Nathan Bransford, Author

Thursday, September 6, 2007

I Like Queries

I tend to be an overly logical person. I can't listen to the song "Whoomp! (There It Is)" without cringing every time Tag Team raps, "These three words when you're gettin' busy/Whoomp there it is." It's four words. FOUR WORDS!! 1) Whoomp 2) There 3) It 4) Is. Geez. Come on, Tag Team. Get it together.

And yet every now and then I like to shock my fiancee by buying a lottery ticket, such as when I spontaneously bought a Mega Millions ticket even though I had a better chance of being immediately beamed to Pluto by space aliens -- someone has to win, right? There's something about beating the odds that appeals to me.

All of this is to say that I really like queries. I like them a lot! Yes, I have to reject virtually all of them, it takes a huge amount of time, and the odds aren't good. But I really enjoy reading them. I like the good ones, I like the bad ones (except these), I particularly like the ones that don't make any sense whatsoever. It's anything but a drag, and I swell with a rosy hopeful feeling every time I start to read a query. I'm always hoping someone is going to beat the odds.

I'm telling you this because lately I have been receiving quite a few queries where the author thinks it best that we both first acknowledge how horrible the query process is and how much time we're wasting before we get to the actual part of the query where the author tells me about the story.

Things like: "I know you're probably slogging away and it must suck to read all these queries, believe me, this sucked to write too, but anyway, here's my story, not that you're probably reading past this because reading queries is so boring, but hopefully since I'm acknowledging how horrible it is to read queries and demonstrating my self-awareness about how much this process is ridiculous you'll actually read my story." (I made that up, but it's not far off)

Look: no apologies necessary. Maybe people have gotten the idea from some blogs that we literary agents sneer at every hopeful author who crosses our desk, love to skewer the bad ones and laugh maniacally every time we press the reject button. But I'm here to tell you: queries are not unpleasant to read. You're not going to find a sympathetic ear with me if you want to complain about the query process, because I find that it is an incredibly effective mechanism for weeding through submissions, and I don't mind the time I spend reading them. Respect the process, people.

If you want to sneer at someone, I have three words for you: sneer at Tag Team.


Dwight's Writing Manifesto said...

Those are four words.


You're saying to aim for the middle ground between "I've written the next DiVinci Code bestseller!" and "Have pity on a poor, self-deprecating, wordschloggin' mench, wouldja?"?

D'oh. It's just so complicated.

Nathan Bransford said...

Don't worry, the middle ground between "Pity me!" and "Let's make money together!" is vast.

Terry-O said...

Nathan, what a fun blog. I love it. Had to comment on the music thing, 'cause this lyric has always driven me NUTS. It's from the Counting Crows song, "Round Here."

"Round here we talk just like lions, but we sacrifice like lambs."

Arghhh! Do lambs sacrifice? NO! Lambs ARE SACRIFICED, and it would've been just as easy for him to sing, "we're sacrificed like lambs."

It comforts me to know there are others in the world who are bugged by stuff like this, so thanks.

Ithaca said...

Got an e-mail from a reader with a description of the children's book he was writing:

No moral! No fucking princesses!!!!

I thought: Great query letters are made of this.

sex scenes at starbucks said...

Someone asked me recently if it was tiresome to slog through the slush at my zine in order to find the good stories. Frankly, the question confused me (and made me feel sad that this writer felt this way). Most of the stories are well-written and fun to read. The rejected ones just usually are missing some element I look for; it's either not right for my magazine or it's just not quite there yet.

And yes, clearly "Whoomp, there it is" is FOUR words, and no, lambs do not sacrifice.

sex scenes at starbucks said...

By the way, I had an idea from your first line questioni: Maybe you could have a favorite first line contest. We wee readers could enter the first line from our novels-to-be in your comments section and then we all could vote--or you could choose which you like best.

Your first contest. Wouldn't that be exciting??

Nathan Bransford said...


Shhhh..... This week's You Tell Me was a warmup to the very contest you are talking about. An announcement will be made tomorrow.

Also I think you can see the future.

Anonymous said...

I have questions! I'm a regular visitor and commenter, but I'm keeping this one anonymous. I have two questions.

1) I've been reading your archives. Several articles and many comments mention how fast you are to respond to queries. With that in mind, how long should a writer wait to email you when he or she has received no response?

2) Our Beloved Miss Snark has left me confused with what seems like conflicting advice. On one hand, she told us to keep querying until we've queried a hundred agents. Not sure if that's the number, but it was a lot. On the other hand, she told us to research agents before querying. When I researched agents to query, this narrowed my list down to only 22 as being compatible. What's the deal with that?

Anonymous said...

I am an agented writer, but when I was in the query stage, I loved sending queries. It was like getting Christmas cards in the mail when I got a "yes" back from an agent.

Just in case other writers are rolling their eyes with that comment--I had some rejection to my queries and plenty of rejection after sending my proposal. All writers and agents run into rejection.

Nathan Bransford said...


1) If it's a query and you haven't heard from me in two weeks then you might e-mail again. If you haven't heard from me it probably means something went wrong. But this only goes for me and otherwise I'd direct you back to the one month rule.

2) If you are operating in a very specific genre, you may indeed only have 22 agents, although even if you have a specific genre that seems like a low number -- how strict are you being when weeding out candidates? It may be that you need to widen your net a bit.

Other Lisa said...

Regarding the lottery: I heard a scientist explain it thusly. Someone will win, but mathmatically, it will never be you.

I can't accept this! The lottery is my retirement plan! It's either that, or Publisher's Clearinghouse.

Linnea said...

Funny you should mention Publisher's Clearinghouse. I just got my $10,000,000 enticement in the mail yesterday. With that much money someone else could clean this darned house, cook all the meals and leave me alone so I could write! Made a note on the queries. No rhetorical questions. Good. I don't do it but I see it so often on writers forums that I was beginning to think I was the crazy one!

Tom Burchfield said...

Thanks for the words of comfort . . .

Anonymous said...

Other Lisa, I hate to break it to you, but your risk of being killed in some sort of motor vehicle accident this year is about 1 in 6,500; whereas your chances of winning the lottery are about one in 14 million.

I'm not trying to be a kill joy, I'm just against regressive taxation in all forms.

Another kill joy said...

Actually, the odds of winning Publishers Clearinghouse is far worse:

"The odds of winning a recent $1 million prize were one in 136 million, and one in 330 million for a $10 million prize."

Well, I've got to run outside now and get struck by lightning (576,000 to 1.) See you.

Nathan Bransford said...

another kill joy-

I also hear the odds of successfully navigating an asteroid field are approximately 3,720 to 1.

Annnnnnnd my true colors show.

sex scenes at starbucks said...

I can! I can see the future.

It's my platform for my new futuristic sci fi novel. :)

Other Lisa said...

Well, see, that's why Publisher's Clearinghouse is my backup plan.

Christopher M. Park said...

Maybe Tag Team was actually making the subtle comment that "Whoomp" isn't actually a word?


Nathan Bransford said...

There is no explaining the lyrics. They're just wrong. I don't think a group who wrote the lyrics "there's a party over here/a party over there/wave your hands in the air/shake your derrier" deserves the benefit of the doubt.

burgy61 said...

"I particularly like the ones that don't make any sense whatsoever."

Might I ask why you like these in paticular, is it they are amusing or thought provoking?

Nathan Bransford said...


I really wish I could print some of these (ethically, I just don't think it's the right thing to do). But some of them are just amazing. The absolutely-true alien encounters, the "true crime" works written by the people who actually committed the crime... it really just goes on and on. There's a sort of genius in being so bizarre.

Brian said...

"I also hear the odds of successfully navigating an asteroid field are approximately 3,720 to 1."

Oh my gosh, Nathan, you are SUCH a nerd!


Geek check! Oooh, busted.

And I'm outta here...

jjdebenedictis said...

The lyric that always made me squirrelly came from "In the Time it Takes", by Beth Nielson Chapman: a star that's travelled years to shine...

The physics geek in me has apoplexy every single time. The star's light travelled years to shine on us. Not the friggin' star itself.

dr. love said...


If an author approaches you saying they already have an editor/publisher interested in publishing their book, do you still go through the same process about deciding on representation? Or do you say: "Sweet, easy money."

Just curious.

Nathan Bransford said...

dr. love-

It's still the same process. I don't tend to represent one-off projects and I need to make sure I'm totally on board with the author before I commit.

Dave Wood said...

Maybe those clever lambs have been fooling humanity all this time and manipulating us into sending them to the gods.

Take a look at the first paragraph of the sample query letter on the Predators and Editors site: "What if the President of the United States committed a murder in front of you? What if you were a member of his Secret Service protection? Would you arrest him? Would you report the crime? Or would you cover up the crime to protect the nation because of an international crisis?" That's. like, *four* of the dreaded things. Though, I suppose, if you could write a scenario that made the idea seem plausible, the questions wouldn't really be rhetorical.

Janet said...

Very timely comment, Nathan. I read just today that a novelist in Poland was arrested when the police realized that one of his recent novels was actually a mostly factual description of how and why he killed his wife. Or was it her lover? Anyway, you get the point. I'm going to try to get a blog post up on it later.

original bran fan said...

Silly me, I kinda thought "Whoomp" was the sound and "There it is," where the three words. Sort of like "Pow! Right in the kisser." Pow! is simply the sound effect.

Buy a lottery ticket, don't buy a lottery ticket...your odds of winning are pretty much the same. My hubby is fond of walking up to the lotto kiosk, taking out his money, NOT buying a ticket, then waving the money around and saying, "Look! I won two dollars!"

You can see why I love that man.

Tammie said...

What a great post - after reading agents blogs every day one does start to wonder if receiving a query makes an agents skin crawl and not in a good way.

Can't wait to hear the rules for tomorrow!

Eliza said...

It's three words.

"Whoomp! Deh'i dis."

I'm done.

*gets busy*

Serenissima said...

The odds I'm masochistic enough to want a better sense of are:

1) For those who've written a novel, what are the chances of acquiring representation?

2) For writers who've landed an agent, what are the odds of being published?

And I'm also anal about song lyrics. Used to drive me crazy in TLC's "Waterfalls" when they sang about "AIDS" being three letters.

MLM said...


This applies more to yesterday's post, but I'm running behind this week and you've got like A HUNDRED comments there already...

Have you ever asked readers what their favorite LAST line is? Just curious what the responses would be.

jjdebenedictis said...

1) For those who've written a novel, what are the chances of acquiring representation?

2) For writers who've landed an agent, what are the odds of being published?

I'm not the expert, of course, but I've heard agents reject about 95% of everything they see. However, that's because 94% of everything they see is crap.

If you're a really good writer, your chances of getting representation are really good. If you're a pretty good writer, you're probably getting lost in the crap. Strive to become a really good writer; it's all you can do.

Once you have a credible agent with a record of sales, however, I think it's the exception for your book to not get published. Most agents won't take you on unless they know they can sell your book, and usually, they're right.

cynjay said...

I'm with bran fan. "Whoomp" is a sound effect, and thus, technically not a word.

what'sinyoursoul said...

Nathan, your true color is brassy gold? No wonder I like this blog.

Nathan Bransford said...

Whoa whoa whoa. Sound effects aren't words?? Onomatopoeia, people!

C.J. said...

oh, nate -
i bet you used to bullseye womp rats back home too. y'know they aren't much bigger than three meters. call me crazy, but i think tag team counted the words and intentionally threw the three words thing in. thanks to everyone for posting yesterday - it was a blast to read, my favorite was the one about the inevitable ass-kicking. solid.

Conduit said...

I used to do the lottery every week until I heard it described as The Stupid Tax.

Haven't done it since.

Sophie W. said...

Since we're being picky, I thought I should point out the spelling of derrière. ;)

Thanks for the post, Nathan. It's always boggled my mind that writers seem to think that reading the slush pile is a chore for agents. If they weren't eager to find new authors and exciting manuscripts, they wouldn't be agents in the first place. So for the love of God, stop apologizing!

Niteowl said...

I'm sorry for apologizing! Or considering the possibility of apologizing! I'm also sorry for being sorry about apologizing!


Regretfully Yours (but not too regretfully),


Phoenix said...


Hypothetically, if you have a contract on the table and you're looking for an agent, who can you approach of the pack of agents who have already rejected the work?

I'm thinking:
1) If they rejected on just the query, then you can re-query
2) If they rejected the full, then you don't re-query

But what about if they rejected a partial? Re-query or not?

Looking forward to tomorrow!

Nathan Bransford said...


If they passed on your work and did not ask to see a revision then you don't re-query.

Curtastrophe said...

Thanks Nathan for (again) squashing one of the many myths writers get into their heads and in turn repeat.

What's your opinion on people who are in the process of writing a novel and post pieces of it online through sites such as this or Myspace? I think this is a good idea because of the critiques a writer can get, but others say just the opposite because of issues like plagarism or idea theft.

I've been looking through your archives and haven't found anything relating to this, so I thought I'd ask it here.

A Paperback Writer said...

sex scenes at starbuck isn't necessarily a prophet: murderati is running the same contest this week, so it's all over the blogosphere!!
Oh, and here's a good quote for you:
"I can explain in two words: we propose to marry your daughters." (Pirates of Penzance)
Of course, Gilbert and Sullivan KNEW they were miscounting, so maybe this one doesn't really qualify.

Nathan Bransford said...


Whaa?? Really? I thought of it first! Uh... even if I haven't yet implemented it... yet. I wanted to do the warm up You Tell Me.

I'll have to check out this murderati you speak of.

Nathan Bransford said...


I think it's fine to post short excerpts online, although you might want to post other excerpts rather than your WIP. But even if you decide to post your WIP I don't see the problem with a short excerpt.

Curtastrophe said...

That's what I was thinking too. Thanks.

Lisa said...

So this is what you want:
1. Dear Mr. Bransford, (Which means we actually know who we're sending this to.)
2. This is what my story is about. (Which is followed by a well written description of a really interesting story that you haven't actually heard 6,238 times already this year.)

This is what you don't want:
1. Dear #54645684586,
2. Don't you just hate the query process? It's really horrible. Boy is it horrible. I feel bad for you reading this.....

I will keep that in mind and try to remember your name when I finish editing my extremely interesting and completely original story that you won't mind reading the query for.

FrostIntoFire said...

This might amuse you. Simon Singh has a similar problem with a song by Katie Melua (UK singer) and proposes a new, scientifically accurate version...,,1581445,00.html

She sang the new version on the radio although she had a little trouble fitting all the syllables in.

getitwritten_guy said...

I really like the statement you made toward the end of your initial post:

"Respect the process, people."

That says it all.

Now back to combing through your archives. Maybe those old posts will start to calm down a bit.

otherkatie said...

"If you love somebody, set them free."

This one has always driven me nuts because Sting was an English teacher. He should know better.

Anonymous said...

The lyric 'we sacrifice like lambs' only works if you think of it like 'we GET sacrificed like lambs', as in, they're being acted upon, not doing the acting/sacrificing.

In other words, if they said we tasted like chocolate, you wouldn't think they were implying chocolate goes around licking things, right?

Danette Haworth said...

I'm like terr-o. There's a U2 lyric, I forget which song, but it goes like this:

God made the world in seven

which then rhymes with the next verse ending with "heaven."

But God made the world in six; he rested on the seventh.

terry-o said...

Anon of 7:24--

Of course I understand what they meant by the lyric, that, as you say, the lambs are being acted upon. This is why it's grammatically incorrect. They used active voice when they should have used passive. It would be correct to say: "We're sacrificed like lambs."

The second example is not comparable. The intransitive verb "taste" has the meaning "has the taste of." There is no such usage for the verb "sacrifice."

Jaye Wells said...

Come on, Nathan. You know that song makes you want to shake your "bee double oh tee why oh my."

Also, it's "Whoomp! There 'tis." Obviously, Tag Team was kicking a shout out to Will.I.Am. Shakespeare.

claud said...

What a fun blog!

The most antagonizing lyric that comes to mind for me: "time keeps on slippin, slippin, slippin, into the fuuuture..."

ooo! how weird and mysterious time is!!!

And that idiotic song was so popular, too...ugh.

A Paperback Writer said...


Margaret said...

Hey, this is a useful blog--I love the list of queries by genre, Nathan. I've just stumbled upon it (the blog) as I prepare another run of agents to query, and I guess I'm in the group that thinks querying is fun. Okay, some days it's fun like going to the dentist fun, but there is that little thrill of sending out a letter into the void and waiting to see what happens.
I do want to point out my "outside da box" reading of the 3 words question: are the lyrics referring to "those three little words" that "she" says just as the speaker is "getting busy" ie: "I love you"? Cause we all know that ruins the mood! That's my thinking, anyway.

Mary Witzl said...

I love Smoky Robinson and the Miracles. But I grind my teeth every time I hear:
Just because you've become a young man now / there's still some things that you don't understand now...

Please! 'Just because' ought to be 'Even though,' and 'things' requires a plural subject.

Being an English geek somehow ruins one's appreciation of modern music. But up until now, I assumed I suffered alone. Now I see that I can come out of the closet.

Anonymous said...

This comment is most definatley for you to read!
Nathan: I'm really old fashion mostly because my parents dont like me to use their e-mail because they dont want spam. Therefore I mostly use the postal service. I sent you a query, at the time I really had no idea who you were but I was( am still am) desperete to get an agent because I've learned that getting a publishing company to accept a manuscript from an unknown author without an agent isnt likley.
I'm coming to terms with the fact that because I havent heard from you even though I sent a s.a.s.e. that probably means I wont because I seem to remember you saying something on this site that e-mail query are sometimes replied to in the same day. Should I resend it as an e-mail or is their still hope for my printed and mailed query to get a reply even after a month has passed? Another question: when should an author give up all hope on one manuscript to focus on their other ones when their current manuscript isnt getting any replies? Should the author work on their query or move on?
Thanks so much for your site. I have learned alot from it.

Deanna said...

Check out Google Deanna Enos Nobody Left Behind One Child's Story About Testing. I'm looking for an agent for this or another book completed about a Folk Artist, Romano Gabriel.

Mickie the Trigger said...

With 62 comments to browse through and 3 minutes left on my lunch break, I'm not sure whether this was already suggested by another reader, but maybe Tag Team is slurring "free"? You know how sometimes people say "free" when they intend to say "three"... maybe it's backwards...

"these free words when you're getting busy..."

And that's one to grow on.

VotingOnTheInternet said...

Thanks to President Bush and his lack of any economic policy, we are now a SOCIALIST America.

The next stop is COMMUNISM, therefore, every American is looking for some answers. We have them and President Barack Obama is going to endorse them.

In America 2.0, Inc. we detail how to get to Condo Capitalism, which is Incorporating the United States Government and giving SHARES to all American citizens. This holds all executives to a higher standard of making money for the shareholders instead of constantly throwing our money down the drain, AND, more importantly, it allows us all to participate in the American Dream of Success using our shares to pay for new homes, Retirement, Health Care, etc.

This is completely ORIGINAL and a MUST READ for every concerned American who lives in fear of losing their job or their home or their country.

President Obama has endorsed this book by saying, "I'm asking you to believe NOT just in my ability to bring about REAL CHANGE in Washington. I'm asking you to believe in yours." - Barack Obama, 2008

Already blogging and doing other online promotion. I plan to do more. I am committed to the eventual acceptance of these ideas and have been for some time. I'm getting indications that President Obama has read my work and is considering the concepts in this book for his endorsement some time next year.

I'm confident that I will eventually be on Oprah, Meet the Press, 60 Minutes eventually. Need publisher only for a few days. Then, it will take off on its own.

This is HOTTEST most controversial book of the century. AND, nothing will move it off this position for decades. The current economic crisis makes it important that everyone read this so that we can start considering all the ramifications and then proceed to implement it.

IF WE DO NOT incorporate American Government, they will continue to screw us into the ground. There is no accountability. There is no controls in place. There is no ethics or morals in place. There is no rewards or incentives other than survival for citizens. By Taking Stock in America as a Private Corporation, instead of the current welfare state for auto companies, banks, insurance companies as is ongoing today, we allow the citizens to shape the economy by allowing them to participate in their own fruits of their labors and join the success of the CEOs. In essence, we all become STOCKHOLDERS with enormous power and control over our own financial and political destiny. This also solves the current bankruptcy of Social Security, Medicare, Etc, by Capitalizing our Government for the first time with the private hard work and sacrifice of the American worker and makes this country suddenly competitive in the global economy again.

I am ready for the job of promoting this book. Trust me. I have authored 5 books with a combined sales of over 250,000 copies.

America 2.0, Inc. (Tm) - Take Stock In America!
Santa Cruz, CA

Jim said...

How many 'do not do this in your query letters' can you spot in the above comment?

I know I found a few.

lucidkim said...

i know i'm a year late to this party but there is confetti still on the floor, so i'll comment anyway -

when i was a kid my dad always changed the radio station when diana ross would sing, "do you know where you're going to?" - he had a thing about prepositions...

Alyssa said...

Clearly Tag Team was well-trained by Gul Madred in the art of torture, and if you would just admit that there are only three words, the pain will stop.

Don't give in! There.. are.. FOUR.. words!


Lynn Steele Latson said...

I'd love to have you be my agent. Look at the comments on B&N and Amazon.
Book title: The Oakhampton Comfort Society
Pen name: Roberta Hoy

A racy read written by a woman who has the same mastectomy pain issues as me...I'm the author. My husband thought it was a 'chick' book until he read all of it. Came and found me and said,
This isn't a chick book...this is a movie!

Lynn Latson

Rachel Hamm said...

"I like the bad ones (except these), I particularly like the ones that don't make any sense whatsoever."

This really reminded me of Mr. Bennett's delight in the ridiculousness of Mr. Collins in Pride and Prejudice. It made me smile, so thank you for that.

Russ Josephs said...

How about Sade's Smooth Operator, when she's like, Coast to coast LA to Chicago? Drives me nuts!

zone zero design said...


First off, thank you for your offer to answer queries, I sincerely appreciate it. Now, to the point! I am completely green.

However, I'm narrowing in on the completion of a very unique and interesting jigsaw puzzle and I'm looking for information about how to get it published and manufactured. Do you have any tips on how to go about this? Or can you recommend a source of information on the subject?

This is, indeed, a puzzle in and of itself!

Thanks so much,
Mark D. Moore

John Kellermeyer said...

Hello, Nathan. I'm not afraid of the query, I'm working on it now. My book(s) are autobiographical on healing from severe child abuse, and hopefully as timely, a book on pedophilia in the Catholic church as a former member of a Catholic teaching order in California and a former Catholic, for that matter.

Are these something you'd be interested in?

I hope so.

MJReed said...

I always elide the "there" and the "it". I like to give rappers the benefit of the doubt.

WHOOP! There't is!


Johngee10 said...

Hi Nathan,
My book….’Sweet Like a Lemon’ is nonfiction about life and love…and then some….
It’s about two people who miss out on finding each other….because of stupidity….my own….It’s also about lessons I learned, as I learned not to be stupid….
….The setting is ‘now’….whenever ‘now’ is….and takes place wherever the reader may be….The story is contemporary….but there is some time travel….back to the beginning….and then returning to the ‘here and now’….with some stop over’s along the way….Promise; no close encounters or monkeys….at least I can’t recall any…?
I’m sure there are millions of books like it, but I haven’t come across one! So how about it….Come on….You may even enjoy reading it…?
I can send you the first fifty or so pages????
….I’d be really happy if you read through….I’ll be here imagining you reading it and coming to the last word on the last page….staring up….becoming very thoughtful….then shouting out as you jump to your feet…….”This is it, this is the one!”….”Stop the presses. This one’s next!”….
….I’m not really asking a lot after all….And just think how happy you’ll make me….A person you’ve never met….living in Africa, land locked and far away….I can imagine it even now….Being signed up by my favorite agent….Did I mention I don’t know any others…?
Best regards, John Gee

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