Nathan Bransford, Author


Sunday, April 30, 2017

This week in books 4/30/17

I've been traveling. Follow me on Instagram! @nathanbransford
This week! In books! Just a few days delayed.

This is probably worth a full post unto itself, but there have been some very good articles on what has happened to Google Books, the incredibly ambitious effort to digitize all of the world's physical books. It's a tale of hubris, copyright morass, competing interests, the court systems, and some good old fashioned technophobia.

Back Channel's article How Google Book Search Got Lost mainly focuses on the internal dynamics and hard lessons learned that led to Google losing energy to push it forward, whereas The Atlantic's article Torching the Modern-Day Library of Alexandria focuses mainly on the competing incentives and the colossal lost opportunity the current reality represents.

Both are worth a read and should result in some serious soul-searching for everyone in the book business.

Meanwhile, in other future-of-books news, The Ringer takes a look at cell phone chat novels, which trade pages for text exchanges. Anyone out there a fan of these?

Writers in the late 1800s were obsessed with the North Pole. What did they find there?

With Bill O'Reilly in the news, the New Yorker took a look at his 1998 novel Those Who Trespass, which is about a bitter newscaster who is forced out of his job and goes on a murder spree. Um.

In writing advice news, the Guide to Literary Agents blog compiled some writing tips from S.E. Hinton and Margaret Atwood. And author Jennifer Hubbard urges you to think about power dynamics and power shifts within novels.

Daunted by the prospect of marketing your book? Why not create a marketing team.

BookEnds has some do's and don'ts of querying, including the importance of getting a second pair of eyes on it and considering whether a weak query might reflect some weaknesses in your manuscript.

And the NY Times has a good Op-Ed about being honest about the fear that's getting in the way of accomplishing your dreams.

This week in the Forums (tip: want to get featured on this blog? Start a good forum topic!)

Which authors are killing it on social media?
Are you reading more or fewer books than you were 5 years ago?
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 Rachael, who argues for Octavia Butler's Parable books as the most prescient she's read:
Octavia Butler's Parable books are frighteningly prescient. There is an apocalypse of sorts made up of economic and environmental problems that just get out of hand. A demagogue gets himself elected by claiming he'll "Make America Great Again." He riles up the fears of the religious conservatives to let him get away with getting rid of people he doesn't like. 
And finally, lots of people are declaring Snapchat dead. My friend Taylor Lorenz says: not so fast.

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.






Thursday, April 27, 2017

Which topics/features would you like to see on the blog?


In case you noticed, things have picked up around here, and I'm aiming for that to continue. I'm planning to devote much more time and energy toward making this into the best possible community for writers on the Internet.

Lofty goals!

In order to do that, I need your help. Your comments are so so appreciated. I read every one and take them all very seriously. So please, tell me...

What would you like to see more or less of? Any new features you'd like to see?

Critiques?

Marketing?

Revamped newsletter?

Interviews?

I'm curious about the community elements too. Would you keep up the Forums? Start a Facebook Group?

What would be most helpful to you?

Thanks 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.

Art: The Perfume Maker by Rudolf Ernst






Wednesday, April 26, 2017

What's the most prescient book you've ever read?


Given our political climate, there have been all sorts of reevaluations of classic political dystopias, from It Can't Happen Here to 1984 to The Plot Against America

It got me thinking. What's the most prescient book you've ever read? Which book was ahead of its time in predicting where society is going?

There are lots that I can think of, but for a recent example I'd have to go with Cory Doctorow's Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, the novel that blended the commercialization of everything with the concept of "whuffie," social currency that now feels incredibly apt in the social media era.

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: Crystal Ball by John William Waterhouse






Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Query Critique Tuesday: Character, crispness, clarity


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 kbarina113, whose query is below:
Dear [Agent’s name]: 
Two estranged brothers finally meet, only to discover that one must kill the other for the kingdom to survive.  
After years with only swords and tomes as companions, seventeen-year-old Prince Vaeldhei finds his first true friend with the arrival of his surly half-brother, Mordred—a boy even more familiar with rejection and loneliness than Vael. However, an ancient prophecy haunts Mordred’s footsteps―he is destined to kill their father in a battle that will destroy Camelot. And Mordred’s sorceress mother, Morgan LeFay, will do anything to ensure that he fulfills his destiny. 
Unlike the rest of the superstitious kingdom, Vael may not believe in fate’s power, but that means little to Mordred. Despite finding a kindred soul in his brother, Mordred sees no escape from his grim future or his vengeful mother. Though Vael vows to rewrite destiny, he’s not prepared for Morgan’s immense power or Mordred’s hesitancy to defy his mother. Desperate to overcome the sorceress’ manipulations, Vael resorts to enlisting Morgan’s alluring and mysterious former apprentice for aid—a risky move, especially since her loyalties are as conflicted as Mordred’s. If Vael cannot free Mordred from his mother’s twisted grasp, he will have to watch his father and Camelot fall or kill his only friend—his brother. 
THE PENDRAGON’S SON is a standalone young adult Fantasy novel with series potential, complete at 92,000 words. An excerpt from this manuscript received the Superior Award from the Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI) Creative Writing Contest and the ACSI Regional Creative Writing Festival. I was also chosen by Kelly Hopkins as an unofficial mentee in PitchWars 2016 with this novel. I am a Latina currently living in Pennsylvania with my husband, my reptiles, and my books.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
There's a lot to like in this query. The structure is mainly in place, and I liked the idea of two lonely boys coming together to try to escape their destiny. The stakes are very clear and serious.

That said, I had three key concerns with the query:

Characters

While I think the setup is good (we know they were previously lonely and find solace in each other), neither Vael nor Mordred quite stand out for me as central characters. I'm not sure quite enough personality came through to distinguish them. Especially given this novel is operating in a relatively familiar realm (Camelot), it's that much more important that the elements that will separate this novel from other Camelot novels will stand out.

The most important way to make a novel operating in a familiar world or archetype feel unique is for the characters to come across as especially compelling. And a surefire way to show personality is to show how characters choose to act given their circumstances. While I understood the challenge the characters are facing, I wasn't sure that I had the sense of two unique personalities reacting to those circumstances:

Is Vael fiery and loyal? Is he hesitant? Is he serious? Funny? Earnest?

We hear that Mordred is surly, but if he is, why is he then so resigned to his fate? Does he feel defeated?

A few key details around how the characters are dealing with the challenges they're facing will go a long way to bring them to life.

Crispness

Opinions are going to vary on whether to include an opening tag line. Personally I don't love them, others encourage them. But if you're going to have an opening tag line, it should be really crisp and clear so the central plot point you're highlighting can really shine.

In this one, I wasn't totally clear what it meant, especially after reading the rest of the query. Originally I read it like it was a cage match and only one could come out alive, but after reading the rest of the query I think it means that Vael must kill Mordred? And if so, why not focus the tagline on Vael's struggle, since that seems to be the central plot line?

If the tagline were crisper, I'd be much more invested in reading on.

Clarity

As always, one of the most challenging elements is to get the right level of specificity. In this query, I worry there are a few too many places in the plot summary where things are vague where being a bit clearer about what actually happens could go a long way toward adding flavor to the novel.


Queries are tough, and this one is a good start. I've now written way more words about the query than are in the query itself!! It just shows how tricky they can be.

With a few more of the C's (characters, crispness, clarity) I think this one will be good to go.

Here's my redline. As you can see, I have a lot of questions in the second paragraph, which I can't answer because I haven't read the book. But if these vague lines were replaced with specificity, the story would really shine through without bogging down the query.
Dear [Agent’s name]: 
Two estranged brothers finally meet, only to discover that one must kill the other for the kingdom to survive.  A young prince befriends his estranged half-brother, only to discover he must kill him for the kingdom to survive.
After years with only swords and tomes as companions, seventeen-year-old Prince Vaeldhei finds his first true friend with the arrival of his surly half-brother, Mordred—a boy even more familiar with rejection and loneliness than Vael. However, an ancient prophecy haunts Mordred’s footsteps―he is destined to kill their father in a battle that will destroy Camelot. And Mordred’s sorceress mother, Morgan LeFay, will do anything to ensure that he fulfills his destiny. 
Unlike the rest of the superstitious kingdom [not quite sure what it means for a kingdom to be superstitious - what is the literal effect on Vael?] Vael may not believe in fate’s power [Confused by this - if he doesn't believe in it, why does he later vow to stop the murder?], but that means little to Mordred [Why does it mean little to Mordred? More specificity would reveal character]. Despite finding a kindred soul [What do they see in each other? Try to be more specific about what they like about each other] in his brother, Mordred sees no escape from his grim future or his vengeful mother. Though Vael vows to rewrite destiny [What does this mean? Be specific], he’s not prepared for Morgan’s immense power [What's her power?] or Mordred’s hesitancy to defy his mother [Why does he fear her?]. Desperate to overcome the sorceress’ manipulations [What are these?], Vael resorts to enlisting Morgan’s alluring and mysterious former apprentice for aid [What does he literally want the aid to do?] —a risky move, especially since her loyalties are as conflicted as Mordred’s. If Vael cannot free Mordred from his mother’s twisted grasp, he will have to watch his father and Camelot fall or kill his only friend—his brother. 
THE PENDRAGON’S SON is a standalone young adult Fantasy novel with series potential, complete at 92,000 words. An excerpt from this manuscript received the Superior Award from the Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI) Creative Writing Contest and the ACSI Regional Creative Writing Festival. I was also chosen by Kelly Hopkins as an unofficial mentee in PitchWars 2016 with this novel. I am a Latina currently living in Pennsylvania with my husband, my reptiles, and my books.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
Thanks again to kbarina113!

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: Illustration from page 16 of The Boy's King Arthur - Edited by Sidney Lanier






Monday, April 24, 2017

Interview: Brendan Reichs on hitting the NY Times bestseller list and yelling "OBJECTION YOUR HONOR" in courtrooms


Giveaway alert!! Read on to find out how to enter.

Brendan Reichs and I became acquainted on ComicCon panels and at various writing conferences and he is a rather nice and gregarious individual, so I was extremely psyched to see him hit OH HEY THE NY TIMES BESTSELLER LIST NBD for his latest YA novel, NEMESIS, a thriller pitched as "Orphan Black meets Lord of the Flies."

Brendan is also the co-author of the VIRALS series, is a former litigation attorney, lives in Charlotte, NC, and, well, I somehow talked him in to an interview on this blog.

Oh! And check this out: He's going to be appearing next weekend in with James Dashner at YALLWEST in Santa Monica. GET TICKETS HERE.

Here we go!!

NATHAN: Let's cut to the chase. What does it feel like to hit the NY Times bestseller list? Did you do cartwheels? Did you whisper "Everything is going according to my plan" and then cackle maniacally?

BRENDAN: To be honest, it was a feeling of intense, overwhelming relief. I think we as authors put too much pressure on ourselves with the standard of making lists, and sometimes we overvalue what they mean to our work. I’m incredibly gratified that Nemesis made the New York Times list—it was the culmination of two years of hard work on the project—but I’m more interested now in how I can get the book into the hands of the most young readers. I think Nemesis is a fun, twisty, mind-bending tale that teens and adults with both enjoy. I'm just so happy it’s finally out in the world right now.

What do you think is the most important ingredient in your success?

I think my strength as a writer is crafting tightly-plotted, fast-paced books that don’t leave a lot of room for breaks. I won’t claim to be some voice of a generation or anything, but I think my books are quick reads that surprise and (hopefully) leave my audience entertained. That’s ultimately my goal, and I think Nemesis is my most complete work to date. I jammed about five novels worth of surprises and crazy angles into this novel, and it rolls downhill without brakes pretty much from the first sentence. That’s what I love to read, so that’s what I love to write as well.

You used to be a litigation attorney. Do you miss yelling "OBJECTION YOUR HONOR" in a courtroom?? (Also do lawyers actually do this)

We do! Objecting is glorious! I do miss being in the actual courtroom. To me that was always the fun part of the job. What I don’t miss is the endless tedium surrounding legal work, or the punishing hours spent hitting arbitrary billing marks to make money for other people. I was not a good personality fit for the legal profession, which prides itself on being humorless and deadly serious. I never fit in, and I knew it.

But now I’m a YA author, and my inability to be serious even when I'm supposed to be has suddenly become an asset.

You're heavily involved in the fabulous YA conferences YALLFEST and YALLWEST. Can you talk a bit about the importance of community for writers?

I think connecting with the wider writing community is incredibly important for authors, especially novelists. We spend so much of our time alone in a room with only our computers for company. It can be very isolating, but festivals and conferences provide crucial chances to connect.

When I travel I get to see actual friends and colleagues, and not just their online personas. I was incredibly fortunate to be brought into the YALL family early in my career by Margie Stohl, Kami Garcia, and Melissa de la Cruz, and it’s been gratifying to help grow our two upstart festivals into the largest annual YA- and MG-only events in the country.

I’ve gotten to meet so many of the best and brightest writers in our industry, and I’m continually stunned with how pleasant everyone is. YA is truly a wonderful community to be a part of.

If you could go back in time... first of all whoa. Second of all, what would you tell your younger self, besides the scores of important sporting events so you could bet on them like Biff from Back to the Future Part II?

I’d be sure to avoid going to school early one morning in 8th grade to tell everyone that Eddie Vedder had died of an overdose the night before, like I’d heard on the radio, because Eddie Vedder is still very alive and awesome to this day. I’d also avoid shaving my head, and say yes to my senior-year sweetheart when she asked me to the prom junior year, and I pretended to be busy. (Unbelievable, Reichs).

But advice-wise, I’d tell my younger self to worry less about what other people thought of me. So much of high school is spent conforming to what you think your peers expect of you. It’s tragic that you realize, almost immediately upon leaving for college, that none of it was necessary.

Also, I’d also buy a lot of Apple stock.

Everyone has a tweet that they think is the funniest thing they have ever written but then it gets like two faves and one retweet from a bot and you go, "Oh" and your day is a little sadder. What's yours?

THIS: "Crocodile Dundee 2 is easily the second best Crocodile Dundee movie of all time.” That’s comic gold people, and I might as well have farted on a bus for the plaudits it got me.

I've been there, Brendan. I've been there. We'll see what we can do about that. Meanwhile, what's the best writing advice you've ever received?

When people tell you there’s something wrong with a story, they’re almost always right. When they tell what it is that’s wrong and how it can be fixed, they’re almost always wrong. - Neil Gaiman.

Anything else you would like to include here? The floor is yours, my friend.

In Nemesis, I wanted to explore the effect of a person dying not once, but many times, but having those deaths have no effect. And it’s not magical, the afterlife, or anything ghostly or supernatural. It's not fake either. Min and Noah really are murdered on their birthdays, but each time they reset, waking in the woods surrounding their remote Idaho vacation town without a scratch on them. I’ve also always loved conspiracy books and thrillers, where the reader never knows what to expect next and the twists are plentiful. That’s what I try to do in Nemesis. I think that everything comes together in the end, together and the theme of what it means to be alive comes through. I hope my readers agree!

AND NOW THE GIVEAWAY DETAILS: 

For a chance to win a SIGNED copy of Nemesis, let's help Brendan out and do the following:

1) Follow Brendan on Twitter
2) Retweet his VERY EXCELLENT AHEM Crocodile Dundee tweet (if you're reading via email, please click through to see it):
(Please note: do not create multiple accounts to do this and void where prohibited and insert legalese).

Thanks, Brendan!!



Brendan Reichs was born and raised in Charlotte, North Carolina. He graduated from Wake Forest University in 2000 and The George Washington University School of Law in 2006. After three long years working as a litigation attorney, he abandoned the trade to write full time. He is the author of the recent New York Times bestseller Nemesis, and co-author of the Virals series, written with Kathy Reichs. Brendan lives in Charlotte with his wife, son, daughter, and a herd of animals that tear up everything.






Friday, April 21, 2017

This week in books 4/21/17

I grew up in these fields. Follow me on Instagram: @nathanbransford
Hello! How are you doing on this lovely Friday?

Did I mention the discussion Forums are freshly redesigned and awaiting your visit? Well, just in case you need further enticement, please know that I am always looking for fresh content on this blog, and I love to "promote" great Forum posts to the main blog -- with full credit and attribution and all that.

In fact, one of my favorite posts on the blog originated in the Forums! So take to the Forums and prosper.

Now then. I saw some good books and publishing links around the Internet, and here they are:

Forget the smell of paper, I have long awaited the time when we could simply upload books to our brains. So naturally I couldn't click fast enough on this link: What If We Could Upload Books to Our Brains? It me!!! But instead of hearing about how this glorious future is imminent... the author of the article is really skeptical and argues against the whole enterprise. Le sigh.

What do editors do? A LOT.

Writing a memoir? I'm not! But I did really enjoy this very good post over at The Creative Penn on writing memoirs. Good stuff.

Are you a writer on the organized side? You may enjoy these really awesome spreadsheets reader Annie Neugebauer has created to help with all sorts of stages of the publishing process.

Ever wonder what it's like to work with an agent? Author Bethany Neal has 8 unexpected things she learned along the way.

And, of course, a taxonomy of Amazon reviewers.

This week in the Forums...

Soccer!
Nominate Your Query for a Critique on the Blog
Nominate Your First Page for a Critique on the Blog
What's the longest you've gone without writing?

Comment! of! the! week! goes to our friend John T. Shea, for his defense of Felix the Cat as the greatest fictional hero of all time:
I like Jim Hawkins too, to the point of naming my WIP's protagonist Jimmy in his honor. But I must point out two things he and all the other nominees for greatest fictional hero lack. None of them are cats, and none of them have magical bags of tricks. Felix alone passes both tests. I rest my case!
And finally, I'm a huge Survivor fan, and it was a seriously, genuinely shocking moment when contestant Zeke Smith was maliciously outed as being transgender by a fellow contestant. His article about the experience is incredible and inspiring and well worth your time.

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






Thursday, April 20, 2017

How to determine your price point when self-publishing


One of the great things about self-publishing is that you have control over your price point.

Want to experiment? Want to drop the price for a promo? The self-publishing world is your oyster! And, like, the price is the pearl! Do you want to see how far I can go with this metaphor? No? Okay!

Chances are you're going to want to be a little strategic. Here are some tips on how to go about it:

1) Get in touch with your goals

Reflect a little bit on what you're hoping to achieve with your book.

Do you want to build up your name recognition and reach a wide audience? Might want to go for a lower price point.

Do you want to maximize your revenue? Might want to go a little higher.

Do you want to be a symbol of everything that's wrong with the world? Make one copy, charge a million dollars, and see which nefarious cartoon villain buys it!

Your book might even be incidental to your goals, like a speaking career or a building brand, which could mean a lower or higher price point depending on what you're going for.

Just know what you want before you jump in.

2) Research the competition

This is a no-brainer. See what others are charging and know where you'll be in the marketplace. You can either go with the flow, undercut, or aim a little higher, but this is crucial information so you know where you stand.

3) Get some feedback

Bounce around your ideas, and if you have a community, try to talk to them too. I took a poll when I was launching How to Write a Novel, and the community's vote of $4.99 matched my hunch so I went with that.

4) Take an educated guess when you launch

Don't overthink it. You're not locked into a price, you can change as you go.

5) Experiment with price drops and raises

Gauge the impact of price drops and raises on sales until you settle into a sweet spot. These can either be as a specific promo, or you can just quietly change the price and see if it impacts sales.

If you publish via KDP, as you go along Amazon also has a tool that will gauge your optimal price point relative to your subject matter and sales so far. You can use that for further inspiration for experiments.

6) Check your numbers against your goals

Watch your numbers and see how things are going relative to your goal. If you just want your book out there, your KPI is your sales. If you are maximizing for money, your KPI is your revenue. If you are maximizing for reputation, your KPI may be your reviews.


As you can probably tell, this isn't rocket science. Don't agonize. Just know what you want, know what you're measuring, and experiment until you're in the sweet spot.

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: Beim Notar by Josef Wagner-Höhenberg







Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Who is the greatest hero in fiction?


Harry Potter. Alice. James Bond. Frodo Baggins.

There are so many great heroes in literature, fictional characters who inspire us, beguile us, and make us wonder how we'd fare in a fictional realm where everything hinges on our character and courage.

Who's the greatest of them all?

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 Fantastic Adventures, January 1951






Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Page Critique Tuesday: Anchor the reader


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 page 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 RKeelan, whose page is below:
Title: Immortal
Genre: Fantasy

"The fate of all Creation pivots about certain moments in time and space. One such moment approaches. It is yet distant to you, but to me it is perilously close. I have devised a plan—a grand plan—to employ this moment. You, Nathaniel, shall be my instrument."
It was a woman's voice, husky and low, a dangerous voice that invited confidence and blotted out doubt.
"And why would I do that?"
I spoke aloud—unnecessary, as the voice was only in my head, but speaking was easier than not. I'd heard her—Celeste—ever since a traumatic incident in my past which I preferred not to dwell on.
"You are my most trusted servant and dearest friend, Nathaniel," she said. "Contemplating personal benefit at a time like this is crass and unseemly, but in consideration of your service I shall grant you wealth and power beyond—"
"Pass."
"Pass?" The voice sounded closer now, standing right next to me. "On wealth and power?"
"I am content as I am."
"You are a slave."
"In the eyes of little men I am a slave. By my own reckoning I am—"
"Bloody Ancestors, Nathan, are you talking to yourself again?" That was Darius. He was real. "You know I hate that."
"I apologize, master. I didn’t realize you were here."
Darius, a bald head on a round torso with no neck in between, stood in the doorway, frowning at me. The folds of his toga hung about him less than
There are some good ingredients in this first page. I like how the ominous voice in Nathaniel/Nathan's head contrasts with the breeziness of his voice (also um are you trying to tell me something), and I liked the physical description of Darius as a bald head on a round torso.

Still, I had a few concerns with the opening. It's so so important to anchor the reader to ease them into the story, and there are two elements here that I think interfered with said anchoring and left me a little unmoored.

First, the opening paragraph of dialogue felt a little overstuffed, and it took a little too long for me to figure out what was going on. I wasn't sure what was gained by waiting for more dialogue to reveal who Celeste was, since the narrator already knew.

Second, I worry this page relies too much on dialogue and doesn't do enough to anchor us in a physical space. We don't need endless detail, but anything you can do to help us imagine the character in a particular place will reduce the amount of work we have to do to figure out what's going on.

Imagine the reader as if they're waking up in a dark room and you, the author, are steadily adding detail to help them see what's around them. If all they hear are voices they're still in the dark.

That said, because there's some good stuff here it wasn't too hard to streamline and round this into shape. With a bit more detail I think the reader will be intrigued to know what happens next.

Here's my redline:
Title: Immortal
Genre: Fantasy

"The fate of all creation pivots about certain moments in time and space. One such moment approaches. It is yet distant to you, but to me it is perilously close. I have devised a plan—a grand plan—to employ this moment. You, Nathaniel, shall be my instrument."
It was a woman's voice, husky and low, a dangerous voice that invited confidence and blotted out doubt. I'd heard her—Celeste—ever since a traumatic incident in my past, which I preferred not to dwell on. [More grounding detail would be helpful here or after the next line to anchor the reader. Where is Nathaniel?]
"And why would I do that?"
I spoke aloud—unnecessary, as the voice was only in my head, but speaking was easier than not. I'd heard her—Celeste—ever since a traumatic incident in my past which I preferred not to dwell on.
"You are my most trusted servant and dearest friend., Nathaniel," she said. "Contemplating personal benefit at a time like this is crass and unseemly, but in consideration of your service I shall grant you wealth and power beyond—"
"Pass."
"Pass?" The voice sounded closer now, standing right next to me. "On wealth and power?"
"I am content as I am."
"You are a slave."
"In the eyes of little men I am a slave. By my own reckoning I am—"
"Bloody Ancestors, Nathan, are you talking to yourself again?" That was Darius. He was real [I like the frankness of this line, shows personality]. "You know I hate that."
"I apologize, master. I didn’t realize you were here."
Darius, a bald head on a round torso with no neck in between, stood in the doorway, frowning at me. The folds of his toga hung about him less than
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: Aldus Manutius' printer's device






Monday, April 17, 2017

6 writing tips from Hamilton


Hey so I'm not sure if you've heard, but there's the musical called Hamilton and it's pretty good.

I finally had the chance to see this rather incredible blockbuster show a few months back, and it's one of those rare pieces of art that manages to live up to whatever crazy expectations have been established for it. It's really, truly good.

And I was especially pleased to learn that writing is hugely central to the story in Hamilton. In the very first song, about Alexander Hamilton's childhood, James Madison raps that Hamilton "Put a pencil to his temple, connected it to his brain," and the rest becomes history. (How awesome is it to write the words "James Madison raps.")

Alexander Hamilton lived and ultimately died from his writing. From his early days, to his letters during the American Revolution, to the Federalist Papers, to the editorials that soured his relationship with Aaron Burr, writing was everything to Hamilton.

And within Hamilton and through Lin-Manuel Miranda's experience writing it, I found some inspiration that has helped me think about my own writing. (Mild spoilers below)

Don't throw away your shot 

Let's start with the obvious one.

It's impossible to watch "Hamilton" and not want to immediately run home and start writing. Characters marvel how Hamilton is writing "like he's running out of time," and Hamilton repeatedly vows that he's not going to throw away his shot.

Hamilton, through and through, is a writer, and a massively driven one.

Hamilton raps that "I'm just like my country, I'm young scrappy and hungry" and when he agrees to be George Washington's right hand man he immediately starts cataloguing the letters he needs to write.

Hamilton is hungry, writing is deeply woven into his identity, and the scrappy way he's presented in Hamilton is infectious.

It's all about the story

Lin-Manuel Miranda took copious, at times wild liberties with Hamilton's life and nearly everyone in the musical.

For just one illustrative example, there's a moment where Aaron Burr raps that Martha Washington named her feral tomcat after Hamilton, and Hamilton says, "That's true!"

It's not true. But it's a funny moment!

Would Hamilton be better if Miranda had strictly stuck to historical accuracy? No! He opts for meaning and story over strict accuracy, and Hamilton is better as a result.

Don't neglect your personal life

Hamilton was a rising star, before he was brought down politically by one of the early country's first sex scandals, where he was caught paying hush money to his lover's husband. Which also led to...

Don't be overconfident

Hamilton is so used to solving problems through writing that he catastrophically miscalculates with the Reynolds Pamphlet, where he confesses the affair and self-immolates his political career.

He thinks he can save himself with his writing. He can't. Jefferson, Madison, and Burr cackle that "he's never gon' be president now" and "You ever see somebody ruin their own life?"

Hamilton's pride also led him to accept Aaron Burr's challenge for a duel, which of course led to his untimely death and one of the greatest commercials of all time.

Take the time you need

It took Miranda six years to write Hamilton. It was worth it.

Keep writing

Let's take this one straight from the man himself (if you're reading this via email, please click through to see the tweet):
Got it? Good.

Now don't throw away your shot.

And if you want to hear from Miranda himself, check out this interview with the Nieman Foundation, this summary of some lessons from Hamilton: The Revolution, and this interview with NPR.

Have you seen Hamilton? What did you think, and what inspiration did you take from it?

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, April 14, 2017

This week in books 4/14/17

Photo by me. Follow me on Instagram! @nathanbransford
Five posts in five days?

"This week in books" posted actually, ya know, weekly?

Yes.

Guys we're doing this. Lots of fun things afoot. I'm focused on all this full time and I'd love to hear any thoughts and ideas you have for making this place better. Topics? Posting frequency? More cowbell space monkeys?

Now then! I spotted some good links around the Internet and, well, here they are:

Pulitzers were announced! And the big winner for fiction was none other than Colson Whitehead for his much-praised Underground Railroad. Congratulations!!

"Worldbuilding" is a phrase that's tossed around a lot, but what does it really mean? How much is it really necessary? Over at Electric Literature, Lincoln Michel makes the case that the entire concept is overrated.

The Verge had a great interview with John Scalzi about his ten-year book deal, the future of publishing, and his struggles writing in the age of Trump.

The New York Times is broadening its books coverage, with new contributors and columnists. Thumbs up to that one. (via The Millions)

Have you participated in #pitmad? Agent Jessica Faust at BookEnds thinks it's all fine and dandy but don't neglect your actual query time.

Also from BookEnds: The Top 10 reasons your submission got rejected (which actually has twelve reasons).

GEEKING OUT OVER BOOK SPINES

And this is a sponsored post but who cares when it's called 10 great books for booze loving book nerds.

This week in the Forums (redesigned! de-spamified!)...

Have you self-published audio?
How do you get yourself out of a writing rut?
Nominate Your First Page for a Critique on the Blog!
Nominate Your Query for a Critique on the Blog!
Ask Nathan (I'm back baby!)

Comment! of! the! Week! goes to Jennifer Hubbard, who artfully took my "life of the writer" post on rejecting other people's "script" for you and used it for some very good writing advice:
This is also a useful concept for writing, because we can improve our dialogue by not letting it fall into recitations of rote scripts, and seeking where we can cut the scripts of have the characters break them. 
And finally...

What's that you say? Disney is filing a patent for "Westworld"-style soft humanoids?

Yeah everything is fine.

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.






Thursday, April 13, 2017

Unlocking creativity through meditation


I know, I know, I'm like a thousand years late to the party.

I had resisted actively meditating for the longest time.

Why?

Look. I grew up shooting crawdads on a rice farm. I may have all the outward appearance of a hippieish liberal coastal elite but on the inside I'm pretty innately suspicious of things that, in rural California, we call "a little woo-woo."

But my previous employer offered subsidized classes on transcendental meditation (yes, the hedge fund), and I signed on up. The classes were taught by the David Lynch Foundation (yes, the director).

I've meditated almost every day ever since.

In addition to reducing stress and all the other well-catalogued benefits, I've noticed two profound impacts on my creativity:

1) It quiets that buzzing voice in your head

We all have running dialogues in our head with tons and tons of *shoulds* (I should do this, I should do that, you should do this, you shouldn't do that)....

Sometimes that voice in your head can get really, really loud, especially when you should be focusing on things like your writing and that significant other who is moving their mouth in a strange way oh wait they're talking I should probably listen right now.

Meditation quiets all that down. The voice goes from loud and distracting to more like a manageable whisper.

2) You have some pretty great ideas while meditating 

One of the things I like about transcendental meditation is that you don't actually try to force yourself not to have thoughts.

Which is good, because sometimes some pretty good ideas pop into my head.

These ideas can occasionally be harebrained -- much like being inebriated, sometimes things like a REALLY GOOD IDEA while you're meditating but when you're fully conscious they seem a little ludicrous.

Other times, they really do help.


So... just do it. I wish I had started earlier. Whether your idea of meditating is walking through a forest or doing acupuncture or praying or whatever else, just make sure to incorporate some quiet, distraction-free time into your day.

Your creativity will thank you.

Anyone else out there meditate? Any favorite techniques or resources?

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 Philosopher in Meditation by Rembrandt






Wednesday, April 12, 2017

What are your favorite podcasts?


Podcasts are quite the rage these days! All the people, walking and driving and around listening to things and learning. It's rather quite something.

What are some of your favorites?

I've long been a Planet Money fan, but I'm looking for some new ones, especially some good ones related to writing.

What say you?

I’m available for manuscript edits, query critiques, and consultations! And kindly check out my guide to writing a novel.

Art: His Master's Voice by Francis Barraud






Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Enter for a chance to have your page or query critiqued!


Over the weekend, I sent the fabulous subscribers of this blog a survey. One of the main things these lovely individuals told me is that they wanted to bring back page and query critiques.

CONSIDER IT DONE.

(Oh - are you not an email subscriber? Well then you just might want to click here).

In order to give everyone a fresh shot at having their page critiqued, I started new threads in the Brand Spanking Newly Redesigned and De-Spamified Forums (and my heartfelt apologies to the regulars for the previous neglect).

If you've entered your page or query before, you'll need to enter again. (This way we're not critiquing people from, like, five years ago, who knows what they're up to these days).

Enter your query or first page here for a chance to have your work critiqued publicly for free:
Nominate Your First Page for a Critique
Nominate Your Query for a Critique

I'll plan to do these critiques about once a week.

And if your critiquing needs are more pressing, I'm offering edits and consultations!

Art: Die Würfelspieler by Claus Meyer






Monday, April 10, 2017

The script


Whether you realize it or not, you and I and everyone else walks around with scripts that we deploy in common social situations.
When someone dies, we express sympathy, and they say, "Thank you." 
When someone gets a promotion, we express excitement, and they say, "Thank you." 
When someone keeps making the same relationship mistakes, we express bewilderment, and they say, "I know, why do you think I drink so much."
This is all well and good and natural. They're frameworks that help us from having to start from scratch every single time we encounter an emotion in the wild.

But there's an unintended consequence to these scripts: they are rote, they are unthinking, and they don't allow for nuance or complexity.

When people direct "the script" at you, it can feel as if they're boxing you into feeling a certain way. You start to think you're *supposed* to feel in the exact way they think you should feel. And when you deviate from "the script," people may react with confusion or even outright hostility.
When someone dies, what if you also feel some relief? 
When you get a promotion, what if you secretly want to quit your job? 
When you keep making relationship mistakes, what if you secretly love the drama?
Authors can feel this acutely when you ascend a rung on your publishing journey. You spend so much time writing a novel, so much time trying to find an agent, and then when you find one, according to "the script" you should be filled with unbridled joy, not, well, joy mixed with terror and doubt.

Then when you find a publisher, according to "the script" your problems are *really* solved. And good luck trying to complain about anything ever again when you're a bestseller.

The best people in your life will give you the freedom to deviate from the script and see you with all the nuance and complexity you possess. Because it's *OKAY* to feel something other than what you're "supposed" to feel. You're a human being, not a robot.

Seek out these good people who will let you complain when you're "supposed" to be happy and let you be happy when you're "supposed" to be sad.

But most importantly, ignore the rigid people out there who try to make you feel badly because you're flipping their script. They're not seeing you as a human being, they're seeing you as a faulty computer program.

It's fine if you are terrified after you get an agent.

It's fine if you feel more down after publishing a book than you were before it was published.

It's fine if you are filled with terror, doubt, elation, sadness, confusion, all at once, and/or separately at different times of the day.

The publishing journey is tough enough without being boxed into feeling something you don't actually feel. Toss the script out the window and let yourself be a human being.

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: Two Wives by Carl Bloch






Sunday, April 9, 2017

What Do Literary Agents Do?


Updated! Revised! With more links!

It's been a long time since I originally published this post on what literary agents do.

For context, I was a literary agent at Curtis Brown Ltd. from 2002-2010, so posts that were written during that time will sound as if I'm currently an agent (which, again, I'm not).

Behold! This is organized in the form of tracking one project from query to post-sale:

The Filter

Literary agents are the baleen to the publishing industry's whale. The Brita to the publishing industry's drinking water. The pan to the publishing industry's gold. (I could go on)

Basically: agents serve as a filter. Because editors are so busy, it's rare for publishers to consider unagented submissions and they instead rely on agents to filter through the tens of thousands of aspiring writers and present editors with only the very best projects.

This means that agents open the floodgates to submissions. Most agents receive between 5,000 and 20,000 or more submissions a year and choose only a few carefully selected projects to send to editors.

Agents may specialize in certain areas or they may be generalists, but all have to reject way way way more projects than they are able to take on.

For further reading:
A day in the life of an agent
Query stats: Salutations!
Digging for mushrooms
You've got 30 pages, pal
In praise of reading slush


Pre-submission Editing

Because the marketplace is so difficult, many agents will work with clients or prospective clients on their manuscripts or proposals prior to submissions.

I was a hands-on agent and would often work with authors on revisions before offering representation so that we could both get a sense of how well we would work together.

A project has to really be perfect in order to attract an editor, and so it behooves agent and author to work together to get the project or proposal as perfect as possible ahead of time.

For further reading:
The agent as editor
Unagented revisions


Submitting to editors

Submitting a project to editors is both art and science.

The science: a huge part of being an agent involves networking, knowing which editors like what type of books, networking, keeping imprints and mergers and layoffs and hires straight, networking, keeping up with industry news and gossip, networking, and networking.

The art: An agent will carefully select the best editors to consider a particular project, but at the end of the day an agent never quite knows who is going to respond the strongest to a particularly project.

Then agents will also pester the editors they submitted to at regular intervals until they get a response.

Also, it's worth mentioning that every responsibility I've listed up until this point is done on spec - an agent has not yet gotten paid for any of this. Since agents only receive income if they're able to sell a project, they could very well spend tens or a hundred or more hours on a project, send it to editors, and come up empty.

For further reading:
Let's do lunch
I write queries too
Spaghetti agents


Negotiating offers

Hooray! An offer comes in!

Now the agent will help the author decide what comes next. There are different types of offers with different territories and terms, and, of course, the dollar amount of the advance varies greatly. It's an agent's job to negotiate the terms of the offer upward, possibly conduct an auction if multiple houses are interested, and make sure the i's are crossed and the t's are dotted prior to the author accepting.

For further reading:
How a book gets published


Negotiating contracts

Some agencies have in-house contracts specialists, some agencies have agents negotiate their contracts directly. All will negotiate an agreement that is far, far better than what an unagented author will achieve on their own.

For further reading:
The basics of publishing contracts
Separate vs. joint accounting


Keeping track of the publication process

An agent will follow up on payments and badger publishers until said payments come in, keep track of key dates, discuss marketing plans with author and editor, serve as mediator between author and publisher in case any disputes arise, and generally keep on top of everything to make sure everything is proceeding as it should.

For further reading:
An Ex Publishing Insider Talks About What Editors Really Do (Part 1)
An Ex Publishing Insider Talks About What Editors Really Do (Part 2)
Book sales demystified


Subrights

In the offer stage the agent will also try to retain certain rights, such as film, audio, and translation, which can be sold directly. These rights can be quite lucrative, and if they're sold directly the author doesn't have to split the revenue with the publisher.

Some agencies work with subagents to place these rights. Some, like Curtis Brown, have in-house film and foreign rights departments.

For further reading:
Jeff Abbott on the importance of having an agent
I guess I should blog more about this.


Career Shaping

Even apart from the nuts and bolts tasks that go into making a book happen, an agent can help an author plan their career trajectory, whether that involves helping the author choose projects to pursue, thinking of new ideas for breaking them out to larger audiences, serving as a sounding board, brainstorming, keeping the author apprised of changes in the industry, and in general being an experienced ear and brain, helping the author navigate the business.

For further reading:
Jeff Abbott on the importance of having an agent
I guess I should blog more about this too.


The Ultimate Advocate

Ultimately: the agent is the author's advocate. They help the author become more successful and work tirelessly to advance the author's career.

For further reading:
Trust and communication
Jeff Abbott on the importance of having an agent
8 ways to know you have a good agent


This is just a basic list, and there's often more to it than this. It's quite a catchall job, one that requires a long apprenticeship, time in the business, a strong work ethic, a good eye, and a passion for books.

For all of these tasks the agent receives income based only on commission -- again, the agent is only paid if/when the author is paid. The standard commission is 15% for domestic book deals and 20% for foreign (split between the agent and subagent).

And in case you're wondering if having an agent is worth it - here's Jeff Abbott's post (once again) on the reasons you need one.

Originally Published: September, 2009
Revised: April 9, 2017

Art: Sir Walter Scott by Sir William Allan






Friday, April 7, 2017

This week in books 4/7/17

The High Line. Follow me on Instagram! @nathanbransford
This week! In books and publishing!

First off, let's help share the wealth. If you see a great publishing link that you think deserves to be seen by a bigger audience, kindly send it my way! You can email me at nathan@nathanbransford.com or just do the old fashioned thing and @ me on Twitter: @nathanbransford. I, and this wonderful community, thank you kindly.

Second off, I don't know if you know this but the Bransford Blog Readers are some SERIOUSLY INCREDIBLE bracket pickers. The Bransford Blog Challenge group was the 477th highest group out of the tens of thousands of groups on ESPN (for reference, my family challenge group came in around 45,000). We even peaked at 77 overall before the final game. And to be the winer in a competitive group like that you had to be in the 99.9% percentile of all bracket pickers. Which I wasn't. But City Boy71 1 was!! Please reach out to claim your prize.

Now then.

We live in a hypercritical time where everyone is a critic and there are reviews for everything under the sun. I really needed this post from Natalie Whipple on sometimes stepping back and enjoying things just to enjoy them.

I make no secret of my love for Moby-Dick, but I never knew that Ray Bradbury, of all people, wrote the screenplay for the John Huston movie adaptation. The story of how that came to be is too crazy for words.

Agent Jessica Faust at BookEnds wrote a very interesting post about her use of the service Query Manager, which is taking some of the pain out of reading and responding to queries. Authors, have you used it? What do you think?

Speaking of writing and technology, the creators of Canva reached out to me, they provide custom book templates that you can adapt for your own use. Very curious to know what you think about this.

Mindfulness is all the rage, and you may not be surprised to learn that it has benefits for creativity.

After writing some books, experiencing some stress, and then losing track of her love of writing, writer Catherine McKenzie found a way to reconnect with that love. (With some help from Mexico).

Good friends Christina Lauren wrote a post over a Time makes the case that writing romance novels is a feminist act.

Writing a nonfiction book proposal? Editor Peter Ginna linked to this interview at Black Perspectives with all sorts of tips.

And my friend Leah Fessler wrote a really facscinating post about how anthropomorphism is a sign of intelligence, which I'll remind myself the next time I feel dumb for acting my recliner like it has a complicated inner life.

Comment! of! the! week! comes from k bot, who in response to not stopping yourself from being creative relayed some great advice from a guidance councilor:
Well said. I think that inner voice is sometimes also an echo from school, parents and friends...we are told often that if you are creative, you probably can't do much with it anyway, so maybe just be creative in your spare time. It's easier to believe you're not creative if you can't see a future for it. A guidance councillor (!) at my old school in the late 80's said creative jobs will give you years of Kraft dinner and camping trips, while REAL jobs offer Red Lobster and Disney.
He. Was. Awesome.
And finally, think your novel is unimportant? On the contrary. Writer Bryn Greenwood makes the convincing case that it can literally change the world.

Have a great weekend!






Thursday, April 6, 2017

I wasted six years telling myself I wasn't creative


One of the most common refrains I hear out on the street is this one:

"You know, I've always thought about writing a novel but I'm not really that creative of a person so..."

These poor would-be authors trail off into a CLOUD OF UNCERTAINTY AND DOUBT. (And yes, I walk down strange streets where spurned writers congregate and lament their fate. How else do you think I write this blog???).

These writers worry they won't have enough ideas.

They worry they won't be original.

They worry no one will want to read what they have to write.

Most importantly, they worry they are not the "creative type."

Trust me, I know. I used to be one of them.

I spent six years telling myself I was not a creative type. Six years!!

When I was in college, I was highly encouraged to be a creative person by the very creative author Vikram Seth. But despite this, I lost the belief in my power of creativity. When I graduated and got a job, I prided myself on being the rare publishing employee who wasn't secretly working on a novel.

But mostly: I talked myself out of my own creativity. I wasn't a creative type. I was relatively responsible, had a day job, did not go on hedonistic binges, did not spout wild nonsequitors, did not do drugs... therefore I wasn't creative.

Gradually, I tiptoed toward believing I was a creative person. I started working on a screenplay and it was a finalist for some award and I started believing a little bit. Then I wrote two novels without telling anyone. WITHOUT TELLING ANYONE. I was so unbelieving that I thought my creativity would combust if my activities were exposed to the light.

It wasn't until I was in my late twenties that I finally started believing. I started writing this blog, I started my Jacob Wonderbar novels, I started actually creating things that I found meaningful.

But before all that... I spent six years talking myself out of it. What a waste of time!! I kick myself when I think of what I could have accomplished in those six years if I had just believed.

Please learn from my mistakes. There is no such thing as a creative type. Everyone has the power to create works that have meaning.

And just as I'm immensely grateful to Vikram Seth for believing in me, one of the greatest gifts you can give another person is to share your own belief in the power of their creativity. Just reach out to them to encourage them, or send them this post if they don't believe you for whatever reason (also what did you do to them can we talk about it).

Don't let doubt stop you from creating. Just get going.

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: Kellar: self decapitation, magician poster by Strobridge Lithograph Co.






Related Posts with Thumbnails