Nathan Bransford, Author

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Jonathan Franzen and a Fear of Noise

Jonathan Franzen, like any curmudgeon, is eminently easy to make fun of. From his hyperbolic denunciations of social media and e-book readers to his passion for birds to that whole Oprah thing... he's an easy target.

So I was extremely excited about seeing him speak in person this past Thursday. I even live-tweeted some quotes, which I knew would probably annoy him intensely considering he called Twitter "unspeakably irritating":

I'm a huge fan of Jonathan Franzen the writer, but could not have a more different worldview than Jonathan Franzen the social commentator. Where Jonathan Franzen loathes e-books I see vast potential, where he fears social media I've made it a career, and where his worldview and human nature is rather bleak with a touch of anger, I've been described as being "posi-core."

And yet, after seeing Franzen speak... I finally think I get where he's coming from.

The moment that made it click for me was almost a throwaway. He was talking about that feeling you have after you've stayed up an hour too late reading a book, and how much better you feel after doing that than when you've stayed up too late watching the World Series of Poker.


I honestly have no idea why that made it click for me, but for some reason it did. I think what makes Franzen tick is a fear of noise.

What's apparent from hearing Franzen talk is how deeply he thinks about everything. He was reading his remarks, but was still thinking about his words as he was talking. He isn't afraid to let twenty seconds go by as he thinks about how he will respond to a question. He is extremely self-aware and is constantly self-examining his motives and hangups. He opened his talk by saying, "I'm here because I'm being paid to be here."

There's a palpable Franzenian weariness and almost exhaustion in all this thinking. He said of his process, "When I'm writing I don't want anyone else in the room - including myself."

But I can see why someone who thinks so deeply and intensely about things would be wary of social media, which he referred to dismissively as "that stuff." I can see why someone who enjoys deep thinking would also be passionate about bird watching, with its waiting, long treks, and elusive moments of glory.

And you know what? If this is what he believes (I don't presume to speak for him), he has a point.

We do live in a world of tremendous distraction. We have all but eliminated boredom. Every stoplight is a moment to check our e-mail, every wait in a supermarket line is a chance to sneak a peek at Twitter, every time our dinner companion uses the restroom is a chance to Instagram.

I intentionally try and just sit and stare out the window on my bus rides to and from work in order to refocus my eyes and let my head clear, and yet I rarely make it the whole way without checking something on my phone.

Societal pressures are on more and more work, more and more content, more and more connection, more and more communication.

Where is the pressure for more and more thinking?

Franzen's process takes time. He takes years to write books. The initial plot of The Corrections was practically a caper. Then he took some minor characters and rewrote it to feature them. Then he took another seemingly minor character and rewrote around that. It seems like the only thing the final draft shared with the first was the title.

Franzen thinks. I think he fears a world where people don't.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Partial RSS feeds: The Decision

Wow, thank you so much to everyone who weighed in on whether it would be cool/not cool to switch to partial RSS feeds. I hadn't by any means expected such a passionate response when I posted that!

I didn't do a formal tally of the responses, and I really should have done a poll, but the comments seemed to break down roughly evenly between "Go for it!" "Don't do it!" and "Indifferent!"

After reading all the comments (reminder that I really do read every single comment) and thinking about it over the weekend, I decided to keep the full RSS feeds for now. I was persuaded by the people who questioned whether switching to partial would really increase comments (if people are going to comment they're going to comment, if they're not they're not), and since I'm not trying to monetize the blog the extra pageviews would just be vanity.

There were also enough people who said they'd stop reading and unsubscribe to give me pause, although I do have to chuckle a bit at the people who couldn't! possibly! be bothered to click through under any circumstances. I'm not judging because I make decisions like that all the time, but it's kind of hilarious how we can no longer spare those extra two seconds. It reminds me of this.

I wouldn't rule out making this switch in the future and would experiment first, though probably only if I ever needed the pageviews here or added advertising.

Thanks again, everyone!

Friday, June 22, 2012

Jacob Wonderbar and the Interstellar Time Warp

Here comes Jacob Wonderbar and the Interstellar Time Warp, now on sale!

Time travel is all fun and games until you get stuck in the wrong century! Jacob has ended up in the wrong time and what's worse, the entire Astral space human society has come under threat of destruction. It's up to Jacob to make things right.

With the unlikely help of arch-nemesis Mick Cracken, Jacob time-hops through the universe with his best friends Sarah and Dexter, encountering dinosaurs, Napoleon, and most terrifying of all, bad '80s fashion, in search of the one person who can help them: Jacob's missing father.

Thanks as always to the amazing Christopher S. Jennings for the illustrations and Greg Stadnyk for the cover design!

Now on sale at:

Amazon (Kindle)
Amazon (paperback)
B&N (Nook)
B&N (paperback)

Or add it to GoodReads:

Jacob Wonderbar and the Interstellar Time Warp (Jacob Wonderbar, #3)

Thursday, June 21, 2012

I'm Considering Switching to Partial RSS Feed. Thoughts?

Forgive this nuts-and-bolts post on this Thursday morning, but I wanted to solicit your feedback on a change I'm considering making: switching my RSS feed from showing the whole blog to only showing partial posts.

If you don't read this blog in Google Reader or another feed reader, check out this incredible GIF of a hilarious cat and have a great day.

If you do read this blog in a feed reader, I'm very curious to know what you think. This impacts you, and I don't want to mess things up.

Here's the thing - when I started this blog, I wanted everyone to be able to read it as easily as possible. I didn't really care if that happened on this blog or on other websites or anywhere possible.

But lately, I feel like the discussion on the blog has become a bit fragmented because so many sites out there are syndicating this blog willy nilly. People don't always realize the great discussions that are happening in the comments section on the for-real blog because they are reading it in a place that just pulls the blog content and leaves it at that. If people were forced to click through to read the whole post I feel like we could attract even better comments.

I'm also finding this blog pop up on more and more sites where you can get the whole blog... only other people are advertising on the page. So basically you can read the whole blog only someone else is making money on it.

But I don't want to cramp your style. Would it bother you if I switched to a partial feed and people had to click through to the for-real blog to see the rest? Do you mind if I give it a trial to see what happens?

Let me know what you think. Thanks!

Art: Geometrie & Vermessung & Messstab - Walther Hermann Ryff

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Are Non-Interactive Books Going to Be the Black & White Movies of the Future?

When we talk about e-books, we mainly think of them as rough, imperfect translations of a paper book. The illustrations within a paper book go straight into the e-book, and while interactive e-books exist and offer some intriguing potential, they haven't yet gone mainstream.

There was another time in another medium where there was a new innovation that afforded new possibilities, and that was color coming to movies. It was initially an expensive novelty, but even after it grew more affordable, "serious" movies were mainly still in black and white. People still associated black and white with newspapers and newsreels, and it lent a more "realistic" look. It wasn't until decades after the introduction of color that it became truly mainstream.

Now it's black and white that's the novelty. It's a nostalgic throwback. And sure, many of us love old movies, but it would have seemed strange if James Cameron had tried to make Avatar in black and white.

There is a world of possibilities afforded by the format of e-books on tablets. Books could be colorful, interactive, three dimensional. Imagine the ease of a hyperlinked choose your own adventure novel (no more having every finger stuck in the page) or instructional videos within a cookbook. A lot of this already exists on tablets. Who knows what's next? What about a book that interacts with your TV to cast spells? Oh yeah, that exists now too.

Right now these are novelties, tablet adoption hasn't yet gone truly mainstream, and we might even feel they cheapen the experience or transform it into something other than a book. But will there be a Gone With the Wind or Wizard of Oz that pioneers the new mold, goes mainstream, and shows people what is possible?

Can you envision a time when it will seem strange to kids that old books are just, well, black and white?

Art: Saint Hieronymus - Follower of Joos van Cleve

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Should Agents Be Worried?

Last month, agent Rachelle Gardner posted about supposed fear among literary agents. The title: Are agents running scared?

No doubt the publisher industry is changing quickly. While the pace of e-book change may be slowing, self-publishing is continuing its ascent and the role of agents is ever-evolving.

So are agents going away? Should they be worried?

In her post, Rachelle concluded that even if the specific roles of agents change, the ones who are flexible will adapt right along with the industry. I've elsewhere argued that agents are far more than just gatekeepers and will negotiate with whomever is left to still negotiate with even when the gates are down.

But maybe the change will be more drastic than that. Could agents disappear entirely, or at least morph into an unrecognizable form? Are their days numbered?

What do you think?

Art: Self-portrait - Pieter van Laer

Monday, June 11, 2012

The Randomness of Bestsellers

In the ocean there's a real phenomenon called "rogue waves." They typically occur far out at sea, and they are, as the name implies, random occurrences. Suddenly a wave can appear out of nowhere, growing to spectacular height. They're impossible to predict, happen somewhat randomly, and are extremely powerful.

This is about as good of a metaphor for bestsellers as I can think of.

It's very very tempting to look back on bestsellers as preordained phenomenons, but I really don't believe that's the case. There are some books, like Harry Potter, that pull off the Beatles feat of being both extremely good and extremely popular, but for the most part when we point to whatever it is that made something more popular than all the rest, we're just wearing our hindsight glasses.

When you look at megabestsellers... let's face it, a lot of them are headscratchers. There are books that undeniably tap into something compelling, but the more books you read, big and small, the more difficult it is to pinpoint why the big ones become big and some small ones stay small.

There are more sophisticated and more accessible and more edgy and more simultaneously sophisticated/accessible/edgy books than Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Why was that the one to take off?

There were a whole lot of dog memoirs before Marley and Me. Why that one?

Even the paths don't match up. There's a spectrum, from "A lot of people saw it coming and the publisher paid accordingly" books like Twilight, to "Where did that come from?" books like Fifty Shades of Grey.

Why do some books seem to ride a golden path and some clobber their way to the top?

How do these things happen? How do some books achieve a wave of momentum all the way through to megabestsellerdom?

Ask the waves.

Art: The Ninth Wave - Ivan Aivazovsky

Friday, June 8, 2012

The Last Few Weeks in Books 6/8/12

Whew! Lots and lots of links to share with you from the last few weeks, so let's get straight to it. 

Very sad news as one of my very very favorite writers as a child, and then one of my very very favorite writers I had the privilege of working with in the publishing industry, passed away recently. Jean Craighead George was the author of Julie of the Wolves and My Side of the Mountain, and a seriously wonderful person. She will be very very missed.

Some serious news from a publisher as Houghton Mifflin, saddled with debts and liabilities of over $1 billion, filed for bankruptcy.

You may remember a few months back when I featured a video by a web travel show I had come across by Sonia Gil. Well, we can now say we knew her when because she just won a Webby Award for Best Web Personality/Host. Congrats, Sonia!

Have a self-published novel and want it to get stocked by a bookstore? Might be helpful to see how things look from the other side. Here's a guide to stocking self-published novels... for booksellers (via The Millions).

The Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy has sold 10 million copies in 6 weeks. Holy. Crap.

Industry sage Mike Shatzkin wrote an open letter to the DOJ about the collusion lawsuit and settlement, raising some objections on technical grounds. I feel like there's been a whole lot of mud flung against people who are opposed to the lawsuit, and everyone would do themselves a favor by absorbing this letter and seeing that, agree or disagree, there are very intelligent reasons why some people are opposing the lawsuit and settlement.

Several different articles lately have tried to get to the bottom of why literary fame is so unpredictable. The New Yorker sums it up.

My former client Jennifer Hubbard wrote an awesome guest post for Cynthia Leitich Smith on the power of the walking writer.

Self-published author seeks agent. What is an agent looking for? Rachelle Gardner breaks it down.

Author Barry Eisler has been a bit of a lightning rod lately with his decision to go to Amazon to publish his next book and his outspoken opinions on traditional publishing. Editor Alan Rinzler has a comprehensive post on what writers can learn from him.

Remember how Google scanned all the books in the world and there has been a lawsuit against them that has been pending for like seven thousand years? Well, a judge has paved the way for authors to sue Google for infringement.

Hilarious: Malcolm Gladwell Book Generator.

CNET (where I am employed) had a hands-on with Sony's Wonderbook, which J.K. Rowling has a hand in, and which uses augmented reality to play with spells and such. CNET's conclusion: it's really more of a toy than a book.

This week in the Forums: Tumblr vs. Blogger, weird Google phrases that got people to your blog, Ray Bradbury passed away, the guilt of being a non-published writer, and how to identify the plot point.

And finally, The Great Gatsby is one of my absolute favorite novels and one I've written about in the past. The movie is coming out soon..... what do we think of the trailer??

Have a great weekend!!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Why Writers Shouldn't Be Paranoid About Having Their Query Critiqued Online

Not sure what's in the water lately, but I've heard both directly and indirectly from authors who are suddenly extremely worried about posting their queries in forums to get feedback.

I'm sure, somewhere, there are actual horror stories of people having their ideas pilfered and profited off of based solely on a query, but I've long felt this is kind of like getting struck by lightning while breaking a mirror as a black cat walks by.

Here's why I wouldn't personally be paranoid about sharing your query:

1) The success of your book will hinge on the quality of its execution, not on the originality of your idea

High concept is great and everything, but whether your book succeeds or fails has a heck of a lot more to do with your execution than its premise.

When was the last time you read a book solely and entirely because it was describable in a sentence? Probably not often.

There were vampire books before Twilight, there were wizard books before Harry Potter, there were books that were like whatever Fifty Shades of Grey is like before Fifty Shades of Grey.

What's more, there are often books with very similar ideas that are published around the same time. Same thing happens in movies. Even if (extreme hypothetical) someone does steal your idea, goes and writes it, and gets it published, that doesn't even mean yours won't work too if it's really good.

2) Posting your query online does not count as first publication or anything that will hinder your chance at successful publication

No agent or reader that I know of is going to freak out if you posted your query online. It's not going to mess up your shot at getting your work published elsewhere

If you're worried about showing how the sausage is made and don't want your query Google-able later, change the title and identifying details. 

3) You're helping fellow writers by posting your query online

Not everyone is brave enough to post their query online - not because they're afraid of having the idea stolen, but because posting your work is a bit scary. If you are the type of person strong enough to weather public constructive criticism you can do a world of good for your fellow writers, who can observe the feedback process.

If your book is so ground-breakingly high concept and the world hasn't ever heard your idea before and you can't possibly bear to share it.... okay. I won't judge. But my guess is that somewhere in the world someone with nearly your exact idea is online getting feedback on their query as we speak.

All that said, I would be careful about posting too much of your actual work, and make sure you always possess all rights. I personally believe submitting short excerpts for critique is totally fine (and I promise to do an opening critique soon!), but I wouldn't post more than a brief chunk.

And if you do wish to get feedback on your query, check out the query critique forum associated with this blog. You can both give query help (which helps you spot what works and what doesn't) and submit your own query for critique.

Art: The Cunning Thief by Paul-Charles Chocarne-Moreau

Related Posts with Thumbnails