Nathan Bransford, Author

Friday, August 8, 2008



Finding an Agent and Query Letters

Working with agents and editors

The writing process


Wanda B. Ontheshelves said...
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Conduit said...

Shouldn't this post have been titles "The Best of Bransford"?

Kat said...

Where's the post about Nathan getting a haircut?


This is nice Nathan. Thanks!

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

I feel like we need a necklace or fence joke here...

Heather Zundel said...

Yes, can we change the title to "The Best of Bransford?" - so catchy and describes it perfectly. Brilliant idea. Thanks for putting so much all in one place.

Laurel Amberdine said...

It's disturbing to realize that you get so many questions that it's actually easier to put up a post like this.


Keri Ford said...

The prologue to The Jewel Of Medina (The random house book) is available here

The author provided the prologue and added to the comments. It's very interesting and, of what I've read of the comments, a civil discussion.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Nathan.

This is very helpful. I found answers to questions I didn't even know I was asking.


wickerman said...

So just a few questions the FAQ didn't cover...

Can i ask you something about my rejection letter?

Why do you live in San Francisco?

What should the word count of my novel be?

Is 345,000 words too much??

Ok just kidding...

What I really want to know is how you can NOT list the 49ers as a reason to live in SF. yeesh!!!

I may have to stop reading your blog!!!


Nathan Bransford said...


I am a 49ers fan. However, I would not consider that much of a reason to live in SF given how disastrous they've been.

wickerman said...

You've got me there, but as a guy who grew up watching Joe Montana, I have a firm grip on the past that I refuse to relinquish.

As the guys from Mythbusters like to say 'I reject your reality and substitute my own!"

Michael said...

Enough material to make a very useful publication. Other agents have produced books with less.
I respectfully hope you will make this more generally available.

Tammie said...

I was disappointed about Random House pulling the book. I can't say I understand their position when we all know how long it takes to get a book published - was concern not once discussed PRIOR to purchasing it? And if not, why bend to the pressure then? I don't get it but that's just me.

It will be "tossed under the bus" (like the quotation marks) by big media because usually it is only the "conservative" folks who squelch or back out of freedom of the press and speech and "all that jazz".

:o) That's being "nice" isn't it?

Anonymous said...

Another one for the FAQ: Would you represent an illustrator?

Anonymous said...

If you like a query and the author is from India, would you reject it?

Please answer this question. Please.


Terri said...

Dear Mr. Bransford:

[Practicing my querying skills!]

Seriously, I love the blog and feel like I've taken a crash course in agenting and publishing.

One more question for the FAQs, I've cruised around agent blogs and haven't found the answer.

E-querying etiquette: Is it proper to include hot links in the query to an author's website and past publishing creds. I'm not talking about the manuscript that is the subject of the query, but links to past works.

For example:

1. A link to a general author website. No ads or pop-ups, I promise.

2. A link to an excerpt of a novella I currently have under contract with a small press.

3. A link to stories published by a respectable zine. All rights have reverted to me.

I know you can't speak for the entire agenting continuum, but as more querying goes to email based, I am curious about the developing etiquette standards.

Jill said...

Thank you for posting this list. It does answer some questions I've had.

Jill said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ChrisEldin said...

Mr. Bransford took a funny pill.

This is one of the most hysterical posts I've every read!

Anonymous said...

Mr. Bransford,

I read the post about series (read them all actually) but I was wondering about trilogies. Do you have any additional advice about them. I wrote the little bugger and now I don't know what to do with it!

Anonymous said...

Hi Nathan,

I'm interested in starting a new career as a literary agent. I've worked in academia, law, and tech, but not publishing. I have a B.A. in philosophy and a J.D. What would you recommend is the best way to enter the profession? Many thanks.

Nathan Bransford said...


Look at question number 3 in this very post.

Anonymous said...

Hi Nathan - I’m wondering if you’d be willing to give your two cents about leveraging a personal publishing connection in the following situation...

Say an unpubbed author discovers that a “friend of a friend” has a personal relationship with an author in her genre who also happens to be a publicist for a major publisher in her genre. And say “friend of a friend” volunteers to set up an introduction for unpubbed author. Unpubbed author has agents considering her manuscript but no representation as of yet. Any advice for hopeful-but-terrified unpubbed author?

I’m so sorry if you’ve covered a similar question before and I’ve missed it!

HKLeberri said...

Since I've written the MS in Corel Wordperfect, will I have to convert it to MS Word or do agents/publishers use WP also? Am I worried about nothing?

Nathan Bransford said...


It needs to be in Word.

Nic said...

Thanx for this list, it is incredibly insightful.

Erinn said...

Hello, Nathan.

I'm wondering if including a review by a professional "Reader" either with the query or later would influence an agent to put a novel above the slush pile?

Anonymous said...

And what if you do all this and all the agents still say "no"?

Should an author simply give up and make plans for his own end?

Anonymous said...

Do you represent Fantasy?

Su said...

Dear Mr.Bransford,

Here's a question that I believe is uncommon:

I am from India, and there are only 3 reputed literary agencies in the country (the publishers here entertain and prefer direct submissions from authors) and none of these agencies deal in the genre I am interested in.

In this situation, the only way I can see my book published is by submitting to a publisher directly. However, the problem is that I am not sure how to write the query letter and author bio (that the website of all publishers request) as:

1.I have just passed out of high school. My school didn't have a magazine and my writing has never been in print. What should I write in the author's bio seeing as I neither have a long list of degrees nor any publishing credits?

2.I have done a fair bit of research on the editors of the publishing houses but I can't find their names anywhere and I'm unsure about how I should begin the query letter and what salutation I should use.

Obviously, a junior editor is entrusted with reading queries and would prefer to see something other than "Dear Who-ever-is-reading-this".

- Su

Ireca said...

I like what you have said so far but I have a couple of questions.Do you look at Science Fiction work that has explicit sexual scenes in it? If so, would you still consider it a Science Fiction novel or an Erotica/Romance novel. I just finished my work but I am proofreading and revising some things. As you probably can tell, I am a firt time author. Thank You for your help.

Ali Katz said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ali Katz said...

oops. correction:

May I quote from your posts? With appropriate credits, of course.

Steve Roiphe said...


I will be starting an agent search for my historical novel during the next several weeks, and am trying to get all my 'homework' done in advance. I've already got the query letter and synopsis, and am nearly done editing the final manuscript.

My question is this: Do you recommend creating a chapter-by-chapter outline as well? I've read that not many agents request them. Though I'm willing to put in the time on it, I hate to delay my marketing extravaganza for it if it's not truly necessary.

Thanks a lot for your time and help--have a wonderful Fourth!
Steve Roiphe
Lamoine, Maine

Anonymous said...

Another question not covered here: My novel has been under representation by another agent for almost 2 years. During that time my agent went out to about 10 editors and came back with only 3 rejections. For whatever reason agent is not following up with editors and now I want to fire said agent. So the question is: do I mention in the query letter that the MS has already been out on submission or wait until I've been asked for a partial?

Riley Corbin said...

Hello Nathan!

I had a few questions for you that I'm hopeful you will be able to answer.

My first, as well as the most important question is this: Is it custom to copyright your novel before you begin the process of querying and send samples and such off to literary agents?

The second (this may seem ridiculous, but I found it necessary to clarify)when an agent asks for x amount of pages, they're referring to pages in Microsoft word, correct? I know this question may come off as idiotic, but I wanted to make sure that when agents ask for pages that they're not asking for something like 250 words a "page".

Thirdly, I have never before been published. I just completed my freshmen year of college (as well as my first novel). Do you have any tips on what to write about myself in a query letter, given the fact that I am not a degree holder or a published author? And that I'm extremely young, have never won any literary contests, etc? I know you covered questions on how to present yourself if you've never published, but I literally have nothing to my name, haha.

I know that there are a bunch of questions above mine, and that you are very busy and may not be able to get back to me. If any other readers see this post and have the information I need, please feel free to e-mail me at

Thanks for your time Nathan, and I hope you're having a wonderful July!

jamieallen said...

I am an eighteen year old who has just finished a novel and any one who has read it has given it rave reviews. This probably means nothing to a literary agent and I am beginning to realize how tough the publishing world may be. I went to your website and was wondering if you have an interest for young adult novels?

Cathi Stoler said...

How many books do you have to sell to make the New York Time's Best Seller List

Fridley said...

If I were to get an agent, I'd have to pay them, wouldn't I? If so, how much on average? What is the amount you would ask for?

Sherry G. said...

I have a question really, are there any agents that drink beer? Every time I send out a query, and a sample chapter I feel like I’m trying to hand an agent a beer when all they want is a sip of wine. As I browsed many YA books I have found that they are written with as many adjectives, adverbs, five syllable fancy words that a writer can fit into a sentence. Must every story that deserves to be told be written in language that people do not use? I’m a writer, I love words don’t get me wrong, and I don’t drink beer but I’ve had it in my refrigerator, and I can tell the difference between a Corona and a Budweiser, and if you handed me a glass of wine I wouldn’t be able to tell you if it came out of a box or a bottle, so should I worry less about the fancy words Nathan, keep paying attention to my characters voice, or find an agent that likes to drink beer instead of wine?

Jody Sparks said...

Do you have any posts on how book auctions and preempting work?

Nathan Bransford said...


I have definitions in the glossary, but it's not something I've posted on otherwise.

Jody Sparks said...


It's something to consider; I'd love to see a fictional scenario of how an auction and preempt can play out. Thanks for the glossary. Great sfuff there!

M.D.Hobson said...

Hey Nathan
Thanks so much for all your hardwork on your blog!
But I have a question for you that I couldnt find anywhere on your blog.
I heard somewhere someone talking about you should show the reader rather then tell the reader, but I'm not quite sure what they mean by that. And is it possible to show too much?

goldchevy said...


I attended your conference at Books Inc. on September 13, and over the past week I have thought of three questions I wish I had asked you. I did go through your FAQ section but did not find the answers I sought.

1)In a query you say to mention educational background if a person possesses an MFA. But what about a Master’s in English Literature? I have heard people say that this rarely contributes to a person’s writing ability; however, I have found it helpful to me in the revision process—at least I can recognize sucky writing and work to improve it.
2)You mention that prologues may work if they reference a crucial scene from the backstory that will impact the main plot, but I wonder if they are okay if they contain something from the future that occurs after the end of the story that sort of hooks the reader into wondering how the protagonist “got to that point.” I apologize if this makes no sense. Perhaps I just need to submit it and hope that the agent likes it.
3)Finally, you say that you would probably not be interested in taking on a middle grade project. Is this because your book is middle grade and you feel that it would be a conflict of interests? Because you must actually like middle grade since you spent all that time writing in that genre. Maybe you are just tired of it because you did spend all that time writing a middle grade book. Anyway is there anything you could say that might help an aspiring middle grade writer decide if it is at all appropriate to submit to you?

Answers to any question would be greatly appreciated. I do realize I kind of missed my chance by not thinking of them before the conference.

Thank you for your time.

Nathan Bransford said...


1) Up to you. I don't think it's directly relevant and it wouldn't affect my thinking, but some people include where they went to school as general background information.

2) If it works it works.

3) The children's book projects I take on tend to be ones where I feel there is crossover into the adult market and where I think the books will appeal to both kids and adults. This is reasonably common with YA, not so common with middle grade, which is why I would be open to something like HARRY POTTER, but not most middle grade.

I also wouldn't take on a middle grade science fiction project because I wouldn't want an author to feel that our books are in competition in any way.

goldchevy said...

Thanks Nathan,
So now I just need to write something like Harry Potter. Better get to it.


london-setterby said...

Hi Nathan,
A couple weeks ago, Jessica from BookEnds LLC recommended in a blog post that while you're submitting your first book in a series to agents, you begin your next project--as long as it's not in the same series. ( I have occasionally seen this advice in other corners of the web, too. I was hoping to find your thoughts in your FAQ, but did not. What do you think? I'd like to finish my trilogy-in-progress whether or not it ever gets published, but now I wonder if that would be counterproductive.
Thank you so much. Love your blog/vast store of helpful information. :)

Sharmistha said...

....and I was just going to ask if there's anything about publishing you haven't answered.
I have a very strong feeling I could just sit and read your blog for one whole day and still not be done with everything on it! (let's not even talk about how much (little) I would retain!) So, I'm quite in agreement with you when you said "god help you if you've read all 110 posts..." (OK, I'm beginning to quote you and that is definitely not a good sign!)
So, I will just say this before my brain shuts down due to information overload___ your blog's fantastic! It's better than a crash course in 'Publishing Basics'...if there is something like that my apologies to the author! And I just want to say thanks for taking the time out to do this it's been amazing!

Sharmistha said...

Oh, by the way, like innumerable others I love your writing style! Are you sure you don't want to be on the other side of the table more often?

I read somewhere about your personal 'agent hunt' as I've started thinking of it...I'm sorry if it sounds too violent! (f I remember correctly the aforementioned post refers to you as "star-blogger and super agent"! I wonder what that feels like... :)) So how many books have you personally written?

Anonymous said...

Dear Nathan,

I managed to interest five agents in reading my full manuscript. They seemed very enthusiastic. I went with the first agent who made me an offer (which resulted in one of those other agents actually being very upset with me!)

That first agent signed with me a year ago. Too bad it did not work out, which happens. We definitely didn't "click." She gave me notice in September that she is "withdrawing her offer of representation." According to the contract we have signed, I need to wait for 60 days from her notice before all rights revert back to me.

Also, my manuscript is on submission with several editors (I have vague ideas who they are, though she won't give me the list!) She told me if any one of the editors accepts my book before our contract expires in November, she'll still be my agent for the book, should I accept the editor's offer.

Of course, I understand. However, my question is, do you think I have to wait for the November deadline when our contract officially expires, before querying other agents? Some of them probably won't even get back to me before then - but what if they do? (They have been known to surprise me!) At which point do I tell the prospective agent that I am still under contract until November, without turning them off? Or would I just be better off waiting?

I would love to know what you think would be an ethical, professional and smart way to handle my dilemma.

Thanks so much.

Nathan Bransford said...

Sorry about that, anon. I think you're safe querying agents now, and if they're interested yeah, you can just tell them that you're officially free and clear on X date.

Anonymous said...


Thanks for getting back on this so fast. Yes, makes sense the way you put it. Thank you, also, for all the time you put in to give us writers out there your help and advice! I am sure I'm not the only one out there who thinks that's AMAZING.

Anonymous said...

Natha, what is your take on using names of real public figures in a novel? Say you were going to have your character run for Senate--would you just make up an incumbant Senator or would you use the actual incumbant? My instinct says make it up to avoid legal issues, but does that make the novel lack verisimilitude??

I know Zadie Smith made up a college/town in On Beauty--I assume because she didn't want to defame any faculty. But I admit that--especially since I am from the area where she placed the fictional town--it seemed odd to me at first, like a credibility issue.

Anyway, thanks for any help!


JD said...

I haven't been able to find much info on this subject (and nothing that specifically answers my questions) either in yours or any of the agent blogs yours links to (my google-fu has failed me as well), so I figured it couldn't hurt to ask! Is there anything special I should know when querying an agent about a book that is co-authored? Will an agent ever consider two first-time novelists who are trying to find representation for a co-written book? Do we need to mention a contract between the authors to assure the agent that there will be no messy 'break-ups'? Anything else I should know? Thanks so much!

Nathan Bransford said...


It wouldn't hurt to have an understanding worked out between you and your cowriter before you approach agents, but it doesn't have to be anything formal at that stage and there's nothing special you need to know for the query.

JD said...


Thanks so much for your quick answer! I guess I couldn't find info about it because it's not as big a deal as I worried myself into thinking it might be. Good to know that querying is the same. Thanks!

P Leifi said...

Mr. Bradford, disregard my last post. I found all the information about getting started on your post and will read and follow them. Very informative and helpful. Thank you.

Andrew said...

Nathan -

Thanks for all the tremendously useful information here. I've got a quick question regarding formatting.

In published novels I've sometimes seen normally spaced italics used to indicate a handwritten passage such as a letter, and indented single spaced block courier to indicate an email or blackberry message. What do you recommend in terms of formatting these as part of a manuscript, though?

Thanks much!


Anonymous said...

I have read about you and like what I see. I wanted to ask. If you will work with fanfiction? I have made some to difrent story's and want to share them with the world

Anonymous said...

Nathan, your posts are all wonderfully helpful. But I have a question that I don't think has been addressed.

Does it count as a writing credential if you have well-known fanworks available online? For instance, a personal fanfiction site with thousands of unique hits per month, or a story-based project that went viral and made the front pages of special interest news sites. Are many agents interested in the word-of-mouth transformative fanworks can create, or is talking about your fanfiction right up there with "my mom loves my writing"?

Nathan Bransford said...


I think it's safest to probably not mention it. While I know there's a difference between good fanfic and bad fanfic, it's still not something that probably rises to the level of a publishing credit or something to mention in a query.

Anonymous said...

I was wondering if it would be wise to mention that most of my past writing experience was in screenwriting? Although I haven't sold anything big, I had been hired to write several really, really low budget horror movies. But besides that, I have nothing to brag about in the writer's experience section in the query letter. Is prior experience really important to agents?

Thanks for any help.

Nathan Bransford said...


I think that would be fine to mention briefly.

Anonymous said...

I was wondering if there was anything I needed to know about trying to sell a Christmas themed novel. Is it any different than trying to sell a regular book.


Nathan Bransford said...


Unless you're an already established author it's pretty difficult.

Anonymous said...

On the difficulties of sell a Christmas themed novel, why is it so hard? Is there a lot being written?

vitalpulp said...

Hi Nathan
Hope the new year is treating you well. Some agencies request a complete manuscript do I know someone won't steal the entire book for themselves?

Anonymous said...

What kind of college classes do literary agents take.Thanks

Meghan said...

Okay, so I've been sifting through your entire blog site and by now I think I know you better than any of my family members, but I can't seem to find the blog I'm looking for. Maybe I've overlooked it or maybe my eyes have just stopped working from constantly staring at the computer, but I was wondering if you could list a few questions a new writer should ask a possible literary agent (that is, after they have already asked to see a full or partial manuscript).


J.D. DeShaw said...

Hi Nathan,

I was wondering if it's alright to query you more than once in a certain amount of time (a few months), if you have made some drastic changes to your story?

Bibi Jean said...

Gooooood Morning Everyone,

Now that the upstairs neighbors have knocked me out of a solid night of sleep I thought I'd do something productive, that is until I'm able to fall back into unconsciousness. (Are typos and misspelled words apropos at this hour of the morning? *yawn*. So, in preparation for my first blog entry on Nathan's amazing site I took a hot shower to relax and donned my favorite sock monkey P.J.'s to get into the 'mood'.

A book that came highly recommended to me by Barnes and Noble (reference section):

2011 Writer's Market

It's a how to guide for writers who want to get published and a publication guide: trade magazines, pulp fiction, ebooks, etc.
I am picking my copy up tomorrow, I mean later today, and will file a full report after I've perused it's pages.

Nathan, do you have any opinion about this particular publication?

Aligned with your advice Nathan, my published instructors recommended starting out small by trying to get my short story published. I am about to let that ship sail using this site as my chart and compass.

Thanks for putting so much time into a great site filled with useful information!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for these FAQ's, they are very helpful. But I can't seem to find the answer to this question anywhere, so I'll try here...

With a prologue, does it get numbered, or does Page 1 start on the first page of the first chapter? I've referenced several books with prologues and some use roman numbers, some use none, and some begin with page one. What is the rule?

Also, Nathan, you request the first five pages with a query. For me, that would be the prologue. I want to make sure that is what you prefer, or would you rather have the pages from chapter 1?

Nathan Bransford said...


No need to number prologues separately, page 1 (or page 2 if you have a title page) is fine.

For me, yes, I want to see how you think the novel begins so I say to start with the prologue in the first five pages. Other agents feel that you should just start with Chapter 1. Either way though is ultimately going to be fine, so up to you.

Anonymous said...

Wow! Thanks for the quick response, Nathan. And thanks for the answer. It's nice to have one less thing to stress about getting right.

Take care.

Anonymous said...

What is your advice for an aspiring writer who sent her query to an agent only to realize that the genre she picked is incorrect?

For a while, I was putting fantasy, believing that to be the best pick, though the story is taken place in the real world with paranormal aspects. I recently changed the query to say YA though now I have discovered that my novel better fits Urban Fantasy. Would this slip cause an agent to put me in the reject pile?

P.S. The agent takes both fantasy and YA

Meghan said...


I was looking for a place in the forums to ask this question but I must ave overlooked it.

When writing a query, is it okay to use open with the same opening line as the manuscript? I really like my opening line and have had several agents compliment the line as well, though I worry it might be too much to have it repeated in the manuscript.


Patricia Coombes said...

What happens if your a first time writer and never intended to write but was inspired by faith in God to write about the amazing account of your life as former drug addict and criminal. A one off story ?

Anonymous said...

Nathan, What is third person limited omniscient? I found something on third person limited, and something on third person omniscient, but I can't find anything on third person limited omniscient. I need it for an assignment for school.

Nathan Bransford said...


I haven't heard that term, but if I had to guess it would be a perspective that is mainly tied to one person but occasionally "breaks" perspective to show the POV of other people or things that the POV character wouldn't be able to know.

yana said...

I have an amazing story and would like to share it with a talented author who would accept to make it in a book in English language. Do you know some talented author?
My mother's tongue is not English and I doubt the translateors could make it as well as an author would.


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