Nathan Bransford, Author

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Open Thread!

Haven't done one of these in a while, so I thought I would open things up so everyone can talk about what they want to talk about. I'll try my best to stop by to answer all questions.

Everyone, jump in the pool!


«Oldest   ‹Older   1 – 200 of 206   Newer›   Newest»
Margaret Yang said...

Are rejections necessarily bad? This has been on my mind lately.

For example, what if it's a rejection that you learn something from, and you couldn't have learned it any other way? What if a good-not-great publisher rejects you and the following day a great one says yes? Are you glad the merely good one said no?

Can a rejection ever be a good thing or are all rejections bad by default?

JeanieW said...


Is it just my own technological ineptitude preventing access, or does Curtis Brown Ltd., NYC really have only one page to their website?

Nathan Bransford said...


I think fit is very important, so while it would be nice to have offers from everyone out there, there's no substitute for enthusiasm.


A very cool (in my opinion) Curtis Brown website is coming soon.

Sharpmetal said...

Thoughts on opening a query letter with a hook-ish piece of dialogue, hopefully something memorable that sets the tone for the plot? Good/bad/indifferent?

Thanks for the forum!

Nathan Bransford said...


If it works it works, but you might want to read this blog post first.

Ashley said...

Nathan, you have made it clear that in a query, we should proudly admit it if the manuscript in question is our first.

But I'm just curious, what are the odds of you actually taking on someone who has absolutely no publishing experience? Obviously, everyone's chances are slim but would being unexperienced seriously hinder someone's chance or do you still stand by your motto of "if it work, it works" ?

nancorbett said...

I have a plot outlined for the current YA novel I'm writing. I'm having some problems getting going, but the story is solid. The book is already written somewhere just under the surface of my skin, and I'm in love with it.

But here's the problem. The book is about a teen girl who moves to Monroe, Washington with her flaky mother. She's lost, she's lonely, and she hates it here. Then something paranormal happens and her life clicks into place. Sound good or sound, er, familair?

Last week, I finally got around to reading Twilight, that first book in the blockbuster hit YA series. It's about a teen girl who moves to Forks, Washington to give her flaky mother some distance. She's lost, she's lonely, and she hates it here. Then something paranormal happens, and her life clicks into place. Argh!!!!!!!!!!!! Okay, there are no vampires or werewolves in my story. But, geeze! I can already hear the response I'll get. We don't need another book about a teen girl who moves to Washington, has a flaky mother and is lost, lonely...well, you get it. Where else could I place it, given the great first sentence I've come up with? It was a dark and stormy night. Just kidding.

So, the book's getting written. Period. Like I said, it already is...sort of. The similarities reside in it being a book for teen girls in the locale of Washington.

Am I making a problem where there isn't one? Should I take up painting? Maybe I should move to Cottonwood, AZ.

Jen Turner said...

Hi, Nathan! Thank you for the open thread. :)

Would you be open to a Dark Paranormal Romance series with horror elements (via query, of course)? Or is that too far into the romance genre for you?


Nathan Bransford said...


It's almost impossible to avoid basic plot tropes when you're writing because there are so many universal stories. The important thing is to focus on what makes your particular take stand out!

Nathan Bransford said...


I always say when in doubt query me -- I never really know what I'm going to like until I see it.

ashley said...

aww.. I got skipped. Was my question that bad, Nathan?

(Just joking, of course!)

ken said...

What's the funniest book you've ever read. My choice is "Catch-22" or maybe "Me Talk Pretty Someday."

Nathan Bransford said...


Whoops! Sorry about that!

It really is honestly positively true when I say that you don't have to have any publication credits. Sometimes it's a nice bonus, but I have taken on clients without as much as a high school newspaper credit.

Kandis Burns said...

Experimental chronology—has anybody read any recent novels that don’t follow strict chronological order? When I began my current project, I was very smitten with my idea of having a more episodic set up for the first half of the novel. While I still think the whole reads well, I’m not sure what kind of reception a work like that would receive were I lucky enough to see it find more than a handful of readers. I’d love to find some examples where such a timeline actually works (Aside from, possibly, Animal Dreams, and Bone).

From personal experience, Mr. Bransford, would an unusual order to the story be enough to turn an agent off of a story if it’s, otherwise, a strong piece?

Nathan Bransford said...



Sandra said...

Assuming both openings have a hook to pique your interest, do you prefer an opening that develops a character more than it advances plot, or one that advances plot more than it develops character? Or are you going to say an opening should do both equally? ;)

Thanks for taking the time and effort to answer all of our questions; I'm sure you'll get a lot.

Nathan Bransford said...


I actually think a non-chronological plot in a literary novel could be a bonus if it's done right.

I can think of lots of novels that jump around in time, everything from Faulkner to GILEAD.

Nathan Bransford said...


If it's either a good plot or a good character it would be impossible to answer your question with anything but "both" because those two things go so completely hand in hand.

ashley said...

Thanks, Nathan! It makes me feel great to hear (er.. read) that!

And thanks for the blog! It has been an amazing tool for this unexperienced gal!

Anonymous said...

For an unpublished author with no prior experience, what is the best way to get an accurate critique of your work? I love my mom and my friends, but I don't necessarily trust their opinions. My 'day' job is in a totally different field.

You requested a full from me, so I'm dying to know why I didn't make the cut! :-)

Moth said...

My question is a little involved. So, you've said yourself that it's good to say you've read work by an agent's client and then say in your query how your own work might be reminiscent or stike some of the same chords as that work.

So, I did my homework and read a famous book by the client of a top agent. It is is the same style, genre, etc as my MS and I feel like this particular agent would be a good fit for me. The problem: I just found out the author left the first agent and signed with another. Circumstances unknown.

It seems to me a very bad idea now to remind the agent of this ex-client in my query. If i did, would this potential faux-pas raise your hackles if you got a letter by an author referencing one of your ex-clients? (was that a sentence?)

Nothing But Bonfires said...

Personally, I'd like to know how you feel about the next cycle of America's Next Top Model starting IN TWO WEEKS. (September 3rd! Though I expect it's already on your Google calendar.)

Also: Jason Mesnick as the next Bachelor? For reals? Discuss.

Nathan Bransford said...


If I requested a full from you, honestly, you're on the right track.

Someone actually asked this at SCBWI this past weekend, and I opened it up to the other writers there because writers are the ones who have more experience with ways of getting good feedback. By the time I see projects, usually they've already been through the process.

So -- anyone? How does one go about finding good feedback?

Corked Wine and Cigarettes said...

Great book, great concept, great voice all being given, how difficult is it to sell a first-time author's work, and what are the resistance points big publishers usually have?

Steph said...

Absolute Write. Seriously, the rip your work apart. Gotta love it.

Anyhow my question is - how many hits are you averaging a day now, Nathan? (So off topic. My bad.)

Anonymous said...

Is it weird for one author to have two agents? (Say, for example, the author writes in two different genres that are rarely represented by the same agent.)

Does it work? Or should the author really strive to find one agent for both genres?

Anonymous said...

Nathan - really?!


Thank you! That's awesome. You just totally made my day.

Tracey S. Rosenberg said...

Oh man, an open thread and my mind goes blank.

Okay, here's a question prompted by the whole Jewel of Medina fiasco: under what circumstances, if any, would an author have to return their advance? Or does the publisher just write it off? I mean, it isn't just 'here we have given you $LOTS and now you must return $LOTS' - presumably there have been taxes, social security, the agent's 15%, etc. taken off the top, not to mention the fact that the writer is most likely *living* off that money.

So we have 'publishing house spikes book because they're scared' scenarios, and 'author turns out to have ripped off stuff from other authors' and 'author is a lying bastard' and no doubt other situations I can't think of right now. Do publishers go after authors in *any* situation?

(NB I do not intend to have to need to know this, but you can't always predict things.)

Many thanks.

OH I HAVE A SECOND QUESTION: do you ever get people singing songs from 'Guys and Dolls' at you? A friend of mine also named Nathan had that happen to him a lot.

Nathan Bransford said...


Yeah, that's a touchy one. You might want to just vaguely reference the style of work (since you know it appeals to that agent) without mentioning the particular author.


I KNOW. Is Jason going to bring his child on the dates? Will Ty have a say over his future mommies? So many questions!

I'm also excited about ANTM, but really, they should be using the word "allegedly" when saying this is the first season to have a transgender contenstant.

Nathan Bransford said...


I'm getting about 3,000-4,000 hits a day these days.


Occasionally an author will have two agents, but it's somewhat of a unique situation. Most times agents prefer to rep all of a client's work.


It depends on the contract language, but given that the publisher accepted THE JEWEL OF MEDINA and decided to cancel publication for outside reasons, I'm sure she was able to keep the advance. She may have to repay Random House if she signs with another house (called "first proceeds"), but I don't think she had to repay the advance.

Tracey S. Rosenberg said...

'First proceeds.' I have learned something today! Thanks.

(Also, things like that make it seem a reeeeally good idea to have an agent.)

Nathan Bransford said...

corked wine-

These days, publishers are looking for reasons NOT to publish something. Resistance points are manifold and often creatively arrived upon.

Anonymous said...


Have you sold any books by new authors this past year?

Your list of books represented hasn't changed throughout this past year except for the addition some republications of the work of famous dead Curtis Brown legacy authors whose work you represent.

It's common for agents who are selling books to tout their latest sales online.

This lack of sales makes me wonder if, as nice as you are, you are a good agent for a would-be author to work with, particularly a newbie with no track record.

celestialgldfsh said...


After attending a writer's conference in April, I had two agents request partials. From the get-go I knew a reply could be as long as two months for one and four months for the other. I've been waiting, patiently, and kept saying I'd wait till after a stressful move was done to try and contact them again. Well, now the move is done.

What is the best way to word my request for a status check without sounding naggy and impatient? I'm already thinking it would be wise to copy/paste my query letter into the email to freshen their memories. Otherwise, do I just follow standard cover letter format? ("I met you at ____ and we discussed my novel ____. As it has been four months, I'm curious as to status of my partial...") Any advice is greatly appreciated.

ashley said...

In regards to the person asking about how to get good feedback - I have had the same problem. My family and friends are reading my story as I go, but they love me and are slightly biased :)

Fortunately, one of my former college English instructors has agreed to critique my MS. I believe he'll be great in giving unbiased feedback on what things I'm doing right and what things I need to work on.

I don't know if you have anyone around like that, but it's a suggestion! :)

Keri Ford said...

I joined RWA and many of the chapters through that organization offer critique groups.

I cut my teeth through a larger group and learned how all the ropes should be and so forth. Also, I came across someone who was smarter than me and latched on to her like a leech. (thank's Cyndi!) She taught me most everything about the basics. You just have to find people and pass pages around until you find a good fit.

Contests are another great way to get honest feedback. Being the judges are annon, they'll be totally honest. Downside is usually the most you can find in a contest (at least in my searching) is the first 50 pages. I'm coordinating a contest that opens Sept 1. We welcome all books that have romance

Also, be on the look-out for autions. Brenda Novak does an auction every year to raise money for diabetes. Agents/editors/published authors will all offer critiques.

Also, RomanticInks (where I blog on Sundays--sorry for the plug, couldn't resist!) does an auction in the spring to raise money to send authors to RWA's national conference. As far as I know, we'll be doing that again. Also, right now, we're throwing authors in jail to raise money to send authors to conferences. Right now we have Gemma Halliday and she's offering an autographed book. But keep an eye out, other's might offer a critique.

Hope that helps!

Nathan Bransford said...

Quick answers because the questions are coming in fast:


Did you not see this post?


Follow up once a month, exceedingly politely via whatever method you sent the manuscript (either via the mail or e-mail), and yes, include all previous correspondence.

Anonymous said...

How do you feel about authors who've been previously represented (but are now officially split)? Would you prefer they wait until they have a fresh manuscript or would you be willing to let them query with a partially shopped but newly revised book --say 5 editors have seen it.

Michael said...

I have a question about author websites. I want to put some of my fiction on my website so that lots of people can see it, but if I send a story off to an editor and mention my website in my cover letter, would it be bad form (meaning a sign that I'm an amateur) to have that same story posted online?

Nathan Bransford said...


It varies a great deal from project to project. Shopping a previously- or partially-shopped work can be a very difficult proposition, but every situation is different.

Nathan Bransford said...


That's an interesting question. I'd say if you're actively shopping a story you may not want to have it online, but others may have a different opinion.

JohnO said...

Hey Nathan,

I have a moving-down-the-food-chain question. Let's say a certain author has a certain first novel that many certain agents have passed on, despite said novel winning a few minor awards.

So, certain novel is pretty good, but might not be the kind of big seller that an agent and publisher might want to pick up.

What's an author's best route in such circumstances? Small press? Self-publish? Shelve?

I know that's not very specific, but that's because I wanted your general take on things.

Joshua Skurtu said...

Canned goods: Out of style or stylish vintage items. Discuss!

But, really... Umm..

When picking a client, do personality traits such as procrastination or alcoholism factor into the final scale? How much do bad personality traits weigh against quality of work?



Nathan Bransford said...


Well, really there are two options: small press/self-publishing or write a new book! The former option has its pitfalls but is, I think, increasingly happening with perfectly good books, and the latter option is the one to take if you want to try again with the mainstream houses.

Nathan Bransford said...


Luckily this hasn't really come up for me because my clients are exceedingly sane people, but I definitely think personality (or lack thereof) would factor into a decision. It's all part of the complex calculus -- the book had better be really really good if I'm going to take the time/stress to deal with a pill.

Joshua Skurtu said...

Oh, well then, and just to be clear, I don't procrastinate or drink copious amounts of alcohol. Ever.


Raethe said...

On the getting of feedback:

Just connect with other authors whenever you have the opportunity. Since we all have the same problem - getting honest feedback - generally speaking, I think authors are less likely to pussyfoot around someone else's work.

Just find someone, or several someones, who are looking for the same thing as you. :)

2reader said...

Nathan,aren't you getting married soon? (Im an avid reader of your fiance's blog, too, though you guys are very good at keepin' it seperated....)

Anonymous said...

Follow up question to the one about being previously represented:

When you you prefer an author tell you they had other representation?

Query stage
Partial stage
Full MS stage
During offer phone call

Anonymous said...

I don't have a question, but I just want to say I think your karma bank is overflowing. You are very generous with you time.

Nathan Bransford said...


As long as the words "parting amicably" are used (and as long as they're true), I'd say the query stage.

anothernathan said...


I think that my book would make a great television show. is it a pretty good bet that a literary agent could rep me ina television deal, or will I need a different agent for that?

Nathan Bransford said...


It depends on the agency. Some agencies (like Curtis Brown) have film departments that handle book to movie/TV/merch deals, other times literary agents work directly with subagents.


Nathan, I spoke to a five-time published thriller novelist and local attorney at the Kansas City Literary Festival. He has had both Edgar and Shamus nominations. He started using a freelance editor beginning with his third published book and said that story and his subsequent ones were significantly better sellers than the first two as a result. What are your thoughts on a first-time novelist like myself using a resource like that? I did some research and have found a reputable freelancer who has edited for some bestsellers and will do an initial read and consultation for a buck a page.

I know better than to deal with the incestuous, bottom-feeding agent, editor, publisher combinations or tag teams or simply an agent with upfront fees. I'm confident in the research I performed to locate the freelancer in question.

I've had several requests for 50 or more pages and three requests for my complete work (all three from agents representing bestsellers), but no one has provided any constructive criticism. With the exception of a comment that at a bit more than 72,000 words my story might be a little short for the suspense genre, everyone has declined in the generic "not for me but perhaps another agent will have a different take" manner. I am very adaptive and am convinced that with advice from someone with an experienced eye I can make this manuscript or another salable. Your comments will be earnestly appreciated.

Nathan Bransford said...

red stick-

It's definitely one way of getting feedback and there are some agents who prefer it as a first step, but I don't see it as any way mandatory, and I wouldn't mention it in a query.

Keri Ford said...

. With the exception of a comment that at a bit more than 72,000 words my story might be a little short for the suspense genre, everyone has declined in the generic "not for me but perhaps another agent will have a different take" manner.

Red Stick Writer, I'm no nathan, but to me this sounds like you just haven't found the right agent with your book. I've read several times about how agents will really like a book, everything's fine, but there just wasn't that SOMETHING in that made them want to represent it. It wasn't that anything was wrong with the story, it just didn't hang with them for whatever unexplainable reason. Just my two cents. Rejections like those are the absolute worse to me. Get all the way to the full stage and then nothing.


I have one more question that relates to my very recent one. What do you think of 72,000 words for a suspense novel? After I got that comment, I looked at text stats on Amazon for a number of suspense authors' books. Many average around 80,000 or a little higher, but most of James Patterson's books seem to be within a couple of thousand more or less than 75,000.

Nathan Bransford said...


I'm not a word count stickler.

wickerman said...


I have been looking around at various agency websites (not ready to submit yet, but doing my homework) and a surprising number of them are not specific about what they want in
a submission. They may say 'query first' or 'send the whole ms.' or the ever helpful 'send your submission package'.

My general sense of things is taht a query should be the actual query letter and a synopsis. Should you always include the 1st five pages as well?

Should a synopsis be included with your cover letter if they are asking for the whole ms upfront as well?

BTW - 9ers vs the Bears on preseason football tonight. Do we have ANY hope????

Josephine Damian said...

3-4,000 hits a day? Nate-dawg, you are seriously popular!


Can you name a thriller you've recently enjoyed (cozy, hard-boiled or otherwise) where you've said: Damn! This is really great! I wish I'd represented this author!

*other transition*

Are there times when you feel overwhelmed by the demands of a 5-post-a-week blog and long to take a hiatus, but you wonder will your readership remain loyal if you were to cut back?

Nathan Bransford said...


If you can't find specific submission procedures I think the default is a query letter, SASE and short excerpt. No one is going to kill you for sending a few pages. I'd only send a synopsis if someone asks for one.


I agree that you are generous with your time and great entertainment to boot. If you look up valuable writer resource in the dictionary, there your picture is in an orange Piggly Wiggly tee shirt. Thanks.

Nathan Bransford said...


I really liked THE NIGHT GARDENER by George Pelecanos, which I read not too long ago.

And no, so far I haven't wished for a blogging sabbatical -- it isn't usually too hard to think of what to write about.

cottonchipper said...

Should an impatient, unpublished writer seeking an agent always resist the temptation to make their novel available to the public on Kindle while they wait? Especially considering the fact that availability can be yanked immediately if there is a nibble from an agent.

Josephine Damian said...

Thanks, that gives me a sense of what your taste is, thriller-wise.

I've notice a lot of blogging writers have gone on "indefinite hiatus" these past few months.

Glad to hear you're not overwhelmed by blogging. So when're you going to join Twitter? :-)

Nathan Bransford said...


Something to keep in mind is that many contracts have clauses in which the author has to state that the work has never before been published. So while books that were self-published do get picked up by mainstream houses, I'd be very, very careful with publishing something if you're hoping to find a publisher.

If it's out of a feeling of impatience, I might hold off. If it's part of the plan, go all out.

Nathan Bransford said...


I've never even visited Twitter, and something tells me that's for the best.

ORION said...

When are you coming to the Maui Writers conference and retreat?
I'll sip an umbrella drink in your honor...

Nathan Bransford said...


I had a conflict this year, but I'm really really hoping to go next year! Please put in a good word for me! I seriously love Hawaii.

Kiersten said...

Oh, sure, now you go and do something great like this and make me even sadder you rejected my partial. Oh well. At least I still have your blog, right?

My question is, after an email query, an agent requested a hardcopy partial. I'm mailing it with a cover letter that includes the original query, but should I also email to let her know I appreciate her interest and have mailed the package?

Anonymous said...


What's a good word count to strive for on a query? I've looked at your examples and a million other examples and I feel like there's a fine line between short and sweet and not enough info. Do you know a good word count to strive for?

Many thanks!


Nathan Bransford said...


Sorry! But that's grew you have a new request. I doubt the agent will mind if you send a quick note by email but it's also fine to just send the partial.

Nathan Bransford said...


I'd just shoot for four or five reasonably short paragraphs. Not sure what word count that would translate to, but definitely less than a page.

Kiersten said...

Thanks, Nathan. That's the same reason I don't write thank-you follow ups. I wanted to thank you for how quickly you got back to me, but figured the time it took you to check that email, you could be getting back to another desperately waiting writer ; )

kidcuisine said...

What are the odds that you would be interested in an espionage suspense/thriller? Are they selling these days? And yes, I have credentials.

Anonymous said...

Nathan - thanks for all the great comments, allows me to forgive your devotion to the lowly Kings :)

Question - are there any topics in the suspense/mystery genre that are currently waayyy out - for instance, are we done with the Templars already ? Are WW2 stories out?

Conversely, what is trending hot now?

CrossGenreGal said...

Hi Nathan! Sincerest thanks for this opportunity! Very generous of you!

My situation: Two major publishers have seen the first draft of my speculative manuscript (crime thriller but with science fiction elements including real maths formula that proves God exists, and proposes alternative explanation for ghosts etc), both contacted me to say they loved it, with ideas for improvements (one by email and one by phone) and both have asked to see the revision after the weaknesses are fixed. But both have also commented that the book may suit marketing as a thriller on the mainstream list, despite the strong speculative elements.

So my question is: How do publishers make decisions about whether speculative thrillers can make it on the mainstream list? Is there anything in particular they're looking for? (I can see the appeal of the God exists formula, but this is only a minor sub-plot that's needed for a plot twist. Most of the story is about a handicapped girl battling for independence.).And I assume this "positioning strategy" would be to maximise sales, but wouldn't selling a spec-thriller as a mainstream thriller make it harder for spec-fic fans to find it on the shelf?

Alicia said...


If I'm going to query an agent that I regularly read their blog (like you), is it a good idea to mention so somewhere in the letter even if I'm a lurker?

PS: I really enjoy reading your blog. You should have gone into comedy.

Nathan Bransford said...


Well, in suspense, I can tell you that novels-by-already-famous-suspense novelists are hot, but beyond that obvious tidbit I think people are just looking for things that are fresh, original, and really really good. Subject matter is way secondary.


I don't know if publishers necessarily break things down as neatly as you're outlining. It's an inexact science, but they look at comparison titles to see how other books have done, they talk to their sales team, and then they just decide where they think they'll sell the most.


Absolutely. I'm always mystified when I get an unpersonalized query, then I pass on it, then people write an e-mail and say they read my blog. A personalized query is one of the very easiest things an author can do to demonstrate professionalism and research.

~m~ said...

Here's a question: is there some sort of copyright infringement when paraphrasing/using quotes from movies in a manuscript (i.e. "He's so tight that if you stuck a lump of coal up his ass, in two weeks you'd have a diamond")? Or how about using song titles as chapter titles?

Nathan Bransford said...


I'm not a publishing attorney so I'm probably not the best person to offer advice, but you might do some research on Fair Use. Sometimes it's possible to use very short quotes, but it depends on what the use is for, it depends on whether or not it's for-profit, and many other murky factors. When in doubt, apply for permission (or just don't use the quote, which is the lazy man's route).

Alicia said...

Thanks Nathan. I will definitely remember that. (Especially since my goal is to send queries out between now and Labor Day!)

One more question. My husband and I are having an argument over name changes in fiction. Is there a specific rule that we need to adhere to?

Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Has anyone ever mentioned that you have a very hot profile pic? (I will post this anonymously to avoid future bias should I query you!)

It's funny - just last night I was searching your blog for a couple of different topics and was thinking "It would be great if there was an opportunity to just ask any old question we wanted." And... voila!

I do have a couple of serious questions though. First, I read your post on author websites. I am currently unpublished (so I can't link or refer to clips or pub credits etc - nor do I have a PhD in anything) and want to create one, but would like a bit more information on content to include. Can you suggest any websites that might have some tips? I googled, but did not have much success in the 'unpublished' category.

Second, If one DID have published clips in the non-fiction genre but was querying about a fiction project, does it make any sense to refer to the completely unrelated clips (just because they are 'published')?

Third, Do you consider online pay-per-click sites valid publishing credits? (my friend is trying to get me to write for one but I am leary).

And finally (yes, there is an end) how does one prepare for their first ever writing retreat and what do they generally entail? (ie: critiquing, working on new/exisiting material, learning, or *gasp* networking?)

If this is answered the way I expect I may have a couple (yes, just a couple) of more questions for you.

Anonymous said...

Hi Nathan,

I just signed with an agent. We will begin final edits soon; meanwhile my next novel won't's being written whether I like it or not (and sometimes I don't!) What is the common assumption? I know you mentioned this above, but as a rough estimate, what percentage of agents expect to rep all of a writer's works? Do you know many who take a manuscript-by-manuscript basis?

Thanks for all you do!


I can't remember who authored it, but we read a suspense novel here in our house fairly recently called Hello Darkness. Once you got into the book it became obvious that the title was a reference to the opening line of the Simon and Garfunkel song, Sounds of Silence.

As an aside, I once read that Paul Simon wrote (or at least conceptualized) that song clothed, in the dark, and under the spray of a bath shower.

Heather Zundel said...

I have heard/read mention of many a YA book an up and rising author is working on. Has that become a saturated market? Or is it keeping up with the rising demand of YA readers? Are there any sub-genres within YA that are over-queried? (i.e vampire novels, fantasy, etc.)

(And if you can answer this, what is the general feel of all genres at this time?)

Thank you so much for giving so generously of your time Nathan.

Nathan Bransford said...


Not sure I understand your question, sorry.


That's a question for your agent!!

Nathan Bransford said...


Genre watching is unproductive. Just write what you love.

Nathan Bransford said...

oops, I meant trend watching.

starrie said...

If you found out tomorrow that you couldn't be a literary agent anymore, what would be your second choice?

Also: why is San Francisco so cold? I moved here last month from the east coast and it's 20-30 degrees colder than what I'm used to. How can you stand it?

Nathan Bransford said...


I might go work in counterterrorism, honestly. I'm kind of fascinated by world events.

And I loooove the cold.

Alicia said...

Okay, I'll try again and see if I make sense - my apologies if I don't.

My novel has characters that are based loosely off of real people (the names even start with the same first letter at times) but the events they are involved in are entirely fictional. I'm saying I need to change the names to something different to cover my butt against slander or whatever. My husband is saying that I'm fine. I think he's lying. :)

Does that make more sense? Is there a specific rule/policy/whatever when it comes to this?

Thanks again!

Anonymous said...

Would you consider representing an illustrator?

Nathan Bransford said...


No one should be able to recognize themselves by identifying characteristics or events in a novel. Changing names isn't enough.

Nathan Bransford said...


No, I don't represent illustrators.

Anonymous said...

Hi Nathan
Love your blog.
If an agent or an editor asks for the first ten pages of your MS to be emailed with a query letter, are they always referring to double spaced pages?

Nathan Bransford said...



Anonymous said...

Completely unrelated:

Michael Phelps --- Awesomecakes incarnate, or over-hyped athlete?

Elizabeth said...

Is it a good or bad thing if, despite infinite hours spent trawling bookstores in the USA and UK, and equal hours spent searching on both Amazons, you really can't find many books that are at all comparable to the one you are writing? I turned up one book in the UK (*Shadow Web*) but it's not really very much like my book, just enough to be interesting. Is this a sign that my book is hopelessly out of touch with modern literature, or that it's original?

Anonymous said...

To the person who said he has a hot profile pic--I've got to tell you that he's very easy on the eyes in real life as well. We could form a fan club...

Anonymous said...

A while back I read a series of interviews with new(?) authors where they were trying to determine the correlation of cats and writers. I understand it was more of a joke than anything, but the consensus was that a majority of writers have cats or come across as cat-people.

Personally, I think writers are like cats because we insist on being left alone to do our own thing but insist that someone tell us how wonderful we are from time-to-time. Not to mention that we spend a lot of our time attempting to perfect ourselves. ;)

What do you suppose agents are, then? Dog-people?

Nathan Bransford said...


That's really funny. Just about every agent I know owns a dog.


There are dog people, but there are no cat people. Those folks are simply known as slaves or attendants.

Wanda B. Ontheshelves said...

Re: "so everyone can talk about what they want to talk about"

Wow, everyone seems to have very specific questions about querying and so on...this evening in Michigan has been one of lovely immensity...I think it's the crickets adding another dimension...and speaking of added dimensions...I've noticed in a McDonald's in Ann Arbor (of all places), they now have a TV going all the time...with Fox today I inquired (very politely, I didn't want to get "deleted" from McDonald's!) who decides what channel the dining room TV is on...and a man laughed out loud - my questions (which relate to media conglomeration, which I don't usually think of fast food being in that mix) made him laugh. A "silver-haired gentleman" as they say in certain kinds of novels.

And afterward I wondered, did I ask because of yesterday's "tin foil" political exchanges on this blog? Was a BLOG actually influencing my behavior in REAL LIFE? Or would I have gone ahead and asked anyway? Quite strange.

Hmm, what else do I want to talk about...also I notice, everyday posts a new poem...every single day you get a new poem from this intentionally eclectic poetry journal...I mean, they print every kind of poem...and the blog is a bit...constipated...meaning, if you get 1 posted response it's amazing, 2 is phenomenal, 3 is miraculous...and yet, when it comes to querying, you can easily get dozens of posts...aren't poems more interesting and thought-provoking than querying? Even to readers of poetry? Maybe not...

Well, the last thing on my mind before I go take my cats for a walk...there's a group in Michigan selling stainless steel water bottles...5% of proceeds goes to Clean Water Action...I want to email them and ask: Where, if you don't mind my asking, are these stainless steel bottles manufactured? In Detroit, former "Arsenal of Democracy," bastion of American manufacturing, birthplace of the Model T, etc, etc...or maybe, overseas somewhere? Can't we make stainless steel water

Sometimes you like to think, things are changing because I'm asking questions. Is that true?

Well, that's all I want to talk about. Thanks for asking!

sex scenes at starbucks said...

So -- anyone? How does one go about finding good feedback?

other writers in a local writers org.

Short story editors. Seriously, we're much more likely to give you honest feedback than anyone else. And if you get feedback in a rejection, you're on the right track!

J.P. Kurzitza said...

Whoa, whoa, hold up a minute! Let's get some real questions answered here please.

What do you do when you're an aspiring author who is on a crash course with the fantasy football season? I've got my first live NFL draft tomorrow, and I'm smack in the middle of the first draft of my first attempt at a novel.

What are my priorities here? I want to maintain face with my buddies, yet I also want to succeed desperately. . .at both. . . . HELP!

(Tongue firmly in cheek)

Anonymous said...

Hi Nathan,

If I could remove the "" comment from my earlier post, it might make it more reader friendly (as in, you wouldn't have to feel inclined to accept or decline the compliment, thereby possibly increasing my chances of having one of questions referred to or maybe even answered?)


Just wondering.....!

Although, I am very reluctant to remove the compliment, since I believe it's true and you deserve to hear it.

And yes, I would be in for the whole fan club idea. I promise I wouldn't stalk him either. lol!

anon 5:06

Nathan Bransford said...


I'm not really very picky about author websites, and honestly I think all of that is up to you. I wouldn't necessarily consider online publishing a publishing credit unless it specifically relates to your work. Lastly, there's information on writers conferences in the FAQ. Best of luck!

Just Joan said...

Greetings from Melbourne, Australia.

I have a completed romantic suspense novel that I wrote with Harlequin/Silhouette in mind. Now it is completed I am wondering if I should seek out an agent who handles this type of novel/genre or just submitting directly to Harlequin.
Any words of advice would be appreciated.

Thanks for your time.

Nathan Bransford said...

just joan-

Find an agent.

danceluvr said...

God, I hate scifi programs that use current technology after a worldwide apocalypse! I'm thinking about shows like Mad Max, Waterwold and other similar ones.

Where will all those bullets and guns come from? How will the metal be smelted and refined?

How will the gasoline needed for cars and trucks get to them?

Don't the authors of these even think about life without technology?


Sorry, I just had to let off some steam.

Polenth said...

I want a dragon inflatable if we're swimming!

I don't have a dog or a cat. I have a cockroach. It's a lot like owning a cat, without the clawed furniture. He's opinionated and very picky about his food. He doesn't eat half the things the experts say he'll eat (he doesn't even like chocolate). People don't think insects have personalities, but they do.

How did I end up with a cockroach who doesn't like chocolate? That's what I want to know.

Anonymous said...

How separate are the NY and California branches of Curtis Brown? In terms of querying, is a simultaneous submission to each coast out of the question? (Although from reading the FAQs, it looks like your answer is yes...)

Nathan Bransford said...


Yeah, we talk all the time. It would be a simultaneous query.

maryhaas said...

Hi Nathan,
Thanks for the open thread! My question is, if when I send out query letters I get back all form rejection letters, (hasn't happened yet, but from what I've read it seems like a common scenario) how do I know if it's the query letter or the novel concept that is being rejected? How do I know if I should just rewrite the description of the book in the query, or if it's maybe time to move on to a novel with a different plot?

Nathan Bransford said...


If you're not getting any requests, yeah, something may be wrong with either the underlying idea or the query, but since you can't change the underlying novel idea it would be time to try and shake up the pitch.


You watching this game??? I think we have our starting quarterback.

Anonymous said...

What would your advice be for a writer who has been working on a book for 2 years, inspired by a famous short story. Then a book comes out, also obviously inspired by the same short story--the premises are similar but they are different genres and completely different stories except for the inciting incident?

Will the already-published book make it harder for me to sell mine? I really can't change the premise without totally altering the story I want to tell...

Nathan Bransford said...


Just make it as good as possible and see what happens. Similar books get published all the time. said...

Oh, another question-for Nathan or anyone else who has an opinion. What are one or two activities that would be the best use of time for a beginning writer? (other than working on the writing and reading this blog) I know that's kind of vague, but I want to leave it open to any kind of activity, especially things I haven't thought of.

AJ said...

"So -- anyone? How does one go about finding good feedback?"

For those of you not interested in online writing forums, I just found a great site this week called Crit Partner Match where members post profiles about what kind of writing they do and feedback they want and match you up with a CP (sort of like

btw - thanks for taking the time to do this, Nathan. As always, you're the best!

Lauren Fobbs said...

Hi, Nathan, how are you?

I don't know how to get good critiques from people either. I have no one I can trust to read my manuscript and give me valuable feedback. "That's nice" could mean "It's great because you're my daughter" or "You worked hard on this, I'm not gonna tell you it sucks" or "I don't care enough to give my opinion"

So my question is, Nathan, if I have no one to give me feedback, should I just complete it how I think is best and send a query off to your inbox to see what you think? Or is that too risky? Isn't it better to know that an actual human likes it before you send it off into the professional world?

Anonymous said...


Never commented before, but I'm just thrilled you're taking the time to answer all these questions...

Not sure you're still checking in (Men's beach volleyball final is on), but just in case, here's my contribution:

I've written a romantic suspense novel that is Buffettesque in theme. I submitted the novel to a plethera of agents last year and received a plethera of form rejections. In the meantime, I have posted an excerpt of it on a new Jimmy Buffett fan site called "Meet The Phlockers", which has over 5500 members. The positive response has been overwhelming (hundreds of comments thus far). I am thinking that self-publishing is my only route. Should I try querying agents again and mentioning the hundreds of JB fans that say they're interested in buying my book, or should I dive into the world of

Adaora A. said...

I'm going to go completely off-topic (in terms of agent questions), because you've answered all of mine whether in blog posts or straight in the comment section.

So this is about the olympics. Are you watching the US basketball team? Did you see Le Bron dunk all over China? What did you make of Yao Ming's game as he reped his home country? A lot of questions but you're a b-ball fan whose opinion I'm interested in hearing.

Anonymous said...

Hopefully, you might answer a late-night question.
I'm getting ready to start querying agents for my novel. My question is this: Should I mention two short stories I published in two online literary journals that have since gone defunct? One actually had a print version (but only a couple made the print version, the other selections were online). The other journal was strictly online.
Thanks and have a good evening. I am really enjoying this blog, which I just found.

Nathan Bransford said...


Up to you! Honestly I don't know that Internet fandom is going to be enough to sway an agent, but there's no shame in self-publishing, particularly for something with a very specialized audience.


I only saw US vs. China. The games are on at really bad times! But I'm glad to see they're doing really well.


Up to you. Especially if they're defunct I don't know that they're going to sway things either way, but i suppose some agents might look on it favorably.

Kim said...

Do you ever change your mind about a query/partial or full, post-rejection?

Pamela Davies said...

I am blogging today on the writing life. Would love comments.

Nathan Bransford said...


No, not really. A couple of times I've accidentally sent a rejection when I meant to send a partial request (and I had to apologize and explain the error), but luckily no one has held that against me.

Wanda B. Ontheshelves said...


Re: "How did I end up with a cockroach who doesn't like chocolate? That's what I want to know."

Please write out the rest of this as a Kafka-flavored short story.

Heather Zundel said...

Thanks for the tip on trend/genre watching.

There are forums that critique query letters alongside ms - what are your thoughts on that? Should the writing reflect the author's ability (usually the query foreshadows the quality of the ms).

And Polenth - what about white chocolate?

Anonymous said...

Great thread, Nathan.

I read in a recent post about prologues and how some agents will automatically reject a ms if it opens with a prologue.

Of course, I was horrified when I read this as I had just finished the first draft of my own novel the day before, and, of course, it opens with a prologue. Oh man...

Are prologues really that 'overdone'?

If so, do I simply change 'Prologue' to read 'Chapter One'?



(I've forgotten my google pw)

The Disgruntled Bear said...


My novel currently is on submission to a small, yet quite respectable, publisher. I do not yet have an agent, but I have read that it is MUCH easier to get one if a publisher has made an offer.

Question #1: Is this true?

Question #2: If I do get an offer from them, would you like to see a second query from me? (I have made significant changes since I queried you the first time).

Polenth said...

Wanda, If I ever write a story starting with that line, I'll dedicate it to you.

Heather, He doesn't like any form of chocolate (or anything else sugary, including fruit). He's just fussy.

the Amateur Book Blogger said...

How about tips on keeping yourself in touch with your family, eating and sociable - when in the depths of writing. The reasonable work hours doesn't seem to work - if it's flowing and I'm engrossed I get little sleep. I can only start my writing day at 8pm due to day job. I feel compelled to get it done but don't want the rest of my life to suffer. Anyone have good practices that work for them?

Ken - funny books: Pat Wood's Lottery has got to be in there, Holinghurst's The line of Beauty is sharp, but the fave for now has to be Frantzen's The Corrections.

Anonymous said...

All right, Nathan from your blog and advice I have established that I am nearly there - my query letters, my bio details (non fiction already published)get a good response. I send them the first four chapters and I am asked for more. Send the rest and months later I am told sorry but not for us. Do I start over, rewrite and can I approach the same publisher twice with the rewritten stuff or is it best to lick my wounds and find some new material.

Anonymous said...

All right, Nathan from your blog and advice I have established that I am nearly there - my query letters, my bio details (non fiction already published)get a good response. I send them the first four chapters and I am asked for more. Send the rest and months later I am told sorry but not for us. Do I start over, rewrite and can I approach the same publisher twice with the rewritten stuff or is it best to lick my wounds and find some new material.

kidcuisine said...

So, I'll take that as a "no"...?

Maris Bosquet said...

Great thread, Nathan. Thanks! Oh, no questions from me, though. Everybody else has already asked what I would have asked. I'm just enjoying the read.

Whirlochre said...

Some agents I've researched request a biog along with all the usual stuff.

Pub credits and writerly experience aside, what else might they be looking for here?

And what if you're a tramp?

Anonymous said...

Oh, darn, I missed this post last night! I do have a question that I don't think you've addressed in your blog.

I have a fantasy novel I've sent to four large publishers (sans agent). One responded with a personal reject and a very in-depth critique, one a form reject, one was a non-response, and the fourth--well, the fourth would have made an offer, the editor told me, but their imprint closed. (Thus me posting anonymously.)

I've always assumed that once I've sent a manuscript to a publisher myself, no agent will want to see it. Is that always the case? Is it true in this case? I'm not sure what to do--there are only so many big publishers out there that'll look at unagented subs. Thanks for any insights!

maryotten said...


Last week a national movie with big name stars was billed as the "funniest movie ever". They used the word retard, retarded and many other references to people with mental retardation in sterotypical and offensive ways.

When we confronted the producer, her reply was, "I didn't know" and "It is too late to do anything about it."

My question is, Do writers know that when they use the words "retard et al. moron, idiot, imbecile" as well as "spaz" "crippled"... they are continuing the stigma and pain for people with disabilities and their families? Is is a matter of "Gosh, I didn't know" or is it just an insensitive, "Gosh, I really don't give a damn."

Kristi said...

Is there any way you could add a rss feed for your comments? I can't give directions off the top of my head, but I know I clicked something in Blogger for one of my own blogs and I now have a "subscribe" link just for comments (all comments from all posts at the same time)...I'd love to follow more comment threads but just don't have the time to click on every post and scroll to see what I missed. It would be lovely for those of us on Google reader or another blog reader....

Stew said...


I queried you a long time ago before I had a clue about query letters. It was awful. Well the query is better and I still very much believe the story is a unique one.
How do you feel about granting someone a Query Mulligan?

Anonymous said...

Do you ever get "vibes" from someone who posts on your blog and would prefer not to work with them based on those feelings?

ICQB said...

Picking up on the writers are cat people and agents are dog people - I have both. Yikes! What does that make me?

I don't have a question. But I do have a new kitten which my daughter brought home from a camping trip. Some people were dumping it in the woods, so she picked it up and brought it home.

Actually I guess I do have a quesion - do you want a kitten? It's really cute. You can see a little video clip of it playing on my blog. I'm sure agents could be cat people if they tried. (you don't really have to answer - you're too far away, even if you did want it - but maybe someone else out there is closer...)

Erik said...

I think that in a world where there are too many writers vs what could possibly be read, let alone published, by the big houses, the most important thing we can do is to develop a "minor league".

Anyone who follows the minors knows that identification and development of talent go hand in hand, and that the real thrill is following a prospect up to the bigs.

I think that we can set up something like that with e-books or some other online mechanism - things that are sort of published, sort of not. The idea is to encourage community so that lots and lots of comments are given to the writer.

The more houses can do this, the easier it will be to get to know the talent. Ideally the "slush pile" will go away and Nathan won't have to carry so many partials home with him.

Nathan Bransford said...


I have mixed feelings about forums that critique query letters. On the one hand they can definitely help aspiring authors, and it's a great service. On the other hand, if the forum is basically rewriting the query for the author rather than providing feedback.... that is something that just makes my life more difficult. I want to hear from the author on the strength of their own voice and abilities, not the abilities of a forum.

All the same, a certain degree of this is inevitable and if an author is going through this process it shows commitment and research and all the qualities I stress on the blog. But I'd be lying if I said I didn't feel a twinge of "hmmmmm" when I receive so many good query letters that don't always match the writing level of the partial.

Nathan Bransford said...

amateur book blogger-

For tips on balancing work and family life, check out this post by my client Rebecca Ramsey (and while you're at it, check out her amazing blog)

Nathan Bransford said...


For a bio, I think agents are looking for just regular biographical details (where you live, what you do, how old you are) as well as publication credits, if any. And be sure and mention if you're a tramp, agents love them.

GM said...

Hi Nathan

De-lurking here to confess that I love your blog. Great that you opened up the thread to questions, as I have a problem for which I would like your advice. I am writing a novel in which a girl acquires a superhuman ability, sort of like Mel Gibson in What Women Want being able to read women’s thoughts. The rest of the novel is contemporary and based in the real world. There are no elements of fantasy in the book apart from this. So what genre would this fall into? Just mainstream/commercial?

Would be glad to receive your input on this. Thanks!

Nathan Bransford said...


I don't know if blogger is equipped for rss feeds in comments (if they are, could someone please e-mail me?). But a good way to follow comment threads is to post a comment and click the "e-mail follow-up comments" button, and that way you'll be able to follow the discussion from your inbox.

Nathan Bransford said...


I don't have a problem with prologues if they're necessary. But. Not all are necessary.

liquidambar said...


1. Read a lot
2. Write a lot

Nathan Bransford said...

disgruntled bear-

I've heard that it's easier to find an agent if you have an offer, but honestly, it depends on the offer and who the publisher is, and at the end of the day, the agent still has to love your work. On the one hand, yeah, free money and all that, but most agents don't leap at the opportunity. Let's say it's a $1,000 deal. The agent's commission on that is $150. Now imagine the hours of reading the manuscript, negotiating the contract, reading the author's other work... it quickly becomes a sub-minimum wage job. The only way the agent will make that tradeoff is if they really love the author's work and think they can help build that author's career for the long haul.

So yes, it's a bonus, and it might perk up some eyes and ears, but at the end of the day, it's no guarantee.

Yes, you can re-query me, but please keep the above in mind. It's not always possible for me to help out (and if you decide to go it alone, be sure and read Janet Reid's post on that).

Just_Me said...

When do you stop taking advice on your book?

Sometimes I get feedback that is well-meant but doesn't work for my vision of the story. I want to improve. I want to be a better writer. But at what point does an author take a stand and stop letting everyone else (friends, agents, editors) write the book?

Nathan Bransford said...


The fact that you're getting full requests is a good sign, so it depends on what you're hearing from people. If it's a consistent message then yes, I would heed that and re-work your project. If it's not a consistent message and people are all over the place, you might just keep trying to find the right match. So much comes down to fit, when you're getting near misses it shows you're on the right track.

Nathan Bransford said...


1) I don't advocate trend watching and 2) if you check my submission guidelines mysteries and suspense is listed there bright and shiny (and when in doubt query me)

Henceforth, due to the number of questions I'm going to pass on answering questions that are answerable from the front page of my blog, i.e. my submission guidelines, the Essentials, and especially the FAQs. If your question goes unanswered, please check there!

Nathan Bransford said...


A partially-submitted manuscript can be a very difficult proposition indeed, particularly in a genre like SF where there are a somewhat limited number of specialized publishers. But every situation is different, and the only way to know is to query.

Nathan Bransford said...


To paraphrase another, that question is above my pay grade. I don't think it's possible to generalize across the board.

Nathan Bransford said...


I prefer that people not re-query for the same project. But since we're now at comment 160, I'll give you this tidbit if you're reading this far -- am I going to remember?

Nathan Bransford said...



Nathan Bransford said...


No, I don't think a kitten would get along with my dog. Kittens are pretty awesome though, I have to admit.

shariwrites said...

Query question: frequently I see somewhere or another that agents want to know in a query whether or not it's exclusive. Then other places have said agents just assume it isn't. you say in a query that it's not exclusive or not??? And if you do, how do you put it in so it doesn't sound choppy.

Nathan Bransford said...


I agree that there is an increasing need for another tier in publishing between the mainstream houses and small/self-publishing. I have some ideas of how that will shake out, but I really think there's a void at the moment.

Nathan Bransford said...


Tough to know without reading it. Contemporary fantasy?

Nathan Bransford said...

just me-

That's a tough question to answer. I think authors ultimately have to go with their gut, provided that they have done their level best to make sure that pride/misdirection aren't leading them astray. I guess it's sort of like meditation -- making a decision with as much of an objective mind as possible.

Nathan Bransford said...


That's bizarre to me that some agents want to know if it's exclusive. But I guess it doesn't hurt to just put a quick sentence in there that it's a simultaneous submission.

maryotten said...

Nathan, Ok so let's not generalize. What do YOU do when you read the words "moron, retard, idiot, spaz, crip... or other degrogatory words?

GM said...

Hmmm. Fellow AWers thought it might be commercial fiction with magical realism. Would that sound right?
Anyway, will dig around a bit for works similar to this and see where they're slotted. Thanks!

Madison said...

OK, so I have a YA fantansy mss. that I completed one year ago and have spent this past year editing and revising. I'm nearly ready to query it off. My question is this: should I get my work professionally copy-edited before or after I (hopefully) get the agent? I've heard it both ways, but I would like to know which you think is best.


slcard said...

I realize this comment is probably too dilatory for notice, but I will send it anyway as my time with this blog is running short; alas, the affairs of summer must end. Normally I am late getting to read any of your entries, Mr. Bransford, but oddly found the time, and opportune time it was indeed, to read Wednesday's and Thursday's posts, as you had just entered them. Regrettably, for me, I was distracted last evening mid-question(s) -- I fear I may have been about to throw them out like confetti, so perhaps for you and your readers it was just as well -- by a hockey stick, blood, torn lips and loose teeth.

What I was writing at that time was regarding civic responsibilities and the author. I believe sex scenes at starbucks brought this to some attention in your debate on publishers' responsibilities. As the scribes of our current human condition, do we have a moral responsibility to not only accurately record our world as we see it, but also to attempt to bring the reader, and thus our society, to a higher state of being; or are we free to entertain?

I realize truth is wound tightly with perception and so everyone is likely to have his or her own very specific response to this. As with publishers' responsibilities (and most things, it seems), I would speculate, however, two camps would emerge in this debate, and so perhaps the questin in itself is moot, but it could be enlightening and entertaining (ah, that perfect, elusive balance). I am curious of the responses, as for me it is easy to argue the imperative of improving our world, but could one not also argue the necessity of diversion? It is hypothesised we dream to heal our wounded souls. In an age of increasing sleep deprivation could we not be saving ourselves with fantasy (and I don't mean the genre)?

I realize now this is not a good question to present so soon after Wednesday's debate, as it will likely get repetitive and boring, but perhaps it could use consideration in the future. Instead, I will presently ask you to post: Can writers, particularly unpublished writers, read for pleasure? After staying on top of what the agents you have chosen to query are representing, what's poular in your genre/field, what's popular in general, what's necessary for your research, do you have any time left to just read what you might like for no other reason than you want to? And if so, can you read it without analysing it? Can you just enjoy it? A Yes/No vote would be sufficient; I just want to know if I'm the only one who can't.

Thank you, Mr. Bransford, and thank you to those who comment at this site. I don't quite live at the edge of the earth, but it is certainly the world's back porch. Conferences are but an ethereal notion for me, yet now I feel I have sat within the walls of your parliment. Some of you appear brilliant, and one I look forward to as our modern day Cervantes -- to you, gifted scribe, I say I will read with true pleasure.



Nathan Bransford said...


Honestly, to me it depends on the context. I'm not one to toss around the words "retard" or "retarded" etc. as pejoratives, but at the same time, I'm not the most politically correct person in the world when it comes to humor and comedy. I understand that some people are more sensitive because of their own perspective and life, and it's important for people to be sensitive to that, but there's a very blurry line between sensitivity and openness to humor.

Humor is about subversion, and I think the source of that type of humor comes from knowing that it's wrong to do something and then doing it anyway. So when people make those types of jokes, I think the joke is more about knowing it's wrong to be making the joke (because our natural tendencey is to be sensitive) rather than it being about the disabled person or at their expense. But that's just my perspective, and everyone has their sore spots where something just isn't funny no matter what because of their own experiences.

Nathan Bransford said...


That's kind of specific. Just shoot for the bookstore section and don't sweat it too much. People tend to get bogged down in genre labels, and it doesn't really matter all that much at the query stage.

Nathan Bransford said...


I answered that one elsewhere in this (increasingly long) thread, so maybe do a find for "editor" and it will come up.

maryotten said...

Thanks Nathan, that's an honest answer. I too like to think writers are sensitive and understand the power of words.

GM said...

Thanks, Nathan!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this opportunity.

I'm in Australia, and it seems, from my research so far, that the choices here for the unpublished author with a simply spiffing book are either:
a) a publishing slush pile, with a wait of up to nine months, don't hold your breath
b) an agent. If you can find one of the handful here in Oz who is accepting unsolicited queries.
c) submitting said spiffing etc. work to agents overseas. I hasten to add that I'm not talking about a novel stuffed with koalas, Vegemite, g'daymatehowyergoin' and other local references obscure to those beyond our beautiful shores, but something that may well play in Peoria, or whatever that quote was about finding an audience.

So, are US agents open to submissions from overseas, eg. to pick a country at random, Australia?

Thank you! Anon in Oz

PS and yes, said spiffing work falls within categories in which you've indicated an interest.

Nathan Bransford said...


Check out the FAQs for a post on writers finding agents overseas.

Anonymous said...

Okay. What dream book would you like to see come across your query desk right now?

Nathan Bransford said...


An existing book or a hypothetical one?

Madison said...

Don't know how to do the find and read every post...still can't find it. Yes, I'm an idiot. Oh, well. :-)

Nathan Bransford said...



nona said...

How much do bad personality traits weigh against quality of work?

I'd have to say that bad personality traits and/or insanity are prerequisites for turning out top-notch work of any kind.

Oh, and yeah, you're gonna be eating a lot of canned goods if you're gonna spend your life making art.

Nathan Bransford said...


It's a tough balance to quantify, but it is definitely a factor. I think agents are much more inclined to work with someone who has a good personality not only for their own working life but also because these days authors interact more with audiences and publishers, and although I haven't been in the business that long, my sense is that there's a higher expectation for professionalism than there was in the past.

ashley said...

I have a random question for you. (Feel free to ignore it if you are busy!)

Going through some of the archived posts, I see that you went to Atlanta a few months ago and you made a few comments about liking the south.

Being from Alabama, I want to say - THANK YOU for portraying southerners in a positive light. I love that I can walk through a store and complete strangers will smile and say "Hello". And something about a stranger holding the door for me makes my day! (Yes, I'm pretty easy to please, apparently.)

But I'm curious to know what your favorite southern food item is. Personally, I'm quite partial to our breakfasts.. eggs, biscuits with sausage gravy, and the oh-so-important grits!! :)

Nathan Bransford said...


I'm a big fan of biscuits and gravy. And yeah, cheese grits! Also shoestring hash browns. Yum....

JeanieW said...

re: Mary Haas's question

"What are one or two activities that would be the best use of time for a beginning writer?"

I suggest reading a gazillion books (no more, no less) in the genre you're writing in, both the classic works and the recently published stuff.

RLS said...

Hi Nathan,
I have a question, but please allow for the back-story.
I have 3 fulls out. One firm has had it since early June, the other two since late July. I wait.
In the meantime, I posted a craigslist ad (for a nanny) and it has caused some minor hoopla. It was nominated for 'best of' craigslist, and a national blog picked it up. So far, I have gotten 70 responses and the Natl. blog has 30+ comments. The feedback is coming from my target audience, aka Mothers who read Nanny Listings, and most are saying some version of, “That was honest and hilarious!”
The post, though hastily written while I was cranky, is the best writing I have done all week. Further, it is similar to my manuscript which is a collection of essays.
Should I email the agents a link to craigslist and/or the national blog?
Pro: I get an opportunity to illustrate that there is a market for my book and that I am capable of self promotion.
Con: I don't want to be a nuisance.
(I am fighting the urge to include the link here, but I'll err on the side of cautious humility. Though, ever the tramp, I can be persuaded.)

john said...

i have enough money saved to take a year off from everything and write a book. i am having a hard time figuring out where to live during this time. any suggestions on creative enviornments?

Nathan Bransford said...


No, I wouldn't do that.

Anonymous said...


I don't know if you're still monitoring this post but I have a question that's been bugging me for a while.

This has to do with categories. In a query letter, is it accurate to use the term "mainstream fiction" or "commercial fiction?" I never see these categories in your query stats. What do you call something that isn't genre and isn't literary fiction either?


Nathan Bransford said...


I think it's ok to call something "mainstream," but there really aren't too published many books out there that don't fall into the categories of either literary or some genre.

Marilyn Peake said...

Hi, Nathan,

I love that you opened your blog up to comments from writers and hope that I'm not too late in posting. So far, I have several books published by a small press publisher. The experience has been wonderful, but my ultimate dream is to sign with an agent, have a book published by one of the big publishing houses and see my books in bookstores everywhere - the basic dream of every writer. :) Recently, I've had the great fortune to be approached by a TV show producer who had a TV show go to #1 in its time slot. She read my trilogy of children's fantasy adventure novels, and is now featuring it in her pilot for a new TV series. At the same time, a Hollywood Writer-Producer-Director with an EMMY to his credit read some of my adult short stories and has included them in another pilot that's currently being shopped around both Hollywood and India's Bollywood. My question is whether or not this might help to interest an agent in my next book. I'm currently writing an adult science fiction novel in which a top-secret government project and aliens tesseracting back through time and space slam into each other in unexpected ways. I would appreciate any advice and insight you could share.

slcard said...

I think I may have gone in too deep at Thursday's pool party. Sorry; I just hate goodbyes.

And Polenth,

A pet cockroach? That's brilliant. Who's your vet? If you want a cute one visit, click on columnists and scroll down to Dr. Darren Low. He's got an email address there and I'm sure he'd give free medical advice and dietary recommendations for fussy eaters. I'm pretty sure I've read somewhere entomology was one of his favorite classes as an undergrad and I have actually read his stories about rat and crow patients, so he's diverse.

Now, regarding canned food and the starving artist: disregarding the salt content, have you heard of Bisphenol A? May I recommend dry goods instead? Try rice, beans, lentils and pasta. Buy in bulk, prepare in bulk and freeze. It's quicker in the long run, cheaper and good for you! Serve with fresh, local, in season fruits and veggies (have read San Francisco tomatoes are superlative, for those of you in the area). Throw in a preference of spices and serve with a shot of your favorite, cheap jug o' wine and it's not a bad meal either. And since you won't be able to afford a car, think of how ripped you'll get eating lean and riding your bike everywhere, meaning you'll be lookin' fine for appearances after that big break, and we all know pretty never hurt no one's sales. What little money you have can be splurged on only buying fair trade tea, coffee, chocolate and sugar, since you're trying to improve the world.

Wait, damn it! I'm slipping into the deep end again. Someone throw me a life ring before I get kicked off this site. I swear, a couple more weeks and I won't be able to come back.

Chumplet said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
KD said...

I don't know if you're still monitoring, but I'll give it a shot.

You said it's fine to say "this is my first book." Well, the MS I want to shop is the third written of seven complete first drafts in a--is it a series if the main characters change? One book is about a Marine, the next her adopted brother, et cetera--anyway. I read what you said about series in the FAQ.

My question is--I've written a ton. Do I say so, or does that make me sound unprofessional?

mo said...


I know you aren't a stickler for word count, but I've read conflicting reports on what a "word count" actually is.

Some sources calculate word count as: total number of pages in Courier X 250 words per page.

Other sources recommend an actual word count calculated by the word processor.

I tried both methods and discovered a nearly 20,000 word disparity in my word count calculation. Also, the word processor word count puts my novel at about 10,000 words below the acceptable length for its genre which would make it unrepresentable to most agents.

I'd like to use the Courier method in my query letters, but if an agent expects authors to estimate via the word processor method, this will surely make me look like a liar should that agent ever request a full. Any suggestions?

Thank you for your time.

Anonymous said...

Hi Nathan,
In case you're still accepting questions...
I'm ready to submit a MG manuscript and I have a certain "dream agent"(through previous contact with her from a conference and editorial revisions of a different work of mine.) Would there be an advantage to submitting to her exclusively to let her know she's my top choice? If so, is six weeks a fair period of time for exclusivity or is that too short? (She's someone who wants to see a fair number of pages, in addition to a query.)

Nathan Bransford said...


That's a tough call. A YA novel can have alternating narrations and so can an adult novel, but what is really important is the sensibility and style. If the novel involves adult themes and style, it can still be an adult novel even if part of it is narrated by a child. If it involves mostly issues and has a style that appeal to a YA audience, it can still be a YA novel even if part is narrated by an adult.

But -- it can't have two styles and two sensibilities. Otherwise it may fall into no man's land.

Without having read the novel I can't really tell you in which direction to take it, but hopefully the above will help in some way.

Nathan Bransford said...


Yes, definitely mention the interest, although do keep in mind that agents will take it with a grain of salt. So many book projects have been inquired about by film companies, if only to be listed in some vast database, so we always take a cautious attitude toward projects in the pipeline for film/tv. But it couldn't hurt.

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