Nathan Bransford, Author

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Make Our Lives Easier

So I was watching The Hills on MTV last night, or at least it was on while I was reading (my girlfriend is a big fan), and there was a pretty amazing moment between this girl Heidi and her sketchy boyfriend Spencer. You see. Heidi and Spencer were talking about moving in together, and Spencer was sketchily applying some pressure to make this happen. At the very end, whilst sitting in Spencer's fancy car, Heidi said, "My answer is no," and Spencer, not missing a sketchy beat, countered with, "Sweet, my answer is get out of my car."


My mind immediately began racing as I thought of the many uses of this amazing comeback.

Girlfriend: "I think we should watch Say Anything tonight instead of Kicking and Screaming."
Me: "Sweet, my answer is get out of my car."

Contracts person: "I'm sorry, I can't grant you this point."
Me: "Sweet, my answer is get out of my car."

Random person on the street: "Your shoelace is untied."
Me: "Sweet, my answer is get out of my car."

Unfortunately, I'm just not this mean. Which may explain why I'm not currently on a reality TV show.

Anyway, on to the actual post.

I touched on this in a previous post on the wonders of Google, and I think it bears repeating because lately some query letters writers have been making life difficult.

Here's the thing about technology. It saves time. But it doesn't actually save time equally. You can use technology to save yourself time at the expense of a prospective agent's time, or you can use technology to save your prospective agent time at the expense of yours. And I am imploring you, both for my own sake and for your prospects of success, to save your prospective agent's time.

Example A: E-mail makes it extremely easy to e-mail a bunch of people at once. You could either fire off a hundred identical letters to random agents, meaning that quite a few agents will be getting queries that aren't remotely right for them, or you could take the time to research agents individually. Take the time.

Example B: You could just send out a link to your website and ask agents to go find take a look, meaning that they have to go to their browser, hope the website is working, hunt around for the material and risk that the link is actually spam, or you could take the time to write a proper query letter and include a link to your website just in case the agent is curious. Take the time.

Example C: You could mention an agent's blog for some brownie points without taking a look through the archives, or you could read a lot of what they've posted and make sure you are following the advice they have given in the past (such as, ahem, the part about queries beginning with rhetorical questions). Take the time.

Example D: You could send off a first draft that doesn't represent your best work, or you could sit down, send it off to critique groups and revise revise revise. Take the time.

It's easier than ever before to use the internet to find information about agents. It used to be ridiculously hard -- you had to buy books, spend time at the library, you had to have connections.... I don't know how anyone ever got an agent, frankly. Now it's really easy to find information, and yet people aren't even taking the time to look for it. I don't understand it.

So yeah -- this is probably a "preaching to the choir" post, but please please take the time to do your research, write a great query letter, and personalize it. Otherwise you just might be hearing the words, "Sweet, my answer is get out of my car."


Anonymous said...

"Now it's really easy to find information, and yet people aren't even taking the time to look for it. I don't understand it."

Impulse control disorder, basically.

Liz said...

"Take the time."

Take the time to be professional, polite, thorough and smart. You can multitask your little heart away, but somethings deserve your full undivided attention.

Querying an agent is one. The other would be watching the finale of Rome on HBO:)

Lauren said...

I've been to a couple writers' events lately (a conference, some regional club meetings) and it floors me how many people ask the speakers elementary questions about agents and publishing. One speaker I listened to recently was the editor of a regional literary journal, speaking on topics related to writing for literary journals. During the Q&A he got questions like, "I have a children's book I want to get published. Do I need an agent?" or "Do you have any agents to recommend for horror novels?" And then a couple people had questions about POD and if it was worth it. You could sense the desperation in these people's voices, as if they'd come to this meeting to get a glimpse of light into the Dark and Secret Publishing Industry. The speaker wasn't prepared for their questions, and he sort of stumbled his way through some vague answers.

Granted, I was a young'un compared to most of the people at that meeting, and I'm a rather big Internet nerd, but I still feel like information on publishing is very, very easy to come by on the Internet these days. And, unlike a lot of the books in my local library, most of it is quite up-to-date. At the conference I attended earlier this month, I recommended Agent Query and P&E to several people who asked Agenting 101 questions. I do believe I also namechecked one Nathan Bransford, Literary Agent. I intend to keep spreading the gospel of the Internerd writing/publishing community!

Dave Wilmot said...

Gotham Writers Workshop have a "How to Get Published" course for a $125 which is quite useful.

brian_ohio said...

What are the odds that the people you are truly speaking to are reading this Blog?

Now, Sweet, my answer is get out of the car.

Hey... you're right. That felt great!

Anonymous said...

So, to clarify, in a query letter, you want everything stated in the form of a question?

Nathan Bransford said...


Do I love it when people talk in questions? Why wouldn't I? Can you tell how excited I am right now?

Jaye Wells said...

I was just talking with a friend this morning about how much we quote Kicking and Screaming. Not sure it's better than Say Anything, though. Hey, I'm a chick, it's hardwired into my DNA to love John Cusak.

Also, it seems you've stumbled on the best one-line form rejection ever: "Sweet, my answer is get out of my slush pile."

Gabriele C. said...

And I thought it was enough to post a link to my snippet blog in the comments here.

Just in case you don't read the blogs of the people who comment here anyway.


Annalee said...

I really can't imagine querying an agent I hadn't looked up first. I mean, the goal of querying is to get an agent-- why would you want an agent you know nothing about? That's just plain silly, that is.

L.C.McCabe said...

What would happen if you received one more query starting with a rhetorical question? Would your head explode?

I was just looking to see what your agency had on the web and was surprised to realize that their website is under construction. You have a UK and an Australian website, but there isn't one up and running for the US. Huh?

:Scratches head in wonderment:

However, maybe you should include your utter antipathy towards rhetorical questions in your profile on your blog. Along those same ideas, add it to your signature on Absolute Write. "Declaring war on rhetorical questions in queries since 2005." Or some such pithy comment.

Hopefully then, people who take the five minutes to find your name and email can at least have the possibility of knowing one of your all time pet peeves. And avoid committing that grievous sin.

Have a good day, oh and I second Liz's comments about HBO's series "Rome." In the immortal words of Ted Logan, "Excellent!"

sex scenes at starbucks said...

What if "Sweet, my answer is get out of my car" was your new form rejection for queries with rhetorical questions? :)

Len said...

Dear Mr. Brown:

Have you ever asked a rhetorical question? Many people haven't, which is why I wrote The Big Book of Rhetorical Questions. My 28 years of experience as a grocery clerk were of no help whatsoever in writing this book, but I didn't let that stop me. I know that you will enjoy my book very much, [name of agent]. In fact, I'm getting my pen ready to sign that contract with a major publisher right now!

Don't take any wooden nickels,

Hugh G. Payne

Jennifer McK said...

Impulse Control Disorder. LOL. Absolutely.
Here's what happens to me. (Luckily I have writer friends that perform an intervention and save me from myself).
I have just finished a work in progress, sent it critique partners and the blood is still dripping from my forehead.
Now, it gets really messy. Rather than "take my time" to research the best place to submit the story or the best agent to query, I'm in a all fired hurry to get that "thing", that's occupied my head space for a while, out to someone who can publish it.
The last intervention was brutal, but I refrained from the rhetorical question. Barely.

Anonymous said...

I'm just kicking myself because for the first time Ever I used a rhetorical question in a query, sent it off to you, and was rejected in less than a day.

I read your blog - but I don't spend my life online and I don't read Every post.

I did not send off a hundred identical letters. I sent off three very different letters to three agents I thought might be a good fit. I did my research carefully with Agent Query, Preditors and Editors, even e-mailing Victoria Strauss about one newbie agent, and checking agents' websites.

For some reason, I thought it would be nice to start your query with a rhetorical question.
And then I read this.
I'm just thankful the other two agents did not get the question, lol.

Peter R said...

Despite the ease of research on the Internet, I still find it virtually impossible to find out if a female agent is a Miss, Mrs or Ms. Is it ok to start a letter using their first name since that is all they seem to quote on their websites?

Nathan Bransford said...


You should always use Ms. regardless of marital status.

Demon Hunter said...

Nathan, I get the gist of what you represent. What are the genres that you absolutely will not represent? I noticed you said science fiction; what about fantasy? Thanks!

Nathan Bransford said...

I would be open to the right fantasy novel, although the bar is slightly higher because it's not something I normally leap for. I'm pretty open to many different thing, but I don't represent romance, mind/body/spirit, poetry, and works for middle grade or younger

Demon Hunter said...

Thanks, Nathan!

Helen DeWitt said...

It's not actually easy to find information worth having. That is why agents and editors are flooded with submissions from unsuitable candidates.

You can find out that an agent likes SF. Anyone who has a real interest in SF (which includes, at a guess, most writers in the genre and ALL serious contenders) is going to want to know: OK, and just WHICH SF writers do you like? Is a prepubescent fling with Heinlein something you admit to with a shamefaced indulgence for a younger, less sophisticated self? (Or were you so sophisticated you never went through the prepubescent fling? or so unsophisticated that-- let's not go down that road.) Do you love Philip K. Dick even when he populates a story with wisecracking slime molds? Do you like Stanislaw Lem or think the whimsicality grates? Do you like Iain M. Banks? And can you name at least 10 writers you think are interesting who have never been brought to the attention of the general public by a film or other accidental foray into the mainstream?

An agent who posted a detailed list of his preferences would not eliminate the dim and the clueless, but he would eliminate writers who are competent in a branch of this very wide field that he happens not to like, and attract strong writers who see something matching their taste.

The same point may be made of any field of writing.

Authors hire agents to find suitable editors, but agents themselves have nothing like this kind of detailed information on editors. A stupid amount of time is wasted on mismatched submissions. It wouldn't be hard to fix this.

miss ali said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Debra Driza said...

OMG, this is my new favorite line! I'm even going to start using it when the kids are about to kill each other in the backseat, only, then I would totally be meaning it so never mind.

But I CAN use it the next time a telemarketer calls.

"Hi, would you like to buy some--"
"Sweet, get out of my car."


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