Nathan Bransford, Author

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Example of a Good Query Letter

It was suggested to me after my last posting that perhaps I was being too rough on those unfortunate souls who sent queries asking if it was ok to send a query and that perhaps I should, well, lighten up. NEVER. Haha. That felt good.

However, for those of you who like your literary agent blogs nice and polite, and who probably spend your afternoons wishing puppies could talk, you all are in for a real treat. Because today I am going to dissect a really good query letter and extoll its virtues. Let us all learn from Emily Conrad, who was both gracious enough to send me a good query letter and generous enough to let me use her as a guinea pig. A really good query letter writing guinea pig.

Without further adieu*, here is her stellar query letter with my comments in brackets.

Dear Mr. Bransford:
[spells my name right, goes for the proper "Mr. Bransford" approach, which is always appreciated, doesn't call me Mr. Brown. Also, the salutation is in the same font as the rest of the e-mail, showing me that she did not just tack it on to a generic letter]

Sixteen-year-old Hannah's faith was seriously injured by the accident that killed her sister, so when her chance at popularity – senior Will Raditz – moves into the basement, she sets aside following God to fit in with boys, friends, and fashion trends. [Gets right to the point, condenses the essence of the plot into one sentence, and hooks me right away. Popular guy moves into the basement -- what's not to like???] Eventually, she must decide: is it time to pull the plug on faith? The 67,500 words of my inspirational young adult novel The Boy in the Basement follow Hannah's unique and often humorous journey to the answer of this question. [Boom. Tight, concise three sentence opening paragraph. Tells me the plot, genre, and leaves me wanting more.]

I graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh's French and creative writing programs in January, 2005. While at the university, one of my short stories won the Eighteenth Annual Writing Competition. My poetry was published in Bellowing Ark (summer, 2004), and in The Wisconsin Review (summer, 2005). [Good solid writing credentials. Won awards, has been published in journals]
I chose to submit this novel for your consideration after I saw Emily Ever After listed on your MySpace page as a novel you wish you had represented. [Researched me individually! Not a generic query! Knows her work is up my alley!] Not only did I enjoy reading the book, but it is similar to my writing in that it represents a Christian who makes mistakes as she struggles to follow her beliefs in a world where it is easier to join the crowd. [Pulls my own preferences back to her own work. Subtle and effective.] You can read the first chapter of The Boy in the Basement on my website, [Has a website!]Upon your request, I am prepared to send the complete manuscript. [Finished the manuscript before writing the query]

Thank you for taking the time to consider representing my work. I look forward to hearing from you. [Polite and professional]

Emily Conrad

Needless to say, I asked to see the manuscript in ten seconds flat. While any agent would be extremely lucky to have a client like Emily and she is a very talented writer, ultimately we did not make an agent/client match. BUT STILL. That one's on me and my oft-flawed personal taste, not on Emily, and I'm confident she'll find the right agent. She deserves a big salute for writing such a great letter and for conducting herself so professionally.

Now I'll let you get back to wishing puppies could talk.

*This was a joke, I know it's "ado."


skotti said...

Hi. I discovered your blog today and am dissecting it with relish (and a little hot sauce). I have a question about the query letter you dissected in this post. The writer mentioned that her first chapter was available on her Web site. I've read in several places that putting something on your site is considered publication. I want to put sample chapters on my site, but I don't want my samples to jeopardize a publishing contract.

So, is it OK or not? If I put my fit chapter on my site, am I breaking the rules.

Thanks for your educational and fun-to-read blog. Being a Bay Area native myself (though currently living in exile in a much-less-cool area), I enjoy your San Francisco perspective and humor.

Scott (

Nathan Bransford said...

Hi Scott, thanks so much for the good question. I can't imagine that a publisher would sweat it if you put a first chapter on your website as long as you could take it down at any time. Some contracts have specific language in place that stipulate that an author has the right to post an excerpt on their personal website, so I don't think it's something that's going to jeopardize your chances.

Anonymous said...

As an editor, I would just point out two things. It should be "January 2005" with no comma in between, and the the official AP spelling is "Web site."

Frances Lynn said...

I read your "Anatomy of a Good Query Letter" with interest. Are agents willing to represent a writer who seeks represenation on a POD novel?

Frances Lynn

Anonymous said...

To Anonymous, in your edits you wrote "the the."

Siobhan MacIntyre: Knackered Novelist or Hung-Over Hack? said...

Bravo to you actually! So many agents state "send a query" (and unfortunately don't have blogs where you can ferret out just what this particular agent is expecting) and one is left wondering just what that particular agent's preferences are. The information I've gleaned from books and internet research has given me (not only hives and anxiety attacks) but the impression that it's pretty much a craps shoot what each agent prefers. This blog is the loaded dice I've been seeking.

eddie said...

thanks for the information. I came across your blog as I trawled the internet for information on how to find an agent.

Aaron Stump said...

Thank you for a nice solid example of what to do. This was actually fairly hard to find. I spent many centuries, I believe, sifting through the worthless, generic drivel on the internet to find it. It is much appreciated by those of us aspiring to be better writers.

Frank Cole said...

Your blog has been extremely helpful. I love how you get to the basics which more often than not are overlooked and for aspiring authors it is what we need the most.

keithp3521 said...

Hi, Nathan.

Thanks for regularly posting such helpful info on your blog. Emily's letter prompts a question about how to start a query.

Emily's letter appears to begin with a description of her novel, skipping niceties altogether. Is this a good idea? It seems rather presumptuous to me, even a bit rude.

Thanks very much,

RubySue said...

Hi Nathan

Please answer Keith's question about starting an agent letter with a summary of your novel because that occurred to me too. Isn't some kind of a preamble necessary?

This is my first post and I must tell you how practical and helpful your blog is about some really basic stuff. Thanks so much! Or as we say in Wales (UK) - diolch yn fawr!

Keith said...

I wish I'd thought to include some cool tagline in a foreign language like, "Diolch yn fawr." Now my post seems pale and boring. Damn. Well, from now on, I'm signing all public correspondence with, "Taikuu," which is Eskimo for "Thank you."

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Without further "adieu"? Why, Mr Bransford, for a literary agent you are not too apt with words.

Anonymous said...

The whole agent thingy is very sad. Who do these people think they are . . . St Peter?

Anonymous said...

My question is I'm a mother of three and have a degree in computer science I have nothing even close to an english degree. Am I even close for consideration when there are so many people who have degee in English or writing program like your writer above. And since I don't have these job qualifications what do I put in my author bio.

RubySue said...

I'd like to know what to include in an author bio too. Apart from having one novel published I don't have much else to add - no writing qualifications. So what should go in. Does anyone have suggestions/template to offer?

Anonymous said...

Just a question: does an agent think you mean business if you sent them your query letter via snail mail rather than e-mail?

D.R. Howell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
D.R. Howell said...

Another brilliant post and with that letter I know Emily probably found a great agent.
I have one question though, concerning the credential part of the letter.

Now I have no previously published work aside from a few credited comics. Does that count?

Does the lack of impressive credentials ruin your chances of being accepted? Or does a good query letter ultimately depend on the book plot?

elbell said...

Hello Mr. Bransford . Thank you for stopping me in my tracks. I found your blog today because I thought I was ready to query, but now I will sit back (with my drink) and educate myself first. My question for you; as a stay-home mom with two years of college education and no writing credentials (other than an award I won in high school), do I even stand a chance of finding an agent? I just read your “Anatomy…” and was impressed by Emma’s credentials. Please advise… thank you!

elbell said...

ooops... Emily not Emma...

Anonymous 3000 said...

I have a question about including the first five pages of my manuscript into the body of my query letter. Would it be acceptable if I paste them below the query message? Or would you prefer the pages actually in the body of the message? Also, do you want the font and spacing of the first five pages to mach the font and spacing of the query? I'd appreciate your response.

Anonymous 3000

Shanie Matthews said...

Hi Nathan,

Thanks so much for such a great blog and helping us wanna-be authors learn some tricks to the trade. The peak at great queries is much appreciated.

Shanie Matthews

Richard Thomas said...

Thank you Nathan for posting up an excellent example of a query letter, and what worked for you, and why. Broken down to these simple, essential components it goes a long way towards showing us what we need to do. Thank you for that.

Chicago, IL
Neo-noir transgressive fiction

Tracey Hansen said...

I emailed you my query today. However I forgot to mention that I also hate the lakers. Have I told you how much I love your blog? Did I mention that I go to Stanford? Doesn't good old fashion sucking up mean anything anymore? lol

Anonymous said...

Hello Nathan,
I must say that this advice really helped me with writing my query letter. However, it's unclear to me if it is wise to actually mention that the novel may be a part of a series and if a synopsis of the entire trilogy should be enclosed if the agent requires a synopsis.
I'd be very much grateful for a clarification. Thanks!

Sue B said...

Thank you for your post about a good Query Letter. As a 'newbie' in the business I find I'm treading water in the big pool of publishing do's and don'ts. Your blog was recommended to me after I entered a writing contest (lost...) and I did find your information helpful. So much to little time.

Brock clayards said...

An excellent boost at a time that I needed on so desperately. Thank you Mr Bradford, you are a Godsent.

worstwriterever said...

I like that you posted this great query letter of a client who you didn't end up signing.

Showing that there are more factors at play than just the all might query letter is very encouraging.

The title of that novel would have me hooked. How I wanted a boy in my basement as a teenager :P

Richard said...

Instead of sending my manuscript to dozens of publishers we now are expected to send queries to scores of agents.

An agent who charges a fee to represent you is considered less than credible.

Perhaps yet another layer could be added as a professional could work to find an agent would accept a fee for doing so?

I am busy running my business and speaking to groups all over the nation. I have a great story, but perhaps it needs work in how best to tell it. I have finished my manuscript but acknowledge that it may need some editing - beyond my skill level.

Is there anyone who would work for me in seeking an agent? Perhaps an "Agent Finding Service"?

adamkapellasios said...

Is it the query kiss of death to mention a novel has 304,000 words? As a 5.5 x 8.5 novel, or as a 6 by 9, it comes out to about 730 pages in a bound book. Didn't Harry Potter make big books profitable again? Of course, I won't mention that it's worth every page and that the reader will cry when it's over.

The Vintage Mannequin said...

Thanks for the great blog post. Quiet humorous and also informative. I'll certainly be referring to this if I ever have to write a query letter.

Anonymous said...

your to smart for your own good mister man

Doogieraz said...

THANK YOU! "Polite" or not- FINALLY the mysticism of writing a great query and synopsis letter to literary agencies is OVER.

This is a fine spoon fed and to the point help for me the ignorant one, Mr. Bransford (hope I spelled that correctly, haha)!

chickadeedeedeee said...

Hi! Thank you so much for the info, great job!

My question is, what do you put in the experience paragraph if you have none? I'm working on my first story book for early readers, but do not have an accolade to my name and no formal training. I'm illustrating it, as well.

What would you suggest for those of us with no experience whatsoever?

Any help would be great, thanks!


Anonymous said...

help..................I need an agent..................

vetty trisnawatiningsih said...

nice blog.
see letter samples on business letter example

tedt said...

I have a completed novel that I tried to shop around a few years ago. I have recently re-re-re edited it and now I feel that it is truly magic.
However, the last time I thought it was magic (but no one else did) I self published it. I wanted something to show for my efforts.

Will this hurt my chances at finding a good agent?

thank you

Dolmance said...

So, what happens if Dante and Shakespeare are reincarnated, send you a crappy query letter with your name spelled wrong, and as a result, like just about every agent out there, you do not deign to read their manuscript?

A lot of these authors are authors, simply because they're unable to do anything else, and not because of a burning need to express themselves on paper. They tend to be socially inept and demonstrate an almost idiot savant ability to make sense with literary fiction, while proving incapable of writing a decent letter.

Demanding an author of literary fiction be competent in writing a query letter, which is really nothing more than a job pitch, seems to be a bit self indulgent to me. Thoroughly inefficient too.

Nathan Bransford said...

I'm guessing Shakespeare would have written a rocking query letter.

Anonymous said...

for some of us that are not privilege of the understanding of how a query letter is constructed we request from those who have experience to help assist us in guidance. But some that have their craniums stuck too far up their rectum find this a tedious task and really not the one who should be giving advice. for even all the Sheltons and geniuses such as Albert Einstein have had questions of their own selves therefore it is only those who are narrow minded think that they are above the tedious questions of those who inquire keep that in mind before you criticize! if you are so smart to have the answer you should be gracious to share it I'm flattered that others are seeking your advice. Keith

Michael Spelling said...

One of the easiest ways to learn what makes a good, standard query letter is simply to see an example of one that does its job well. If you write fiction or narrative nonfiction, a query letter is your first (and often, your only) chance to get an agent interested in reading (and, with hope, signing) your work.

Anonymous said...

Anyone experienced in writing Parenting / How to books? I cannot find a sample of a query letter.

Any help would be great. Thank you.

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