Nathan Bransford, Author


Monday, February 28, 2011

Facebook for Authors - How to Get Started

A thousand fans isn't cool. You know what's cool? A MILLION FANS. Or a billion. What's that line from "The Social Network" again?

Anyway! The Facebook is kind of a big deal. And authors must be thinking about how they should be on The Facebook. First step: don't call it The Facebook.

On second thought, do call it The Facebook.

Now, this post isn't about promoting your book or building up your audience or how to become friends with Zuck himself, that all comes later.

The first step: getting yourself started. Here are some tips.

Create a Fan Page

UPDATE: My advice on this changed because of new Facebook developments. See this post to first decide if you want to use subscriptions or whether you want to create a page. If you want to create a page, here you go:

When fan pages were first created, I think people were kind of nervous to get started on them due to the whole "fan" thing. It seemed a bit presumptuous to have a fan page when one wasn't a celebrity. But Facebook pages are increasingly how people distinguish between their private and public networks. So even if you aren't (yet) a published author, I would definitely consider creating a page for yourself.

Facebook pages are a bit different than traditional accounts because people don't need to be approved to Like the page and they're public by default, and thus they are a good way to keep your personal account personal and your public account public. You can tailor your posts accordingly. Here's my page.

How to create one? It's a piece of cake. Go here, click "Artist, Band, Public Figure," choose Author and follow the easy instructions. There you have it.

Degree of difficulty: Extremely easy

When to do this: You know, I feel like there's no time like the present. The earlier you start building up those likes the bigger your head start when prime time arrives. 

Create a Book Page

For a long time I wasn't sure about creating a book page for Jacob Wonderbar, because there are definite pros and cons to having both an author page and a book page.

Basically, if you have people who Like the author page and other people who Like the book page, you are splitting your audience. If you post updates to the people following your author page you might miss the people following your book page. You can post to both, but you might annoy the fans who follow both pages.

Conundrum.

Here's what swayed me. When someone goes to enter your book as one of their favorites, Facebook knows there's a Book Page and links that page to the person's profile:


I found this very exciting.

Also, it's better to create one yourself rather than having one created for you that you don't control. So now I have a Facebook page for JACOB WONDERBAR.

To create one, go here, then choose Entertainment, then Book. You're on your way.

Degree of Difficulty: Extremely easy.

When to do this: When you have a cover.

Optimize Your Blog or Website for the New "Like" Button

I don't know how you spent your weekend, but I went through and adjusted all of my Facebook "Like" buttons on my blog and added Facebook meta tags for optimal sharing. Yeah, it was pretty rock and roll.

Facebook recently introduced a new version of Like buttons that make them more prominent in someone's News Feed.

They went from this:
To this:


They just got much more important.

Now, adding Like buttons to your blog is not the easiest of endeavors by any means. It involves some coding, especially if you want to change the image and text in the share box. And if you want to give people an opportunity to comment when they "Like" the post you have to use the XFBML version of the Like buttons, which is a bit more complicated.

As I was figuring all this out, I found this post to be a really helpful resource. Please note, however, that it's geared toward WordPress blogs and if you have a Blogger-based blog like I do you'll need to find a separate post that explains how to do it. I drew upon this post for some Blogger-specific wrinkles.

But hey, after adding some code I managed to add new Like buttons and didn't even break the blog! Try them out!

Degree of difficulty: Tricky

When to do this: Yesterday

Stick Like Buttons Everywhere

If your eyes glazed over when faced with the earlier task, never fear, there are easier things you can tackle.

For instance, it's easy to add a Like Box to your blog like this one:


Just go to this page, adjust the style according to your preferences, and then copy the code into a blog widget or post.

And when you have Pages you can put Like buttons everywhere, including posts! Creating a basic Like button is really easy. Just go to this page, enter the URL for the page you want the button to share, adjust the style, and then voila, you have code.

Then you can put them wherever you want!

Here's a Like button for my page:



Here's a Like button for Jacob Wonderbar:



Here's a Like button for corndogs:



It gets addicting.

Degree of Difficulty: Moderate

When to do this: When you create your author page


In future posts: what to do with all these pages and Like buttons and widgets! On The Facebook!

Meanwhile, anyone have any other tips for getting yourself started?






Friday, February 25, 2011

This Week in Books 2/25/11

Lots of news this week!! Get started, we will.

First up, last Wednesday I asked a question: Have blogs peaked? Well, from my lips to the NY Times' ears apparently because they tackled that very subject. Their conclusion: they're on the wane as The Youths move to Twitter and Facebook. Case closed, right? Well, not quite so fast. Poking some holes in the article is Matthew Ingram at GigaOM, who points out that many of the activities that the NY Times article cites as not-blogging, like Tumblr, looks a lot like, well, blogging. To Ingram it looks more like evolving than dying.

And meanwhile, if you're thinking of starting a blog, Sommer Leigh is starting a really great Blogging 101 series, and has a primer on different types of blogs to help you choose which one might be right for you.

In depressing industry news, GalleyCat takes a look at a Quora post on six reasons why Borders went bankrupt, Mike Shatzkin offers a sobering take on what will happen to publishers when print books decline and per-unit costs inevitably go up, and David Carnoy at CNET (where, disclosure, I work) had an article on accelerating piracy on the Kindle. How's that for a splash of cold water?

Back to the good stuff! B&N is opening the door further to self-published authors via its PubIt! program, creating a bestseller list for the platform and hosting in-store events.

Friend of the blog Stuart Neville, who very longtime readers of the blog will remember was a finalist in the First Line Challenge (as Conduit) way back in 2007 before he was agented/published, has been nominated for a LA Times Book Prize in mystery/suspense, an award he won back in 2009. Go Stuart!! And congrats to the other nominees as well.

In publishing news, author Natalie Whipple says don't knock the query as it tests your writing skills, there's a new short story contest hosted by the ABQ Writers Co-op, and Agency Gatekeeper has a seriously charming cartoon by the Agency Gatekeeper's intern on what it's like to work at an agency.

In social media news, Chris Brogan has a seriously terrific post on social media etiquette. Definitely check that out.

And very sad news as YA Author L.K. Madigan passed away from cancer at age 47. A lot of people knew her both personally and via the Internet in the writing blogosphere, and her post announcing her illness last month was moving and devastating. Her agent Jennifer Laughran, author Jennifer Hubbard, and agent Kristin Nelson were among those offering tributes.

This week in the Forums, first up, if you have tried to participate in the Forums and couldn't get past the weird squiggly numbers and letters otherwise known as Captcha, please try again!! There is a new, much easier system in place. You shall pass, I promise. And in other topics, what it takes to become invested in a character, fictional nonfiction, don't forget about our Critique Partner Connection Forum, and what have you learned from your characters?

Comment! of! the! Week! There were a lot of great comments on Tuesday's post about whether record stores could suggest the future of bookstores, I wanted to single out Gregory Pincus' comment on an important difference that will be the key to any future that includes bookstores:

The big difference, I think, is the social aspect: 10,000 of us will go to an arena to see our favorite band and share that experience, but authors don't tour at the same level. This social aspect carries over to the stores, too, in different ways: at music stores, there's music playing, whether it's Virgin's DJ or any of the people working there playing their favorite album. At a book store, there isn't (yet!) a mechanism for sharing like that.

The takeaway for me is the sense of community and anything a store can do to build it up. Being a part of something bigger than "simply" selling books seems like the best chance of survival. And there, I agree, it's not likely to be the big box store as we know it today.
And finally, via my former colleague Sarah LaPolla is this seriously, seriously incredible video on how a book is made. I know this was the absolute cutting edge of technology for its time, but I gotta say, the amount of time and labor and effort it took to create one page now seems almost crazy to me. Is that just me?



Have a great weekend!






Thursday, February 24, 2011

Taking a Good Idea and Elevating It

It's safe to say that the last Page Critique Thursday was one of the more controversial Page Critiques in our history.

Some people loved the first line, and were confused and a tad horrified I suggested removing it.

Now, part of my reaction was undoubtedly completely subjective and was inevitably influenced by my own personal taste and should be taken with huge heapings of salt. Because I definitely understand that quite a few people love openings like this first line in question. They want to be hit with something clever and pithy and thought provoking, and it makes them want to read more. That's totally fine! Honestly. Knowing what you like is an incredibly important step.

My own feeling is that while pithy, high concept opening lines often show a great deal of promise, they can sometimes enter a zone where they feel like a grape that has yet to be plucked. A really tasty apple in a pie that hasn't yet gone in the oven. In other words: A great start, but not yet baked into the story.

Speaking generally, when there's a pithy first line that stands alone and is wholly separate from the next paragraph and the flow of the story, they can sometimes feel more like a tag line than the start a novel. They advertise the plot and premise and the author's cleverness, but it's not really the beginning of the story. The hand of the author can feel a bit too present.

In order for a pithy or clever first line to work for me, the most important thing is that it fits naturally into the flow of the opening. It's not a non sequitor, it's not out of step with what the main character is thinking or feeling at that moment, it doesn't just exist for the sake of being clever, it doesn't feel forced. There's a reason that we are getting that first line at the time we're getting it. What follows that first line builds off that thought rather than leaving it dangling there as a teaser.

For instance, Jeff Abbott's Fear starts with a high concept first line. "I killed my best friend." It doesn't get much more high concept and catchy than that. But what follows is the context for that line: "Miles stared at the words, black in their clean lines against the white of the paper. First time to write the truth. He put the pen back to the pad. I didn't want to kill him, didn't need to kill him. But I did."

Jeff didn't just leave that first line dangling, it's woven into the narrative. There's a reason we're getting it there, and it all builds together in such a way that the line sucks us into the story rather than leaving us wondering what happened to that line.

I often compare openings to a trust fall. If you're going to execute a very daring maneuver with the opening, it's so so necessary to catch the reader afterward. And the way to do that is not just by wowing the reader with an opening (though that's undoubtedly a great start), but by integrating that cleverness into the flow of the story.

Build off that cleverness. Take that idea and then dial it up a notch by weaving it into the narrative. When it's an integral part of the story and feels perfectly natural, the idea will be that much better.






Wednesday, February 23, 2011

What is Your Favorite Film Adaptation?

Despite the huge numbers of novels adapted for film, movies are rarely quite able to capture the magic of a book, even when the movie is really good. And it's easy to understand why: With the shorter format, it's tough to please both the purists and the casual viewers alike and provide the same depth of experience as a great novel. All the same, some of the greatest movies of all time have been based on books.

So what is your favorite book to film effort?

For me, The Godfather is an easy answer, but the movie elevated more than captured the essence of the book. The Shawshank Redepmtion is another one, but it's arguably easier to translate a novella than a full novel.

So I'd probably have to go with a novel and movie I loved in equal measure: The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler and the 1946 adaptation starring Bogart and Bacall.

What about you?






Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Do Record Stores Point the Way of the Future for Bookstores?

Now that Borders is in bankruptcy and at least 200 stores closing, some people have asked me what I think is going to happen to brick and mortar bookstores in the future. Do they have a future? Will they survive?

There's one comparison I keep coming back to: record stores.

When you consider that the digital revolution happened in music a little over a decade ago, it's interesting to see what has happened to record stores since the rise of the mp3. Basically: carnage on a massive scale. A huge number of stores closed, especially national chains. First it was Tower Records, then Virgin Megastores (here in the US), and now, well, Borders.

And an interesting fact to bear in mind is that digital revenue still has not surpassed physical. It's debatable about whether we've really seen a digital tipping point in the music industry. Declining overall sales (likely due at least in part to piracy), and a shift to online music vending and digital music was enough to tip the balance away from profitability for most brick and mortar chains.

Now there's a seriously fractured landscape. Record stores haven't disappeared entirely, but there's a whole lot less of them. 

So what's the comparison for books? Well, I look at the situation here in San Francisco. After the closure of the Virgin Megstore, Tower Records, and (nearly) all of our Borders, there are basically three types of record stores left, and they could offer some clues on the types of bookstores that will survive:

1) The Aquarius Records Model. Aquarius Records is a very small record store in the Mission District known for its hand-picked roster of sales and its knowledgeable staff. It's small, it's intimate, they support local artists, you go there knowing what kind of music they sell and you come away with new discoveries you might not have found otherwise. You're not going to find a vast selection or Justin Bieber's latest album, but you will find some gems you didn't know you were looking for.
Bookstore comparison: your small, beloved, curated independent bookstore.

2) The Amoeba Music Model. Amoeba is a very large record store in the Upper Haight (a neighborhood you may know as Haight Ashbury if you're not from 'round these parts) that has a massive, gargantuan selection of used CDs for low prices. Buy/sell/trade/awesome. They also have locations in Berkeley and LA.
Bookstore comparison: your Powell's, your Strand, your basic large urban book clearing house

3) The Costco Model. San Francisco doesn't have a WalMart, but we do have a Costco. And they sell music. In fact, big box stores sell a whole lot of music: mass merchangs like WalMart and Target accounted for 33% of all album sales in 2010. The selection isn't great, but they move a lot of CDs. Oh, and I'm guessing you will find the latest Justin Bieber album.
Bookstore comparison: WalMart, Costco, Target


And...... that's basically it. Could these be the types of physical bookstores/booksellers that survive?

Sure, this is all an inexact comparison as music isn't quite the same thing as books. Book piracy has not (at least yet) become the existential crisis that it was to music and bookstores have arguably a bit more potential for incorporating live events into their offerings, at least without upsetting the neighbors with loud music (though some record stores definitely have some great shows).

As much as I'm rooting for bookstores, ultimately I find it a bit tough to imagine huge box stores devoted solely to books still around in significant numbers a decade from now. That's a lot of overhead to support and infrastructure to pay for when they're competing against online vendors with significantly less or virtually no overhead. It wasn't a sustainable model for music when a substantial chunk of sales left for Amazon and iTunes, and book box stores are going to face similar challenges.

Still, I also can't imagine bookstores disappearing entirely. There is too much love for physical books, too much value provided by bookstores, and I think people will still pay a premium to shop local and for a personal touch. It may be a perpetually tough landscape to survive in, but I think the gems will make it.

Oh, and there's still one more thing working in bookstores' favor. Whether through a mix of nostalgia or a thirst for authentic experience, vinyl record sales are the highest they've been since at least 1991.

What do you think? Are record stores an apt comparison and are there other types of bookstores that will make it?






Friday, February 18, 2011

This Week in Books 2/18/11

Very very very sad news this week as, after several years of speculation, Borders has finally succumbed and filed for bankruptcy. It was Chapter 11 bankruptcy (re-org) and not Chapter 7 (Eric from Pimp My Novel had a roundup of the potential difference there), but even still 200 stores will close, and my heart goes out to all those affected. Eric from PMN has an indispensable take on what this means for authors. In the short term, at least, it seems as if this is going to put further pressure on publishers and on the midlist.

Meanwhile, there was an interesting CNET article (disclosure: I work at CNET) asking a very important question and poll: what would you pay for an e-book? The agency model publishers are seeking to hold the line between $10.99 - $14.99 for new release e-books, and it will be interesting to see if consumers will go along with that. Is the perception of value going to be there for an e-book?

And along those lines, I thought Mike Shatzkin had a really interesting take on consumer complaints about DRM, which is that they're not totally valid. His point, in a nutshell: Yes, you can't re-sell your e-books and it's more of a license than true ownership. But when you sell a paperbook you lose ownership of your book, whereas when you send someone a copy of your e-book you still possess it. So why are people insisting on treating them identically? Doesn't the digital model necessitate a new way of thinking about and selling content?

And prospective author J.J. Madden has a great roundup of the recent Digital Book World, and video of some of the people creating the future of publishing.

Now, I did not represent picture books when I was an agent and thus will tell you quite honestly that I know extremely little about them, but someone who does know a thing or two about them is my former colleague Tracy Marchini, who has a really good post on what makes picture books successful.

In contest news, lots percolating around the blogosphere! Blog friends Hannah Moskowitz/Suzanne Young and Kiersten White are hosting contests, and the Texas Observer reached out to let me know about a short story contest guest judged by none other than Larry McMurtry. So be sure and check that out.

Lots and lots of people have reached out to me about this post by Ta-Nehisi Coates about a new documentary on Bad Writing. Which makes me wonder if they're trying to tell me something. Haha. No, and I don't need a breath mint, thank you very much!

In seriously important news, the ship that inspired MOBY-DICK was discovered at the bottom of Davy Jones' Locker!!! No word on Ahab's ivory leg.

OMG THIS "GREAT GATSBY" NINTENDO GAME. A. Maze. Zing.

And in writing advice news, BookEnds is hosting a weekly query workshop, the Great Rejectionist advises against author envy and suggests remedies, and io9 has a post on how J.K. Rowling brought fantasy to mainstream readers. Worth a read.

Lastly in news, legendary editor Margaret K. McElderry, who still has an eponymous imprint at Simon & Schuster, passed away at age 98.

This week in the Forums, to skip parts of novels or not to skip, do e-books change the way you read?, have you ever gotten tired of your own novel, making details purposeful, and, of course, discussing The Rock's return to wrestling.

Comment(s)! of! the! Week! Yes, comments, as I thought I'd single out two, both on Wednesday's post on whether blogs have peaked. First is from Scott, who points to a really interesting post on whether we're witnessing a consequence of a culture of free content:

I just read an insightful post on another blog addressing this:
http://idratherbewriting.com/2011/02/07/the-problem-of-free/

Long story short: blogs are free, and bloggers are finding that the cost of actively blogging may outweigh the returns.
And the other I wanted to point to is from Neil Vogler:

Blogging as a popular practice may well have peaked and, in my opinion, so has social media use. Everyone I know seems to be pulling back on their FB usage and limiting their time on Twitter. I think we've gotten past the age of net-based communication as novelty, and what we're seeing now is the beginning of a new age of maturity. A whole bunch of early-adopters and previously heavy users are taking a step back and seeking more of a sense of balance in their everyday lives. Information overload is a real enough hazard, and the dangers of sharing too much detail about your day-today movements on the net are becoming more evident as time goes on. Practices change, habits evolve, and individuals become more discerning with their tastes as time goes on. The question is: where does social media go from here?

And finally, one of the most hilarious bloggers out there, the great Finslippy, also has one of the best book trailers out there for her new book LET'S PANIC ABOUT BABIES. This one is awesome:



Have a great weekend!






Thursday, February 17, 2011

Page Critique Thursday: My Thoughts, and More About Trusting Yourself

I'm back with my thoughts on the page posted earlier in the day.

One of the most important skills every writer must master is also one of the most elusive: trusting their own talent.

It sounds so easy! But lo, there are many threats to the ego lurking throughout the writing process, and it is easy to start doubting oneself, not to mention when one hears repeatedly about the necessity of grabbing the attention of a possibly distracted reader/agent. And perhaps the biggest symptom of writerly self-mistrust is trying just a bit too hard.

I think there's a whole lot to like about this page - there's good description and the beginnings of a good flow, but there are parts that just feel like they're just a tad over the top and seem a like an attempt to leap out and shake the reader by the shoulders. To me, the opening tries to cram the plot into a pithy two-liner,  and there are touches that feel writerly and sound okay on the surface, but don't quite bear scrutiny.

So, for instance, it sounds okay to say that someone stood for what could have been five minutes or five hours. But does that really make sense? Would someone really not know whether it was five minutes or five hours barring some sort of unconsciousness situation?

And it sounds okay for someone that someone "barely notices" some very specific detail and it carries a feeling of a certain aloofness. But can really you "barely" notice something very specific? Aren't you, well, just plain noticing?

This author can definitely write! All that's needed is stripping away the accoutrement, and this page really sings.

Author's page (with my subtractions/comments highlighted in red):

Being murdered once was bad enough. Three times in a row was pushing on the ridiculous. While I know some like this type of opening, it didn't quite work for me. The "annoyed at getting murdered yet again" sentiment feels forced.

Standing at the end of a long corridor, Nafrini just stood and stared at the massive wooden double doors, nearly ten feet in height and inscribed with glyphs. The path, or rather river, Is it a path or is it a river? to the “afterlife” why is this in quotes? lay on the other side. She just stood there and glared at the doors already said she's staring at the doors, listening to nothing but the drip… drip… drip… of water leaking from the fabric of her clothes and the strands of her hair. She might have been there for what could have been five minutes or five hours she really can't tell if it was five minutes or five hours? before reaching out to the gold inlaid handle and jerked the wide, massive door aside.

That’s it! I havehad it!  The sound of her stomps across the warm colored polished stone floor might have had a sense of purpose to it, had it not been for the apparent not sure "apparent" is needed squish that came with each step. She passed through was she had termed “the waiting room, barely noticing how does one barely notice? that the men and women lounging in comfort seemed to have halted their conversations at her arrival. As her anger peaked, whether at their reluctance to greet her or by the situation in general this explanation feels awkward to me and non-specific. What exactly is the "situation in general?, she pulled her heavy over-shirt over repetition of "over" a tad awkward her head and threw it to the ground, which landed with a satisfying SPLAT! not sure the capitalization/italicization is necessary Without a backwards glance in the others’ direction, she passed through to the entrance to the river of the dead. It would take her to those think "the ones" would read better who would choose her fate.

 My suggested result:


Standing at the end of a long corridor, Nafrini stood and stared at the massive wooden double doors, nearly ten feet in height and inscribed with glyphs. The river to the afterlife lay on the other side. She listened to nothing but the drip… drip… drip… of water leaking from the fabric of her clothes and the strands of her hair. She reached out to the gold inlaid handle and jerked the wide, massive door aside.

The sound of her stomps across the warm colored polished stone floor might have had a sense of purpose had it not been for the wet squish that came with each step. She passed through the waiting room, noting that the men and women lounging in comfort had halted their conversations at her arrival. As her anger peaked, she pulled off her heavy over-shirt and threw it to the ground, which landed with a satisfying splat. Without a backwards glance she passed through to the entrance to the river of the dead. It would take her to the ones who would choose her fate.

My end result still feels a little distant from this characters' perspective, some more flavor probably needs to be woven back in, and I think we can have more natural insight into what she's feeling. But without the extra touches, the focus is much more on the scene itself, which has a sense of mystery and purpose.

This author can definitely write! The scene is interesting of its own accord without the extra touches. Sometimes it's best to place your trust in yourself and your reader and just let the scene unfold.






Page Critique Thursday!

Here's how these thingamajigs work! If you would like to nominate your page for a future Page Critique Event, 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 you offer your thoughts, please be exceedingly polite and remember the sandwich rule: positive, constructive polite advice, positive.

Random numbers were generated, congrats to ARJules, whose page is below!

Title: (To be determined)
Genre: Popular fiction/paranormal
Word Count: 255

Being murdered once was bad enough. Three times in a row was pushing on the ridiculous.

Standing at the end of a long corridor, Nafrini just stood and stared at the massive wooden double doors, nearly ten feet in height and inscribed with glyphs. The path, or rather river, to the “afterlife” lay on the other side. She just stood there and glared at the doors, listening to nothing but the drip… drip… drip… of water leaking from the fabric of her clothes and the strands of her hair. She might have been there for what could have been five minutes or five hours before reaching out to the gold inlaid handle and jerked the wide, massive door aside.

That’s it! I have had it! The sound of her stomps across the warm colored polished stone floor might have had a sense of purpose to it, had it not been for the apparent squish that came with each step. She passed through was she had termed “the waiting room”, barely noticing that the men and women lounging in comfort seemed to have halted their conversations at her arrival. As her anger peaked, whether at their reluctance to greet her or by the situation in general, she pulled her heavy over-shirt over her head and threw it to the ground, which landed with a satisfying SPLAT! Without a backwards glance in the others’ direction, she passed through to the entrance to the river of the dead. It would take her to those who would choose her fate.

I'll be back at Noon Pacific with my thoughts.






Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Have Blogs Peaked?

I have no stats to prove it nor expert analysis to cite, but is it just me or are things quietier in the blogosphere?

Does it seem to you, as it does to me, like there's fewer new blogs hitting the scene, fewer posts from the established ones, and lots that are languishing without an update?

Has the time you spent interacting with blogs changed in the past year? Do you think blogs will endure and thrive or has their peak time come and gone?






Tuesday, February 15, 2011

When You're Not Liking a Book Do You Stop Reading or Power Through?

There are two types of people in this world.

There are those who, when they realize they're not enjoying a book, fling it against the wall or "lose" it on the subway or let it languish on a nightstand gathering dust. They don't look back and consider life to short to waste on substandard reading experiences.

And there are those who, whether through guilt, optimism, or thriftiness, power through even the most excruciating of books and don't feel at peace until they know how it ends. Even if they stopped caring somewhere around Page 5.

Which kind are you? Poll below, you'll need to click through to see it if you're in an RSS reader or reading by e-mail.

Me: I used to be a power through-er, but in my old age I've become a stopper.







Monday, February 14, 2011

Who's Your Favorite Writer In Your Life and What Do You Love About Them?

It's Valentine's Day! Hug a writer!

And in honor of Official Love Day: who is the favorite writer you know personally, and what do you love about them?

Mine is my wife, who is the most talented writer I know and the most fun as well.

What about you?







Friday, February 11, 2011

This Week in Books 2/11/11

This week! The Books!

If you will indulge some JACOB WONDERBAR related books news, Goodreads is hosting a giveaway of a copy of said space adventure! So please check that out if you would like a shot at a freebie.

Meanwhile, the New York Times is reporting that post-holiday season The Kids are starting to read e-books in significant numbers, and according to HarperCollins, in January e-books represented 25% of sales. Yowsa.

Oh - and speaking of teens, if you yourself are a talented teen writer or know someone who fits that description, be sure and check out the Alpha Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror Workshop for Young Writers in Pittsburgh in July!

In this day and age of vanishing midlist and difficult everything, the Financial Times checks in with one breed of writer who is still doing alright amid the change: the debut.

Meanwhile, USA Today catches up with some self-publishing success stories (via lvcabbie in the Forums).

Lots of people have asked me what happens when someone wants an author to sign a book but they only have an e-reader. Well, GalleyCat found one solution: have them sign the e-reader.

And in book definition news, Rachelle Gardner talks all about remainders and Eric from Pimp My Novel talks E-Pub.

This week in the Forums, the other ways we define success, whether to spend money on a freelance editor or attending a conference, and whether writing has to make you happy for you to choose to write.

Comment! of! the! Week! goes to See Elle Oh, who riffs off of Lauren's comment to get at the heart of some of the striving that happens when writing:

I agree that striving is at the core of writing. And I think Lauren brings up a great point that some of it may be striving to control the past (or at least make sense of it, make it "fit"). I think a lot of writing is about striving for understanding and connection, with others, the world at large, and, ultimately ourselves.
And finally, a truly inspiring video that I hadn't yet seen, which so poignantly talks about how best to live one's life: Steve Jobs' 2005 Stanford Commencement address. Well worth a view in full:



Have a great weekend!






Thursday, February 10, 2011

Writing, Striving, and THE GREAT GATSBY

I've known some people who always seem to be content with life, who tend to think things are perfectly fine as they are.

I don't know any writers this way.

Not that writers have it so bad. Sure, there are stereotypes of the depressive and possibly alcoholic writer, the Edgar Alan Poes, the Charles Bukowskis, the Sylvia Plaths: the tortured artists and souls, a category that seems to loom larger in legend than in practice. Most writers I know aren't that bad off by any means, and in fact you could probably take most of them home to your mom.

But there has to be a pretty intense fire burning inside you to devote the amount of time to write a book that it takes to write one. Spending hundreds of hours engaged in a multi-month mental marathon is not usually an act for the perfectly content at heart.

And that's before you consider the odds.

Writing itself is a form of striving: of striving to be heard, striving for something more than the ordinary life, and, if the writer is honest, there's probably an element of material striving as well, whether for money or recognition or both.

Writing is an act of getting down on your hands and knees and pushing on the ground and hoping the world spins on a slightly different axis. It's the art of not taking life for granted and trying to make something, anything change.

That's partly why we love it, right?

And I don't know if any writer quite wrote and lived the art of writing and striving as F. Scott Fitzgerald did.

Fitzgerald lived the life of a striver. When Zelda Sayre refused to marry him because she was concerned he couldn't provide for her, he got back to work writing and the result was This Side of Paradise, a sensation published when he was just 23 years old. He was always trying to be something more.

Of course, Fitzgerald created perhaps the ultimate striver of them all, Jay Gatsby, someone whose entire life was built on fiction, from his name (nee James Gatz), to his always shifting and unknowable biography (he professed to be from the Midwestern city of San Francisco), to the narrative he constructed around his affair with Daisy Buchanan. His life rested on layer upon layer of fiction.

And like Gatsby, writing itself is built around striving and dreams and a world conjured from thin air in the hope that it's enough. It's that feeling that Gatsby had of being just a few sequences of events away from having those dreams coming true, as close as the green light on the dock, so close you can "hardly fail to grasp them."

But when those dreams recede before us, as Fitzgerald wrote in the greatest page of them all, "that's no matter--tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther... And one fine morning — So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."

And then we get back to work.

The Great Gatsby is published by Scribner, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, which is owned by CBS, which is the parent company of CNET, where I am employed. The opinions herein expressed are my own and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of CBS.






Wednesday, February 9, 2011

How Have Your Reading Habits Changed Since Getting an E-reader?

This question comes via my former client, and brilliant writer, Jennifer Hubbard.

For those of you who now have an e-reader, how have your book buying habits changed? Did you instantly convert to almost all e-reading? Do you still buy print books? Is it 50/50? Did you give up on the e-reader?

Poll below, if you're reading in an RSS feed or by e-mail you'll need to click through to see the poll:







Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The More I Learn and the Older I Get the More I Realize I Don't Know

So does this mean I'm getting smarter or dumber?






Monday, February 7, 2011

Cutting the Cable

My name is Nathan Bransford. And I only have basic cable.

Now, if you are stopping by the blog for the first time, this may not be such a big deal. But know this: I LOVE TV. I love TV like Tyra Banks loves models screaming at her surprise arrival. I love TV like Chris Harrison loves rose ceremonies. I love TV like Don Draper loves almost but not quite unattainable women.

You get the picture.

The decision to cut the cable wasn't the result of some high-minded, erudite reasoning, like waking up and realizing that TV was rotting my brain. (That dream about Jeff Probst interrogating me about my job performance at Tribal Council? Totally normal!)

My wife and I just noticed something one day: we weren't really watching TV anymore. And cable is a really, really expensive thing to pay for if you're not watching it.

In my old job as a literary agent, on weekdays I was working from 7:30 in the morning to 8:00 at night, and I was spending a huge chunk of that time reading. On the weekends I was writing from morning until night. After a day of reading and writing, it's not particularly relaxing to end it with still more reading. TV was the perfect antidote.

And it just so happens that my time as an agent coincided with a Golden Era of Television, with both reality TV and scripted shows that raised the bar for what was thought possible on television. It was really easy to get sucked in when there was such excellent entertainment to be had (and also The Hills and The Bachelor, which were non-excellently but deeply entertaining).

But now that I no longer read for work, I have rediscovered this crazy indulgence called reading for pleasure. Including books published before 2005! Before 1930 even! I'm even re-reading books I've read before! It is amazing!

And I'm sorry to say that I'm feeling like TV overall just isn't as awesome as it was five years ago, with many reality shows feeling stale and only a few scripted shows that are really killing it. At this point there are only three shows that I feel like I can't miss:

Parks & Recreation, Modern Family, and Mad Men.

Two of those are on network TV, and one is on hiatus.

Hence: basic cable for us. It still gives me the chills from time to time when I realize I can't watch ESPN, but the truth is that I'm too busy with other things anyway. For anything else I can't get on network TV, there's Netflix, Hulu, and iTunes. We're saving a ton of money, I'm re-reading The Great Gatsby, and I couldn't be happier.

How about you? Have your TV habits changed at all, and have you thought about cutting the cord?

Regarding the reference to Jeff Probst and Survivor, which is produced by CBS, which is the parent company of CNET, which is where I am employed: the opinions expressed herein are purely my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of CBS.






Friday, February 4, 2011

This Week in Books 2/4/11

Whew! What a week! Paragraphs were read. Winners were crowned. Tiredness was reached.

But I still have a few links for you.

First up, I'm going to start with the sad stuff as there's not one but two bankruptcies in the news. First is Borders, which is the subject of numerous rumors that it could declare bankruptcy as soon as next week, which could result in the closure of at least 150 of its 650+ stores. And Canada's largest distributor, H.B. Fenn and Co. has declared bankruptcy, catching the Canadian publishing industry off guard.

Meanwhile, there is actually a looming potential crisis in the e-book world as well. In a not-enough-noticed move, Apple disallowed a Sony e-reader App on the iPad for reasons that could have some larger repercussions. Basically, if an app-maker sell e-books outside of the app store, a little known Apple contract clause states that they have to afford users the ability to buy those e-books within the app as well (which, of course, Apple gets a 30% split on). What does this mean? Well, it potentially means a major showdown with Amazon, whose Kindle app skirts this clause by selling e-books exclusively outside of the Kindle app. Amazon faces a tough choice between allowing sales through its Kindle app and splitting the revenue with Apple or foregoing Apple's devices entirely. Slate's Farhad Manjoo has an essential summary of what this all means.

In possible larger-than-all-that news, The Rejectionist has quit her day job and is embarking on new adventures in writing! She commemorated it with a post that is one of the greatest odes to New York I have yet read. Very awesome.

And speaking of awesome, thank you thank you again to everyone who entered and participated in the First Paragraph Challenge! In case you wanted further insight into what does and doesn't make a good first paragraph, reader Elena Solodow also read all 1500+ paragraphs and has some terrific insight into some of the common pratfalls that fell some of the entries.

If you're curious about what life as an editor is like (particularly editing prior to the current publishing crunch), Tom Dupree has a really terrific first person account of life working at Bantam in the 1990s. Great paragraph:

For the editor, there are two immensely joyous days in the life of any book. First is the day you call the author or agent and tell them they have a deal. (Or, after an auction, they call you.) Second is the day you get the first carton from the bindery, crack it open, and hold the finished book in your hands for the first time. I have known editors to cry at this second point. Heck, I’ve done it. But in between those two landmarks is the potential — not the certainty, but the serious possibility – of unholy hell.
Well worth a read.

Some serious Nathan Bransford bait: two location in Portland are going to be hosting a 24-hour straight readthrough of MOBY-DICK. (via Bookslut)

And the great Bryan Rusell has an incredible and true post about how originality can kind of be like cover songs: Taking something old and making it new again in genius fashion.

This week in the Forums, debating the semi-autobiographical novel, sharing your one-line pitch, wondering if writers should be reviewers, and of course, Super Bowl!!!

Comment! of! the! Week! Let's give it up again for Tamar Ossowski, aka Anonymous, our contest winner:

I was born during an electrical storm. They told me when Matilda saw me for the first time the lights flickered, and in that moment of blackness, my sister leaned over and whispered, “I missed you.” Like I had just returned from a trip.

And finally, if you haven't already, please visit VolunteerJournals.com and enter the for the chance to win a $5,000 volunteer vacation!! My voluntourism trip changed my life, and it can change yours too (also: I'm in the video!):



Have a great weekend!






Thursday, February 3, 2011

And The Winner Is........... (and more about my choices)

1500+ paragraphs..... 175,000+ words....

The most stupendously ultimate first paragraph is by....

SomeoneListedAtTheBottomOfThisPost

Now then! As per usual the winners post is a place to talk about what worked and didn't work in the first paragraphs in the contest, as well as the finalists.

And I'll tell you one thing that worked: I really think this contest had the highest overall quality of all the first paragraph contests. There were a whole lot of really, really good paragraphs in this contest, and I wish I could have singled out all of them.

So what makes for a really good first paragraph? That's the perennial question, and one I've discussed at length in past contests. To me, it's always come down to this:

The first paragraph should establish the tone/voice, it gets the reader into the flow of the book, and it establishes trust between the author and reader.

And on that topic of flow, as inspired by Ira Glass' interview on storytelling: Good first paragraphs lead smoothly from one thing to the next.

It's hard to start a book, and it's so important to ease a reader into a new world. In order to do that, I think it's important for things to really flow well from one element to the next in order to give the reader a chance to establish their bearings.

And...... what didn't work?

Well, in general I'm wary of anything that feels forced: forced cleverness, forced wordiness, forced cheekiness, forced sagacity.... anything that doesn't feel natural and authentic. Great first paragraphs feel effortless, and of course they're anything but.

And on that forced cheekiness, there were a few common tropes that jumped out at me, both in the contest and hearkening back to my days reading queries. Among them (paraphrasing):

So and so didn't know how it all began. Well, maybe it was this very specific, pithy thing, or maybe it was this other, even pithier thing. Who could say, really?

It was one of those days. Or, rather, it seemed like it was one of those days only it wasn't one of those days.

No one would have expected this very big thing could have been started by something charmingly incongruous.

Be careful not to try too hard, or at least be careful to make sure your effort is very very well hidden.

There were also a record number of multi-paragraph entries in this contest. Don't know what the story is there.

Now! The finalists!!! Let us salute their awesomeness.

The Sasquatch!
The funny thing about tennis, my father used to tell me, was no matter how hard you worked, no matter how good you got, you’d never be as good as a wall. My father didn’t like most sports. Football players, he said, were just drunks in training. Golf was what rich people did when they didn’t want anyone to call them lazy. Hockey was exercise for the criminally insane. And soccer? Well, let’s just say that, all debates of free speech aside, some things are inappropriate for a team of ten year old girls, and the next time he sets foot in the Hamilton County Sports Metroplex, he’ll likely face a $2000 fine and six months in jail. Not that it would matter to him.
This paragraph is just plain hilarious, and you immediately get a sense of the dad's character. Every line is funny and over the top, and the paragraph flows very well.

Now, full disclosure, I didn't realize that the first line here about not being as good as a wall paraphrases a Mitch Hedberg joke, which was later brought to my attention. It's a bit of a gray area for me. On the one hand it's not an exact lift, but I wonder if there's a way to work credit for the originator in there somewhere (or maybe it's so ubiquitous everyone is supposed to know it's obviously a Mitch Hedberg joke).

Still, the paragraph is really good even apart from that first line, and I still would have included it as a finalist even without it. Well done.

Ben!
From a bird’s eye view, the sight is beautiful, pristine. The symmetrical gridlines of Shelter’s streets rest on the jagged landscape of the Colorado Mountains, an obvious imperfection that only makes them more charming, like a scar on a beautiful woman. On Monday evening, the streets are vacant. It’s local custom to shell up in a living room and anesthetize your dread of the coming week with a massive dose of televised entertainment. It’s what people do, it’s normal. For the few who walk outside, the October wind is their only companion. Tonight, Charles Crawford is on the other side of the windowpanes and misses the meaningless comfort of being normal.
This is a textbook, textbook example of starting zoomed way out and steadily zeroing on an individual. Along the way are elegant descriptions, a deftly handled metaphor, some great atmosphere (I love "anesthetize your dread of the coming week"), good flow, and that last line about missing the meaningless comfort of being normal is a killer.

I'm a fan.

Daniel Wheatley!
Wolfgang Benjamin Zuttliburg Mullenbottom IV was the most imaginative boy to ever live. When he was born, he floated right out of the doctor’s hands and nearly out of the nursery. (He would have made it too, if the doctor hadn’t once been a poisonous snake wrangler with Animal Control and still had his lightning reflexes.) “This will not do,” his father, the stoutest in a long line of stout German fathers, said as his son bobbled in the nursery like a helium balloon. So when it came time to make out the birth certificate, he chose the heaviest name possible so his son would keep his feet on the ground.
I love the jaunty spirit and immediate imagination this paragraph inspires. In the context of this paragraph it feels perfectly natural that a boy would fly around like a helium balloon, and it's a great example of not overselling something out of the ordinary. Sometimes it's great to take something completely bizarre and treat it seriously, which results in an unforced and wondrous tone. Well done.

Kate Tyler Wall!
It was Ricky Dick of the Turds who said that Del and I would end up together in the Punk Rock Old Folks Home someday. We were all sitting around the fire on one of the last nights at camp, but Del and I weren’t singing along to “Beat on the Brat” with the others because as usual we were knee to knee, talking about some book or maybe the latest song we were writing or how I would have to find another day job next week. Ricky couldn’t jeer at us to “just go in the woods and screw already” like he would to anybody else because people were finally figuring out by then that we weren’t about that. Jimmy Spittle from Cybyl probably came closest to putting his finger on the nature of the relationship. He once said Del and I were each other’s “muses,” a word Ricky Dick had probably never heard of. Jimmy was a pretty deep guy, as punks go. Anyway, everybody laughed, and Del told Ricky where to go, and then Steve from Head Lice started playing “I Fought the Law” on his guitar and another sing-along began. Just another August night at Camp Punksatawny; one that everyone might remember fondly at middle age if they didn’t OD or die of cirrhosis first.
This paragraph wanders around through its world and is the longest paragraph, but everything came together for me and it all worked together. It just has a great spirit, really good detail (everything from the songs they were singing to "knee to knee" to the end where they're already thinking about how there's a good chance they'll OD or die of cirrhosis like any good punks). I enjoyed this world a lot.

Hilary!
Jesus Arturo Alvarez was born on the thirteenth of September in the year of the Lord, after Whom he was named, nineteen hundred and ninety. It was a Friday, and also market day in the village of Guadalupe, Arizona, which lay just east of Ahwahtukee and southeast of Phoenix proper. During her most severe labor pains his mother screamed at the nurses for a drink and his father pinched her hard on that soft skin just above the elbow and told her to shut up. She didn't feel the pinch but she told him to go to hell anyway and then bit him on his left hand between the thumb and forefinger. Forever after Jesus' father had a crescent-shaped, dotted-line scar that he would rub absentmindedly with his right thumb during conversation.
Although I was thrown a bit by the second sentence, I love how this paragraph begins and ends. I like the very formal opening and how that eases into the story of Jesus' birth, the incredible moment where his mom asks for a drink, his dad pinches her and she bites his thumb in such a way that leaves a scar. It's hilariously told and memorable, and I love that last image of Jesus' father rubbing the scar and thinking back.

And last but not least, a paragraph that just does so much with such few words, that has us all wondering what in the world comes next, THE WINNER..........
anonymous!!!
I was born during an electrical storm. They told me when Matilda saw me for the first time the lights flickered, and in that moment of blackness, my sister leaned over and whispered, “I missed you.” Like I had just returned from a trip.

Congratulations to anonymous!!! I wish I knew your name so I could give you proper credit. My publishing friends are already asking about you.

Anon and other finalists, please e-mail me using the Contact Me link on the left side of the page in order to arrange for your prize.

Thanks so much to everyone for entering, and congrats to the finalists and our incredible winner!!






Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Stupendously Ultimate Finalists!! (As Introduced by Leslie Knope and Ron Swanson)

Leslie Knope: Hello citizens of Pawnee. I'm Leslie Knope, and Oim Irish M'Lady, Cheerio!!!

I'm not Irish. I'm actually from Pawnee. It's kind of crappy but we love it anyway.

Sir? No. Sir? I will deal with you when I'm finished. Also your jacket is on fire.

Big smile, Knope. Big smile.

Wait. Did I say that out loud? I said that out loud didn't I.

Ahem.

Nathan invited me here to announce the finalists in the first paragraph competition, and I thought, sure, first paragraph competition, what this party really needs is a festival! So everyone look under their seats where there are two color coded binders, which reveal the location of the real binders, one through seventeen, which will give you your...

No groaning! Now, I know what you're thinking. This is too awesome to even contemplate. I know, I'm thinking that too. That's why I'm wearing my hottest cargo pants.

Where were we? First paragraphs! Right! Let me turn my attention over to my boss, the great Ron Swanson. Give him a big Pawnee welcome. Ron?

Ron: Thank you, Leslie.

I hate first paragraphs. I think that first paragraphs are an abomination unto God, freedom, and bacon. My ex-wife Tammy loved first paragraphs, and so did my other ex-wife Tammy. First paragraphs are a fetid disease that pollutes people with a love of reading. I don't believe people shouldn't read, with the sole exception of the Constitution of the United States and the collected works of Ayn Rand. Books just give people ideas, and when people have ideas they complain. So I hate them.

That is all.

Leslie: Annnnnd thank you Ron Swanson! Isn't he great? He's really the greatest boss in the world. Loooves those paragraphs too.

Okay! It's time to announce the finalists of the... no wait. That's not right. Because that would be weird. Bee boo. Moving on.

The honorable mentions! That's what I meant. These individuals win a shoe shine from Andy Dwyer and a free improvisational musical experience courtesy of April Ludgate!

Also I tried April's musical experience and she just throws a harmonica at you, so watch out.

Honorable mentions!

Tchann
Josin L. McQuein
Jessie Oliveros
NRH
Leah
Julia
Ann Best
Megan
Jenise Frohlinger
Elissa Sussman
Rick

And the finalists!!

Nathan gave me strict instructions. In order to vote for the winner, please leave a vote in the comments section of this post. You will have until Wednesday 6pm Pacific time to vote. Please do not e-mail him your vote.

Also: No campaigning for yourself or your favorites out there on the Internet. Don't make me use my power to petition for grievances.

Anonymous comments have been closed for the duration of the voting. There will be no blog post on Wednesday as the votes are being tallied, but we will return on Thursday to crown the victor and talk about what worked for Nathan in the first para... Oim Irish again, laddy! Oim going to go down to the pub to talk about powygraphs!

I'm really not Irish.

The six finalists!!! In no particular order!! Are!!!


The Sasquatch!
The funny thing about tennis, my father used to tell me, was no matter how hard you worked, no matter how good you got, you’d never be as good as a wall. My father didn’t like most sports. Football players, he said, were just drunks in training. Golf was what rich people did when they didn’t want anyone to call them lazy. Hockey was exercise for the criminally insane. And soccer? Well, let’s just say that, all debates of free speech aside, some things are inappropriate for a team of ten year old girls, and the next time he sets foot in the Hamilton County Sports Metroplex, he’ll likely face a $2000 fine and six months in jail. Not that it would matter to him.

Ben!
From a bird’s eye view, the sight is beautiful, pristine. The symmetrical gridlines of Shelter’s streets rest on the jagged landscape of the Colorado Mountains, an obvious imperfection that only makes them more charming, like a scar on a beautiful woman. On Monday evening, the streets are vacant. It’s local custom to shell up in a living room and anesthetize your dread of the coming week with a massive dose of televised entertainment. It’s what people do, it’s normal. For the few who walk outside, the October wind is their only companion. Tonight, Charles Crawford is on the other side of the windowpanes and misses the meaningless comfort of being normal.

Anonymous!
I was born during an electrical storm. They told me when Matilda saw me for the first time the lights flickered, and in that moment of blackness, my sister leaned over and whispered, “I missed you.” Like I had just returned from a trip.

Daniel Wheatley!
Wolfgang Benjamin Zuttliburg Mullenbottom IV was the most imaginative boy to ever live. When he was born, he floated right out of the doctor’s hands and nearly out of the nursery. (He would have made it too, if the doctor hadn’t once been a poisonous snake wrangler with Animal Control and still had his lightning reflexes.) “This will not do,” his father, the stoutest in a long line of stout German fathers, said as his son bobbled in the nursery like a helium balloon. So when it came time to make out the birth certificate, he chose the heaviest name possible so his son would keep his feet on the ground.

Kate Tyler Wall!
It was Ricky Dick of the Turds who said that Del and I would end up together in the Punk Rock Old Folks Home someday. We were all sitting around the fire on one of the last nights at camp, but Del and I weren’t singing along to “Beat on the Brat” with the others because as usual we were knee to knee, talking about some book or maybe the latest song we were writing or how I would have to find another day job next week. Ricky couldn’t jeer at us to “just go in the woods and screw already” like he would to anybody else because people were finally figuring out by then that we weren’t about that. Jimmy Spittle from Cybyl probably came closest to putting his finger on the nature of the relationship. He once said Del and I were each other’s “muses,” a word Ricky Dick had probably never heard of. Jimmy was a pretty deep guy, as punks go. Anyway, everybody laughed, and Del told Ricky where to go, and then Steve from Head Lice started playing “I Fought the Law” on his guitar and another sing-along began. Just another August night at Camp Punksatawny; one that everyone might remember fondly at middle age if they didn’t OD or die of cirrhosis first.

Hilary!
Jesus Arturo Alvarez was born on the thirteenth of September in the year of the Lord, after Whom he was named, nineteen hundred and ninety. It was a Friday, and also market day in the village of Guadalupe, Arizona, which lay just east of Ahwahtukee and southeast of Phoenix proper. During her most severe labor pains his mother screamed at the nurses for a drink and his father pinched her hard on that soft skin just above the elbow and told her to shut up. She didn't feel the pinch but she told him to go to hell anyway and then bit him on his left hand between the thumb and forefinger. Forever after Jesus' father had a crescent-shaped, dotted-line scar that he would rub absentmindedly with his right thumb during conversation.


Congratulations to the winners! I admire you as much as my mother, Hilary Clinton, and former Secretary of State Madeline Albright. Combined. No, multiplied. And squared.






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