Nathan Bransford, Author

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Still Time to Leave Comments for Heifer International

Thanks so much to everyone who commented and tweeted to raise money for Heifer International!

We had over 100 tweets and 65 comments, and I'm going to go ahead and round up to $1,000.

But before you run off to eat your Christmas Eve tamales, there's still time to help spread the giving! These blogs have made per-comment pledges that are still very much active. Please stop by and leave comments and spread the word about Heifer.

Writing in the NY Lake District
Mira's Corner
Making Stuff Up & Writing It Down
My Karma Ran Over My Dogma
Daily Adventures
An Uneducated Palate

Thanks again, and Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah to everyone celebrating.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

3rd Annual Heifer International Fundraiser!

It's that time of year! Time for our annual Heifer International blog fundraising goodness where we spread the cheer for one of the most worthy causes out there. All you have to do is leave a comment on this post OR Tweet a link to this post ( and include the hashtag #NBHeifer to help raise money for a great cause.

And you too can participate with your own pledge!

You may have already heard of Heifer International, an organization that works to fight hunger by giving needy families around the world and in the United States livestock, training, or other assistance that helps improve their livelihood. Heifer has been recognized for its work in Fast Company and Forbes, among other places.

I know these are some difficult economic times for many people, but if you have anything to spare this holiday season I hope you'll consider making a donation

And in order to encourage people to spread the word about this worthy cause, there are two ways to help increase the giving love (and feel free to do both):
  1. For every comment someone makes in this post between now and 6PM Pacific time on Friday, I will donate $2.00.
  2. For every tweet that includes a) the hashtag #NBHeifer and b) a link back to this post ( I will donate another $2.00. (up to $2,000 between the two)
And, better yet, if you want in on the fun you could do a per-comment pledge on your own blog and enter it into the linky list at the bottom of this post. We can encourage everyone to stop by so we can multiply the giving! Over the past two years we raised over $3,000 together.

In your comment I hope you'll list:

1. Your name
2. Where you're from
3. A wish for 2011
4. (optional) Your own per-comment pledge (amounts totally up to you). Write a dedicated post on your blog for people to leave comments on your blog and link to Heifer and state your pledge. Then enter it into the linky list below so everyone can stop by and leave a comment.

Thanks, everyone, for helping make the world a better place!

UPDATE: Upping bid to $2.00!

Monday, December 19, 2011

How Art Changes With Us

I recently rewatched the movies "Before Sunrise" and "Before Sunset," which, if you haven't seen or heard of them, are rather amazing.

In the first, "Before Sunrise," which came out in 1995, two early-twenty-somethings played by Ethan Hawke (Jesse) and Julie Delpy (Celine) meet on the train from Budapest to Vienna. Jesse has one night before his plane leaves back for America and he convinces Celine to spend the night with him wandering around Vienna, where they talk about life, love, dreams, everything.

"Before Sunset," which came out in 2004, picks up after those intervening nine years. Now in their thirties, Jesse and Celine walk around Paris before Jesse has to fly back to the US, and this time they're dealing with the weight of real adulthood and exude a palpable sense of nostalgia and regret.

These very simple premises are held aloft because of the way Jesse and Celine so totally encapsulate that tenuous, rare, and electric connection you can have with some people: when everything aligns just so and you're consumed by the surprise and novelty of finding someone who completely excites you. There are people who are just magical to all of us, and Hawke and Delpy capture that instant familiarity and the rush of falling in love

Then, later, they reconnect after nine years and test the strength of that brief connection.

Place of Change

The first time I watched these movies was around 2004-2005, shortly after "Before Sunset" came out, when I was in my early twenties and still in the exciting early days of a relationship. Of the two movies I naturally identified most strongly with "Before Sunrise," the younger movie of the two. I was roughly the same age as the characters, the world seemed full of endless possibilities, and my future was so excitingly uncertain.

At the time, "Before Sunset" struck me as poignant but also incredibly, almost needlessly sad. The characters were stressed and intense and (SPOILER) stuck in loveless relationships and thinking about what might have been if things had just unfolded differently on the platform six months after they first met.(/SPOILER)

But now, at age 31, I re-watched the movies at a vastly different place in my life and it was like watching completely different movies.

Now "Before Sunrise" was an exercise in nostalgia, remembering how intense conversations felt at that age, the sense of adventure, and the brave early twenties naivety of thinking life will be completely easy because we are the special ones, at long last, that truly get how the world really works.

And now it's "Before Sunset" that I identify with the most, not least of which because it turns out, like Jesse, that this year I was having a novel come out at the same time that I was starting a new life with some of the same weighty thoughts of what might have been. (Though I have not, sadly, done a reading at "Shakespeare & Company" in Paris like Jesse).

That intense melancholy of "Before Sunset" that I once found almost maudlin is something I now see all around me in my peers. It's the quarter-life crisis of reaching a certain point in your life just by doing the right thing and hitting the right benchmarks of college, first job, dating, marriage, before inevitably being beset by forces outside of your control. There's a sense of wandering and uncertainty that sets in when you begin to face the weight of major decisions and choosing the right relationship (or not) or sensing you're in the wrong career.

Your early twenties are the time when you think you have everything figured out; at some point before the end of that decade you realize that you don't.

Changing in Place

What's amazing about these movies is that because they're set nine years apart they thoroughly embody this passage of time and maturation that we all go through, while at the same time retaining that essential magic between Jesse and Celine. Life moves on, we change, we age, and yet something essential remains.

And that's the amazing thing about art. These movies haven't changed at all since I saw them last, that essence hasn't moved a bit. But I have changed, the world has changed, and how we all respond to works of art evolves.

The movies may be the same but they mean something different than they used to and they'll continue to change while remaining exactly the same.

Now it's nearly nine years after "Before Sunset," and Linklater, Hawke, and Delpy are reportedly considering a new installment. I'm so curious to see where these characters are at forty, and dearly hope that if there is a new sequel that it makes the past movies even better and deepens their meaning, as "Before Sunset" did for "Before Sunrise."

But no matter what happens I'm sure my feelings about these movies, so bound up with my own personal history, will continue to change as I revisit them at different stages in life.

That's the beauty of stories. They change with us and always give us something new.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

This Week in Books 12/17/11

This week! Books! Still abbreviated because I'm not done with Wonderbar #3!

First off, there is an Official Writing Retreat for the readers of this here blog organized by the lovely people in the discussion forums! It has been dubbed the Bransforumfest Writing Retreat, and it will be in Las Vegas March 3-9, 2012. I shall be there! I'm unable to be there the whole week as I have a work conflict, but I plan to be there for opening night festivities. If you're interested in attending please raise your hand in this thread. It will be a blast.

Meanwhile, there are links!

The Self-Aggrandizing Self-Publishing Kings: Extreme Rhetoric, Inflammatory Language and Ulterior Motives

Four of the Best Writers Blogs (thanks Alice Bradley!)

How Darcie Chan Became a Best-Selling Author (via Wendy Russ)

Publishers Are Still Missing the Point on E-Book Prices

Christopher Hitchens, Writer and Intellectual, Dies at 62

And please share your favorite links in the comments!

In the Forums:

What to ask a friend who is might edit your work
The end of the celebrity author?
The best agent blogs
An unplanned theme when choosing books
Passive vs. active voice - who is winning in your WIP?

And finally, well, sometimes you're the man and sometimes you're the bear:

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Amazon vs. the Indies

There were two dueling posts in the Internetosphere about Amazon and independent bookstores yesterday that took vastly different approaches to the value of bookstores and Amazon to literary and reading life.

First, in a provocative broadside against bookstores called "Don't Support Your Local Bookseller," Slate's Farhad Manjoo tackles what he sees as misplaced nostalgia for bookstore culture, the economic efficiency of Amazon, and argues that selling boatloads of books (which Amazon does) is more important to literature culture than setting up folding chairs for book readings:
It’s not just that bookstores are difficult to use. They’re economically inefficient, too... I’m always astonished by how much they want me to pay for books. At many local stores, most titles—even new releases—usually go for list price, which means $35 for hardcovers and $9 to $15 for paperbacks. That’s not slightly more than Amazon charges—at Amazon, you can usually save a staggering 30 to 50 percent. In other words, for the price you’d pay for one book at your indie, you could buy two.

I get that some people like bookstores, and they’re willing to pay extra to shop there... And that’s fine: In the same way that I sometimes wander into Whole Foods for the luxurious experience of buying fancy food, I don’t begrudge bookstore devotees spending extra to get an experience they fancy.
What rankles me, though, is the hectoring attitude of bookstore cultists like [Richard] Russo, especially when they argue that readers who spurn indies are abandoning some kind of “local” literary culture. There is little that’s “local” about most local bookstores... Sure, every local bookstore promotes local authors, but its bread and butter is the same stuff that Amazon sells—mass-manufactured goods whose intellectual property was produced by one of the major publishing houses in Manhattan. It doesn’t make a difference whether you buy Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs at City Lights, Powell’s, Politics & Prose, or Amazon—it’s the same book everywhere.
In the other corner you have Bookavore, the manager of indie bookseller Word Brooklyn, who has... well, pretty mild-mannered words for Amazon and a list of ways she feels they could be a bit less evil:
I don’t want to make lists of the reasons why Amazon sucks because I feel like I’m handing them a blueprint for rehabilitation. Many people want so, so badly to like Amazon, and many people already do. (See: comments sections on any article talking about Amazon.) Any effort they made towards making the world a better place would be embraced wholeheartedly by consumers and publishers, who mostly, when it comes right down to it, just want things to be convenient and cheap. If Amazon started reversing any of their more unsavory decisions, they might lose money in the short-term, but I think they’d end up making more money in the long-term, by cementing the loyalty of an entirely new set of consumers who always sort of want to buy things from Amazon, and sometimes give in and do, but feel guilty about it.
We're at a major turning point in the book world right now and the future is going to be decided by our collective decisions. Are bookstores going the way of record stores and will they fade into Bolivian or do they provide such a service to the community that people will be willing to pay extra to keep them around?

Whose side are you on, not just in terms of sentiment but in actual dollars and cents? Or is this really even an either/or debate?

I tend to be the type of person who thinks they can co-exist. I love the convenience that Amazon provides. I grew up in the middle of nowhere, we didn't have a bookstore, and I didn't grow up with the same kind of nostalgia that many people have for dusty aisles of books. But I've fallen in love with enough bookstores since then and am thankful enough for their role in literary culture to think the great ones have to have a place somehow.

What do you think?

Art: "Knowledge Bursts the Chain of Enslavement" - Aleksej Radakov

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

What Hobbies Have You Given Up for Your Writing?

Image from "A Tramp Abroad" by Mark Twain.
First up, congrats to Christina Kit, who won the ARC of TRY NOT TO BREATHE! And everyone else, please do look out for TRY NOT TO BREATHE when it comes out next month (and Jenn's debut THE SECRET YEAR, while you're at it).

Now then! If you are a writer, chances are you've had to set something else aside that you like doing in order to free up the time necessary to complete a book.

For me, I really enjoy video games and used to play them a bit before writing. Now? Not so much. I also watch less sports and TV in general, go to the movies less, and if I weren't indoors writing on the weekend I'd probably be out hiking.

What about you?

Monday, December 12, 2011

Book Giveaway: Try Not to Breathe

I'm really enjoying my new work life as a social media manager, but one of the things I miss most about being an agent is working with insanely talented writers as they go through the process of writing a great novel.

Try Not to Breathe, a YA novel by my former client Jennifer R. Hubbard, is one of the last books I worked on before leaving agenting for the fair pastures of the tech world, and I feel utterly privileged to have had a front row seat.

Just as in her debut The Secret Year, which starts just after the protagonist's secret love dies, Try Not to Breathe picks up in the aftermath of a catastrophic event: the main character attempted suicide before the novel begins. TNTB is about his attempt to navigate a murky new world of watchful stares, fraught relationships, and the first stirrings of not just a new normal but reasons for hope.

One of those relationships involves a girl who is dealing with darkness in her own past, and the way they come together is poignant and incredibly real.

I can't speak for Jenn, but I feel like as agent/author we were really synced up in a great way as we worked together on some of the early revisions, right down to brainstorming about to the title: I had suggested an REM lyric, "The Night is Yours Alone," (from "Everybody Hurts") and she countered with another REM song from the same album: "Try Not to Breathe," which is the absolute perfect title for this book.

Try Not to Breathe will be published by Viking one month from today - January 12th.

And today I am thrilled to offer a signed ARC to a lucky commenter! If you'd like to enter, leave a comment on this post between now and Tuesday evening at 9pm PT. This giveaway is limited to those in the US and Canada, and you must be over 13. And please only enter once.

Good luck!

Update: Publishers Weekly has given Try Not To Breathe an amazing starred review!! An excerpt: "Hubbard is outstandingly successful at capturing the frustration of not having the words, especially in a culture that does not encourage boys to express what Ryan is feeling."

Thursday, December 8, 2011

What You Need to Know About SEO

Guest Post by Rick Daley

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is critical in modern marketing.  Any author trying to sell books should be familiar with its basic concepts, whether you have been published by a Big Six publisher, a small press, or (especially) if you are an indie author.  So how do you leverage the greater power of the Internet to help get your platform in front of the right person at the right time?   

First things first: Relax.  You don’t need to be a technical wizard to understand SEO, it’s really pretty simple at heart.  Here’s a Q&A to get you started.  I’ll get into the tech stuff later.

Q: I’ve heard about SEO, but I have no idea what it actually is.  How does SEO work?
A: SEO works like this: you type keywords into a Google search, and Google lists the pages on the Internet that are most relevant to your keywords.  (Or the pages the Chinese government says are okay for you to view. It depends on your location.)  The most relevant page is listed first.  SEO increases your site’s relevance in Google’s eyes.

And as a point of note, I keep referring to Google, but all this also applies to Bing, Yahoo,, and other search engines.  Except for that crack about China, that’s mainly Google.

Q: How do you measure SEO?
A: You measure SEO according to your ranking in the search results.  You don’t want to be buried on page 100, or even page three.  The best ranking is the first link on the first page, but anywhere on the first page is excellent.

Q: Hey, that’s just an ad at the top of the Google search results!
A: That’s not a question, but I’ll humor you.  Yes, Google does put a few paid links at the top of the search results, and there are also paid ads on the sidebar.  The ads are placed based on keyword relevance, and they can be effective.  They can also be expensive. 

But SEO isn’t about paid ads; it’s more organic…it’s about showing up because you belong there.

Q: I just searched for my name and my book title, and I’m on the first page of the results.  Does that mean I have great SEO?
A: Not really.  Chances are, if someone enters a specific search for your name, and you have any kind of web presence, they will find you.  Unless you share a name with somebody famous.  For example, if you search for my full name, Richard Daley, Chicago politics dominates the results because I happen to share a name with two past mayors.  But search for Rick Daley and Chicago goes away (not literally!) and I have several links appearing on page 1. 

I just searched for my book’s title, The Man in the Cinder Clouds, and I have all ten spots on the first page right now.  That doesn’t really mean anything, though, because there aren’t that many pages relevant to so specific a term.  Winning isn’t special when there’s no competition.     

Q: So if I don’t use SEO for my name or book title, what do I use it for?
A: SEO is best geared toward keywords relevant to your book.  For example, my book is an origins-of-Santa story.  The keywords/phrases I chose for SEO are Christmas book for kids, history of Santa Claus, Christmas gift idea, Kindle Christmas Book, Nook Christmas Book, etc.  I’m trying to think like my target audience and determine what they are likely to search for.  I want to show up first when they go looking online.  That’s SEO.

Q: Are the keywords I choose for SEO similar to the tags I use at
A: Yes!  Tags work within Amazon’s site, and SEO is for the Internet at large. 

Q: What are tags at
A: Sorry.  If you go to you book’s page on, scroll down below the reviews (have you ever done that? ;-) and you’ll find a section for tags.  Anyone can tag your book.  The tags are just keywords, but having them increases your book’s visibility.  Use them.

Q: How does Google determine if my page is relevant to the keywords?
A: Google and the other search engines have proprietary technologies to determine ranking.  Here’s the way I understand it: Google designed special programs with cool names like bots and spiders, and these programs scour the internet looking for things like links, contextual text, page titles, and META tags.  They report it back to home base and Google sprinkles the data with faerie dust and voila, search results.

Q: Huh?
A: Just kidding.  Let’s take it a step at a time. 

Links (i.e. hyperlinks) should be used on your targeted keywords, and they should go to your site(s) when clicked.  

Q: Like when you talk about your new Christmas book for kids?
A: Now you’re getting it! One other thing about links…the more the merrier.  You want your links pointing back to you from all directions, not just a bunch on one site.  The Google values diversity.

Q: What about that other stuff you mentioned?
A:  Contextual text is similar in nature to the links…basically, it’s your keywords in the copy on your site or content of your blog post, just without hyperlinks. 

In the old days, Google ranked pages based on word frequency with no contextual basis.  People figured that out, then started creating pages with big blocks of text with nothing but the same keyword over and over (they put that text out of the way, like way down at the bottom of the page).  It worked, but that’s cheating so The Google changed its secret sauce. 

The keywords should be relevant to the surrounding text.  Make sure you include your keywords in your promotional posts and website copy, and try to make it natural.  It can be a fun writing exercise if you approach it with a positive mindset.

Page titles are displayed in the top bar of your browser window when you visit a website, or on the tab, depending on your browser’s settings.  For your website’s SEO, you want to avoid general page titles, like “Home Page”, in favor of something more specific, like “The Man in the Cinder Clouds- A Christmas Book”.  (But you should use your book’s title.)

META tags are in the HTML code of a web page, buy they are not visible on the page.  It’s just a list of your keywords, separated by commas, with some basic HTML formatting around it. 

Many website development platforms have point-and-click interfaces to add/update your page titles and META tags.  If you have a webmaster who maintains your site for you, he or she should be able to update them for you.

Q: Is that all?
A: For now, grasshopper.  That is all for now.

The Man in the Cinder Clouds
By Rick Daley

A young boy and his scientist father made an incredible discovery at the North Pole—an ancient book embedded deep within an ice core.  Even more incredible is the story the book tells: the long-lost history of Santa Claus you never knew…and will never forget. 

This origins-of-Santa story is a great holiday read for the whole family.  Its mix of action, humor, and Christmas spirit keeps younger readers turning the pages, but The Man in the Cinder Clouds is not just a kids’ book. 

As one reviewer puts it, “THE MAN IN THE CINDER CLOUDS is one of those middle grade books that the grown-ups get sucked into along with their kids. You think you bought if for your young reader but after you browse chapter one you just sort of... can't stop.”

This story-within-a-story reveals the origins of our most familiar Christmas traditions: from Christmas trees, stockings, and lumps of coal to jingle bells, the North Pole, and flying reindeer.  Highly original and thoroughly entertaining, The Man in the Cinder Clouds will show you how Kris Kringle came to be known as Santa Claus.  It wasn’t easy.

About the Author
Rick Daley has been writing professionally for over 15 years.  His experience includes marketing copy for print and web, press releases, business proposals, training and technical manuals, and whitepapers.  His essays, ranging from family life during the holidays to his first skydiving experience, have been featured in The Columbus Dispatch. 

Rick lives in Lewis Center, Ohio with his wife and two sons (and a neurotic schnauzer).

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Do You Work Better On a Deadline?

The Knight's Dream - Antonio de Pereda
I must confess that I don't really like deadlines. I wrote two novels without a deadline, I wrote them pretty quickly, and while I understand they work for some people, deadlines mostly serve to stress me out.

But I may be a rare bird. Do you like deadlines? Do you need deadlines? Do you work better when you have one?

Monday, December 5, 2011

How to Network Without Networking

"Ferdinand of Hungary meeting with Cardinal-Infante Ferdinand of Spain at Nördlingen" - Peter Paul Rubens
I’m not the life of the party. I’m not someone who can step into a gathering and work a room. I’m pretty introverted in real life. And I’m not what you might call a mover and a shaker.

But I think of some of the opportunities I’ve had over the years, some of the people I’ve been so fortunate to meet, some of the places I’ve been able to go and things I’ve been able to do… and yeah. Lots of those opportunities came from my “network” (those quotes are me cringing at that word).

So uh… How in the world did I develop a network when I’m not good at networking?

You hear so much about how it's all about who you know, how you have to network, etc. etc. For me personally, it's not something I made a conscious choice to do.

When I look back, I think there have been two big things that helped, and they’re things anyone can do:

1.    Do not think of your network as a network.
2.    Build something.

Do Not Think of Your Network as a Network

I don’t have a network, I have friends. And I’m really serious about this.

The thing about the word “networking” is that it has a mercenary edge to it, like we’re just going to get to know each other because of what we can get out of each other. And not only is that completely icky, it doesn’t work.

Because who wants to get to know someone else just because of what they can get out of them? How shallow is that relationship, and how is either party really motivated to help each other out when the time comes?

Find the people who you like and whose work you genuinely admire, and invest in those people. Become friends with those people. Don’t force it, don’t do it because they’re successful, do it because you like them and actually want to help them out.

Obviously when your network expands you can’t invest equally in everyone who is investing in you, but give of yourself what you can and treat people with respect and pretty soon you’ll be surrounded by amazing people that you’ll feel incredibly lucky to know.

And that leads to #2.

Build Something

Building things opens doors. For me it was the blog and the Jacob Wonderbar novels, but other people have built groups or organizations or journals or a Twitter following or any number of things.

When you build something it’s more than just creating a platform or a bully pulpit, what’s amazing about building something is that it will ultimately attract like-minded people to you.

You’re putting a part of yourself out there, and pretty soon you’ll find that you’re drawing in other people who like the things you like and share your outlook and worldview. It’s an amazing thing, and I’ve found some of my best, real-life friends through the blogosphere and social media.

And ultimately that leads right back to point number #1. It may seem trite or twee, but look: You’re not building a network, you’re making friends.

Friday, December 2, 2011

This Week in Books 12/2/11

This week! Books!

Still in crunch-time mode on Wonderbar #3, so here's another abbreviated of This Week in Books.

Some cool new (to me) sites to check out:

Greatest Books for Kids

Small Demons

And blog posts!

Self-Published Authors Sharply Criticize Penguin's Book Country

Book Country and Self-Publishing: Why the Hate?

Mark Cuban to Publish E-book

PW Names Worst Book Ever
(Really? It beat this one?)

An Agent's Day

A Writer's Plea

And finally, here's the promo video for Small Demons, which is a pretty awesome demonstration of what the site is all about:

Have a great weekend!

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