage, and the ones who are good at it are reaping the benefits.

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