Nathan Bransford, Author

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

More on How I Read Queries

Thanks to everyone for all of the interesting comments on my post yesterday on query stats. In the absence of any good TV to talk about (except for Big Love -- much better this season! Those silly polygamists...) I thought I would get right to discussing some of the things that came up in response to that post.

The first is personalization of queries. I guess people are worried about sucking up too much! Ha! Not possible, folks. Sucking up will get you EVERYWHERE. Ok, well, not exactly. I definitely blush and look away when someone is laying it on a little thick, but mentioning that you admire someone's clients and, ahem, that you happen to read their blog is not sucking up. It's showing that you took the time, did the research, researched the agent and then decided that you still liked them enough to send them a query. It's not about the flattery, I swear. The imperessive part is that you took the time, went the extra distance, read some books, made sure you're a good fit, and wrote a personal note. That bodes well for a good client. And ultimately, as I said in the comments section, the most important thing about personalizing is that works.

Someone also asked for a breakdown of how many queries were near misses, how many were good, and how many were really bad. I didn't keep detailed statistics about this, but since I can't really show you my inbox, here goes:

I'd say anywhere from half to two-thirds are just.... well, I'm not in the dream-crushing business (that's Sean Lindsay's job), but let's just say that half to two-thirds are the kazoo to Ian McEwan's grand piano.

I'd say about 30-40% are fine but not there yet. Either they were a bit too formulaic or a bit too out there or the writing was ok but not great or maybe the query letter just didn't convey the work properly.

Maybe 10% of queries are very good (that may be a little high, honestly). Of those, maybe one or two strike my fancy enough for me to request a partial. The other good ones either aren't a genre I specialize in or were very well-written query letters but the idea behind work the itself just didn't grab me.

And yes, ultimately it comes down to fit. I've passed on some books that went on to find publishers, just like every other agent has. They just weren't for me. But I'm really looking hard, I give each query a lot of thought, and I am always hoping that each query in my inbox is the next great book.

Good luck, everyone!


Merry Jelinek said...

Hi Nathan,

First, thank you for the inside look at how to read a query. Personalizing it only makes sense and the nice thing about so many agents blogging these days is the fact that it gives the author a better way to get to know that agent's tastes and the way they work...

I have a slightly off topic question - I read on another blog that using a pen name in the querying stage is a no-no... This hadn't even occurred to me before, I'm in the final stages of editing now, and therefore obsessing... I'm using my maiden name for fiction and I assumed the query should be signed with my legal name, though the ms contains my maiden name on the title page and with the title and page numbers throughout.

Is this a huge pet peeve that I was unaware of? And if it is, what's the proper format?



Nathan Bransford said...


Honestly I don't give it much thought -- I'd just sign as your real name but otherwise indicate that you plan to use a pen name.

pixy said...

Glad you had a fun vacation!

I really love the inside look at your stats! Thanks!

Anonymous said...

I was stunned when I read that some thought it "sucking up" to personalize a query. It's simply good business sense to demonstrate to potential partners you take your writing seriously. Studying the market, and understanding both your work and the agent's list to know you're a good fit.

When I queried agents for my novel, my first batch went to 15 agents. Twelve requested fulls, one a partial, and the other two never responded. Within a month I had offers of representation. Many of you have good novels, but without a solid query letter, how will anyone ever know?

It's a business, folks. Show you understand all the facets and you'll go far.

Twill said...

fix typos - then reject this post
(normally I ignore blog typos, but this was a bit much)



>>is that works.

it works

>>idea behind work the itself

the work

Nathan Bransford said...



Unfortunately by the time I remember that I haven't spell checked bloglines and Google Reader have picked up the blog, and I'd rather just leave them in there than mess people up.

Sean Lindsay said...

I'm not in the dream-crushing business (that's Sean Lindsay's job)

It's not a job, it's a calling.

jason evans said...

You folks don't have an easy job. The defensiveness that springs up when you offer to help must get tiring after a while.

I appreciate the effort and the guidance. The more reality we get, the better.

Anonymous said...

Here's another question for you. As I'm sitting here biting my nails down to the quick waiting on my agent to succeed in selling my book, I can't help but wonder: Of new authors you take on, what percentage of books never sell?

Heidi the Hick said...

well...I am so relieved to hear that you want us to suck up a little and do the research.

You know, because I was kind of starting to feel like a bit of a stalker, and honestly that was feeling kind of uncomfortable.

So I feel much better now.

(word verification: ebuse)

Elmire Neptune said...

Hello Nathan,

First, your blog is awesome. I don't care about your typos--I appreciate that you take the time to repeat yourself over and over and over again for us writers who have metal plates in our heads.

Second, I'm anxious to read about what happens after those fortunate few get over the dreaded query hump. What's your advice on partial submissions? How many of those do you accept on average? What sort of first chaper shenanigans make you drop the manuscript at once? Is there anything particular you look for (besides great writing) within the first few you speed read? Have you ever taken on a client who's manuscript you couldn't sell? What's the longest relationship you've ever had with a client?

littlebirdblue said...

"And yes, ultimately it comes down to fit. "

...So true.

Reid said...

Love the blog, as always. Sucking up, as always. It's good practice, I suppose.

Liz said...

I'd never go into a job interview without knowing something about my prospective employer.

Would a writer want to enter a business relationship with an agent he/she knew nothing about? I guess from your blog, the answer is yes for some folks.

A query letter is the writing world's way of communicating you've taken the time and put forth the effort to learn just who that agent is.

I love this blog, but I wouldn't query Nathan. He doesn't represent what I write.

For me, a little homework on the front end, will save time for agents and writers.

Luc2 said...


I Loooooooooooove your blog. I learn every post by heart. I've your picture on my mug and on a T-shirt, and I simply think you're the best! And I love all the books you represent. Well, I haven't read them yet, but after you'll represent mine I will have read at least one (wink wink).

You'll receive my query soon. If you send me your home address, I'll deliver the 6000 page manuscript personally, so i can shake your hand and maybe hug you (but only if you don't mind).

And please send your acceptance letter to my office address, because my wife is getting suspicious.

P.S. What are "submission guidelines"?

Anonymous said...

Hey Nathan,

You mentioned yesterday that the "young author trend" is still going strong. About how many of those queries do you get? Or, did you get in the 121?

sylvia said...

I'm intrigued by the 13 "literary fiction" submissions ... I've noticed this in your sidebar and always thought it would sound a bit highbrow to cite your mss. as such.

"My novel, complete at 98,000 words, is a literary fiction tale of a young girl coming of age and her fight to keep 'hold of the plantation she loves, set across the brutal backdrop of the civil war."

Did you categorise those submissions as literary or did the authors? What does it actually mean?

sylvia said...

(and re: sucking up. I have friends who feel that wearing a tie to a job interview is sucking up, as well. I don't bother to argue with them, but nor am I surprised when they have difficulties landing the job)

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