Nathan Bransford, Author

Monday, March 31, 2008

Query Letter Mad Lib

UPDATED: 4/15/17

You know those "mad lib" games you'd play as a kid, where you start off by writing down a list of verbs, places and adjectives, and inevitably the words "snot" and "farted" were involved, which made any story HILARIOUS?

Well, we're going to play query letter mad lib today. Here's how it works.

First I'm going to need these things:

[Agent name], [genre], [personalized tidbit about agent], [title], [word count], [protagonist name], [description of protagonist], [setting], [complicating incident], [verb], [villain], [protagonist's quest], [protagonist's goal], [author's credits (optional)], [your name]

Now, look how your query turns out:

Dear [Agent name],

I chose to submit to you because of your wonderful taste in [genre], and because you [personalized tidbit about agent].

[protagonist name] is a [description of protagonist] living in [setting]. But when [complicating incident], [protagonist name] must [protagonist's quest] and [verb] [villain] in order to [protagonist's goal].

[title] is a [word count] work of [genre]. I am the author of [author's credits (optional)], and this is my first novel.

Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Best wishes,
[your name]

That's all you need.

Now, granted, this is the most formulaic query ever written (you know... because it uses a formula). It's just going to give you a starting place to then add personality by adding some flavor and detail. But if you can't fill this mad lib out in two seconds and craft a pretty decent query letter, something might be wrong with your novel.

These are the ingredients that absolutely positively completely totally must be in your query -- if they are not, something is wrong. By all means use your creativity, add some more description, embellish, and be an author (well, within reason).

But it really doesn't need to be much more complicated than this.

UPDATE: I should note that "villain" does not necessarily have to mean an actual person, alien, monkey, spore, or etc. It could be a personality trait, nature, society... basically whatever is standing in between the protagonist and his/her/its goal.

UPDATE 2: If you mention a previously published book in the query letter the agent will need 1) the publisher and 2) the year. Otherwise they'll just assume it was published by a small press sometime in the 1850s, and you don't want them to assume that.

I’m available for manuscript edits, query critiques, and consultations! And if you like this post, check out my guide to writing a novel.

Art: Euclid, detail from The School of Athens by Raphael


lauramanivong said...

Perfect! I'm directing any unagented writers with whom I'm aquainted to this post.

Heidi the Hick said...

Okay... so it's okay tol use "fart" and "snot" in our queries?

(sorry, couldn't resist)

Jay Montville said...

Wait, let me try it ...

Dear Snot:

I chose to submit to you because of your wonderful taste in boogers and also because you fart.

My Uncle Karl is a snotbooger living in a toilet. But when somebody farts, Uncle Karl must go down the drain and punch Aunt Lucinda in order to pick his nose.

Uncle Karl, Snotbooger, is a 60,000 word work of young adult fiction. This is my first novel.

Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.


Wow! That's PERFECT! :)

Nathan Bransford said...

haha -- that's pretty much exactly how my query would have turned out at age 8.

Mark D. said...

Dear Mr. Snarkleface,

I chose to submit to you because of your wonderful taste in ice cream, and because you own the local Baskin Robbins.

Pepper Mint is a highly sought after ice cream taster living in Butter City, Scotchland. But when the world's supply of ice cream is shipped down the rocky road, Pepper must figure out how to retrieve it and prevent Piss Tashio from hoarding all the softies in order to restore good taste to the world.

ONCE UPON A MILK SHAKE is a 90,000 work of creamery. I am the author of NO NUTS IN MY ICE CREAM, PLEASE, and this is my first novel.

Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Best wishes,
Frenchie Vanilla

Jade said...

This is great advice, Nathan - thanks. But I can't help thinking it reminds me of a game we used to play called Consequences, where you'd have a story with gaps in, each person would fill in one of the gaps and then pass on to the next person.

So a Consequences query letter in this format might read:

Harry is a botanist living on a small barren asteroid in outer space. But when his wife of 30 years finds out he's been having an affair with another man, Harry must work out a way to cross the Thames by building a wooden raft, and publicly humiliate Mutty the Sex Fiend in order to come to terms with the cruel words of his now-dead sister, that have haunted him since childhood.

"The Best Chocolate Recipe Book Ever" is a 60,000 work of horror fiction. I am the author of "Better Sex in the Bedroom" and "Plant Life in the Sahara" and this is my first novel.

Could be fun...

Seth Ward said...

Dear Mr. Gimmeachancedammit,

I chose to submit to you because of your wonderful taste in Dog Chick and Mystery Lit, and because you stopped your large dog from urinating on my small dog at a dog show (which I found very kind) where your best client was selling his book.

Deleward Divadog is a hot Pekingese pooch model living in NYC with her two best bitches, Lexie Sniffit, and Fluffy (a.k.a. "Blue Jean Dream,") But when Blue Jean Dream's main sqeeze, Bowser, gets obsessed with the legs of designer jean models, Deleware Divadog must set out on a quest and destroy all designer jean manufacturing facilities in order to dry-out Bowser and save Fluffy's relationship.

Delaware Divadog and the Blue Jean Baby is a 220,000-word work of Dog Chick-lit. I am the author of several different query letters, and this is my first novel.

Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Best wishes,

Harpoon Lee Capootie

Anonymous said...

"Harry must work out a way to cross the Thames by building a wooden raft, and publicly humiliate Mutty the Sex Fiend in order to come to terms with the cruel words of his now-dead sister, that have haunted him since childhood."

I would so totally read this. Especially if Mutty had a handlebar moustache...please?


Taylor K. said...

jay montville-Your 'query' made me laugh until I choked. Excellent work.

Conda V. Douglas said...

Thank you, Nathan! In our quest to find an agent, it's easy to forget that a query letter is really pretty simple. Maybe not easy to write because of that, but a letter with a few necessary elements.

And keep those queries coming, folks, I need a lot of laughs on Mondays. Don't we all?

Luc Reid said...

Totally breezing past the great utility of this post, I'm interested in the villain part. A good story certainly needs obstacles, but does it need an in-the-flesh villain? If I think of The Poisonwood Bible or even Pride and Prejudice (I know, I'm sounding like a complete girlyman in citing these particular titles), I feel like the villain approach is only one of several common and valid ways to get a story that works.

Adaora A. said...

Nathan have you ever had a query where the author had a mindblowing, amazing story (so it appeared in reading the query), but they were missing an ingredient per your 'mad lib', that bit being, a title? I've heard stories of authors titles changing, or not having one at all.

Sera Phyn said...

Jay, that is hilarious! I know fart jokes and queries about snotboogers shouldn't be funny past elementary school, but I'm starting to doubt I ever mentally left elementary school! ;)

Furious D said...

Dear Faye Kayjent,

I chose to submit to you because of your wonderful taste in liquor, and because you have poor taste in books.

Nathan Bransford is a literary agent living in San Francisco. But when he's framed by Eliot Spitzer's pimp, Nathan must find the legendary Maltese Badger and defeat the evil French philatelist and modern dance impresario Gaston LaFarge in order to clear his name and get a decent haircut.

The Maltese Badger is a 17,948,093 word work of science fiction /suspense. I am the author of the short stories Dark Night of the Badger, & Revenge of the Badger both published in Badger Fancy Quarterly, and the non-fiction book Living With a Badger Obsession, and this is my first novel.

Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Best wishes,
Buddy McBadger, Esq.

Nathan Bransford said...


Good question. I was debating between "antagonist" and "villain," but went with villain.

The villain does necessarily need to be a flesh and blood thing, it could also be, say, a personal demon (like greed) that the protagonist battles, or society, or nature, or some other force. Or it can be a nasty pirate.

But there has to be something working against the protagonist.

Nathan Bransford said...


Titles change constantly, so yes.

Richard Mabry said...

Fantastic. I'll never have to slave over a query letter again. Now do you have something that will make it easy to craft a synopsis?

Anonymous said...


Thanks Jay! This just made my Monday worthwhile.

Katie said...

Hi Nathan, I'm new to the publishing/book world and I really enjoy reading your blogs. They have been a great way to get to know the industry. I'm working for a company that edits manuscripts and (if they're good) I try and get agents interested. Any suggestions for approaching agents when it is on behalf of an author? I'd appreciate any tips you have to offer!

Nathan Bransford said...


I actually don't accept queries from third parties -- I want to hear from the author directly unless there's a really good and clear reason why the author can't contact me on their own (such as death, disability, etc.). I know there are people who want to help their clients/their shy friends/their kids, but I really want to hear from the writer since that's the person I'm going to be working with.

Scott said...

So, then, like:

Dear Date Nogg,

I chose to submit to you because of your wonderful taste in historical sci-fi romance, and because you recently dated your mother.

V'l'r'k'n'd'l is a Green Lugi-H'wker living in Planet Kevkorkia. But when his shoe comes untied, V'l'r'k'n'd'l must fart and seek Toejam Numbn'tz in order to learn to tie shoes.

Green Legs and Pam is a 128,002-word work of historical sci-fi romance. I am the author of a collection of poetic essay in rhyming verse, released by PublishAmerica (and available on amazon, and from Barnes & Noble and other leading bookstores), and this is my first novel.

Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Best wishes,
Ferdie Hobnob

You're right! That is easy.

superwench83 said...

Oh, this was supposed to be a learning experience? Damn. I filled the mad lib out with a bunch of crap, not with details from my own novel. Still, since somebody said to keep the kooky mad libs coming, I'll post what I came up with.

Dear Nathan Bransford,

I chose to submit to you because of your wonderful taste in fantasy, and because you hate queries that begin with rhetorical questions.

Mojo Bananas is a pipe-smoking librarian lady with green hair living in a grocery store. But when a magical pack of Juicy Fruit is stolen by a mad scientist bent on world domination, Mojo Bananas must get the Juicy Fruit back and frolic the mad scientist, who turns out to be Dwight from "The Office" in order to chew the Juicy Fruit and resore balance to the world.

Mojo Bananas and the Magic Pipe Mystery is a 18 million word work of fantasy. I am the author of a poem published in Happytown Insane Asylum's annual poetry anthology, and this is my first novel.

Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Best wishes,
Katie Fantastico

Nathan Bransford said...

You see! These madlibs are already way better than many of the queries I get. It's a magical formula.

Jill Myles said...

Mr. Wickham was the villain in P&P! He was a profligate and a rake of the worst sort, and nearly ruined Lizzy's life, except Darcy saved her and her family from certain ruin. I'd say there's a villain. :)

Anonymous said...

Dear Ms. Ants-in Yourpants,

I chose to submit to you because of your proactive, and may I add, favorable stance on
ANT rights and because you recently blew up the RAID factory. Good job! Damn Buggers!

Rant, the Ant is hardworking carpenter by day and paperback writer by night living in Suzy Q's kitchen cupboards. But when Suzy Q discovers that Rant, the Ant has gotten into her favorite vegetarian lentils and bean curd, and has taken the liberty of inviting all of the neighborhood ants to join him in doing so, Suzy Q sets out to destroy Rant, the Ant and his entire colony. Rant, the Ant finds, that to survive, he must either do battle with Suzy Q, or move himself and his family to Steady Freddy's joint next door.

WHAT'S WRONG WITH ANTS is a mystery and weighs in at about 100,000 words. This is my first novel, but my 999th query.

Thank you for your time and I hope to hear from you soon.

Your faithful and most devoted ANT comrade,

Nona said...

But seriously. . . I used the formula, Nathan, and everything fell into place with my screenplay. It even cleared up some problems I was having articulating my protagonist's "quest." I knew damn well he had one, I just couldn't exactly say what it was until now. It's quite subtle. Thanks!

Mary said...

@ Jay Montville and Mark D:
I can’t stop laughing!!!!!

kitkat said...


I'm not yet at the stage of querying agents but I find your blog to be highly informative and educational. The query terrifies me more than writing those scenes that never seem quite right. I feel like querying is one of those things were persistence doesn't always pay off, and I haven't even begun to query! (hah...) I really appreciate everything that you've blogged about and the other agent's blogs that you've recommended, it's insight into the field that us poor outsiders and wannabe writers don't see until later.

Until your next blog,

John said...

Dear Agent Name,

I chose to submit to you because of your wonderful taste in medieval German commercial literature, and because you passed your police background check.

Bowldermilk is a star food developer, the genius responsible for Agglomerated Foods' unrivaled success at "putting tomorrow's food in Canada's kitchens today." Thanks to the CH-3000 (code name "Fromageddon," the world's largest cheese pizza), Bowldermilk's boldest plan yet, Agglomerated is poised to become a worldwide force in mass-produced organic frozen pizza.

But Bowldermilk is a 21st century food marketer with the soul of a 19th century adventurer, spending his leisure time riding Toronto's subways and illegally spelunking the city's network of subterranean tunnels. When his nemesis and fellow spelunker Ludlow Belknap steals the CH-3000, Bowldermilk defeat Ludlow and his nefarious scheme to steal the CH-3000's intellectual property to create his line of pirated Syntheti-Pizzas.

And with the titans of the frozen product industry amassing for Pizza World Expo in just three days, Bowldermilk must spelunk like he never has before to recover the prototype and preserve Agglomerated's good name.

D'OUGH! is an 85,432 work of commercial fiction. I am the author of the "Curd: The Secret Life of Processed Cheese" (14 weeks on the the Milwaukee Shepherd-Express Metro bestseller list). this is my first novel.

Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Best wishes,
My Name

PS - In conjunction with the Cheese Board of Canada, I have produced an innovative marketing plan whereby the Cheese Board will produce point-of-sale shelf space for D'OUGH! in the dairy sections of most of Canada's major supermarkets, next to their exciting new varieties of spring Wensleydale.

Alex Fayle said...

Here goes... It started out as a joke, but I kind of like the idea. It might even become a real idea!


Dear Dude Bransford,

I chose to submit to you because of your wonderful taste in custom tshirt culture, and because you you have very well styled hair.

Henry Loons is a personalized fabrics graphic artist living in a cave that's only accessible at low tide. But when the women's paragliding club start to use the top of his cave as a launching point, Henry's muse, a mermaid who lives in the cave during high tide, abandons the cave. Henry must stop the club from destroying his career and his chance at true cross-specie love.

LOW TIDE DIVE is a 98,723-word work of mermaid romance. I am the author of many fanzines about Agent Blogs, and this is my first novel.

Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Best wishes,

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Nate-Dawg.

Wanda B. Ontheshelves said...

Timing Is Everything

In honor of Tiger Baseball Opening Day, I am already: a) Sending a few poems to Wayne State lit journal, b) entering a poetry contest by Springfed Writers, and now c) writing 3 "formulaic" query letters - 1 each for my entries in Bookends' 100-word contest.

I'm hoping maybe if I send in 3 queries (formulaic though they may be), I might get one of them publicly critiqued on Nathan's blog (as indicated as a possibility in previous blog entry.)

"Hope springs eternal" on baseball opening day.

Sam Hranac said...

It is to laugh!

As for the summary part of the query, Nathan, I've been toying with studying movie trailer text. At least when they're not going on about Johnny Depp, they do seem to be succinct and intriguing when it comes to giving you the skinny.

Is this just silly? Do you see pitfalls to going in this direction?

Just_Me said...

I'm getting a sinking feeling that your slush piles quality hasn't improved yet.
Maybe you need to stop sending polite replies to queries and start sending a print-out of advice. One page of all the things they need to have in their query/pitch/story before they dare query again. Things like spell check, no rhetorical questions, and a plot. I'm guessing the blog readers could probably write it up for you just from your regular writing :)

Nathan Bransford said...

Actually Sam, I would strenuously avoid using movie trailers as a guide because what sounds good when said by the voice of god in trailers isn't necessarily what reads well. Movie trailers rely on incredibly banal cliches ("in a world where", "only one man can", "everything changed" etc. etc. etc.) that look... cliched on the page.

I think the difference is that we all talk in cliches as shorthand because it's concise and clear, so hearing these (particularly when accompanied by images) can be effective. But for some reason cliches read terribly on the page.

That's just my theory anyway.

Josh Ryan said...

The only thing I lack myself is a villain, per se, because there is no real villain of the story... just a lot of internal, external, interpersonal and situational conflict.

Adaora A. said...

Dear Nathan Bransford,

I chose to submit to you because of your wonderful taste in Reality TV and because of our mutual admiration of drunk monkeys.

Vincent is a 30-year-old man living in his parent's basement. He knows his parents want him out of the house and married, but he is unwilling to budge. But when his parents file divorce papers, he decides he needs a change in scenery. When he touches down on sunny Monkeyville,it is nothing like he imagined it to be. Monkeys are in control and the humans are the ones catering to the monkeys every need. A banana sour? Excllent, Bobby has that covered. Banana on rye? No problem, ring for Jenny. When the monkeys Vincent they believe they've found their new banana peeler. Vincent isn't having any of that though. He gathers Bobby, Jenny, and all the other humans working on the island, and starts a revolution. He's about to make history.

WAR OF THE MONKEYS is a work of literary fiction, complete at 60,000 words.I am the author of MONKEY BUISNESS: HOW MONKEY'S ARE TAKING OVER THE WHITEHOUSE, and GOT MONKEY?

Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you.

Josephine Damian said...

Adaora & Furious D: Good ones! lol

Nathan, why mention genre twice? First and last sentence? Or should you mention a particular book repped by that agent, (and why your book is like that one?) in the first sentence? And mention your own genre in last sentence?

Josephine Damian said...

PS: I'm gonna go out on a limb here and disagree with you on including the words "this is my first novel."

IMO, it's a mistake to say that.

Nathan Bransford said...

Why is it a mistake for someone to say it's their first novel?

Josephine Damian said...

Well, since you've asked....

Some agents (from what I've read ... Ann Rittenberg for example) believe that a writer's first completed manuscript is just the start of the learning curve, an exercise where you are hopefully learning your craft.

Some agents believe it takes 4-5 MS before you begin to learn craft.

Are there brilliant first MS? Absolutely. But I think (and I think agents think) it's rare, so by saying so in the query you might put an agent on autopilot for reject because they believe this.

I also think, "this is the tenth MS I've written" - the implication that the nine before were unpublished - is also a negative implying the writer hasn't learned anything in completing nine, and therefore the tenth will be just as bad. And yes, it's possible number 10 could be where they learned their craft.

IMO, it's best to focus on your character/plot problem-conflict,/setting, say why your work is a unique take on something popular with a proven success rate, and try to find something interesting to say about yourself to get an agent to say, hey, this person sounds like someone I'd like to get to know better.

It's just like dating.. best not to reveal anything that might be perceived as negative, and I'm afraid there are agents who are prejudiced against first tries so why shoot yourself in the foot before they have a look (assuming they ask for a look)?

Sam Hranac said...

Good point about the cliches, Nathan. I had only started considering this last night, but now that you mention it, the verbal shorthand would be a problem on paper.

Nathan Bransford said...


I can't speak for all agents, obviously, but I assume that when someone says this is their "first novel" that it's not actually the first manuscript they've ever written. It would just represent, if published, their debut novel.

And yes -- when someone says they have 10 manuscripts it does send a chill down my spine as I imagine signing someone up and having them arrive in my inbox.

Check out what Janet Reid has to say, for instnace.

But it's good to know that there are differing opinion on this one.

Josephine Damian said...

Ok I think we have a semantics issue.

Yes, I saw JR's post earlier.

Some agents may interpret "this is my first novel" as "this is my first manuscript" and not "should my first (third? fifth?) manuscript be published, it would represent my debut as a published author."

Agree that to let an agent know he/she would have the pleasure and joy of having "discovered you" is a good thing - but some other agents might not interpret "this is my first novel" as meaning that, cause I think when a lot of writers say that, they mean it's their first MS, which might be a turn-off for some agents.

Jackie said...

OMG I wrote a new Query yesterday and is quite similar to your suggestions (exclude the snot and fart)...Nathan you may be the only Agent that would smile if someone sent one to you with those words, anyone else would "file" it quickly :)

S. Mozer said...

Hi Nathan. I read your blog all the time. As someone who struggles with the query I appreciate the mad lib but would that really be all it takes. I keep hearing different info: make it a movie trailer pitch, leave the reader hanging, tell it all, make sure they REALLY understand the story. Could it be that I have just been over thinking it all?


Cam said...

I was going to try my hand at the madlib using lowly narrative nonfiction, but just didn't have the time today given real work. Thanks for the laughs, though...

@ Jay Montville, Mark Deveryone, and anon 12:40, you three gave me a cramp.


Lynne said...

Oh, Rofl,mao! I cannot compete with such great writers. Best opening:
Dear Mr. Gimmeachancedammit. BTW, if you haven't seen it yet, look for YouTube's Monty Python/Star Trek. Also a bundle of laughs!

Jackie said...

@ Adaora, I just Titled my book in these last few months and as I wrote the chapters I made a rough draft of what I wanted in the chapter but it is only since last Fall I gave them all names

Jackie said...

@ Scott, I took your advice an added a sentence from my Forward in writing this query...ty

laurasmagicday said...

Thanks so much for clarifying that the villain doesn't HAVE to be a person. *retrieves mms. from the trash* Before I got to that part of your post I'm like...ah, just shoot me now.

Polly Kahl said...

Hi Nathan, can you please tweak this to show what it would look like for a memoir? Would we switch to third person during the descriptive middle paragraph? Thanks, you're the bomb, as usual!

Jackie said...

Nathan your insights are so very helpful, thank you

By the way I can get a 3rd party to work for me because I have a disability??? ...ruling out my offspring, I will die being unpublished :)

J.P. Martin said...

Dear Nathan,

I chose to submit to you because of your amusement of the THE HILLS, and because you are able to laugh at those silly monkeys, Spencer and Justin Bobby. Homeboy phone! *Burp.*

Whitney Port is a beautiful and strikingly normal Teen Vogue fashionist living in the Hollywood Hills. But when Hills-grade drama shatters the social quietude, Whitney must resist the seductive magnetism of The Drama and endeavor after the crisis-void rice farms of Northern California to seek the fabled rice field that is said to contain the stabilization force known only as Equanimity.

FROM SORBE HILLS TO VANILLA PLAINS is 500 word work of reality-fantasy. I am the author of FROM AUSTERE PLAINS TO HISTRIONIC HILLS (the sequel) and this is my first novel.

Thank you for your time, and I look forward to more bewildered THE HILLS commentary from you soon.

Sweet, my answer is get out of my car,

J.P. Martin

A Paperback Writer said...

I've tried a similar trick to get 7th-graders to write essays: just fill in the blanks with the details, kids; all the topic sentences and concluding sentences are done for you.
It's amazing how many ways there are to screw this up. I predict you will get at least 10 ridiculous but true-to-form query letters because of this post.

J.P. Martin said...

Mistakes! I didn't realize that there wasn't an edit button! I'm new.

J.P. Martin said...

a paperback writer-

Do I sense irritation in your tone? Or am I mistaken?


Forgive me if I have not followed proper etiquette. I love the blog. No disrespect intended.

sex scenes at starbucks said...

I've talked about the "formula" on Crapometer forever (and use it when I do rewrites in critiques. It looks an awful lot like yours.

Thanks for all the giggles, all!

Luc Reid said...

Nathan, thanks very much for the clarification; I can see what you mean, and it's a helpful insight for me.

Jill, I think of Wickham as an obstacle and a trickster and a distraction, but I wouldn't call him a villain in the sense of an antagonist, because I don't feel he's consistently trying to undermine Elizabeth. However, I can understand how a person could reasonably apply the word "villain" to him in certain senses.

Adaora A. said...

Thanks for answering my question Nathan.

Thanks Josephine!

Luckily my MS has a clear villian- the monkey's from Monkeyville.

Which agent could resist it? Surely I'll get a partial request? LOL!

E.W. said...

Gimmeachancedammit... Blue Jean Dream...


Anonymous said...

Hey Nathan, I have a question! :-) This nugget about our novels:

"[protagonist name] is a [description of protagonist] living in [setting]. But when [complicating incident], [protagonist name] must [protagonist's quest] and [verb] [villain] in order to [protagonist's goal]."

To me it seems this fits only certain genres or story types. What about novels that don't include this formula (villain, goal, threat/quest)? Examples that I can quickly come up with might be Anne of Green Gables and Bridget Jones.

My current novel fits well in the formula, but sometimes I've been discouraged by that this same formula is offered widely; I for one would love to read more of those sweet, villain-less books like Anne of Green Gables. What is your take on this -would something like that pass nowadays?

Thanks! :-)

Adaora A. said...

Guys you're stressing a bit too much I think. The Mad Lib is a guideline, a blue print. I think if you did it like that, it would be sastisfactory. It's like a skeleton. You've got to put your personality into it to make an impression (that's what I think anyways). Don't you want a second date request?

Nathan Bransford said...

Thanks Adaora. Yeah, don't overthink the mad lib. It's just about the most basic format you can possibly have. It's not going to apply to every situation.

Although I will say that every novel has a quest and an antagonist. It can be an inner quest or an outer quest, but things happen in a novel, and the protagonist always always always starts in one place and ends up in another (either metaphorically or literally).

Anonymous said...

Thanks Nathan, the idea about either an inner or outer conflict and ending up in another "place" makes perfect sense! I've been wondering about this for the longest time because this villain/conflict/quest formula has been given to me as "the" formula many times, yet some of my favourite books don't follow it. But your clarification made a lot of sense!

Have a good day! :-)

mlh said...

Can't. Resist. Temptation. To. Play. Mad. Lib. Game.

Yo, Nate-Dogg!

Word Up! Homegirl here is sliding toward my cuzz because of your bodilicious skizzle in Aerodynamic Weaponery, and because you so totally lit that fart through Granny's digs - laugh riot.

Hamdinger is like a messed-up player living in Bling City. But when his tricked-out ride is scratched from a miss aimed fart, Hamdinger must shake himself down to the Hood and punk slap Mr. Yomamasougly in order to get his ride fixed.

Whomp! There it is!, is a 4-word phat work of urban miscommunication.

Mad props for your ticks of the watch, and you know homegirl is gonna come a-knocking at your pad with about fifty of her homies if she don't hear from you.

Her rump shaking and divalicious,


Ah, now that felt good!

Anonymous said...

Hi Nathan, I just started reading this and like everyone else has said a million times, its really helpful and makes this process much less intimidating.

I have a question thats a little unrelated to the post but I don't know where else to put it so here goes:

When agents ask for partial manuscripts, what exactly are they looking for? I ask this because as I read and edit my manuscript, I find that the most exciting and engrossing parts are at the end and sporatically throughout the middle, not at the beginning. Are you just looking for style and writing skills, or are you hoping to get some kind of hook that makes you go "wow i want to see the whole thing or else I won't be able to sleep at night."?


Wanda B. Ontheshelves said...

Re: "Are you just looking for style and writing skills, or are you hoping to get some kind of hook that makes you go "wow i want to see the whole thing or else I won't be able to sleep at night."?"

Can' and writing skills make an agent want to see the whole thing in and of themselves? From page 1? It's like sometimes you'll hear a piece of music, a snippet, and right away something in your ear recognizes "this is great" and you listen to the whole thing and it IS great.

I think (in my non-agent opinion) books can sometimes be like that too..I don't mean just "lush" or "beautiful" writing, but there's a tension in the writing also that pulls you along...whether or not it's an explicit hook...there's a tension, struggle, searching quality to the writing...I saw Marvin Gaye playing piano on TV once...just noodling around, ...sketching, doodling on the good...that piano rolled over and played dead under his hands. Supple playing.

Just my "two notes" worth.

Margaret Yang said...

mlh, you win. You totally win. And you owe me a new keyboard since mine is spewed with coffee.

I think Nathan's basic blueprint works beautifully, but I also feel free to change the order of ingredients if it flows better that way. Like the man says, don't over-think this.

Ulysses said...

Words fail me.

You had me at "snot."

faithful lurker said...

Dear Mr. Dreamagent,

I chose to submit to you because of your wonderful taste in readers, and because you let them post away like drunken monkeys.

Sunmunkie is a quirky, ambitious author living in deepest, darkest mid-America. But when she stumbles upon the fatally addictive blog of Agent Ford Bransnathan, sunmunkie must master the blog’s sacred knowledge and escape the lair of the evil non-Middle Grade Agent Ford in order to get some actual writing done and win representation by his colleague, the talented and discerning Clark Ginger.

THE BLOG is a 62-word work of magical realism/comedy/subgenius. I am the author of my own undoing, and this is my first novel this week.

Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Best wishes,
Sue D'Onym

Parker Haynes said...


After reading through the April Fool's Day frivolous comments, I feel rather foolish jumping in with a serious question.

But here goes anyway:

We always speak of the protagonist as singular. Are co/protagonists acceptable, such as if you have a couple meeting a challenge (such as survival) together?

Or is this a stupid question?

Thanks for the great blog so packed with entertaining education!


Polenth said...

Hmm, much like a game of consequences, mine doesn't make a whole lot of sense. That's what I get for writing down the first thing that came into my head.


Dear Nate Dogg,

I chose to submit to you because of your wonderful taste in romantic science-fiction thriller memoirs, and because you like orange (and true stories about sentient amoebae).

Amoeba is a young amoeba, fresh from binary fission, living in a world consisting of strings of nanobots. But when the nanobot stings start to break, Amoeba must track down the evil protozoan responsible, Tetrehymena, and snuggle Tetrehymena in order to have a safe place to undergo his own binary fission.

'The Pseudopodium String' is a 70,000 work of romantic science-fiction thriller memoir. I am the author of many novels and memoirs, and this is my first novel.

Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Best wishes,

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

Ulysses: I wish my words had failed me before typing that. Then I wouldn't have to break out my checkbook to pay for Margaret Yang's new keyboard.

Marti said...

Dear Mr. Nathan,

I am to be choosing you because you make such a good hot dog! I am many time read your internet on break from my job here in Calcutta at call center.

I writed very good book about peoples who in airplane crashing on magic tropical island. Many peoples do not live through crashing, but small group that live must fight many hardship. They struggle with rain. They forget how to be asking questions. They struggle with how to open giant crate of food they find. They struggle with other peoples who already on island. I call this other group Other Group.

I writed this original story in hopes of coming to America to live with my cousin, Apu in Springfield. I have writed many TPS reports for my employer, Inotech.

My book have 4815162342 words. I much be thanking of you for your time.

Raji Nahasapeemapetilon

Anonymous said...

Thank you Wanda, that pretty much answers my question. Its funny that you made a music analogy because my next question is music related:

Music heavily influences my writing, and I have specific songs, with a piece of their lyrics right in the book, either at the beginning or end of chapters. I always name what song it is and who its by, but my question is: Is it legal to put actual song lyrics in a book? Will I have to take these out eventually? I know Hunter S. Thompson did it sparingly, but then again I don't write for Rolling Stone :P

bookbabie said...

Dear [Eric Simonoff],

I chose to submit to you because of your wonderful taste in [spotting new and emerging literary voices], and because you [can sell any book you get your hands on].

[Bobby Weaver] is a [successful novelist] living in [Michigan]. But when [he has a terrible accident], [Bobby] must [keep working on his current book despite the fact that he is now in a coma because in his words, "The characters are hanging around in my head and they’re kind of bugging me. You know what I mean? They won’t shut up. It’s getting on my nerves. I think they want to know what’s going to happen next. I don’t even know what’s going to happen next, so it’s not like I can just tell them to get them off my back. Writing doesn’t work like that. Not for me anyway."] and [as the clock ticks down] [Bobby struggles to remain sentient] in order to [finish his final book, face some harsh realities about the accident, and make peace with his family and friends before he dies].

[The Wonder of Ordinary Magic] is a [52,389 word] work of [literary fiction]. I am the author of [several very insightful published letters to the editor], and this is my second novel.

Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Best wishes,
[Lilli Day]

Fun exercise, I think I'll rewrite my queries a bit:)

Jean said...

Okay, this post is exactly why I keep coming back to your blog. I love it! And I may or may not do mad libs with my four-year-old...and may or may not include 'poop' in my future queries. ;)

pixy said...

Holy crap, these are just too much fun. I really loved, Scott's. All those apostrophes are just too perfect. And the

Maybe I read too much spec fic...

Thanks, Nathan. More great advice!

Julie Weathers said...

When I first read this, I wanted to just throw my hands in the air.

After a lot of thinking about it, I have to say thank you.

Paladin has a very convoluted plot, so this really helped distill things down to the essentials.

I'm planning on going to Surrey this fall and Heather Wardell gave me some priceless advice. Reduce your story down to two lines and pitch those two lines. This formula helps get me much closer to those two lines.


Heather Wardell said...

Julie, your $20 is in the mail. :)

Julie Weathers said...

My $20 is in the mail?

Hmmm, I sent you $40 for that good advice. Do I owe you another $20?

Do you take Pay Pal?


Randy Yaskal said...

My co-writer, the grammar Nazi, pointed out a peculiar error in all your query exemplars.

The verb "to submit" customarily requires an object,e.g.:I submit my resignation; I submit to your will.......

The phrase, "I choose to submit to you," absent an object or just any old noun--and choosing to use, as in your example, a pronoun--implies, in common usage, some sexual import.

A better introductory sentence for a query missive would read, I submit my____to you. (Query letter, synopsis, manuscript.)

I chose to submit my manuscript to you because I never heard of any of your authors so I figured you would be amenable to yet another unknown writer's work.

Liz is a sad, depressed housewife trapped in an unhappy marriage to a closeted cardiologist with murder on his mind,living on the Gold Coast of Long Island's North Shore, but when the sexually-- adventurous trophy wife of a Texas billionaire moves in next door, Liz comes awake for the first time in her life and realizes that she can thwart her husbands evil plan, recapture her lost joie-de-vivre and find true love, in order to save her soul and, in the process redeem two miserable families.

Affairs of Affluence is a 110,000 word, 63-sentence-long murder mystery/domestic drama/chick lit style designer name-dropping/shopping list/roman a clef/Regency bodice-ripper set in contemporary times.

I trust you will find it to your liking since it covers every possible genre. Our full manuscript is already zipped and ready to send.

Sincerely yours,

Liter Aire (An over educated, underpaid, future winner of the Booker Prize.)

Anonymous said...

Sorry to bother you. But please read this. I just couldn't say no.

Dear Mr. 007,

I chose to submit to you because of your wonderful taste in high end sports cars, expensive cocktails and undersexed super models, and because you have a six pack airbrushed on your abdomen.

Dr. Yes, lives in Las Vegas and is a self described hippie drug store psychologist that is emphatic about improving the world by just saying “yes” to every primal human urge including; drugs, sex and gambling. But when he falls for, Lucid, a freckle faced red headed milk maid librarian at the final table of the Texas Hold’em Championship he experiences a metamorphosis of body, mind and soul. The fun ensues as, Lucid the former librarian takes her winnings and “just say yes” to heart and begins a random self indulging rampage in the Arizona desert. The love stricken Dr. Yes slowly begins to find himself saying “no” to Lucid’s meteoric interest in sex, drugs and projectile vomiting. Will the pair settle down in Anywhere, USA with a picket fence two dogs and a daughter named, Mediocrity? Or will Lucid only understand the err of her ways when Dr. Yes just says no.

“Dr. Yes Just Says No,” is a 200 word pop-up literary query letter. I am indeed the author and have composed a litany of classical prose written in the grout lines of my favorite men’s room at “Cantriteistan College for the Writing Impaired.”

I know you are impressed but my creative streak is now at an end. I only have this simple query letter and a solitary confinement shed comprised of writer’s blocks. Please release me from my pitiful state by finding me a ghost writer and a huge sign on bonus.

P.S. I do accept traveler’s cheques.

That’s all you need.

FantasyGurl said...

Dear Mr. Bransford,

I chose to submit to you because of your wonderful taste in the supernatural, and because you have read Twilight by Stephenie Meyer. (Which inspired my novel.)

Alexis White is a 22 year old women living in a small town. But when her 23rd birthday rolls around, Alexis must figure out how to deal with a surprise birthday gift and find out how to deal with the gift in order to have a life.

Alexis White: Vampire Extraordinaire is a 6,000 word work of supernatural fun. This is my first novel.

Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Best wishes,
Maribeth Casey

Anonymous said...

Wow, this is so funny.

Rachel said...

Dear Mr. Bransford,

It is with a degree of confidence that I choose to submit my literary efforts to you; a man universally acknowledged to be possessed of good character, impeccable taste, and some small fortune.

Elizabeth Bennet is an intelligent young woman with very fine eyes and an excessively sweet sister named Jane. Unfortunately she has in addition three rather foolish sisters and even sillier mother.

With no fortune to recommend them, and few marketable skills, these five girls must somehow find husbands to support them that are neither too hideously ugly nor so excruciatingly boring as to tempt them into a life of outright prostitution.

Though viewed by many as the ultimate catch, Fitzwilliam Darcy offends Elizabeth when he assumes that she, like her younger sisters, is walking around with a price tag on her arse.

As Darcy struggles to overcome his prejudice against lower-middle-class girls, Elizabeth learns to swallow her pride and recognize a good thing when it comes riding up on a dark stallion.

Pride and Prejudice is a work of literary genius, carved on a tiny piece of ivory. I am the author of much unreadable juvenilia, and this is my first novel.

I thank you, Sir, for your time and wish you the best of health.



Wendy said...

Okay so my email to you wasn't exactly a Query Letter but when I read this post I thought I did pretty good with the imaginative word grabbing unformatted email.

I definately gave it a personal touch you can't deny me that. Though I found I left out the word count so if I do indeed send you an offical Query Letter I'll keep your Query Letter Mad Lib on hand.

Anonymous said...

-so this blog is great for folks trying to find a literary agent in a market where people believe that a market exists for the unknown. Really, who actually purchases books anymore? Maybe they'll read a snippet on Kindle or some other spiffed out piece of gear-but nobody's got an attention span anymore.

If you really believe that your going to see your work (fiction) in print-in today's market-without some major geopoliticonnection your kidding yourself. Sure all the query letters and abidingly formatted manuscripts will end up and I mean land in the very full slush pile of the evaporating employees in the publishing industry and bailout money-

So get real here, false hope sucks. I learned when I set out on getting my first book published-my agent is dead-great dude - we made some loot and if it wasn't for a connection here or there and a half way decent economy none of my stuff would have been published anywhere-but Curtis Brown-BTLA (big time literary agency) trolling the aether for saleable scions?

Come on tell the people-tell us all that you really take on new clients? Please, spare the poor aspirants the misery of hammering out query after query-Tell them to read some info on the industry tell them to take a peek at the NY Observer or other rag about what's going on in publishing in the USA-They (at a very large NY house) got a 40 yo dude whose rearranging the furniture at the Adam's family house after its been forclosed on-it-new books- ain't happenin'- and the POD houses -they're ready willing and able robots- who are printing anything and everything for a measly thirty nine bucks and selling it on Amazon. Aspirants, go ahead and grovel and richly format your query and maybe send a chapter maybe three and then the manuscript and maybe just maybe your target agent's assistant to administrative assistant who probably will be looking to pick up an app for unemployment might-and I mean might say: "Sure, I'll rep you..." all to well knowing that nobody is buying fiction-Of course there are the esoteric blockbusters that get the remarkable rave reviews that you can read a page or two of in place of an Ambien, but; really, is there anything new amusing or remotely fun? I had the dubious pleasure of imbibing with the late HST and in that hazey coloquy discerned that my brand of Zulu whackiness will always sell-problem is people do not have the scoots. So is it worth twenty bucks to have a decent thriller that busts you up along the way? Sure.

Curtis Brown-I'd love to see the list of new clients you folks have taken on and SOLD-seeing as how the lunchtime schmooze budgets have been slashed and a drink at Per Se costs more than most administrative assistants earn in a week... Just trying out this blog-doubt if it will see the light of screen. Cheers.

Nathan Bransford said...


I take on clients and sell books. Sorry you don't like the business. With all due respect, you sure it's me who's in the wrong line of work? You don't seem to enjoy it much. Maybe you should move on.

Brit said...

"my agent is dead-"

I'm not surprised.

Wayne said...

Greetings Nathan,

I've been advised a number of times to present a marketing plan for my book in the query letter - what books it should sit with in stores, compare it to book of note, film etc. Your advice please.

Kirsten Wallace said...

Nathan, once again, thank you for the advice.
Everyone else... these were absolutely wonderful. I haven't stopped laughing yet.

Anonymous said...

Would it be poor taste to suggest that if the agent is not interested in my story, maybe he could pass it on to an agent he thinks might be interested?

Nathan Bransford said...



D.R. Howell said...

As always very helpful post!

Anonymous said...

If you're writing a query for a children's book you've illustrated, such as "The Giving Tree", do you still need a word count?

Anonymous said...

I RUE the day I read your post on how to write a query letter, and went against my instincts and prepared query to follow your advice, creating a new one for submission to an agent who had shown previous interest in my manuscript. Including information you claimed was necessary, such as protagonist's name, description, goal, quest, complicating incident and villain, not to MENTION word count, resulted in a stinging rejection letter at the amateur nature of my attempt. I was reminded, that a query letter is meant to inspire the agent to ask to read more, but after providing all the information YOU claim "required", there was nothing left to learn in his opinion, also reminding him that the book was longer than publishers want. He told me I might be a great writer, but he would never find out after I showed myself incapable of a query on a topic he had otherwise been quite interested in. Upon more research, I wish I'd read Noah Lukeman's advice. Why, oh why, did I listen to you, forever ruining my chances at a first impression.

Nathan Bransford said...


While it might be comforting to think that I was the difference between your work finding publication and not finding publication, I'm afraid I don't believe that's the case.

Anonymous said...

I'm not comforted, and after extensive further research, I've yet to find a reference book, a how-to, or an agent who thinks a query should contain the myriad of details YOU think necessary. Name one, or take responsibility for offering bad advice. Naturally every agent is different, but you would think I might have found ONE source agreeing with you. Again, I challenge you to find one who reccomends every criteria I listed from you. And I won't hold my breath waiting for an answer you can't provide.

Anonymous said...

This site is amazing. Before I found this site I felt insecure about what the buisness really was. My only question is how can I write to Mr. Bransford, because some of the questions I have on my mind are not featured in the web site?

James said...

Nathan, great stuff here. I want to break into narrative nonfiction after some work with magazine articles and journalism. Any big picture comments on how a narrative nonfiction query letter would differ from that of a novel query letter?

AJ Miller said...

I'm nearing completion of my first novel and I would like to query you before anyone else due to how helpful this blog has been.
However, you request that I also attach the first five pages of my novel. Due to the way my novel is written, those first five pages are hardly the most representative. How should I make note of that in my query?

toni momberger said...

Thank you for this. I'm a confident writer, but I'm terrified of the query letter. I've allowed my manuscripts to pile up in my drawer unsent.
Thanks to this clear and simple guidance, I'm ready to jump.
Now, which to send first...?

Elizabeth West said...

OMG those were hilarious. I love MAD LIBS. I just found this post. I'm almost done with my synopses (bleah) and getting ready to query (a scary process) and the laughs are much appreciated!

Thanks, Nathan, for the great advice.

Jaela said...

So I'm coming in late on this blog post, but I must ask...what if you have a 100,000-word (or so) epic with multiple characters?

Who then is the protagonist? Would you pick the one most focused on? Would you name each of the main characters?

I have been struggling with this, and could sure use an insider's advice.

Buddy Cole said...

As Moliere once said to DeMaupassant at a cafe in Paris : " That's funny , you should write it down."

Jean Yi said...

mr bransford...i want to write a children's book...but u mentioned only "novels" and "nonfiction." and so that was what i was wondering...if u accept children's books. oh, and, is this how it's supposed to go?
Mr. Nathan Bransford,
I decided to put my trust in you because of your amazing skill in writing. If you can write well, I assumed you can help me publish my book.

Eliza the Toad is about a young lady named Eliza. Her crazy Uncle Karl eats only onions and raisins, and at night pukes them all back up. Soon, the radioactive fumes from the puke turn her into a toad. She is at first despising the other poor humans who turned into toads who eat insects, but when an armadillo nearly eats her, she allows an insect-eating group to take her in. From them she learns about their kindness and humility and changes, too. When it is found out that Eliza is "missing," her family, who has suspected Uncle Karl for years, forces him into a straitjacket and insane asylum. They then spray the air with air freshener and every human who's a toad gets turned back into a human.

Eliza the Toad is a 5,000-word children's book. This is my first book.

Thank you for your time and I am relishing the chance of hearing from you soon.

and, um, i'm 10.
jean y.

ash said...

Hi Nathan,
Just stumbled upon your blog, its great. I live in Asia. I'm you get a lot of material from overseas writers?

R.M.P. said...


Are query letters supposed to be a specific length? Mine is one and a half pages long but I am noticing the common format being one page. Some enlightenment would be appreciated!

Thank you

Chris Pascale said...

For those upset that Nathan has stated how to write a query letter, isn't it at least nice to know how ONE agent likes to receive them?

Nathan, I'll be sending an email your way soon.

I have 54.62 novels under my bed, but don't worry, I won't send them to you as they are a bed frame for now.

D said...

Thanks for all the good suggestions on your site. Fixing to personalize and employ them, today in fact... Then I'll pound away at the old laptop on the next work in an attempt to ward off the stress of waiting... I guess it's a little like bungie jumping. That first step is gut wrenching and then you experience temporary free fall... (Praying you don't crash and burn)
PS: Congrats on Jacob Wonderbar! What an extraordinary concept!

D Americanhorse

Creative A said...

Dear Natedo,

I chose to submit to you because of your wonderful taste in those printy things, um, can't remember what their called, booksies maybe? but because of the booksies, and because you also have this habit of, like, getting said booksies where people can read them and stuff, like you know, when I can find the thing in K-Mart? Like next to Steffey Mayor?

Well anywhos, this person who writes stories (Meeeeee!) is a really awesome person who has zillions of those booksie things in the works and I'm living in my parents house until, you know, I move out. But when she looses her job, this very creative person must get one of her story things into K-Mart and forget the day job in order to make more money by writing those printy things! Like Steffey!

So my word readable thing is a fifty page work of awesomeness; it really is, my grandma loved it and gave it to her best friend, and she loved it too. I am the author of the essay "Economics--Why loosing your job is hard" that also got an A from my high-school substitute teacher, and this is my first, um--OHMYGoshness, I remembered, yes, what's it's called--novel, this is my first novel.

Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Best wishes,
You already know who I am, right Natedo?? <3 *hugs*

Yup. This was a fun exercise!

Raydad said...

Dear Mister Nathan,

I’m like, writing you this letter ‘cause I heard you really really liked fast food and being a big superstar agent who never has any time and all I figured you’d be hungry for something hot off the grill, you know, so—
Anyway, there was this one time I ordered a quarter pounder with cheese but they gave me a quarter pounder without cheese but I ate it anyway cause I was really hungry you know and I didn't have time to order my quarter pounder with cheese again so I just ate it and you know it was kind of good until I realized I ate half of the paper with it but you know I really didn't care cause I was kind of mad they gave me my quarter pounder with cheese without any cheese so I just ate it.

Then there was this other time you know I drove through to order a large mocha-choke shake and giant chili-cheese fries with jalapeno peppers but there was a lot of static in the line and they couldn't hear me right so I kept calling and calling and calling and calling and calling them but they couldn't hear me or I don't know maybe they didn't want to hear me but I kept on calling and calling and calling them but I couldn't get through so—I just drove off.

I’M LOVIN’ IT is a real whopper of a novel weighing in at 250,000 greasy pages (recyclable paper). I am the author of “Eat Kids Free, a Gastronomic Journey” (seen on PBS). This is my first—brrpp—novel.

Good eating,

Big Cheese McStuffin

Nathan Bransford said...


Ha. Now I'm craving a cheeseburger.

MJ Smith said...

Dear Mr. Nathan Bransford,

I chose to submit to you because of your wonderful and genuine personality.

What if your Shadow, wasn’t just a Shadow?

What if it was, alive?

Olivia Stone becomes aware that her Shadow is alive. With her haunting from this macabre force, she battles against its all, consuming evil that threatens to implement her demise. She prays for freedom, but prepares for the worst.

In a world filled with Shadows, how do you separate the false figures, from the thriving ones?

You may never know the answer, but in the meantime…

SHADOW FROM WITHIN is a 90,750 word work of horror/suspense.

Thank you for your time and attention, and I look forward to an auspicious future together.

Kindest regards,
MJ Smith

MJ Smith said...

Dear Mr. Nathan Bransford,

What if your Shadow, wasn’t just a Shadow?

What if it was, alive?

A young woman becomes aware that her Shadow is alive, with her haunting from this macabre force, she and her sister battle against its all, consuming evil that threatens to implement their demise. They pray for freedom, but prepare for the worst.

In a world filled with Shadows, how do you separate the false figures, from the thriving ones?

You may never know the answer, but in the meantime…

SHADOW FROM WITHIN is a 90,750 word, high-concept horror/suspense with a strong character based plot line, an extraordinary array of multi-dimensional supporting characters, and a series of disturbing surprises that culminate into a mind-blowing shocker of an ending. It is also a story of love, courage, redemption, and the fine line that separates good from evil.
I am a business graduate, and have had the distinctive honor of winning several writing awards. I continue to read and watch the masters of horror, and I believe SHADOW FROM WITHIN, is the original type of horror/suspense that fans of this genre, and all types, desire most. This novel will keep you gasping for the sequel, WHEN PAGE TURNED.

If you are interested in reading the synopsis, you can reach me at:

Thank you for your time and attention, and I look forward to an auspicious future.

Kindest regards,
MJ Smith

Wordsmith said...

Okay, Nathan ... "I'm writing to you because ..."? Really? Seems a little like pandering, to me. First of all, you know what your outstanding qualities and abilities and experience are. You don't really need some hopeful author sucking up to you like that, do you? Or is this just to prove the author is capable of a bit of ground level research into his or her topic? What's wrong with a QL just skipping past the suck-up section and getting right into the heart of the matter (a la Janet Reid's recommendations) as in:
"Dear Mr. Fartface,
Boogerman is the laughing stock of Snotville ..."

... or do you really want submissions to include the suck-up factor?

texasapril said...

I just wanted to say what a breath of fresh air your sight was! After weeding through tons of "blurbs" and very unhelpful mumbo jumbo, I love how you cut right to the point! It's like you are actually human! ;) I was starting to wonder about you agents....

Thanks again and keep up the good work!


Signs_of_life said...

I really appreciate your blog and the information posted. I have looked up enough examples on query letters to make your eyes bleed. And written, and re-written my query so many times that I have carpal tunnel. Like most before me, I thought entering the world of writing was going to be easy. I received some good advice from Danielle Trussoni, the author of "Angelology" She said don’t give up; the right agent is out there. My story also relates to angels – The Archangel Lucifer. Query or no query, I tried my best to write a passionate story as most of you have I'm sure. I just hope the world gets a chance to read them all some day.

Good Luck to all.

Amorena Nobile said...

Hello Nathan,

I just found this blog about a week ago and it's been very helpful and encouraging to me so far.

I have a question: If someone were to say their novel is 'currently untitled' in their query, would that be a bad thing? Would it be better to come up with a working title?


Heather Nobles said...

Mr. Bransford,

I was researching agents for myself and a friend on the AAR website and came across your site.

I am sending a query this evening but wanted to add that you are very helpful in everything that you post. My manuscript is a children's picture book but had read that you are open to new ideas. I have been working on manuscripts, researching how to write query letters...etc. for the past few years and it's amazing how helpful agents, authors, and editors can be; aspiring writers really appreciate it. I met Meg Cabot at the L.A. Times Festival of Books this past year and have kept in touch with her...she is a crack up and has been very helpful also.

Haha...I would never write a query letter like I would a mad lib...I was a little crude with mad libs when I was

Thank you for the encouragement.


Simon J Farrell said...

Nathan, Recently, I sent you a query on a book that you took a pass on, Lord of the Pleasant Place. I have been working on a rewrite to the letter and posted it at to get some feedback. I thought it would be interesting to write the plot blurb in 1st person as that is the narrative POV, but was told that even if the narrative is 1st person POV the query should ALWAYS be in 3rd. I'm curious as to what your opinion is; 1st, 3rd, does it matter?

Jan Priddy said...

Nice postings. Thank you.

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

To Anonymous at 1/10/09, 2:23 PM

You wrote: "If you really believe that your going to see your work (fiction) in print-in today's market-without some major geopoliticonnection your kidding yourself."

May I please correct you? It should be:
"If you really believe that you're going to see your work (fiction) in print-in today's market-without some major geopoliticonnection you're kidding yourself."

"your" denotes possession, and "you're" is you + are

I buy many many books. I actually read agents' blogs to see book suggestions. I like an old fashioned book and have no interest in Kindle.

Brizbella said...

"Really, who actually purchases books anymore? Maybe they'll read a snippet on Kindle or some other spiffed out piece of gear-but nobody's got an attention span anymore." So said Anon.

Well, Anon, I don't have a Kindle or its ilk. I read real books, I have ROOMS full of books, I buy books, borrow books, go to bed with books AND write books. Four and 5 partials at last count.

But Nathan, lovely, delightful, funny, charming (and quite attractive) I choose not to submit to you because my books are set in Australia and I have found comments such as, "Oh, your English is very good" to be a tad hilarious.

But I will be back, and back, to read this blog - love it.

Anonymous said...


Your 'Query-lib' post made me feel like I was possibly living in a perfect world filled with rainbows and butterflies. So I pinched myself. And the brilliant colors and happy flappers were still there, along with your simple 'send me' fill in. Thank you so much for making this one of the easiest and funnest submissions I'll ever do!

J. D. Brown said...

Nathan, can I use your query letter mad lib in my blog about query letters? I will give you all due credit for the idea and will refer my readers to your blog. I just wanted to ask permission before using it. If you can, email me at jdbrown(dot)author(at)gmail(dot)com

Thank you,
J.D. Brown

jurassicpork said...

People, you'd be a sucker to appeal to the likes of this guy or any other literary agent, brain-dead philistines who wouldn't know a well-written book if it crawled up their fat asses, gave birth to pamphlets and spontaneously combusted. I know what I'm talking about. I've been rejected by dozens of outfits like this for no given or discernible reason. I've given up on agents.

They capriciously make one-sided rules by which only writers have to abide, they send out form rejection letters through their flunkies (i.e. "interns", "assistants" or "submission coordinators") even after you send them well-written, original material, obey the submission guidelines and personally address the agent.

Do yourself a favor, folks: Publish your books on Kindle, Nook, whatever else is out there and write these snotty, self-absorbed parasites out of the equation. Redeem your self respect and stop groveling to the likes of Nathan and his accomplices in the rep business.

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