Nathan Bransford, Author

Monday, June 25, 2007

And.... We're Back! (with some fun query stats)

Hello everyone, hope you had a lovely week. The blog is freshly tanned and is aglow from its week-long vacation, in which it imbibed far more tropical drinks than a website really should be allowed. Naughty blog.

I just spent the last several hours answering the many queries that accumulated in the last week so I can hit the ground running tomorrow with a clear inbox. And, as a treat for the statistically inclined, I kept a running counter.

Over the past week I received 121 queries, which actually is probably a bit less than normal since anyone who reads the blog regularly knew I was out of the office. But if you multiply that by 52 weeks it translates to around 6,000-7,000 queries a year.

Here's the breakdown by genre -- I tried to categorize them as best they could, but as you can tell from the "no freaking idea" category, it's not always readily apparent:

Suspense/thriller/mystery: 28
Literary fiction: 13
Young Adult: 11
Historical fiction: 10
Fantasy: 10
Memoir: 8
Science fiction: 7
Male Ennui: 7
Women's fiction: 4
Politics/Current events: 3
Narrative nonfiction: 3
Religion/New Age: 3
Horror: 2
Middle grade: 2
Picture book: 1
No Freaking Idea: 5

Some more fun stats out of those 121:

Personalized queries: 23 (which means an astounding 98 people either didn't so much as Google my name or neglected to mention it in the query.)
Queries beginning with a rhetorical question: 10
Spelled my name wrong: 4
Queries "narrated" by a protagonist: 2
And, of course, evil albinos: 1

As far as trends go, the young author trend shows no sign of stopping, but one interesting thing I'm noticing is that I'm starting to receive quite a few queries from Nigeria.

So, most importantly, how many of those 121 queries did I request a partial? Well, er, none actually. I swear I didn't come back from vacation in a bad mood, I just didn't find a good fit out of those 121.

I'll be back on Tuesday, hopefully all caught up and back on my regular blogging schedule.


Anonymous said...

OK, OK, what's wrong with beginning with a rhetorical question? (Asked non-rhetorically.) I ask because another agent suggests queriers start with a rhetorical question.

leatherdykeuk said...

I'm noticing is that I'm starting to receive quite a few queries from Nigeria

These wouldn't be about needing banks to shift vast amounts of money, would they?

...only I had this idea for a thriller...

Nathan Bransford said...


This is just a personal preference, but they drive me bonkers, in part because, as you can see, they're so common. I personally feel that a rhetorical question isn't a good way to describe a work because 1) my answer to the rhetorical question is invariably "no" (i.e. Have you ever wondered what would happen if aliens abducted the president and held him for ransom?) and 2) it's passive writing.

Compare the two:

Have you ever wondered what would happen if aliens abducted the president and held him for ransom?


America got more than it bargained for when space aliens kidnapped the president and held him for ransom.

Reid said...

You know, albinos really get a bad rap. Everytime you see an albino in the movies, he's a bad guy. "Foul Play," "Lethal Weapon," they're always the villain with a social problem.

You never hear about the GOOD side of albinos anymore. It's a cruel stereotype. Personally, I've never met an evil albino, nor has one ever attempted to kill a close associate of mine that I know of. In fact, I'd be willing to vote for an albino candidate if one of the major parties had the guts to run him.

"Hell No, Vote Albino!"

In all seriousness, I noticed that none of your queries were categorized as the general "commercial fiction." Is that a tag to avoid when submitted a manuscript?

Anonymous said...

Mr. Bransford,

Do you only respond to queries that interest you, or do you send a "Not for me" message to those that don't? I've queried you twice (once this past week, so it should have been in this last batch) but have heard nothing back either time. I don't know whether that means you're not interested or whether something went wrong in the sending.

Thank you very much, and I'm glad you enjoyed your vacation!


Nathan Bransford said...


I always reply, so something must have gone wrong. You might want to double-check my e-mail address and try again.

Ozal said...

I'm gobsmacked.
Out of 121 queries, there were 19 that used your name and spelled it right?
I... just... what is the matter with people?!!?

I bet a good number of those impersonal queriers complain about getting an impersonal rejection, too.

Better luck with the next week-worth of queries.

Anonymous said...

I have a question about personalizing queries. Sometimes I adore one of the agent's authors. Then I might say so. But to say "I noticed on Agent Query that you like mystery novels" seems redundant, as, obviously, I wouldn't send a query to anyone who didn't rep the genre of my manuscript. It looks like filler to me. If you rep my genre, and I have your address, obviously I looked you up somewhere. I just don't get the appeal of cobbling together a sentence to say so... Do you really feel that a query without such a sentence is just a mass mailing?

Perhaps your point of view on this is because you have a blog, and would expect a comment on *that*. But the generic "I saw your listing in Writer's Market" sentence leaves me cold.

Also: In the cases where an agent reps an author I adore, even that can come out weird. If, for example, the book is famous, it sounds like generic sucking up. And also like the dreaded as-yet-undeserved comparison: "If you like repping Alice Sebold, you're going to love me!"

I'd just gotten to the point where I've settled on what I hope is a kick-ass hook + pub credits formula. Now I'm wondering who I'm going to offend if I don't explicitly mention Google or Agent Query.

Seriously? You assume that anyone who didn't say so "didn't so much as google"????

Anonymous said...

Anonymous re. personalized queries - I think he meant they didn't use his name.

Stargazer said...

Nada from 121 queries? That's depressing.

Anonymous said...

Really? Nathan, did "personalized" refer to using your NAME?

How would it be possible to find an agent's address and NOT find their name?

Honore said...


From what I've gathered that's REALLY common. (Not addressing an agent by name, or mis-spelling it, getting the person's gender wrong when it's abundantly obvious, and so on.) Such letters are probably photocopied too. Crookedly. On cheap paper. In a weird font. Ugh. Too bad no one uses mimeographs these days. That smudgy purple ink would really add a much needed je ne sais quoi to a generic, impersonal, mass-mailing of query letters.

jason evans said...

Happy Monday-back-from-vacation! (Well, we can try to be positive, can't we?)

So, I had no idea what "male ennui" is. I clicked the link.

Whoops. My WIP definitely fits that bill. Lots of writers out there reflecting on their thirties, I guess.

I understand the competition is fierce on the front side, but how is the market on the back side? Are we all battling over left-overs after the real sales have been made?

Nathan Bransford said...

Personalized means going beyond putting my name on the query, although quite a few people didn't even do that. Just mentioning that they saw my blog or referencing the clients I represent is enough to tip me off that someone took the time to research me specifically instead of just slapping my name on a generic query or, worse, including me in a mass mailing.

Nathan Bransford said...


There's definitely a market for the ennui novel, but it really needs to be an original take on the whole ennui thing and I'd say the bar is higher since it's so common.

joycemocha said...

I'm glad the blog enjoyed fruity libations!


Actually, in your case, when I get around to submitting a query to you, I'm going to be especially paranoid. Your last name is very close to that of a childhood friend of my son's (Bransfield) so I'd be worried about a subliminal slip.

jason evans said...

Thanks, Nathan. The extra challenge will get the pulse going a little faster.

Have a great day.

Anonymous said...

Hi Nathan--thanks for answering. Now that we've established that you really are talking about that "I went to agent query and noticed you like fantasy" line, perhaps you can elaborate on that, from the my original question? Like, seriously, a mundane sentence like that really has that much impact? Whenever I look at query letters en masse (like at Miss Snark and Evil Editor) those sentences just come across as filler, unless there's something truly distinctive (like "I enjoyed meeting you at such-and-such conference..."). Would you really assume that someone who doesn't mention google hasn't googled, even though they have your name spelled right and are submitting in your genre?

Crystal Jordan said...

Welcome back, Nathan. Glad you--uh, your blog--had a nice, if slightly sloshed, break.

Dave said...

Male Ennui? Male Ennui?
That reminds me of the unicorn I once bought for my second wife. It produced new age, mystic manure - all the smell and none of the substance, no shoveling involved.

jason evans said...

Dave, being from farm country, I can tell you that the farmers hate that kind of manure. Especially the Amish. It makes for a nice summer evening of spreading, but daisies keep growing where the corn is supposed to be.

Nathan Bransford said...


I would really recommend including more than just a line saying that they noticed I like, say, historical fiction. Anyone could say that just by running a search on agentquery or, and they could even fire off the same e-mail to 20 agents.

What I'm talking about is referencing one of my clients, referencing the blog... something that shows that the author put the time in to research agents individually. It's much more professional than just querying blindly, it shows that the author is plugged in, and given the amount of information out there on the web about agents, it shouldn't be too difficult.

Liz Wolfe said...

I find the discussion about personalizing query letters interesting. I have never personalized an agent query unless I've met the agent at a conference or had some type of interaction with him or her. It always seemed more professional to me to simply state the facts. Somehow saying that I read an agent's blog or admire one fo the agent's authors seems a little too much like sucking up. I would think that most writers who are looking for an agent read every agent's blog they can find.
And as for mass mailings, if the query is professional and directed to appropriate agents, what difference does it make if the query is sent to 10 agents or 100 agents? Although I also believe that each query should be personalized. I can understand being a little put off by receiving an email query that's been addressed to a hundred other agents.

Nathan Bransford said...


It makes a big difference. I definitely encourage everyone to query widely, but at the same time, you're proposing entering into a business relationship with someone and it behooves you to do some initial research to see if you would be a good fit, and then to put that research to work. It tips me off that you're thorough, that you've put thought into querying me specifically --- otherwise how am I to know?

But perhaps the best argument for it is that it works -- after I've read 50 generic queries in a row that and my eyes are glazing over, it absolutely catches my eye when someone references a joke on the blog or talks about how they read one of my clients' books.

Anyone who is reading an agent blog (not just mine) has a major leg up in my book, because they're showing dedication to the craft and business of writing. Any Joe Schmoe can crank out a query letter, but it takes dedication to take the time to research the industry. If you don't tip me off that you're one of those types of writers there's no way for me to know.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the answer, Nathan. It's eye-opening to me to learn that that's important to you.

From my point of view, for a writer to spend the time coming up with grounds for a personal comment beyond "you rep my genre and are legitimate and successful" is a huge waste. Imagine applying that to EVERY agent in your query process! If you're just querying your fave top ten, sure, but what about when you're beyond that?
(Not to mention that the fill-in-the-blank nature of "I notice you represent :name of some author: and think you may enjoy my novel" is something I wouldn't trust to be genuine if I were on the agent end. But hey, that's just my natural suspiciousness, I guess.)

Anyway, now I know that it does matter to some agents. That's good info. So thanks for sharing.

Travis Erwin said...

As always, thanks for giving us insight into your life as an agent. It's all these little tidbits which give us the knowledge to improve our queries.

Nathan Bransford said...


I realize it takes time, and if there's nothing out there on the web about the agent that you can find, a non-personalized letter is not the kiss of death. It should be an hours-long search. And I also realize that people's references to my clients are not always genuine, but I still appreciate that they at least took the time.

Another thing about the personalization is that the best queries are also usually the ones that are personalized (because the writer has done their research and knows what they're doing), so I tend to naturally associate the two.

So yeah -- there are a thousand reasons to personalize (when you can), but it just comes down to the fact that it gives you an advantage.

original bran fan said...

From my experience, no amount of sucking up to agents is ever wasted. They know what you're doing, you know what you're doing, it doesn't hurt anything and helps a lot.

What's really interesting is when the sucking up goes the other way. I got a phone call from an agent who had my partial. He wanted me to send him the full. At one point in the conversation he was trying to sell himself to me, telling me the books he's sold and how long he's been in business and his other credentials. Then he gushed over my partial.

I was like, "You had me at hello." Of course I sent him the full! I wouldn't have queried him/sent him the partial if I didn't think he rocked. But it was fun to be sucked up to nevertheless.

If it was fun for me, I'm sure it is fun for the agents. Why not have more fun?

Lauren said...

Re: query personalization

Start your agent search and subsequent research long before you query. I know I have at least 8 - 9 months before I query my novel, but I've already got my agent master list set up -- about 25 - 30 agents I'm certain I'll query. Whenever I'm online and have a little extra time, I'll check up on a few of them -- Google them, see if their Publishers Marketplace and Agent Query profiles have changed, see if there's any new info on their agency website, Google some of their represented authors and see what the buzz is on them, and search a few of their represented titles on Amazon and see how the sales and reviews have been. Then I write down a few notes on my agent list. Doing this, I've not only gotten more than enough info to put in query letters, I've also gotten a great sense of what's being released in my genre in '08 and which agents are rocking it, sales-wise, and which ones aren't so much.

Also, between now and the time I query, I'll be able to read at least one book from each agent's list.

I probably come off as obsessive, but I hope it all pays off. :)

(Welcome back, Nathan!)

Crystal Jordan said...


Do you think the upswing in young authors is due to Christopher Paolini's success with Eragon/Eldest?

Original Bran Fan-

You know the rest of us reading this kind of hate you right now for getting a phone call like that. Congrats on the full request!

pjd said...

So how about this:

I read on your blog that you like having your blog referenced in a query letter.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but the whole "personalized" thing is a bit of a red herring. While it can help the query writer stand out a bit, it clearly didn't help the 23 people who did personalize their queries but whose novels did not make the cut this week.

Call me nuts, but I'm not going to obsess over this issue.

Nathan, thanks for posting the interesting query stats. I'd love to read the queries for the "No Freaking Idea" category. I bet it would be amusing.

And, I recommend creating a drinking game out of this exercise. Shouldn't be too hard.

Nathan Bransford said...


It's true that the odds are still against you even if you personalize the letter. But when you're facing long odds to begin with, don't you want to make your chances as good as possible?

Liz Wolfe said...

Thanks for the explanation. I always research an agent before I query so I just need to follow through with that in the letter.
Writers really appreciate agents who blog.

original bran fan said...

Crystal Jordan-- don't hate me! That phone call came only after three unsalable books, countless rejections and major sucking up.

Yeah, and one of the rejections was from Nathan, too.

Crystal Jordan said...

Original Bran Fan-

The writer's life is SO much fun, isn't it? I look at other writers and have to say you are my kind of crazy.

But, again, congrats on the full request.

Maya Reynolds said...

Nathan: Welcome back. You (and the tipsy blog) were missed.

About a year before I was ready to query, I subscribed to Publishers Lunch. Each Sunday when Cader reported on the week's deals, I went down the list, picking out the manuscripts that had sold in my genre and making an index card for the agent/deal involved.

Before long, I had a qualified list of agents who (1) had made at least one deal in my genre; (2) had made more than one deal in my genre but with only one publisher; and (3) had made multiple deals in my genre with multiple editors.

That list was pure gold when I began querying. I was able to use it to very specifically personalize my query letters.

It worked, too.

The day when I saw my name and book on the list was incredible.

I still subscribe to PL. It's addictive.

Anonymous said...

Well, Nathan, four fulls and five partials of my male ennui novel are out with top agents right now-- some of them showing very strong interest-- so I don't think the situation is quite as dire as you believe.

And why no "female ennui" category? That's all "Women's Fiction" is.

Nathan Bransford said...


I'm not down on the ennui novel, if you read that post. I'm just pointing out that it's tougher and requires an original take. Sounds like you have a good one.

dmh said...

"after I've read 50 generic queries in a row that and my eyes are glazing over, it absolutely catches my eye when someone references a joke on the blog or talks about how they read one of my clients' books."


I'm glad you're back!

I just learned something today. I've always worried that personalizing the query might look like sucking up, but when I read your comment above, I was like Oh! That's why!


reality said...

Nathan, Lauren and Anon,
Thanks for the debate on personalizing query letters.

Nathan, I am going to start sucking up to you straight away. You are the only agent I have so far researched and who is on my agents list. You are also mentioned in my blog.
This is all true. and I have researched your clients too.
Just waiting for my WIP to finish.

Andrew said...

Crystal, I would guess that some young authors are motivated by Paolini's success story, but I'd guess that it's more a manifestation of how this generation of teens is. I sometimes call them "little grownups," because they act savvy and sometimes jaded. Where I, as a Generation X teen in the 80s, wrote fantasy novels that sat in my basement, these teens today write novels and think, "I should get an agent. This will be my first novel in a long career."

Anonymous said...

Dear Ms. Binford:

i am frm Nigeria and have got a novel I finished bout this guy who is maybe 40 and tired of his job and his wife and his kids, so he buys a camper no I mean a canoe strike that a motorcycle and then rides around and thinks about stuff.

I'm running short on stamps this week - maybe you could just come ovr and pick it up?

Jennifer McK said...

Actually, that's kind of cool to see the breakdown!
Glad you're back. I missed you.

Janniel said...

Is this where the line forms for Agent Sucking-up? Count me in:

We missed you, Nathan!

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