Nathan Bransford, Author


Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Page Critique Tuesday: Dial down kids' excitablity


If you would like to nominate your page for a future Page Critique, please enter it in this thread in the Forums!

Also, if you'd like to test your editing chops, keep your eye on this area! I'll post the pages and queries a few days before a critique so you can see how your redline compares to mine.

Now then. Time for the Page Critique. First I'll present the page without comment, then I'll offer my thoughts and a redline. If you choose to offer your own thoughts on the page, please be polite. We aim to be positive and helpful.

Random numbers were generated, and thanks to julieorris, whose page is below:
Title: Etta & Otto
Genre: Middle grade, Adventure 
First 250 words: 
Looking at the pile of suitcases lying around her, Etta couldn’t believe she was really doing this. 
Granted, her choices were limited…this was her only option. She was excited about spending time with her aunt but nervous about what she would do for a WHOLE SUMMER in Three Trees. She had always enjoyed listening to her dad’s tales about growing up there, but she had visited a few times and knew that her dad was exaggerating…a lot. 
She had spent the last three weeks of 6th grade daydreaming about carefree, summer days at Aunt Etta’s house, but now she was dreading being left there for three whole months! Her parents would be spending the summer in France studying l’art de culinaire (in other words: cooking fancy foods that no one wants to eat) and she would spend the summer watching cows chew grass. And if she was really lucky, she would then watch the grass grow back. 
“Stop procrastinating Etta,” her mom yelled from the driveway. “We have everything you need!” 
“Yeah,” said her dad, “including an entire suitcase of shoes that have no place in the country.” 
“FINE! I’m ready to be dropped off and forgotten,” huffed Etta. “And just because your only friends were farm animals, doesn’t mean a girl like me won’t have a reason to dress nice.” She knew she wasn’t being fair to her parents. But she still felt a little like Orphan Annie. 
Five hours later, they entered Three Trees. The sign next to
From an adult's perspective, children seem rather excitable. They are emotional, they are prone to outbursts, they live in extremes, they huff and puff a lot, and the way they choose to act in any given moment is slightly incomprehensible.

From a child's perspective, they are 100%, totally, completely rational human beings. It's adults who are arbitrary and unfair, not adhering to their promises, making exceptions to "rules" whenever they please, and, fundamentally, constantly failing to understand and appreciate how 100% totally rational their children are thank you very much.

In order to write a children's book from a child's perspective, it's super necessary to get back in touch with the child's perspective. Ditch the excitability, think of them like miniature adults who can be somewhat angst-ridden but still have a sense of wonder, and show their emotions through clear observations from their perspective, rather than trying to authentically capture the way their exhortations sound to an adult ear.

In this case, while I think there are some good ingredients in this page (in particular, I love the line "I'm ready to be dropped off and forgotten"), slowing down, letting Etta really observe her surroundings with more specificity, and dialing down the excitability would go a long way toward making this feel like a more authentic middle grade voice.

Here's my redline. I'm going to take a bit more of a heavier hand and invent some things in order to demonstrate what I mean:
Title: Etta & Otto
Genre: Middle grade, Adventure 
First 250 words: 
Looking at the pile of suitcases lying around her, Etta couldn’t believe she was really doing this. She was surrounded by suitcases, stuffed full of every article of clothing she owned, and some she had never even realized she possessed.
Granted, Her opportunities for escape were limited… this was her only option. She was excited about spending time with her Aunt Mabel, learning to bake bread and watching old TV shows past her bedtime, but nervous about what she would do for a WHOLE SUMMER how could she survive a whole summer in a dump like Three Trees? Sure, Dad loved to tell whoppers about the gigantic fish he caught in sparkling mountain streams he had always enjoyed listening to her dad’s tales about growing up there, but Etta had visited a few times and knew that her dad was exaggerating…a lot. the only fish anyone was catching were some sad goldfish at the county fair.
Etta had spent the last three weeks of 6th grade daydreaming about carefree, summer days at Aunt Etta’s house, but now she was dreading being left there for three whole months! H Meanwhile, her parents would be spending the summer in France studying l’art de culinaire (in other words: cooking fancy foods that no one wants to eat) while Ettta she would spent the summer watching cows chew grass. And if she was really lucky, she wouldn't die of boredom before she then watched the grass grow back. 
“Stop procrastinating Etta,” her mom yelled from the driveway. “We have everything you need!” 
“Yeah,” said her dad, “including an entire suitcase of shoes that have no place in the country.” 
Etta trudged downstairs, grabbing only her most prized suitcase of clothes, and plopped in the car.FINE! I’m ready to be dropped off and forgotten,” huffed Etta. she said “And just because your only friends were farm animals, doesn’t mean a girl like me won’t have a reason to dress nice.” She knew she wasn’t being fair to her parents. But she still felt a little like Orphan Annie. 
Five hours later, they entered Three Trees. The sign next to
Here's a clean version of the redline:
Title: Etta & Otto
Genre: Middle grade, Adventure 
First 250 words: 
Etta couldn’t believe she was really doing this. She was surrounded by suitcases, stuffed full of every article of clothing she owned, and some she had never even realized she possessed.
Her opportunities for escape were limited. She was excited about spending time with her Aunt Mabel, learning to bake bread and watching old TV shows past her bedtime, but how could she survive a whole summer in a dump like Three Trees? Sure, Dad loved to tell whoppers about the gigantic fish he caught in sparkling mountain streams growing up there, but Etta had visited a few times and knew that the only fish anyone was catching were some sad goldfish at the county fair.
Meanwhile, her parents would be spending the summer in France studying l’art de culinaire (in other words: cooking fancy foods that no one wants to eat) while Ettta spent the summer watching cows chew grass. And if she was really lucky, she wouldn't die of boredom before she watched the grass grow back. 
“Stop procrastinating Etta,” her mom yelled from the driveway. “We have everything you need!” 
“Yeah,” said her dad, “including an entire suitcase of shoes that have no place in the country.” 
Etta trudged downstairs, grabbing only her most prized suitcase of clothes, and plopped in the car. “I’m ready to be dropped off and forgotten,” she said “And just because your only friends were farm animals, doesn’t mean a girl like me won’t have a reason to dress nice.” 
Five hours later, they entered Three Trees. The sign next to
Thanks to julieorris for volunteering!

I’m available for manuscript edits, query critiques, and consultations! And if you like this post, check out my guide to writing a novel.

Art: Poplars (Autumn) by Claude Monet






Monday, June 26, 2017

Harry Potter at 20 -- What has the series meant to you?


Today marks the 20th anniversary of the publication of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's/Sorcerer's Stone, and what a twenty years it's been. An entire generation has now been raised on Harry Potter, in addition to those of us who came to the series as adults.
I came to the series a bit late, and first read Harry Potter during one of my summers in college, when I was spending six weeks in remote Alaska. What a magical time to read it though. I would read it by sunlight until 1 AM in a few of Alaska's strange and amazing summer perma-days.

The books are not without their flaws. The rules of Quidditch still make no sense whatsoever, and the adverbed dialogue tags can rankle.

But what an incredible series! So richly imagined, so well-executed. It's just so fun to spend time within those pages, when it's not harrowing and when Dolores Umbrage isn't making our skin crawl with rage.

Like nearly every children's book author, I had Harry Potter in the back of my head as I was writing Jacob Wonderbar, knowing how thoroughly J.K. Rowling had raised the game and setting nearly impossible expectations. I now know just how hard it is to do the things she pulls off seemingly effortlessly, and I bow to her for pulling it off.

What has Harry Potter meant to you?

I’m available for manuscript edits, query critiques, and consultations! And if you like this post, check out my guide to writing a novel.






Friday, June 23, 2017

This week in books 6/23/17


This week! Books!

I skipped last week's roundup because we were a bit light on the ol' content, but now I have a whole slew of good links for your enjoyment.

Who'd have thought that Instagram, a photo app, would be an influential way to market books? Jo Piazza takes a look at the world of Bookstagramming. (via The Millions)

And speaking of Instagram, The Next Web had a pretty solid guide to killing it on Instagram.

BLACK MIRROR BOOK SERIES YOU GUYS. (via Alyce Harley)

Agent Jessica Faust has an interesting post about fear, and how you should respond to it and let go of it. Also from Jessica, first impressions mean (almost) everything.

Over at Publishers Marketplace, there's a really interesting series of posts that scopes the size of the US book market (subscription required). Two interesting nuggets of many: Amazon has about 75% of the e-book market, and independent authors represent a little less than 25% of the e-book market.

Speaking of which, do Amazon ads work? Reedsy takes a look at a few case studies.

Check out this incredible book art from a few years back in Spain.

Slate is launching a new podcast devoted to conspiracy thrillers. They're focusing on movies, but it may be interesting for book lovers out there. (via John Ochwat)

This is some really interesting writing advice from Murakami.

And in science news, a new experiment has proven spooky action from a distance. Spooky and amazing!

This week in the Forums:

Ten (Totally Made Up) Commandments of Querying
Request for feedback
Ask me anything!
Nominate Your Query for a Critique on the Blog
Nominate Your First Page for a Critique on the Blog

Comment! of! the! week! Goes to Unknown, who I think had some good advice for authors on the do you have beef with agents post:
I think writers should get on with their writing lives and not put all their eggs in the seeking-an-agent basket (one egg at most, zero is better). (1) concentrating on getting an agent's validation can lead to tunnel vision, as well as despondency and loss of motivation when you don't get one. (2) Agents are looking for something they think will sell, i.e., something that's like a recent big publishing success, which may not be what you write. (3) Concentrate on challenging yourself and enjoying writing. (4) Join or start a writing group. This is the single most important thing you can do to improve your writing and be successful. Really! While I don't entirely agree with Anonymous above, because the way he puts it, it sounds like if you just know the right people they will get you published, it is true that having a circle of writing friends and colleagues will help you in a multitude of ways. There is a social side of writing, and it is vital. (5) Take every opportunity to find readers (blogging, self publishing, whatever) because you simply don't know what's going to draw attention and readers to your stories. No one is an overnight success. (6) Learn about the business side of writing so that you don't become the victim of a lazy or unethical agent or publisher. Never sign a contract that you don't understand thoroughly and that your attorney hasn't read and explained to you. People's careers are ruined by bad contracts. (7) Join a writing group. (8) Join a writing group. (9) Join a writing group. (Repeat as necessary)
And finally, Bill Ferris does not want you to support his Patreon.

Have a great weekend!

I’m available for manuscript edits, query critiques, and consultations! And if you like this post, check out my guide to writing a novel.

Art: Photo by me. Follow me on Instagram! @nathanbransford






Wednesday, June 21, 2017

How do you cope with staring at screens so much?


Many of us look at screen all day as we work. We look at screens when we are reading the news. We look at screens when we're watching TV. We look at screens when...

Okay you get the point.

Looking at screen all the time can make writing very difficult. To wit:
  • We often write on the same devices that have access to email, Twitter, Facebook, and any number of other distractions. So blocking out the outside world is a challenge.
  • It can cause eye strain, especially as day shifts into night. 
  • Perhaps most importantly, it can feel claustrophobic, like you're in a very small room whose furnishings don't really change much.
So how do you cope? How do you force yourself to keep staring at the screen when you really need to write, especially when you don't really have an alternative to screen-staring?

Devices? Apps? Screen settings?

(Thanks to Olivia Clements for the question!)

I’m available for manuscript edits, query critiques, and consultations! And if you like this post, check out my guide to writing a novel.

Art: A Writer Trimming his Pen by Jan Ekels the Younger






Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Query Critique Tuesday: Read your query out loud before sending


If you would like to nominate your query for a future Query Critique, please enter it in this thread in the Forums!

Also, if you'd like to test your editing chops, keep your eye on this area! I'll post the pages and queries a few days before a critique on the blog so you can see how your redline compares to mine.

Now then. Time for the Query Critique. First I'll present the query without comment, then I'll offer my thoughts and a redline. If you choose to offer your own thoughts, please be polite. We aim to be positive and helpful.

Random numbers were generated, and thanks to Michael Carroll, whose query is below:
Dear [Agent Name], 
After discovering your passion for education, through your work as a teacher, literary agent, and [Company], I think you would be the perfect fit to represent my manuscript. DOG GONE DOG is a humorous middle grade detective adventure about a 12-year-old inventor. 
Dewey “Mac” McClain is a desk-drumming, creative goofball. Through his love of science, and how cheap his mom is, he has learned to make inventions out of common items. After a former friend’s dog goes missing, Dewey decides to find the dog to repair the friendship. When partnered with loudmouth and overconfident Ched and Betty Bacon and feel like they have it solved until Betty’s dad is framed for the job. Now the three need to hurry and find the real thief, free Betty’s dad, and complete their school projects. 
The manuscript contains two parts: a narrative section (30,000 words) and THE HAM DETECTIVE MANUAL (5,500 words). The Detective Manual contains simple step-by-step directions to build STEM gadgets from common or inexpensive items. No project is too hard or too expensive, so all children can enjoy, experiment, and learn.  
In late 2015, 2,000 copies were printed through a partner publishing contract with Mascot Books. These were used to fulfill a Kickstarter campaign that was over 300% funded. The book was launched at World Maker Faire, where it was honored with an Editor’s Choice Award and an Educator’s Choice Award. Only a few hundred copies remain unsold. I have retained the rights to all content, characters, and artwork. 
As a third grade teacher, I see many students who are currently disenchanted with reading because of a lack of initially appealing books. I also see many students who don’t realize how interesting STEM can be. I would love to team with you to help put DOG GONE DOG, A DEWEY MAC MAKER MYSTERY into children’s hands everywhere. 
Sincerely,
Michael Carrol
www.deweymac.com 
I always like a good detective novel, and it sounds like there's a pretty fun story at the heart of this query. I also like the idea that it comes with a manual that kids could perhaps use for gadgets for their own detective work.

My concern about this query is that there are a lot of sentences that are a mouthful. What's the best way to figure out when your'e writing a mouthful? Read your query out loud to let your words fill your mouth.

Okay that sounded weird. But you know what I mean.

If you can't read your query smoothly out loud, chances are someone's not going to be able to read it smoothly.

Secondly, as agents articulated in a recent survey, just about anything other than the story in your query is extraneous. An agent doesn't need to know every detail of your self-publishing journey or what led you to write the book. It's enough to know to know whether it's been self-published or not, what your credits are but no worries if you don't have them, and that's basically that.

In this case, I worry a bit that the story feels a little bit rushed in favor of other details of the query. Take the time to make sure you're getting your story through.

Here's my redline:
Dear [Agent Name], 
After discovering your passion for education, through your work as a teacher, literary agent, and [Company], I think you would be the perfect fit to represent my manuscript. DOG GONE DOG is a humorous middle grade detective adventure about a 12-year-old inventor
Twelve-year-old Dewey “Mac” McClain is a desk-drumming [I'm not sure I know what this means], creative goofball. Through his love of science, and how cheap his mom is [Awkward phrasing - essentially this reads "Through how cheap his mom is he has learned to make inventions"], he has learned to make inventions out of common items. After a former friend’s dog goes missing [Who's the former friend? Be specific], Dewey decides to find the dog to repair the friendship. When partnered with loudmouth and overconfident Ched and Betty Bacon and feel like they have it solved until Betty’s dad is framed for the job [Mouthful - not really sure what this means]. Now the three need to hurry and find the real thief, free Betty’s dad, and complete their school projects [Which school projects? This paragraph feels a little rushed through]
The manuscript contains two parts: a narrative section (30,000 words) and THE HAM DETECTIVE MANUAL (5,500 words). The Detective Manual contains simple step-by-step directions to build STEM gadgets [What is a STEM gadget?] from common or inexpensive items. No project is too hard or too expensive, so all children can enjoy, experiment, and learn.  
I self-published a limited run of DOG GONE DOG in late 2015, 2,000 copies were printed through a partner publishing contract with Mascot Books. These were used to fulfill a Kickstarter campaign that was over 300% funded. The book was launched at World Maker Faire, where it was honored with an Editor’s Choice Award and an Educator’s Choice Award. Only a few hundred copies remain unsold. I have retained the rights to all content, characters, and artwork. 
As I am a third grade teacher, I see many students who are currently disenchanted with reading because of a lack of initially appealing books. I also see many students who don’t realize how interesting STEM can be. I would love to team with you to help put DOG GONE DOG, A DEWEY MAC MAKER MYSTERY into children’s hands everywhere. 
Sincerely,
Michael Carroll
www.deweymac.com 
 Thanks again to Michael Carroll!

I’m available for manuscript edits, query critiques, and consultations! And if you like this post, check out my guide to writing a novel.

Art: The Coal Black Hound by Sidney Paget






Monday, June 19, 2017

Writing children's books from the inside out


So. You want to write children's books. Do you have to know any current, modern day children?

Nope.

You really don't need to know children to write children's books. In fact, I even think it can be a hindrance for some people.

The problem with writing children's books from the outside in, as in, writing with some particular children in mind, is that it's hard not to view them with an adult lens. Their actions can seem super irrational from an adult point of view, and that lens inevitably creeps into how writers portray their characters' inner lives.

This is how you end up with YA novels where the kids are completely petulant and angsty all the time. Sure, this is how teenagers often appear outwardly to adults, even when we look back at ourselves from a distance. But the writers are forgetting that the petulance is contextual, and a child may act completely differently in front of their peers. And even when a teenager is being petulant, that's not how they're experiencing it in the moment.

For me, the best toolkit for writing for young readers is a writer's own memory. It's writing inside out.

The reason I can write books for twelve-year-olds isn't because I know any twelve-year-olds, it's because I can vividly summon the memories of what it was like to be twelve. I remember what I cared about, what scared me, what I found funny, what I found mortifying, what I found impressive, what it was like to have crushes, what it was like to have enemies, what it was like to imagine a hazy future where anything and nothing felt possible at the same time.

Sure, the technology, slang, clothing, and tons of other things have changed since I was a kid. If I wanted to write something that felt totally modern or if I wanted to step far outside my own personal experiences, I would need to consult with some actual children in order to make sure I got it right.

But growing up is growing up. Your memory of it is likely a great starting place for your story.

I’m available for manuscript edits, query critiques, and consultations! And if you like this post, check out my guide to writing a novel.

Art: Distant Thoughts by Fritz Zuber-Buhler






Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Do you have beef with literary agents?


Having once been a literary agent myself, I'm still pretty instinctually defensive of the whole enterprise.

It's not easy to be a filter, especially when every single one of the thousands of people who query you think they have a bestseller on their hands. Most agents I know are in it for the love of books, they scraped their way up, and they care about their clients. 

But every now and then something happens out there in the publishing Internetosphere and I'm reminded that there's also a whole lot of angst toward agents. And I'm not even talking about people upset about scam artists, I'm talking about people who are upset with legit agents.

So let's hear it. Do you have beef with agents? What are your complaints?

I’m available for manuscript edits, query critiques, and consultations! And if you like this post, check out my guide to writing a novel.

Art: Black and white cow standing by Carlo Dalgas






Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Page Critique Tuesday: Is this really where the story begins?


If you would like to nominate your page for a future Page Critique, please enter it in this thread in the Forums!

Also, if you'd like to test your editing chops, keep your eye on this area! I'll post the pages and queries a few days before a critique so you can see how your redline compares to mine.

Now then. Time for the Page Critique. First I'll present the page without comment, then I'll offer my thoughts and a redline. If you choose to offer your own thoughts on the page, please be polite. We aim to be positive and helpful.

Random numbers were generated, and thanks to knowledgeable, whose page is below:
Title: The Musician
Genre: Literary Fiction 
Aaron opened his eyes, but he could only see dark. Small spots of cold—snow—pelted his face. Pain shot though his ribs. He tried to suck in air, but his chest—something pushed on his chest. Huge. Heavy. Immovable.  
Am I dying?  
How long could I go without breathing before passing out or dying?  
A deathly, otherworldly silence enveloped him like an isolation booth.  
Where am I? 
They had been on the bus, driving through the Berkshire Mountains. The five men were all talking about the gig they had just played in New York when Danny, the driver and their manager, let out a cry. The bus lurched and the next thing Aaron knew, he was tossed in the air, multiple items in the bus flying and hitting him. 
He slipped between substance and shadow as recent and older events whirled and tumbled in his mind, just as he and some of the equipment had in the bus. Cele. If only he had known what to do when he realized she wanted an abortion. Maybe he could have gotten there in time to save the baby. If only he had known sooner. Hitching a ride with Danny to get out of Dalhart. bussing tables at the diner. London. Amsterdam. 
* * * 
On a warm August night in Nashville, 1963, Aaron Cronan arrived at Manchester’s bar. He, Cal, and Cele were the house band until July of that year when Aaron took work at a local studio.
People often feel as if they need to do something really big and dramatic with their opening page to give their story stakes and oomph. You hear this advice so so so so much from people around the Internet, at writer's conferences, even from people who are within the publishing industry.

Grab the reader's attention! Do something more dramatic! Wow, that murder scene was chilling, why don't you start with that?

I don't know what the rest of this story will entail, as I've read no more than you have. But I have a hunch that this story actually begins with a warm August night in Nashville in 1963, as in the section after the bus accident. This framing device has the makings of a deus ex machina that forces the main character to reflect back on their life. But do characters really need a big, dramatic reason to reflect back?

There may well be some reasons for beginning this way that I'm not privy to, but I would urge the author to be confident that the reader will be engrossed by a very well-written scene at Manchester's bar, and that they don't necessarily need to do something big and dramatic for the sake of doing something big and dramatic. There's some good detail here, and I trust the author can set the scene.

But setting aside whether or not the framing device is necessary, I had a few concerns.

First, it mixed perspectives in a way that I didn't feel added much. If you're going to break perspective from third person to first person, it should be italicized to tip off the intrusion into someone's head.

But to me, the bigger problem is that  "Am I dying" and "How long can I go without breathing?" don't add much for me. Isn't that pretty much exactly what you would expect someone in Aaron's position to be thinking? Either these thoughts should be revealing of a very particular character (an over the top example: "Looks like I've strung my last Gibson Les Paul"), or the reader is going to just assume these types of thoughts are running through their head and we wouldn't really to be told.

Lastly, for veteran readers of page critiques, you know how much I believe in specificity. Good writing is precise. Give the reader the details they need to understand what you're telling them.

Title: The Musician
Genre: Literary Fiction 
Aaron opened his eyes, but he could only see dark. Small spots of cold—snowpelted his face. Pain shot though his ribs. He tried to suck in air, but his chest—something pushed on his chest. Huge. Heavy. Immovable.  
Am I dying? 
How long could I go without breathing before passing out or dying?  
A deathly, otherworldly silence enveloped him like an isolation booth.  [Don't think "like an isolation booth" adds much.]
Where am I? 
They had been on the bus, driving through the Berkshire Mountains. The five men [Be precise -- who are they?] were all talking about the gig they had just played in New York [Be more specific and slow down -- what were some details? Give some flavor, set the scene more. Anchor the reader] when Danny, the driver and their manager, let out a cry. The bus lurched and the next thing Aaron knew, he was tossed in the air, hit by equipment and glass multiple items in the bus flying and hitting him [Be specific - which items?]
He slipped between substance and shadow. as recent and older Events whirled and tumbled in his mind, just as he and some of the equipment had in the bus [This sentence is awkwardly phrased]. Cele. If only he had known what to do when he realized Cele wanted an abortion. Maybe he could have gotten there in time to save the baby. If only he had known sooner. Hitching a ride with Danny to get out of Dalhart. Bussing tables at the diner. London. Amsterdam.  [This is an abrupt transition]
* * * 
On a warm August night in Nashville, 1963, Aaron Cronan arrived at Manchester’s bar. [Set the scene.] He, Cal, and Cele were the house band until July of that year when Aaron took work at a local studio.
Thanks again to knowledgeable!

I’m available for manuscript edits, query critiques, and consultations! And if you like this post, check out my guide to writing a novel.

Art: Mezzetin by Antoine Watteau






Monday, June 12, 2017

This week in books 6/12/17


This week! Books!

A little delayed on the link roundup as I was traveling over the weekend, but I still have some good stuff for you.

First up, do you need some coaching? My friend Justine Clay is a business coach for creative professionals, and she's running a virtual boot camp starting tomorrow on the six essential steps for creating a steady stream of income doing the work you love. Learn more here!

Interesting publishing diversification news, as Penguin Random House has acquired Out of Print Clothing, a company that produces book-related clothing and accessories.

Do Amazon's bestseller charts have a fake book problem? David Gaughran investigates.

Bob Dylan delivered his Nobel lecture, which sealed his win of the Nobel Prize for Literature. He started off by wondering what many of us all did -- what's the connection between song lyrics and literature?

Annnnnd then I saw a bunch of stuff that wasn't related to books.

Climber Alex Honnold did something astonishing last week: he climbed El Capitan without any ropes. I can barely wrap my head around this.

Fifteen years after its debut The Wire continues to generate conversation. This was a really interesting look at the life of the man who inspired the character of Omar Little.

And politics alert and all that, but this was an interesting rumination on the essential loneliness of Donald Trump.

This week in the Forums...

What's the scariest book you've read?
Ask me anything!
Nominate Your Query for a Critique on the Blog
Nominate Your First Page for a Critique on the Blog

Comment! of! the! week! goes to the one and only Jane Yolen, who had a great suggestion on my post last week on researching agents:
If you do childrens' to YA books, join SCBWI and get their list of agents. Best starting place ever.
And finally, photographers are making some incredible advances colorizing old black and white photographs, which can really make us look twice at history. I really enjoyed this video and article on their process.

Have a great week!

I’m available for manuscript edits, query critiques, and consultations! And if you like this post, check out my guide to writing a novel.

Photo by me. Follow me on Instagram: @nathanbransford






Thursday, June 8, 2017

How to personalize a query


Nathan here! My friend Rachel Stout used to be a literary agent at Dystel & Goderich, and now she teaches a course on querying called Query Mastery, which provides live sessions, modules, resources, and community to help you hone your pitch.

I asked Rachel to write a guest post on the best approach to personalizing a query. Take it away, Rachel!

Anyone who spends more than a few minutes perusing articles and blog posts about writing, querying, and the publishing world in general (read: you) is already aware that the best shot a writer has of getting an agent to read their work is to research and to personalize their query letter to show that research.

Well, guys—good news. As a former literary agent and current query coach and consultant for authors (among other things), I’ve got some pretty good tried and true tips for you. Better than that, they’re super simple to implement.

Let’s go over some basics on research and personalization as well as some pretty important what not to dos.

It’s all in a name. Really.

Your first tip on personalization is to get the agent’s name right. Look, I know that sounds like child’s play and is too obvious for even the thought of a mention, but as an agent, I received queries with my name misspelled, addressed to an ambiguous “Dear Agent,” addressed to another agent entirely or even written in a different font that lead me to believe that the author was just copying and pasting dozens of names in haphazardly. And those letters weren’t necessarily anomalies. I’d wager a guess that I received them several times a week for five years running.

Even if your query is going to a submissions@ generic email address, ALWAYS use a specific name—and know why you’re using that name over any other name on the agency’s website.

Any agent who receives a query that is simply addressed “Dear Agent,” is going to (probably correctly) assume that this query has been sent out to a hundred other generic “agents” with no real care who got it as long as their business card stated they were in the business of representing and trying to sell books. If the querying author doesn’t seem to care all that much, why should the “Agent”?

(I will say, queries I received that were addressed to “Dear Agent Stout,” I did not dismiss because they made me feel like I was a super cool spy.)

Even the most carefully curated and personalized letters sent to a specific agent you’re really excited about need to be proofread. Focusing on those “more important” details often means that you forget to go back to the top to double check that the agent’s name is there and correct. Make sure you’re doing that—every time.

Little things help a lot.

Sometimes there are big important reasons you hopefully query an agent and wait for their reply, biting your nails down to the quick and jumping out of your chair every time you get an email notification. Those are your dream agents—the agents who represent your favorite authors or who are well known to be very successful in your genre. Definitely query them*,  but also keep an eye out for the connections you can make with agents that are a little more mundane, yes, but maybe all the more successful because of that.

[*Side piece of advice here. Never, ever be too intimidated to query any agent. I find that so many authors don’t think they’re “good enough” for big name agents or agents who have been in the business and doing it well for decades. Throw that nonsense out the window! At the end of the day, it comes down to the writing and the storytelling, not whether you’re a debut author or have a back catalogue of dozens of bestsellers. ]

What do I mean by that? I mean that any information you can gather about an agent, from anywhere, can be helpful. Sometimes you’ll find something that would otherwise seem forgettable or random, but sticks out to you as a perfect reason to query someone.

Here’s a little story to clarify. As an agent, my preferences for submission were pretty clear. There were some genres I simply wasn’t interested in because they just weren’t up my alley or I didn’t have any real experience with them. Crime and mystery were two of those genres.

One day, I came across a submission for a mystery about some crime or another. Now, normally, I’d skim through a misguided letter like that just in case, but would more than likely reject it soon after. This one, however, I requested. Why? The author did one very small, but very important and effective thing. He read my bio on the agency’s website.

Not only did he read those couple of sentences filled with pedestrian information about my background, but he found something in there that he could use. I grew up in South Jersey (I don’t think there’s any state in this country that is as small but as ferociously divided into North/South factions that no one outside of the state is even aware of as New Jersey) and made my home afterward in Brooklyn. This author’s protagonist also grew up in South Jersey before moving to Brooklyn.

That’s a small thing that probably had no mention in any other query letter to any other agent, but that author made sure to mention it in his letter to me. And I requested his novel.

This was my line of thought— first of all, this author is taking his time to reach out to me specifically. He isn’t spamming agents across the globe with a generic form letter, and, well, I genuinely might actually feel more of a kinship with a protagonist who shares a similar background to mine, so let’s give it a shot. C’mon, everyone loves to see familiar streets and landmarks in the backgrounds of movies or TV shows—and even books. It just makes it more fun.

So keep in mind that I knew, without a doubt, that the author had picked me specifically because he had put a little bit of time into looking me up and honing in on a connection. That made me feel like I could reciprocate by giving him some extra time and consideration. It also made me believe that the book could be more relevant to me than I might normally have thought.

Social media is where it’s at.

Specifically, as far as agents and most of the writing world is concerned, Twitter is where it’s at. And let me start with this right off the bat: no, I do not mean you should pitch an agent on Twitter. Please don’t pitch an agent on Twitter.

What you can do, though, is get some really great intel not only what an agent might be interested in on any given day or whim based on what they post on Twitter, you can also get a really great read on their personality. Are they sarcastic? Straightforward? Political? Really into cat videos or memes about bacon? Follow someone for a week and you’ll figure all of that out pretty quickly.

Once you begin reading about what different agents are looking for or like, you’ll start to see pretty quickly that it’s not all about strict plot elements or story types. A lot of the time agents will ask for things that are more ambiguously described and relate more to the tone of the book or the personality of the protagonist. Tone is an extremely important factor to consider and often goes overlooked when personalizing query letters and choosing comp titles (if you’re using them). Getting a sense of what makes an agent tick in the day to day world might give you a better sense of what that particular agent means when they ask for “irreverent yet well-meaning wit” or something as equally mind boggling.

If an agent has participated in an interview or guest blog post, you can bet they’ll probably tweet about that, too, and that’s where you can get some good, verbatim info. It’s a huge boon to you to be able to say to an agent, “I read in your recent interview with So-And-So about your love for both Project Runway and Planet Earth and I oddly have a novel that combines elements of these TV shows.” Not only does that sound like a nuts enough book that anyone would want to take a look just to see how that works, but it shows that you are able to fill a specific niche interest for that agent—and that you know it.

Stay casual.

However—and here’s what you want to be careful of—paraphrasing is much, much more effective than a direct quote. If you must quote someone, please make sure that your source is a) reliable and b) recent.

Having your own words quoted back to you, especially if they are from a blog post written three years previous, can be a bit alarming and off-putting.

Over-specificity bordering on obsequiousness is too obvious and feels too forced. It’s the casual mention or straightforward, up front one liner that sells the personalization to the query, not the fangirling.

Get the "why you're querying" right.

At the end of the day, if you truly have a reason for reaching out to any agent, it will come through in the query letter. Even if you simply know that this agent represents books in your genre or books that share a similar audience to yours, that can be enough. Make sure you state it somewhere in the letter (“TITLE is a 80,000-word work of women’s fiction with offbeat humor and a wry sensibility”), and the agent who is interested in that type of work will recognize that they are being targeted for a reason.

The more agents you reach out to, the better—and expect to reach out to a lot. Use industry sites like Publishers Marketplace and databases targeted to authors like Writer’s Digest to get broad reads on the genres agents are interested in (as well as their contact info) and resources like Manuscript Wish List and social media to get the more specific treasure troves of possible golden nuggets you can hit on and mention on your query letter.

What was your biggest personalization success? Whether you landed that agent or not, what was the most heart-stoppingly exciting bit of connection you found between an agent and your book? Querying fails are also welcome stories…

Nathan again. I’m available for manuscript edits, query critiques, and consultations! And if you like this post, check out my guide to writing a novel.


Full disclosure: I receive an affiliate commission via the links to NY Book Editors and Query Mastery, but I believe in these services. I mean, Natasa and Rachel met at a party at my apartment, and I've provided feedback on both services. Click freely!

Art: The Love Letter by Auguste Toulmouche






Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Which book most disturbed you?


This question was suggested by Kia Abdullah:
What author has most disturbed you? There are some obvious ones like Bret Easton Ellis (American Psycho) and Iain Banks (The Wasp Factory), but the author that has disturbed me most is Richard Laymon. I read a few of his books when I was younger (Endless Night, Island, Quake) and, yikes, they still make me feel queasy. Clearly, there was a sick attraction though since I read more than one...
Which book or author has most touched a nerve and disturbed you?

I'd have to go with Vladimir Nabokov and Lolita. My negative feelings about that book burn with white hot suns and I really don't care how pretty the prose is.

What about you?

I’m available for manuscript edits, query critiques, and consultations! And if you like this post, check out my guide to writing a novel.

Art: Visión fantástica o Asmodea by Francisco de Goya






Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Query Critique Tuesday: Focus on your protagonist's journey


If you would like to nominate your query for a future Query Critique, please enter it in this thread in the Forums!

Also, if you'd like to test your editing chops, keep your eye on this area! I'll post the pages and queries a few days before a critique on the blog so you can see how your redline compares to mine.

Now then. Time for the Query Critique. First I'll present the query without comment, then I'll offer my thoughts and a redline. If you choose to offer your own thoughts, please be polite. We aim to be positive and helpful.

Random numbers were generated, and thanks to Tamara Baker, whose query is below:
Dear Ms. Bloom, 
My name is Tamara Baker, and I've written a historical novel, Doctor of Physick, that takes place in two eras spaced five centuries apart. The plot is as follows: 
In the Yorkshire of 1478, a group of witches and a former monk have been given a vision of the future under the coming Tudor usurpation: a future of witch-burnings, religious oppression, and general tyranny under a string of increasingly absolutist monarchs. There seems to be no way to avoid this bleak future... except for this: 
In the Yorkshire of 2013, Kate Larson, an American pediatrician, on a historically-themed holiday after winning a big lottery jackpot, suddenly finds herself flung back to 1478, and into the company of the very historical figure whose lot she would have most wished to improve: Richard, Duke of Gloucester, destined to become the well-intentioned yet ill-starred King Richard III of England. 
There are many obstacles in the way, and few people who she can trust. Still, she is a Doctor of Physick, and possesses a good number of other skills in the bargain... 
Doctor of Physick is the first novel in what I hope will be an ongoing series featuring Kate Larson. It is my first fully-fledged historical novel, though it is equally at home in the speculative fiction genre and perhaps the young adult field as well.  
My previous professional writing experience was as a staff writer for the audio magazine The Absolute Sound. This is my first novel. 
I thank you for your kind consideration. 
Sincerely yours,
Tamara Baker
I definitely like the premise of this novel and the idea of flinging a lottery-winning pediatrician into England in 1748. How's that for some culture shock?

But I'm afraid I found this query a little disorienting. First we have a plot line, but no characters, in 1478, then we're in 2013 and then Kate is going back to 1478.

Can we just focus the query on Kate in 1478?

Whenever possible, try to anchor your query to your protagonist and show the events from their view. That should be your main plot arc, and that character's journey is what your prospective agent (and eventually your reader) will be most interested in.

I'm also not totally clear what happens to Kate when she is thrown back in time, and there are quite a few moments where specificity would help (what are the "obstacles in teh way?" What are the "good number of other skills" she gets in what "bargain?" Does she want to get back to the present? Is she chill with 1478?

Try to center on Kate, and be specific about the choices she faces and the stakes if she succeeds/fails.

Here's my redline:
Dear Ms. Bloom, 
[Insert personalized tidbit about agent] 
My name is Tamara Baker, and I've written a historical novel, Doctor of Physick, that takes place in two eras spaced five centuries apart. The plot is as follows: 
In the Yorkshire of 1478, a group of witches and a former monk have been given a vision of the future under the coming Tudor usurpation: a future of witch-burnings, religious oppression, and general tyranny under a string of increasingly absolutist monarchs. There seems to be no way to avoid this bleak future... except for this: 
In the Yorkshire of 2013, Kate Larson is an American pediatrician, on a historically-themed holiday in Yorkshire after winning a big lottery jackpot, when she suddenly finds herself flung back to 1478 [How? Be specific]. It's a time of upheaval, and a group of witches and a former monk have been given a vision of the future under the coming Tudor usurpation: a future of witch-burnings, religious oppression, and tyranny under a string of increasingly absolutist monarchs.
There seems to be no way to avoid this bleak future... except for this: Kate is thrown into the company of the very historical figure whose lot she would have most wished to improve [I don't understand this. Why does she care about Richard III?]: Richard, Duke of Gloucester, destined to become the well-intentioned yet ill-starred King Richard III of England. 
There are many obstacles in the way [Be specific - what are the obstacles?], and few people who she can trust [Be specific - who are these people and what is the danger?]. Still, she is a Doctor of Physick, and possesses a good number of other skills in the bargain...  [I'm not sure what this means - it also seems like a good opportunity to give a sense of Kate's personality. How does she react to all of this?]
Doctor of Physick is the first novel in what I hope will be an ongoing historical fantasy series featuring Kate Larson. It is my first fully-fledged historical novel, though it is equally at home in the speculative fiction genre and perhaps the young adult field as well. [You gotta pick a genre. I'm guessing historical fantasy]
My previous professional writing experience was as a staff writer for the audio magazine The Absolute Sound. [Not sure this feels relevant to your novel] This is my first novel. 
I thank you for your kind consideration. 
Sincerely yours,
Tamara Baker
Thanks again to Tamara!

I’m available for manuscript edits, query critiques, and consultations! And if you like this post, check out my guide to writing a novel.

Art: Portrait of King Richard III by Anonymous






Monday, June 5, 2017

How to research a literary agent


So. You have a finished and polished manuscript for fiction or a finished and polished nonfiction book proposal for nonfiction. You want a book deal. You need an agent.

Now what?

It's tough out there for an author. There are literally hundreds of agents. Some are incredibly powerful and can transform your destiny with a few emails. Some are scam artists (knowingly or unknowingly) who are worse than having no agent at all.

How can you tell the difference? How do you figure out who you can trust?

Here is how to go about researching agents and compiling a target list for querying. And veteran queriers, please supplement this post with your favorite tips in the comments section!

Before you begin

Before you start the search, make sure you know the goals of your research:
  • You need to create a list of reputable agents who represent your genre 
  • You need to know their submission guidelines so you can then query them
  • You need to personalize your query, so keep track of tidbits you can use in your query.
    • (Think: "I chose to represent you because I'm a huge fan of [Author agent has represented]" or "Anyone who has trained their goldfish to do tricks is fine by me.")
And I have a present for you. Here's a Google Docs spreadsheet that you can copy and use as you go about your research.

Now then. On to the search!

Know (and be honest about) your genre

Agents specialize. While they have some flexibility and autonomy around what they represent, they almost all have certain genres they do and don't represent.

Why do they specialize? The advantages include:
  • It allows agents to focus their networking on the editors and publishers that acquire certain genres.
  • It's hard to keep track of genre conventions, trends, and personnel for every single genre out there.
  • Agents tend to have a better "eye" for certain genres than others. For instance, when I was an agent, I had a really hard time spotting good picture books so I didn't represent them.
  • It's more enjoyable to specialize in genres you like.
You should know the genre of your work before you begin.

"BUT BUT BUT..." some of you are sputtering. "How can I POSSIBLY classify my unicorn paranormal science fiction novel that has a fantasy story arc with magic and the characters go back in time to the Civil War for a while AND THERE'S ROMANCE TOO. Also dinosaurs."

Sure, your book may touch on a couple of different genres. But there really is only one question you need to answer when figuring out your genre: On which shelf would your book sit in a bookstore?

If you can't answer that, you may have bigger problems than finding an agent.

Start in the obvious places

Okay. So. You have your genre and you're ready to start.

There are two places to look first:

1. Who represents your favorite authors in your genre? You can use the ol' Google for this one, otherwise a good place to look is in the acknowledgments sections of books.

The only exception to this is that you may want to avoid agents who represent something *too* similar to your work. Same genre? Cool. Eerily similar plot line? Might want to steer clear.

2. Who do people in your network recommend? Ask the people you know who have agents or who are connected to the business for recommendations (and by "people you know" I mean "people you actually know in real life who are familiar with your work").

See if you can compile an initial list of names.

Supplement with databases

The agents who represent the books you love and who you've been recommended may well comprise your initial "top tier" of agents. But you want to do more research than that.

There are a few databases out there that can help. All of them allow you to filter by genre:
  • Publishers Marketplace - This is a great place to see who agents represent and what they sold. Many agents have created their own pages with lots of good information.
  • The AAR Database - The Association of Author Representatives is a good place to look for reputable agents. All the agents abide by a canon of ethics, and have to meet certain criteria for membership. Not all ethical agents are members of the AAR so don't necessarily write someone off if they're not in it, but the agents in the AAR should be real.
  • Agent Query and Query Tracker - These sites will allow you to cast a wider net, but you'll definitely want to supplement your research to make sure the people you're finding are reputable.
Combing through these should give you a long list of people to query. Next you want to start winnowing your list down.

Confirm an agent's bona fides

So. You now have a list of 100 agents you could potentially query. How do you know they're real? Better yet, how do you know if they're right for you and your unique book?

First off, make sure you know your rights as an author. Learn to spot major red flags.

There are two main buckets of agents you are looking to query:
  1. Established agents who have a substantial track record of selling books to the five major publishers. Those five publishers are Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, Hachette, and Macmillan. These publishers have about five million imprints (e.g. Knopf is a part of Penguin Random House), so it can be just a tad confusing to figure out the agent's track record by what's on the spine of a book alone, but this infographic should help you if you're in doubt.
  2. Young agents who have put in a few years apprenticing for established agents. Everyone has to start somewhere, and sometimes young agents can be a good fit because they're hungry and actively looking to build their list. But you want to make sure a young agents has learned the ropes from someone who really knows what they're doing and didn't just hang out a shingle. For instance, by the time I started taking on clients I had worked at Curtis Brown Ltd. for over two years, had sold audio and other subsidiary rights for bestselling authors, and had already worked with some of the biggest names in the business.
Another good place to look if you're in doubt is Writer Beware.

Follow an agent's submission requirements

Aside from making sure someone is reputable, make sure you know how they like to receive their queries. This may be via their work email, a dedicated submissions email, a third party querying service, or good old fashioned snail mail.

Follow. The. Procedure. If the agent put the info out there they did it for a reason.

Can't find any procedure? Email the agent the query directly (though don't expect that you'll necessarily hear back -- they may not be actively looking for clients).

Prioritize and PERSONALIZE

How should you rank your top prospective agents, the people you will query first? Go with your gut.

Get a feel for the books an agent represents. Follow them on social media and get a sense of their personality.

Rank your list, and plan to have your query out to about seven agents at a time.

You can't know in advance who the perfect agent will be, and don't get your heart set on any one agent, but you can get in the ballpark by getting a sense of whether you think you'd enjoy working with them.

As you're doing this, TAKE NOTES. You can use those to personalize your query letter. (I'll have a post that details how to personalize a query on Thursday).

Whew. Are you ready to start querying? Time to write that bad boy: How to write a query letter

If you need more personalized help on all of this, a service I highly recommend is Query Mastery, which was started by my friends Natasa Lekic and Rachel Stout.

And let me know your favorite research tips in the comments!

I’m available for manuscript edits, query critiques, and consultations! And if you like this post, check out my guide to writing a novel.

Full disclosure: I receive an affiliate commission via the links to NY Book Editors and Query Mastery, but I believe in these services. I mean, Natasa and Rachel met at a party at my apartment, and I've provided feedback on both services. Click freely!

Art: Haystacks by Vincent van Gogh






Friday, June 2, 2017

This week in books 6/2/17


This week! Books!

Longtime readers will likely remember Bryn Greenwood from the comments section, and her novel All the Ugly and Wonderful Things is a NY Times bestseller and all the rage. Goodreads published a post today about the book as a case study on the impact of giveaway copies on its initial momentum and eventual huge success. Definitely worth a read.

A carbon paper recently discovered in an old notebook revealed two previously unknown Sylvia Plath poems. Score once for science!

And speaking of science and carbon... NO... NATHAN DON'T DO POLITICAL YOU SAID YOU'D...

It's done.

The US is also not the country in the world that reads the most.

The folks over at Reedsy put together a pretty comprehensive post on everything you need to know about books and copyrights.

Amazon opened a bookstore in NYC, which... yeah that's happening! Two takes on it: M.G. Siegler compares it to the now-defunct Borders, and publishing sage Mike Shatzkin marvels at the use of online data to drive the experience and the possibilities for experimentation.

Beloved author Denis Johnson died. Tobias Wolff wrote a remembrance.

Agent Wendy Lawton wrote about one bad type of author: the entitled author.

And Tracy Hahn-Burkett wrote about the difficulty of writing when it's hard to maintain focus.

This week in the Forums...

Ask me anything!
How have politics affected your writing?
Nominate Your Query for a Critique on the Blog
Nominate Your First Page for a Critique on the Blog

Comment! of! the! Week! goes to Susan Gourley/Kelley, who reported back from a writers conference with some interesting news:
For the first time ever, I attended the annual Pennwriters Conference in Pittsburgh and met many writers who had not desire to pitch to an agent. There may even have been pitch spots open. So many writers are interested only in self-publishing. I don't know where it all is going.
The times they are definitely changing!

And finally, my good friend Sarah McCarry wrote the best article about Chris Cornell and Seattle because of course she did.

Have a great weekend!

I’m available for manuscript edits, query critiques, and consultations! And if you like this post, check out my guide to writing a novel.

Photo by me. Follow me on Instagram! @nathanbransfordhttp://instagram.com/nathanbransford






Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Where do you go for support?


Writing can be a stressful pursuit, and we live in stressful times.

Where do you go for moral support? What's your go-to de-stresser?

For me it's a mix of friends, family, loved ones in "real life," but I also draw a lot on online community as well, whether it's you commenters and Forums posters (yes you!) or like-minded posters on social media.

How about you?

I’m available for manuscript edits, query critiques, and consultations! And if you like this post, check out my guide to writing a novel.

Art: Drei Freunde by Benjamin Heinrich Orth






Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Page Critique Tuesday: Be patient with description


If you would like to nominate your page for a future Page Critique, please enter it in this thread in the Forums!

Also, if you'd like to test your editing chops, keep your eye on this area! I'll post the pages and queries a few days before a critique so you can see how your redline compares to mine.

Now then. Time for the Page Critique. First I'll present the page without comment, then I'll offer my thoughts and a redline. If you choose to offer your own thoughts on the page, please be polite. We aim to be positive and helpful.

Random numbers were generated, and thanks to hkate12, whose page is below:
Title: Undecided
Genre: YA Sci-fi 
A light fog rolled off of the rising water, twisting around their ankles as the trio picked their way along the crescent-shaped shore of the bay. Malachite Ko stepped carefully, his eyes alert. He’d been shown pictures of the bodies that washed up on the shores of the beach after high tide nights like this: skin bloated and turned a sickly shade of grey, eyes eaten out by carrion fish or pecked away by birds. Adventure-seekers, Lieutenant Envoy called them, or suicides. Either way idiots hoping to ride the three-moon waves. Desperate to do anything for death, or adventure, or fame.  
And somehow Malachite was supposed to stop them.  
“Anyone there?” Malachite called, shining his flashlight into the top of one of the gnarled, five-foot-thick palms that covered the beach. The perfect hiding spot, if anyone actually was hiding. A cluster of small purple blossoms shriveled up under the light.  
No one answered.  
“New-Comer must be louder,” said Officer Borghild, her voice breathy and deep. She stood a few feet ahead, watching him from over her shoulder. Catlike pupils narrowed in her shining orange eyes and moonlight from the three converging moons reflected in her double rows of gleaming, pointed teeth. Otherwise, her grey skin and black clothes blended seamlessly into the darkness. “If you want to scare the unintelligent men from the trees, New-Comer must be louder.” 
“Fine. Anyone there?” he said again, louder.
This page does one important thing an opening needs to do well, which is establishing a mood through solid, grounding description. There's some really good detail here that establishes a spooky otherworld setting -- the fog, the bodies that might be washing up, the blossoms shriveling under the light, Officer Borhild's eyes... all good stuff.

If there's anything to critique here, it's that there are moments that feel just a tad rushed and smushed in. This is best illustrated by the opening sentence, which I think tries to cycle through a few too many thoughts at once (fog, who are "they," oh it's a trio, now we're getting a description of the shore, and that it's a bay.), as well as in the description of Borhild's eyes and teeth.

My other main concern: although this is just the briefest of excerpts, the voice doesn't really sound YA to me. The sensibility feels adult, especially the assessment of the type of people who wash up on shore. That doesn't sound like a teen's perspective to me.

Still, for the most part this page succeeds at establishing a character in a strange setting, and I'd be curious to read more.

Here's my redline:
Title: Undecided
Genre: YA Sci-fi 
A light fog rolled off of the rising water, twisting around their the trio's ankles as the trio they picked their way along the crescent-shaped shore of the bay. Malachite Ko stepped carefully, his eyes alert. He’d been shown pictures of the bodies that washed up on the shores of the beach after high tide on nights like this: skin bloated and turned a sickly shade of grey, eyes eaten out by carrion fish or pecked away by birds. Adventure-seekers, Lieutenant Envoy called them, or suicides. Either way, idiots hoping to ride the three-moon waves. Desperate to do anything for death, or adventure, or fame. [Doesn't feel like a YA sensibility] 
And somehow Malachite was supposed to stop them.  
“Anyone there?” Malachite called, shining his flashlight into the top of one of the gnarled, five-foot-thick palms that covered the beach. The perfect hiding spot, if anyone actually was hiding. A cluster of small purple blossoms shriveled up under the light.  
No one answered.  
“New-Comer must be louder,” said Officer Borghild, her voice breathy and deep. She stood a few feet ahead, watching him from over her shoulder. Her catlike pupils narrowed in her shining orange eyes. Moonlight from the three converging moons reflected in her double rows of gleaming, pointed teeth. Otherwise, her grey skin and black clothes blended seamlessly into the darkness. “If you want to scare the unintelligent men from the trees, New-Comer must be louder.” 
“Fine. Anyone there?” he said again, louder.
Thanks again, hkate12!

I’m available for manuscript edits, query critiques, and consultations! And if you like this post, check out my guide to writing a novel.

Art: Cover of Science Fiction Quarterly, Spring 1942






Friday, May 26, 2017

This week in books 5/26/17


This week! Books!

Somewhat of a slow news week but I found some shiny objects out there on the Internet.

Sometimes authors get so wrapped up in a long story arc they can't imagine their trilogy or seventeen book series happening any other way. They plow forward writing two or three books (or one REALLY long novel) before they try to publish, envisioning a publisher snatching up all three books at once. Here's why agent Jessica Faust thinks that's a bad business decision.

Also in agent news, Kristen Nelson has some tips on things prospective clients don't tend to ask when offered representation, but should!

In writing advice news, Padma Venkatraman has a great post at Cynsations on how to hone your voice.

Sure, automation and artificial intelligence has hit manufacturing and lots of other parts of the economy, but writing is a creative pursuit so we're safe right? Well... the robots are coming. (Don't worry, you're safe. For now.)

An Amazon bookstore is now open in New York City. CNET got an early look.

A new tool is coming that will help publishers and authors optimize their Amazon sales.

This week in the Forums:

Ask me anything!
Are you spending less time on social media?
How have politics affected your writing?
Nominate Your Query for a Critique on the Blog
Nominate Your First Page for a Critique on the Blog

Comment! of! the! week! goes to Caleb, who had some good points in pushing back against some of the anti-agent sentiment that was creeping into the comments section of agent Sarah LaPolla's interview:
As for diversity, I'm sure the publishing industry could do a number of things to bring people into the fold whose stories aren't being told because they're, frankly, too oppressed to create art, but let's not disregard the minority writers who right now today are publishing. I think the field is pretty diverse. Perhaps, what we need is better promotion, rather than search for some magical "diverse" writers. If you're willing to look for it, and not simply wait for things to be marketed to you, I think you can find whatever you want to find.  
Now, agents making a living wage, isn't that a good thing? These agents who were doing okay ten years ago with a midlist author clientele were not doing okay because they were bilking or robbing the authors. They were providing a useful service to enough people that they were able to live off the income. Authors with agents get better deals. That's why people hire agents. Now, how does an author make a living wage? Well, assuming you're not a blockbuster star, you do it by writing a lot. Not just your favorite kinds of fiction, either. We authors have chosen a creative field in which to work. With creative jobs, the income is not always great. You have to work really hard. Agents are in sales. Sales jobs are different. If you're a good salesman, your income will be pretty steady. This has nothing to do with cheating or an agent's immoral greed.
And finally, Ev Williams has helped transform the way the world communicates by co-founding Blogger, Twitter, and Medium. He's concerned about the direction the Internet is taking, and is pursuing a quixotic path with Medium, going against the grain with a platform for longform thought in a not-particularly-thoughtful cultural moment. This profile is worth a read.

Have a great weekend!

I’m available for manuscript edits, query critiques, and consultations! And if you like this post, check out my guide to writing a novel.

Art: Photo by me. Follow me on Instagram! @nathanbransford






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