Nathan Bransford, Author

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

New Year, New Query Stats

Happy New Year, everyone!

I tell you what, there's nothing quite like returning to the office to face 123 queries in your inbox. PEOPLE. Publishing closes down over the holidays, and trust me, you don't want to be 1/123rd of your prospective agent's grunt of "UGH" when they open their inbox after the holidays -- they have plenty of other work that has built up. Avoid avoid avoid sending queries from December 18th - January 8th and the week before and after the fourth Thursday in November.

Of course, I ended up requesting four partials out of those 123, so what do I know?

On to the stats! Now that I've been doing this query stat thing for a while, it's interesting to see the trends. Admittedly these are small and subjective sample sizes, but the gap between suspense/thriller/mystery (which is the perennial leader) and YA has continued to narrow, with 23 suspense to 19 YA. And this week's unusually popular category award goes to male ennui: 8 were firmly in the "disaffected man goes on road trip/embarks on journey of self-discovery/decides that the world is full of BS" category. I guess these authors weren't exactly feeling the Christmas spirit.

Full stats:

Suspense/thriller/mystery: 23
Young Adult: 19
Fantasy: 16
Women's Fiction: 10
Male Ennui: 8
Literary fiction: 7
Science fiction: 6
Memoir: 6
Short story collections: 6
Middle grade: 5
How-to/Self-Help: 4
Historical fiction: 4
Horror/Occult: 2
Politics/Current Events: 2
Picture book: 1
Western: 1
No freaking idea: 3

Of these 123, 36 were personalized (a sad 29%) and 8 began with rhetorical questions.

Other fun categories:

Queries that bragged about the amount of violence and/or sex in the novel: 3
Questions about my interests that could have been easily answered if the person had Googled my name: 2
Mentioned that relatives and/or friends loved their work: 3
Queries that were obviously mass-mailed to a thousand agents (often with every agent's e-mail address included so we can all see where it was sent): 3
"Read receipt" turned on: 1 (much better!)
Follow up questions: 2
Addressed "Dear Sirs" or to the wrong agent: 4
Addressed "Dear Nate" (it's "Nathan"): 1

Requested: 4

Last fun (or not so fun) fact: only one of the four partials I requested was personalized. The query "rules"? OUT THE WINDOW!


Gina Black said...

I swear I will NEVER start a query with a rhetorical question.

But I do have a question:
"Read receipt" turned on: 1 (much better!)

What does that mean?

Melanie Avila said...

Nathan, welcome back! I've been in serious withdrawal. Happy new year and I can't wait for more of your wisdom.

Gina - agents don't like it, but I haven't heard a clean explanation as to why.

Josephine Damian said...

I guess they did not read the link from Anne Mini's blog that I put on my blog that said: Do not query till after MLK Day.

Nathan, what genre(s) did the four partials fall into? (Shame on everybody who did not personalize their letter). And did Santa bring you a Kindle?

FYI, if anyone's interested in knowing what my pick was for the Best Book I Read In 2007:

Nathan Bransford said...


Read receipt is a function on e-mail that causes a window to pop up when the recipient opens the e-mail asking for confirmation that they received the e-mail.

I don't like it because:

1) it feels intrusive
2) it's redundant. If you e-mailed me a query and I received it, you're going to hear from me anyway (same as a read-reciept). If I didn't receive it, you're not going to hear from me (same as a read-receipt).

Nathan Bransford said...


The four were across the board: literary fiction, women's fiction, YA and suspense. And no Kindle from Santa!

Linnea said...

Glad to have you back Nathan. Missed your humour during the 'dry spell'. Hope you have a prosperous year and discover some great new writers.

April said...

Well, I don't start my queries (though I've only done 4 and not to you yet) with rhetorical questions, and I try to personalize all of my queries. I sound like I'm some pro...and I've only just begun! lol

Nadine said...

Happy New Year Nathan!

Wow, 123? That is a lot. I'm waiting a few weeks, hoping that the influx is from New Year resolutions and will subside.

Glad to have your blog back!

L.C.McCabe said...


I'm hoping that the 36 queries that were personalized and the 8 that started with rhetorical questions were mutually exclusive categories.

I would hate to think that a regular reader of your blog who identified themselves as such would start off their query with a rhetorical question.

Just wondering if you could clarify your stats on the matter.

Josephine had made reference to a post by Anne Mini about waiting to query until after MLK day can be found here:

I love Anne's blog BTW, very informative.

Here's hoping you have a wonderful new year,


green ray said...

Nathan, it's so good to have you back again. I just KNEW you were going to tell us today NOT to send out anything now, but I couldn't avoid doing it in a few cases (follow-ups, mostly). Great to hear these stats and Happy New Year.

Nathan Bransford said...


I'm going to address this in a future post, but there are definitely some people who say they read the blog who lead off with rhetorical questions (although, my protestations aside, this can be done well), and there are also people who claim to have read books by my clients, who, from their description, clearly haven't.

Lupina said...

Nathan, welcome back. Like Melanie, I've been in withdrawal, and kept checking daily anyway partly out of habit and partly in hopes that you had gotten bored with private life/holiday stuff and just HAD to sneak one post in. Your comeback did not disappoint.

My non-rhetorical question: Just for the sake of stats completion, will you keep us informed as to how many of the four partials elicit ms requests?

Thanks and I'm somehow seeing a Kindle in your future in 2008 despite Santa's dereliction!

Josephine Damian said...

Nathan, no Kindle from Santa? Bummer. And you're always so nice, and not naughty (like me :-)).

I read the Kindle has some design flaws so maybe you'll get a later, better version when it comes out. The Easter Bunny?

Thanks for letting me know about the partial genres.

Kylie said...

Welcome back, Nathan! As you can probably tell, we missed the publishing insight and witty jokes.

I was going to ask about the genres of the partial requests, too, but I see joshepine has beaten me to the punch. Thanks for posting the answer, anyway.

My other question: When querying during such a busy publishing time, do agents typically become more subjective over what they'll request? Like, something that's normally "good" to be requested isn't good enough when you've got 90 other queries to go through?

Nathan Bransford said...


I try to be objective no matter when I'm reading a query letter (hence the four requests even though I tell people not to send over the holidays). But still, others might not be as forgiving, particularly agents who take on very few clients through the query pile.

Reid said...

Would I ever start a query with a rhetorical question? Certainly not now!

I hadn't planned on doing any queries until mid-January, at least. I know my TV day job is a major downer until I get my legs back under me, and stop wishing it were still the holidays. I wouldn't want someone looking over my work who was still wishing it were a snow day.

Love the blog, as always. Glad to have you back!

Anonymous said...

Don't ever give up Nathan, your perserverance will pay off one day!

I promise not to bombard you with a rhetorical question.

Good to see the blog up and going again.

Happy New Year!

Stephanie Zvan said...

Welcome back and congratulations on the relatively low "No freaking idea" percentage.

Picky question: Does genre or age group take precedence for you (i.e., is a young adult fantasy one of the 19 or the 16)?

Nathan Bransford said...


I'm actually going to blog about this soon, but go by bookstore sections. In other words, YA fantasy falls mainly under YA, not fantasy, if you have to pick one.

Kimber An said...

'No freaking idea'

Good question, Stephanie. I'll be looking for that column too.

It's kind of funny, but for the last couple of months all my younger friends who read Fantasy have been telling me they pay no attention to the YA label. In fact, they read a lot of stuff my stomach is too weak for. Come to think of it, I read AUSCHWITZ as a teenager and didn't have nightmares. What's with that?

ORION said...

Hey I started my query like that!
"What would you do if you won the Lottery? Keith would spend his money on Mexican babes, Gram would go to Hawaii, and Perry L. Crandall would go to Pennsylvania and see where Hersheys Kisses are made.
"My name is Perry L. Crandall and I am not retarded."

Oh well. It's good I didn't know that before I queried Dorian! LOL.

Cam said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cam said...

Where have I been? So glad to have found this blog. Its ideal motiviation to keep me working on the novel I started last week --at 3,968 really bad words right now, but making tons of progress on plot/characters. I'm going to have to read through all your previous threads now. I started out on a Feb 2007 post and an ensuing thread of hilarious responses about book length and page formatting (Word, double space, 12 pt. Times, 1" margins, 1/2 inch indents, etc; I hope all that still applies!) Glad to be in on this literary party. Happy new year, all.

Robert Tacoma said...

Wow! 123? Was my follow-up to an earlier rejection one of those? I didn't hear back from you is why I ask...
Maybe I just don't understand how the publishing world works, but isn't the main goal of an agent or publisher to sell books? And if an unsigned author has a book or books that he would very much like to sell to a big publisher, and those books are (gulp) self-pub and are doing better on Amazon* than even the books you, Nathan Bransford, have on your blogsite, isn’t that a good thing? I’ve heard about self-pub books catching fire and getting bought by big publishers. What do I have to do?
I hope I’m not out of line here, but I really would like to know what I’m doing wrong.

*Amazon ran out of two of my titles two days ago (twice now in three weeks), so the sales ranking numbers aren’t nearly as good today.

Thanks for any reply,
Robert Tacoma

Nathan Bransford said...


Just goes to show rhetorical questions can be done well by the right author. Unfortunately, most times they don't work.

Colorado Writer said...

Welcome back!

Jordyn said...

Happy 2008!!!

Julie Weathers said...

First off, welcome back, Nathan. Hope you had a lovely, if unKindled, holiday.

I'm rather surprised you had so many queries.

One thing I like about some of the agent blogs are the numerous suggestions about how to contact. I like people to tell me flat out, this is what I like. Give me some rules and I will do my best to observe them.

I would think this is similar to the dating services. If she says she likes, quiet, cultured, non-smokers it's probably best not to show up on your Harley with a cigar dangling out of your mouth.

Then again, Don't Tell Her It's Me is one of my all time favorite movies.

Suffice to say, I will not be querying with a rhetorical question or read receipt.

Adrienne said...

Orion - I too had rhetorical questions in mine, but they were at the end. Very Batman - same bat time, same bat channel. . . kind of thing . . .

"Will Captain Magnanimous live up to his name or is it a clever misnomer? Will she ever elude the Daughters of the Founding Fathers’ Preservation Society? ..." etc etc

I think in the end, and tell me if I am way off base Nathan, despite all the rules, it comes down the spirit of the law if you know what I mean. Exceptions make it through the slush all the time. Kind of makes things confusing, but I like it, shows that as long as the voice is original . . .

A Paperback Writer said...

Hmmm.. Only 8 rhetorical questions. Isn't that an improvement? (Uh, that is NOT a rhetorical question.)
I'm glad I didn't know I wasn't supposed to send off queries over the break because I did -- and I got a request for a full today.
Still, I'm sure some of the agents I queried (not you, Nathan. I like your blog, but I can tell you wouldn't like my writing) agree with you and muttered curses as they hit "delete" without even reading my query.

Sherry Allyn Norman said...

No freaking idea: 3


What's sad is I know exactly what you mean.

As for Westerns, are there any good ones being written anymore? Really good ones? It's been so long since I read anything Western that I just don't know.

Not that they are my preference, but I'd like to see a good one.


Lurker Monkey said...

Hey, Nathan, lurker here ... I admit that I'm a plagiarist. I've sent your "This Year in Publishing" list to many people. LOVED IT. So funny! Anyway, I didn't (quite) have the guts to claim it as my own, but thanks for being so funny and entertaining. Someday I'll send you a query with the following elements:

1) Dear Nate
2) Begins with three (count 'em!) rhetorical questions
3) Brags about explicit sex in YA/thriller/women's lit genre crossover
4) Copied to 65 other agents, all also named Nate
5) Estimated word count: 375,000
6) Angry insistence that NOT ONE WORD be changed because the book is utterly PERFECT as it is
7) Demeaning commentary about New York publishing houses that seem to have it in for me because they have so far rejected my every sultry advance
8) A comletely fictional bio in which my career begins in a Chippendale dance troupe, moves into animal training, then into law enforcement and ends up with me stripping for food in a retirement community in Arizona
9) No return address, name, phone number or SASE
10) A bitter follow-up asking you "Why?! WHY?!" when you don't request my opus magnum

Dave Wood said...

Welcome back Nathan.

There seem to be so many personal variables in all this. On one side, some agents don't want queries right after the holidays; others don't mind. Some writers who work stressful jobs may find the only time they have the personal fortitude to face writing a query is during an extended break, others can knock off a query letter on their coffee break. Some agents look for personalization in queries, others don't. Authors who believe they got a request because of the personalization, authors who never did any more research than Writers Market. There are agents who diligently try to answer every email query (like you, Nathan), and those who say up front that they won't respond if they're not interested (which would tend to make authors turn on read receipt as a matter of habit, I would think). Authors who send queries using their work email, where read receipt is habitually on, authors who don't. Agents who will be bothered by one quirk of happenstance, agents who won't. Authors who get snapped up right away and those who have to query thirty...fifty agents (I read somewhere a few years ago that the average is twenty or so). I even know a provider of 'author services' who claims to have had a good success rate for her clients using those shotgun-300-agents services.

Given all that, it seems best not to stress too much about any of the variables on either side and just accept that the author-agent process is one of seeking a business relationship that will hopefully turn into a friendly acquaintanceship at some point during the negotiations.

Steph said...

Ah, nothing like waking up to a new year with a triple-digit amount of queries, huh? :)

Kristin Nelson posted her year's stats on her blog. Might you be doing the same? Stuff like, how many new clients you took on, how many books you sold, etc?

I'm actually really interested in knowing how many clients you contracted this past year. Just for curiosity's (and a bit of inspiration's) sake :)

Happy New Year!

- Steph

sex scenes at starbucks said...

Did you take a partial with a rhetorical question?

I didn't even read any stories for the magazine over the holidays, mostly because I was lazy, but also because I didn't want to send Christmas or New Years rejections. I might be an evil editor, but I'm not cruel.

Nathan Bransford said...


I don't really blog about my deals and clients (except when their books are coming out), I prefer to keep that stuff private. My own feeling is just that I would prefer that my clients and prospective clients be very comfortable and confident knowing that nothing at all that happens between us will be the subject of a blog post, whether it's our communications, work, deals, etc. etc. That's just my own personal preference though, and I think we're tremendously fortunate that there are other blogging agent out there with different styles.


Yes, I've definitely requested the partial for a query that began with a rhetorical question. If it's good, it's good!

BenB said...

Gee, I can't believe you not only didn't answer my email, but ignored my comment here.
Sure hurts to be snubbed like that, but I guess I still have a lot to learn about agents and publishing.
Last check Key Weird is ranked #10,910 on Amazon (and no, I've never bought one of my own books).
Have a great life.

Nathan Bransford said...


I think your comment speaks for itself.

Anonymous said...

oooh... sorry about the lack-o-Kindle. I was really hoping you would be telling us all about the wazoo performance of something designed to KILL our future hopes and dreams.

Anyway, I do have a question re: your stats -- (see below) were they all the SAME three?

Queries that bragged about the amount of violence and/or sex in the novel: 3
Mentioned that relatives and/or friends loved their work: 3
Queries that were obviously mass-mailed to a thousand agents (often with every agent's e-mail address included so we can all see where it was sent): 3

Nathan Bransford said...


No, there may have been some overlap in those categories but it wasn't just the same 3.

Tiffany Aller said...

So glad to have my fix of Nathan back - I've been a dedicated reader for some time now, and I have to admit that I went through som serious withdrawal to not read you for a few days! Welcome back, Happy New Year, and here's wishing you lots of properly-addressed, non-mass-emailed, non-redundant-question-begun and interesting queries in 2008!

Jennifer L. Griffith said...

Welcome back and Happy New Year. I missed your wit and wisdom.


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