Nathan Bransford, Author


Monday, March 3, 2008

Literary Agent Blog Confidential

I'm going to break out the honesty today. Weak of heart, cover your eyes. This truth can hurt.

So..... no disrespect to anyone who reads the blog and has queried me recently (I'm sure your query was good), but I've really noticed two things over the past couple of weeks:

1) I've been receiving way more queries than usual
2) The quality of these queries, on average, is WAY below normal.

Obviously there have been some pleasant exceptions and, if you read this or other agent blogs, even if I passed on your project the overwhelming odds (because you're awesome and doing your research) are that yours was one of the good ones. But on average, these queries I've been receiving lately are way way way worse than normal, like a train wreck on top of a volcanic explosion of cow dung (yay similes!)

What's going on out there?

On the agent panel at the San Francisco Writer's Conference we talked about how e-queries, because of their relative ease of use, have an unfortunate tendency to inspire some people to spend less time perfecting their query, somehow leads them to think it's a good idea to blast the entire industry with one e-mail, and/or prompts them to write a five hundred page query letter (I guess because they don't have to pay for the paper).

And unfortunately, it's exactly the type of person who doesn't take the time to read blogs or research how to write a good letter who sends these frivolous queries, so they're beyond help. I have no way of reaching these people, via the blog or otherwise. Even if I SHOUT REALLY LOUDLY. "HEY!! PAY ATTENTION PEOPLE NOT READING AGENT BLOGS!!! SHAPE UP YOUR QUERIES!!!" ... ... ... ... ... See? Nothing.

I've even had people ask me for help, I send them a blog link, they refuse to read it and send me a bad query anyway. I had someone today brag that she hadn't read my blog.

So now I'm in a position where I have to spend a huge amount of time wading through really bad queries to get to the good ones. This has always been a mainstay of the query-reading process and I still like queries (mostly), but the ratio of bad to good these first few months of 2008 has been widening and widening, with no uptick in sight. I have to be out there on the Internet so I can attract the good ones, but I'm drowning in haystacks as I search for needles.

Anyway, meandering post for a Monday. I have no answers! But I'm getting exhausted spending the first several hours of my day wading through a morass of bad query letters. I'm still going to adhere to my policy of responding to everyone who queries me, but anyone who complains about agents not responding to queries should really spend several hours reading through 100+ queries every Monday morning.






88 comments:

R.C. said...

Are you re-thinking your stance - when in doubt, query me?

As a querier from last week - sorry!

Nathan Bransford said...

R.C.-

No apology necessary at all, and thank you for querying me.

And it's funny -- anyone who has heard my advice "when in doubt query me" is someone I want querying me. It's the people who just find me on the Internet somewhere and fire off a bad query who are really taking up my time.

Josephine Damian said...

I've seen several agent websites that stated they were switching from e-queries back to snail mail queries.

I think the trouble with e-queries is that there's no limitation on the page size/amount of content - writers are not forced by space constrainsts to tighten up their letter in an e-query as they are in a strict one (paper) page limit.

I think people overall do more sloppy, less formal writing online than in a traditional paper letter.

I think when you say "query me first" - you're seeing first drafts of queries as oppoosed to those who sent out a first version, got a lot of rejections, and then went back to the drawing board for a query re-write; I think by insisting on being first, you're seeing a lot of failed first tries at querying a particular project.

Did you see Jonathan Lyons is now forcing people to use a form on his website? (maybe you were too busy reading bad queries to notice?) With a 500 word limit on the body of the query? I think imposing a word limit is the best way to ensure at least a tighter, less rambling query. I thought it was a really good idea.

Josephine Damian said...

PS: I think you can post all the query advice you want, but there are always people who fail to follow instructions, or who don't read the blog at all (and just say they do).

I understand your wanting first crack at a potentially great project, and don't want to re-think your "query me first" mantra - but I think forcing people to stick to a word limit might at least cut back on some of the really bad queries.

Adaora A. said...

Wow Nathan.

Out of interest, how did you know they bragged about NOT reading you blog? Did they actually fully tell you they've never read it? How does that look good for them to admit it. I'm trying to understand this outrageous reasoning.

About the slew of clearly mass - badly done - queries you've been recieving I have a theory: It's because there are a lot of authors out there who want to be represented out there by anyone
and they haven't done the research to figure out which agent(s) out there would be a great fit for them. It's nice to see the agent point of view in cases like these though.

Ulysses said...

You have my sympathy.

The internet has really caused a communication explosion. Unfortunately, some people get caught in the blast.

Between regular mail, phone calls, text messages, faxes, cell phones, e-mail, blogs, news groups and video conferencing, we have a myriad of different ways to say things.

Now, I'd really like someone to come up with a filter that cuts it all down to the stuff worth hearing.

benwah said...

Ouch. I likewise queried you last week. Hello tailspin. Oh wait, there's a bottle of bourbon in the back of the plane. Not to worry.

I kid. I think the e-query can suffer from the same problem as e-mail: it encourages an undue familiarity or lack of formality.

Perhaps I shouldn't have addressed my query to you as "Yo, Nate."

I'm in the habit of writing my queries as business letters, complete with address, and then cutting and pasting into an email to send. One agent online (Janet Reid maybe?) makes the point on her blog that she dislikes such a practice because it's too formal. Ah well. It behooves us to research the agents' particular preferences.

Heidi the Hick said...

"drowning in haystacks as I search for needles."


gah, that is good!

Sorry you're so bogged down. There are a lot of people who don't listen, and not just in this business...

I wish so hard I'd waited 6 months to fire off my query. And yes, you were the first on my list.

jjdebenedictis said...

*pets Nathan sympathetically*

Probably what has happened is someone, somewhere, has added your name to an online list of literary agents.

Which means you're now catching a surge of letters from people who do their research by Googling the phrase "list of literary agents". Eek.

Whatcha need to do is set up a webpage called "List of literary agents" and then arrange for the first thing a random Googler to see when they load the page is the phrase "YOU'RE DOING IT WRONG."

(This should be followed by sage advice on how to do it right, of course.)

Laurel Amberdine said...

Would it be possible for you to take advantage of some kind of unpaid intern-type assistance for first pass screening?

(BTW, let me know if I can help; I'm already on call for slush overflow for an agent friend of mine... though I suspect you have plenty of local help available.)

I'm sorry to hear about all the clueless queries. It's a shame that you being so polite, accessible, and prompt gets punished like this.

K.R.Stewart said...

Does that mean if I send you a good-but-not-great query letter in the near future, it will somehow seem more impressive next to all those utterly horrible ones? =P

D. Robert Pease said...

Why not put some kind of "secret only if you read my blog" code out for us. Like anyone that queries start "Dear Nathan, sick of horrific queries, Bransford," will automatically be flagged as someone who has at least perused your blog.

Nathan Bransford said...

d. robert pease-

I would love to limit queries to just blog readers, but then, every now and then a brilliant author comes along who doesn't read my blog, and I can't afford to miss out on writers like that.

Honestly the first thing to go would be my system of responding to everyone who queries me. I'm not there yet, but I really do feel that it's a privilege to hear from an agent, even if it's a rejection, rather than a right. Our Inboxes are only getting crazier.

It's not people like you guys who are making our lives difficult, it's those other people out there who are firing queries from the hip.

Adaora A. said...

REMEMBER THE ALIMO!

Wanda B. Ontheshelves said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Brigid said...

I think your contest drew in all the crazies. You probably have a slew of people who think they were on the bubble (thanks to my husband for the poker term), and this is the best way to get you to read on. I'm betting that queries will go back to normal in another few months or so.

sex scenes at starbucks said...

I had someone today brag that she hadn't read my blog.

Oh my.

sex scenes at starbucks said...

Question for you, Nathan. I have a friend (yes, actually a friend, not me) who used a query service to pretty much spam the industry with her query. I think 200 went out on one day. The service doesn't diffrentiate between what agent takes what, so of course she's gotten lots of rejections saying "please read my guidelines."

Be that as it may, it's a good query and book (it oughta be--I critiqued it!) and she's had requests for THIRTY partials and TWO fulls so far. All this in a matter of a couple of weeks.

I'm wondering your take on this, given her fairly remarkable success at getting some attention. And FYI, no, I'm not planning on paying for such a service myself, I'm just curious from an agent's standpoint.

Nadine said...

Wow, sorry to hear that!

Hopefully after this post, things will shape up!!

And I really wonder what went through that writer's mind when she braged that she didn't read your blog. Did she honestly think that would help?

It's like when a guy yells out "hey sexy" from a car window. It doesn't increase their chances, it lowers them.

Nathan Bransford said...

ss@s-

Most times query blasters are a waste of time, but if you have a good project I suppose it could be a way of shortening the process. I pretty much never request even a partial from these because I know that even if the project is good 30 other agents are also going to be requesting manuscripts, and a feeding frenzy is unappetizing.

christi_r_suzanne said...

I really enjoy reading your posts. They are very helpful. I just finished the first draft of my first novel and am taking in as much advice as I can. I don't want to over-edit my draft, but I do want it to be in the best shape it can be in. It helps to know that creating a good query is the best way to get your foot in the door etc. I can't imagine why people think otherwise!

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Jared X said...

My day job is in the world of consulting. There is a generally accepted ratio in the consulting world that 10 initial sales meetings will lead to 1 new client. That means 9 meetings, each of which required days of preparation, and travel, and general effort, go for naught.

In the world of talent-finding, I understand the ratio is a lot worse. You need hundreds (or thousands) of queries to yield a single profitable client. But in the time it takes me to prepare for one meeting, you can reject dozens upon dozens of queries, so the numbers even out a bit.

As I need 10 meetings to get one client, you need all of your queriers, even the bad ones, to be successful in your business. On that ground alone, I believe that we, the masses, are in fact owed a response when we query.

HOWEVER, given the effort you've put in to tell us, the masses, what you're looking for, it is on us, the masses, to do our due diligence and query you properly. That means people who begin a query to Nathan Bransford with a rhetorical question aren't response-worthy. Nor are queriers of screenplays. Nor are people who pack similes like sardines into their query letters (see what I did there?).

If you just responded to the queriers who acted professionally in submitting their queries, you might find a glorious middle ground between being eternally swamped and ignoring everyone. You also might have the next John Grisham query you with "The Firm" after you politely rejected his "A Time to Kill."

Kaleb said...

I am beginning to think that agents deserve a certain fund from the government that is taken from the tax on pencils, typewriters and paper. This fund would go towards psychiatrists who will attempt to keep literary agents sane after all the misery these writers inflict on you by simply ignoring very obvious instructions that are plastered in every single writing book and website in the world.

How simple can it be? It's not like this information is hiding in the bushes. When people ask me to proofread their query and it starts on the first line with 'Dear Sir or Madam', I can't tell you how close I am to popping; and you agents have to put up with it every day.

Anonymous said...

Please, please, someone tell me to go thru the process of intelligently querying select agents and not just take the first offer I got from a small publisher for a n/f book/anthology project. Gut instinct is to take the offer and run. Little voice inside my head (one of many) says there's a better deal out there if I go through the trouble of finding an agent who can snare a better publisher... but I don't want to bog down folks like Nathan...

Emily said...

Poor Nathan. All the new queries are probably the result of a new year. Everyone's still trying to stick to their resolutions and I'm betting half of America decided that 2008 was the year they'd finally get a book published. And then they all rushed off, scribbled up a query letter and sent it out to millions.

I give it another few months. The frenzied rush of 2008 will wear off. Hopefully.

La Gringa said...

I've noticed that the best e-queries I've been getting come from people who take the time to read my submissions guidelines (I can tell because I ask them to put a specific couple of words in the subject line).

Some of the worst have been from MFAs and previously published authors.

Just weird.

Anonymous said...

I go e-query whenever I can--not because I feel it somehow changes the content of what I can write (more space?!?!?! weird!), or beause it lets me query more widely than I otherwise would (I just sent 10 queries, and when a reject comes in, I replace it by sending out a new query so that there are always 10 outstanding--e-query or snail mail doesn't matter), but simply because i'ts faster AND more convenient. IF the agency says they accept e-queries, or if they have no preference--then I send an e-query, but it's the same, customized letter I would have sent snail mail (even down to the business and return addresses at the top of the letter).

Anonymous said...

Sex Scenes--my guess that if your friend's manuscript is as good as her response rate, she could've gotten a similar response without spamming the industry, possibly alienating the agent who might have been her best match, and saved herself, what? a couple hundred bucks? I don't think the letter someone else wrote did it--I think the book did it. And if the book isn't good after all, those partials and fulls will get a no (the same no they would've gotten with her own letter--maybe from the get-go).

Chumplet said...

Somebody must have linked your blog to a new bunch of writers who haven't yet learned to RESEARCH!

It wasn't me. I'm between books right now.

Yapping About YA said...

Oooh. Morass. SAT word of the day! Awesome!

Furious D said...

Perhaps you need e-query guidelines?

Set rules for length, and such, and suggest that they write rough drafts of the query first, and edit them ruthlessly, something every real writer will understand.

Brevity is the soul of wit, and if you can't do it in 200 words, you're not going to be able to do it in 80,000.

pjd said...

For those agents returning from the e-world to the real-world for query acceptance, the definition of a 42-cent stamp is "statement of sincerity."

e-querying reduces barriers. When you reduce barriers, more of the unwashed masses stumble in.

I wonder how the dynamic would change if a micropayment were instituted on queries to agents. Say, every e-query you send, you automatically donate a dollar (cost of postage, paper, ink) to a predetermined charity. One of two things would happen: Either money to charity goes up (a Good Thing) or the number of awful e-queries goes down (also a Good Thing).

I've got my flame-retardant shorts on today, so I'm prepared for the onslaught of author opinions on that idea.

Anonymous said...

Ouch. I'm sorry, Nathan. I don't know if it helps or not (probably not) but I owe you a lot of thanks for your helpful posts on queries. I never queried you -- I don't think you deal with my genre -- but other agents were probably spared horror and headaches because I was able to benefit from your advice.

So thanks on their behalf and mine. It's not wasted effort!

Marva said...

How about agents responding with the reason other than "not right for me?" I think my query is relatively good. I even think my book is sellable. How will I ever know why my query doesn't work for an agent? Let's go back to the checklist:

__ Lousy query
__ Lousy book concept
__ Not my genre
__ Really, it sounds okay, the query is decent, but it's just not right for me (but that's what I tell all the writers and how would they know the difference?)

I understand agents not wanting to get hate mail, but the fact of the matter is that unless they're honest about why they're rejecting a query, then how will they ever stop the influx? After all, hate email is easy to erase.

Go ahead and tell me (if/when I query you again) whether my query sucks or the book sucks. I'm willing to learn and I promise not to send a nasty followup message. Have I ever? (except for this comment, that is, which I admit to a certain whiny undertone).

Ello said...

I think Josie is right - it is statistically proven that people are sloppier and less professional on email than in a written letter format.

Nathan - if going to snail mail is too painful for you to contemplate, then why not put in an online submission process which makes people think about how to apply to you instead of just being able to fire an email off. I agonize over every email query I sent, AND YET those agents with online submission forms made me sweat even more.

Just a thought.

Nathan Bransford said...

marva-

I like your ideas in theory, it would be very helpful for authors, but in practice I would have to have multiple rejections that I had to copy in, which would take even more time, of which I have very short supply. And I don't see how it would reduce queries.

For the sake of argument, let's say that for the frivolous queries that don't have a snowball's chance in Hades I tell them that they should really give up and stop querying. How many people do you think would listen? I'm guessing zero.

Heather Wardell said...

Marva, the problem is the volume. I too would love more than a "not right for me" response, but Nathan says he reads a hundred queries a day. There's no way he can personalize responses to each, especially since a lot of times the reason for rejection does fall into a category. And yes, you can handle the honesty, and so can I, but lots can't, and so he can't even state the category ("reads like your cat wrote it", "not my genre", "no apparent plot", etc.) without upsetting people and getting even more hate mail.

Nathan, have you considered an auto-responder email that says something to the effect of, "I have received your query. If I do not respond within thirty days, I do not feel the book is right for me."? This would a) let us know you DID get the query (an issue with the flat-out "respond only when interested" agents) and b) still let you respond to the ones that are good even if not quite for you.

I'd hate to see you forced into the "respond only when interested" camp by the terrible queries. If I personalize a query and make sure it's going to an agent who is likely to be interested in my work, it does bother me when I don't get even a form rejection.

I hope the train wreck surfing on the cow dung settles down soon. :)

Nathan Bransford said...

heather-

Yeah, I think if I did get forced into the "respond if interested camp" I would probably just have a separate e-mail address for queries and if you don't hear from me in two weeks you have your answer.

I'm not there yet and I'm hoping this is just a January/February thing, but I also want to give a sense of how it is in the trenches so people are (hopefully) understanding when agents either don't reply or give annoyingly vague responses when they send a rejection. It's not you guys that force agents into these things -- it's the people who don't have a chance but still gum up the works.

Jessica said...

Another one chiming in with an apology for being one of those who queried you last week!

I hear you, Marva. It would be fantastic to get feedback like that, to know if the problem was the letter itself, the sample pages, the storyline, etc. Then I'd know if it's me and my story or if it's that the agent isn't right for this. BUT I totally understand why an agent can't give feedback like that to the deluge of queries they receive.

I hope that everyone doesn't start moving back to snail mail queries. E-queries are a godsend to those of us who live overseas!

Chin up, Nathan! There's a masterpiece in there somewhere.

Other Lisa said...

I think what Heather suggests is a really good compromise. What would make me crazy about the lack of response isn't that I don't get feedback (it's unreasonable to expect that) but the nagging fear that maybe my query ended up getting caught in the spam filter or something, and also, not being able to just cross the agent off my list after a defined amount of time.

Getting an auto-response with a timeframe on it solves both those issues.

I don't know what to suggest doing about people who don't follow directions though...

Just_Me said...

Oh no! My evil plot backfired!

Nathan, I confess, I hired a bunch of hack jobs to flood your office until I polished my manuscript so that when you read my query it will stand out like a glowing beacon of hope.

I see now the error of my ways. I'll bribe the monkeys away from the typewriters with bananas. You have my sincerest apologies. In the future I’ll remember that overwhelming an agent with bad queries won’t make them like mine any better.

Elyssa Papa said...

Well, Nathan, let's do something more positive with this: start a drinking game...

Query starts off with a rhetorical question (1 shot)

Query makes an inane--but sadly missed--tempt at humor (1 shot)

Query claims not to read your blog and brags about it (2 shots)

Query doesn't do any research about you as an agent (3 shots)

Query makes you wonder WTF is going on (drink the whole damn bottle)

It works in dulling the pain and numbing your senses. I've developed a My Query is Rejected drinking game.

You're probably right in that there's people who should just stop. But have there been people you've rejected that has simply been because you really weren't right for the project? (Or is this a stupid rheotorical question)? *g*

But on a more serious note, what makes you want to request more from an author? What makes reading tons of "bad" queries sort of worthwhile for that one "good" query?

Elyssa Papa said...

Grrr. Attempt not tempt at humor.

Arwen said...

As a lurker who hasn't queried you, I would like to offer thanks. Your blog has been stupidly beneficial in helping me work on my query, and if you're not seeing an overall increase in querying ability, you've certainly done a mitzvah to the inboxes of those I'll be querying. My first letter out there was a collection of neurotic What Not To Do query traps.

Learning to write pitches is a hard skill for me, exactly because I'm not a reader of pitches - I don't have a library of examples to draw on.

So thank you, and know your lessons and examples have made a difference, even if you're not always seeing it.

Arwen said...

Oh, look. Another anonymous commenter said the same thing as I did more efficiently. So that makes 2 of us, and I bet we represent many more.

Marilynn Byerly said...

Bad queries tend to show either poor writing skills or cluelessness about the business of writing.

Think of those horrible queries as a fast way to avoid bad manuscripts and unprofessional writers.

It's the queries that offer visions of bestseller paradise, but the manuscript is dreck, that are heartbreakers.

Sam Hranac said...

Nathan wrote: "...I also want to give a sense of how it is in the trenches"

And we thank you for helping us understand.

Nathan wrote: "It's not you guys that force agents into these things -- it's the people who don't have a chance but still gum up the works."

Sigh. The double edged sword of word processors and cheap computers. It's too easy to churn out volume these days. Still, I'm glad I don't have to re-type entire chapters in order to pull off minor updates.

Anonymous said...

I believe authors query blogging agents as a test drive, quite frankly.

Anonymous said...

Nathan, you are the king of blogs. And what did other agents do before agent bloggers came along? It must have been just awful.

Riley said...

This is probably a stupid idea, but you could probably weed through the bad queries by telling us to put a certain word in the subject line of the query, and just not reading the queries that don't have that word in the subject line.

Diana said...

I am sure I'm not alone in saying I feel your pain when it comes to receiving crappy, poorly written e-mails whose only clear message appears to be "You are not worth the time and effort to reread or edit this text."

If you wanted to get wild and crazy, you could suggest a limited word count on your e-queries, since page numbers don't really apply unless you print it out, and then the length depends a great deal on how your e-mail system formats the e-mail. Of course, that gets us back to the fact that your query-ers (sp?) aren't reading your blog anyway.

I really like getting some sort of reply, but for me, I most want to know if you received it at all. Some spam filters are more vicious than others. Maybe, if you're feeling that the rejection process is too much, you could set up your account to automatically send out a message that says, "I received your e-query, and I will get back to you if it is a good fit."

Or, you could come up with a generic "Your query was so awful, this is all you get from me. I have blocked you from my inbox."

Anonymous said...

Nathan, I sure wished I lived in SF (I'm in the South Bay). I would love to look over your shoulder as you weed through your queries. It would be fascinating to see what you do on a daily basis. Have you thought about writing a book, or is that market (crafting query letters to agents) already over-saturated? Oh yeah, like you have the time, right?
Lisa

Marva said...

Oh, I know that it takes more time and I really do appreciate that problem. I also appreciate that you give me a quick no, Nathan. At least, I can move on. However, I move on with the thought that what I have is worth continuing to query. Maybe somebody should stop me before I query again!

Colorado Writer said...

It wasn't me! I know you don't do middle grade (very often).

crapshooter said...

Train wreck. Volcano. Cow dung.

I'd say Bransford has the image thing pretty much down pat.

shegilesx said...

A growing movement to make agents suffer?

susan dc said...

After having spent three years writing my book and having spent three months so far looking for an agent, I really appreciate when I receive any response to my query one way or another. My time is also valuable and when I spend the time, and in the case of snail mail queries, money, I find it irritating and discouraging when I'm completely ignored. Nathan, I hope you press on with the personalized responses - your blog really shows a dedication to helping writers succeed - and I find this to be a breath of fresh air in what often feels like a very impersonal business.

Katherine E. Hazen said...

I wonder how many of these bad queries are the tail end of the NaNoWriMo novels.

Anonymous said...

Nathan,

One thing I haven't seen any of the agent blogs do is to present some examples of queries that are good, but were still passed on. In other words, there's plenty of examples of queries thjat are ridiculously bad to the point of silliness, and writers who simply disregard the rules, but it might be instrucitonal to see some queries which do follow the submission guidelines, but were still rejected. Of course, I guess permission might have to be obtained from the submitter, but I think this would give people an idea of what a good letter is like--not a fantastic letter that ended up being from a client--but just a run-of-the-mill decent query that follows the rules but didn't make it for some other reason.

Nathan Bransford said...

anon-

Both of my examples of good query letters are by people who are not clients and who I passed on because I just wasn't the right agent for them.

Wanda B. Ontheshelves said...

To Anon 2:07 3/3/08

Re: "Little voice inside my head (one of many) says there's a better deal out there if I go through the trouble of finding an agent who can snare a better publisher... but I don't want to bog down folks like Nathan..."

(Folks like) Nathan take:

"...literary fiction, mysteries and suspense, historical fiction, NARRATIVE NONFICTION, business, history, sports, politics, current events, young adult fiction, science fiction and anything else I happen to like!"

Bog away! You've already got someone interested in your n/f, that's in your favor. Roll the dice. Take a chance.

Anonymous said...

Nathan,

OK, I see. So there are examples like this. Thanks.

LindaBudz said...

Sorry you have to deal with the goobers of the writing world, Nathan.

In the just-as-depressing category ... are you ready for the Series Finale?!?! I must say, I'm not too happy with the direction things are going. Looks like we're in for a gloomy (though hopefully satisfying) ending.

Madison said...

Nathan - hoping my query doesn't fall into that category! but how long is your response time? maybe this is a crappy place to ask this and i'm really breaking a rule. but I sent it about a month ago and haven't heard back...

Dave Wood said...

Sadly, I think what you're seeing is a hazard of the agent's profession. It seems to wear down every agent sooner or later. Just as, I suspect, many authors get worn down and become snappish from the hazards of their side of the query process.

I recently e-queried an established agency with a new book. This was two years after the last e-query I sent them. In those two years even their auto-generated "we got your query" response has gotten more terse and impatient-sounding.

The availability of spam queries is probably a factor.

There's also a steep learning curve for authors who are writing their queries. It's hard to get useful feedback on a bad query, even from a writers group. Also, there is a lot of poor "official" advice out there that recommends some approach or other that is already driving agents crazy. And authors don't generally get mentors the way agents, who start as agents' assistants, seem to do.

I think all you can try, short of growing mean and dismissive (which only hurts the authors, makes them pissy, and makes the situation worse for everyone), is to come up with quick ways to filter out as many poor queries as you can. The on-line form is one. Posting subject line requirements and then filtering out any emails that don't follow the guidelines might be another. Maybe setting up a search filter to catch the worst of the buzz words...

Maybe you could get ideas on one of your "You Tell Me" days?

pjd said...

Nathan, I like your idea of SHOUTING REALLY LOUD. I think I'll use it from now in in my e-queries to get more attention. Maybe in my snail-mail queries, too.

Anonymous said...

Unrelated but here it is:

Why don't I see you on the Curtis brown website. I don't see Ginger Clarke either. Why is this so?

And I love your blog.

KJ

Anonymous said...

Sorry I missed the question mark.
KJ

Anonymous said...

ooo I like the drinking game!!!
sounds fun!

one shot, and I'll push send

two shots, and I'll push retract
and second guess myself

three shots and I'm brilliant, I'll push send three times

four shots and I'll rewrite an even more brilliant query letter, but whoops, I'll forget how to use language, but I'll hit spell check and cross my fingers and have another shot and hop for the best

the whole bottle and I'll mass mail it everywhere, to the laundromat for cleaning, the bakery for a cake for my celebration party, the mayor for the key to the city...

tomorrow morning, I'll be under the keyboard wondering if I can get a more appropriate job
with my keyboard,
like in a bar or something...

Nathan Bransford said...

KJ-

The website you see is Curtis Brown UK. Curtis Brown is a separate company. Our website is under development.

Anonymous said...

WOW
You even reply to comment questions super quick. Thanks.

You are on top of my agents-to-query-list. I am from India by the way.

KJ

beck said...

Having not trolled thru 71+ comments, I may be repeating someone else BUT... why not set up a separate mail account for e-queries and then have that send an auto response to those who query via that email address. The auto can give links to your blog/website etc., and tell people to get it right and THEN email another account with their revised query...?? Would only take 10 mins to set up.
Just a thought...

Happy day!

Jen Flood said...

I've been reading agent blogs for about a year (yours for about a month.) It'll take me at least that long to finish editing my novel. My big fear is that after all that time, I'll *still* write a crappy query.

Aimless Writer said...

I think its a blessing agents respond to queries. I've sent ones that must have been lost somewhere-because I never heard a word. Others took a year to come back with anything. Of course, the majority respond fairly quickly and the best are when they leave handwritten notes! (I live for those.) What really bothers me is when I get a sliver or half a piece of paper-am I not worth a full sheet of paper? (I admit I haven't seen one of those in a long time-maybe because I've crossed them off my list?)
I figure if an agent responds its because they are being nice, not because they have to.
I've never queried you before...but its coming. I think the blogs help us understand a little more about what an agent is up against on a daily basis.
So, Thank you! Most of us appreciate all your help in perfecting our proposal.

Kate said...

I was just having a look on the Query Tracker website, and I took a 'tour'.

Your name and agency comes up as an example on the tour.

It made me chuckle, coz I'd read your post about receiving lots of cr*p queries recently before I saw the Query Tracker tour. Perhaps that is a reason for so many queries to you. Perhaps Query Tracker has been getting some attention lately by newbies, and they've also taken the tour and seen your name and jumped on it.

WitLiz Today said...

There are two points I've taken away from this blog post.

First, writers who can't compose a short, decent professional query, need to stop that shit right now! Or, frankly, you need to put away the computers and utilize your God-given talents to better reflect the type of person you are, and that will contribute to the well-being of others.

Second, if I read another agents blog that have these words prominently displayed, "I used to ... but ... I'm going to reach into my computer and yank you out by your shirt collar.

I don't let anybody dictate to me on how I'm going to conduct myself professionally, or socially. If I did, I'd pass up golden opportunities to meet some really, really fine people.

It astounds me that so many agents and editors don't realize that when you punish one group of writers, you're in effect bitch-slapping us all.

So, how does one handle dealing with two disparate groups of writers?

Easy, you quit worrying about your offended self, and concentrate your emotional energies on the multitude of writers who are grateful, who work hard and do everything necessary to get published.

You do that, and I'm betting the ranch I don't have yet, that you'll be a much more successful agent.

mlh said...

Wow, now I don't feel so bad being one of the people taking their sweet time revising an e-query twenty times (even printing it out to see how good it looks on paper) before sending it. I can't imagine not doing any research. I certainly don't want to tick the agent off and have him say, "NO MORE E-QUERIES!"

From my in-box to yours, a bourbon neat is on the way. You so totally deserve it.

sex scenes at starbucks said...

Hey, thanks for the quick response. It's kind of what I thought, too, but I thought I'd seek an opinion from the other side of the table. :D

Here's to Tuesday being a better query day!

Vinnie Sorce said...

My biggest issue with queries is every agent I've queried (you included) wants them differently. Some are complete 180's from others so you are constantly rewriting and can never know if you have an honest to god well written query.

I'm really beginning to think finding an agent is lucky at best...

Isak said...

Nathan,
I'm sure none of those queries are quite as bad after a couple glasses of rum. It's all a matter of perspective...

Lupina said...

My theory is that the economy is nose-diving and many people who find themselves downsized out of a job (or who fear they may soon be) have decided to make an easy fortune by writing a book or screenplay. What a simple way to make the bucks roll in! Their primary motivation being cash, they are in a hurry to get it in front of an agent, so why waste time reading query instructions? I base this on several people I know who have recently done and thought all of the above.

Nona said...

time to hire an intern. . .

Redzilla said...

La Gringa...she is a crafty one, but seriously--have you considered burying a "password" in a weekly post, to test who's actually reading your blog. You could ask folks to include the "password" in their subject line. It'd be fun, like a Li'l Orphan Annie Decoder Ring.

Hanging out at a couple of writers forums online, I can pretty well guess where all those heinously bad and careless queries come from. The folks who troll the board, not looking for advice, but just looking for names and e-mail addresses of agents.

R.C. said...

The thing that kills me is that you make it so easy to write a good query. Right on the front page of your blog - all you have to do is scroll down to the links and there you go - here's what I like, here's what I don't like. Sooooooo easy.

How can people miss that?

The human capacity for self-delusion is limitless. I'm not sure who said that, but, Nathan, you are probably more a witness to that than anyone. That quote also makes me wonder - yikes! I may be one of them!

Anonymous said...

As SEX's "friend" I'm must say I'm disappointed that she didn't express her misgivings about my multi-query plan in advance--I did ask her about it before I did it. I'm also disappointed she didn't tell me about the discussion here. :( In fact I wrote my own query letter, the service just emailed it out, and I am pleased with the response. For my previous book I spent well over a year querying one-at-a-time after carefully doing research etc. and didn't get any bites. This time, I did notice Agent Nathan has not responded... :(

Anonymous said...

TRYING to resist "Friend of Sex" jokes... ; )

Katzie said...

Nathan - how do you feel about re-queries when a narrative that you thought sounded interesting, but ultimately passed on, is redrafted and/or improved?

And I just want to add that I love your blog and have found it immensely helpful even though I'm fairly new to it. Thanks for taking the time to bestow your knowldge upon us! :-)

Heather Munn said...

Thanks Nathan... that is about the most reassuring thing I've read this week... right up there with the Catholics deciding pollution is a sin! ;) I queried you recently, and I spent a good day's work on writing that query so I think it's reasonable to hope it wasn't one of the toxic ones... It's so good to know I can still expect an answer eventually, even if my book's not right for you as they say.

As a young first-time novelist I find it hard to say how grateful I feel for the "I reply to every query" policy; just knowing my words wouldn't fall into the complete void is what gave me the courage to start querying at all. I appreciate how hard you're trying not to go back on it.

Here's my suggestion: if you alter it just slightly, you could make your life easier and still ensure that responsible writers will always get an answer. Promise to respond to every query if they keep it to under 1000 words. Or less, if you like. Besides eliminating the "ten pages of slush" queries, it would force people to write their query in a word processor (unless they want to count their words by hand!) instead of just shooting off an email. You wouldn't have to count the words, just have a fair sense of how much space in your email window 1000 words fills up. (Rounding up just a little of course.)

And thanks, again!

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