Nathan Bransford, Author

Monday, April 14, 2008

You're Not Wasting Our Time

I have seen quite a bit of anxiety around the Internet this past week from authors who worry about wasting an agent's time with a query.


Well, almost never. Assuming you devoted the proper amount of time and attention that a query deserves and made a good-faith attempt to make sure that the query was in the vicinity of the ballpark of the agent's genres (and I'm talking one huge ballpark) and follows the agent's submission guidelines, you're not wasting anyone's time.

I know. You've seen the complaints about the bad queries and how long it takes to get through the slush pile. Including, um, some that perhaps were on this blog. But what you're seeing is the natural, occasional frustration that comes with the herculean task of judging hundreds of different projects a week. It gets tiring. You get a little frustrated, even.

But that does not mean that anyone who even made a half-hearted attempt to follow my guidelines was wasting my time, nor are you wasting any other agent's time by querying them.

Buck up, aspiring authors! We want you to query us. Even if we sometimes have a funny way of showing it.


AstonWest said...

No one should waste an agent's time by will make it so much easier for the rest of us.


pjd said...

Buck up, aspiring authors!

For some reason, I read this as aspirin authors. Which is ironically appropriate, I suppose.

Either that, or it's simply time for me to admit my need for reading glasses.

Sarah Garrigues said...

If both the agent and the author view the query as a business proposal (which it is), then it would not be a waste of time for either party to consider the viability of such a venture.

Diana said...

Thanks for the post, Nathan. I appreciate you even if you ultimately never represent anything I've written.

Kim Kasch said...

It's nice to hear a positive perspective - thanks for encouraging all us wannabe writers.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the encouragement, Nathan! And don't worry, if we aspiring authors are allowed to occasionally stress and complain about querying, then agents sure must have the same right! Sigh, I so want to query you:-)

Adaora A. said...

You've seen the complaints about the bad queries and how long it takes to get through the slush pile. Including, um, some that perhaps were on this blog.

It was funny though. And the rant came with a list which added more things which we should not do. And we recieved some good things from it:

1. Calling an agent 'cutiepatootie,' is a no-no.

2. Rhetorical questions are still on the loose...banish them.

Woohoo, we've got to pull up our breeches and carry on trugging through the trenches haven't we?
Light at the end of the tunnel and all that jazz.

ORION said...

Nothing is a waste of time if it means you might attain your dream.
Perseverance and determination in the face of great odds are critical traits for a writer.

Kimber An said...

Thanks, Mr. Bransford. Sometimes, it seems like the publishing industry has a club in one hand and a cookie in the other. Gee, I'd like a cookie, but I don't really want to get clubbed over the head reaching for it.

'Aspirin Authors.' That's great, pjd!

Margaret Yang said...

I read Janet Reid's blog on a similar topic. She says to go ahead and make lots of mistakes, including querying agents who might not be quite right for you.

It worked for me. My "long shot" query came through and now I have a good agent.

Once again, I must praise the form rejection. We ask, "Do you want this?" Agent says "No." Not personal at all. I love it.

Anonymous said...

I've heard about the rule "don't re-query" agents who have already turned you down. About a year ago, I queried a very nice agent who asked for a partial and then passed. After a full re-write and a POV change, I politely asked her if she would be willing to take another look. She did, but still passed.

Now, I've re-written again and have participated in some critique groups. I now know the manuscript wasn't ready when I queried her before. Is it pointless to try querying an agent again if they passed on your partial twice? If they liked the plot idea, but weren't crazy about the writing, would I just be beating a dead horse? Does this sound too much like groveling?

In terms of re-querying in general, if the same manuscript has been polished and the query letter has been polished as well, then is it ok to re-query agents who passed strictly on your query letter over 6 months ago?

Lane said...

Kimber's analogy is great, that perfectly describes the situation. I won't be afraid to query, because thats how you get published. You can't be afraid of failure. Besides, how bad can being clubbed over e-mail really be?

Unrelated question:
If I got a chapter of my book published as a short story, would that mean I couldn't use it in the actual book or is that ok to do?

Merry Monteleone said...


I read Janet's blog it was awesome... though she recommends querying every agent, which might irritate some agents with very slim genre requirements... the post itself was great, Nathan, if you get a chance to check it out.

Anon 5:57,

I can't, obviously, speak for the agent in question, but general wisdom is that you should work on another ms and then if you can get an agent / publishing deal on the second you can send the first one to the agent to see if it can find a market. Though, if you've only tried very few agents with the first one, you might want to query more widely on it now that it's better polished.

Anonymous said...

Is there a better day of the week to query? I know this will probably vary, but for you personally, and all of your closest agent buddies, which day do you prefer? And if you know that an agent is going to a conference, is it better to query before or after they get back. My guess is before they leave, but how far in advance?

Thanks so much!

Nathan Bransford said...


I'd go by what the agent said -- if they encouraged you to query again go for it. Otherwise the agent just might not be connecting with the project.

And yes, I'd say if the query letter and manuscript have been drastically improved it's ok to re-query an agent. I only would say this in the comments section because I don't want to re-invite a slew of slightly changed queries, but if you're reading this far into the comments section I'd say you're the type of person I wouldn't mind hearing from again.


Whether you would be able to include the chapter in your book depends on the contract you signed to have the short story published. If there wasn't a contract, I'd try and get some sort of letter from whomever published it stating that it was a one time use and they have no further claim.


I don't think there's a better day of the week to query than another, although I will say that the bulk of queries come in over the weekend, which makes Mondays very difficult if I'm not able to get to them on Saturday or Sunday.

Red said...

Thanks for the post, Nathan. I admit, when I first started reading blogs and looking at the statistics, I used to think "Cripes, why don't I just get out a dinner plate, go down to the local river and pan for gold nuggets? I have as good a chance of finding one as getting published, it seems!"

The numbers I've seen since seriously considering publication have been intimidating, to say the least.

Then I walk through a bookstore, and see all those books on the shelves, and think "Hey... each one of those is a person, an author who wrote the book, found an agent, and got published! SEE!? It CAN HAPPEN! BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAAAAA!!!" At which point, I look around sheepishly, apologize for skipping my meds that morning, and shuffle over to the coffee counter to buy a cup of apology-java and a humility-sticky-bun.

I don't know when my novel(s) will be finished, or when they might be completely edited or revised. I don't know when they will see the light of day on the shelves of a big box bookstore. All I really know is, I must write them. I need to tell the stories. I think I'll concentrate on that, for now, and leave the worrying and nail-biting for when they're out of my system.

Thanks again, and all you other writers keep writing! Every day! No excuses! Go! Write something! Now!!! -_^ said...

Just wanted to leave a comment. Hope it's not wasting your time.

Sam Hranac said...

That felt good to read. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Mr Bransford:

I am not sure if you will look at the comments for this post any more, but i have this question for you, and will appreciate if you can answer it otherwise will post it again.

Q. I wrote two books before i began to query agents. I queried you for my fantasy YA novel, which you rejected. But I am still keen on you becoming my agent. If I query you for my commercial novel and you like, it and supposing you agree to represent me, will I have a tough time convincing you to sell my rejected novel after you already sold my first one. The YA novel is very close to my heart and I would certainly like to see it published. Should I by any chance query you again for my other novel? I hope answering this question will waste less time of yours than reading and evaluating my query. Thanks.

Nathan Bransford said...


Yes, you should definitely query me. If I did take you on, whether or not it would be possible for me to sell the YA novel would depend a great deal on me reading it and seeing what I think. Hypothetically speaking, I wouldn't be able to guarantee that it's something I would connect with or would be able to sell, but certainly it would be something I would take a much closer look at if you were a client.

Sometimes authors are able to successfully pull novels they've written in the past out of the drawer after they've found success with a subsequent novel, others stay in the drawer. It really just depends.

Parker Haynes said...


Your last paragraph is oh so true. Local Taos author John Nichols (The Milagro Beanfield War, etc.) just last year published The Empanada Brotherhood, a novel he had written in the 1960s. So it really can happen. John tells me that for the twenty books he's had published, he has about one hundred unpublished, resting comfortably in storage.

So for all us wannabes, the best choice is KEEP WRITING and KEEP QUERYING!

As always, thanks for the blog.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for replying to my question.

Anonymous said...

As far as busting youre older novels out of the shelf after you publish your latest one, I guess it depends how good they are. If you wrote it decades ago, it's possible that it no longer represents you as a writer, and sometimes it's easier to just get a new car than it is to keep fixing the old one. So you could take the premise of your old book and write it again from the ground up, rather than try and edit it.

If on the other hand, you've written a novel a year in the same series for the last five years, and the fifth one sells, I would think that it would be worth it to have your publisher consider the other 4.

TB said...

Is it ever appropriate to query more than one novel at a time? What's a good timesapn to wait before sending your next work to a prospective agent? I've got a small body count amassaing as I would much rather write than stop the show to query but als for the love of Justin-Bobby I desperatly need to peddle my wares.

Also, what is your personal turn around time for queries? I thought I read 24 hours or so, but I've had one out to you for a bit. I'd like the idea this might be a good sign, but feel free to spoil the delusion.

Elyssa Papa said...

I'm sorry. (I stupidly posted this question in the blog below, so please forgive the repost).

Thanks for the helpful advice, Nathan.

If you sent out fulls to a couple of agents and publishers say back in February and haven't heard back... is that a good sign or bad? (One agent said it would take a month to let me know about a response and this was back in January).

If you're truly excited about a project, don't you normally respond straightaway? I have a fear that the longer something sits that it's just going to be a rejection.

Or should I hope it's still in a pile buried away somewhere?

And when do you suggest that someone bury a book?

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