Nathan Bransford, Author


Thursday, April 3, 2008

A Follow-up On My Post About Follow-up E-mails After Rejections

I still can't answer your follow-up e-mails after rejections.

I've blogged about this before, and yet for some reason follow-up e-mails after a rejection have been spreading like a wildfire in a forest where the trees are made of matches and kerosene (yay similes!).

I'm sorry people, but I still can't answer your follow-up e-mails. I can't tell you how to fix your manuscript, can't tell you how to fix your query, can't recommend other agents.

Out of necessity I have to rely on form e-mails that, I am fully aware, aren't particularly helpful. But not only do I not have the time to respond to further questions (I don't) I honestly don't think I'd even be the right person to help you.

When I'm reading a query or partial I'm not thinking about why it's good or bad or what you could do better or what parts of the query or partial you could improve. I'm thinking, "Is this something I want to represent and/or is this striking a chord with me?" That's the only question I'm answering.

It's like riding a roller coaster. When I'm reading I'm on the ride, I'm not thinking about the joists and the structural engineering that makes it all possible.

Sure, if I decide to work with you on a rewrite I will sit down with the manuscript and devote a great deal of time to thinking about why it's working, and I will write an impossibly long e-mail detailing these points. When I do a query critique I will sit down with the query and think about what makes it strong or weak. With time I can explain specifically why it is or isn't working. And I'll try and give you some sense of my thought process in a partial manuscript response.

But if you need more input, you'd be better off seeking advice from people who are thinking specifically about how to make your query or manuscript better. Unless you're able to corral an agent to do that, a prospective agent just is not that person.






47 comments:

Adaora A. said...

People keep sending you questions after their rejection because you're so giving on this blog. I think something can be said about agent who aspiring writers can gain access to and ask questions. Sometimes I stop myself from bombarding you with questions (and instead ask them over time), and I'm sure others are thinking the same thing. Some or maybe more then that know the genuine protocol,it's just lost in a bit of nudging translation.

Anonymous said...

Even if you did have this endless amount of time to help people with their queries, I think in most cases the effort would be wasted. I say that because I question whether all those folks sending out queries are truly serious about a writing career and are willing to put in the work that it takes to have success.

Nathan Bransford said...

Thanks, Adaora.

And I guess I should clarify. People should feel free (within reason) to e-mail me general questions or post questions on the blog. I'm not able to get to them all, but chances are I'll either answer or direct you to the right blog post on that subject.

Before you ask a question please first do all the research you can and google my name and the topic to see if I've answered it before, but if you can't find it anywhere it's ok to ask.

But I can't do individualized critiques, unless they're on the blog.

Adaora A. said...

No problem. I've learned a lot on this blog.

And you've unintentionally answered a question about emailing a question, which I was 'working my way' towards! You've got sixth sense.

You mean I can't post my 60,000 word novel for your 'good opinion' (as Lizzy says in Pride and Prejudice)? Pitty!

Anonymous said...

I have a question from your query Mad Lib post from a few days ago.

Can you make a query too short? If I describe my novel in just a few sentences would that be a mistake?

Thanks, Nathan.

Nathan Bransford said...

anon-

Yes, a query can absolutely be too short, and if you follow the query mad lib literally (as, of course, some people have been doing in the last few days), then it will be too short.

Kathryn Harris said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kathryn Harris said...

Nathan,

Is this follow-up question after a rejection something that has started because agents are easily approached through e-mail? I assume agents rarely received follow-up questions after a sending a rejection via snail mail (with that enclosed SASE, of course).

I don't understand why aspiring writers don't apply the same etiquette to e-mailed queries as they do to queries sent via post.

Nathan Bransford said...

Kathryn-

Yeah, I think that has something to do with it. It's just too easy to click that reply button.

La Gringa said...

People send me the same questions. I just don't have the time.

Suzan Harden said...

Nathan,

Something you could always hear more of - Thank you so much for this blog! Your information has been invaluable.

I didn't truly understand what you agents went through until I started judging contests and assisting novice writers last year. You, sir, have the freakin' patience of Job.

Thanks again,
Suzan

Anonymous said...

"It's like riding a roller coaster. When I'm reading I'm on the ride, I'm not thinking about the joists and the structural engineering that makes it all possible."

Excellent analogy.

Seems like one of the biggest misconceptions aspiring novlists on these blogs have is that the agents are some kind of literary experts who are there to offer critiques of your work, or who will know why or why not it works. But they're just business people, salesemen, essentially, out to earn a living by finding things they think they can sell right now.

I used to know some people in the music biz who were "A&R reps" for major record labels, and they had a similar job--they listen to unsigned band demo tapes and go to live shows, looking for talent that is ready to be signed right now, with no additional work required (or at least minimal improvements that are easily within a typical proposed budget).
Nobody wants something that they have to "develop," they want something they can place immediately.

Nathan Bransford said...

Anon-

Just to clarify a bit, I will definitely work with writers on rewrites, but usually they are already extremely close to being ready. So I can read with an editing eye and in fact it's an important part of my job, it's just not usually how I'm reading queries.

As people who have read a slush pile know, it's hard enough deciding if something is good, let alone figuring out why it's good.

Josephine Damian said...

Yeah, I think that has something to do with it. It's just too easy to click that reply button.

Nathan, you hit the nail on the head right here (Cliche? Similie? It still applies).

Writers desperate for feedback they are not entitled to cannot resist hitting that reply button any more than Naomi Campbell can stop herself from misbehaving.

By all means, keep the blog and email chanels open here for friendly, GENERAL advice, but I think it's time you switched to a non-email form of query... perhaps use the same online form that Agent Jonathan uses?

You can ask people to stop demanding specific advice and crits until you're blue in the face, but it won't stop until you find a query format that does not allow an exchange/initiate a dialgue.

Diana said...

I've now received my first handful of rejection letters (all via e-mail), and it never occurred to me to say, "BUT WHY don't you like it?" I just assumed that the agent and my manuscript weren't a good match this time around.

In terms of response, is it okay that I reply with a "I really appreciate your getting back to me so quickly. Best wishes." kind of note? That's what I've done, but now I'm wondering if I come across as an amateur that way.

Marva said...

I'll apology for that followup email on my rejection. I was young (not) and foolish. So were you, I guess, since you actually answered me!

I'm happy we've both matured. ;-)

Anonymous said...

Nathan, I'm always amazed by how terrific and also sensible you are. Question about rewrites: I'm currently ever-so-patiently waiting for an agent to respond to my requested revision. Do you find that it takes longer to read the revision than it did the first time? This has been my experience so far, which is why I ask. Also, do you think that most agents agree with what you said, that they wouldn't take the time making suggestions if it weren't almost there? Thanks so much for everything, especially my sanity!

Nathan Bransford said...

Anon-

re: waiting for comments on a revision: Honestly it could be any number of reasons, so the best answer I could give is: I don't know.

And yes, I would say that most agents will try and work with something when it's almost there. But honestly, that also doesn't necessarily mean that there's a 100% chance the agent is going to wind up taking it on, or even 50/50. Sorry to make you more nervous, but gotta be honest!

Anonymous said...

Wow, Nathan, you're fast! Do you think it ups the chances of interest if the agent calls you into his office to make the suggestions? My first agent did it over the phone, but the office visit certainly felt like a serious thing...maybe 70/50???

Nathan Bransford said...

anon-

I dunno!

Anonymous said...

Oi vey. Back to waiting....

Bija Andrew Wright said...

Diana, from what I understand, when you send a non-specific follow-up like "Thanks for your time and best wishes," some agents appreciate it slightly, some are slightly annoyed by it, and you never can tell because they won't reply either way. However, they pretty much all will be forgotten within an hour or so. Send it if you feel like it, don't if you don't--but know that it makes no difference whatsoever, that a no is a no.

sylvia said...

This could be a good time to point out that Evil Editor is low on queries at the moment - so if you want good advice AND a bit of a laugh, you may wish to submit your query there.

http://evileditorsgallimaufry.blogspot.com/2006/06/how-evil-editors-blog-works-faq.html

sylvia said...

Ooops, I'll try that again:

Evil Editor's FAQ

Lupina said...

So Nathan, if I sent you a brief and heartfelt thank you for being so prompt in your query response, and that was all I said, I'm not on your permanent blacklist?

susangpyp said...

When I was querying agents, I never once thought of asking why. I always thought I was being rejected because it wasn't right for the agent, the agent had enough projects or the agent was an idiot. And I didn't really care which one it was.

:)

Aimless Writer said...

Maybe its just the starving writer looking for breadcrumbs?
Just kidding. I've never asked for comments or reasons but when an agent does send any kind of feedback with the rejection letter its better then Christmas.
Even though the urge to ask "what did I do wrong?" is strong, it is a big no-no.
I've also heard agents don't want thank you's cluttering up their in box either. I think its harder not to say thank you. My Irish, Catholic mother trained me well. lol

dr. dume said...

I only have two responses to rejection:

1. 'Thanks for your time'
2. No response at all.

Option '2' is the preferred one. Less effort.

As for query length, yes they can be too short. My super-short query 'Me rite buke. Yu reed now.' never worked at all.

Perhaps I should have said 'pleze'.

Wanda B. Ontheshelves said...

Sylvia, thanks for posting about Evil Editor - I'd previously gone to that site, but got kind of confused by it - I don't know, the way the word "face-lift" is being used there, i.e., "face-lift 509" - I think I've got the hang of it now.

Anonymous said...

"Evil Editor is low on queries at the moment--"

I love all these post your query sites--whenever I'm low on ideas I just read about a hundred novel ideas that I know haven't been published yet and that usually jumpstarts me...

Not that I use 'em verbatim, but you know, "ooh yea, a vampire allergic to xyz goes to abc..." and then I just modify it into my own stuff.

susan d said...

Sorry - I was one of those. But it is frustrating for me as a writer to spend endless hours writing and revising and just keep getting rejection after rejection when people in my critique group and classes have raved about my work. So I'm getting to the point where I want to know - what is it about my work that isn't grabbing agents attention or fitting in with today's trends or whatever? I'm willing to do whatever it takes (OK, within reason) to make my work saleable but if I don't know what agents are looking for, how can I ever hope to succeed?

Tara said...

Possibly a little off topic - ok, a lot off topic. I'm selecting my list of agents to query for my completed ms - looking everyone up on Agent Query and checking out agency websites.
What's up with the Curtis Brown site? How is a logo and an address supposed to be helpful? Luckily they have this fine agent who blogs about the wacky world of publishing or I would assume the entire agency is technologically defficent.
Here's my present quandary. I adore said agent (it's you, silly!) but fear that my humorous women's fiction (but I would never use the words chick lit, gasp!)is not really up his alley. I'm trying to research the other agents at Curtis Brown and the info is severely lacking. Also, I write Christian fiction as well, which you rep, but I can't tell if others in CB do or not.
And yes, I did read the "When in doubt" entry, so I guess my question is, if you pass on my query would it be inappropriate to query another agent at CB?
I'm sorry that was so long-winded. I'll go back to writing my query letters now.
Thanks!

Nathan Bransford said...

tara-

This post might help you out (once you get past The Hills post).

Tara said...

Thanks so much for the prompt reply. I must admit, my eyes glaze over a bit when you start in on The Hills. But we can't have everything in common, can we?
The post was very helpful as were the comments! Thanks so much for your willingness to help the publishing virgins.

Anonymous said...

I think it would be cool to have a {gasp} "Publishing successes sans agent!" topic. We could hear from published authors who don't have an agent, or maybe who do have one now but didn't for their first book or whatever, and hear from the occassional POD or small-house published authors who managed to move enough units to elict (as opposed to solicit) the attention of NY. Because after all, agents aren't the only game in town.

And who costs more--an agent or an entertainment attorney? Are there authors who just go with attorneys instead. I would think this would be a viable arrangement especially with small publishing deals where you've already got the deal, and it's not big enough to want to just give away 15%, but you also want to make sure you're holding onto the primo sub-rights (i.e. movie, foreign, audio, e-book, video game). I think this would make for a lively and informative topic, made all the more interesting by hearing from a working agent.

Nathan Bransford said...

anon-

I'm happy to have a discussion on this topic. There are some authors who use intellectual property or publishing attorneys, but these tend to be on the higher end of the spectrum -- Bill Clinton, for instance, whose books sell themselves.

For the people who either need someone to help them build their career or who aren't making enough money to even bother hiring a publishing attorney -- the vast majority of these people have agents.

Now, there are definitely people who find success without an agent. But as a rule of thumb? There's a reason we're here, and it's not just because we rigged the game. An agent is on the side of the author at all times, whether it's finding new subrights opportunities (which a publishing attorney can't do), guiding a career, helping the author make informed decisions, giving editorial guidance, and, you know, working like hell for free until that author earns money.

I honestly don't have the time to seek out people who are unagented and fit the criteria, and I'm sure there are other blogs that cover this niche. But I'm hoping to line up an author to talk about the benefits of having an agent in the coming months.

Anonymous said...

I originally wanted an agent to handle the business side so I could spend more time writing. But so far trying to find an agent is eating time I could be earning more money doing freelance work.

I used to think self-publishing was for people who can't write,but now I'm starting to wonder. I have two writer friends who make excellent money in freelance but neither can get an agent for their non-fiction narratives so one is using a "NY editor," the other is going POD. And I do know authors who have self-published and had successful sales, particularly those who have created educational material for teachers.

Adaora A. said...

I think I'd just like to have an agent because they know stuff about publishing which I don't have a clue about. You know, the stuff about editors likes and dislikes, and the fact that editors are known to respond to 'agented' writers rather then that pesky 'unsolicited query/proposal.' Plus, it probably sounds fabulous to say, 'my agent told me...'

Wanda B. Ontheshelves said...

On second thought

Re: "I love all these post your query sites--whenever I'm low on ideas I just read about a hundred novel ideas that I know haven't been published yet and that usually jumpstarts me..."

Probably not the smartest thing to post 3, yes 3, queries/synopses on Evil Editor...I guess that's why it's called Evil Editor not Angel Editor - favorite name along these lines - "vulture capitalists" in place of "venture capitalists" - "vulture novelists?"

Stacia said...

I wonder if this is why so many agents now don't respond if they're not interested? Not simply because of time, but because it could potentially open a dialogue?

Anonymous said...

Anon 8:24-- I can weigh in on your question. I published seven books with one publisher, contracted with a second for two, and for all those books used a literary lawyer to look over the contract and negotiate the splits. That worked well, and my rights were protected; but as I became more aware of how the publishing world worked, I realized that just selling my books wasn't the only thing involved.

I went looking for an agent. The one I settled on has been fantastic, and made a great deal of difference to me. Besides better advances, better terms, and retention of subrights, I have to say the biggest thing, and one that I wasn't expecting, was the sudden increase in creativity for me.

When the burden of business negotiations slid off my shoulders-- when I had a partner to give counsel and encouragement, to explain the mysteries of publishing, to be a sounding board, to stand by me in every way-- I promptly began to pour my creative energies into actual writing, rather than the business side of publishing (and all the anxiety that went with it, for me).

Night and day? You bet. Could I have gotten such a good agent at the beginning of my career? I doubt it.

And why am I reading another literary agent's blog? Because it's so much fun... and a great break from revisions!

Back to 'em.

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

Nathan-

I was pointed to an article about a reality TV show that immediately made my think of your blog with the line "Highlights of later episodes include Holly Black and Cormac McCarthy fighting over a toothbrush"!
God, I would love to see that.

Kylie said...

P.S. Just so you know, it's an April Fools thing, but still, God, I would love to see that! Cormac McCarthy needs to get into a fist fight, but he'd probably win it as easily as he wins every award known to man. :)

Anonymous said...

I always wanted an agent, but they didn't want me. So I started selling my work to editors, and they started buying. But it's not easy to do. You have to almost split yourself in half, and work in a different capacity to represent yourself. And it takes time away from writing.

Wanda B. Ontheshelves said...

How to Give Yourself Your Own Agent Feedback...All By Yourself!

Find some book that you really love, acknowledged as a great book by critics and agents and readers alike...read a few chapters of it...then immediately read a few chapters of yours.

You will notice a difference between the two - but, is it a difference in style or is it a difference in quality?

To make it really leap out at you, take a couple chapters of your first draft (or second, or third) and read that after reading a few chapters of a great book. The awfulness of your first draft should just leap out at you.

If you have a finished manuscript that is just not making that final cut, try and give yourself that agent's advice yourself - develop your discernment. Your "ear" for your own writing. Juxtapose it with some really great (published) writing, and see what leaps out at you, or gives you a little nagging feeling...

...maybe there's nothing, your manuscript is fine, maybe it's even great too...but the market isn't there just now.

Oh well just a suggestion. "Juxtaposition."

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Anon 6:52 and Anon 8:30.

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