Nathan Bransford, Author

Friday, June 28, 2013

The Last Few in Books 6/28/13

Soho at sunset. Photo by me. I'm on Instagram here!
Whew! Lots of things have happened in the past few weeks. Let's get to it.

Holy wow, Tim Burton is going to direct Ransom Rigg's Miss Peregrines Home for Peculiar Children. Congrats, Ransom!!

Very sad news as bestselling author Vince Flynn passed away after a long battle with cancer. He was 47, and one of the most successful authors who started out as a self-publisher.

Um, so Ernest Hemingway. Failed KGB spy? (via Ben Dreyfuss)

Do self-published authors need ISBNs, those random string of numbers that identify books? You might want to check with Bowker, who is the agency that assigns them. (via GalleyCat)

Ever wonder what the first outlines of great works of literature look like? Me too. Thank you, Flavorwire. (via Crystal)

Congrats to Rysa Walker, who won the Amazon Breakthrough Novel award!

Do authors deserve higher e-book royalty rates? Agent Brian DiFiore argues a very passionate yes, based on numbers from publishers. I would tend to agree.

The BBC posted a fascinating article about an analysis of a short story competition for children that generated 90,000 entries, looking at which words the children used most and what it reveals. The results are a must-read for children's book authors especially. (via Egya)

The LA Times profiled a new book-oriented social network that hopes to compete with Goodreads called Booklikes.

Publisher Melville House argues that there are zero defensible reasons for authors to link to Amazon. Welp. Here's one: Some people like to read books they bought at Amazon? Who are authors to dictate how people should buy their books?

Lots of people were shocked by the "Red Wedding" episode of Game of Thrones.  Including, The Onion would have it, George R.R. Martin: "Oh s*** I totally forgot that happens!"

On a more serious note, io9 looked at 10 sources George R.R. Martin drew upon for GOT.

And finally, you may have seen astronaut Chris Hadfield's totally incredible cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity," which Hadfield shot in space. Which raises the question: Um, how does copyright work in space, anyway? The answer is surprisingly interesting. And here's the video, in case you missed it:

Have a great weekend!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Race, Children's Books and Jacob Wonderbar

There has been some justified talk about the state of race in children's books lately. Most recently, First Book issued the infographic above about a recent survey that illustrated how few characters are non-white in children's books. Lee and Low asked why the number of multicultural books haven't increased in the past eighteen years.

If the numbers are accurate, it's a wakeup call for authors everywhere.

And that's not because of quotas or any particular agenda. It's because children's books are not reflecting the lives of children in America today.

The census bureau recently announced that for the first time, non-whites and mixed race children accounted for a majority of births in America. We Americans are living in an increasingly diverse country, and while story is ultimately more important than strict fidelity to the world we live in, it's nevertheless disquieting for fiction to diverge from reality that starkly.

In my own experience, my main character is mixed race. Jacob Wonderbar has an African American mother and a white father who, for the record, may also be from outer space.

Though interestingly, I've very very rarely seen reference to Jacob's race in reviews and have never seen it included on a list of books with minority or mixed race characters. A few reviewers have noted it, but not many. Partly, no doubt, this is because of how I handled Jacob's race in the novels, which is briefly mentioned in an oblique way and doesn't occupy much of the narrative at all.

This was a conscious choice. Jacob spends the vast majority of his time with his friends, who don't dwell on it at all, and with space humans, who are far more concerned with the fact that he is an "Earther."

These books aren't "about" Jacob's mixed-raceness. It's just a part of him, and one that his friends have accepted so wholly as a basic, nonthreatening reality that they don't find it necessary to talk about it.

I'm hoping we're moving toward that world. And while I'd never tell another author how to write their novel, I hope we all as children's book authors strive to create our novels in a way that today's children will find relevant, meaningful and reflective of the world they live in.

Are you troubled by these statistics?

Monday, June 24, 2013

Are You Reading More or Less Than You Used To?

Maybe it's because we're all living a hectic urban life, but I cannot count the number of friends who have sheepishly admitted that they haven't read a book in a long time.

They're reading more magazine articles or spending more time on Twitter or they're addicted to Dots.

We are now walking around with mini-distractors in our pockets, things that are beeping at us and alerting us and giving us endless opportunities to check our e-mail repeatedly like a nervous tic.

Personally I'm reading more books for pleasure than I ever have, mostly thanks to that little distractor. I can whip out my phone and read anywhere I have a spare second, and then retreat to an iPad when I'm at home.

Are you reading more or less than you used to? Are your reading habits changing in the smartphone era?

Poll below.

Art: A Study for "Paradise Lost" by Mihály Munkácsy

Thursday, June 20, 2013

When It Feels Like There's Nothing Left to Be Written

There's a fantastic moment in the movie The Truman Show where young Truman tells his teacher that he wants to be an explorer like the great Magellan. His teacher pulls down a map and says cheerfully, "Oh, you're too late! There's nothing left to explore!"

It can sometimes feel this way when writing too. There are hundreds of thousands of books out there. Every genre feels well-worn. We have the voices of hundreds of writers swimming around our heads.

How can we stand out from the pack? How are we going to get someone to read our book instead of all the others ones? What's going to make ours different and better?

Writers are often their own worst enemies in this regard. The type of person who will eventually write a successful novel is adept at spotting their own flaws, and mistakes are plentiful at the beginning of the novel-writing process.

What often stops would-be writers in their tracks is that their first efforts aren't very good. And they know it. The voice sounds like another author's voice, the plot feels like an imitation of a book they've already read, and it doesn't start out feeling particularly original.

As with every writing problem, there is only one remedy: Keep writing. Keep pushing on. It feels like there's nothing new out there, but as Truman himself finds out at the end of The Truman Show, that's not remotely true.

You can write your way to originality, you can write your way to a voice, and you can write your way to a unique plot. It may not start out that way, but if you keep pushing through and keep trying you'll end up in a place you never knew existed.

Don't give up. There are still plenty of worlds to be discovered.

Art: Kunst- und Raritätenkabinett by Hans Jordaens III

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Publication Alert: Hour of the Rat!

One of my former clients has a fantastic new book out today! Hour of the Rat is the sequel to Lisa Brackmann's stellar debut Rock Paper Tiger (here's the query letter Lisa sent me for Rock Paper Tiger), and her newest after Getaway, published last year.

After surviving the harrowing events in RPT, Iraq war veteran and newly minted art dealer Ellie McEnroe goes looking for one of her soldier friend's brother in the Chinese countryside, where she is sucked into a conspiracy involving eco-terrorists, a biotech company and a reclusive billionaire.

This is truly top-notch literary suspense with an international flair, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Check it out!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Do You Like Amazon?

Amazon's fraught relationship with the traditional publishing industry was on full display this past week  as publishing CEOs took the stand during the DOJ/Apple e-book trial. (See this post for background on the trial).

Carolyn Reidy, CEO of Simon & Schuster (disclosure: I work at CNET, which is owned by CBS, which also owns S&S. Opinions here are my own) and David Shanks, CEO of Penguin (disclosure: my publisher. I am a walking conflict of interest!!) essentially accused Amazon of being a bully during their testimony, even as, it must be said, Amazon eventually caved to their terms.

Many publishers and agents make no secret  in public and private about their fear of Amazon and what they view as its monopolistic status (see agent Andrew Zack's recent post as an example).

I have never really shared this fear, either when I was an agent or now as an author. I've long felt that the industry's fear of Amazon is knee-jerk and distorts its perspective, leading to bad decisions (such as, well, alleged collusion).

What's your view of Amazon? Is it a rapacious hyper-capitalistic company that will destroy us all or an impressive innovator on the side of consumers? Is it a positive challenger or a destroyer of ecosystems?

What do you think?

Monday, June 10, 2013

When it Feels Like You're Never Doing Enough

I very rarely go to bed feeling like I've done enough in a day. I feel guilty after a weekend where I didn't get enough done. It frustrates me how long it takes to write a novel. (Or, ahem, a guide to writing a novel. Almost done, swear!).

It never feels like there are enough hours in the day, or days in the weeks, or weeks in the months, or months in the year. Time slips away, and with it a chance to accomplish something or edge closer to your dream.

Social media only adds to the pressure. People are completing novels and making New York Times bestseller lists and curing cancer while juggling on a unicycle and it all looks so effortless and who needs sleep anyway??

And yet, I know that following this impulse to its extreme is a path to ruin. I have had stretches where I gave in to the temptation to try to do too much, and it messed me up. I got burned out, I neglected friendships, and experienced diminishing returns.

And that's because when you try to do too much, you risk your enjoyment what you're doing. Burn yourself out trying to write your novel and you may never finish.

Balance is elusive. There's always more you can be doing.

But you need time with friends. You need rest. You need to have fun.

I embrace this feeling when I need to get something done, but also try not to feel guilty when I sleep my way through a lazy weekend.

I just try not to have too many of those.

Do you experience this feeling? How do you deal with it?

Art: Flight and Pursuit by William Rimmer

Thursday, June 6, 2013

How to Know You're a Writer (In GIF Form)

Any time you're not writing your novel you're still thinking about your novel:

When people ask you for your thoughts on their writing you give them wayyyyyyyyy too much honest feedback:

Seeing typos make you crazy:

You have so many ideas for novels you don't know where to put them all:

While your friends are out doing this:

And this:

And this:

Instead you're inside doing this:

You wake up in the middle of the night with incredible ideas...

But then you can never remember them in the morning.

When you tell people you're a writer they do this:

And then when they ask about what you write, first you do this:

But then when they get you talking about it you're like this:

When you have writer's block you want to do this:

But instead you do this:

When you get a rejection letter from an agent you do this:

But when you get a partial request you do this:

When you see a book you didn't like on the bestseller list you go:

And when you see a book you hated on the bestseller list you go:

But when something good happens for a writer you love you go:

When someone doubts whether you're going to be a successful writer you go:

But on the inside you're kind of like:

When you meet a fellow writer you're like:

And when you meet a famous writer you're like:

You get distracted during important conversations because you want to steal something someone said for your novel:

You have strong opinions about Twilight... one way or the other:

And the only thing you love as much as writing is reading.

You know this site...

And this one...

And this one...

And this one...

And someday you'll see your name on this one.

You know that writing is hard...

And it's frustrating sometimes...

Did we mention it's hard?

But you do it because it's the best.

And sure, maybe we're all a little crazy...

But let's face it. Writers are awesome.

See also: The Publishing Process in GIF Form

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

When Classics Leave You Cold

I saw Baz Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby last weekend and... not my favorite movie.

Partly I think the problem is that I love the book so extremely much. I've posted previously about how much the book moved me when I re-read it as an adult, and I don't know if it's quite possible for a movie to capture the subtleties of the book (though for the record, I'm not sure Luhrmann really tried to do that).

As the movie release approached and passed though, I had lots of conversations with friends and acquaintances who confessed they really, really don't like F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. The book, not the movie.

This is closely related to a question reader Drew Turney asked me:
How do you manage your relationship to a book that's an accepted classic which everybody seems to love but which did nothing for you?
There are many classics of varying level of sacredness I really didn't like: The Scarlet Letter, Little House on the Prairie, A Wrinkle in Time... 

And of course there are plenty of of people who don't like some of my favorites: Moby-Dick, The Great Gatsby, The Sound and the Fury...

How do you manage your feelings and react in polite company when there's a classic that everyone loves that you just don't? Why does it stir your emotions and get you a little crazy when a book is canonized and you can't stand it?

(And admit it. You judge people a little when they love a book you hate...)

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