Nathan Bransford, Author

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The Power of Google

Give yourself a hand. No, I mean it! Give yourself a hand, pat yourself on the back, buy yourself a big cigar (just don't smoke it around your query letters). If you're an aspiring writer and you're reading this blog or Miss Snark's or the blogs by other agents and your fellow writers it means you're doing the right thing. You're researching the publishing industry, you're serious about the business of writing. You, my friend, are pretty darn awesome. Or it means you're procrastinating.

(And no, this is not the introduction to my new self-help book. But if I did write a self-help book I would call it THE PURPOSE-DRIVEN SECRET OF YOU, THE OWNERS MANUAL: HE'S JUST NOT THAT INTO YOUR SOUTH BEACH DIET.)

A couple of years back something was invented that changed the course of the publishing industry forever. A device so revolutionary we tremble at the mere mention of its power. No, not paper. Even more important. They call it..... Google.

The effect of Google on the publishing industry has been utterly profound (ok, maybe not as profound as paper), and in the years to come its effects will be even, uh, profounder. The New Yorker recently featured a very good article on Google's Library project -- Google is essentially trying to scan and (make searchable) every book ever written, (including, apparently the occasional finger of the people doing the scanning, which is my favorite part of the article.) In the process of scanning, well, everything, Google is taking a controversial approach to the copyright ramifications of the program, which is the subject of two lawsuits.

Meanwhile, Google is also expanding its Book Search program -- they already have quite a few public-domain books posted online, and their goal is to make more existing books searchable. Two years from now if you entered, say, "Nathan Bransford's secret of life" in Google Book Search, a little excerpt from THE PURPOSE-DRIVEN SECRET OF YOU, THE OWNERS MANUAL would pop up next to a link to buy the book (which you should totally buy, I swear it will change your life).

There are more and more ventures like this in the pipeline, I'm told, because hey, it's Google, and new ventures are what they do.

But this isn't just an extended product placement ad for Google (although they did pay me handsomely AND give me one of those scooters they ride around on). This post is also an exhortation to please, please, please use the Google before you query an agent. Especially, uh, me.

Two years ago I could have understood if someone queried me about their screenplay or their poetry collection, or if they began their query with a rhetorical question. I mean, short of knowing me personally, how could they know that I personally declared war against queries beginning with rhetorical questions in 2004?

Things have changed. Now all you have to do is Google me and my blog pops up. Just five minutes looking at my blog, seeing what I represent and don't represent, and tailoring your letter accordingly will instantly increase your chances of me requesting your manuscript by approximately 1,000%. Five minutes! And yet people don't do this. It boggles ze mind!

But here's the problem -- if you're reading this blog you already know these things. You're already one of the smart ones. You know that your odds are drastically increased if you Google an agent you're querying and write a personalized query letter. I need to reach the people who aren't reading this blog. So I have a plan. We're going to pay it forward. Yes, you heard correctly. Pay it forward.

You know that movie with that kid who saw dead people that was about being nice? Yeah, I didn't watch it either. BUT. Apparently there's this idea in the movie that if you're good to three people then those people will be good to other people, and suddenly everyone will be good to everyone else and we can all hold hands and sing kumbayah and watch more movies with the kid who saw dead people.

So here's the plan -- let's all think really bad thoughts about queries that start with rhetorical questions, and let's also encourage everyone we know who is writing a book to just take five minutes and Google the agent they're querying before they send the query, and then maybe I won't get any more of these types of queries.

Ok, fine, or you can just pay it forward by being good to people and try and make the world a better place. God. You're so selfish.


Lisa, Amy, Hannah & Lynne said...

Love the blog, Nathan, you have a great voice. Can't wait for the book.


Don said...

I see two difficulties about the power of google:

1. Far too many agents, when googled, don't give much information. Or if they do, it's about what you'd find in WM.

b. Some agents (Miss Snark, is one good example) won't turn up when you google them under their own name. Heck, of four blogs and one blog-like thing that I've done, only one of them turns up with a google search on my name (although one of those is on purpose), and it would take a fair amount of effort to get from the formulation of my name that I use for writing (I go with the initial form of my name, like all the giants of literature, J. D. Salinger, F. R. Leavis, J. C. Penney... although that search does turn up some of my non-fiction writing credits) to the one blog-like thing that is under my name.

Nathan Bransford said...


Very true, and for a lot of agents it's not going to be terribly useful. But I still think you can unearth at least a few nuggets, such as references to who the agent represents, even if they don't have a huge presence on the web.

Kim Stagliano said...

Before I began blogging and writing for HuffPo my Google search turned up the anal porn star, John Stagliano. Not too helpful! LOL!

Scott said...

I love the Google Library. Much of what I write is set in the Middle Ages, and I've downloaded more research material (in both English and German) than I'll ever be able to get through.

Bernita said...

I mentioned it, Nathan.
Can't help it if they don't listen.

Marva said...

What would you do if I sang out of tune?

Too rhetorical, eh?

Nathan Bransford said...


Yeah, I'm afraid I might stand up and walk out on you.

Anonymous said...

Nathan, I have spotted a Large Big Huge problem with your reasoning. Why exactly do we want to help Other People write a good query letter? If all the queries you received were well-researched and otherwise good, it would be that much harder to get an agents attention.

Everyone can officially stop throwing things at me. Admit it, you all THOUGHT it, even if none of you said it. ;)

Bryan D. Catherman said...

Wait, we help three dead people and tell them not write a rhetorical query letter? Or we tell the dead people to Google agents? Or we are the dead people and that kid can see three of us? Google sees dead people? I'm sure that's the next big thing they're working on-- Google sees dead people....

Anonymous said...

If you heard about 'secrets' (I know you did because you mentioned it on a prev. blog) you know that all you have to do it focus on the good queries and they will come to you. Problem solved. ^_^

A Paperback Writer said...

For what it's worth, my favorite (real) title of a self-help book was: If You Don't Know Where You're Going, You'll Probably End Up Somewhere Else. I've never read it, but my mom has a copy.

Simon Haynes said...

"Why exactly do we want to help Other People write a good query letter?"

Every book, every author is different. Helping someone else out is not going to make any difference to our own chances. It also feels good to lend a hand.

Nathan Bransford said...

Simon makes a very good point. I've been receiving a lot of good query letters lately -- which means I just request more manuscripts. A good query letter is a good query letter and I'm always looking for good writers, you're not in competition with anyone else.

Alphabeter said...

Since you have demanded good query letters from Google, I will hereby send you the Requested Material.

So who is this Forward that I Pay? ;P

brian_ohio said...

All good points, Nathan. Ten years ago the only source of help with the query was the Literary Writer's Market. It didn't offer much. Now, there is so much info around, it's pretty easy to target the right agents.

But there is something sinister about Google... something that many folks aren't aware is happening.

Google is the end of trivia!

That's right. It's gone. Like a floating biscuit in the breeze. With mobile Internet access, you can no longer brag about your miscellaneous knowledge of abstract facts. Anyone can get them with the click of the mouse or the push of a very tiny button that only a child with skinny fingers is able to press accurately.

The Trival Pursuit rules need to be ammended... "No Googling allowed"

David said...

I've been reading quite a few agents' blogs for a while, but I think this one is the most entertaining. Especially after this most recent post.

Oh, and informative, too!

Anonymous said...

Hi Nathan,

Love the blog! I have a question.

I have a finished novel, coming in at about 52k words. While it has good characters and a plot (in my opinion, at least), it's very light on conflict. To me, it works well as a "curl up in front of a fire and devour in one evening" kind of book. I rather like where it is, and have struggled to add more to it.

Is it better to query with it as it is, and see what sort of reactions I get, or wait until I add another 25k of conflict that I'm not happy with, and then query? Or, shelve it as a first-novel learning curve, and start in on my second book?

Jen said...

I was directed to this blog by Dayna Hart
and I've found it IMMENSELY helpful. I have no problem passing the word around.
"Googling" is now a regular part of my professional life. Don made a good point though. An agents website often has better information and a lot of them don't have blogs.
The ones that do are helpful, however.
Yours is both entertaining and informative, which is why I read Miss Snark as well.
Nothing like getting "A spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down."
I'm humming now. Stopping.

whoisbenji said...

My love for this blog is great.

Related Posts with Thumbnails