Nathan Bransford, Author

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The First Agent You Query

So yesterday I dealt with a topic that no one likes, namely rejection letters, and I poured some further depresserade on the situation by saying that I gotta delete your follow-up questions as well. How's that for some Christmas spirit!! The Grinch has nothing on me. Also you're getting coal in your stocking.

Well, if it makes you feel any better, you too have the power to make an agent cringe like they've been rejected. You can make them curl up into the fetal position and have them screaming invectives against the universe and throwing staplers at their assistants. It's easy: let the agent know that they're not the first person you've queried.

People usually mean well, and often they don't seem to have any idea they're doing this. They'll say something like, "X agent was very encouraging in their rejection letter." My response: "You queried X agent before me??? (pass out onto the floor)"

This. Kills. Me. Every time. Never fail. Especially from blog readers.

As you can tell from my picture and my sunny outlook on life, I'm a young agent. Being a young agent isn't easy. I'm competing with all of the other experienced agents for the best projects, and honestly, one of the important reasons I blog every day is that so all you writers out there will think of me first when you send out your queries. I absolutely want to be the first person you query -- naturally, I want to be the first agent to see the best projects.

But hey -- I'm realistic. Maybe you think someone else would be a better fit, maybe you want to give another agent a gander first, maybe you don't want to query someone who fell for a Nigerian e-mail scam yesterday (ROSE, HOW COULD YOU???). I understand! Just don't tell me about it.

My blood pressure thanks you.


Margaret Yang said...

If you want to see projects first, you are doing something right, and that is responding quickly. Writers love agents who respond to queries within the day, and we tend to rank them higher when we're making our A lists and B lists. (Agents who say, "I only respond if interested" are on the Z list, or possibly lower.)

The magazine of F and SF is famous for responding on short stories within a week. That is their corporate culture, and they do it specifically so that writers will send stuff to them firt. They get first dibs on most stuff. What a great position to be in!

Margaret aka OBF

Sophie W. said...

I got my first rejection letter at the tender age of 6 when I sent Princess Sophie and the Best Thanksgiving Ever (aka: a Piece of Literary GENIUS, complete with illustrations) to Highlights Magazine. They said it was too long.

Highlights turned me off of short fiction for the rest of my life. I can't even read the word "Highlights" without suppressing an urge to blow a giant raspberry.

That said, I can't imagine why someone would share previous rejections with an agent. I don't even share rejections with myself anymore. I live in a happy world where everything is peaches and I've already written 12 published books...

Mystery Robin said...

If it makes you feel better - I didn't query you first because I was afraid I'd screw up the first few queries and I love your blog! So, I thought I'd wait and make sure I got all the big errors out of the way before I queried my favorite agents. ;)

You still rejected me, but it was a very nice, personalized rejection - so thank you!

Just wanted to put a positive spin on not being queried first!

Scott said...

It seems to me that saying "X agent was very encouraging in their rejection letter" might trigger not only the response you mentioned, but an even worse one. I can easily imagine you (or any agent) seeing that and thinking, "X agent is brilliant and has been doing this for 40 years and knows the market like the age spots on the back of her hand. If she doesn't think this is good enough, who am I to think it is?"

Just seems like a bad idea all around...

Erik said...

In all honesty, the whole process sounds like dating. From the first cautious "Will you go out with me?" query to the the first date of the first chapter, everything you tell us about has all the markings of a dating scene, complete with bad nerves and mis-matched expectations of consumation.

And there's nothing that kills the whole process quite like talking about someone you've dated before.

Josephine Damian said...

Scott, once again, great point. A lot of agents seem to follow the herd mentality - they don't wanna be the first to say something is great, but as soon as they hear of agent interest, all of a sudden they wanna jump on the bandwagon.

I wonder how many agents would actually verify if someone wrote in a query "Binky Urban offered to represent me, but I wanna keep my options open and consider other agents before I decide"?

Nathan, in queries do you see more of "Agent X rejected this" or "Agent X said this project is the next Da Vinci Code"?

My philosphy? Query like hell and let each and every agent think they're your one and only.

Linnea said...

The first agent I query will be an agent I'm pretty certain represents the sort of stories I write. I hate rejection so won't court it. I don't think you represent my style or genre but I love your blog. You're a funny guy and I can usually count on a good chuckle along with industry info. Not querying you first is no slight, just self preservation.

Kimber An said...

Blame it on the Divine Miss Snark. She told us to research agents before querying.

So, you weren't the first agent I sent the Holy Bennu to. That was because you were borderline on Young Adult.

Now, I have a Science Fantasy for grown-ups, but it's also romantic. And you don't represent Romance. Oh, what to do?

Jot you down as Second String.

Rejection doesn't bother me so much, but it's not like I'm in a hurry for an automatic one.

Taylor said...


What a prefect analogy! I've also noticed that querying an agent is much like dating. I remember feeling the same way when an agent first rejected me that I did when a girl did the same thing. Sure the query letter for said project wasn't great, but who's to say my approach to asking out girls was any better? My wife can confirm that it wasn't. The same amount of mystery, need to impress, nervousness, and so many other things are involved in both the dating and querying process. Both experiences are equally nerve wracking, and I think most people look forward to the day they're off the market in both instances.

Also, love your blog Nathan! Always good for a laugh, and great for advice. You make life easier.

Nathan Bransford said...

kimber an-

I'm not borderline on YA!

Nathan Bransford said...

Erik and Taylor-

Ohhhh yes is it like dating. In fact, I have an old post called When Agenting Is Like Dating.

Laurel Amberdine said...

Seriously, who to query first is an incredibly difficult question. Not because I don't know what agent I want -- I always do -- but because the first queries are always the least successful. Like mystery robin, I don't think it's really a snub to not be queried first.

Last time I tried querying (first time doing this) I tried my favorite agent first. Form reject. Tried a few others. More form rejects. Hm, something wrong with this query? Got some help and rewrote it.

Round two. Lots of requests for partials! Yay! But then... those were all rejected too. Something wrong with the opening? Fortunately one agent was nice enough to clue me in. Fixed that...

Round three. By now I'm querying agents I never even heard of, who don't specialize in my genre. Finally, some fulls requested! But then, like I said, not so appropriate for those agents. Didn't work out. (Just as well, really.)

I'm petrified about the next go. The only thing I can think to do is get some good short story credits so maybe my first pick(s?) can see beyond the unrefined query.

Still, I wouldn't actually tell an agent they weren't my first pick. Sheesh.

Julie Weathers said...

Nathan, honestly, if not for your blog I probably wouldn't query you first since you don't list fantasy as a specific interest. However, the, "When in doubt query me," got my attention. That earned you a first peek at Paladin's Pride. Lucky you.

I would not send the children's books.

Telling an agent so-and-so thought whatever, when I query doesn't seem to be a wholesome approach. It's kind of like telling a blind date you've had 59 first dates in the past two months, but none of them were right. "However," bats false eyelashes alluringly, "I know you are Mr. Perfect."

A lady should never query and telll.

Dave Wood said...

Uh, oh. I did just that when I responded to yesterday's post.

I don't know about the others here, but I sometimes think of your blog as kind of a mutual support group for aspiring authors, with you acting as a facilitator with Olympian insight on the inner workings of the publishing industry. It's easy to forget, or miss, that you're just as excited or frustrated about the process as we are.

So, I for one, apologize. Truth is, I've been delaying querying you. Possible rejection from someone I feel I kind of know, and like, has a whole different connotation from rejection by some mega-agency. Hell, I just finished "Spin" to see what kind of writing you like. (It was great, by the way. Good enough I went and got "Bind Lake" by Wilson to read next.)

Melanie Avila said...

I share the same fear that my first queries will be less than stellar, and don't want to blow my one chance with my favorite agent with a crappy first attempt.

That being said, you're the only one I've got my eye one and I'm sticking to that story.

Dave Wood said...

And now I'm off to read that "dating" blog! It's always seemed just like that to me too.

Mary said...

"A lady should never query and telll."

Spot on, Julie; that's my philosophy as well. And there are some agents in the UK who request that writers include a list of agents they've previously submitted to. Needless to say, they're not even on my Z list (or I'm not that desperate, yet) -- too tacky!

Ben said...


Since it is the end of the year, I was wondering if you might share with us how many new clients you took on this year and if possible, their genres.

Just to give us an idea of the trend this year.


Julie Weathers said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Julie Weathers said...

Deleted stupid horse story.

Rose said...

I lost your bank information, but good news. You send again and I give you location of Lost Flying Dutchman diamond mine my father left to me last week. Must keep hush, hush tho so greedy brother don't want his cut.

Writer, Rejected said...

Dude, you're too good looking to be a literary agent. Sorry for the non seq, but it's true. Are your rejections as good looking as you are. Want to post a couple at LROD?

Justin said...

Wow people really do that? That seems sort of tacky to throw that out in a query letter. Like "Hey I need you to do me this huge favor, oh and you weren't my first choice."

Not too nice, but good to know all the same.

Kalynne Pudner said...

But, Nathan, sometimes you are only just discovered the moment before the query was Charlie Chaplin chasing girl after girl, until the real vision of his dreams walks through the door. Then he's willing to throw it all down for the vision, including any encouragement he's gotten from the other girls. Right?

*Sigh.* Only to have his heartfelt plea ("You were the one I was really dreaming of all along!") deleted forthwith, on the grounds of being a "time suck."

Travis Erwin said...

I'd never tell an agent that they were number two three or whatever on my list.

Believe me, I learned that lesson when asking out girls to the prom. "Come on Sabrina, don't say no. really I would have asked you out first, but Jessica had bigger ... "

For some reason I never got to finish. It's hard to think right after someone slaps you.

Okay, strange coincidence my word verification is nbeboobm

Curtastrophe said...

Just wanted to add my two coppered Lincolns. Nathan, you and a few others have pioneered a phenomenon--a zeitgeist--a veritable paradigm shift in which you've opened the doors to the writerly masses. What I'm referring to of course is a gateway via the electronic medium. Even though 90% will ultimately be rejected, I appreciate your guidance, advice, and sometimes superfulous commentary on televison shows such as "The Hills". For this blog you will undoubtely be mentioned in a history book. This being said, you will be the first to receive my finished manuscript. Thanks again.


Topher1961 said...

I did query Nathan first and he asked for a partial. I told him in my query letter the names of 8 authors who were recommending me to their agent, two of them uberstars, but I wanted an agent I knew had a sense of humor.

Well he rejected me and you know what? He was right. The middle of my novel is great. The ending is great. The beginning is just boring, it's not even clear who the protagonist is. I have a lot of work ahead of me.

Luckily I haven't cashed in all my chits yet.

If Nathan's lucky, I'll query him again.


Ann Regentin said...

I'd query you first, I really would. You're the only agent whose blog I read. I think it's safe to say that you're my favorite agent.

Alas, you don't seem to take erotica, even the literary variety, and the novel is tangled up in a contest right now anyway. Sigh!

Seriously, it's a hard call where to send out manuscripts. Sometimes the people I know or like don't take what I write, and sometimes someone will say that they take erotica, but I don't like the look of their website or what I can dig up on Google. Some say they take erotica, but when I look at their books, I find out that it's erotic romance, and that's not what I write. Then I find someone who seems perfect, and they're not taking submissions until 2015. So it goes in this business.

That's why I went with the contest. As long as I jump through the hoops correctly, I'm in. If they bounce me for explicit content, they bounce me for explicit content, but at least someone will have read the book.

It is, in general, rude to tell someone that they're not your first. I just don't see the point, not in this context or any other. Nor does one ask, I would assume. Why even go there?

But yes, if I thought you'd seriously consider it, I'd query you first.

Lupina said...

Dave, you are right about "Spin." I just finished it too, also to see what Nathan considered a mind-blowing novel, and I see the bar is set appropriately high. Full of beautiful sentences I kept stopping to re-read just to think about their poetic aptness, and a storyline that's a real page-whipper. "I landed in a drainage ditch, thigh-deep in water green as papaya leaves and warm as the tropical night. The water reflected the scarred moon and stank of manure."

But Nathan, here is a question: if we have done a major rewrite on a novel you've rejected via query, and are about to query second-tier choices with a vastly improved project, would you want to see THAT query first?

Vinnie Sorce said...

Nathan I can't promise you'll be my only query but I do promise that you will be my first. You have answered several e-mail questions for me and proven to be most helpful with your blog. I already feel that I can trust you and whatever advice you have for me.

Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

Ha! You weren't the first at all! I think you were umm number ... somewhere past twenty.

And this is where I get to say neeener neeener? Pixie Warrior was released this month. ...

I'm sure that beyond the mere technical aspects of writing, what you represent must appeal to you. I select what I read on that basis. Good writing doesn't mean automatic or sustained interest.

And I second what Scot said. Mentioning the positive responses of other agents doesn't change their "no" to a "yes." All it does is raise the question, "Why did they reject this?"

Positive comments are learning tools; they aren't selling tools. Rachel Vater said no. She also told me in some detail what I needed to change. Nice person! An editor at Baen took the time to send along their "readers" comments. They said all sorts of positive things, but the answer was still "no… not really what we publish." I got my share of "Oh, lovely writing, but not what we publish." I still feel indebted to an assistant at Harlequin who took the time to lecture me on characterization in an early version of Pixie Warrior. All these comments were helpful, but they didn't sell the book.

As far as agents go ... I think the world of two of them. And if I ever switch to hard-boiled techno detective, I'll query. I'm sure there are others out there who are just as nice and just as competent. ...

I'm not going to shoot myself in the foot in a query letter, if I can help it. But, I'm not particularly interested in an agent's feelings beyond the business relationship. I won't say, "hey, dude, I saw your ugly face at the Uppity Agent and Writer Conference, and think you need a face transplant." That'd be silly. Just write a business-like and to-the-point letter. And for goodness' sake, don't have a glaring misspelling in the middle of the letter!

J.E. MacLeod said...

Hi there.

I'm new to your blog, but I loved this post.

When my new YA is revised and I'm looking for a new agent, I promise to query of the first. ;0


Chumplet said...

Well, you were one of the agents who sent me a nice rejection letter. I'm afraid I didn't save it, but it was early in my submission process.

My more personal rejections occurred later in the process, probably because I improved the letter over the months.

T.C. said...

Nobody likes to feel like they're being asked to the dance because everyone else turned you down!! Why on earth would you tell an agent they weren't your first choice? And if they aren't on your list of "would love to be represented by," why are you querying them to being with?

Nathan, I'd like to know how you come back to those writers who all of a sudden have an avalanche of interest and offers of representation. How do you make yourself stand out in a crowd? Or does this turn you off as a dog & pony show?


Nathan Bransford said...


In those situations I just tend to be honest and straightforward with people and not oversell myself. If they want to work with me, awesome. If I'm not the best fit, that's fine too. I'd much rather have a happy working relationship than have a bad situation with a good project. In my opinion this is better for me and the author, and usually people appreciate the honesty.

Stew21 said...

Well if it makes you feel any better, you were my first query...and my first rejection.


Happy holidays to you too!

jillwheeler said...

I just got an image in my head of you standing on my front step with a dozen roses, saying, "Query me first!" Aw. That's nice.

Elizabeth said...

Hi Nathan.
I know this is an old post I'm commenting on, so I'm unsure if you will read this. However, I just started reading you and have been studying hard all the gems you share.
I just completed a manuscipt and would have queried you first had I known about you. But, as it is I have sent it out on a recommendation and did something only a rookie like me would do. I said in my query that I was only sending it to them. I have since learned this was not the best idea for me.
I feel stuck to query others while I await a reply (it's been a week). Or is there any way out of my goof?
Thanks for any help you can spare,

Madeleine said...

I'm about two years late to this post, but oh well.

So you don't want us to tell you we've queried other people? I've always heard that agents like to know when the query's out there. Not to mention the fact that you will probably be one of the last people I query... Not because I don't like you, but because I want to spruce up my query a bit before I send it to the "most important" agents.

Nathalie said...

I'm late to post too, 2 years, but what the heck!

You were the first person I queried, first rejection (after requesting first part of manuscript). It's funny, it feels like a breakup and you wait for that e-mail (just like the call) that says 'I made a terrible mistake, I want you back.' (I couldn't sleep thinking about your manuscript, please send it back)!

I'm over it now... :-D

You did reject me kindly and I so appreciate that and am determined to one day have you represent me now so I'll just keep on writing books...

Happy New Year all - what a beautiful moon last night!

Anonymous said...

Funny,I got raked over the coals for wanting to tell my first agent queried that they are my first. Going back to the dating analogy, perhaps it's my age. Maybe I'm coming off like the late-bloomer, wall-flower or desperate old maid. lol

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