Nathan Bransford, Author

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Please Don't Scare Me

The stock market is tanking, the weather in San Francisco is apocalyptic, and I face the prospect of seeing more of Javier Bardem now that he was nominated for an Oscar for the performance in No Country for Old Men that is still giving me nightmares. Plus, holy crap, **** killed **** on the Wire. I'm jumpy, people. Approach me carefully, do not speak too loudly, and please, please do not freak me out in your query letter.

Now, by urging you not freak me out in a query, I'm not saying don't send me a horror or suspense novel. It's fine to scare me through storytelling. What I am saying is that now is not a good time for confessing that you have homicidal tendencies toward literary agents and/or scaring me through inadvertent, sometimes well-intentioned means.

Sure-fire ways to freak me out include:

- Sending your query in a bizarre package
- Sending me a "true-crime" query for a crime YOU committed (yes, this happens)
- E-mailing me a query from a strange e-mail address (such as
- Sending me an anonymous query and/or one signed with a bizarre pen name. Look -- having one name a la Prince or Madonna DOES NOT MAKE YOU LOOK AUTHORIAL. It makes you look crazy.
- Writing in the passive voice. The horror!!!
- Excessive praise
- Stream-of-consciousness queries that appear to have been written on an excessive caffeine dosage
- Memoirs about alien and/or supernatural encounters. Call me crazy, but I am not going to believe that you have already been to heaven, hell, or the moons of Saturn and survived to tell the tale.
- Tricks of all kinds, including people who pretend like I've previously requested their manuscript only I forgot (I don't forget) and people who pretend that we are old classmates (I graduated from high school with 70 people, about 50 of whom I started kindergarten with 12 years earlier. We knew each other. A little too well.).

So please, be as cool as possible in your queries. Don't make any sudden moves. And hopefully we won't find ourselves in a Cormac McCarthy novel. Hopefully.


Josephine Damian said...

Nathan, do you think I'd do better with my queries if I had an email address like:

lol lol lol lol

Actually I was going to use more graphic and specific language in my address but this is a family blog. Seriously, I wouldn't put it past any desperate writer to imply they'd go "they extra mile" to make an agent, uh, take them on, that or laying on the guilt by threatening suicide.

PS: there's no such thing as too much Javier Bardem! He's my latest crush! Maybe I should send him an email :-)

Heidi said...

So, so funny. i have nothing witty (or scary) to say, except you always make me laugh. Thanks for that!

Adaora A. said...

Hey Nathan how can you complain about whether over in SF? Have you been to Torono, Canada lately? It's 30 below one day,the next we are burried 30 feet in snow...then tommorow it will all melt and it will be hot enough for a light jacket. The next day, who knows?

Bizare package? You mean sending a query hand written on a cut out of a drunk monkey or Heidi Montag is a no go?

Being anonymous to show I want to be a ghost writer is not allowed?

OMG! People send you partials/fulls after they have been rejected. I'm sorry Nathan, I have to laugh it is so ridiculous.

Diana said...

I just started reading your blog a couple of weeks ago, and this is the first time I'm posting. (I love your blog, by the way!)

I must know...what do you do with the queries for people who want you to represent true-crime novels featuring crimes they've committed?

Nathan Bransford said...


Thanks for reading! Those tend to go in the "too scared to respond" drawer.

Diana said...

Probably a wise choice. You wouldn't want to end up the subject of a true-crime novel yourself.

Nona said...

"The stock market is tanking..."

Personally, I don't look (not even through my fingers) but I learned a lot from my mother's reaction, which could only be described as that of an old woman watching her favorite poodle piddle on the living room carpet yet again.

The old lady is WISE.

Adaora A. said...

Nathan can we draw your attention (in the query along with a website/blog) to a playlist which we feel goes well with the book. Of course it wouldn't be compiled with some wierd claim that the playlist was praised by Jimi Hendrix himself.

Merry Monteleone said...

Okay, I was going to make a comment along the lines of,

"You mean my address won't get me noticed?"

But Josie beat me to it and hers was funnier.

As far as the true crime queriers who have actually commited the crimes... I so have to know, were they already convicted or are they copping to something no one knows they did, because that would be way more comical...

Sorry *shakes head, wipes away tears*

David said...

I'd love to see a compilation of really strange/weird/disturbing/absurd/etc. query letters received by an agent.

I suppose it won't happen for legal reasons, but it would be a hoot. Or maybe that's been done.

Linnea said...

Merry, in the realm of comical criminals my son told me about a woman who bought some cocaine, called the cops because she thought she'd been cheated and the seller gave her sugar or whatever else looks like cocaine. The cops tested the material, it was cocaine and she was arrested.

sex scenes at starbucks said...

Um weather? I sent my kids off to school in 13 BELOW air this morning; this afternoon we're sitting at about 37 above. You do the math and tell me how to dress for that??

Nathan Bransford said...

About the weather: it's not that bad. 45 and rainy, but I understand that I will not risk my life venturing outside and that we never really have terrible weather. It's just one of those days where it looks apocalyptic. The clouds are low and it's raining.

Merry Monteleone said...


I saw that one!!! I think it was America's Dumbest Criminals. There was a family Restaurant I used to wait tables at and hang out in when I was in college - some guy tried to rob the place and was so flustered he actually carried the cash register out with him - it was one of the old old kind that weigh like 100 pounds... It also happened to be a restaurant that was frequented by the Chicago PD... it was slightly comical to see this really skinny twenty something, staggering around in the middle of Cicero Avenue (very busy street right by Midway Airport). The cops just stood by the squadcars with their arms crossed, chuckling, waiting for the guy to get tired and fall down.

Okay, I'm easily amused.


Layers, baby, layers... a tactic I employ almost year long... and my kids probably lose more gloves and hats because they don't feel like putting them on at the end of the day when it's warmer.

Sisyphus said...

Nathan, thanks for your great blog. You must be so tired reading the same-old, same-old queries so I have devised a novel approach:

I'm planning to hand-deliver my query to your office, dressed in my suicide-bomber outfit. I'll push your assistant aside, storm into your office and say, "Nathan, here's my query for "JIHAD FOR LITERATURE." This is its hook: if you don't consider representing me, I'll blow us up."

You may find this approach somewhat heavy-handed but it's original and free from passive voice. It also shows my commitment toward representation.

You better have the contract ready on your desk. See you soon!

Joking :)

Dave F. said...

I've been through a couple of these stock market gyrations. Unless you're living on the money, there is not much you should do other than wait it out.

As for the odd queries, a business letter and a plain envelope works for me.

superwench83 said...

Wow, people really say they went to school with you? That's hilarious. I know exactly what you mean about knowing those people a little too well. My graduating class was 73 people. If some stranger said they graduated with me, I would definitely know the truth.

Sam Hranac said...

Thank you for that list.

[makes steeple fingers]

sylvia said...

You owe me a mouthful of red wine and a new keyboard. Again.

Josephine Damian said...

Nathan wrote: Those tend to go in the "too scared to respond" drawer.

Josie suggests: A "call-the-cops" drawer! Like any other sleuth, she's always on the case.

Nathan, just wait till you read "Blood Meridian" - "Country" was a day in Sunday school compared to "Blood."

Janet said...

A word to the wise: never complain about the weather on a blog with an international readership. Somebody will ALWAYS be able to one-up you.

And most of North America does not take too kindly to weather complaints from Californians. Just sayin' ;o)

We are having winter. Temperatures stay consistently below freezing and there is snow. Personally, I don't mind. Winter is - um - cool.

Adaora, what would be the point of including a playlist? There is so little room in a query letter to say what needs to be said. Why include something that is completely useless? You want to stand out only in ways that communicate the fact that you would be easier to sell.

Cam said...

I assume you accidentally left off these ones:
-People who offer up bribes (naming their firstborn - or their protagonist - after you, etc.)
-People who threaten blackmail

R.C. said...

A very funny post on this dreary day. Sisyphus's reply cracked me up, too.

I live in a city near SF that has the motto: "weather best by government test" and we still complain about it. I'm not sure, but I'm thinking the motto was adopted before Hawaii became a state.


JaxPop said...

Preparing for cold tomorrow ourselves - High expected between 60 & 65 (70something today). I would never claim to have graduated from school with you (WOW 70 in your class!) There were only 13 in my HS graduationg class. The hard work paid off, I cracked the top 10!

Anonymous said...


Assuming you were serious, and not joking, no I don't think there's any point in drawing an agent's attention to a playlist. I don't presume to speak for Mr. Bransford, but most agents are extremely busy, and if the writing doesn't speak for itself in the query, no number of theme-appropriate songs are going to. And seriously, who the heck has the time?

PS: bizarre has two "r's" and I think you meant weather, not whether!

Anonymous said...

I'm still looking for the ending to No Country for Old Men.

Kimber An said...

BOO! ((Kimber throws her head back and laughs wickedly))

A Paperback Writer said...

Thanks, Nathan. I needed a laugh today.
And, although my high school class was about 430-ish, if someone claimed they'd graduated with me and I didn't think so, I do still have an old yearbook or two handy to prove one of us wrong. (They're good for more than just laughing at hairstyles, you know.)

ORION said...

45? FORTY -FIVE????!!!!!
You call that LIVABLE????
oh and I gave the kid back as soon as my agent offered representation and sold my book - there wasn't a scratch on her...

Taylor said...

For some reason I seem to think rhyming queries should be added to that already hilarious list.

As far as weather goes, things have been crazy here in Charleston, SC. Around two weeks ago we had record lows in the 20s. The next week we had record highs in the 80s. This week it snowed throughout most of the state, except for here and Myrtle Beach where it hovered just above freezing. Now it's getting back up to the 60s. It's annoying when you have to keep summer and winter clothes out year around because you never know what you'll have to wear day to day. I guess that's what we get for living by the ocean and near countless rivers. :)

Elver said...

I gotta ask this. Has anyone sent you a query letter along with a photo of their genitals or breasts?

How did it work out?

Nathan Bransford said...


Yes. And it didn't end well for the querier.

slwhitman said...

...ew, on that last. *shudder* Thankfully, neither that nor the high school thing has ever happened to me. I also had a small graduating class, most of whom I grew up w/ since kindergarten. I don't think any of them would think I'd want to work with them now, even if they somehow did start writing. :) But I have had people send CDs, just in case we liked his work enough to go into the music business.

midnight oil said...

Wow and, well…wow. As a Colorado native living here in the bay area, I agree with you Nathan, not that its cold as I knew it back home, but it is a bone soaking cold that creeps up on you, and it takes forever to get rid of. I feel like I am going to have to grow gills though, I want my snow!!!

Have you ever been queried from anyone who believed they were not completely human? In the past I worked with a young man who believed this of himself. Strange fellow!

moonrat said...

i got a doozy this week, NB, and i thought you would enjoy it. a guy wanted me to pick up his expose on celebrity sex scandals and secret liaisons. his platform made him super qualified to write it because... that's right. he is an authority figure in his town and is rather attractive and has been the target of many a lady's come-on, so he is intimately acquainted with the ins and outs of sexual harrassment and sexual affairs.

top THAT.

Ryan Field said...

I can only imagine how they query with erotica.

~grace~ said...

oohh, yeah, poor erotica agents. they must get some weirdos.

re: weather. I recently spent two days standing outside, on top of a lake, in temps that ranged from -14 to a high of -2. + wind chill. (I was refereeing pond hockey) Apocalyptic weather, my tush.

re: high school buddies. I dare anyone to try that trick on me. Ever. I was homeschooled. If you're going to claim to have gone to school with me, you'd better be able to prove you're my brother.

Precie said...

So...not to clip the directions this comment stream has taken but...since you mentioned the economy...Could you maybe give us your thoughts on how a recession tends to affect publishing? Do publishers tend to tighten their belts...and therefore do agents become even more selective? Do certain trends more light or chick lit or escapist fiction?

Nathan Bransford said...


That's a good question. I actually haven't really worked in the publishing business during a recession (I started in 2002 as we were emerging from one), so I'm not too sure what discernible effect they have, if any. I'll do some digging though and see what I come up with.

Aimless Writer said...

Dear Nathan,
As I sat outside your house around 4 am, pondering my manuscript about what would happen if a stalker stalked a serial killer I was hoping you'd wear the blue shirt today.
Imagine my disapoinment when you emerged hours later in the yellow one. You know blue is my favorite color.....
Relax, remain calm and when Saturn comes out of retrograde it will be alright...
Loved this post! Some days it feels as if the world really has gone crazy.

highhopes said...

An Outstanding ’Forever Home”.

For Sale: A dog team

“I received an answer to my advertisement I ran in several dog mushing magazines,” Mr. Herman announced.
Ivy’s heart sank. She braced herself to hear what might come next.
“What ad?” Josiah, a year younger than Ivy, asked.
“I didn’t know you had placed an ad in any dog magazines,” Nathan said.
“We can’t take a kennel full of dogs to live with us in the city,” Mrs. Herman said “And we do need to sell the dogs and this kennel.”
Ivy remained silent. Suddenly the steaming, thick stew in a bowl in front of her, and a freshly baked biscuit in one hand, that had smelled and looked so delicious only moments before, seemed uninviting and tasteless. She set her spoon on the table with a clatter.
“What’s the matter, Ivy?” Mr. Herman asked.
“Eat your stew,” Mrs. Herman said. She put her own spoon her bowl, put the spoon to her lips and swallowed.
“I’m not hungry,” Ivy answered. She pushed her bowl away.
“But beef stew is your favourite,” Mrs. Herman said.
Ivy didn’t pick up her spoon and resume eating. Josiah looked at her as if she had lost her mind.
“She doesn’t like this stew?”
Ivy rolled her eyes. “I didn’t say I didn’t like it. I said I’m not hungry.”
“This is delicious,” Nathan said. He dipped his biscuit into the thick stew, bit off a piece and smacked his lips.
“To get back to the ad,” Mr. Herman said. He swallowed his stew and continued. “I received a letter from Mr. Owen Winschell, Sr. who said he and his son, Owen, Jr., want to buy Snow Queen.”
“Oh, Dad nooooo.” Ivy bent down to pet Snow Queen who had curled up at her feet beneath the dining table. The Canadian Eskimo Dog licked her fingers.
Her father’s lips tightened.
He’s angry with me; now he will yell at me, thought Ivy.
Instead, he said to his two sons.

Sherlyn Todd Andreozzi said...

Thanks Nathan and Holly for reading the first page in my completed YA Novel.

"Rise of the Underland" by Sherlyn Todd Andreozzi

Old Coyote eased onto his side and stretched his long, skinny legs across the pale, cool sand. After a long journey to the pyramid sand hill deep in the Texas desert, a heavy weariness seeped through him and settled in his bones. He closed his eyes and tried to clear his mind of the impending danger the desert concealed beneath its surface awaiting a delicate butterfly of a child who would soon carry the weight of it all. His ears pricked up a short time later when soft laughter and whispered words came drifting across the sand. The sounds became secondary to the feeling of a presence near him. Reluctantly, he opened his eyes to two small-callused feet with stubby hairy toes wiggling next to his snout.

“Sandlings,” Coyote sighed. How did they know he was here so quickly? It was impossible to keep anything a secret from them. They truly were the nosiest of all desert creatures.

“Me thinking you here for some reason, me does,” said a scratchy voice.

“Certainly can’t keep a secret from you, Dreamer,” Coyote replied, taking notice of the creature’s eyes blazing in the night like little yellow flames. “My goodness, you’re even older than I remember.”

Dreamer smiled showing his sharp, pointed teeth that were as yellow as his eyes. “Me old enough to knows you come to this place looking for something, me does.”

Coyote got his feet under him and shook the sand from his fur. “This is true, old friend.”

“Must be careful, me thinks. The Harmful Ones are not far from this place. Saw them run, then slither `neath the sand, me did.”

Coyote surveyed the nearby hills slowly and cautiously. They were out there – he could smell them. “Gather all the Naturals and Unseens and put them on alert. I must have enough time to complete my mission.” Coyote could hear the urgency in his voice, though the fear behind it, he kept well concealed. “If my visions are true, we’ll have a new Protector chosen and sealed within the three circles before the next season of cold winds.”

“Me has others waiting not far, me does. Me send them in all six directions keeping eyes and ears open, me will.” Dreamer touched the top of Coyote’s head. “Me leaving me dreaming powers with you, me is.”

Coyote sniffed the air. “It appears I’ll need them. Go Quickly.” He paused to clear his throat and mask the panic. “They’re getting closer.”

Without a moment’s hesitation, Dreamer rolled into a ball and swiftly skipped across the sand like any other tumbleweed traveling on the wind.

Dan said...


Would the nature of the crime have an effect on your response? Who is more qualified to write the story than the criminal?

For an example I'm thinking something along the lines of a real life version of "Risky Business" - where the 'crime' isn't scary so much as it is interesting.

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