Nathan Bransford, Author

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Writing in the Internet era: A conversation with Sarah McCarry (aka The Rejectionist)

The Internet can be a challenge for writers. We have to avoid its distractions while writing, only to be besieged with expectations that we will utilize it to promote our books. Writers are thrust into a semi-public life when we publish and have to contend with people saying all sorts of things about us and our books, which can be thrilling on the one hand and unnerving on the other.

How should writers navigate this world? I talked with Sarah McCarry, author of the brilliant novel All Our Pretty Songs, and blogging star at The Rejectionist.

Nathan: There are so many pressures on authors these days to be on the Internet, do all The Social Media, to promote your own books because you can't necessarily count on your publisher, and oh by the way you have to write the books too, which is made all the more more difficult by all the distractions. Do you think writers are better off with social media and the Internet or are we all tweeting while Rome burns?

Sarah: Ha! You think because I am a Pessimist you can provoke me into a Franzenesque condemnation of the kids today and their platforms, but there you are mistaken, sirrah. I like to approach social media as a kind of mutual aid arrangement; I love promoting other people's work and building connections with other writers and like-minded humans. But it's definitely challenging to put on one's little marketing hat and suddenly be all like ACTUALLY CAN EVERYONE PLEASE BUY MY BOOK, ALSO. I'm not very good at it, to tell you the truth. And I am somewhat suspicious of most of the more conventional social promotion activities that many publishers push, like blog tours and book trailers and goodreads giveaways and what have you--I mean, if you enjoy that stuff, absolutely do it, but I would be pretty surprised if many of those tactics had any real impact on book sales. I find my own energy is more usefully spent elsewhere.

Nathan: What I find interesting about your Internet presence is that you are someone who embraced social media very early and I originally met you because we were blog friends, and yet I know you to be very ambivalent at best about e-books, cell phones that do things other than tell time, and the multinational corporations that are speeding those things along. How do you differentiate between the types of technology to embrace and those to be wary of?

Sarah: Nathan, I am large and contain multitudes. (I do want to be clear that I am disinterested in ebooks and having the internet on my telephone for myself personally, but obviously those things are fine for other people and I do not in any way regard them as the harbingers of our pending doom--the same cannot be said for multinational corporations, which are never, ever, on the side of human beings.) I like social media that allows me to build what feel like genuine networks with other people, which is a very hippie thing to say but I have made a lot of real-life and very meaningful friendships and professional connections online--mostly through blogging, and to a lesser extent through twitter. It is always complicated, though, being a semi-public person on the internet, which I know you have struggled with as well. I don't really distinguish between my online personality and my real-world personality, unlike other writers whose online persona might be more traditionally "professional" and less prone to cussing, but I have found that people don't always realize that even though I write about my personal experience in a very public forum I am also very, very selective about what I choose to make public. What do you think about the boundaries between "personal" selves and "professional" selves online?

Nathan: To me that boundary (or lack thereof) between "personal" and "professional" personality online is a seriously tricky one. If you try to create a separate professional personality online that is different from your actual personality you come across as totally fake, and yet very few people I know are comfortable baring their entire lives and their deepest darkest thoughts. It can be very uncomfortable to really put yourself out there and navigate this tension authentically. I don't know that anyone who follows me online would be surprised by my real-life personality, but still, what I show online is inevitably a slice. And yet circumstances can force you into revealing more about yourself than you might otherwise. Even with as little as I had revealed about my personal life online, I still eventually felt compelled to discuss my divorce publicly. Do you worry about the steady erosion of a "private" life?

Sarah: I'm definitely someone who avoids mentioning specific details of my personal life as much as possible--it seems like many other writers find a different way to negotiate that balance, and are more open online, and I think that can work well for folks who are comfortable with it. Honestly, I think it can be really beneficial to build a more personal relationship with readers, but there are lots of ways to go about it. I'm not at all quiet about my politics, and I do sometimes wonder what will happen if all my freelance clients realize suddenly that their web copy is being penned by a raving socialist, but so far, no one has seemed to mind. To me it's such an individual decision--how much to share, what aspects of your life, and with whom--and there's no one right way that will work for everyone. I prioritize offline time as much as I am able, because I'm someone who has a difficult time getting any real work done if I'm online at all or even thinking about the internet. But it's still really weird to know that there is a significant catalog of my various opinions and foibles over the last five years on the permanent record, for sure. And I do not ever, ever, ever, ever, ever google myself; I don't read blog reviews of my book, I do my best not to look at anything else about it online. I'm grateful and delighted that people care enough about the book to engage with it publicly but that's not a conversation in which I feel comfortable participating.

Nathan: I actually wonder about the effect of the Internet on the reading side too. I now find that I'm less patient when I'm reading long-form articles. I skim an issue of the New Yorker where before I might have read it cover-to-cover. I justify this to myself by saying I'm just more selective about what I spend time on because there's so much incredible stuff out there to read, but I wonder if this is really true. I still carve out time to read difficult books, but not all of my friends are reading books at all. Do you find your attention span shortening in the Twitter era? What are we doing to our ability to read books?

Sarah: No! My dream is a shelf full of thousand-page books that are also gorgeous (I just read Donna Tartt's 800-page The Goldfinch, and loved it so much I am reading it again, because I'm a weirdo). I'll read long-form stuff, essays, you name it. I don't have any friends who don't read, though I've also made 90% of my friends in New York through writing about books. I'm pretty happy to live in a self-selected bubble of people who care very much about the same things I care about. Life is short. I tend to step away from Twitter rather than step away from reading or writing.

Nathan: What would your advice be to someone who feels like they are too busy or too distracted or can't find the peace and quiet to write a novel?

Sarah: The best advice I can think of is advice you gave me--that the one thing everyone who finishes a book has in common is that they got it done. The circumstances of people's lives are so different--I don't think it's useful to say "you must write for at least fifteen minutes every day" or "you must achieve a certain word count weekly" (well, unless you are on a deadline, in which case, COURAGE). Some people write a book in a year and some people take a decade, or their whole lives; some people write every day and some people don't write at all for months. There's no one right way to do it. I think the key is finding the story you want to tell, which no one else can do for you, and finding the best way to work with your own brain, which takes a lot of trial and error. And at some point, alas, you do actually have to sit down and write the book. I still get cranky about that part sometimes.

Buy Sarah's book All Our Pretty Songs!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Will You Ever Buy Mostly E-books? The Results!

Could it be that 25% of you really just won't buy mostly e-books ever?

With the caveat that these results are unscientific and the audience has varied from year to year, this marks the third consecutive time 25% of the poll responders said you can pry paper books out of their cold dead hands:

2007: 49%
2008: 45%
2009: 37%
2010: 30%
2011: 25%
2012: 25%
2013: 25%

On the other hand, some fence sitters have moved into the e-book column. The people who welcome their coming e-book overlords:

2007: 7% (!)
2008: 11%
2009: 19%
2010: 32%
2011: 47%
2012: 47%
2013: 49%

These numbers do seem to mirror overall trends. The AAP reports declining e-book sales this year, though as Mike Shatzkin notes these numbers do not take into account many of the e-books that are for sale on Amazon, which aren't reported publicly. Not many people are disputing that the rate of e-book growth is slowing, even as the share of e-book sales continues to rise.

What do you make of these results?

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Print edition of How to Write a Novel now on sale!

Who says print is dead?

I'm very excited to announce that How to Write a Novel: 47 Rules for Writing a Stupendously Awesome Novel That You Will Love Forever is now available in paperback!

It's on sale for just $11.99 at:


The e-book is on sale for $4.99 at:

Amazon Kindle
Apple iBooks
B&N Nook

Also, How to Write a Novel is enrolled in Amazon's Kindle Matchbook program, so if you buy the print edition you can get the Kindle e-book for $1.99.

Even as exciting as it was to have this out in e-book, there was still that special something about getting the print version in the mail.

Hope you enjoy it!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Will you ever buy mostly e-books?

It's that time of year!

It's time for the seventh (!!!) annual poll on our e-book future, which I first started in 2007 when the first Kindle had barely launched and when 2013 seemed so far into the distant future it may as well been the setting for a science fiction movie.

Now, yes, caveat, this is a totally unscientific poll as were all the rest. I know it, you know it, we all know it. Entertainment purposes only.

Here are the past versions of the polls:

2008 (technically beginning of '09)

So. Do you think you'll ever buy mostly e-books? Do you already?

Here is the poll. If you're reading this in a feed reader or via e-mail you'll need to click through to the post to see it:

Monday, November 18, 2013

Sound effects for books?

Now that e-books are here, many people are reading on tablets that are fully capable of producing sound. And at least one company out there provides the ability to create soundtracks and sound effects for books that sync with the written text.

I'm sure the purists out there are preemptively plugging their ears, but I think it's actually a pretty interesting idea. After all, William Faulkner wanted to write The Sound and the Fury with different colors of text (a cost-prohibitive idea at the time), who's to say that other writers of yore wouldn't have found some interesting ways to make sound effect come alive? And, of course, audio books have already existed for some time.

What say you? Interesting idea or does it stop being a book?

Art: "The Edison Phonograph" promotional postcard

Monday, November 11, 2013

Favorite Writing Tips

Thanks so much to everyone who entered the #FaveWritingTip contest! We had several hundred excellent entries, and I collected some of the best responses below.

The! Winner! Is! Lela Gwenn, who had the good fortune of having shine upon her and she also happened to have some solid advice with her tweet:

Here are some of my favorite #FaveWritingTip tweets:

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Enter for a chance to win a Kindle! The #FaveWritingTip sweeps spectacular

UDPATE: The contest has closed! Thanks to everyone who entered. Stay tuned for the winner.

Want to win a brand spanking new Kindle Paperwhite and learn some great writing tips in the meantime?

Of course you do. Heck, I do, and I'm running this thing.

In honor of the publication of How to Write a Novel: 47 Rules for Writing a Stupendously Awesome Novel That You Will Love Forever, which is on sale for just $4.99 at: Amazon Kindle, Apple iBooksB&N NookKobo, and Smashwords, I thought I'd do a giveaway that also compiles some great writing advice in one place. Please check out the guide while you're here, which New York Times bestseller James Dashner called "a must-read for anyone brave enough to try their hand at a novel.”

So here's what you do to enter:

1) Think of your favorite writing tip

2) Tweet and/or Facebook-post your favorite writing tip with the hashtag #FaveWritingTip and a link back to this post: If you post to Facebook it must be posted publicly in order to be entered. Feel free to use the handy-dandy button and link below:

Share on Facebook

3) If you tweet an entry, you must follow me on Twitter so I can DM you if you win:

4) If you're on Facebook, please follow me so that you'll see if I message you:

That's it! Here are the rules:
  • You can post to both Facebook and Twitter in order to increase your chances of winning, but only your first entry on both sites will be considered an eligible entry. 
  • You must include both the hashtag and a link back to this post in order to be eligible.
  • The sweepstakes closes Friday at 7pm Eastern time.
  • I'll randomly select a potential winner and notify that individual by Direct Message or Facebook message.
  • You must be a resident of the United States, age 18 or older in order to enter (Sorry international readers! Sweepstakes rules!)
  • Please take a look at the full sweeps rules here
Want to see all the great writing tips? Keep an eye on the tweet box below. I'll also compile my favorites into a separate blog post that will let everyone see your writing wisdom.

Good luck!

Friday, November 1, 2013

How to get started writing a novel

With National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) starting today (!!), here's an excerpt from How to Write a Novel: 47 Rules for Writing a Stupendously Awesome Novel That You Will Love Forever, on sale now!

Rule #12: You have to start somewhere

So, uh, how do you get started writing a novel?

Start writing!

Kidding. Kind of.

One mistake that often deters people from writing the novel they most fervently desire to write is that they’re intimidated by how large the task can loom. They freeze up at the mere thought of writing and discover how much fun housework is in comparison to sitting down and confronting the hugeness of writing a novel. Or they stall, attempting to think through every single aspect of the book before actually putting fingers to keys.

There’s a reason for this: writing a novel is hard. It’s easy to get intimidated, but the real trick is to avoid thinking you need to have everything figured out before you start writing.

J.K. Rowling and J.R.R. Tolkien and H.G. Wells and J.D. Salinger and George R.R. Martin and every other initialed or non-initialed writer out there did not wake up one day having magically conceived of every spade of grass, every glass of butterbeer, every creature in Middle Earth, and every stone at Hogwarts.

You don’t have to have everything figured out before you begin. Don’t feel like you have to know precisely how the whole novel is going to work before you get started. There’s plenty of time for details later.

When you’re just starting to write a novel, there are only two things you’re looking to find: voice and plot.

That’s it! Two things. You can totally wrap your head around two things.

And all the world building, all the ins and outs, and all the “how in the heck am I going to make this work?” You can worry about that as you go along. Voice and plot are what you’re looking for when you start the actual writing.

How do you find your voice and your plot?

Well, if you are a planner, you can craft an outline that can help you figure out your plot in advance. I lean toward the planning side of the spectrum, and while I don’t know everything that is going to happen, I have some major points I want to hit on the way. If you’re an improviser, you can write your way to your plot, and you won’t need to know exactly what is going to happen right off the bat. Just get going.

Planning and improvising are the two basic ways to find your plot, but there’s only one way to find your voice: start writing, and keep writing until you find it.

When you’re looking for your voice, don’t worry about polish. Don’t fret if the first chapter comes out horribly. Don’t worry if it feels like you’re imitating another writer’s voice at first. You’re going to revise these first pages so much that they’ll be completely unrecognizable by the time you’re done with your novel anyway, so don’t get bogged down trying to perfect them.

Just get words on the page. Keep going. Your voice may come to you instantly, it may take fifty pages, or it may take several years. Just keep at it. Push through. Stretch yourself and try different things.

Write your way to your voice.

At some indeterminate point, when you have been at it for a while, you’ll hit a magical flow and realize you have found your voice. All of a sudden you’ll have it, and it will just feel right. It will feel like it’s coming from you and not from the novels you’ve read in the past.

Once you find your voice and plot, you can always go back and revise what you’ve written to make sure everything is consistent, organized, and harmonious. You’ll have plenty of time to trim and refine the parts where you were hunting for plot and voice in the mystical land of “I Have No Idea What I’m Doing.”

Start writing. It’s time. You’re ready. You have nothing to lose and a whole new world waiting for you.

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