On the level of professional credentials, my guest today might be described as a former literary agent for Curtis-Brown; a person who excels at Twitter, blogging and Facebook; and one who parlayed that very passion into his position as Social Media Director for CNET. If that weren’t enough, he is now the author of JACOB WONDERBAR AND THE COSMIC SPACE KAPOW — the first in a middle-grade series published by Dial/Penguin.
On a personal level, when people speak of Nathan Bransford, it isn’t unusual to hear words like “I just love the guy” or “someone with integrity.” To see why they might lavish that type of praise about a man they’ve never met, and to hear more about Nathan’s perspective on industry changes, please read Part I of this interview.
Today we’ll be focusing on Nathan’s ideas about self-promotion and authorship.
Jan: You seem to have either superhuman levels of energy or efficiency to accomplish all that you manage within a day. To what do you attribute this?
Nathan: Well, truthfully there’s not a real secret to it. I’m a bit of a workaholic, and I don’t mean that in braggy fashion. While that quality was helpful as I was managing a more than full time job, building a blog, and writing novels, it has also been something I’ve had to try and balance as well because for a while last year I was operating at an unsustainable pace.
Where were we? Oh yes, time management! I don’t know that I too many secrets, other than having a fast typing speed and knowing that when I die I’ll have a lot of explaining to do to the gods of typos and malaprops.
What are your preferences for electronic devices and how do you find yourself using each of them?
I use a MacBook Pro for my writing, and I read books on an iPad. I use Word for writing and Blogger for blogging.
What’s your process as a writer?
I start with a high concept hook, and from there I work out a rough outline and a synopsis and map out the main characters’ plot arcs. I don’t plan out every single thing that is going to happen because I never feel like I know precisely how things are going to work until they’re actually on the page, but I always have a sense of the beginning, middle and end and roughly how things are going to fit together. I write fairly slowly, but my outlines and first drafts end up being pretty close to how the book ends up turning out.
I don’t have a critique or beta group, but will occasionally sound out those around me to see if plot points sound like they’d work. I shoot for 200 manuscript pages.
As far as working space, I don’t have a desk or office and will work wherever I can park myself with my laptop. That usually means the couch in my living room, but occasionally I’ll write outside.
Now that you are not working as an agent, how has your writing changed? Do you find it’s easier to be creative?
It hasn’t changed the actual writing or editing, other than freeing up a bit more time. I actually find that no longer being an agent has had a much greater impact on my reading life than my writing life.
Do you get discouraged about writing ever? If so, who’s got your back?
I’m definitely one of those people who struggles at times with the writing process even though I love it as a whole. There’s that old saying: “I don’t like writing, I like having written.” I’m definitely one of those types of writers. But I’m pretty self-motivated and can always reach out to my writing friends when things get challenging.
Let’s talk a bit about platform. To your knowledge, does anyone really know which measures work for author self-promotion? If so, when are they best done?
Honestly, no, I don’t know that anyone really knows, and if there have been any quasi-scientific studies done on this I haven’t seen them. There’s a general consensus that self-promotion does help and does sell books, but what types of promotions, what types of social media activities, and how much overall effect? It’s a mystery.
The most I’ve seen is that there is a correlation between social media buzz and box office revenue, which goes to show that word of mouth really is the thing.
You seem to genuinely enjoy blogging, and I can appreciate how much that platform can do for you as an author, but what about the writing forums? Why do you keep them going and why participate as much as you do?
I see the Forums as an extension of the blog. They’re a place for people to give their own opinions, get feedback, and participate in the community. Writing is a pretty solitary pursuit, so having the support of a community is so important. The only people who really know what it’s like to write a novel are fellow writers.
In addition to your role at CNET, given that you have such a broad interest in communications, what are your career goals in the future? For instance, have you considered a non-fiction book about writing? Are there novels you want to write beyond JACOB WONDERBAR?
I definitely want to keep writing, both within the JACOB WONDERBAR world and beyond. And yes, I’ve been thinking about a nonfiction project or two as well, stay tuned on that.
As far as career goals, I’m loving CNET, and at this point I know better than to plan too far ahead—my job, social media manager, didn’t even exist a few years ago, so who knows what’s next.
Now, let’s finally talk about your book. :) Last month you became the debut author of JACOB WONDERBAR AND THE COSMIC SPACE KAPOW — a book I’m certain my son would have appreciated when he was younger. Its premise is described as follows:
Jacob Wonderbar is used to detentions, but when a spaceship crashes near his house, he finds himself in a whole new level of trouble. After swapping a corn dog for the ship, he and his two best friends, Sarah Daisy and Dexter, take off on a madcap adventure. They accidentally cause an epic explosion, get kidnapped by a space pirate, and are marooned on planets like Numonia and Paisley, where the air smells like burp breath and revenge-hungry substitute teachers rule. And that’s only the beginning . . . It turns out that there’s an entire colony of space humans, and Jacob’s long-lost father just might be one of them.
I’ve been reading your blog for several years now. Despite that, I was surprised at the genre you chose to write in, even more by the rich sense of humor displayed within. I’d been expecting something serious and literary. (I know, I know: more fool me.)
But now I’m wondering what else I’ve missed. What would your wife say we should know about you that we haven’t yet learned? Are you the kind of person who plays practical jokes at work? If so, what did you do?
You know, I really feel like the “me” that is on the blog is a pretty accurate reflection of me in real life. It’s not obviously a complete picture because as much joking around as I do I still see the blog as an extension of my professional life, and just as you would stay on your best behavior at work, I stay on my best behavior on the blog. After all, there’s no such thing as a “private” post.
What was the most challenging aspect of writing and publishing this novel?
I definitely struggled with the “Am I crazies.” I wrote a first novel that didn’t end up working out, so it was a pretty big leap of faith for me to work on a second one after that. It takes such an enormous amount of time to write a novel, and all the while you never know if it’s going to work or not. Lucky for me it ended up working, but I struggled with doubt quite a bit along the way.
What was the moment when you first felt like an author, and how did you celebrate?
When Catherine offered to represent me it all suddenly seemed very real. I had only told a tiny handful of people I had written a novel, so I guess I really celebrated by going public to my family and friends and saying, “Oh by the way I wrote a novel and by the way it’s going out on submission!”
You’ve already sold JACOB WONDERBAR FOR PRESIDENT OF THE UNIVERSE, and have alluded to writing the third book in the series. How many have you plotted out? Care to share a bit about Jacob’s future adventures?
Yes, there are three in the works! In the second, Jacob runs for president of the universe and learns more about outer space and his mysteriously missing father. He also has to contend with a nefarious band of space monkeys of dubious intelligence. I’m just beginning work on the third.
In twenty years’ time, what would you like to have said about your authorial career?
I came, I saw, I wrote about space monkeys.
Jan: Well insofar as goals go, I think this one’s imminently reachable. Nathan, thank you for sharing your breadth of experience with us. All my best in your future endeavors!
Readers, this concludes part II of our interview. If you don’t follow Nathan Bransford yet — and if you write, you probably should — you can find him on his blog, Twitter profile, and Facebook author page. Thank you for being here. Should we meet someday in person, let our super sekrit password be “corn dogs.”