Nathan Bransford, Author

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Don't Fake a Personalized Query

I'm on quite the query kick these days, and there are no signs of stopping the quermentum. Query power! Hop on board the query train! Put your queries in the air and wave 'em like you just don't care! I'll stop now.

One of the more hilarious things that people do in query letters (besides ones that are actually funny), is to try and fake me out by pretending they've read my client's books. Having read these books several times each at the minimum, trust me -- I know these books. I am not going to be fooled.

So when an author says they can tell how much X author appreciates my work on their behalf based on the acknowledgments in X book.... I'm going to know when I'm not actually in the acknowledgments for that book (yes, this happened).

When someone compares their work to Brad Geagley's, only they write erotic suspense and his books are mysteries set in ancient Egypt.... I'm going to know they're faking it.

I realize that these queriers mean well and are just trying to personalize, but they're really missing the whole point of personalization. The goal of personalization isn't to suck up to the agent and score cheap points, the goal is to show that you are a diligent, hard-working author who is familiar with the conventions of the industry, are abiding by them, and you have familiarized yourself with the agent as much as possible before you queried them. All of these latter qualities, it just so happens, are qualities that bode well for a successful author.

As much as some people think we agents just want people to suck up to us, it's really not true. We are just looking for authors who embody the qualities (hard work, diligence, attention to detail, familiarity the publishing business) we see in other successful authors. Taking the easy way out and/or trying to fool an agent is not on the list of desirable qualities.

Now, don't get me wrong -- as nice as it would be, I don't expect everyone who queries me to read all of my clients' books and display a sweeping command of them in the query. There are people who read at least one, and I really do appreciate that and I take note of that kind of dedication, but it's not a guarantor. As much as I want to be the first person people query, I don't want to monopolize their time. So trust me. I'm not suggesting you write a book report in addition to a query.

But there is an art to personalization, and it's important to convey the qualities that an agent is looking for. Dedication and diligence are important, so if you query me I hope you'll do your homework, read "The Essentials" and sure, if you've read books by my clients, mention that. Just don't try and trick me.


Scott said...

Wait, didn't you rep Irish playwright Samuel Beckett. Says here he was repped by Curtis Brown, LTD. That's you right?

I think he might have mentioned you in the preface to "Waiting for Godot" in 1952.

So now you want to read everything I've ever written, clear back to elementary school, right?


Redzilla said...

Yeesh, when it's so easy to go to the library and check out books--why wouldn't people read them instead of lying about it?

On the other hand, how ought one phrase the following situation: I've read and enjoyed the books of this or that client, but my books are nothing like them? I've queried agents whose clients I liked, but not necessarily felt my work was similar...

Nathan Bransford said...


It's not necessary to draw a connection between an agent's books and yours. Just say that you enjoyed their books, admire their list, and hope they'll enjoy yours, or something like that.

Josephine Damian said...

Nathan, considering how many "readers" are skimming, skipping parts and speed reading these days, I'm amazed that anybody even remembers what they've read.

Maybe it not just that people lie about reading those books, but those who did so read so fast it just did not sink in.

But what about a querier (such a strange word) who makes it their business to read you clients' books? And reviews these books? And posts these reviews on their blogs (which perhaps an agent might stumble upon when googling their client or the client's book)?

Would that make you stand up and take notice? Would you view that wanna-be as a team player?

Nathan Bransford said...


I would definitely take notice, just as I take notice of the people who regularly read and comment on my blog. But that doesn't mean that I can take them all on.

I'm always much more inclined to help out regulars along the way, but in order to be an effective representative for their work I have to be 100% enthusiastic. So it's a foot in the door, but I still have to love their work.

Josephine Damian said...

Oh yeah, I know a wanna-be still has to write a good book that's up yur alley, but a careful and detailed review of a client's book should hopefully send the message that the writer is doing their homework about learning that agent's taste and sensibility.

I've noticed that the crime writers travel in packs - it's not unusual to see group blogs, or group signings of writers who are all repped by the same agent. It seems if you're going to be sitting beside someone at a signing, and helping to promote their book along with yours, it helps to have read and genuinely liked the clients' books (and hopefully the clients themselves as well).

I know most consider the agent-author relationship like a marriage, but I also tend to think in terms of the other clients as part of the family as well. I don't think a lot of wanna-be's learn up on the agent's clients as much as they should, JMO.

Sam Hranac said...

As my therapist kept telling, over and over, "be genuine." Don't fake what you know or who you are.

That and, "stop sobbing and come out of the bathroom."

Adaora A. said...

I’ve read some Geagley Bradley. It was about that thing he wrote. It was a fantastic book. Are you interested in a partial? I also read that book by one of your newer clients regarding drunk monkeys and how much of a phenomenon it is becoming.

Erik said...


I am writing this query to you because I have been a big fan since childhood. I read about your exploits in the ancient Greek myths, and your role in getting Dr Seuss in front of a publisher is nothing short of legendary. Also, please find $20 enclosed.

(Howdat fer a query?)

Adaora A. said...

Break out a bottle of wine and chocolate laced with persuasion serum (if it exists I don't know what it is). Include a video query instead of a written query...on disk...through mail not through email as prefered!

BTW I much prefer email. It saves trees, and a partial, full or even an eject (as we say on the blue boards),looks better.

sex scenes at starbucks said...

First, this personalization issue amuses me, because I've done it on almost all my queries. Not that I'm so savvy and forward-thinking and all that, but just cuz I feel funny enough writing to someone I don't know (ie, without a real reason) so I tend to find something out about them. Like you rep my friend so-and-so or I love your blog or whatever. (That said, wonder if I personalized my query to you? Hmm.)
But thanks especially for this:

We are just looking for authors who embody the qualities (hard work, diligence, attention to detail, familiarity the publishing business) we see in other successful authors.

That really says it all.

Marva said...

I try to look up the books repped on Amazon. The Search Inside feature is great because I can actually read a paragraph or two. To be honest, I've only sent one query where I had actually read the book I mention in the query. Otherwise, I just say 'similar to' based on what I can find in SI and in reviews.

Didn't everybody learn they had to actually read the book for the final exam? I did like the Classic Comics versions of Dickens.

Steph Leite said...

I personally search each agent I want to query inexhaustibly. If someone approached me wanting me to take their project on and sell it, I'd at least want some recognition. After all, I'd be reading their work several times over, offering editorial advice, cheerleading them, etc., so I'd like to see them reciprocate by first reading whatever they can about me.

I have a question about personalization though. Say you gave an interview on X site in which you stated that you'd love to see a more timeless voice in the vampire market.

My question is:

Would it be acceptable to quote you on that (say something along the lines of: I read the interview on X site saying you wanted to see a more timeless voice for the vampire market, and I believe my work identifies as that)? Would you consider that personalization?

Thanks, Nathan!

Steph Leite said...

Oh, and another question.

Do you ever request partials from letters you know are not personalized?


- Steph

Linnea said...

I'm addicted to research so researching an agent is all part of the fun.

Lynne said...

Why read if you can find the Cliff notes? Howsa bout Thomas Aquinas Summa Theologica in a Cliff note version, and not in Latin? So you can figger out how many types of angels there are, without reading the Bible?
See also, sentence fragment. Don't leave home without it!

poor mouse said...

We are just looking for authors who embody the qualities (hard work, diligence, attention to detail, familiarity the publishing business) we see in other successful authors.

I've got all that! Pick me, pick me! Problem is, what I've written doesn't seem to interest agents. ;)

For the first 9 agents I queried, I read their websites, blogs, and anything else I could find out about them. I only queried agents who sold books with similar writing styles to mine (which I knew because they represented some of my favorite books). I was so certain I'd get a match, but got 8 query rejections (2 personalized) and 1 rejection of a requested partial.

All that research ate up my precious writing time and made the rejections seem so much more personal. So I started writing again and only checked to see if the agents were reputable and had previously sold my genre before I queried them. So far, I've gotten a 66% requests-for-partials rate. Granted, I improve my query letter, but you'll have a hard time convincing me to go back to the intensive research option considering my results: fewer rejections, the rejections hurt less, and I'm almost done with the first draft of my second novel.

Heidi the Hick said...

You should never fake anything.

That is all.

Thank you.

Heidi said...

I have been reading books of potential agents lately, partly just because I think it says something about them and their clients if they actually have books in our local libraries, partly because it gives me a good idea about what the agent likes, and partly because it's a great way to find new books I might not otherwise read.

I did read In the Break, because it was on your blog as a book by one of your clients. I'm not writing a YA book right now, so I'm not sure how much it helps me when I query, but it was a book I might not otherwise know about, and I can honestly say now, "I've read something you represented!" But better yet, I know books you rep are on my library shelves, some of which have wait lists, and that makes me more likely to query you.

Adaora A. said...

I was watching Who Wants To Be A Millionaire (with Regis Philman) about an hour ago and they mentioned an 'Almanac Book" on a topic and my mind shot straight to 'KIM LONG = Nathan Bransford = Curtis Brown (and no I didn't mistakenly call you 'Curtis!' Ha! How random is that? Then yesterdays episode was a Winston Churchill question.


Dear Mr. Bransford:

I have done sufficient research to verify to my satisfaction you're not a shyster.

Good enough?

A writer can spend months reading clients' books and internet stalking and chatting up his list of 20 potential agents at conferences and still end up with 20 impersonal form rejections if the story doesn't grab anyone's attention. The story is what it's all about, right?

I agree with Poor Mouse. It has proven a better use of my time to concentrate on wowing an agent with the book at the query stage and leave the discussion of my "hard work, diligence, attention to detail, familiarity the publishing business" when we're approaching offer time. Then I can add "effective time management" to my list of virtues.

Luc2 said...

It's funny that you mention acknowledgments for agents. It seems that an agent is never mentioned in a book, unless it's in the acknowledgment. Why?
Of course the publisher is mentioned, and the illustrator of the cover, so why not the agent? I still haven't found the agent of one writer I like, even after scouring the internet.

Julie Weathers said...

I would probably read Brad Geagley's books simply because I love ancient history and mysteries. I don't have tiem to read books simply because someone reps them. I have to want to read them. That's like reading what's on some current list so you can go to a cocktail party and chat about it. Whether I would mention I read a certain book in a query or not, I don't know.

Even though I've done a lot of historical research for my fantasy, I'm not sure there would be any connections to Mr. Geagley's books.

I probably won't watch some of these television shows so we can chat cliffhangers either.

Now, if you suddenly developed an interest in HOUSE, I might mention that. Anyone who enjoys that twisted writing instantly goes up a notch.

cc said...

One interesting side note... people often give advice about how to approach an agent/editor at a conference. Chat them up about the latest ballgame (if a man) or their cute shoes (if a woman), but for the love of Shakesphere, don't ask them about books, the industry, or, egads, YOUR book.


I say agents/editors are people, same as us, and can probably tell if someone is a big kiss-ass. Simple respect makes an awful lot of sense in these circumstances.

LurkerMonkey said...

My guess is that if the writing is tight, the hook is compelling and fresh, and the characters are better-than-boy-wizards, the personalization issue becomes only a cherry on the sundae.

Nathan Bransford said...

I agree with the people who are saying that it's more important to have a good hook and solid query than it is to personalize a query letter. That's the most important thing (and I request lots of queries that aren't personalized). However, personalizing only increases your odds. It's not how everyone is going to find their agent, but I really do think it makes a difference.

Anonymous said...

So, can I admit something totally embarrassing? Maybe I shouldn't sign in as myself. Nope, I'm going annonymously.

I sent in an email query to an agent who shall remain nameless. I was searching on several different agent websites at the same time, and ended up getting hers mixed up with someone else's. Long story short, I mentioned that I loved that she represented certain authors...but she didn't. I realized it moments later after I'd sent the query.

Suffice it to say, I was rejected, though it was a from rejection, and I'm not sure she actually read my mistake.

And I will never make that mistake again, I can promise you that.

Ana said...

I am really not faking it: I do appreciate your words and I will keep reading and enjoying your writing here in this amazing blog. Cheers! Ana

Julie Weathers said...

I agree the queries should be personalized. I just also think they should be genuine. If an agent is a die hard football fan I am not going to open up with a line about football. There are ways to personalize an approach without being dishonest.

Anonymous said...

You missed the word 'with' when making a very ironic point. It reads: (hard work, diligence, attention to detail, familiarity the publishing business). It should read: (hard work, diligence, attention to detail and familiarity with the publishing business). The 'and' is a personal preference.

Nathan Bransford said...

Ha - good point, anon.

Related Posts with Thumbnails