Nathan Bransford, Author

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

What Advice Would You Offer An Agent?

I've grown quite used to pontificating on this semi-frequented blog, but now it's your turn to get all Dear Abby on me.

What advice would you offer me?

This can touch on anything from how to find clients to how to deal with queries to how to maintain a social life (ha!) while working full time and reading hundreds of pages a week.

Really, you tell me this time.


Anonymous said...

Please represent Fantasy in a big way.


Eamon said...

Interesting question. Going to think about it. And come back (if I can think of anything useful). In meantime written a post on 'Best bookshop in world' if you are interested in having a look.

Anonymous said...

You have only a few client books mentioned on your blog. You seem very choosy with projects. Can you talk about what kind of projects you are hoping/itching to represent?


beth said...

Be more clear on what you represent. I.e., you represent YA...but I don't see any YA in the books on your sidebar (or am I being stupid...oh, I hope I haven't messed this up and you've got a link to tons of YA you represent somewhere else).

I'd suggest that agents be ultra-specific on what they want, either through examples of what they represent, or through the types of already published books they read, or just a very specific list. For example, some agents say they represent YA, but they mean general fiction YA but never YA Fantasy...the more specific you are in what you want, the better. And being more upfront with everything you represent gives me a chance to understand what you want even more!

Dave F. said...

The book (printing) business is going to change as the internet grows. Try to grow with it.

150 said...

Have a website with your likes, dislikes, clients, and current submission guidelines AND ALWAYS KEEP IT UPDATED. If your website isn't the first thing that comes up for your name in a Google search, MAKE SURE ALL THE OTHER LISTINGS ARE ACCURATE. The absolute worst part of my agent search was cross-checking the Writer's Market listings.

Nathan Bransford said...

On specificity: how would I know what I'm going to like before I've read it?

Kelly said...

Okay. I love to give advice. Here's some for free:

1) Always make time for physical activity. Looks like you have a surfboard in your picture, so keep on surfing (or whatever).

2) Say No. And mean it.

3) Related to #2: Don't think can be everything to everybody.

4) Stress is never worth it.

Anonymous said...

If I were an agent I would not only seek potential clients who solicit me, but I would solicit potential clients by monitoring the Amazon sales ranks of independent press and POD titles, and when one sells more than 5,000 or so copies, I would read the book. If I thought it had potential, I'd contact the author directly to see if they were still represented. There is some good material lately coming out of non-traditional channels, and I'd want to stay on top of that if Iwere an agent (which of course I'm not and never will be).

Adaora A. said...

@150 - Google is a revelation already when you type in 'Nathan Bransford.' I plugged in the genre I write for (via Agent Query), and then I googled all the agent's names that AQ Provided. The agents who have a web presence were there an full force. And boy does it help. Plus, the having a blog advice he gave is brilliant. I actually am in the top three when I googled my first name (my blog comes up!), and now I even beat news anchor Adaora Udoji!

About advice...hmm, good question.

That's hard. I always say that when you're stressed and feel like you're looking at too many words and numbers (as I often do with essays, exams, work, etc), do yoga or go to the gym. Really it helps. The stress just seeps out of you. Then go home and have a glass of red wine (I like Morgan David).

Anonymous said...

If an agent requests a partial or a full manuscript, and the writer includes an SASE, it doesn't seem that difficult to send a form rejection if that is the response.

I don't like the boyfriend/girlfriend parallel; i.e., no response means not interested. No response can mean a lot of things.

I submitted manuscripts to a number of agents who had requested them--I'd be delighted to read, etc. . . This is month 6.

And then there is the response from the agent who says she will not read a manuscript that is being read by anyone else. I don't know whether to give up on the 4 still holding and submit to the 1 who might say no anyway.

6 months seems long enough. Maybe not. Thanks.

Sophia said...

Take care of your eyes - let them relax regularly during reading sessions by looking out of your window at distant trees or the horizon.

beth said...

Nathan, re: specificty...

I meant more along the lines of genre. There's a big difference between YA Fantasy and YA general lit; a big different in YA aimed at girls and YA aimed at boys...if you have a preference for certain things _within_ the genre, could you be clear and specific about it?

This stems from several instances of confusion. The agent represents YA, but not YA fantasy, which was what I was submitting.

You could always say, you like this genre, and these things in the genre, but you're open to new ideas. Then I have a better idea of what would be perfect for what agent.

Nathan Bransford said...


I'm a generalist, so honestly, if it's anything within YA I'll take a look. Same with the other genres I list.

Despite my morose post yesterday, I'd much rather err on the side of seeing more queries than to get caught up in trying to slice and dice which particular segments of each genre I want to see (and then possibly miss out on something).

Other Lisa said...

In terms of business...well, I suck at that stuff, and I'm pretty sure you don't.

In terms of life, I have to second (third?) the suggestion of exercise. Yoga is great. The gym is great. Walking is great. Anything that gets you outside and in some fresh air is great. I think these kinds of things are what recharge a person creatively, help problem-solve, and keep one's head from exploding.

The first rule of triage is that the caregiver has to take care of his/herself.

beth said...


That's one reason we love you! Now if only other agents could be more like you (minus the Hills, maybe... ;-)

Sera Phyn said...

I don't know... I think you're doing a great job! You were the fastest response ever on both query letter and partial, AND you gave me some wonderful encouragement. Besides the fact that I didn't sign a contract with you and you're not trying to sell my book somewhere (le sigh), I can't think of anything I would have liked you to do differently.

Now, if you're asking for advice on life, I'd like to second the last two of Kelly's list. Anything that stresses you out (bad, pulling the hair out, want to slit your wrists stress. Not wedding planning stress ;)) isn't worth putting up with and trying to please everyone is one of those things.

I'd say your best bet is to keep doing what you're doing. :D

Charlotte said...

I have no idea how to be an agent, but it sounds like you suffer from stress, so I could recommend yoga.

Oh, and cake. Cake is good.

Anonymous said...

Take a sabbatical from reading one day a month (and that means reading anything - books, queries, manuscripts, emails, blogs, whatever). Spend the time doing something fun that gets you out of the house.

Most people don't read enough, but I've noticed writers, editors, and agents tend to have the opposite problem (including me).


Jay Montville said...

Check your email less often.

I know that sounds cccrrrraazzzzyyy, but seriously. I've managed to whittle myself down to three times a day (morning, 11am, and 4pm) and I am *stunned* by how much more I get done when I'm not jumping at every little thing.

And don't tell me you can't do it. LALALALA! I'm not listening. It takes a little getting used to ("what if I'm MISSING SOMETHING!!!!!" You're not. You can reject that author in three hours just as well as you can right now), but give it a shot and it will make a noticeable difference in your ability to get things done, and in your mood.

cynjay said...

Get a good assistant.

Anonymous said...

I'd say, if you are "open to being surprised" -perhaps you can have a month a year that you specifically invite experimental work submissions, novellas, short stories,(gasp) poetry, etc.

You mention being wowed by many historical works that were experimental at the time.

Could have a stupid (waste of time) or amazing result.

But for now, from what you have put out, I would think you are throwing any new forms back out to other agents.

Anonymous said...

I think (judging from yesterday's post)- - You need a good trip to DISNEYLAND . .
The happiest place on Earth. . Come on now . you know you want to :)

Dwight Wannabe said...

One word:


Anonymous said...

Tell me up front if you want to be involved in projects that I decide to work on (so you can guide me like you want to and I don't produce novel after novel of things that you don't think you can sell).

And please tell me how your submission process works up front. If you aren't going to send me a list of the editors you send my book out to, then tell me so I don't anticipate one.

And please don't be afraid of hurting my 'sensitive' feelings. I'm an adult, and this is a business. You can treat it as such, because I know I am.

(Just agents in general, not Nathan!)

Parker Haynes said...


First: Keep on bloggin'. You're GREAT and more appreciated than you realize!

Second: As to your query quandary, consider no longer accepting email queries and go to a submissions form like some agents/agencies use. This would at least eliminate the mass queries cluttering your inbox. You might even include a few questions that could be answered correctly by someone who has actually researched you personally. Wrong answer, message pops up "Sorry but your submission cannot be accepted."

Third: More of a request than Dear Abbey advice. With all the consternation over genres, would you be willing to spend a few blogs defining the various genres as you see them?

Fourth: As to your social life, get a girlfriend who is so darn alluring and demanding that she draws you away from work early, at least a few times a week!

Best of luck with it all!

Josephine Damian said...

1. Hire an assistant to slog through the query/slush pile. This means more time for personal life, watching bad reality TV, taking care of clients, less hair pulling and agita in general.

2. Hire me, Josie D. as your assistant to slog through the query/slush pile.

*millions of wanna-be writers scream: NO!*

I can guarantee the number of queries/partials/fulls I pass along to you will be few, but of high quality - they'd have to be stellar to get past me! This means more time for (see above).

3. No more email queries! Use snail mail only (I know, I know... the trees) ok, so do excatly what Agent Jonathon does: use an online form with a STRICTLY enforced word limit.

4. Make an honest evaluation of your own reading tastes in conjunction with your editorial contacts, and perhaps narrow your scope of types of books you say you'll represent.

Instead of just saying, "I represent mysteries" be more specific: list some titles you've liked, or say "I like it cozy with not too much emphasis on violence/murder - something more character driven."

Or "I like YA's written in the tradition of ARTEMIS FOWL."

That kind of thing.

But from what I see, your biggest time suck is these emails from every wanna-be on the freakin' planet. I've said to you before - email/chat with folks here in your usual friendly way - but no more email queries! Find a way to force people to keep it to one page, whether it's one sheet of paper, or an online form with a strict word limit.

5. Ask your clients to refer their writer friends to you- those friends who have written books generally similar to what you've already sold - manuscripts that your clients have read/screened for quality/assess level of craft.

6. Blog less. Cut down on the number of days a week you blog. Take Friday off from blogging to get a head start on weekend plans with the fiance/ get some reading done. Or no blogging on Mondays cause Mondays are crazy enough.

Anonymous said...

Start a family. Then you'll see how much time you really had before. It's also a good excuse to go to Disneyland, like the other poster mentioned.

Kidding aside, I'm a firm believer in Nature as the cure to stress. And you live in one of the most beautiful areas on the planet. The beach, the mountains, wine country, Yosemite, etc. etc.

Focus on the fun.

Keri Ford said...

Anon 12:09 had a neat idea. just every once and while do a, "I don't usually rep 'this' but I'm in a mood to read it. Hit me with your best shot."

Though, this only works if you've got the editor contacts to sell whatever genre you happen to be in the mood for.

I agree on the webiste thing. I know Curtis Brown USA is getting one together, but until then, how about a client list? For you and the other agents at CB. A place where we KNOW this is the latest submission guidelines.

for relaxing, if you don't like getting away from your work, even though it makes you nutty sometimes, what about taking a manuscript to the beach to read? A fresh atmosphere can do wonders. Or take fifteen to twenty minutes in the morning and afternoon if you can spare it, leave your computer and go take a brisk walk.

Nathan Bransford said...

Thanks so much for everyone who has already posted their ideas. I wish I could have an assistant, but as a young agent that's not yet possible. Someday!

Meanwhile, the Olympic torch is scheduled to pass right outside our offices and it's already madness outside. Should be really interesting when the torch comes by (if it makes it this far).

Anonymous said...

Keep in good contact with your clients, and when one has already sold a book and is working on his/her third or fourth, take the time to have a chat with them about where their career is going.

As a writer with an agent at a big agency, no one has ever had this talk with me, and I'm baffled on where to go next. I'd love to have this talk with my agent, but her advice thus far has never been helpful. When asking how I could help promote my book, for example, she said, "There's nothing you can do but hope it sells." So with poor advice like that, I'm guessing this conversation is not forthcoming. Yet she sells my books and switching would be disloyal. I just wish she took more time to help me make a longterm career plan.

Anonymous said...

Golly, guys, I can't believe no one's said the obvious! Write something yourself, Nathan B! Your voice is totally engaging and fun, and you have, how you say, a platform. You know you want to ...

nightsmusic said...

What would I have you do personally? I don't know that I'd have you do anything. I really enjoy your blog and though I get the distinct impression you don't handle what I write, I am still learning and I appreciate that. :)

Now, agents in the collective term...

I have a novel I want to pitch, paranormal romance set in 1840's Scotland. Do you know how hard it is to find an agent who 'likes' that? You query one who lists that they like romance, but they don't do paranormal. Or, you query one who does paranormal and does romance, but doesn't do them mixed. Or you query one who does paranormal and romance but doesn't do the time period, even though they say they do historical and also 'commercial fiction' which I still don't understand! What the heck really falls under that category?

Meaning, I do understand that an agent might cover a broad variety of genres but, a bit more specificity in those genres would be most welcomed. Such as 'contemporary romance' or 'historical suspense'...anything that can give an author a better idea of who they should be subbing to so they're not wasting their time or the agents.



Michelle Moran said...

Yes. I would definitely buy your guide to the world of agents/publishing!

McGirl said...

"What Advice Would I Offer An Agent?"

I'm not an agent and I wouldn't presume to tell anyone how to do that job, but I do read a lot of agent blogs. :) So here's my blog-focused agent advice. (None of this is for you, though, Nathan, as you're king of the agent-bloggers. *smile*)

1. Have a blog. I will go to conferences and make an effort to get to know prospective agents in person, but blogs really help to speed up the "getting to know you" slash "will we work well together" discovery process. To make it fair, I'll have one too, so you can get to know me.

2. On the blog, stay professional. That doesn't mean talk about nothing but your profession: occasional chit-chat about TV shows, celebs, pets and other safe topics is one of many ways professionals connect with each other and make business personal and fun. But it shouldn't be *all* chit-chat. As a prospective client I want to get an idea of how you think about the industry and your job.

3. On the blog, stay positive. Not every sentence of every post - everyone's human. But if the blog turns into a litany of complaint, I'm bored, and I'm turned off. I have eliminated a couple of prospective agents because they sound bitter, angry or overly impatient.

150 said...

nightsmusic--I have a paranormal YA in 1840's America. We should do lunch. :)

nightsmusic said...

And don't you find the same thing, 150?? You try to query but it never quite falls into one of the twelve categories the agent says they rep?

And I love lunch, as long as it's rabbit food... ;-)

Elyssa Papa said...

I teach high school English to seniors and sophomores and I'm 12 years older than my seniors, and have had a crappy day of teaching.

So my advice to you is stuff I need to follow too:

1. Don't lose your temper. People know you're boiling points, and will push you to them, just because they can.

2. Beauty does not equal painfree. High-heel shoes, 'nuff said. So as a really weird comparison, intelligence does not equal common sense. People can be smart but still do stupid things (i.e., saying you're attractive in a query letter which is so unprofessional imo)

3. Chocolate can make anything better. Or if not chocolate, a glass of bourbon. (Never had bourbon so not sure if you drink it in a glass or not). And if you don't want to eat or drink, read Ian McEwan or Cormac McCarthy.

4. Don't change who you are. People respect and love you because of your honesty, humor, intelligence, and down-to-earthness. It's hard when you feel you're talking to a blank wall and don't feel as if you're listened to, but you can only be who you are. Just remember it's not you that has the problem, it's other people who don't get it. You're clear in what you want and expect, and if people don't get that, then boo on them.

5. And seriously, if these things don't work... watch The Hills. Spence, Heidi, LC... what more could you want?

Keep us posted on the Olympic Torch... the news in NY has been mad with reports on the San Fran protests.

Elyssa Papa said...

Sorry about the typo in my post above.

Also, I wouldn't say this is a semi-frequented blog. I read it every single day but don't comment when it seems like the topic is closed or if I feel out of my element.

green ray said...

Nathan, you are so cool that I have no advice for you. (And I give advice for a living!) But I agree with the poster who said that it would be great to get a response on requested material. Six months is nothing compared to how long I've waited with no response or reply to email follow-ups. I finally took charge and withdrew the ms from consideration. So my advice would be: if you request something, respond to it please! As for you, Nathan, I advise you to keep doing what you're doing. It works!

Anonymous said...

I would advise you to write a novel and try to get it published.

And then report back on your progress. :D

Anonymous said...

Write a novel, but let us all read it. Post it on this blog for us to critique.

Revenge is sweet, Mr. Bransford. Revenge is sweet.

Just_Me said...

On specificity:

Don't just list "sci-fi" tell us if you want hard core sci-fi with lots of technical details, or and intrepid youthful character, or if you'd really love to see a sci-fi hero over age 60. Sci-fi, fantasy, romance... those are huge genres and if I know you're looking for sci-fi crossed with cyberpunk and horror when I write sci-fi with a romantic twist I know not to make you my first query because I'm not what you're looking for. I might still query you but I won't expect you to fall in love with my piece.

Conversely, let us know what you DON'T want. If you never want to see a vampire romance again please let the authors know...

For personal adivce: stay healthy. Eat healthy food not junk food (I have no clue what you eat but this is always good advice), try not to stress out....

Saying no to authors (even me- sigh) is okay. Readers don't want bad books. If I go spend money on a book and it's awful beyond reason I blame the agents and editors for letting some delusional quack put something on the shelf.

Keep smiling and for the days that really don't work try some yoga or swimming :)

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Nick Travers said...

I guess the big question is: does what you do now work as compared against your contemporaries? Certainly your blog attracts lots of queries from writers, and although it must attract dross too, I would guess it puts you a little ahead of the game. Reading everything in case you miss something, sounds like an eternal search for the big deal. Solid businesses are not built on big breaks, they are built on a steady supply of average stuff. So my advice:

Specialise more.

Get a better filter – an assistant (or two) sounds a good idea.

If you are in it for the long haul rather than the quick burn, get a life.

Introduce wild cards so you sometimes read stuff you would pass straight over.

Let the secretary pick something out of your slush pile (no I’m not kidding). They are great at seeing past all the technical/business stuff and hitting on something for no better reason than they like it or it makes sense.

Write something.

Keep on with the blog - it's great.

Steph said...

Take on people like meeeeee! :) But no, really, I think you're a pretty nice agent as it is, Nathan. Some agents I'd say, "Reply to equeries even if you're not interested!" or "How can it take you three months to reply to a query??" But you're quick and you reply. You keep a blog. You help out.

As an agent, I think you're pretty much as nice as they come.

- Steph

Lorelei said...

Just the fact that you would think to ask this question tells me that you are not in need of any major advice.

Look both ways.
Tip your server.
Take your vitamins.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, but I don't get this. I keep seeing comments saying that Nathan should be more specific about what he likes and doesn't like to receive. I think it's pretty clear. He says, "When in doubt, query me." So just query him already! The worst that'll happen is he'll say no.

Amy Kinzer said...

Hi Nathan:

This is more to the industry than you in particular.

I find this whole submission process to be a bit 19th Century. Agencies without web sites, everyone with different submission requirements, snail mail queries, looooong response times.

What about some standardization in the industry to make things easier for everyone? Agents and writers both. It would be nice if you could look up all agencies online, send them a query, 1 page synopsis, and first 5 pages.

I like agent blogs, and I suspect having one and accepting email queries gets you first shot at a lot of submissions. I wonder though if the decline emails are necessary? How much time a week do you spend sending these? They're nice, but I wonder if you update your blog with stats once a week with the number of queries and your requests for more if it wouldn't meet the needs of letting us know you passed. You could set your email to send an automated response when an email is received so it's no doubt you got it, then on Friday you post the stats.

The blogs are helpful to us writers going through the submission process.

And of course, don't miss The Hills.

Anonymous said...

I'd like:

Putting some percentages on the blog about what most of your clients write. I know you accept YA, but if you only have 2 YA clients or have only sold 3 YA books and the bulk of your writers and sold books are Adult cozy mystery or Adult thrillers, that would be good to know.

I appreciate your "when in doubt query me" attitude, but the lack of quantifying what type/tone of YA excites you -- what type you usually sell leaves us with no clue if you're a viable agent for us.

Example: fantasy, edgy, literary, and Gossip Girls type series YA don't sell to the same editors -- where do the bulk of your editor contacts lie?

jjdebenedictis said...

Teaching vrs. Agenting

When you blog or go to conferences, you are teaching writers about the publishing industry.

As a teacher, you need to be endlessly patient. The student might never learn enough to pass the test (i.e. write a query letter that doesn't make you apoplectic), but they can always learn something, and that's what you want to focus on.

When you are NOT blogging or at conferences, however, you are not a teacher. You can be terse; you can be unhelpful; you don't need to feel guilty about it.

Get Zen about it. Let those bad queries just sluice past you. When you're not wearing your teacher's fedora, they don't count.

Quality of Submissions:

Sorry to say it, but if you want a large portion of your most abysmal queries to go away, switching from equeries to snail mail queries would probably help.

However, I like trees. I'd rather you just took a more relaxed view toward the truly abysmal queries. That, or start using an online system which is just sufficiently complex enough to flummox those people who couldn't locate their own bum if they used both hands.

Anon 2:26PM,

You're coming across as a free-floating entitlement complex with its own keyboard. Nathan doesn't have an attitude. Why are you scolding someone for being human?

Mary said...

I don’t know if you’re a coffee drinker or not. But I recently stopped drinking caffeine after 10:30 am, for the rest of the day I drink water.

You’ll feel more energetic, and the reduction in stress-levels is amazing!

Anonymous said...

I appreciate your "when in doubt query me" attitude, but the lack of quantifying what type/tone of YA excites you -- what type you usually sell leaves us with no clue if you're a viable agent for us.

This is what Publishers Marketplace is for, where you can look up the books he's sold and read them.

Nathan Bransford said...

Honestly, I'm a bit confused by all this focus about my particular specific tastes. Within the genres I represent, just query me.

I also don't think what I've sold previously is necessarily the best guide if you're trying to get specific -- I want different voices than what I've sold in the past, not similar ones.

Anonymous said...

I thought (now banished)anon 2:26 did have some valid points. Bad queries should roll off an agent like water from the proverbial duck's back. If you want to discover unknown gems, it's part of the job, something hardly worth mentioning let alone complaining about. Think of the novelist writing book after book after book--on spec--until one finally gets placed. There has to be an equivalent side of the proverbial publishing coin for agents, and that side is slogging through piles of misguided, sub-amateur drivel in the hopes of one day finding something salable that will pay off. Obviously you want more for yourself than your existing clients are likely to pay out, or you would have no need for new subs whatsoever. As someone else pointed out above, the only other way to get new clients if you don't want to deal with a slush flood is to make unsolicited inquiries yourself to up-and-coming authors who are burning up the Amazon ranks without a traditional publisher, and see if you can sign them with promises of bigger and better things.

Keri Ford said...

I also don't think what I've sold previously is necessarily the best guide if you're trying to get specific

Nathan, for me, I'm not so much interested in what you've sold as much as I want to know to which house and which editor it went to. You don't rep romance, but if I saw houses/editors in your contacts my book would fit with, I'd send it to you and pitch it as more of mystery than romance.

I want different voices than what I've sold in the past, not similar ones.

thank you for saying this! I've never understood the, query agents who have material similar to yours. All you get back is a, 'I'm sorry, I love your story, but I have someone like this on my roster already. good luck.'

nightsmusic said...

I'm sorry. I was speaking of agents in general and thought I made that clear when I posted about the specificity issue. Not you.

If an agent takes paranormal romance, say so. Don't say "I like romance, commercial fiction, mystery, suspense, fantasy, yada yada and then tell the querying author, I don't do paranormal romance. To me, and perhaps I'm totally off-base with this, romance is one of the broadest genre titles out there. If the agent loves contemporary paranormal romance but hates historical romance, they need to say that and save everyone a lot of time. That's all.


Anonymous said...

"I appreciate your "when in doubt query me" attitude, but the lack of quantifying what type/tone of YA excites you -- what type you usually sell leaves us with no clue if you're a viable agent for us."

What's with writers pinpoint laser targeting agents who already say they're in "your genre" anyway? If you have a YA--any kind of YA--and an agent says they handle YA--any kind of YA, regardless of whether you think it's "like yours" or not, then send it! Who cares what they sold last month or signed this month? At most there's maybe what, 150 agents handling YA? Query all of them, 10 or so at a time. Why waste time fretting over "but do you like YA-like-this, or does it have to be YA-like-that?" Silliness!

Anonymous said...

Bad queries are part of the job, something hardly worth mentioning let alone complaining about.

Really? And how would other writers know what's "bad" if Nathan and other agents didn't point it out?

Nathan Bransford said...


I'm happy to have a conversation about these things as long as they're done in a non-insulting manner, so thanks for bringing it up in a more constructive way than previously-deleted anon.

You're absolutely right, queries should flow right off my back, and normally they do. I'd say I'm pretty positive in general, I put myself out here on the Internet specifically to get more queries, I'm proud that by according to one measure I'm the most-queried agent in publishing. So I would definitely agree with you.

But I'm also human and this is a frustrating business -- not just for authors. I think sometimes aspiring authors have a notion that they have a monopoly on frustration, and that's not the case. When you sit on this side of the computer screen it's not at all easy, and sometimes it's frustrating, particularly when you're wading through a whole lot of hostile and frivolous queries to try and get to the good stuff.

I definitely agree with what you're saying, but hopefully the fact that I occasionally get frustrated shows that it's all a little more complex than an agent sitting up on high like a king of the castle.

Julie Weathers said...


Number one, I'm glad you don't lock yourself into saying you want books that read like xyz or whatever. All that does is encourage poor imitations of the real thing.

When you discover you no longer have a passion for a certain genre, post it immediately. Not that everyone will pay attention, but it may cut down some traffic.

Honestly, I probably wouldn't submit to you if you hadn't said several times, "try me." That and you like historicals and my fantasies have some strong historical elements. In the short run, that attitude probably gets you a lot more submissions than some others get.

However, I think you looking for works that speak to you instead of locking yourself into strict boundaries is going to pay off. You might very well be the one who picks up something unique like Harry Potter because you're willing to taste something different.

Take time to go off and do unique things that force your mind off business. Go to a pow wow or a Celtic festival or a ren faire or something equally different. Go up in the mountains and rent a cabin for two days and just listen to birds. Go to the beach and just hang out. Everyone needs to get away and let their mind and spirit renew.

Julie Weathers said...

"However, I like trees. I'd rather you just took a more relaxed view toward the truly abysmal queries. That, or start using an online system which is just sufficiently complex enough to flummox those people who couldn't locate their own bum if they used both hands."

Phffft. I can't even figure out how to post links. Now you're going to make me figure out how to post in a complex system to submit queries?

That will only cause me to haunt your blog with endless whining.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

I hear you, Nathan. (Anon 3:29 here).

And let me add (since a lot of people here have likely queried you themselves) that I don't mean to say that every query you receive with the exception of the ones you choose to represent is complete crap--it also must be frustrating to come across a well-written, professional query for a project that has obvious commercial potential, but that for whatever reason, you just aren't that into it, or you don't have the professional contacts for that type of project. That must happen from time to time as well; it's not as black and white as every query either being total crap or obvious winner.

Nathan Bransford said...



Adaora A. said...

@Julie - I completely agree. I like the generality of what you accept because it means more of us have a chance to be represented by him.

As I was having my dinner San Francisco made the CNN news. They cancelled the Olympics festivities because protesters were polluting the place. I saw a very sunny and lovely place crowded out by people who are prostesting a little too late. Could they not have done it earlier. I agree with the human rights issues which need to be addressed but they wait until it's all set up and they bombard a city, enough to ruin the festivities.

Did the parade make it to you office Nathan?

Lynne said...

Be the agent for my book(s), we'll both make megabucks and you can hire an assistant for the slush pile, travel, surf, whatever you want! Now I shall go see if the Olympic Flame gets very far.

Aimless Writer said...

Dear Agent-man. What I'd like in an agent easy.
A nice rejection letter. Please don't give me a sliver of paper with a no thanks. (electronic submissions may have ended this little issue) Even if its a form it can still be a nice form letter.
If you do send a rejection and maybe my work was close to what you want but not quite making the grade-pencil a little note on the margin saying something-ANYTHING. (One agent said, This book moved too fast-In five little words she taught me pacing)I understand its not your job or responsibility, but its nice to get.
Please know when I meet you in person I'm shaking in my boots so don't think I'm really this goofy, most times I'm normal.
After I send you the next great American Novel and we sign the contract-don't forget me! Even an occasional email will be fine. Keep me updated, just say hi, tell me about your new pet piranna.
Don't be afraid to tell me life got in the way, but things are still okay. I have life too, so I'll understand.
Keep blogging. It's priceless.

Captain Ron said...

I'd suggest using sub-contracted or incentive driven test readers and actually examine more manuscripts, regardless of the 'quality' of their query. You even have enough of a following, where you could use volunteers.

Why, do you ask?

For two reasons... Your opinion is, well, your opionion, as is everyone's... as is the particular mood you're in at the time of your reading... And, as stated, you can examine more manuscripts by sampling the opinion of your reader's 'score card' before investing your time.

Hey... you asked...

Captain Ron said...

And I agree with Beth at 10:54 AM.

austexgrl said...

Agents should be VERY SPECIFIC about what type of books they want to represent...saves them time and saves us time, too. Also, one agent's perfect query is another agents pet peeve. Isn't there some way agents could show examples on their blogs about what to do and not to do. Honestly, the last thing a writer wants is to piss off a potential agent.
Thanks Mr. Bransford.

LindaBudz said...

Was just reading about the torch and thought of you, Nathan. Hope all is well there!

I very recently gave yoga a shot and now I'm like, OMG, I waited until practically middle age to do this? Why oh why didn't I start this 20 years ago? If you haven't already, I encourage you to try it! And start out with a super easy class so you can relax and get into it.

beth said...

@ Nathan and Anons--

When I mentioned specificity originally, I actually meant agents in general, not Nathan in particular--because I do like Nathan's open-door (open-query?) policy. I wish other agents had it. But I do worry about wasting my and Nathan's time by sending something he's not likely to like...especially if all agents were so open about what specifics they want! I want to be professional, and shudder to think of an agent getting my query and rolling his/her eyes "Oh, jeez, one of these, I hate it when an author does ____ in the genre! Why can't an author do ___ in the genre instead!"

And, PS to Nathan: In all honesty, I think what you're doing (and how you're doing it) is about the best thing I could ever wish for in an agent.

And, PPS to Nathan, re: frustration for agents not just writers--Wow, never thought of it your way, but you're right, it must be frustrating on your side of the computer, too. Thanks for keeping us all in perspective.

John said...

[As usual, I'm late to the party so this is probably going to get lost in the mists of time. But fwiw...]

This isn't for agents, but for writers... The whole thing about needing genre specificity is (I think) a red herring, a distraction. Think about it: you're not just a writer but a reader (and you were certainly the latter before the former). So AS A READER you go into a bookstore, or you click over to Amazon, Powells, Alibris, whatever. You need to find a book -- not a specific book, just a book that you'll be interested in. Where do you go?

If you're looking for the shelves labeled "YA Paranormal Fantasy Romance" you probably have a frustrating afternoon ahead of you.

Instead, you go to the YA section. You start looking for books with swirly purple artwork on the covers. And you proceed from there.

Note that you did not start in Romance. You did not start in Fantasy/SF.

THAT'S how to solve the whole perceived "What genre do I write, and does it correspond to what you represent?" dilemma. Go at it as a reader, in a retail establishment. DO NOT pitch your YA-Paranormal-Romance-etc. book that way. Pitch it as a simple YA title, avoid the entanglements of description which merely make it too hard for someone to sell your work, and let them make up their own minds (once you've hooked them with your query) how to construct their own pitches to editors. No matter how different your work is from everyone else's -- i.e., no matter how specific its "true" genre -- it has to begin by being LIKE a lot of others.

Remember that in the Garden of Eden, life was blissful when Adam and Eve just pointed at something and said "tree." They didn't get into trouble until they started to embellish that noun with "of knowledge," "boughs heavy with ripe tasty fruit," "domain of eerily intelligent reptiles," and so on. :)

nightsmusic said...


FWIW, I LOVED your post! Thank you for giving me a delightfully comical (yes, I know, the dreaded adverb but here I think it applies) way to look at it all!


Jeff Abbott said...

Full disclosure: I am a long-time Curtis Brown client, and have known Nathan for several years. I think he's a great guy and a very capable agent.

I am only posting because I am seeing a couple of things in the comments that I would like for people to think about a bit. First of all, I know how hard it is to land an agent--years ago I had two major publishers offering on my first novel and still a couple of agents wouldn't return my phone calls. (Yes, I still know their names, and no, I did not have voodoo dolls fashioned in their likeness.) It can be maddening. But I would like to offer, respectfully, a little knowledge borne of experience with agents and editors for y'all to consider as you go about your agent search.

First: requesting more specificity from Nathan or any agent is self-defeating. Agents cannot make a living just representing narrow tastes within genres. No agent represents only noir, or only cozy traditional mysteries, or only paranormal romance. Because very few editors specialize that deeply as well. So they represent mystery, or romance, and what they hope is not only to find a great project but--this is key--a great writer who they can build into a long-term success. If it's a traditional romance, great, if it's a historical romance, great. But agents are not going to self-limit what they're looking for because that serves neither the writer, nor the agent, nor the editor. And in turn you want an agent who sees the value in your project and the value in you as a writer, not one who simply draws specific subgenre boundaries and asks only for those books that fall within the boundary. You would get a very small-minded agent who did not know the wider market. He would also be faint due to starvation.

An acquisition editor at a major publisher will likely want a mix of books for their catalog. For instance, when my agent sold A KISS GONE BAD (a suspense thriller) to NAL as my first deal with that publisher, the other crime novels in the imprint included cozies, suspense thrillers, police thrillers, historical mysteries, etc. (and beyond that, a mix of westerns, sci-fi, historical, and mainstream commercial fiction.) So, yes, editors do buy a range of material within a genre, and agents need to be able to identify and represent a range of material in the genre.

Re agents declining because they already represent someone similar to you--well, that's very common. I have heard of agents turning down published authors because the author's work is too close in feel or sub-genre to another author's work who they already represent. I'm not sure of every reason for this, but I think it's a challenge for any sales rep (agent) to sell two products that are very similar (two writers who are too close in feel or style or subject). One is always going to win out, and the other may suffer, and then the agent hasn't done his best duty by that second client. So don't get annoyed when you hear that, just move on to the next agent. This is also why you don't want agents with too much specificity. Seriously--if any agent said he/she really wanted vampire romance novels, and took a dozen such writers on as clients, do you think any of those writers would get the best of treatment?

What I hope aspiring writers remember in approaching any agent is that a good and reputable agent is not looking just for the next book to sell, but the next author to build. Years ago when I was looking for an agent, I would have loved to have blogs like Nathan's to read. You all are very lucky to have this resource at this point in your writing careers.

I wish you all success in your agent search.


Adaora A. said...

@Jeff- Great post. Doesn't that go back to what he said about a good book being just that? If you restrict yourself to what's 'popular,' then you're setting yourself up for disaster. Who knows how long the 'in' thing will be 'in.' Books that seemed to have made it big were books that beat their drum in their own way. I remember watching A&E with J.K Rowling. They mentioned two things that stuck out to me:

1. The Slush Pile

2. Her book was against the grain. NO one was writing about wizards going to wizard school when she was subbing. People were turning it down because they were sure it wouldn't sell. That's insane when you think about it now.

Furious D said...

1. Get a haircut, ya hippy! ;)

2. Eat lots of fibre.

3. Never play pool against anyone nicknamed after a US State.

4. Eat more Indian food, it makes the fibre more palatable.

5. Geese can be troublesome.

6. Don't let the queries from the nut-cases, half-wits, and cranks get you down.

Nothing But Bonfires said...

Watch The Bachelor regularly. And DVR The Hills when it's on at the same time as The Bachelor. Honestly, you need SOME comic relief.

Anonymous said...

Something that I like that the people at Donald Maas do is the "What We're Looking For" page.

Now that's their thing, and this is your thing. But I bet your version of a similar thing would be interesting and helpful. And I wish more agents would do something like that.

J.P. Martin said...

You are intelligent, informative AND humorous (BIG plus). I enjoy reading your blog and I look forward to submitting to you in the next few months. I don't know that there is anything that you could do differently when it comes to agent/potential client relations. You give people more of a chance than most other agents do.

A lot of people on here have suggested that you be more specific about genre preference or send more informative rejection letters. I don't think that is really going to help YOU any. Managing stress in various ways is certainly not a bad idea. Maybe you could print out some of the queries or take your laptop to a nearby park or balcony and read through a few submissions for a change of pace/scenery. Computer glasses can help with some of the eyestrain associated with staring at a computer screen for many hours of the day.

Maybe you should put yourself in the writers' shoes and write a short story or two. Maybe you could get the rest of the office to join in a little friendly short story competition to see if you know-it-alls can do any better. Then you guys can critique the anonymous short stories and whoever has the most agents willing to "represent" would be the winner.

For most writers I don't think that writing the story is the hardest part. I think the criticism is. Everybody wants to be the exception to the rule and I think this prevents writers from seeking out truly objective critiques. I think you would get fewer lower quality submissions if the writers that submit to you first submitted to a Simon Cowell-like critic.

Maybe you could write a post about professional editing services. You could take a poll at the office to find out how much more likely a professionally edited query and/or manuscript is likely to be considered.

I know that many writers view editors, independent and ones that work for publishing houses, as killers of originality and creativity. They think that their manuscript is going to be turned into some lifeless, superficial commercial flop. On top of that they cost money and writers are trying to make money, not spend it. From what I understand editors normally tell a writer WHAT to change, but not HOW to change it. This still leaves the writer to their creativity while at the same time making the story more [fill in the blank].

Maybe if writers had a better idea of what kind of changes editors requested they would be more willing to seek their advice. An editor can't MAKE a query/story be perfect, but they can help a writer realize they are a few revisions away from submitting.

Bottom line: Your blog rules. You give us all of the necessary info necessary to submit great queries. If people can’t get that right I really don’t see what else you could do short of writing it for them.

Thanks for everything.

Wanda B. Ontheshelves said...

Chasing a Cat Never Works

Oh, I have no advice at all. Don't change anything. Don't do one thing differently. It doesn't matter one way or the other.


Recently I was thinking about the phrase "torn limb from limb." I had returned to a spot where I had fallen on some slippery, semi-moldy grass (chasing my cat so he wouldn't run through the mud up ahead, chasing a cat never works, when will I ever learn?).

As I fell, I was amazed at how the energy of the impact passed through my hips, my knees, my ankles - I just looked at them flopping around in the air, like my god, have I just broken every bone in my body?

Well, happily enough, I didn't break any bones - although I did make a mental note to A) Never chase after a cat again and B) Never run on grass, the day after the snow on it has been melted away by a rainstorm.

But falling like that gave me an idea of what the phrase "torn limb from limb" means. And I was thinking that there was an emotional equivalent to that, intellectual, imaginative: We can blog all we want, or write, or query, or whatever we want to do to "build a career" as a writer - and for a lot of us (most of us, 99% of us), it's like running on semi-moldy, "snow-drenched" spring grass - we're going to fall (fail), our books will never be picked up, and far in the future, if these agent's blogs are archived somewhere, researchers (unborn as yet!) will pore through them, or maybe batches of our query letters stashed somwhere, doing "content analysis," using our words, our dreams of a writing career, as a window into American popular culture, globalization, or whatever the researcher's area is. Maybe some Chinese grade schooler right now in Shanghai, will be the collective biographer of all us querying / blog posting / writer's career dreaming English-speaking people. That's it. That's as far as it goes. When you die you bequeath your writings to your grandchild, they aren't interested, and the lot of it gets recycled with pizza flyers and shredded bank statements. The End.


Right now I have a "frontispiece" of Olaudah Equiano staring at me - an African-American/Afro-British bought-himself-out-of-slavery adventurer and abolitionist. What's he saying to me? "Just write the damn thing(s)" "Fuck it" "Fuck it all."

Advice to self: Don't chase after cats. Advice to agents: Don't have any. But thanks for letting me post on your blogs!

JaxPop said...

Cut down on the blog - limit yourself to 2 or 3 posts per week - days to post changing as you feel motivated.

Ditto previously suggested email checks.

Get outside as much as you can. Walking, biking, whatever - all stress relief.

MAKE time for yourself & your future Mrs. - no matter what.

Change from bourbon to Irish whiskey -

Appreciate those that appreciate you - ignore the rest.

Listen to the song "Don't Blink" by Kenny Chesney (ok so it's country - sue me) - but it's true, life goes faster than you think. Enjoy life every day Nathan. You're a good guy - you desrve it.

Anonymous said...


Advice for the agent? Well, based on your blog and your willingness to provide advice to readers, I think you're a genuine, good-natured person who sincerely cares about the careers of writers.

However, like every agent, you seem to believe that agents are busier than everyone else in the world and are the only people struggling to maintain a "social life."

My advice? Understand that authors are insanely pressed for time, too. Most have day jobs, family obligations, and still manage to write.

Me? I work full time, am earning a law degree, and manage to write.

Social life? Does anyone today really have one? We squeeze in social interaction when we can... dinner here, the rare movie there...

Best of luck with that :)

mlh said...

What advice would I offer an agent? Simple.

Eat, drink, and be merry.

Have a fantastic meal, take off your agent chains, heft up your glass of bourbon, and go down to the beach to watch the sunset. Remind yourself during the tough times that you can step out of these fantastic writers' worlds and enjoy real life now and again. Then step back into these aspiring writers' fantasies with a refreshed attitude.

And let us know if you've spotted the Olympic torch.

Nathan Bransford said...

Update on the Olympic torch -- they never came by our offices. They moved it over to another part of the city, all of the people who were protesting outside our offices had gone off looking for it, and by the time I walked home from work today you'd almost never know there had been a giant protest. Just a few stragglers and police officers left over.

Lane said...

I liked Aimless Writer's idea. its obviously not your job and you shouldnt have to go to great lengths to do it, but if the reason pops out at you immediately, it would be awesome if u mentioned it.

And I would love to know more about your clients actually, what their writing, how many they've written, etc. It would be cool for us and considering how popular this blog is, help them sell books haha.

Btw is there an easy way to find books recently written by first time novelists? since im in the middle of writing a first one I'm kinda interested in trying out some new people if I like what the book is about.

WitLiz Today said...

What Nathan Bransford at 3:40pm said.

As a piano teacher, I used to get totally frustrated if a student came waltzing in week after week playing their pieces exactly the way I kept telling them not to.

And no matter how many loose strands of my very grey hair fell out with each wrong note they played, they blithely continued on as if the piece was actually composed that way. Not only that, but they were damned proud of themselves, too. As well they should be, because they were invariably my very best practicers. Which unfortunately, also meant they were repeatedly playing wrong notes in practice. Then I wised up and taught them how to practice. But that took loads of patience, and more patience.

A writer doesn't have the luxury of being personally mentored by the agent when they send off a query. We have one try to get it right with the agent we like. Either our book will sell the agent or it won’t. Again, for various reasons, none of which should cause us writers to run screaming into the circus with our hair on fire, and an intense desire to join the cannonball brigade.

Frankly, I think the emphasis on queries is way overdone, simply because of the multitude of factors that play into its success or not. This puts undue pressure on a writer. Maybe on agents too, because they can’t possibly cover all of these factors in their blogs, without blowing their minds out the back of their very caring heads trying to explain themselves over and over to a group of disappointed writers. Like Mr. Bransford has had to do with this genre specificity issue. Hell I can’t even spell the damn S word.

And finally, I have a word of advice for literary agents that could make life easier on all of you as you read queries. With each query letter you get, picture them written by truly unique individuals, with a multiplicity of talents, that may or may not include writing necessarily, but certainly extend far beyond what you see in a query. And so they have a right to be respected for their efforts regardless of how their query might hit your funny bone or your frustration level. And regardless how you think they should’ve done this or that.

Don’t stress over that shit. Instead, think of the many lives you have the potential to touch, as you read each query. Are they worth the hassle and frustration you feel at times? If I were an agent, I’d think so, because I firmly believe that it'll be the agent who understands the spirit behind the conception of the letters who will be the most successful at what he or she does.

Anonymous said...

When you sit on this side of the computer screen it's not at all easy, and sometimes it's frustrating, particularly when you're wading through a whole lot of hostile and frivolous queries to try and get to the good stuff.

As an editor, I experience the same frustration. We're all human and subjective. When I take on a story for my magazine, it's not just because it's well-written, has all the right elements, and the author is a big name. It's because I love it! And I have to read through a ton of stories to get to those few.

I know it's a frustrating business, but sarcastic cover letters will never get you published.

Daily affirmations, Nathan! Look in the mirror and repeat:

Hi. My name is Nathan Bransford. I'm good enough. I'm smart enough, and gosh darn it, people like me!

Adaora A. said...

Update on the Olympic torch -- they never came by our offices. They moved it over to another part of the city, all of the people who were protesting outside our offices had gone off looking for it, and by the time I walked home from work today you'd almost never know there had been a giant protest. Just a few stragglers and police officers left over.

I was going to ask about that. It was all over CNN. Wolf Blitzer's people had cameras all over the place. All I saw was a bunch of people crowding around a location I can't remember. So the protest cut and run before you left your office. I thought you would have had to tell stories of tripping over posters and hand-cuffed protest arested people! I remember how sunny it looked and I was green with envy. Then I saw PALM TREES, and I went even greener. Lucky you to live in such a beautiful place.

Anonymous said...

One word: Quality.

There are an awful lot of books that are getting published too soon. Either the author is not ready to finish telling the story, or the writing is clunky (and I'm talking novels and memoirs here, not "how to" books which can be a little more forgiving), or the book is merely good when the author is capable of great. Once money enters the picture, it is REALLY easy for the book's potential to get sacrificed to economics and short deadlines. (Two recent examples: Eat, Pray, Love and Harry Potter 5). Especially for first-time published authors, it is hard both to SEE that a book is not what it could be and to turn away from the quick sale for the sake of a better book.

We NEED you as an agent to be on the side of our book, whether that means turning us down as a client because the book isn't ready yet, suggesting we revise and try you again in a year or two with a revised manuscript, working with us after signing to get the manuscript in incredible shape before approaching publishers, negotiating a contract that provides time for needed revisions, or holding the publisher at bay if those revisions are taking longer than anyone anticipated. When we are caught in the thrill of publishing and tired of writing another world, we need you to help us keep in mind this book's future, to make sure that the book we are happy with today will still be something we will be happy with fifty years down the road because it truly represents the absolute best we could do.

I'm not saying this is easy, or that you will immediately see the rewards (you may actually wind up experiencing more wrath in the short term). But fifty years from now, there will be authors, publishers, and readers thanking you, and royalty checks still rolling in on titles that might have otherwise disappeared in six months. Think of it as saving for retirement, and leaving something meaningful for your grandkids, all in one :)

Heidi the Hick said...

Don't cut your hair short.

Erica said...

Go to Flora Grubb (on Jerrold near 3rd), get a cup of coffee and sit in the sun. Bring a manuscript but forget to read it. Trust me.

Laurel Amberdine said...

I do think a web form might work well, in your particular case, with responses sent from a drop-box email: no reply possible.

My advice to an agent would be my advice to anyone who is self-employed (or has an otherwise free-form job that can get overwhelming). Set hours. Stick to them. Get everything done as fast as possible... and if you're doing that and work is running over into designated free time, something has to go.

I think you probably do this anyway, but I know a whole lot of self-employed people who don't apply themselves during their work, because there's no hard deadline, and then because they're always behind, they never take any time off either.

It's a miserable way to be.

stephe said...

I agree with Abey there! Represent fantasy, Nathan. Big way.

Never deprive us of your blog. Miss Snark's leaving was devastating enough.

My final thing is something you don't need to be advised about, but other agents do, so I wanted to mention it. Please don't ask for a "long" or "short" synopsis. Just a synopsis (which means you don't care how many pages), or specify pages like Nathan does. Seems like a small thing, but the horror stories that ensue whenever writers don't do exactly what agents ask of them cause us stress to no end.


mkcbunny said...

Schedule lunch breaks and stick to them. Or at least schedule a get-up-from-the-desk break. If there's a lot going on, it's easy to just keep putting off that breathing time, but the work never really lets up. If you wait for "a good time" to eat or rest, inevitably, it's later than it should be for your body.

And the work isn't going anywhere. It'll still be there, waiting for you when you return.

Eat. Go for a walk. Rest those eyes on something purty in the SF skyline.

Same thing regarding weekends and days off. Plan real days away, out of town, preferably away from technology. Folks who do part of their job at home (such as reading) are bound to let unplanned time get sucked up by lingering work. So plan that fun!

Al said...

Represent me (see my query e-mail). I've got two other novels, several novellas & a bunch of shorts -- enough to make another two or three books. Then take the time you save not having to work with a half dozen authors & do yoga, go to Disneyland, get a significant other, or go fishing.

Whirlochre said...

Ditch the yoga and get a decent cactus. It's the ultimate in deliciously subtle ambient growth - and if aliens try to steal your coffee, you can use it as a weapon.

As for the eye strain, I'm sure San Francisco has plenty of can-can girls who'd gladly dance on your desk for fifty bucks - forty if you gargle with honey every time you pick up the phone.

Ithaca said...

A friend recently told me he knew how to set up a Wiki; I suddenly realised that if I had set up a Wiki for my first book it would have been amazingly helpful for all the foreign publishers. There were some technical problems that everyone could have used help with; some translators raise a lot of good questions, but everyone doesn't have access to every answer (most of the time the author doesn't even know who the translators are unless they get in touch). I would have spent much less time solving last-minute crises if all the typesetters had had a forum where they could share fixes, and all the translators had had a forum where they could pool information - many problems could have been solved without appealing to me, and those that did require an answer from me would only have had to be dealt with once.

The agents I talked to were all very keen on hands-on management of foreign publishers, which in practice no one really has time for. It would have been incredibly impressive if someone had said: Don't worry, we'll set up a wiki, all the corrections and updates will be in one place so people will pretty much leave you alone.

John said...

nightsmusic @ 5:32 PM:

Thanks, glad it helped. :)

Kathi said...

Allow do-overs for really crappy initial queries that you've rejected.

Alternately, develop your telepathic powers to allow my book's content to seep into your mind and decide I'd be a perfect fit for your stable of authors, regardless of my seeming inability to query effectively.


Indu Nair said...

Hi Nathan,

Like many other writers, I really appreciate the advice you offer us on your blog, and the time you spend clarifying so many doubts on the publishing process.

What else can one advise you except 'Keep Blogging'?

Do you have plans to write a book someday? May I suggest that you compile select postings from this blog into a book? I am sure many of us would like to read it!

Natalie said...

My agent has a reading week once per month, where she she shuns the internet (except for answering emails from editors or clients in the middle of a sale). She dedicates the whole work week to reading clients' MSS and requested partials and fulls. She lets her clients know in advance when her reading weeks fall each month, so we know not to email her (or expect a quick answer) unless it's an if Oprah's invited one of us to promote a book on her show, and we're not sure which pair of shoes to wear. That kind of thing. :-) (Don't I wish...)

Anonymous said...

Not for Nathan specifically, but...

Agents should try to be as clear as possible about what authors can expect. I love when agents have clear websites that say things like "We take 4-6 weeks to respond to queries. If you haven't heard from us by then, we're not interested."

Sure, it would be great to have a personalized response from everyone, but since that's not going to happen, let me know what to expect.

What not to do: send an email on a requested full saying "I'll read this over the weekend and have an answer for you Monday" and then not get in touch with the author again for weeks. This is just torture...if you're not going to be able to follow-through with it (or at least drop an email letting the author know things got busier than you expected), then don't give the author any kind of status check. Otherwise we're just waiting by the phone/computer for the answer that's supposed come any minute.

When you've taken on a client, it's only fair to continue to be clear and honest about how long it takes you to turn around a manuscript or revisions, etc. so that when it's submitted, the author knows if you're planning to read it within the week or if she should just sit back and wait.

This is a business, but authors have a lot on the line (years of work, bills, dreams, sanity, etc.), so try to be aware of that. Most of us are neurotic enough to start with. We don't need coddling, just honesty.

S Palma said...

Stress is something I know much more about than agenting, so here goes:

1. Make chores you would have to do anyway into social opportunities. Make dates with friends to go to the farmer's market or run errands. Grab a bite together while you're there if they have a decent deli or restaurant. If you plan a little in advance, you can usually overlap a lot of your other errands with errands your friends have as well, and if you go with some who shares your sense of humor, boring everyday tasks become a lot more fun.

2. Spend 10 to 20 minutes every day with no mss or other work-related things, and turn the phone, internet, and tv off. Watch the sun rise or set. Peel vegetables for dinner. Sip a cup of tea or coffee in silence. I was amazed at the difference this made for me.

3. Take up a hobby where you can see results. If you're mostly your own boss, the work never actually ends. Take up something that you can do where you can see tangible results. For example, when I get too stressed out to concentrate and do good work, I build furniture. It was originally motivated by not being able to afford new bookshelves, but now I'm addicted. The point is, having a project that you can start and finish in a set amount of time, one that will END and not simply be replaced with the next Thing You Must Do -- it's incredibly satisfying.

Best of luck to you!

Wilfred the Author said...

I'm still puzzled why an agent can't have, say, 6 or so versions of a form rejection. I'm sure you can group reasons why you are rejecting someone in a number of catagories.

I understand the agent is busy, but if each gave a tiny bit of feedback with each rejection, the level of quality is likely to rise.

And with e-rejections, cut and paste are easy to use.

Tom Burchfield said...

Sophia said take care of your eyes. Take care of the body and mind, too. I go hiking at least once a week and if you live in SF, as I think you do 'cause you work there, there's plenty of walking to do as I did, a mile most everyday in the twenty years I lived there, but I live in Emeryville now, so I'm not in shape like I sued to be . . . so whatever you do, DON'T move to Emeryville.

Mechelle Avey said...

Advice to a Young Literary Agent

Rather than watch America's Next Top Model, contact Tyra at Bankable Productions and tell her you want to sell a series of books on breaking into the modeling industry, improving your appearance, and young adult female empowerment. Then, tell her you're available for more than just a little light reading. Okay, just kidding, but that branded series could work. Don't know why she doesn't have a branded book series to go with the television series.

Adaora A. said...

Why don't you make an appearance on THE HILLS?

I'm sure Heidi and Spencer are probably looking for an agent!

Anonymous said...

Let your clients know when you've received rejection letters, when you're sending the manuscript around again, where it's going, etc.

Don't tell the client you're doing something you're not going to do. Don't say you're going to send the book around again and then not do it. Sure, you have other clients to earn you money. I only have you.

This business is slow; I get that. But it's far, far slower on this end when you keep your clients in the dark.

(This isn't directed at Nathan, by the way. I meant "you" in the generic agent sense.)

Red said...
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Red said...

(ggrrr... stupid typing fingers...)

I think the most important thing is this: Don't let your work become your life. Remember that Work is what you do to *enable* your life, and that life is the rest of the stuff that happens outside of work, too.

I'm not saying work isn't a *part* of life, but it shouldn't dominate it the way so many of us allow it to.

Also: Stop eating when you're full. Never buy the combo meal if you don't really want the fries.

Hhhhmmm.... Also: Tell all your Agent Friends who do not to have one to start and maintain a web page. Preferrably, one that showcases their clients, and lists what they represent. If they also put up specific submission guidelines, it'll be ten kinds of awesome. I think a LOT of people have stopped buying guides in the bookstore, and now use electronic resources to find their agents. In current times, the 'Net just seems more updated, more up-to-the-minute. Having a presence on the net, either through a web page or (even better!) a blog like yours is going to be the key to future clients in this industry.

Gord Wallace said...

Here's something a little different. If you have a local independent bookseller in your area who stages frequent reading events, then it could very well pay to get to know the owner of that bookstore. From my personal experience at McNally Robinson Booksellers up here in Canada, I can name two high profile literary authors who were nurtured and 'fed' up through the system by the McNallys themselves (Miriam Toews, author of "A Complicated Kindness", and Alissa York, author of "Effigy"). Often, better booksellers have their ears to the ground in a way that agents and publishers cannot.

By the way, love the blog, and thanks for all of the great information.

Anonymous said...
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Kimber An said...

Please continue to remember most aspiring authors are hardworking, polite, and sane people who deserve consideration as individuals rather than punishment as members of a group which happens to include a handful of impolite nutzos.

Lorelei said...

Okay, one piece of advice-- go answer the questions waiting for you on Absolute Write. I don't have on there, but there are a few.

Ulysses said...

I don't feel qualified to give advice on life, since I haven't finished mine yet and don't know how it's all going to turn out.

However, these are a few things I'm pretty sure about:
1) If you don't see something beautiful every day, you're not looking the right direction.
2) Work doesn't end, but life does.
3) Chocolate is not a substitute for sex, but it is cheaper and legally available.
4) There is no shortage of words.
5) Stupidity is more common than malice.

therealkiley said...

I hate to be so basic, but keep it simple.

Those are pretty good words to live by.

- Kiley :)

Anonymous said...


A man without passion for his work should not be doing the work.

There will always be times when the work is frustrating and and unsatisfying.

There will also be times when your personal life impacts on your professional life.

Rather than dwell on the negatives, concentrate on the lives you influence with your blog (there are far more than you know) and the careers you launch as an agent.

Anonymous said...

To Agents Who are Not Nathan Bransford:

1. Understand that writing is a BUSINESS, and when you ask me to email or snail mail my manuscript to you, I expect to hear back from you before the next solar eclipse. Busy, busy, busy is not an excuse.

2. Become a BREAKOUT agent. We really want you to succeed, so get out there and pitch our work like you mean it. Try to do this in a fresh way (upmarket, but with humanity). Note: no chotchkees please.

3. Please--No more whining** about bad queries. (Have you ever had to write and send queries to people you do not know?) Whining about silly queries is sadder than writers whining about rejections. You are in business. You will get duds. Writers get more duds than you, and their duds are a lot more painful. **Get a thick skin.

4. Stop trying to be the next Harry Potter agent. There is only one HP agent and he is not you. Stop comparing your projects to H.P. and don't try to sneak around this by secretly searching for novels about wizards while you bitch on your blog about how writers should not compare their fantasy novels to you know who.

5. Don't presume that every reader is interested in New York magazines or the interior lives of outsider artists. Then again, don't presume every reader of women's fiction wants to read about a woman who leaves the big city to open a bed and breakfast in her quaint old home town only to find love with the local developer, but then the developer dies and she must care for his ill/dying/dyslexic child. Novels should not be evaluated by Lifetime channel-potential.

6. Become familiar with cliched characters and settings. Do not pitch these to editors. Big No, No.

7. Do your part. Your author wrote the novel. Do not act put out if they expect you to read it before the next Turn-of-The-Century.

8. Remember: Without writers you would be out of business. Rinse. Repeat. Rinse. Repeat.

9. Do not put writers on scary-sounding black lists (or Gawker) because your ego can't take the heat. Writers are blunt. You want us to be blunt, no? Or do you want cliched, stale voices? See the dif?

10. Refrain from telling us how to write, or how to structure our novels. Sure we want your input, but please do not take over the novel and try to live vicariously through our creativity. Simultaneously, please do not be an agent AND an author, especially a novelist. It's weird, not to mention a conflict of interest.

11. Stop saying: "From X to X, we will be closed to submissions." WTF??? Who runs a business this way? Are you a surf shop in Jersey? Is your business seaonal? And, if you're really closed to submissions, why are you open to those "by referral only"? Does a referral make a manuscript better, or are you just kissing arse?

12. Please don't have a sub form in place of queries. Writers are not resume-fil-er-outers. To that note: Taking equeries is a huge plus. Snail Queries Only makes you sound mean and crotchity. Just sayin'.

13. Keep up the communication and great advice. Tell us what you love and/or hate. Strong feelings are great. Don't be wimpy. Always love what you do and know that it will get better tomorrow.

But please don't slobber all over your authors in your blog. We don't care.

Sure, we want you to love your authors; and we want to know about what your authors are doing or did in their queries, but reading about how great they are while you're telling us how the gazillions of queries that flooded your poor inbox this week really, really sucked is class-less.

See? Easy peasy.

Nona said...

how to maintain a social life (ha!) while working full time and reading hundreds of pages a week.

Several times a year you should throw a party. Not just any old party -- a real blowout. Invite everyone you know, including some people whom you do not know but would like to know better. Not everyone will show up, but you'll get a different cross-section every time. Some of the people you expect to show up won't, but some of the people you never thought you'd see will come with bells on. The possibilities are endless. Expect the unexpected. Connections will be made, sparks will fly, there will be times when you'll have a regular social conflagration on your hands. This is good.

Your friends who are musically inclined will bring their guitars and serenade the crowd. If the cops show up they will be so mesmerized by the scene that they will patiently wait for the end of the solo before politely asking you to "keep it down."

Expect the festivities to last long into the night. Because of the fatigue, you may have to go to bed before the last of your guests has left. This is normal. So is having people show up on occasion that you may or may not know, although this usually doesn't happen until your reputation has spread. Not enough money? Say it's a potluck and ask people to bring stuff. Most people love to party (at least once in awhile -- even the geeks, well, maybe especially the geeks -- they don't get out much).

Word will travel about your fantastically successful bashes and you will become a magnet for gossip and envy -- even if you'd rather not be. Your place in the social hierarchy will shift. Your influence will grow and grow -- to the point where you wish it would actually shrink. This is a true story.

Adaora A. said...

@Anonymous - For your information
(if you're interested), JK Rowling's agent is Christopher Little in London, England. Detailed list buddy. I reckon asking you if you've been burned is a bit needless eh?

Anonymous said...

I know who Rowling's agent is, that's why I said "him." It's, um, humour, the dark kind. Think satire. Think Snark.

Of course I've been burned. I write. Duh.

Belindas said...

Nathan, you are great at giving advice and I think you have a natural talent for explaining things to others.

I think you could run some courses for people who have written their stories but need to find an agent.

Looking at your blog you already know what people want to know about and what are the tricky areas that people always get wrong. This gives you the outline of a very useful short course that you could run. By running the courses you can make some additional money and get to check out potential clients who do the courses.

There are plenty of writing courses but I have just done a quick search for courses on finding an agent and nothing came up. I work in adult education designing and evaluating courses and I believe you could pull together a worthwhile course relatively quickly. It could be done face to face or online.

Your blog gives people a feel for how knowledgeable you are and it would act as marketing tool as well.

I have done a number of writing courses (expensive) and they are usually full of stockbrokers and other successful people looking for outlets or new lifestyles who can afford to pay for quality courses.

That's my suggestion. Thanks once again for your wonderful information it is highly useful and I know it is time consuming. I hope you don't become overwhelmed and stop enjoying it.

Karol X said...
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