Special Topics in Calamitous Query Letters Viking’s edition of Tolstoy’s WAR AND PEACE is 1,424 pages. Vikram Seth’s A SUITABLE BOY checks in at 1,488 pages. Heck, the book that I’m reading right now, Marisha Pessl’s SPECIAL TOPICS IN CALAMITY PHYSICS, is 514 pages (including the final exam at the end of the book). Some great works of literature have been very, very long. Expansive. Epic. Bigger than a breadbox. This does not mean that you should write a long query letter. Maybe it’s the Fall air that is making people wax poetic about life, the universe and everything (certainly the fall air is making me a more frequent blogger), but I’ve been getting some really, really long query letters lately. People sit down and write long, luxrious odes about their works, detailing every plot twist, the habits of each character (major and minor), and the deeper psychological meaning that is revealed by their narrative. Don’t make this mistake! The purpose of a query letter isn’t to tell an agent about every single plot twist in the entire book. It’s not to describe the main character’s motivations (apparent and hidden) or their complete life story. A query letter only has one purpose: To make an agent want to read more. The best way to pique an agent’s interest is to be as succinct as possible. Confession: I may like long books, but I’m a lazy query letter reader. I am much more likely to give my full attention to a short letter than a long one. A short letter shows respect for my time and a deference to my abysmally short query-attention span. But most importantly, a short letter is much more likely to be interesting, because the author has agonized over every word and every sentence to make sure they convey as much as possible. Final Exam (#2 pencils only): What is the essence of this blog post? Answer: Even if your book is 1,500 pages long, your query letter does not have to be.
Archives for September 2006
It always cracks me up when people send me a letter addressed to “Agent Bransford.” Not “Dear Nathan” or “Dear Mr. Bransford.” No. “Dear Agent Bransford.” Needless to say, as I’m perusing a large stack of letters in my office, wearing my sensible work attire and sitting comfortably in my standard office chair, I do not feel anything like a secret agent. But whenever I receive an “Agent Bransford” letter it makes me imagine myself in some sort of a cape or mask, saving authors from disadvantageous contract language and/or preventing some sort of global literary catastrophe. So no, I am not a secret agent, but today I have a case that would be worthy of a Bond-esque literary agent with super-secret hidden X-Ray vision powers. I subscribe to the newsletter “Kirkus Discoveries,” which comes out every week or so — it’s a listing of some of the best self-published books that Kirkus has recently reviewed. I have no idea how Kirkus finds these gems or how they have the time (I usually like to think that they spend most of their time honing their notoriously snotty reviews and laughing like hyenas), but I have found some very, very good books this way. Anyway, today Kirkus Discoveries came out, and there’s a very interesting book called FOUR OF DIAMONDS that I would very much like to read. The first line of the review is “A young man stumbles his way to enlightenment in the wilds of the Australian outback.” I mean, who wouldn’t want to read that? I’d really like to find the author and ask for a copy of the book to consider for possible representation. But there’s one problem. I can’t find the author’s contact info anywhere online. Maybe I lack proper Google-stalking skills. But still. Take this as a public service announcement from Agent Bransford: “Kids, if you’re an aspiring author it is absolutely imperative that you have a Google-able website or a myspace profile or both or SOMETHING so people can easily find you by searching for you and your work. Opportunity can’t knock if opportunity can’t find your door! Also, eat your vegetables.” Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be off saving the world, one query letter at a time.