Nathan Bransford, Author

Monday, November 5, 2007

Query Stat-tacular

Hope everyone had a nice weekend. I was away from the computer from Thursday afternoon until this morning -- during this absence I received 81 queries.... and here are the stats:

Suspense/thriller/mystery: 20
Fantasy: 12
Young Adult: 9
Literary fiction: 7
How-to/Self-Help: 6
Memoir: 4
Historical fiction: 3
Religion/New Age: 3
Picture book: 3
Science fiction: 2
Women's Fiction: 3
Male Ennui: 2
Politics/Current Events: 1
Sports: 1
Biography: 1
Short stories collections: 1
No freaking idea: 3

GOOD NEWS: I have to say, this was a particularly professional batch of queries -- very few glaring errors (such as telling me how much your relatives enjoyed your work (1) or mentioning how the public is craving your story because HARRY POTTER is finished (1) or sending me a query with read-receipt turned on (2) or including me on a mass e-mail with every agent you could find on the Internet (1) or addressing your query "Dear Literary Agent" or "Sir/Madam" (4) or mentioning that there is an SASE included in the electronic query (1) )

BAD NEWS: Queries beginning with rhetorical questions: 4

(Clearly the war is not over.)

GOOD NEWS: Personalized queries: 28

This is extremely good news! Yes, 28 personalized queries means that only 35% of the queriers personalized their query, which is still rather astonishing given how much it increases a writer's odds, but when you consider that in Query Stats past only 19%, 14% and 19% also were personalized, this marks a substantial improvement. Give yourselves a round of applause, query writers!

And of these 81 queries I requested 4 partials.

Thanks to everyone who submitted to me -- I like queries, and it's always encouraging to read a good group of them.


Anonymous said...

Do you recieve more letter querys or e-mails? Do you alwas respond to an author when they have included a S.a.s.e. in a letter query? If I have sent you a letter query before and it didnt get a response can I send you another?

Nathan Bransford said...


I receive way more queries via e-mail and very much prefer to receive them that way. If you've sent a query letter through the mail, please allow a month for my response. If you haven't heard from me after a month, please re-send your query via e-mail.

V L Smith said...

I'm amazed that only 35% were personalized. But, hey, if you're happy, the whole world smiles...or at least part of it.

Just out of curiosity, of the four partials you requested, which genres were they? Were they all personalized queries?

lizr said...

Okay, I have a hypothetical question. Let's "pretend" that I sent you a query about five months ago (you weren't interested, but thanks for the prompt reply...uh...hypothetically speaking), but since then I realized that the sequel to that novel was where the story really began. So pretending that I spent three months rewriting the sequel as a stand-alone novel, would you want to know that it wasn't the first time you were hearing about this particular story?

I guess what I'm really wondering is, do you ever get a query that sounds awfully familiar, but you can't put your finger on why? And if so, do you want to know why, or do you ever think that maybe it's a requery? Or, are there enough similarities between some of the queries of the same genre that it's common for some of them to sound like something you've heard before?

I've said it before, but once again, thanks for the blog. I love it, and have brought it to the attention of several friends of mine.

Nathan Bransford said...


I usually remember when I've seen something before. But if it's a completely different work and six months have gone by, feel free to re-query. I do ask that people wait six months between queries.

Tammie said...

Yeah your back!

Like vlsmith asked, can you share what genres they were in that you requested?

Only 4 out of 81, wow that's sort of depressing or is that the norm?

Nathan Bransford said...


4 out of 81 is a pretty high request rate, actually. You might check out the previous Query Stat posts -- one time I came back and requested 0 out of 121.

Of the 4 I requested, one was historical fiction, one was urban fantasy, one was a mystery and one was literary fiction.

Did I mention my tastes are diverse?

And 3 out of 4 were personalized.

krw3b said...

There's probably no way it could happen, but holey moley I'd love to know what some of the No Freaking Ideas were.

Every time you post the stats I wonder.

Are we talking just letters full of gibberish?

Or are they queries for stuff like erotic wild-west cookbooks or self-help books for zombies with erectile dysfunction?

Perspiring minds want to know!

Anonymous said...

So whens the first sentence contest?

Nathan Bransford said...


The "no freaking idea" category is kind of a catchall -- sometimes it's complete gibberish or they'll just include an attachment (which I don't open) or they'll describe the work in such a way where I'll have no way of knowing if it's fiction or nonfiction.

There's a special art to the "no freaking idea" category, because I would think it would be tough to write a query leaving the agent with no idea what the project is about. But people definitely manage this seemingly impossible task.

Anonymous said...

Sorry for my ignorance but what is urban fantasy? Is that like a fantasy set in modern day?

Jess said...

Hey Nathan,

Here are questions I've always meant to ask agents and never remember.

What constitutes a partial? Is it different for each agent, or is there a general "first 100 pages" type of rule?

Also, might not apply to you, haven't read your submission guidelines as I'm not in query-mode yet, but the "first three chapters" rule... what does that really mean? Suppose I write thirty-page chapters? That seems a bit over the top.


Nathan Bransford said...


An agent will specify how many pages they'd like. I usually ask for the first 30, but others will ask for more or less. If they ask for first three chapters you send the first three chapters, no matter how long or short.

Here's another post you you might check out.

Dwight's Writing Manifesto said...

Oy. I transitioned from LitFict to thriller because there seemed to be so many more mystery titles on the tables of the local BookDoodle (ergo more market, ergo greater chance of inking a deal.)

But... looking at your stat numbers it would appear as though the odds of hawking a thriller are offset by the fact that everybody and their serial killer brother is writing for the genre.

Does a greater volume of submissions for mys/thriller hackle your "not-quite-yet middle aged man ennui?"

Does greater competition mean you hold mys/thriller queries to a higher standard than other genres?

Nathan Bransford said...


I actually think the fact that I mostly receive mysteries is a sign that people are acting rationally -- I don't have any statistics to back this up, but there are a lot of opportunities for genre writers, and for people hoping to break in, it's a good move. I don't hold people of one genre or another to a higher threshold just because I'm receiving more of something or another -- it's whatever grabs me.

krw3b said...

"There's a special art to the "no freaking idea" category, because I would think it would be tough to write a query leaving the agent with no idea what the project is about."

Oooh, I smell a challenge for the minions...

Tammie said...

"one time I came back and requested 0 out of 121."

Oh man then I guess 4 out 80 some is not too bad.

Well thank God your back, maybe folks are learn'n what ya teach, except maybe those in the no freaking idea category!

green ray said...

Nathan, thanks so much for these stats. It's really good to know, and I'm honored that I was lucky enough to get a request from you a while back. Here's a tricky question: I've done a lot of thinking about this, and I feel it's the nature of my book, with several narrators, that a partial shouldn't include anything less than my Part One, which is 45 pages, eight short chapters. So if 3 chapters are asked for, or, in your case, 30 pages, I usually just send all of Part One, trying to explain why. Is this a big no-no? I just feel it's essential to the work. What's your take on this, and thanks, as always, for a delightful blog.

Nathan Bransford said...

green ray-

If I ask for 30 pages I expect that I'll receive around 30 pages (unless a chapter break happens within a few pages of 30, in which case it's fine to add a few more or a few less).

Honestly, if someone were to send me a much larger chunk because they decided it's best, I'd wonder if they'd be difficult to work with.

green ray said...

Thanks, Nathan, good to know. When I was an actor, I used to help out at auditions for the soap opera, All My Children. Once a beautiful actress walked in there and said, "I hope you don't mind, but I have better ideas of how this scene should be played, so I'm going to insert my own words." Well, that actress didn't stand a chance. I guess it's the same thing.

Melanie Avila said...

The 'No Freaking Idea' people must be the ones who tell everyone writing queries is a breeze and they don't know what all the fuss is about.

Nathan, thanks for posting your query stats. As always, informative AND amusing.

Pete said...

A 5% rate is playing a tough room, but 0 for 121 is truly scary.

Josephine Damian said...

Nathan, great statistical breakdown. I'm currently enrolled in a statistical analysis class in grad school. It's not going well. Will you do my homework? In exchange, I'll be happy to read your queries... :-)

OK, seriously. You said of the four partials you requested, one of the queriers did not personalize their letter.

What excactly was it about that particular query/story idea/voice/tone of letter that made you overlook the fact that writer took a less than professional approach, or rather a more cookie-cutter-one-size-fits-all-spam approach to querying?

If a writer makes a bone-headed mistake like that or asks a rhetorical question, etc., does the rest of the letter have to extra special for you request a partial?

Dwight: fantastic questions, and Nathan - very informative answer on the whole thriller thing - I may query you yet! :-)

Danette Haworth said...

You're too funny!

cate said...

Y'all think this was gloomy? How about this: Jonathan Lyons received some 200 queries over the weekend and requested material from only 2.

Anonymous said...

What on Earth is wrong with a read receipt? It simply lets the author know you got the query in case you never write back. What's wrong with that?

Ozal said...

Anonymous re Urban Fantasy
The term refers, as you say, to fantasy in a modern setting. It's a gritty kind of fantasy, though, and often pretty steamy. Think vampires, werewolves, other strange and dangerous beasties.

Anonymous re Read Receipts - I don't remember the details, but every agent I've ever seen mention it has said DON'T. They can't set to auto-send these receipts, they have to take twice as long to open the receipt-wanter's email as anyone else's. They don't have twice as long. There were other reasons, but I don't remember them.

Josephine Damian said...

Anon: 11:12, I wondered that too.

I sent an e-submission to a boutique publisher who'd been a speaker at our writers group. About 4-5 others in the group submitted as well.

After 3 months of none of us hearing back, I volunteered to be the one to send a follow-up email. The publisher wrote back with some long-winded techinical explanation as to why their spam filter ate ALL of our submissions.

I don't know if the others in my group re-submitted, but I just said: F--- it, and did not re-submit. You like to hope an email has gotten through, but you never know.

I thought the read- receipt idea was a good one.

Nathan Bransford said...

I always respond to queries, so I find read-receipt intrusive and snoopy. It's just one more step to slow down the query reading process.

John C. said...

Really, a lot of these query letter rules go out the window if something in the letter grabs the agent's attention. I think personalization, avoidance of rhetorical questions, and other design issues might simply give the QL a better chance if it's hovering on the border of request/reject.

Heck, the Demon's Lexicon one that Kristin Nelson went bonkers over mystified me. She saw the spark of originality within it and looked past the rest. It didn't seem a particuarly impressive bit of text, at least to me. OTOH, it was definitely personalized.

Bottom line, I think the premise has to heat the loins of the agent for them to request anything, and all the rest is cream.

Nathan Bransford said...

John C-

I definitely agree -- an original idea trumps all. The query advice I provide here is all about increasing your odds -- but if you have the right idea and the right agent sees it, all the rules go out the window.

Emerging Writer said...

Hi Nathan, Just come across your blog. It's really interesting to read about the other side of the submission process. I have a sneaking wish to read some of the examples of letters you didn't request more from. I suppose direct quotes wouldn't be ethical but could you give us a flavour?

I might as well ask, do you look at European fiction or should I stay this side of the pond?

Nathan Bransford said...

Emerging Writer-

Yeah, I feel like it would be unethical to post the bad ones, and I try to avoid the public floggings.

I'm definitely interested in European fiction.

Anonymous said...

RE: "I always respond to queries, so I find read-receipt intrusive and snoopy. It's just one more step to slow down the query reading process."

It is a click!

You don't even have to line up the cursor as it will already be on top of the box when you open the email.

Agents who respond to all emails also sometimes do not respond because they've never gotten the email, which is precisely what the receipt is for, so we can know it was received.

Surely it takes longer to hit "delete" because someone attached a read-recipt, in which case the cursor is not aligned, by the way, or even to respond saying you don't do read-receipts, than to simply click the read recipt.

And, snoopy?? I think this is a pissy attitude on your part.

Nathan Bransford said...


Um, what's with the attitude? We're talking about read receipt in e-mails here. If we were debating The Hills I could understand getting a little testy, but the fact that you're insulting me over proper e-mail etiquette is not to your credit.

My feeling is that read receipt is intrusive. I make a point of responding to all queries, and I don't think people need to know when I'm reading an e-mail. If someone sends a manuscript electronically and wants me to send a confirming e-mail back that it came through ok I'm more than happy to do it.

But I find read-receipt annoying -- it's one more thing that pops up that gets in the way of what I'm doing. I'm all about efficiency, and I find it inefficient. If I'm getting the e-mail you're going to hear from me within 24 hours anyway. If I don't get the e-mail you're not going to get a read receipt (or a response from me, which is the same thing). It's kind of pointless.

But hey - if you want to turn it on, go right ahead! Who am I to stop you?

Nadine said...

Hi Nathan,

Just discovered your blog and I love it!

I recently attended a very well known writers conference and a whole segment was devoted to rhetorical questions and we were encouraged to come up with them for our books - yet you don't like them. Since you mentioned you are still receiving them, perhaps they are from people that attended the same conference...

I'm going to remove mine from my query now - I appreciate the tip!

Nathan Bransford said...


Rhetorical questions can help you focus your plot idea (if you can't come up with one you might not have a plot), but I don't recommend them for leading off queries -- it's nearly impossible to write one that's interesting because they're usually vague. I've seen it done well, but I believe it's better to just lead off in another way.

Heather B. Moore said...

4/81 partials requested? My odds are getting better :)

Anonymous said...


You might be able to globally disable return receipts. I know you can do it in MS Outlook. One of my co-workers sends e-mails with read receipts, and it used to drive me bonkers, until I figured out how to turn it off. Hunt around in your e-mail settings.


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