Nathan Bransford, Author

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Is the Internet Making Us Better or Worse?

Selbstporträt - Claudio Castelucho
The Internet has changed the way we live so drastically in such a brief span that it's almost impossible to even remember how things used to be.

I'm of the opinion that it's mainly been a shift for the better because of the transparency and ease of communication it fosters. Among the little things I appreciate:
  • It's much harder for businesses to rip people off and treat customers badly in a world with online reviews. Word will get around.
  • You can find amazing people in every corner of the globe that you never would have met without the Internet.
  • I love the new universal jokes that we all share, like Twitter preparing for the "apocalypse" after the crackpot preacher's prediction.
  • There's so much potential for grassroots efforts and things bubbling up to the cultural surface and collective discovery.
For the most part, social media just accelerates what we as humans do already. It makes conversations spread more quickly and frees up more time for us to do more and find the most amazing places and things and people on the planet.

On the other hand...

It's not all good. By no means is it all good. We're all closer together, and that means we're closer to the worst elements as well.

All too often people use the anonymity of the Internet to be crueler than they ever would be in real life, and the obliteration of privacy is something I'm not sure we're all really prepared for. The Internet doesn't always appeal to our best natures and can bring out the very worst in us.

What do you think - if you had to tally it all up, is the Internet making the world a better or worse place?

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Wordplay Podcast!

You may already be a fan of James Dashner, NY Times Bestselling author of The Maze Runner, and J. Scott Savage, author of the Far World series and the forthcoming GRIMVILLE CASE FILES with HarperCollins.

WELL. I'm very pleased to announce that we are all collaborating on a new weekly podcast, called Wordplay!

First episode: Right here! We talk about the different age groups in children's books, the importance of capturing a middle grade (or YA) sensibility, and how we go about writing for younger readers.


Monday, August 29, 2011

By the Time A Self-Published Author Hits it Big, Do They Really Need a Publisher?

"The Money Changer" - Rembrandt
This post title has been sitting in my Draft file for months, well before the news broke that self-publishing star John Locke inked a print-only deal with Simon & Schuster, choosing to continue to self-publish his own e-books.

For now, self-published authors absolutely do need publishers in some form if they want to hit it really big because publishers can get print books into bookstores. But as the John Locke deal demonstrates, they don't necessarily need them to publish the e-books, and in fact, in many if not most cases the authors would prefer to hang onto e-book rights themselves.

And this is a major challenge for publishers as we move forward into a primarily e-book world: By the time a self-published author hits it big will they really need a publisher?

Let's revise that: In an e-book world, by the time any author hits it big will they really need a publisher?

This is an existential question for the traditional publishing industry. What value will they provide authors who already have made a name for themselves?

The Package of Services Publishers Provide

As I've blogged previously, publishers provide these essential services that go into making a book: Editing and Copyediting, Design, Printing and Distribution, Publicity and Marketing, Patronage (i.e. an advance), and Cachet.

While there are amazing editors in the traditional publishing industry, there are also plenty of great freelancers (many of whom used to be quite successful in the publishing industry). Editing can be farmed out. Design can be farmed out. Distribution is a snap in an e-book world.

If you're just starting out, chances are you really do need the Publicity and Marketing, the Patronage, and the Cachet that a publisher provides. This is what I needed as an author, and I don't regret going the traditional route with my debut novel.

But if an author does an end-around and is successful without a publisher, if they have amassed their own funds, they can easily handle their own distribution, and if they are well-known (i.e. they don't need Publicity/Marketing, Patronage and Cachet)... well, what can a publisher do for them then that they can't do themselves? Especially when traditional publishers are offering paltry e-book royalties?

The Nightmare

For publishers, here's the nightmare publishing path for authors of the future: Author signs with traditional publisher for first book, author hits it big, author says thankyouverymuch I got this now and self-publishes from then on out.

Publishers depend heavily on the steady and huge sales of the James Pattersons, Stephen Kings, Dean Koontzs and Danielle Steels of the world. For now, those authors still need publishers because it's still a print world and publishers are indispensable for getting paper into stores.

Ten years from now that won't be the case. What are publishers going to do then? What will make them indispensable?

Stayin' Alive

Well, first off, there will always be authors who want to focus on just the writing, and the package of services publishers provide will keep a certain portion sticking with publishers. It's massively time consuming to self-publish, and not everyone is going to want to pursue that path. This is one of the main reasons, for instance, self-publishing superstar Amanda Hocking cited for choosing a traditional publisher for her next books.

But I think publishers are going to have to think long and hard about what exactly they will actually be providing authors in an e-book world. There needs to be a major mindset shift from a gatekeeper-oriented "You're lucky to be with us" mentality where authors are treated on a need-to-know and your-check-will-arrive-when-it-arrives basis to a service-oriented "What else could we possibly do for you" mentality.

No more books that get dropped in the ocean without publisher support. Embracing and investing in new marketing tactics for the Internet era. Becoming an integral part of how consumers find books.

And innovating with new ideas and experiments and models. Some publishers are, yes, but is it enough?

Authors should want to have their e-books published by the traditional publishers, not be forced to grudgingly give them up in exchange for being published in print. Big authors are soon going to have a choice, and publishers are going to need to make themselves indispensable once again.

Disclaimer: Simon & Schuster is owned by CBS, which is the parent company of CNET, where I am happily employed. The views expressed herein are completely my own.

Friday, August 26, 2011

This Week in Books 8/26/11

This! Week! BOOKS.

Wow. I'm actually on time with This Week in Books. Who still doesn't believe in miracles??

First up, JACOB WONDERBAR cupcakes!! With recipe!! Yum, people. Yum:

On to the links!

There was rather large news in publishing this week as self-published superstar John Locke inked a deal with Simon and Schuster. FOR PRINT ONLY. As in, the deal the publishers had said would never happen. Only it's most definitely happening. Industry sage Mike Shatzkin says we can expect to see this type of deal again, and in characteristically understated fashion, J.A. Konrath says that the End is Nigh for traditional publishing.

My opinion: this is definitely a big deal. If publishers can't offer enough value to make self-published authors want them to publish and distribute their e-books you obviously have to wonder what value publishers are going to offer already-established authors in a world that is primarily e-books. I don't think it's the end of traditional publishing is here by any stretch and let's not forget this is still a print world, but more deals like this could at minimum prompt some traditional publisher soul-searching. (NOTE: Simon & Schuster is owned by CBS, which is the parent company of my employer. The opinions expressed herein are purely my own.)

In children's book news, The Rejectionist had a great response to Robert Lipsyte's It's the End of Books for Boys as We Know It article from the New York Times, and Le R's title says it all: Boys and Reading: Is There Any Hope of Someone Saying Something Intelligent?

Pardon me while I have a Tumblr moment, but every time I hear someone say there aren't any good books for boys anymore (or, as Lipsyte suggests, that books set in space are by nature appealing to the lowest common denominator) I'm all:

And then I'm all:

And then I go:

And finally I'm all...

Ahem. Also, credit where due, everything I know about Tumblr I learned from Tahereh, who owns Tumblr. Also gifs.

Happy 50th birthday to Walker Percy's classic THE MOVIEGOER! The Millions had a great tribute.

And there is a huge amount of hype this week around Erin Morgenstern's debut THE NIGHT CIRCUS, which actually had its start as a NaNoWriMo novel.

Oh, and apparently guys prefer tablets and women prefer e-readers.

This week in the Forums, how important are blurbs, a campaign to help authors build their platforms, your top 10 all time favorite books, asking for encouragement getting through the really difficult middle, how to be friends with a writer, and is it a series or is it one fat novel? 

Comment! of! the! Week! goes to Mira, who, on Tuesday's post on the unreality of overnight successes, expresses a sentiment that you don't see enough of on the Internet: Compassion for the successful:
I guess I want to add that I agree with Susan Quinn. We don't really know what impact her success had on Stephanie Meyers. I'm not sure I'd trade places with her. Yes, Meyers earned money and admiration from scores of fans, but she was also widely critiqued, held up as an example of poor literature and Stephen King came right out and said she was a bad writer. Who knows what kind of pressure is on her for her next book. And will her books have any lasting value, or will they fade away, and who knows how that will impact her.
It's very hard to really know what someone else is going through just from the outside. What may look like a blessing can still hold some difficult challenges.
I've found, when I'm really on my path, there's a feeling of righness that comes to me. This is where I should be, and this is what I'm supposed to be learning and doing.
Amanda Hocking actually had a great post on compassion too yesterday.

And finally, one last gif for the road.

Have a great weekend!

Oh, and in all seriousness, be safe this weekend, East Coasters. I'll be thinking about you.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

An Agent Responds to Paperback Writer by The Beatles

This guest post was promoted from the Forums. More information on Guest Post Promotion here.

By: Jon Gibbs

Even though it wasn’t real, the most famous ‘query letter’ of all time has to be the one immortalized by the Beatles within the lyrics of their 1966 classic, Paperback Writer. But what if Paul McCartney (who wrote the song) really had been an unknown wannabe, trying to get an agent or editor to read his book? What kind of response would he have got if he’d sent a query letter like the one he sang about?

We’ll never know for sure, but here’s how I think Agnes Hardacre, former senior agent at The Write Good Read Literary Agency (who some of you may recall sent me feedback on my query letter for Dracula vs. the Daleks a couple of years ago), would have responded:

Dear Mr. McCartney,

With reference to your recent correspondence seeking representation for yourself and your novel, I regret to inform you that The Write Good Read Literary Agency will not be inviting you to join our client roster.

As someone who harbors ambitions of one day becoming a published author myself, I fully understand your desire to become a ‘paperback writer.’

I share the frustration we authors feel when our work is rejected with little or no explanation as to why it’s deemed unworthy. With that in mind – and please understand this is in no way a request for you to re-submit your work – I’d like to offer some observations about your letter of enquiry, along with some helpful advice which, if heeded, I believe will greatly increase your chances of getting past that all-important first stage of the representation process when you submit your work elsewhere.

You start your letter of enquiry with ‘Dear, sir or madam, will you read my book?’

To use the modern vernacular, I’m afraid you ‘Shot yourself in the foot’, not once, but twice, within your very first sentence. In this modern technological age, a quick call to Directory Enquiries would have gotten you this agency’s telephone number. Had you then telephoned our main office, a member of our secretarial staff would have gladly furnished you with the name of the person to whom you should address your letter of enquiry (in this case, myself).

A little extra effort would have gone a long way, believe me.

As for ‘will you read my book?’ of course you want us to read your work. Why else would you have sent it to us? To ask even once in a letter of enquiry is redundant, to ask twice, as you did, smacks of desperation.

Moving on. A good book is a good book. Readers (and agents) don’t care how long you or any other author worked on a novel (even if it did, as you claim, take you years). In a similar vein, nor do we need to know about your current need for employment. It makes you sound desperate.

You say your plotline is based on a book by another author – a Mr. Lear as I recall. You should be aware of the potential for a lawsuit if you’ve used characters created by another writer without his or her express permission.

Your covering letter tells me next to nothing about the novel you’d like us to represent, not even (and this is an enormous faux pas) its title .

All I could glean from it was that you’ve written a somewhat smutty story about an ill-groomed, unkempt man whose wife won’t give him space and doesn’t appreciate him (or his ambitions, I couldn’t tell which). This unnamed man has a son (also unnamed) who works at a newspaper, but (like you) harbors an ambition to write paperbacks.

It’s too vague. Give me a reason to care. Give me a reason to ask for more.

When I read your offer to write extra chapters and/or rearrange the plot if we like your writing style, it became obvious that your book is still a WiP (a modern acronym which stands for ‘Work in Progress). We want people to send us finished work. Besides, at a thousand pages, your manuscript is already too long. I believe you should consider splitting it into two, or even three, novels.

It’s also a mistake to tender the rights to your work without pre-conditions. A less ethical agency might have taken you up on your offer.

I sincerely doubt that your (or any other unknown author’s) book would generate a million pounds for our agency overnight. It does you no good to claim otherwise. In fact, it makes you look unprofessional, which is never a good thing in the literary world.

You state that if we must return your manuscript (or as we like to call it these days ‘ms’), we can send it back to you, but since you neglected to include the necessary three shillings and sixpence in postage stamps, I’m afraid that’s not possible.

On a final note, I detect a lyrical symmetry in the way you wrote your letter which makes me wonder if your efforts might find better reward in the field of poetry, or even songwriting. Perhaps you could set your letter of enquiry to music, though I’m not sure a song about wanting to write paperback books is exactly the sort of thing young people would listen to. These days, everything on the hit parade seems to be a variation on the theme of love.

I sincerely hope you find my comments and observations helpful. Wishing you the very best in your future endeavors.

Yours faithfully,

Agnes S. Hardacre (Junior acquisitions editor)
For The Write Good Read Literary Agency

I think that just about covers it.

Born in England, Jon Gibbs ( now lives in New Jersey, where he’s a member of SCBWI, The Liberty States Fiction Writers and Garden State Horror Writers. He’s the founder of The New Jersey Authors’ Network and

Jon’s debut novel, Fur-Face (Echelon Press 2010), a middle grade science/horror/fantasy for boys aged 10-12, was nominated for a Crystal Kite Award. His popular blog, An Englishman in New Jersey (, is read in over thirty countries.

Jon can usually be found hunched over the computer in his basement office. One day he hopes to figure out how to switch it on.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Which Books Should Be Removed From the Canon?

"The Bookworm's Table" - Claude Rauget Hirst
Inspired by a recent Slate article that asked prominent book people to name which books they don't think are that great, I thought I'd turn it over to you.

Which books should be removed from the canon? Which classic books that everyone is expected to read just aren't that great?

Speaking personally, I'm a big fan of James Joyce's Ulysses, which I think is an amazing technical achievement. Finnegan's Wake, on the other hand, just felt like gibberish.

What about you?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

There Is No Such Thing as an Overnight Success Story

"Prophetess Anna" - Rembrandt
It seems like there are authors who come out of nowhere, get bazillion dollar book deals, make bazillions more dollars after the book comes out, and ride off into the sunset of legends.

We've all heard of Stephenie Meyer dreaming up Twilight, dashing it off in three months, and the rest is history.

It's tempting to think all it takes is an idea and a wisp of effort. Very tempting indeed.

The truth is a lot more banal: It takes a lot of work.

Stephenie Meyer is about as close to an overnight a success story as I've ever heard - she hadn't written before Twilight, and three months is not a long time to spend on a novel.

But she still had to write the book. And as anyone who has written a novel knows, it takes a whole lot of hours, whether those hours are compressed into three months or thirty-six months.

For most of us mere mortals, many of us are too old to be wunderkinds, we will not make any "best novelists under X" age list, we may be arriving at writing late, and many of us spent a lot of time writing novels that didn't work before we even approached writing something that did. Any success we've earned will be hard-earned rather than serendipitous.

And it's tempting to look at the people who spent less time than we did and begrudge them their seemingly "instant" success.

The thing is, there aren't any shortcuts in life, least of all in writing. Books don't just spring forth fully formed. Becoming a writer is a process and a journey and the result of, at minimum, a lifetime of reading, not something that falls from the sky. Books aren't written overnight.

Every endeavor worth doing takes time. 

Each journey is our own, and we're all the better for it. Rather than wishing for lightning to strike quickly, it's better to enjoy seeing it flash in the distance and know that our time will come.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Last Week in Books 8/22/11

This week! Books!

Apologies for the delay in getting you This Week in Books. The week: Hectic is an understatement. On Tuesday I was on a social media panel at the Search Engine Strategy conference, and in case you're curious about what I've been up to at CNET, ClickZ has a very nice summary.

 And welcome to everyone who is arriving via Felicia Day's retweet of the E-book/Hardcover Pricing post! Grab a drink from the cooler and make yourself comfy. 

Meanwhile... yeah we have a lot of links stored up.

 Harry Potter was in the news quite a bit this week. The first screenshots of Pottermore began surfacing, and some real-life policy experts wrote a simultaneously hilarious and educational paper for Foreign Policy Magazine on what the reconciliation process should look like in a post-Voldermort society (via io9). And in a seriously bizarre story, after POD publisher Publish America offered to put books in front of J.K. Rowling (for a fee, of course), Rowling's spokesman called the claim completely false and promised appropriate action. Publish America then threatened a lawsuit. Sigh.

 In Amazon-as-publisher news, the Internet giant is set to publish the next book by self-help guru Timothy Ferris. The 4-hour publisher disruptor perhaps? (Actually it's called 4-hour Chef).

 And speaking of book deals, arguably the most famous cat in the world, Maru, just got one.

 Who topped the Forbes list of highest paid authors? The same guy as last year: James Patterson, with $84 million (via GalleyCat).

 In social media news, Jane Friedman has a great post on some important principles and best practices for Facebook fan pages, and Jessica Faust at BookEnds makes the case that social networking really does work.

 In writing advice news, author Kiersten White has a great post on the rules of genre in YA, and agent Sarah LaPolla says you don't need an MFA as long as you follow these steps.

 Katherine Eastland profiled the sordid! shocking! scandalous! history of the world's most widely-used font, Times New Roman (note: it's not that sordid, shocking or scandalous, but it is interesting). (via The Millions)

And my (alas former) colleague Erica Ogg has a great article on the End of the PC Era, which has been aided and abetted in large part by the rise of the tablet. What does this mean for books? Well, if you don't have a tablet now it's highly likely you'll have one in the future. And when those tablets become positively ubiquitous pretty much everyone will have an e-reader.

 This week in the Forums, the difficult process of snagging e-book reviews, is it a good or bad idea to serialize your work online, listing your 10 favorite books, do you take a couple of weeks off while writing, and the Forum meet and greet has been scheduled for March 3 - March 8 2012. Brainstorming for workshop topics in full effect.

Comment! of! the! Week! There were many great posts on the most important qualities writers possess, and I was especially struck by Bill's:
Respect. The single most important quality of any successful writer; really, of any successful artist. Many others here have quoted things like perseverance, determination, discipline, etc. All these are byproducts of respect. When you respect the art and the challenge of writing, then you treat like a vocation that demands your maximum effort. But we need to also remember the other lesser advertised byproducts of respect. Things like humility, a sense of humor, and the much overlooked gratitude. Sheer talent might grant you some of the rewards that would traditionally require perserverance, determination, and discipline. But without respect, you'll come to see your success as something owed, rather than something earned. The result; arrogant and dim-witted one-hit wonders who's flash of success caused them to self-destruct. But if you respect the difficulty of writing; if you resepct both those who pan and praise your writing; if you respect the sacrifice; then you'll find success wherever your writing takes you.
And finally, if you are one of the three remaining people who haven't heard of Maru the cat, well, here you go. Also: You're welcome.
 Have a great weekend! Er, I mean week!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

What Is the Most Important Quality for a Writer?

Porträt Baudelaires by Gustave Courbet
I'm always fascinated by what makes artists tick.

It's not always a rational pursuit, in fact it's usually the opposite of a rational pursuit. It's not something you can prove ahead of time in numbers or formulas or a plan you know is going to work. You're operating on gut instinct and some ideas and a whole lot of faith.

So what's the most important quality a writer can possess? What do writers have in common?

There are a lot that spring to mind, but I'm going with determination.

What about you?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The JWFWCSHE Winner Is.....

But first! A bit more on what made me choose each of these selections and why I thought they were rather hilarious.

I have to say, I'm glad there were a range of entries to choose from because each finalists approached the whole making the funny thing a little differently.

Hillsy's entry has a brazen charm, and I enjoyed the pace, as well as the disconnect of someone working in an official capacity being completely rude and insulting (which the reporters seemed to largely be taking in stride).

Tim Roast got me with the hilarity of the ant asking him to avenge his death.

dcamardo felt really effortlessly written (though I'm sure a lot of work went into it), and had a great rhythm. The contrast between the seriousness of the receptionist and the name Mr. Snugglymuffin was played to great effect.

Kevin's made good use of voice and a seriously over-the-top (and yet loveable) character.

And Alison Coffey also had a very strong voice and subtle humor. The narrative has great flow and is seriously engaging.

But in the end? There can be only one winner of a partial critique and ARC of JACOB WONDERBAR FOR PRESIDENT OF THE UNIVERSE!

Congratulations!! To!!


Hillsy and finalists, please contact me for your prizes. And thanks so much to everyone for entering, this was truly one of our best contests yet.

Monday, August 15, 2011

JWFWCSHE Finalists!!

Here! They! Are!

The finalists of the Jacob Wonderbar Funny Writing Contest Spectacular Happening Event!

BUT FIRST, just a quick note about choosing these finalists. It was hard. I mean, I know I always go on and on about how hard it was to choose the finalists after every contest. But this was REALLY hard. It's hard to be funny out of context without knowing the characters. It's hard to be funny in 350 words. Humor is subjective.

Very difficult.

But I read them all and I have arrived at these finalists. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did. (And I swear I read every single entry, though the finalists ended up being from the first 200.)

While reading these quite amusing entries, I noticed...

Common subjects I would not have expected: Dragons, mice, training bras.

The format of this contest seems to have favored dialogue: It just seemed like with this short of a prompt, funny conversations seemed to jump out a bit more, though I ended up with a range of styles with the finalists.

Voice voice voice voice voice: Voice voice voice voice voice voice voice. (Voice: Incredibly crucial to humor. This post seems relevant)

You are a funny group of individuals: Give yourself a hand.

First, congrats to these honorable mentions, who acquitted themselves quite honorably indeed:

Holly Bodger
Mike Cyra
Adam Slade
Vinyl and Mono
Allan Petersen

And now, before I announce the finalists, please remember the voting rules:

In order to vote for the winner, please leave a vote in the comments section of this post. You will have until approximately 7 PM Pacific time TODAY to vote. Please do not e-mail me your vote.

Anonymous comments will be closed during the voting to diminish covert voting opportunities.

Also: Please do not campaign for yourself or for your favorites out there on the Internet. Let's keep this fair. Please remind friends of this as well.

The grand prize winner will be announced tomorrow!


The five finalists are............


I faced them again. “OK, OK. Any questions then? Yes? Right, you with the big nose. Go!”

“Err.” The reporter I indicated seemed both unsure whether or not I meant him, and throttled by eagerness. “What happened, Strafe?”

“A man died.” Strafe 1, Press 0. “Next. You, there, with the ill advised beard.”
“What was the cause of death?” His beard was actually two beards; a thumbnail sized smudged under his bottom lip, and a spot hanging from his chin. He looked like he’d been poked by a magic marker.

“Something got lodged in his stomach.”

“Which was?”

“An extraterrestrial. Next. Over there. With the ugly shirt.”

“Hey! This is a genuine Fioracchi!”

“OK. In the ugly Fioracchi.”

“How big was this alien? Did he swallow it?”

“That’s two questions. Pick one.”

“Err….this first.”

“About four feet tall. Five and a half if you count the spike on its head.” I was on a roll now, slipping into the natural rhythms I used during these tedious press statements. It’s about playing to the crowd, working out which answers will elicit which reaction from the gathered masses and picking the best one. My arms shot about, selecting questions like a conductor indicating when an instrument should add to the orchestrated swell of an opera.

“The woman with menopause face!”

“Err…The other question the guy asked.”

“Did he swallow it?”


“No. It was rammed through him like a skewer.” There was a comical collective ‘ewwww’ from the crowd. Like gothic teenagers feasting on the morbid facts, the reporters, almost as one, scribbled down notes.

“You, over there, with the…Woah!...What happened to your face?”

“Eh.” The reporter said, his uneven eyes regarding me with incomprehension.

“Your face. With the…” I pushed my nose in a couple of different directions. “And the…” I did the same to my jaw and my ear.


“Oh right.” I gave him a nervous smile as means of an apology. “Right, ok, your questions.”

“How did the alien…”

“I’m sorry, I can’t do this. You’re too distracting. You over there. The plain, normal-looking dude.” I said, pointing.

Tim Roast!

I can’t do funny stories; I can only do sad stories at the moment. You see my pet, Anthony the Ant, died.

We were out playing in the garden. I turned my back just for a minute and the next-door neighbour’s pet, Declan the Anteater, jumped over the fence and started to hoover up little Anthony. Well I ran across as quick as I could but I was too late; I could only retrieve little Anthony’s head.

I shooed off Declan before looking down at little Anthony’s head inside my cupped hand. He beckoned me towards him, which was hard because he had no legs, and he I heard his dying words. “Avenge... My... Death...”

Well I organised a little funeral for him. I was hoping for a better turn out but Declan had eaten all his little friends too.

Funeral over I set about avenging Anthony’s death so I got a new pet – Sid the Snake – and he ate Declan.

My neighbour then asked me where Declan was. I said I didn’t know. Then he saw Sid the Snake and the anteater shape in his belly.

“Is that Declan?” he asked.

“No, that’s a different anteater,” I replied. My neighbour looked satisfied and started to walk away but at that moment Sid had a coughing fit and brought out all his food. My neighbour saw the half-dissolved anteater and knew it was Declan because of his distinctive nose. He was outraged. “Watch your back,” he said.

The next day I was out playing with Sid in the garden. I turned my back just for a minute and the next-door neighbour’s new pet, Nancy the Mongoose, jumped over the fence and ate Sid.

So you see I am in grief and can’t really do a funny story at the moment.


The car pulled up to a small, tan building. They hustled through the blustery winds to the glass doors. Once inside, her father went to the front desk while Suzy waited on a hard, plastic chair.

The receptionist took out a form and pen, ready to write. “Name?”

“Frank,” her father said.



The receptionist glared at him over the frames of her glasses.

“Sorry, I thought you meant me.” Her father forced a fake laugh. “This is the hamster I called about. The name is Mr. Snugglymuffin.”

“Is Mister abbreviated or not?”

“Does it matter?”

Again, the receptionist looked up at him as if he was ridiculous.

After a few awkward seconds, he scratched the back of his head. “I guess you can abbreviate it.”

The receptionist focused back on the paperwork. “And is Snugglymuffin one word or two?”

“I don’t know. I never spelled it before.”

“Here.” The receptionist put the form on clipboard and held it out with a pen. “You fill this out.”

Her father took the clipboard and pen and sat down next to Suzy. After glancing over the document, he whispered to Suzy, “Is Snugglymuffin one word or two?”

“Does it matter?”

“Apparently it does.”

“One, I guess.”


I sell heckacool Jeeps. And I sell them in a way that kicks the butts off people. After they’ve signed the paperwork, most folks step out of my office with their faces melted clean off. In a good way. In a “I just bought the crap out of that Jeep” kind of way. The Toyota dealership across the street thinks I’m a god. I don’t let them anywhere near me though. I don’t want their snot-nosed sales numbers getting stains on my sequin jacket.

This morning my crew arrived at 2am to prepare for the 6am opening. And no pansy-butt bagels or pastries to eat. Just coffee beans to chew on and some Slim Jims. My beagle, Macho Man Randy Savage, was there and he howled at them if they didn’t work hard. He doesn’t take crap. Macho Man Randy Savage will gnaw your freakin’ thumb knuckle off.

Three minutes before six, I began the “Call of the Jepo,” (pronounced Heh-po). At my signal, Jennifer the temp pressed the Red Button which set off explosions on the sidewalks in front of the store and sent confetti into the sky. I donned my Jepo cape and ascended a mini-Mayan pyramid parked near the street (I bought the pyramid half off after it was rejected as a float for the Macy’s parade). At its pinnacle, upon a Mayan sacrificial altar, sat a new Toyota Prius. I took a chainsaw to that little carbon candy foot until its front bumper and headlights rolled down the steps of the pyramid and crashed upon the street in front of the Toyota dealership. I could see one of their new salesmen wetting himself. I gave Jennifer another signal, and four more explosions went off, this time with fireworks. I jumped on the Prius and cried out in a great voice, “Bienvenidos al Hhhhhepoooooo!” The Call of the Jepo was completed – the same Call given every morning.

And it worked like a charm. Within twenty-four minutes, there was probably about fifteen kabillion trillion people on my lot wanting to buy one of my heckasweet Jeeps.

Alison Coffey!

How do you know if a girl likes you? Not likes you like she wants to talk about movies or the best Clash songs or share your French fries at the diner. But likes you like she wants to see you with your shirt off and call you in the middle of the night and tell you how much that awesome David Bowie song makes her think of you.

It’s very possible she doesn’t like me that way. She makes fart jokes and snorts when she laughs, and she orders giant, messy burgers and eats them in front of me without shame. Girls don’t do that when they like you, right? But maybe Lyla is different. Maybe she does want to stick her tongue in my mouth as well as sing karaoke "London Calling" in my basement.

I haven’t told Lyla about my theory yet. I want to, but if she likes me in that way (the way I want her to) then she may spit out her coffee and abandon ship, and if she doesn’t like me that way but really cares about me in the friendship way, she may feel obligated to have a special conversation with my mother about this really nice mental hospital in Tucson that she read about on the internet. (In my
mind, Lyla knows way too much about plush mental hospitals.)

I try to imagine the conversation. Hey, guess what, Lyla? Remember when we were talking about past lives? About you wishing your best life was still yet to come? (God that was deep. And cute. So unbelievably cute). Well, my best life is almost certainly behind me. How can I ever top E=mc²? Not to mention the atomic bomb! Although, yes, I agree, that was kind of shitty.

At least the dude felt bad about it. And I feel bad about it, which matters because, Lyla--adorable, smart, sweet, cool, Lyla--I was Albert Einstein. At least I’m pretty sure I was.

I hear Tucson is a nice place to visit.


Saturday, August 13, 2011

This Week in Books 8/13/11

This! Week! Books! Saturday!

First up, something I neglected to mention last week is that my former client C.Y. Gopinath's truly fantastic novel THE BOOK OF ANSWERS has been published by HarperIndia, and it immediately shot into the Indian Top 10 bestseller list. TBOA is available as an e-book in the US and I can't recommend it highly enough.

It's about a man, Patros, who comes into possession of one of the most coveted items in the world, a book that contains all the answers to all of mankind's problems. Patros wants absolutely nothing to do with it. He ditches it at a junk shop, only to see an Indian politician use the book for his own nefarious gain. Patros has to decide whether he's going to turn a blind eye to the world's problems or regain his youthful idealism.

It's available in all e-book formats via Smashwords check it out!

Meanwhile, you hear often that the "legacy," "dinosaur," "archaic" publishing industry is going down in flames... so you may be surprised to know that the traditional publishing industry has grown since 2008, even amid a recession. Be still my doomsayers.

The Apple e-book app wars continue. First, in compliance with new app guidelines, e-book apps like the Kindle and Nook disabled the Buy Now links within the apps. However there were two counterattacks. First, Apple and the "agency model" publishers were named in an e-book price fixing lawsuit, and Amazon launched a new HTML 5 Cloud Reader App that enables purchasing within the app and bypasses Apple's App Store ecosystem. You can bet this isn't over. (Disclosure: Links are to CNET, where I am happily employed).

And speaking of disruption, GigaOM had two great articles on disruptors in publishing, first profiling Morgan Rice, Cindy Pon and Tahereh Mafi, and second on their hopes for the future of publishing.

Eric from Pimp My Novel has a somewhat hilarious open letter to the industry: He requests that people stop asking him to fax things.

Slate had two interesting book-related links this week. Michael Agger wrote a column on becoming a faster writer, and there's a roundup of notable book people discussing which canonical books they feel should perhaps be dropped from the canon.

In literary agent news, my former colleague Ginger Clark wrote a column for Publishers Weekly on boilerplate contract negotiations and the clauses that are of particular concern, and Rachelle Gardner rounds up some questionable practices by shady agents.

And Jennifer Hubbard has another post analyzing first lines in books (including one about a certain kid who blasts off into space).

This week in the Forums, praising your family, scene length and pacing, do characters need last names, and how may drafts does it take until it's done?

Comment! of! the! Week! I have to say I was really surprised by the number of people arguing that TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD isn't a children's book. Before I make my own case for why it should be considered such, let me first give Comment of the Week to Brittany, who has a terrific argument for why it isn't a children's book:
I side with the opinion that TKAM, as I fondly call it, is not a children's book.

I am a young adult. This book was my required reading for junior year. I am sure I can safely say that no one in my class has read it before, for more than one reason. One, it's a "classic." I have read a lot of classics and consider myself well-educated and well-read, more so than others my age, and I would not have picked up TKAM if it had not been required and I had not heard so many good things about it. No teenager or child reads "classics" because they think they're going to be just like Dickens (which, I confess, I haven't had the courage to pick up again.)

Secondly, this book has some adult themes-rape being among them. I don't know about you, but I don't want my seven year-old reading about rape. (Yeah, I know Scout's seven or eight.) It's good for kids to learn about prejudice and death and life, and if you'll excuse the mild languge that's going on, it's a great book for middle grade-age and YA. But there are some things I don't think are for kids, and besides, isn't one of the best points of the book that we're looking at this from a child's eyes but we understand the bigger things that are going on? A child looking through a child's eyes isn't the same.

I enjoyed TKAM but I don't think it's a children's book.
 For me personally, I think some of this comes down to definitions, so let me first say that I think of a "children's book" as a catch-all that spans from picture books to YA. Basically anything for children under 18. I also don't believe authorial intent should be a consideration. I might intend to sit down and write a science fiction novel, but if it comes out fantasy it's fantasy.

I've outlined my own argument for the difference between YA and adult, and to me it comes down to the sensibility of the novel, not the subject matter. Is it told with a child's perspective and sensibility or is it told from an adult's perspective and sensibility? There are books with child protagonists that are firmly adult because they have an adult's perspective and sensibility.

TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD definitely deals with weighty issues, but the perspective and sensibility is Scout's, and Scout is a child. Yes, we gain a huge amount of insight no matter what our age, but this is a book that's read by nearly everyone before they're 18, it's told from a child's perspective, and just because it deals with some weighty subjects doesn't make it any less a children's book.

But that's just me!

And finally........  I have ARCs!

Have a great weekend!

Friday, August 12, 2011


Hello! Happy Friday.

I'm hard at work reading the hilarious entries of the Jacob Wonderbar Funny Writing Contest Spectacular Happening Event, and as such I'm a little behind on This Week in Books. Sorry!

But! There will be a This Week in Books either later tonight or tomorrow, and I'm hoping to announce contest finalists on Monday.

Busy busy!

In the meantime: cute baby raccoon!!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

What is the Best Childrens Book of All Time?

First up, if you haven't yet entered your funny scene in the Jacob Wonderbar Funny Writing Contest Spectacular Happening Event, please do so! You have until tomorrow! Do it do it!

Meanwhile, this question has not yet been asked on this blog:

Which book do you think is the best children's book of all time?

I know what a difficult question this is. So many incredible books to choose from.

I'm going to close my eyes and choose................. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

What about you?

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Jacob Wonderbar Funny Writing Contest Spectacular Happening Event


Before we get to the specifics of the Jacob Wonderbar Funny Writing Contest Spectacular Happening Event, for a little extra boost of motivation let's give a quick shout out to the past contest finalists who have since gone on to be published or soon-to-be published authors:

Staurt Neville! Victoria Schwab! Terry DeHart! Michelle Hodkin! Michelle Davidson Argyle! Joshua McCune! Natalie Whipple! Josin L. McQuein! Jeanne Ryan! Peter Cooper!

Stars are born in these contests. STARS ARE BORN.

Will you join their ranks?! Let's find out.

Now then. The premise of the Jacob Wonderbar Funny Writing Contest Spectacular Happening Event is thus:

Write a funny scene.

Simple, right?

IT IS NOT. Funny is hard work, people.

Your prizes!

The ultimate grand prize winner of the Jacob Wonderbar Funny Writing Contest Spectacular Happening Event will win:

1) The pride of knowing you are one seriously hilarious individual.

2) A partial critique from me.

3) A signed ARC of JACOB WONDERBAR FOR PRESIDENT OF THE UNIVERSE, the sequel to JACOB WONDERBAR AND THE COSMIC SPACE KAPOW, which will be released in April 2012:

Space monkeys!!
The runners up of the JWFWCSHE will win query critiques or other agreed-on substitutes.

Yes, there are rules. They are:

I) 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. Hear me? YOU WILL HAVE FUN WHETHER YOU LIKE IT OR NOT.

II) Please post your funny scene in the comments section of THIS POST. Please do not e-mail me your submission. The deadline for entry is THURSDAY 6pm Pacific time, at which point entries will be closed. Finalists will be announced.... sometime after that.

III) Your word count limit: 350 words. You can do this. Your entry can either be from a work in progress or something you compose for this contest spectacular happening event.

IV) 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.

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

VI) Spreading word about the contest is strongly encouraged.

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

VIII) You must be at least 14 years old and less than 189 years old to enter. No exceptions.

IX) I'm on Twitter and may be posting contest updates! Follow me here:

That is all.

GOOD LUCK! May the most hilarious entry be extremely hilarious.

JACOB WONDERBAR AND THE COSMIC SPACE KAPOW, about three kids who blast off into space and find their way back home, was published by Dial Books for Young Readers in May and is available at:

Amazon (hardcover)
Amazon (Kindle)
Barnes & Noble (hardcover)
Barnes & Noble (Nook)

Friday, August 5, 2011

This Week in Books 8/5/11

The Dog Days of Summer are here (or at least in San Francisco the Fog Days of Summer are here), so just a precious few links for your reading pleasure!

First up, I have an interview with Curiosity Quills, wherein I talk about my decidedly mixed feelings about JACOB WONDERBAR having a higher Goodreads rating than THE GREAT GATSBY and questions re: the Future of Publishing.

Meanwhile, writing at the Chicago Tribune, bookseller Aaron Gilbreath wonders why publishers aren't advertising about the awesomeness of paper books. I can hear published authors everywhere shouting "I wish they advertised my book period!" (via Lisa Brackmann)

And speaking of marketing, agent Rachelle Gardner has a fantastic roundup of posts around the Internet about how to market your book.

This week in the Forums (which are very easy to join! Join today!), your favorite distractions, some good podcasts, whether your reader will remember your protagonist's name in first person, and sharing the first 250 words of your WIP.

Comment! of! the! week! goes to Alana Roberts, who had a fascinating response to the post on Distractions:
Well yes - writing advice simply doesn't work in the same way for everyone! And it's so amusing - there is always someone out there (like Anonymous 8:23am) who assumes that everyone, deep down, is really just like himself. Apparently we just need to discover that fact and behave accordingly and we will find out what we are really fit for - because it can't be the same job that our exceedingly self-confident friend is so skilled at!

I'm interested in what others say about the writing process, but in 'The Magic Key To Successful Writing' Maxine Lewis treats writing as a psychological event. Well, if it's true, that changes things! It means that the writing process isn't the same process for you as it is for me - as Nathan implies in this post. Is it possible that a single method, system or attitude will fix the problems that such an event engenders, for everyone?

I don't think so. If each of us is encountering his own psyche whenever he writes then, for some, order, method, and calm will characterize the process and for others - such as myself - the encounter will always be turbulent, agonizing, and mysterious. For some there will simply be a job to do, while an epic inner journey confronts others.

But that opens up other possibilities. If each of us writes as he is meant to, the results will be as different as two souls. Those of us who have relinquished the easy dream of writing how and what we are expected to write, simply because that dream came into conflict with the psychological necessity of writing what we ourselves can write, are bound to face the fear that the market will never have room for what we have to offer.
And finally, it's beach time, and Mashable featured this seriously awesome giant stop-motion animation.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Which Social Networks Do You Use?

Especially now that Google+ looks like it might be here to stay, it seems like there are more social networks out there than ever.

I'm starting to have trouble keeping up with all of my various accounts across the Internet, and, increasingly, my cell phone.

Personally, I'm on...

Facebook (public page and personal profile)
The Reading Room
Myspace (kind of)

And that's even before you count, well, blogging and the discussion Forums as a form of social networking as well. I'm sure there are even ones I'm forgetting.

What about you? Which social networks do you use, and do you have trouble keeping up? Do you think we're in a social media fad or are we getting a glimpse of the future?

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

On Distractions

"Am Waldrand" - Henri Rousseau
Occasionally you'll see advice out there that writers have to keep to a schedule, have to write X words a day, have to write every single day because that's what it means to be a writer. That's what writers do. You're always supposed to power through, always keep moving, always push push push.

I'm sure this works for some writers. I am not one of them.

Not only do I simply not have time to write every day, I wouldn't even if I could. I can't write every day. I can barely write two days in a row.

Writing is tiring, it's hard, and it's easy to get burned out. After full a day of writing I feel physically and emotionally drained. It takes immense concentration. Coming up with new ideas is hard work. And blocking out all distractions takes \willpower.

But it's not just that. I need time to be distracted.

Distractions, the good kind, can come in many forms. They can be a friend who calls spontaneously one afternoon, a walk through the park that beautiful weather demands, a trip to a museum, or just a day doing absolutely nothing.

Sometimes you need to recharge. Sometimes you need to be inspired. Sometimes you need to just let yourself experience life.

I feel like as a writer it's so important to listen to yourself. Don't listen to the lazy you, the one who never wants to get anything done. But do listen to the Writer inside you (capital 'W'), who writes because life is so interesting and amazing.

You can't write if you don't live. You can't write good books if you're a writing machine who doesn't take time to live life fully outside of your work.

Some of the best inspiration comes precisely while you're distracted, while you're actively not thinking about writing and just noticing life.

Let yourself be distracted. It can be your most productive time.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Solution to Every Writing Problem That Has Ever Existed

Keep writing.

Monday, August 1, 2011

ROI and KPIs in Publishing

"The Cradle" - Henry Sandham
One of the many adjustments I had to make when I moved from publishing into the tech world was learning a whole new set of acronyms.

And whether at work, at conferences, reading social media blogs, or having conversations with other people in a similar role as mine, there are two acronyms I hear again and again:
  • ROI (Return On Investment), meaning, is the time/money/effort behind what you're doing worth it? What's your bang for your buck?  
  • KPI's (Key Performance Indicators). How are you measuring success, and how are you doing?
People are constantly assessing what works, what doesn't work, the impact of a campaign is having, what your goals are, what the "net net" was. You look at the numbers and then adjust for the future. Numbers are key.

Here's the thing when you're an author trying to figure out the best way to self-promote: I have very little idea what is working.

As a traditionally published author I basically have two numbers I can look at: the Amazon sales ranks for the hardcover and Kindle editions, and my Bookscan number of copies sold (as provided by Amazon).

The Amazon number is fickle and clearly only reflects a portion of my sales. Bookscan also only captures a portion, usually estimated to be 70% of sales, and that percentage varies from title to title.

Here's what I don't know as an author, or at least don't know particularly accurately:
  • At which outlets are my sales taking place? Is it doing better at B&N? At indies? Online?
  • What effect are my promotional campaigns having? And where should I focus my attention?
  • Who is buying my book? Mostly blog readers? Other people? What's my reach?
  • What do the numbers suggest I should be doing more of?
I'm flying in the dark. And while I have no complaints about my own publisher, too often publishers treat authors on a "need to know" basis and are stingy with sales data. (Though truthfully I don't know that publishers have access to a whole lot more information than I do.)

Not knowing is no way to be. I would love to calibrate my approach and tell you precisely what is working and not working. I just don't have the data.

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