Nathan Bransford, Author

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Dialogue Only Has to Be True to the World of Your Novel

One of the more interesting parts of writing a novel is how much you come to realize how very different dialogue is than actual human speech.

I've tackled this on the blog before, and it was driven home for me when I was on a panel this past Friday at the Backspace Writers Conference.

There was a question about how much modern slang to incorporate into your novel. I personally wrote novels that were set from 2010-2013 (Um. I think those were the years. Where's my series bible again?), and I very strenuously avoided any hint of modern slang.

Why? Because slang changes. It can date your book. You can't predict how it will evolve.

But more importantly, when you are writing dialogue in your novel, you are not beholden to the real world. You don't have to answer to it. You are beholden only to the world of your novel.

No child who has ever lived has spoken like Calvin from Calvin & Hobbes. He uses words I have to look up in the dictionary. And yet no one would ever mistake Calvin for an adult. Within the world of Calvin & Hobbes, Calvin still sounds like a kid. It's believable in that world.

You have tremendous leeway as an author to set the ground rules for dialogue and to let your characters speak how they speak.

Don't ever try to imitate real life, because real life transcribed dialogue doesn't translate. Even during my answer on the panel, I said "The the the..." in quick succesion. I doubt anyone noticed because it was within the flow of conversation and I wasn't otherwise struggling for words. But put that on the page and I would sound like I was stuttering and grasping for confidence. It wouldn't translate in the same way.

Cast away real life when you're writing your dialogue. Instead, be true to the world of your novel. As long as it makes sense in your world, your reader will find it believable.

Art: The Discussion by Harry Wilson Watrous

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

How Did You Choose Your Title?

I have titles on the mind lately as I figure out what in the world I'm going to call my guide to writing a novel.

How did you choose the title of your most recent project?

Is it an allusion? An inside joke? A line from the work?

And more importantly, how did you know it was the right one?

When I went to name Jacob Wonderbar and the Cosmic Space Kapow I combined my favorite coffee drink with a bit of absurdity that I hoped might evoke Calvin & Hobbes.

What about you?

Art: Trompe l'oeil by Adolph von Haake

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Imagining a Post-Amazon World

A few weeks back I wondered why publishers haven't taken the initiative to begin selling e-books in a more-agressive way, and especially why they don't empower authors to sell their own e-books.

Reader Steve Davidson took that a step further and wonders why an author with a platform needs a publisher or distributor at all:

Very interesting, but I don't think it takes things far enough. 
What I have been wondering of late is - why are established authors with inventory bothering with online distributors at all? Why are they giving away any percentage of a sale? 
There are fairly easy to implement on-line store suites (some even open source) - turnkey operations - that can handle all of the transactional issues (credit cards, downloads, etc) that will also capture purchaser information. 
Amazon/B&N offer an author the "those who read X will enjoy y" sales pitch - but that cuts three or more ways; a competing title might get the dollars instead - an author's website offers no competitive sales option. The author can take the distributor's cut and plow it in to promotion and advertising or pass it along to the purchaser. The author's website can offer far more background and personalized promotional information. The only thing missing is the questionable "additional exposure" or "floor traffic"; that can still be obtained by retaining a single title and a really good author's page on such sites (rather than all of the inventory). Most authors don't see any real promotional effort spent on their books by the publisher (we're being told constantly that a lot of that is being pushed off onto the author already) - so why do that extra work AND pay for the privilege when one could do the extra work and add 10 or 30 or 30 percent to their take? No, the above won't really work for emerging authors initially , but for someone with a track record who can regularly attract some would be another round of cutting out the middleman, but this time the spoils go to the author.

Right now it's hard to imagine anyone but the very biggest authors commanding the ability to sell outside of existing channels. When people want to buy an e-book they go to Amazon or B&N, they don't think to Google an author and see if they are only offering a book for sale

But could this change? Could we see a shift where not only traditional publishers, but also Amazon and B&N aren't necessary for an author?

It seems to me that this is an opportunity for Google especially to undercut Amazon. Google could provide the vending platform, much as they were supposedly going to do with independent bookstores, and they could steer e-book sales directly to authors and their own websites.

These days it's hard to imagine a world without Amazon. But just as malls are giving way to specialty stores and online vending, could individual author sites pave the way for dispersed e-bookselling?

Art: The Hungry Lion Throws Itself on the Antelope by Henry Rousseau

Monday, May 20, 2013

The Last Few Weeks in Books 5/20/13

Brooklyn Heights. Photo by me. I'm on Instagram here.
Lots and lots of links stored up from the past few weeks, let's get to them!

It hasn't been long since the courts rejected a settlement between the Authors Guild and Google over Google's bookscanning project, which many people characterized as far too generous to Google. Well, now the Authors Guild is taking a different tack. They're suing Google for $3 billion (disclosure: link is to CNET, I work there).

Fear of Amazon's role in the future of books has really crystalized in some sectors of the book world, and agent Andrew Zack had a post recently in which he expressed that perspective. I don't totally agree with the post, and expressed that in the comments, but it's a very good counter-perspective.

What's the difference between a wholesaler and a distributor? Self-publishing Resources explains.

Even in the age of self-publishing there are still many benefits to having an agent (I still have one!). Agent Rachelle Gardner details these advantages.

Macmillan's Tor imprint switched to non-DRM e-book sales a year ago. The result? No discernable increase in piracy.

HarperCollins announced the formation of a digital-first mystery imprint, called Witness. Which had agent Kristin Nelson wondering: Why can't publishers pay e-book royalties on a monthly basis?

And speaking of imprint formation, The Atlantic launched a new e-book division focusing on singles and curated collections. Expect to see more and more non-publishers with a platform launch e-book programs, which is further evidence of the atomization of publishing and a reduction in the necessity and advantages of traditional publishing.

Lots of talk about F. Scott Fitzgerald and The Great Gatsby now that the new movie version is in theaters. The Guardian argues that Jay Gatsby has nothing on F. Scott Fitzgerald himself.

A class-action lawsuit has been filed by authors against self-publishing outfit Author Solutions, which is now owned by Penguin.

Are you ready to be a published author? Are you sure?

The trailer for the Enders Game movie was released.

What's the optimal price for a self-published e-book? $3.99, says Smashwords.

Hilary Smith, née The Intern, has advice for the parents of writers.

Need to fire your agent? Sometimes it's necessary. Agent Jenny Bent has advice for you.

In non-book news, I found this article provocative: What if the Tsaranaevs had been the "Boston shooters?"

And finally, Google I/O was this past week, which brought a whole slew of interesting new things. My friend Sharon Vaknin breaks down Google Now voice search vs. Apple's Siri:

Have a great week!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Why I'm Paying Someone to Edit My Guide to Writing a Novel

A few months ago I announced that I'm going to be self-publishing a guide to writing a novel, and I'm pleased to report that I have finished and edited my first draft!

It has 42 chapters plus an epilogue, it covers both writing and revising, and it has more references to space monkeys than you can shake a fist at.

Now it's time to get it edited. And I'm going to pay for a professional editor.

Why you might ask?

I don't think everyone out there has to have their work professionally edited. Everyone needs some sort of good feedback on their work, whether that comes from their friends, from a critique partner, a friend, enemy... someone.

When I was an agent, I went ahead and assumed that everyone got feedback on their work, and what ultimately mattered was the final product, not who they received their feedback from. My post about whether you should pay someone to edit your work still stands. You don't have to pay for it.

But here's the thing about asking for free critiques from critique partners: It requires reciprocity. And I'm just too busy to give the kind of feedback I would need to give to receive good feedback in return. I need to pay for it instead.

Plus, I am curious about the freelance editor process because I've never done it before, and I also really do appreciate the value of having some feedback from someone who has had experience editing in traditional publishing. I'm planning to first work with my friend Christine Pride for a first edit, and then will likely turn to a second editor for some more feedback and copyediting.

As I await my edit, I'm going to spend my free time trying to figure out what in the heck I should call this thing, what my cover should look like, and how exactly one self-publishes a book.

I would love your help! More posts as this thing develops.

Art: Die Abrechnung by Josef Wagner-Höhenberg

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

How Do You Plan to Publish Your Work-in-Progress?

I have not been a literary agent for over two-and-a-half years now. The main way strangers contact me is through my blog, through a link under my bio, which says I was "formerly a literary agent."

I still. get. query letters.

Query letters are the zombies in my life. Just when I think it's safe to open my e-mail, they sneak in and send a chill down my spine.

So from my vantage point, it sure seems like quite a few people out there are still pursuing traditional publication, no matter how popular self-publishing grows and how the publishing blogosphere has steadily morphed to serve the self-publishing community.

What about you? Are you planning to first pursue traditional publication? Do you see self-publishing as a first option? A fallback?

Poll below. If you're reading this on a feed reader or via e-mail, please click this link to see it.

Monday, May 13, 2013

How to Do Your Chores in 12 Easy Steps

Step 1: Start a novel

Step 2: Write 50 pages in a month

Step 3: Write 5 pages in the next two months

Step 4: Stare at the screen

Step 5: Despair

Step 6: Open a closet

Step 7: Eye cleaning supplies longingly

Step 8: Clean every square inch of your apartment/house, marveling at how much more fun you're having than writing your novel

Step 9: Find a filing cabinet, organize it

Step 10: Find tiles, scrub them with a toothbrush

Step 11: Run out of things to clean, return to computer

Step 12: Stare at the screen in a freakishly clean living space

Art: Bridget Holmes, a Nonagenarian Housemaid by John Riley

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Publishers Should Empower Authors to Sell Their Own E-books

Despite having extensive distribution operations, publishers have long been extremely reluctant to sell books directly to customers. Whether for lack of retail expertise, out of fear of competing with bookstores they need to thrive, or lack of concrete vision, publishers have completely ceded the e-book and e-retailing landscape to Amazon and others.

Even Bookish, a site built by three publishers, is oriented around discovery and not e-bookselling.

Why are publishers so scared of selling e-books? Amazon has shown no such compunctions about creating a book-to-customer vertical, adding publisher operations to go along with their extensive retail and e-bookselling behemoth.

Moreover, publishers have one big advantage over Amazon when it comes to e-bookselling: their authors.

Just about every author out there has a website and/or a blog and/or a Twitter presence. Why not incentivize them with higher royalties if they sell direct via a device-agnostic module they can place on their sites?

This would look a lot like the way J.K. Rowling is selling her e-books, via a central site compatible with multiple e-book formats, including Kindle.

Rowling built Pottermore herself, and 99.9% of authors don't have the resources to do that. But publishers should give these tools to authors, so they can sell e-books directly to their readers.

The e-book landscape right now is built around central vendors, and there will still be appeal in that idea. But there's no reason publishers can't turn their authors into a dispersed e-bookselling juggernaut.

Art: Still Life With Books, Attributed to Jacques Bizet

Monday, May 6, 2013

Has HBO's "Game of Thrones" Surpassed the Books?

In a battle fitting for Westeros, I've started wondering if the HBO series "Game of Thrones" has managed to surpass George R.R. Martin's books.

The list of movies and TV shows that have managed to be better than the books they're based on is pretty small. The Godfather, basically, and a few others.

It's simply extremely difficult for filmmakers to match the depth and scope of novels, and seeing characters and events on the screen almost always fails to match our imagination.

I approached the series thusly: I read Game of Thrones before I watched the series. Then I watched Season 1, and marveled at how faithful it was to the book. I plowed forward with Season 2, which was terrific, without reading Clash of Kings. I'm now simultaneously watching Season 3 and reading Clash of Kings.

I have to say, right now I'm preferring Season 3 to Clash of Kings. Yes, that could partly be because I already know roughly what's going to happen in the book, but I think it's a testament to how judicious show creators David Benioff (a terrific author himself) and D.B. Weiss are at keeping the best of the series, discarding the excess threads, and even improving certain key characters.

Neither series is finished, and it will be interesting to see how (or whether) George R.R. Martin wraps up his series and whether the HBO show will eventually beat him to it.

But right now my vote is for the show.

What do you think? Poll below:

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