Flashback Friday | Nathan Bransford
I’ve been so lucky in my life to not only meet amazing people, but question them and learn from them. I’ve been able to amass a pretty large catalogue of interviews because of their generosity, and they have really helped me get my foot in many different doors. So first, to all the people who have been gracious enough to give me their time and patience, thank you!
I’ve created the Flashback Friday series to show these interviews and reviews. They’ve been locked away in my archives but now it’s time to share them. I hope you enjoy this look back on the articles that got me started and introduced me to some of my best friends. Enjoy!
Nathan Bransford is seriously one of my favorite people ON EARTH…earth…earth…earth….earth.
I’m not kidding when I write this. I don’t even know the guy personally, but I FEEL like I know him. I feel like we’re friends. His blog has been one of the most helpful resources for me as a writer than almost anything. Plus, he’s funny! And he really knows his stuff. And did I mention he’s extraordinarily nice? No, I mean it. He goes out of his way to be available to his readers and promote other writers and tries to make the publishing industry as clear as possible. He’s honest and genuine.
At the time of the interview I conducted with him, he was still an agent. While he’s not an agent anymore, he is an author of a very cool Middle Grade series and works at CNET because they too recognized his genius. But he’s still as funny and nice and informative as ever, and I’m so pleased to post this fresh from the archives interview with him! Enjoy!!!!
Nathan, you have an excellent, informative blog. (nathanbransford.blogspot.com.) You have a great new entry every day. Is it hard to keep up with it, though? As a blog writer myself, sometimes I really struggle to find a topic!
Every now and then I go through stretches where I struggle to think of a topic, but publishing is so endlessly complex there’s always something to write about. I try to write down every idea for a blog topic that comes to me so I can pick and choose on any given day what the topic will be.
In this age of self-promotion and author savvy, writers are doing all they can to generate traffic to their site, build a steady platform, and get readers to buy their books. Let’s magnify this for a minute. First, is there anything an author should never do because you, as an agent, have never seen it really pay off?
The first part of your question is definitely correct, as publishers count on authors more and more to build a network and do everything they can to promote their book. Luckily, with the Internet this is more possible than ever, but it definitely takes time and dedication. I can’t think of any effort that would be wasting time – my basic philosophy is that every little bit helps, although blogging and network-building should never come at the expense of writing.
Conversely, is there anything you’ve seen an author do that worked surprisingly well?
Every now and then an author comes up with a brilliant marketing idea that can really help propel a book. Even before the Internet had really caught on, Po Bronson, for instance, sold shares in his novel BOMBARDIERS, which was a really clever idea that generated a great deal of attention. Now that the Internet is such a part of our lives there are more opportunities than ever. A smart book trailer helped break out THE DANGEROUS BOOK FOR BOYS. Verla Kay and Neil Gaiman, among others, have built entire online communities for their fans. Cory Doctorow has built one of the most popular blogs in the world. All of these things took insight and these authors enjoyed a real advantage at getting there first. Their efforts have definitely paid off.
Also, a new trend I’m seeing is the “cross-country author”. She or he will drive and drive and drive, stopping at every bookstore along the way to sign stock. Now, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. I seriously commend these authors. Talk about work and dedication and focus! But here’s the debate:
My friend says signing so much can devalue an author’s reputation. He figures celebrity autographs sell for so much because they’re rare. A painting sells for a lot because there’s only one copy. I say no way! I love getting autographed stuff. What do you think??
I don’t know it’s possible for an author to devalue their reputation by being in touch with their fans or giving them something tangible like a signature. If anything, being in touch with readers is a multiplier. Books are such powerful parts of our lives, and being in touch with the creator of those books is almost a magical thing. When an author builds a personal connection with readers and is in touch with their fan base it helps people feel an even stronger personal connection with the author and their books. Many of the most successful authors are incredibly adept not only at writing books that people love, but also reaching out to their readers in a personal way, creating a community around their books.
Well said! And thanks for backing me up. J Your blog, in and of itself, is a great promotional tool for you. It’s informative, yes, but it also gets tons of readers! It’s not uncommon at all to see 200, 300, 600 comments for your blog entries. How has having the blog impacted your career?
The blog has been a great deal of fun and hopefully I’ve helped out some authors along the way, and yes, it’s also been incredibly helpful for me as I build my list and try to stand out amid so much competition in the industry. Happily, several of my clients have come through the blog. It’s also been very helpful to hear feedback and ideas from readers, and to connect with editors and other people in publishing who read it. Going forward I hope to continue to build the blog and the community around it both to give people a sense of who I am and hopefully inspire them to want to work with me, as well as to help get the word out about my clients and their books.
Having a blog is a significant responsibility. An addictive, significant responsibility. Does it own you, or do you own it?
I own it. Work always always always always comes first, and I never blog until I’ve taken care of the things I need to take care of. I just think of my clients – how would they like it if they’re waiting for an answer from me on an important question, and here I am blogging about some trivial topic? Often I’ll write posts the night before and quickly post it during the day, and I make sure everything is squared away before I post. I’m also extremely careful about what I blog about, and I never, for instance, blog about my clients or the editors I work with. I never want someone to be second-guessing themselves around me or worrying that what they say might become blog fodder. It takes a great deal of balance and is something I’m always thinking about twice and three times before I post.
You’re a big fan of the reality show the Hills. But here’s the question: Why do you think that authors aren’t given as much screen time, print space, and just good ol’ fashion attention as the other entertainers? How many covers has Heidi been on and how many magazine covers has Ian McEwan been on? You could argue that one is clearly more deserving of the attention. A mediocre actress far outshines an author in terms of fame and celebrity. I don’t think there’s ever been an author declared People’s Most Beautiful. Is there some stigma attached to authors? Or is it a matter of perception?
I don’t know if I’d say there’s a stigma around authors, and to a certain extent I think there has always been a tension between intellectual and commercial life in America. In publishing you see this all the time as people constantly have to navigate the balance between commercial and artistic merit. As is clear from my blog, I have an appreciation for both reality television shows and literature, and I don’t know that there necessarily has to be a conflict between the two. I certainly wish that Ian McEwan were more of a household name, but there’s room for both diversion and seriousness in our culture. Just judging from the number of people who want to become authors, certainly people in America have a great deal of respect for them.
John Grisham, Stephen King, JK Rowling, Stephenie Meyer…all authors who’ve started in a particular genre of writing and then switched at some point in their career. Now, in this day in age of business plans and ten year plans, would you hesitate to sign a beginning author if they expressed a desire to do something similar? After all, when an author builds a fan base, that fan base is going to expect certain things from said author. (The exceptions of course, being the authors listed above.) 🙂
What all of those authors have in common is that they reached such a huge level of success they could write whatever they want. I certainly am open to authors who want to write in multiple genres, but that decision needs to be made with care. As I always say, it’s difficult enough to break out in one genre let alone several. But it’s a decision that has to be made on a case by case basis, and some authors are able to do it extremely well.
Okay, let’s get off the broad topics for a minute. Nathan, people don’t go into the agenting business for its high income potential – though you’ve done really well for yourself. Besides a love of reading, what is the most fundamental thing a person must possess to be a literary agent?
Patience. It takes a long time to even become a literary agent – you have to start as an assistant and very slowly work your way up over the course of several years. And then of course there’s the industry itself, in which things don’t tend to happen quickly. So patience patience patience. You also have to just really love books to an insane degree.
You deal with a lot of contracts. How was the learning process with that?
When you’re an assistant you start by comparing contracts for agents and reading the contracts over, and at first it seems like hopeless legalese, but eventually things start to make sense and you develop a command over the different terms, clauses, what’s normal, what’s not normal, things like that. When I started out as an assistant I just stared blankly at warranty and indemnity clauses, but now I can argue over minute details with zest.
Finally, you graduated from Stanford University, you came from a small California town and now you’re living in the beautiful San Fransisco. You have an amazing roster of clients including Kim Long, Rebecca Ramsey, and Brad Geagley. Is the 6 year old in you proud and impressed with all you’ve done? Is the man you are now proud and impressed with all you’ve done?
I’ve been incredibly lucky and fortunate to have had wonderful mentors at Curtis Brown who have been so supportive of my career, and I have been equally blessed to have found such wonderful clients. So yes, I’m definitely happy with where I’m at, and I certainly didn’t imagine when I was shooting crawdads in the rice fields with a BB gun when I was a kid that I’d be working with such amazing authors someday. But I’m also an ambitious person and am vicariously even more ambitious for my clients, so I will continue to work extremely hard for the foreseeable future.