Nathan Bransford, Author

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

How to choose an e-book cover

One of the very best parts of the self-publishing process is that you get to choose your own cover. Revolutionary, I know!

In the traditional publishing process authors almost never have approval over their cover, and it's even somewhat rare to have meaningful consultation. For some authors it can feel like "consultation" is limited to telling the editor how much you love your cover. I was fortunate enough to really love my covers for the Jacob Wonderbar series, but just about every other author I know has gone through cover hell with a publisher.

Here's how I went about choosing my cover:

1. Choosing a designer

This one was pretty easy - over drinks my friend Mari Sheibley mentioned she was working on a cover for a university press, and I asked her if she'd do mine. She is a fabulously talented graphic designer, the brains behind early Foursquare badges and other influential Internet design.

She said yes, and a few weeks later I had concepts.

2. It had to look good as a thumbnail

This is kind of a no-brainer in this day and age. I knew I wanted my title and my name to be readable even if the cover was just a thumbnail so it would pop as people are browsing on Amazon and B&N.

I also knew for branding purposes and general favorite color reasons I wanted to go with an orange color palette. Those were my only two requirements. I left the rest up to Mari.

3. Envisioning how it would look in an e-bookstore

Mari naturally came up with several different awesome cover concepts, which made it really difficult to choose. I polled my friends and there were two main contenders, but people were pretty evenly split on which one they preferred. I kept waffling back and forth.

But then my friend Sharon Vaknin sent me an e-mail that blew my mind. It included these two attachments:

See what she did there? By simply pasting the cover concepts in competitive search results it was totally apparent which one popped more. I went with the one that featured more orange.

Do. This. If you're deciding between two or more covers make sure you know how it will look among other similar books on Amazon and and Goodreads and everywhere else books appear online. It's wonderfully clarifying.

And there you have it! Fellow self-publishers, how did you go about choosing your cover? Any tricks of the trade?

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Private Publishing Consultations

NB: My friend and colleague Christine Pride, who I’ve mentioned here before, is now offering private one-on-one consultations for writers! Christine has worked for Random House and Hyperion and edited eight NY Times bestselling books, so she knows her stuff. And I'm speaking from personal experience, I hired her to edit my guide to writing a novel. 

Grab a session to get some personalized advice. Here’s Christine's note:

Do you have an idea for a book or a stumbling block in your plot that you’d like to get an editor’s take on? Would you like some topline feedback about your query letter? Do you have questions about how to get an agent or next steps for your project?

I’m offering a limited number of one hour Skype or phone sessions from February 10th to February 15th. This is your chance to have one-on-one time with an industry veteran to get individualized advice, information and answers.

You can sign up by emailing me at Consultations costs $200, paid via Paypal. I am happy to read material in advance of our conversation (for example, a query letter or sample from your work, up to 25 pages), for an additional $25.

Please sign up by Friday February 7th.

I’m really looking forward to talking to you about your ideas and your writing goals and offering helpful consultation!

Monday, January 27, 2014

Wait. A first person narrative isn't serious???

In the course of the discussion last Wednesday about choosing your novel's perspective, there were a few comments that completely blew my mind, in the sense of the Death Star exploding into a million pieces. Here they are (emphasis mine):
Lane Diamond: I started out my first book as a third-person tight POV (protagonist), because so many literary agents indicated they profoundly disliked first-person narratives (no doubt because they tend to devolved into a narcissistic string of I, I, I, I, I, I, I). 
Shawn: My first agent told me that First Person was the mark of an immature writer. She said that in this era, it has no place outside MG and some YA. She said it was solipsistic, in only the way a kid could be solipsistic. Oh, man, in graduate school they pounded it into our heads that third person was "the" way to go, that first-person was a weaker perspective, that it wasn't respected--that no one would take a first-person narrator seriously. Well! Excuse me, stuffy professors, but I feel that you were quite wrong. 


Deep breaths. Deep breaths.


Apparently there are literary agents and professors and all kinds of ostensibly rational people out there who think first person narratives are somehow unserious.

Yes, the perspective employed by F. Scott Fitzgerald in The Great Gatsby, by Herman Melville in Moby-Dick, by Vladimir Nabakov in Lolita by Philip Roth in Portnoy's Complaint (I COULD GO ON)... This perspective is unserious?

Oh, but those are older examples you say. Well, what about Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer, Nowhere Man by Aleksandar Hemon, The Secret History by Donna Tartt I COULD GO ON.

I'm sure there are some people out there who don't like first person. Fine! Don't read first person books. But to call it unserious is completely crazy.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

The myth of the creative person

One of the reasons I came to writing relatively late in life is because I never thought of myself as a creative person, an idea I explore in my guide to writing a novel.

Whenever artists and writers are portrayed in movies and on TV, they're always moody and flighty and bold and wacky and adventurous. Unbound by societal norms and twitchy with creativity that might spring forth at any moment.

I don't know many writers that fit this stereotype. To be sure, I know plenty of wacky writers, many of us can be social misfits at times and, and on the whole, sure, maybe writing types are a little more moody and flighty and in our own heads than the general population.

But you don't have to be this type of a person to write a novel.

One of the things that stop people from writing books is that they think they'll never think of enough ideas. And sure, it can feel daunting to imagine filling a book with nothing but whatever your brain can invent. But I truly believe the vast majority of people have sufficient creativity to write a novel if they only put their mind to it.

The thing people should really be worried about is whether they have the willpower to write a novel. That is the hard part. The setting aside of time, powering through when it stops being fun, and getting the whole thing written and edited.

That's the true common factor that binds writers. They work ridiculously hard.

Edison said success is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration. Sounds about right.

Have you seen this idea of the "creative" person? Do you think of yourself that way?

Art: Lord Byron by Unknown

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

How did you choose your novel's perspective?

I'm really stretching myself with the new novel I'm working on - I'm telling it from a girl's perspective in the first person.

Why? Well, it makes narrative sense. I want this world to feel believable and felt like telling it in first person would help with the authenticity. Most importantly, and when I started it that way it felt like the right approach.

There are so many different ways to tell a novel. How did you arrive at your perspective?

Art: Guitar on a Table by Juan Gris

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Writing and Depression

What's the link between writing and depression?

My good friend Sarah McCarry, aka The Rejectionist, is kicking off a seriously important series of posts on writing and mental illness. As she puts it, "There's the myth, right, of the Tortured Artist, and then there's the reality, which is most often exhausting and difficult and not at all glamorous." She has kicked off the first entry with an interview with Mairead Case.

Subscribe to her blog, follow her on Twitter, and reach out to her if you're interested in contributing.

Art: Portrait of Dr. Gachet by Vincent van Gogh

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

5 Ways to Make Money Writing Today

Nathan here! I invited my friend and star blogger Amber Adrian to stop by for a guest post on making money freelance writing. Enjoy!

Getting a book published is a long-running game, one that may or may not be lucrative. But while you chip away at your dreams of Pulitzer Prize glory, freelance writing is a way to keep your skills sharp, hone your querying confidence, and bring in money now.

If you’re here, you’re probably an author. You’ve probably sent out dozens - if not hundreds - of queries. You’ve probably had your artist’s heart trampled by rejection after rejection. Congratulations. You are officially miles ahead of the average aspiring freelance writer. You already know how to write a query. You know how to roll with denials and the chilly black hole of no response. All for projects that meant a great deal more to you than your average magazine story ever could. If you want to start making money with those hard-earned skills, you’re better prepared than most to dive straight into the fray and emerge victorious.

5 Ways To Make Money Writing Today 
(Okay, fine. It might take until next week.) 

1. Aim for your dream byline. You know how to write a captivating sentence. You know how to phrase a compelling query. No reason you shouldn’t start at the top. What’s your favorite publication? Where would you love to see your byline? Query your dream publication first. If the top doesn’t bite, you can move on down the ladder. Maybe you won’t land a Rolling Stone feature your first time out, but there will be a publication that wants your thoughtful, timely story.

2. Join Mediabistro. An Avant-Guild membership buys you access to their How To Pitch guides, well-researched and regularly updated guides to most major magazines and web publications, as well as many of the less well known. You’ll get information on what sections you can pitch and the exact person (with email address) who will read your query.

3. Find your people. Get yourself in the room with assigning editors and other writers. There are tons of these types of conferences - especially if you’re in a big city or near one. Hit Twitter. Find the editors at publications you want to pitch. Start interacting with them in a genuine, respectful way - and your name will be recognized when your query lands in their inbox.

4. Go for the less obvious. Every business on this planet needs words. Bread and butter work for many freelance writers include copywriting gigs for corporations - composing their newsletters, website copy, or social media. You can also target publications that don’t find their way to the newsstands - in-flight magazines, custom publications for gyms or Triple A. The options are limitless, and many of these options pay as well as the big magazines and are much easier to break into.  

5. Keep writing your books. We all know how easy it is to allow the urgent to consume the important. But keep plowing away on your bigger projects. Keep your eye on the real reason you became a writer. I often find that when I’m consumed by worry about a specific story, a source, a deadline, or where the money is coming from, all I need to do is spend a few hours with my writing and things begin to fall into place.

Amber Adrian is a long-time freelance writer. For more guidance on how to make a living with your words, check out The Unconventional Guide to Freelance Writing.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

How Do You Get Going on a New Project?

I'm in the process of starting a new project, which is very exciting. Only I realized the other day that it's the first time in five years since I'm starting something new. And I'm a little psyched out.

I started writing the Jacob Wonderbar series in 2008. Ever since then I've written three Jacob Wonderbar novels and the guide to writing a novel, but for all of those subsequent projects I already had a voice established. For the Wonderbar sequels I already had the world and characters, and for the guide I already had established my "voice" from my blog.

Now I'm confronting the blinking cursor and that feeling of not knowing exactly where to start. This is something I talked about in the guide to writing a novel, but I think I need some extra words of wisdom.

How do you get started on a project? Where do you begin and how do you overcome your inertia?

Art: The wanderer above the sea of fog by Caspar David Friedrich

Monday, January 6, 2014

What Beyonce's New Album Says About Marketing

Unless you live under the Rock of Gibraltar you probably heard that Beyoncé released a new album.

Instead of the usual massive fanfare, with advertising, talk shows, billboards, sandwich boards, carrier pigeons, mimes, and cereal box prizes, Beyoncé's new eponymous album just appeared on iTunes. Her entire advertising campaign for the launch of the album consisted of this Instagram.

Despite retailers such as Target and Amazon throwing a fit because of the iTunes early exclusivity, Beyoncé (the album) has sold 1.3 million copies, making it one of the bestselling albums of 2013 even though it was released on December 12th.

Now, obviously this strategy worked because Beyoncé is Beyoncé. She's already at the top of her game, she has millions of followers, and the unorthodox nature of her release generated a ton of publicity on its own.

Still, there are implications for the traditional book world. It's hard to overstate the amount of money that is spent publicizing books by already-bestselling authors. There are authors who are going to be bestsellers even if they released a copy of the phone book, and yet publishers routinely spend a huge amount of marketing dollars advertising them.

Would that money be better spent on trying to bump lower- or middle-level authors up a rung on the ladder? Should publishers be investing in potential breakouts instead of the sure successes?

You tell me. It's not a simple matter, as the big name authors often pick the publisher that will deliver the biggest marketing, fueling this cycle. But here's hoping some publishers make like Beyoncé and save their marketing money for the authors who need it most.

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