Nathan Bransford, Author

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Hello, My Name is Nathan, and I Am a Literary Agent (also a Q&A)

In the past twenty-four hours people have seperately accused me of being both "brave" and "lonely" for admitting in public that I am a literary agent, but like a crusty old cur ignoring the doctor's orders with a big ole bottle of whisky, I'm back today with a Q&A post that answers a few of the many good questions I've received in the past few days. Thanks so much to everyone who sent questions, and a very special thanks to everyone who sent queries in the past few days. I'm always amazed at how many talented writers there are out there and depressed at how few I can take on as clients.

On to the questions!

Q: Do you personally prefer an E-mailed query or a snail mailed query? Second, what do you think the industry feeling in general is toward E-mail vs. Snail mail? In the age of technology, is there a growing trend/feeling one way or the other?

A: Like any self-respecting former English majors, most literary agents are wary of newfangled technology like e-mail (I'm kidding... sort of), and prefer receiving their queries through the snail mail. This is mostly because when you ask to receive submissions via e-mail your inbox fills up faster than.... um.. uh... something that fills up fast (I am metaphorically challenged today).

I absolutely prefer e-mail because I like to respond to people as quickly as possible, so please continue to query me via the internets. However, for other agents, the best way to know for sure is to check out or to see if the agent specifically says they accept electronic submissions. Unless you see that they definitely do, always always take the safe bet and send it through the mail, and be sure also and include a self-addressed stamped envelope. The agents (and the postal service) will appreciate it.

Q: Some people say yes, some people say no, but do you think writers should mention similar author/books to theirs in query letters?

A: I understand that there are differences of opinion on this one, however, as I mentioned in the comment section of my Shadow Blog post on Blogger, I definitely think that a reference to comparison titles can be done well, as long as you aren't saying your book is like The Da Vinci Code or any other mega bestseller. In my opinion, a good comparison to another book shows that you know what's out there, it shows you're well-read, and it shows that you're aware of where your book fits into the marketplace.

Also, another way of slyly doing this is by researching an agent individually and doing the "Since you represent X I thought you might be interested in my work" trick, which both shows that you've researched the agent (flattery gets you, well, everywhere) and that you are aware that your book will hopefully match their interests.

Q: I, too, have a blog and I was wondering if you had any advice about getting a blog published. I am a 31 year old 2-time breast cancer survivor and I kept a diary while I was going through treatment. I'm now posting my story on the web and I get a lot of traffic to my site. I'd like to publish my story when I've finished the blog, but I don't know how I would go about contacting an agent. Any suggestions? (BTW: my website is

A: I've received several questions about electronic publishing lately, and whether it compromises a potential book sale, especially since authors like Cory Doctorow have plunged both feet into the brave new world of online publishing, while still hoping to sell hard copies as well. (Cory's book DOWN AND OUT IN THE MAGIC KINGDOM is awesome, by the way)

If you are hoping to get a compilation of your blogs published, I think you're going to have a very hard time attracting an agent or a publisher, no matter the merit of your project. A publisher has very small margins as it is, and you're basically asking them to invest in trying to sell something that is/was already available for free. With things in publishing so tight as it is, they'd be very reluctant to compete against themselves for sales.

This sounds like the perfect venue for self-publishing -- if you want your friends and readers to be able to purchase a compilations of your writing in book form (which I'm sure they'd love) then they can purchase them online, and you can market your work through your site. Be sure to do your homework on self-publishing though, because there are some serious scam artists out there.

And seriously, congratulations on beating cancer.... twice. That's incredible.

Q: An agent asked to see my complete manuscript for a historical novel. I sent it to her in late October, but haven't heard anything back. Have I given her enough time that an e-mail asking about the status would be kosher?

A: YES. You poor thing, you have the patience of a saint. I'm sure there are many opinions out there, but an exceedingly polite follow up after a month via e-mail is totally fine by my book. The most important thing with these follow ups is to conceal your incredible, undying rage that the ***** agent can't even write you back a ***** follow up letter and it's been three ****** months. Don't forget one of the cardinal rules of dealing with agents, which is that you have one project to worry over, agents are juggling dozens at once. Things take time in publishing, and it doesn't mean they hate you. So try to act polite even if you want to stab them with their own letter opener.

And on that note, this concludes the Q&A! Your brave and no-honestly-I'm-not-lonely-I-have-a-girlfriend-and-a-dog agent signing off.


Anonymous said...

I have a question… What are you looking to represent as far as YA goes?

I have to admit to some surprise on your My Space seeing under “Books I Wish I Represented” Consider Lily and Emily Ever After.

And yes, I am ashamed of my sexist reaction. ;)

Nathan Bransford said...

I'm just looking for a great story -- doesn't matter if the main character is a girl or guy, if it's contemporary or historical or futuristic. If it's a great story I'm interested!

Anonymous said...

I totally dig your hair.

brian_ohio said...

Regarding your rejection of my manuscript...

*sniff* No! *sniff* I'm not going to cry again.

...kidding aside, you were very kind in your letter. Thank you. But you stated that my novel "wasn't the kind of material you were currently looking for."

Now, the pessimistic side of me could take that to simply mean, 'I'm currently looking for good stuff... not crap.'

But my optimistic side has whispered 'there really could be something more to it.'

Other than great writing, is there a certain type of novel (mine was YA with light urban fantasy) that you're finding editors requesting or you're having a much easier time selling?

James Goodman said...

Thank you for discussing your thoughts on E-query vs. snail mail. I was just mulling over this very topic this morning.

ORION said...

I am already represented and my book has sold to Putnam, but I am so glad another agent had started to blog. It can be a real salvation to new writers. I know the same questions are asked over and over -- (I was a high school teacher -- That's the way life is!)
But agents provide such a great service when they do this PLUS I think it is good PR for the authors they represent.
Mahalo and Aloha from Hawaii

Nathan Bransford said...

Brian_ohio, sorry we weren't a match! I really truly wish I could be more specific about why something wasn't right for me for every letter, but unfortunately I just receive so many letters I kind of have to use a blanket rejection. "not the kind of material" etc. etc. could mean that it's not a genre I represent, it may mean that I didn't connect with the material or it may mean that it's really really good but for whatever reason I just don't think I'm the right agent.

Sorry to leave you reading the tea leaves -- one of the reasons I started the blog was to help people out a bit more than I'm able to do on an individual basis. Since I can't respond personally to every letter I try group help (some might say I'm the one who needs group help).

I think one thing that seems to be working these days is hybrid genres -- I saw one a few months ago that was inspirational suspense. And especially now that chick-lit has kind of run its course (or at least that's the perception within the industry), chick lit plus seems to be in. Romantic thrillers, for instance. And for YA, good books geared towards boys is always hot.

brian_ohio said...

Apology accepted.

And thank you for your response.

Nathan Bransford said...

I is grammar challenged today.

Good books geared toward boys ARE always hot.

Amanda said...

Faster than a shot glass at a writer's convention.

brian_ohio said...

It's a Blog, no one are keeping track?

(Note to self, when querying Mr. Bransford, remind him of his grammatical incompetance.)

okay... let's go a little deeper regarding YA books geared toward boys, (the manuscript for which I queried you, as well as my current WIP, are both of that genre. But... I'm not all about sour grapes).

We're talking more than a young male protag... right? Something along the lines of Airborne or The Book of Lost Things potentially. In my mind, boys do not want the male version of Traveling Pants. Or do they?

Please enlighten if you have the time and a dictionary nearby:)

Nathan Bransford said...

^I'm not quite sure you can really break down "books that will appeal to boys" into successful and unsuccessful subcategories. Ultimately it's about the stories themselves and how good they are. You can say broadly that people are looking for books that will appeal to boys, but other than that I don't know how useful it is to get really specific about the exact type of book that's going to appeal to a publisher.

Trends are vague and nebulous, and I really try not to overthink them -- if you're only looking at the current trends you're going to miss out on the future ones, and if you overthink them you're going to miss out on the great exception to the rule.

brian_ohio said...

Well said and very true.

I missed the boat with my book entitled 'The Galileo Code' in which the ancient astronomer left behind clues proving that Moses only carried a big staff to compensate for something.

So I'll never do that again.

Joking aside, thanks for your input and for taking the time to reply. It really is great information.

Nathan Bransford said...

^Haha, that's a good one. I have been searching in vain for a book called THE SISTERHOOD OF THE CODE CLUB, which is sure to be a mega-besteller -- I think one of those words has been in one bestseller or another for the past five years.

brian_ohio said...

I'm already on it. Look for a query in a few hours:) but I'm going to change the title to the more appropriate

Harry Potter and The Sisterhood of the Code Club

Stephen Parrish said...

I followed Miss Snark's directions to get here. I'm glad I did; you've got a great voice. Sign me up as a regular reader.

Tuesdays with Harry Potter and the Sisterhood of the Code Club

Twill said...

The male version of traveling pants would be about a sports team.

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