Nathan Bransford, Author

Friday, February 20, 2009

This Week in Publishing 2/20/09

This Week..... Publishing......

Not a whole lot of news in publishing this week, so let's start with a cheerful reminder: I've been getting so so so many questions like, "How do I find a literary agent," "How do I write a synopsis," "What are your submission requirements," etc. etc. If you look to the right side of the page you will find a set of links called "The Essentials," which will tell you all the basics. You will also find FAQs, which have much more than the basics and contain blog posts on nearly every question I have ever been asked. You can also Do A Google with my name and the subject you're interested in. Since time is tight, I'm afraid I'm going to have to ignore questions that are easily answered in this fashion.

Cool? Cool.

Now then. On to the links! Starting with..... you guessed it, more layoffs (subscription). This time at Borders, who is cutting 12% of their corporate employees.

And speaking of layoffs: haven't heard from your editor lately? Well, as Editorial Anonymous explains, in the wake of layoffs the projects of the departed are dispersed to the remaining editors, which creates a great deal more work.

In cheerier news, the indispensable Cynthia Leitich Smith, who runs one of the absolute best writing blogs out there featuring interviews and Cynsational News and Giveaways, will be on Second Life on February 24th! She has an awesome space set up, so if you prefer your book parties to be virtual, here's your opportunity.

Probably about 25% of the projects I pass on result in a follow-up question asking for a recommendation for another agent. I'm afraid I have to delete these without responding, and Jessica Faust at Bookends wrote a post today addressing these questions.

And finally, via Andrew Sullivan comes one of the most amazing YouTube videos I've seen: driving into a dust storm.

Have a great weekend!


Christine said...

I remember Janet Reid also mentioned in her blog that only 25% - 30% of query submitters seemed to have done some level of researches to achieve proper formatting and personalization. I wonder if a lot of writers out there are too much sinking into their own writings that they tend to forget the rules in real world.

eLily said...

Thanks for these resources. Another interesting link, (which touches on recent topics you've posted: when one's considered a writer; friends & family support systems; creds, etc.) Eat, Pray, Love author Elizabeth Gilbert speaks about the creative process over at TED.
I've also posted the video, as well.

Anonymous said...


I doubt that I will ever master the art of writing a good query letter, no matter how many advice articles I read. Is that a symptom of bad writing or have you seen examples of good writers who fail to deliver in a query? I don't know how you would be able to answer this question since its unlikely you'd request a partial after reading a bad query.

Just wondering....

Cass said...

There is so much information on your Blog and other places. I'm doing my homework because I don't want to give you any reasons to dislike me or my writing.

I drove through a storm cloud last summer in Montana. Temps dropped from 81 to 39 within a matter of minutes as we drove through it. Visibility was bad, but not as bad as the dust storm video. Wish I had thought to record the experience.

RW said...

Question about choosing an agent to pitch to (It will be awhile before I'm ready, but thinking ahead . . .) I figure one strategy is to identify authors whose work mine resembles in some way and to try and identify who their agent is on the theory that they have some track record and interest in selling that kind of book. Is there a simple way to do figure out whose someone agent is that you know of, Nathan, aside from looking in the acknowledgments to see if they thank their agent?

Rick Chesler said...

FYI Nathan:

The links for Editorial Anon and Faust at Bookends both go to the Bookends post.

As always, thanks for the TWIP.

Scotty said...

I used to be adverse to naming authors that influenced me in some way, but then learned that some agents like to see names because it tells them that you're professional enough to realize that your writing isn't "unlike anything they've seen before!".

What I did then was kind of deconstruct my style. I think it's probably fair to say that most of us write without full knowledge of who we're channeling. So it's worth it to figure that out. The sentence style could be similar to one author, the character types another. Mine, as I've identified it recently, is what Ira Levin, Raymond Carver and Donald Ray Pollock might all order from a menu if they had to order the same thing. :)

So sad to see more layoffs. My best to all of you out there who may be affected by this awful crisis of irresponsibility.

Nathan Bransford said...

Thanks, Rick. Fixed.

Steve Fuller said...

Not sure if you guys read Seth Godin, but you should. Recently, he said this about the music industry, but it TOTALLY applies to publishing:

"The music industry is really focused on the ‘industry’ part and not so much on the ‘music’ part. This is the greatest moment in the history of music if your dream is to distribute as much music as possible to as many people as possible, or if your goal is to make it as easy as possible to become heard as a musician. There’s never been a time like this before. So if your focus is on music, it’s great. If your focus is on the industry part and the limos, the advances, the lawyers, polycarbonate and vinyl, it’s horrible. The shift that is happening right now is that the people who insist on keeping the world as it was are going to get more and more frustrated until they lose their jobs. People who want to invent a whole new set of rules, a new paradigm, can’t believe their good fortune and how lucky they are that the people in the industry aren’t noticing an opportunity..."

Amen! I am so excited to be a writer in 2009. There is a whole new world of opportunity that we get to experience!

Ugly Deaf Muslim Punk Gurl! said...

so sad how our economy is crumbling before our eyes.

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for the link to Cynthia's blog - I love reading agent interviews and there are a ton there! Sorry for the anonymous post, but I'm slightly challenged in the technology arena. Hope everyone has a fabulous weekend!

Rick Daley said...

Thanks for the news.

If you look at increase in queries from a simple economic view of supply and demand, there is growing supply and decreased demand. Does this mean only the very best works will be purchased, and they will probably be purchased at or below minimum value?

Not a real rosy scenario.

I think this is a great opportunity to dive back into my manuscript and triple check to make sure it's in the best possible shape to sell before embarking on another round of submissions. That way, when I do submit again, it will be more likely that the efforts will not be in vain.

Rick Daley said...

"so sad how our economy is crumbling before our eyes."

Is it crumbling, or are we witnessing the economy evolve into something new? (Thanks to Steve Fuller for the Seth Godin quote, great stuff!)

Some people call the glass half empty. Others call the glass half full. I tend to notice that the glass is actually made of plastic, and call it a cup.

Marilyn Peake said...

Thank you for more great links, Nathan. I'm so sorry about the continuing layoffs. Amazing video, and interesting that Andrew Sullivan posted it under the heading of Mental Health Break. I got the impression that those people were heading into the dust storm on purpose. The fires in Australia are so sad. Here's an inspiring video of an Australian firefighter rescuing a koala bear and giving it a drink of bottled water.

Have a great weekend!

BarbS. said...

So!?!?!? What happened to the people in the car???? That's more than amazing. Thats like all the nightmare stories we've heard about major volcanic eruptions.

Which leaves me to wonder...No more nice little videos about charming piglets?

LOL, sorry...HAD to ask...

Hilabeans said...

Thanks for the info and as always, you're a class act. Your clients are lucky to have you.

In regards to your preference, do you tend to pick up books that have series potential? More bang per buck? Or would you rather see a purely standalone piece of fiction?

Which is easier to sell, in your opinion?

Has the weakened economy shifted this at all?

Thanks! Sorry for the deluge of questions... :)

Furious D said...

1. Borders will now be going over the border for illegal immigrant bookstore clerks to save money.

2. That's why it's been 8 months without an answer since that editor said they gave my novel to their boss.

3. I won't join 2nd Life until after I get a 1st Life.

4. That's why you should keep a list of rival agents that you don't like to recommend to rejects. Come on, you gotta use strategy!

5. Oooh dusty.

Reason Reanimator said...

Sorry, but I’m calling B.S.

Nathan, on one hand, you sound nice; on the other, I don’t understand your motives in blogging. I think your first blog post here basically shows that writers can get reads if they have inside connections (a.k.a. recommendations) and probably shouldn’t bother querying if they don’t.* Even back then you admitted you rarely pick up querying clients.

In my opinion and experience, getting published isn't mainly about writing quality today; I wish the whole crowd of you insiders would finally admit writing quality is secondary. If it were primary, you’d ask for actual manuscripts FIRST, not last. If writing quality were primary, who a writer knows would NEVER matter. All the stuff around the writing--who the writer knows, past publishing credits, how pliant--easy to work with--the writer is, how the writer describes the work--all that stuff is more important to you. And that stuff probably has little to nothing to do with the writing quality of the actual works in question.

Evidence of this abounds. Querying and how to kiss publishing ass are the entire focus of most insider blogs. How to improve actual written works, how to write novels, how to write stories, how to revise--that’s rarely the focus. I’m sure plenty of writers have learned from your blogs--have learned how to write queries. But I seriously doubt their novels will be as good as their queries! THEIR ACTUAL WORKS SHOULD BE THEIR FOCUS.

Nathan, why on earth have you spent so much time repeatedly answering the same questions about querying when the odds of queries working are very small?

To other writers, you must learn how to find answers for yourself. The more time you waste asking publishing insiders the-answer-should-be-obvious questions, the less time they have for reading submissions and representing clients. ...And that’s another reason why I don’t understand why insiders blog at all. Unless it’s an ego-trip thing.

Nathan, I think your previous statement that “anyone who can write a good book can write a good query” is particularly B.S., and you should know this. Instead, it’s like you’ve used that statement to help keep the commenters here querying in general.

Does the flipside of your statement hold true: anyone who can write a good query can write a good book. Of course that statement doesn’t hold true, and neither does yours. Yet people should believe yours does? Why? Why should they believe it only works in one direction, and in the direction that favors the current publishing system? Expecting writers to believe that would be self-serving for someone wanting the query system in place--a system which hardly benefits writers but usually harms them.

Just like one-hit wonders exist in music, one-hit wonders exist in writing. One-hit wonders in FORM also exist. They can only write in one writing format--they’re quite bad or at least quite boring in others. Not everyone who can write long-form can write short-form. Not everyone who can write novels can write queries, not everyone who can write queries can write novels. Some novelists are bad screenwriters, some screenwriters are bad novelists. Some novelists can’t write short stories, some short story writers can’t write novels. Some playwrights can’t write short stories, some short story writers can’t write poetry.

A query letter is a QUERY LETTER--IMO at least, it has little to nothing to do with the work it supposedly represents. It’s a separate writing format. Each form of written work is unique--excellence in one type doesn’t necessarily translate into excellence in another. People have said F. Scott Fitzgerald sucked at screenwriting. I personally don’t care for his prose work either, but if those people are correct, then my point should be clear.

The best writers can write really well in multiple forms, but I think they are a minority of writers. Most writers can write really well in one or two formats at most.

Not only have I seen good queries about bad published books, but I’ve seen bad queries about published books (don’t know if the books were any good). I know of at least one query that not only contained typos, but grammatical errors too. AND THAT QUERY LED TO REPRESENTATION. THE AGENT HAD IT PROUDLY POSTED ON THE AGENCY’S SITE. How embarrassing for both the agent and the writer.

If writers must (foolishly) continue soliciting the traditional route, must (foolishly) continue giving up their power to the publishing industry, maybe they should approach query letters as a separate writing format, because that’s what a query is: separate from the actual written work.

I can’t think of anything more boring then spending hour after hour crafting letters about my work and about me. I’ve done it but never again. It’s an exercise in futility. I’m a fiction writer, not a query writer.

So, congratulations to all you accomplished query writers, spending day and night supporting the largely anti-writer publishing system, doggedly sending those letters to people who barely read what you’ve written. But...but-but-but, can you write a NOVEL? You need to ask yourself this.

Society needs well-written novels more than it needs well-written query letters. If you can’t get satisfaction through the traditional route (and chances are you won’t), publish your work yourself, blog your work--whatever. But focus on your actual WORK. Most of your writing effort should be directed THERE.

*What Nathan said in his first post: “The best way to find an agent is through a referral from an existing agented writer. Mine your personal connections and degrees of separation. Go through your friends and friends of friends to see if anyone knows anyone remotely connected to the publishing industry.”

--So, Nathan, if writing quality is number one with you crowd, why doesn’t your post say: “The best way to find an agent is through writing a great book.”

I don’t mean to verbally beat up you in particular--at least you’re honest about your focus. The problem is when insiders spread their elitist nonsense toward unpublished works, about how if they haven’t been published, it’s because they suck. To me, it seems writing quality’s barely on publishing’s radar anymore.

Nathan Bransford said...

What in the heck is in the water today? Are you the same person who sent me an e-mail earlier saying my generation is vapid and doesn't understand anything?

But secondly, I don't have time to wade through unsummarized manuscript pages and have to get to page 275 before I figure out what it's about and whether I want to represent it, nor does any other agent. I need a summary. It's the only feasible system. I've yet to see anyone come up with a plausible alternative. Until that changes, best to get over the moral or philosophical objections to the query and work on writing a good one.

People act like agents don't want to find good books. I'm here to tell you: WE DO. For the love of God we do. But we're also getting completely deluged by queries, constantly, they never stop, and we have clients and lives to attend to. This is the only tenable way to make it all work.

Time to get over the system and start learning to work within it. I'm trying to help.

Nathan Bransford said...

Oh, and yeah, referrals work well too. Either/or.

Hilabeans said...

Reason Reanimator –

I can understand your frustration, but tell me, is there any industry where a warm intro or a proven track record of success doesn't give you an edge?

The odds of 'making it' are slim. I know this, but I continue on in my pursuit. And so should you.

Nathan's blog helps us, as writers, to understand what we're up against. Using this forum as a rant platform doesn't change anything.

My passion is writing - improving it, making it more fluid and engaging, telling a better story, touching someone with my words and thoughts... (terrible sentence structure, I know – please put down the gun)
But along with all of that, I want to get paid. So, knowing what hoops are out there and learning how to jump through them is paramount.

Thank you, Nathan, for all of your insight. I appreciate it.

Steve Fuller said...



But a serious question: Why not have writers create a "query site" or whatever you want to call it? The site/blog could easily list an author's credentials, a summary of the novel, sample chapters, and the full manuscript.

That is NOT my intention with this linked blog (it's just a short story I am writing for fun), but something similar to

As an agent, you click on the link (emailed to you the way queries are currently emailed) and start reading. If the summary isn't something you want to represent, you stop. If it seems pretty good, you keep reading. If you get bored with the first few paragraphs, you stop. If you are interested, you keep reading.

Seems so much more efficient.

Even if you never get to the sample chapters, it makes writers feel so much better thinking agents/publishers are reading their actual novel, and not just a query letter.

Reason Reanimator said...

No! I didn't email you. I wouldn't do that--I would think that would be obvious.

If you want, I could email you NOW simply to show you I don't have the same I.P. as whoever you're talking about. But I'd rather not email you. I don't want to talk to anyone personally. Let me know what you want.

Back to the topic, I'm sorry, but AGAIN I must call B.S.:

"But we're also getting completely deluged by queries, constantly, they never stop, and we have clients and lives to attend to. This is the only tenable way to make it all work."

--If you don't want to be deluged, STOP FOCUSING SO MUCH ON QUERYING. That so many writers spend so much effort on querying is partly the fault of publishing insiders--that they could ever deny this is ridiculous. Yet they do deny it. YOU want this system; the majority of writers probably do not.

Publishing is supposed to be a creative industry in part--why not come up with other models for finding good writing? Many of your posts here are about querying--DUH, you're getting a lot of queries. That isn't surprising. I wonder if the they-don't-blog agents are getting the same increased amount?

Nathan, I've worked in publishing, mostly on professional journals, but I've also edited a few (looooong) nonfiction books. When you make statements like the ones above, what I think is the illogic of them pisses me off. My nickname isn't Reason Reanimator for nothing.

Don't imply (and I think you and others saying similar things are implying) that reading a manuscript's first page is more difficult than reading a one-page query letter. I've edited, proofread and copy-edited till my eyesight started getting detrimentally affected. Reading is READING.

IMO, reading the actual manuscript is the only way to know if the manuscripts writing will be any good. Until that leap is taken, you just can't know with high accuracy. Why bother making extra reading for yourselves? You could simply say, "Submit the manuscript's first page, and a brief description of the work"--and actually spare yourself some reading (of the query letter that never happened), assuming you request the whole manuscript in future.

And--nope! I'm not getting over the system, nor am I working in it anymore. Either it will change or I want no part of it. I am here only to express my opinion and hopefully wake up some other writers that they're writing is likely suffering while they're endlessly querying. But I won't waste my time on that anymore.

Thanks for responding to my long post--most agents would not. They would either censor me or ignore me. That you didn't is to your credit.

Have a good weekend yourself.

Nathan Bransford said...


I would like to be able to read everyone's actual work, but it's just too time consuming and exhausting. Try it yourself for a while -- dip into one manuscript after another for a few hours a day. It's almost impossible to keep up.

I'm going to have a post on Monday that explains further why it's necessary to write a good summary even after you're published.

I honestly feel that this is all misplaced frustration. Not everyone can be published. It's frustrating. I get that. It's not the system's fault.

Reason Reanimator said...

Ooops--"that they're writing is likely suffering while they're endlessly querying" should be "that their writing is likely suffering while they're endlessly querying."

Nathan Bransford said...


"Submit the manuscript's first page, and a brief description of the work"--and actually spare yourself some reading (of the query letter that never happened), assuming you request the whole manuscript in future.

Everyone is free to submit some sample pages with their query! This is precisely what most people do with a query. I don't ask for it in my guidelines because so many people get it wrong and start sending attachments, but most people who follow this blog closely enough to read the comments section know that it's fine to paste some pages into the body of the e-mail.

Here's the thing: it's very easy for me to know at a glance at a query whether it's something I want to read or not. Piece of cake. All I need to know is the summary and see how the author writes the summary, even if it's not written perfectly.

The summary is essential so I don't have to try and guess what in the heck genre I'm reading as I'm perusing an introduction about a man walking through the forest. I can tell from the description alone. If I'm curious to read more I ask to see more.

And honestly, I'm content with the success rate of the system. I'm not looking to take on 50 people a year. I'm looking for a handful. It works.

And I don't mind the query deluge. It's efficient. I can scope far and wide. I put myself out there on the Internet so as many people can find me as possible. It's a very, very efficient system. I'd rather read too many than miss the right one.

Reason Reanimator said...

"It's not the system's fault."

--Then who the hell's "fault" is it? The little person's, the little writer's? Come on, Nathan. Geez, are there any other writers reading this and seeing what I'm saying? Why do you put up with being spoken about as if you're morons?

I think writers help prop up the system and there are sooo, so many compared to the publishing slots available. So some deserving ones will invariably fall through the cracks. But the publishing industry having such a high we're-infallible opinion of itself is retarded--yet it seems it has that opinion, without evidence to support it.


IMO, that the publishing industry seems loathe to engage in self-examination has been to its detriment. But, whatever. I'm tired of going over this. It probably won't make a bit of difference because I'm only a single writer and writers are too divided to do anything about their crappy position in the publishing hierarchy.

Go back to whatever you were doing and forget I was here. You will anyway.

Nathan Bransford said...


Yeah. Don't know how helpful it will be to keep going around like this. Bottom line is that there has to be a weeding out process because there are far more books out there than the world has time or inclination to read. It's not fun to get weeded. Trust me, it's not a boatload of fun a lot of days to be the weeder. We're doing what we can, and I'm doing my best.

I think I've made it clear that I'm very, very open to new ways of doing business. I haven't found one that's superior, so referrals and queries it is. If someone finds a better innovation they'll succeed, and more power to them. (and I'll probably quickly copy them).

Reason Reanimator said...

I swear my word verification was just: eatcess. Eat cesspool? Nice. Maybe this blog's trying to tell me something....

I won't eat cess, but I will leave.

"And I don't mind the query deluge. It's efficient. I can scope far and wide. I put myself out there on the Internet so as many people can find me as possible."

--Then don't complain if your eyesight starts going.

Your system may seem efficient for you, but it's not for most writers. And publishing should be about the comfort of writers primarily, not agents. No one will convince me otherwise. If it weren't for writers, you wouldn't have a job as an agent for writers. Writers are the foundation of WRITING.

But it's your blog, so whatever you wanna say and portray. Good luck!

Steve Fuller said...


You may have missed my point in all the chaos.

I totally get that you need to see a summary first, and from that summary, you may immediately know you don't want to represent the work.

And summaries are important to consumers too. I mean, what consumer reads an entire book before they decide to buy? Consumers read the book jacket before they decide to read page one. Writers have to write excellent summaries. Agreed.

I just think that writers want to feel like (even if you never actually read a page) that their actual work is being read by agents.

Meaning, I feel much better being rejected by an agent who asks for a query AND a few pages of the novel. Even if he/she didn't read the pages, I feel like I had a fair shot.

Does that make sense?

Trust me, you are an agent, so you know way better than any of us. Not trying to tell you how to do your job. But even if you never read the sample pages, I wonder if it would be helpful to ask for a query plus page one, just to appease all the crazy writers out there.

Nathan Bransford said...


I don't work for and am not accountable to all writers, just those whose work I believe I can sell, i.e. my clients.

And I'm not complaining. As I said, I like queries. I'm just trying to help the people who are working hard and trying to figure out the rules of the game.

Nathan Bransford said...


Ah, I see now, sorry. The reason I haven't in the past is that when I ask for it people start sending attachments, which I then can't/don't open.

But hey -- definitely open to the idea. I'll take that suggestion and do a trial run!

Jenna is as Jenna does said...

Seems like someone took a sip from the bitter cup today! Personally I don't see what the difference is between asking for a query letter or the first page of a manuscript. Either way the author is going to stress over it.

If query letters suddenly disappeared, there would be post after post and question after question about what you should do with the first page, how it should be formatted, should it start with dialogue or description and so on.

The fact is that with all the competition out there for publishing books, agents have to try to whittle down the field. That means that the person who is more skilled and can write a summary of their work is more valuable than the person who can't. Why is that surprising? Agents want to take on the most skilled writers possible, as they are more likely to have longevity in the industry.

Nathan, I personally appreciate everything that you write. My novel isn't finished yet, but I am working on summaries and queries as I go so that it won't be so stressful, but I still am happy to read about it. I am happy to read about ANYTHING to do with the industry. Your blog rocks!

Nathan Bransford said...


Ok, here are my new and improved submission requirements (in my bio on the front page):

If you are interested in submitting a project for representation, please e-mail me a query letter describing your project and five pages pasted directly into the body of the e-mail at **No attachments, please.**

We'll see how it goes -- you may be correct that it cuts down on the angst for people to be able to submit some of their actual pages along with the query.

Nathan Bransford said...

Thanks, Jenna, I appreciate it.

Reason Reanimator said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Hilabeans said...

Back off, RR. Inappropriateness does not become you.

Nathan Bransford said...

Annnnnnnnd that's enough. You've had your say, no need to start taking down other people.

Steve Fuller said...

Let us know how the experiment goes. And if we have saved one writer from going crazy, then our work is done. :-)

Jenna is as Jenna does said...

Aw, I missed the exciting bit! Late to the party as usual!

Anonymous said...


The phrase is "best-selling author," not "best-writing author."

And if you don't like the query sysstem, there are other ways. Seems to me that the latest trend is to POD-self publish with accompanying Amazon blitzkrieg marketing plan until you sell enough copies that the agents/editors come to you.

But you gotta ask yourself where you fit in. To me there's 3 main catergories of writers;

1) commercial wannabes--these are the ones who want to make $ selling genre fiction, and want to be in the agent-NYC house system, but can't execute.

2) literary writers--these are the ones who write their art without consideration of the marketplace. This stuff is generally tougher to sell, even when well executed, and doesn't have as large a market as genre/commerciaal fiction. In short, it doesn't lend itself to the agent-query system as genre fiction does.

3) commercial genre writers who are selling
This group is either already in the agent-pub system, or the system eventually comes to them.

I suspect, reason, that you're a #2 guy.

And as faar as the query blurbs go, they're quite useful. Imagine trying to pick what movies to watch without those little blurbs. "Oh, just watch the first ten minutes of the movie to see what it's about"--no thanks! What a waste of time and $$$. It's the same with books.

Good luck.

Reason Reanimator said...

Well, since you're now censoring me when I make a personal attack after I've been attacked, but you're leaving up personal attacks toward me, I'll post my responses to "Jenna" at my place. You can't censor me there.

Nifaerie Noven said...

Nathan, about the Borders layoffs . . .

Please take that news with a grain of salt. If you take a good look at Borders' stock, it's worth $0.53. The company has been loosing money for two years and 94/136 layoff are concentrated in Ann Arbor. This is not an indication that things are bad for agents, editors, writers or even the book market in general. If you look at share prices for the other major book sellers-- B&N, and Books-A-Million-- you'd see that, even though their stock prices fell in December, they are all still beating the S&P 500.

Publishing houses on the other hand?! A lot of publishers are owned by large multimedia companies. It's hard to tease out their profits from their parent companies. It looks like the independently owned houses like Scholastic or McGraw had rough Novembers, but their prices have stabilized since then.

Newbee said...

So glad you are calling this query portion a summary now. I think it would help so many people out here on our side of things if you would call it that. I'm thinking to myself... “Does he want a teaser...or the whole enchilada?” Point taken and noted… I’m sure it helps you with marketing concepts and believing in a project. I can see the benefits of doing that.


Jinx said...


I love your blog and have learned quite a bit from it. If people would just pay attention, they'd know what you wanted in the query, but I thank you for revising your submission requirements and adding them to your bio. It means I don't have to mega-search through your entire blog. =p I knew I saw the "add pages" thing somewhere in here.

Now, on to more important things--

Can you believe those people drove into that dust storm? I'm still in awe. I hope they pulled over and stopped! That thing looked worse than the ones we get here in AZ. Wow! It also reminded me of an old fantasy movie--Krull. LOL ahem... sorry. I'll go back to cooking my roast now.


Anonymous said...

RR has a point things won't ever change if everyone just goes with the flow. There is alway room for improvement with any system. Jenna I have to disagree about the first page verses the query letter. Lots of people can write a good query letter or have someone else fairly cheaply write it, but does it truly represent the MSS? There is a reason a MSS is 100,000 words, hopefully it is because it takes that many to tell a beautiful story, and it couldn't be told in two paragraphs. I spent two months perfecting my last query, and I can tell you that was a lot longer (59 days) than I spent on my perfect first page. When you get that down, you research all 100 agents that you decide to query to make sure they don't toss your letter because you didn't personalize or follow their directions. I can write another book faster than I can query. Unlike RR none of us want to be blacklisted because we complained (and I have seen that threatened on someone else's blog); he obviously doesn't care.

Nathan, you are fairly easily figured out, but Agent B,C,D,E, F, G.... want something totally different. Then when you hear an agent say they dislike non-personalized queries, it's almost like a slap in the face. Maybe Harper Collins is on to something with their Authonomy. A site that writer can submit part of their work where it can be viewed by a mulitude of agents at one time for a limited time span could be an option, even if the writer had to pay a small fee for the privlege.

Thomas Burchfield said...

Finish first and THEN THINK about marketing? Sorry, not interested in purchasing that idea.

First off, it's possible to do more than one thing at once. I'd already started my book when I first pitched it to Nathan a couple of years ago at a writer's convention (oooo, bad dog!). I wanted more than an "in." I wanted to know if anyone in the biz would express enough interest in my idea to make it worth the following three years I've spent diligently working on it, bad word by good word.

And, since then, I have been, from time-to-time, THINKING about how I'm going to get my little book out to the world so folks, (including the other writers who post here)will want to read it.

This, I believe, is called marketing; no, I've not sent out any queries, though I have draft or two somewhere.

"THE END" is in sight and guess what? I am THINKING about querying more and more as the that day draws near. Sorry, Reanimator, can't help it. The THINKING disease just pops into my mind like hunger or sex. I don't want to be the only guy in the world who reads my book.

Like it or not, better and worse, writing--at least writing for other readers--has always been partly about business, capital, money. Shakespeare was a businessman--he helped run a theater company that produced his plays, fer chrissakes!

Are writers all good business people? Not only no, but hell no--that's why there are agents, business managers, etc. out there to help; it's a good idea to do your homework and find who they are, even before you type "THE END."

I visit this blog because Nathan seems as knowledgeable, well-connected and professional as anyone else, maybe more so. *WHY would I NOT do that?* I am more than aware that he may very well decide my book isn't for him, but, right now, I'm too damn busy to visit the thousands of other sites on the Web (and the other interested agents don't do blogs); he's only a starting point for most of us and he knows it too, I bet (I also question people who hang out too much online).

Your view of writing is one I believe held by few writers, especially the great ones; and there *are* good books out there; so many, there aren't enough readers in the world who will live long enough to read all of them and more will be continued to be published; if a good book doesn't get published, it may be because the writer walked away from the table too soon and got um bitter.

Finally, Reanimator, I am a chronologically older writer (and freelance editor) who has been writing for many years with little significant success, but has not become bitter.

You actually remind me more of a young person who has just made an amazing new discovery: That life is hard.

Good luck to you,

Thomas Burchfield

scottgfbailey said...

My understanding is that the query process has become a necessity because (and Nathan has been too polite to say it so baldly) most writing that's submitted for publication is Very Very Bad and Awful Writing Indeed (VVBAWI), and many writers who submit their VVBAWI to agents lack social and business skills as well as writing skills. A query letter seems a quick and easy way for agents (and editors as well) to filter out people who can't write a coherent sentence, and/or people with whom you'd never want to find yourself in a business relationship. Almost every query letter I've seen, frankly, makes my head hurt, they are so awful.

I hate working on my query letter, and I hate having to reduce my pitch down to a couple of short paragraphs. But I trust that, because I have some facility with the English language, merely being able to form complete sentences will at least get my query read all the way through, and that will hopefully lead to the reading of my attached pages, etc.

And geez, everybody. Mellow out.

Anonymous said...

I'm curious if anyone else saw a face in that dust cloud right before they drove into it. It reminded me of the Mummy or was it the Mummy Returns?

Dara said...

I'm constantly surprised by the number of writers who simply don't do their research.

I mean, come on, you have all the links conveniently posted on the side of your blog; it doesn't get much easier than that.

Anyway...that video of the dust storm was astounding. It was really freaky how it went from day to night in a matter of seconds. I do have to wonder why they would want to drive into that.

Personally, I'd shoot a video of it in the distance and head the other way. :P

Anonymous said...

"You actually remind me more of a young person who has just made an amazing new discovery: That life is hard."

That's great characterization!

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Nathan Bransford said...

Thanks everyone for chiming in on the discussion, but I think let's let this one rest. I'm all for a lively discussion, but don't want things to get personal.

Ink said...

Reason Reanimator,

Your arguments seem illogical, if I may say so. People aren't querying agents because they're obsessed with query letters and there are a lot of sites with info about writing them. They're querying because they have completed books they want to sell. To me that's very simple. Now, if they've spent a lot of time on a query letter and not enough on their manuscript, well, that's imprudent. But that's not the fault of the agents or those with query advice. They're offering helpful information. It's not their fault if writers make improper use of that information.

I found it odd that you decried query letters and instead recommend a brief summary of the work along with a few pages... since that's basically what a query letter is. A writer is always free to submit a few pages (as long as it's not an e-mail attachment) with a query letter, and the letter itself is merely a summary of the story (as you suggest), hopefully written in an engaging way that reveals the writer's competence with the language. Stick on a biographical paragraph if you have relevant publishing experience. Voila. I fail to see the difference between what you're criticizing and what you're suggesting in its place.

If I'm an actor, and I find some people offering good advice about how to get auditions, and I take that advice, do I then blame these people if I can't act? Is it their fault if I butcher the audition? Or maybe I'm quite a talented actor and do well, but I'm simply not quite right for that particular role. Also not the fault of those offering helpful advice.

And are queries really all that hard? It seems like the aura of difficulty around the query arises less from agents offering advice and more from writers whining about the injustice of it. It's roughly three paragraphs, one of which is a very brief bio. Is it that hard to write two paragraphs? If a writer can't write two paragraphs of convincing language, why should anyone trust them to write three thousand such paragraphs in a novel? And if a writer can't make their story and characters seem engaging from the get-go then I doubt an extra few hundred pages will help.

Now, I think you might be right in that some people place too great an emphasis on query letters. Really, all you have to do is get the agents interested enough to start reading. That's it. After that the query becomes irrelevant. No one is signed because of a query or because they know someone (and the point of knowing someone is not that you know them, but that someone with expert credentials honestly believes in your work - that is, the work is being recommended to the agent not because it's a favour to you but because it's great). Queries and referrals just get someone reading. At that point the story works for that reader or it doesn't.

Do writers overdevelop queries at the expense of their novels? I'm sure a few do. But that's not the fault of agents or the publishing industry. If I send in a shoddy manuscript, it's my job to step up and take responsibility. Writing is a solitary craft. I have to do the work. If I don't, well, the buck stops here. Why blame the system?

We're not entitled to anything. We have no particular rights to have a system that caters to our whims. The system is not designed to support the aspirations of writers: it's designed to find great stories, to find books which will sell. Agents are looking for these great books. If they don't find any they'll starve. The more they find, the better. The writer's job is to write these books. Then we get those stories out there and the agents can decide if they want to represent them. We're not owed anything. We have an opportunity to write something convincing, and either we do that or we don't. If no one is convinced, that's no one's fault but our own.

Whether I succeed or not as a writer, I like to think I'll at least step up and take ownership of my efforts. And I won't lay it on the poor old query. I've written a few successful queries, and they take an hour or two. If it doesn't work out I'm going to have to look a little deeper than that.

That's my two bits of copper. Just my opinion, and feel free to smelt 'em down for base metals if you desire.

My best,
Bryan Russell

Ink said...

Oops... is that not letting it rest? I was slow to post (putting kids to sleep) and missed your last post, Nathan. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.


Nathan Bransford said...


Definitely fine because yours is about the broader questions rather than personal.

Ink said...

Whew... that's good. Because I do think the broader questions are interesting, particularly in terms of how writers view the process. We touched on a bit of this before when we were talking about entitlement. I wonder how much of it is just that us writers often don't like the challenge? You know, a writer spends all this time writing a book, it's bloody hard, and he slaves over it for a year or three or five... and then he finds there's a whole gaggle of other folk who have done the same thing, and there's only room at the finish line for a few of them... So unjust! We wrote the book, what more do you want from us? :)

Personally I think we have to embrace that challenge. Give it your best shot. May not be enough, but it'll be a fun ride. It reminds me of my dreams of pro soccer before I destroyed an ankle... would I have made it? I don't know. But I liked the challenge. And, hey, I just saw this video the other day of a six year old Algerian kid who has truly mad skills, like he was somehow channeling Zinedine Zidane. Some folks just got it. Some don't. That's just the way of it. I doubt blaming anything will ever help.

So, delusional confidence for all of us. We're all going to be part of that percentile fraction that makes it. Yes, only Bransford Blog readers will be published in '09. Other folk will just have to wait their turn.

My best, as always,
Bryan Russell

yvettesgonefishing said...

I have to say I can empathize with a lot of what Reason Reanimator is saying.

I understand the purpose of a query, but there are a lot of different formats out there, which is confusing, and there's emphasis on elements that just shouldn't be in a query--shmoozing? I have written my query and there's no shmoozing. It's totally shmooze-less. You're giving me 350 words to sum up a story--every single word pertains to the story. If an agent is going to reject me because I don't read their blog or know all their clients' books, then so be it.

And yes, you can be a good writer who writes bad queries. I'm getting frustrated with the process, only now that I've reached the query stage. I keep hearing about all the different things in a query that can sink you well above and beyond that content which pertains to the actual story.

Never thought I'd say it, but I'm strongly considering self-pub and POD. A lot less money, but a lot more control, and no shmoozing or trying to guess the mood and preferences of a hundred or so different agents. Ack.

Mira said...


Reason, I know from our previous conversation that you and I agree in some ways. I'm new to this, but from what I can see, I'm not happy with the culture of the publishing industry. It tends to view writers as supplicants, rather than suppliers. It doesn't treat them well, and pays them poorly. It's much more concerned in maintaining a power base in the market than anything else.

Although, to be fair, that last does make sense - they are a business after all. And I I don't think other types of artists - actors, painters, musicians have it much easier.

But in our last conversation, Marilyn helped me remember a very important point. Whatever the system may be, the people in it are people. They are trying to function within the system, they didn't create it.

What that means is that they will often listen to you.

Nathan really did engage you in conversation. He didn't completely agree with you, and that's fair. He's got a different perspective. I thought he made some very good points - as did you.

But - and I really admire this - Nathan also agreed to think about it. He decided to test if the query system could be improved. That's really admirable.

So, we do have some power. We can talk to industry insiders on their blogs. That is alot more power than any writer has had in the history of the industry.

But in talking to those insiders, I think it helps to remember they really are not the enemy. They're just people, like we are.

A last point. I realize that you've been very angry about this for a long time. But a wise person once said to me - you can communicate anger, or you can communicate ideas. Most people can't listen to both at the same time.

So I'd urge you to use your skill at communication in the most effective way possible.

When I'm feeling frustrated and powerless, it does help me to remember I can self-publish. In that way, we also have more power than writers in the past did. Much more. If we feel our voice is being silenced, we can go another way.

You wouldn't feel so strongly about this if you didn't have something at stake - I imagine your books are as passionate and intelligent as you are. I'm sure someday, one way or another, I'll be reading them.

Nathan Bransford said...

I guess I wonder how much variation in query guidelines there really is. I read all the same agent blogs you guys read, and what I'm usually struck by is how incredibly consistent our advice and reactions are. I very rarely disagree with the other agent bloggers, and am often amazed at how they often talk about the things I'm thinking about simultaneously. Sure, there are personal quirks and preferences, but for the most part I don't know where the wildly different advice is coming from.

I know there's a lot of secondary advice out there that muddies the water, but as far as the bloggers go... I feel like we're not quite as inconsistent as people make us out to be.

Mira said...

Oh, and I loved that video. That was amazing.

Mira said...

Oh whoops. I also didn't see the post about letting this rest. Sorry.

Nathan Bransford said...

Oh -- and on personalization, honestly it's not mandatory, but it's not about schmoozing or kissing up. The people who personalize queries just tend to write the best ones and also have the best manuscripts. I pay closer attention accordingly.

The only reason I recommend it is because it works.

Nathan Bransford said...

As long as the discussion remains respectful and non-personal I don't mind that it continues. It was just escalating in a way that I didn't feel was getting more productive.

clindsay said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ink said...


Nicely said. I'm not sure I agree with you about the publishing industry, though. People seem to like to personify the industry, treating it like some big creature with callous or cruel motivations. But really it's just a system for supplying a product to consumers. They put your book out there. It sells or doesn't sell. Your success and earning power is based on that. Really, the publishing industry has an extraordinarily beneficial system for writers. They pay an advance before publication. And if your book doesn't earn back that advance they eat the loss. You keep the money, money they paid you before they earned anything off of your work... they're staking you. Very generous, really. You earn out that advance and you get royalties, and fair division of the profits. Very nice!

Yes, that's not often a lot. But that's not really the publisher's fault, unless you think they should publish less books, and thus sell more of each title. More sales = more money. But how many aspiring writers want publishers to publish less books? Not too many, I'm guessing. Otherwise, the only thing to do is increase readership and thus the overall number of books sold. And we'd all love that and give you kisses if you did it! Publishers would give you a medal. :)

Hard, though. The basic and simple fact is that writing books is not a particularly lucrative endeavor. Sad, but true. We might wish it were not so... but that's the way of it. If we don't like it I guess we can play the lottery... hey, we writers are used to long odds, right?

Have a great evening, and my best, as always,
Bryan Russell

Kristy Colley said...

Maybe it's the peacemaker in me, but I'd like to believe both sides can be right. There is definitely more than one way of doing things. I'm sure some agents don't like querying -- perhaps they would be the sort to take up an idea like Steve's (which by the way, I happened to enjoy). Who knows. I know, I's resting, sorry Nathan. I'm actually quite surprised by all the reaction.

Have a lovely weekend!

clindsay said...

Reason Reanimator -

Since you said yourself that you actually don't have any trade publishing experience, perhaps you aren't the best one to act as advocate for its complete destruction. Especially since you don't actually offer any real solutions to what you perceive as "problems".

Publishing USED to be just about reading the manuscript. It was called THE SLUSH PILE. And if you think our being inundated with query letters is exhausting, talk to any long-time trade editor who was forced to wade the the literal tons of muck that was dropped onto their desks everyday. At the imprint where I once worked, the editors received upwards of 18,000 unsolicited manuscripts every year. And yet you believe that this is the best use of both an agent's and editor's time?

There's a reason that archaic and ineffective system was replaced.

Anonymous said...

I've hit every blog and every site I could for a long long time. Sometimes the conflicting advice can come from the same agency or blogger months or days apart. Occasionally it will be opposite advice from two different sites on the same day. As suggested earlier maybe it would be better for authors/writers (whatever you want to call them) to have a central site to post a couple of chapters of their work in their appropriate genres with a brief description (like what is on a book jacket), and make it only available to be viewed by publisher's and agents. After a month or so the post is removed. If there are no hits the author has the opportunity to improve his/her work and resubmit after a stated period of time. IMO this would ease the frustration of writing a query that is a one time shot to blow your book deal, avoiding so and so's taste for a business type letter and someone else's preference of quirkiness.

Marilyn Peake said...

Whoa, a rather lively, spirited discussion going on here! Guess I’ll dive in and add my two cents (and apparently mix metaphors as well, unless of course there happen to be pennies at the bottom of the pool when I dive in.)

Thank you, Nathan, for your generosity in sharing information about the publishing industry, and for your witty sense of humor. I love this blog! I’ve cut myself off from much of the Internet while I write a new novel, but I stop by this blog several times every day.

In many ways, writers are now living in a Golden Age. I absolutely do not mean "gold" as in financial wealth; I mean it only in terms of opportunity. The Internet has opened up limitless ways to get published. Never before have writers had such easy access to literary agents, famous authors, and publishing houses. It seems that nearly everyone’s on the web these days – discussing, answering questions, blogging, holding contests. A writer can learn a great deal, both about how to write better and how to get published. A writer can self-publish on their own website or through a self-publishing company, get published by a small press, or query literary agents in an attempt to get published by the big publishing houses. A novelist can build a strong platform and work their way up to greater success. Authors can do the same with short stories. Even a brief glimpse at Duotrope Digest’s extraordinarily long list of magazines and anthologies actively looking for short stories is enough to boggle the mind. And there’s a huge range in how difficult it is to get published by magazines, from the most easy to the most difficult magazines at which to have a short story accepted. An author can start with the easiest, and work their way up. In my opinion, it’s a wonderful time to be a writer, even if it isn’t always the best time to make money as a writer.

Laura D said...

Janet Reid is hilarious with her reiteration of Nathan's blog yesterday. "We're just not that into you." lol

Laura D said...

Btw just caught up with reading prior posts so I want to put in my 2 cents. Someone somewhere (you know who) argued that the statement 'good writers can write good queries' can be reversed and therefore dismissed the theory. Actually, being a statistic major in university that is a fallacy. A statistic can only be read one way. For example, 20% of men abused as children grow up to abuse can not be said as there is a 20% chance of becoming an abuser when abused. Capiche? Just like the writing novels/queries. Since a novel would be up on the difficulty scale, it is easy to imagine if one can write a story well they should be able to write a business letter (query) well. It's less difficult.
As for genres, I write many aspects of writing well. My list goes:
Medical documenting
Personal letters
Professional emails
Short stories-sci-fi
I write them all well, but mostly only in the english language.
Business writing is not hard, especially when we have people like Nathan to help us with the format. Your personality shines through, if you let it!

sheela said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


Mira said...

Ink -

Well, in some ways I agree with you. Publishing is a business, and we should expect it to act like a business.

On the other hand, I do think they treat writers badly, and I'm not backing off from that one. 2% of the profit is just outrageous.

Amazon is offering 30% for it's kindle self-publishing. I much prefer Amazon. :-)

I think there is more of a demand for books than we believe. I think there is more of a reader audience than we believe. I think there has been a bottleneck in the industry, and that may be changing. I hope so.

This idea that there are tons of great books that are written, and it's winning the lottery to get your great book published - I'm not sure I agree. I think if you write a great book, you can eventually publish it.

I don't think writers are in as much competition with each other than they seem to think. There's room for lots of great books.

Of course, as always, I could be wrong.

But then, as always, I so rarely am. ;-)

Mira said...

well, really, I'm not actually ever wrong.

It's not my fault if the truth changes after I've said something.

Ink said...

We do better than two cents on the dollar, don't we? And we get shiny advances to pay the grocery bills even before we sell a single book! They seem very trusting, those publishers. And there's always going to be a basic cost ratio. Now, if Publishers were reeling in huge profits and writers were getting shafted everywhere working as indentured servants... but if you look around you see the basic fact that profit margins on books are very small. Stores get their small share, Publishers get theirs, Writers theirs... it's a wee tiny pie to start dividing up, and no one's getting a big piece. Which is sad because I love pie! Mmmmmmm... pumpkin pie... whip cream... Mmmmmmm...

MzMannerz said...

"It's not my fault if the truth changes after I've said something."

Mira, I am stealing that gem for sure. LOL

clindsay said...

The truth is that the vast majority of books don't earn out their advances, so the author makes money even though the publisher actually may not.

And re the Kindle self-publishing program: The self-published books there are mostly the same dreck as the self-published books one find in print. There's a reason that gatekeepers exist; a lot of books simply aren't written very well. Sure you get 30%, but if only three people download your book, you're gonna make about enough to buy a candy bar.

Ink said...

Lol, clindsay. Too true.

The problem is lots of writers are getting so desperate in these times of financial woe that a candybar doesn't look too bad! Good calories for a hungry writer...

My best,
Bryan Russell

Mira said...

Mz Manners, feel free. :-)

Clindsay, you're an agent. Ink/Bryan, you're a bookseller. I think you have a slightly different perspective on this.

Here's a typical breakdown as I understand it. (Please correct me if I'm wrong. It doesn't actually add to 100, but I think this is the ballpark.)

The writer: 2%
The agent: 15%
The publisher: 35%
The bookseller: 45%

I don't care how small the pie is, that is outrageous. I don't care if the writer gets an advance on royalties - 2 percent is still 2 percent.

There's no arguing with that. It's outrageous. And this discussion is making me very, very angry.

I need to go dump my head in a cold tub of water to cool down.

Mira said...

Btw, CLindsay, I don't quite get your argument.

Are you saying the author shouldn't self-publish because if their book is 'dreck' they won't make alot of money on it? So they need a 'gatekeeper' to tell them not to publish because their book is 'dreck?'

Or are you trying to tell consumers they shouldn't buy self-published books because publishers know so much better than they do what a good book is? So they need a 'gatekeeper' to tell them what books to buy or not?

Well, I have another question for you. If I write a book that - just for argument's sake - isn't dreck - let's say it's good, then why should I go with a publisher who gives me 2% of the profit for something I spent years working on, when I could self-publish it for 30%?

Especially since the publisher won't market me anyway, since I'm a new author? But as a self-publisher, I can market myself on blogs and things like that?

Oh, I'm really angry. And yesterday, I was just lecturing Reason on not talking while angry.

I need to go get that tub of ice water.

Ink said...

Those numbers aren't right, Mira. An agent makes 15% of what the writer makes, not what is made on the book. So if Nathan is your agent and you make a $1000.00 on the book, then Nathan takes $150.00 (though, frankly, I think he can get you a better deal than that :)). He makes money, in other words, off of you rather than the book/publisher. If you're not doing well, he's not doing well. Motivation! The agent is basically your employee, advocating for your rights, and you pay him accordingly.

And the breakdown between Publisher and writer is much different than that as well. A publisher basically predicts what they think they can sell on a book, offering an advance for a split of the profit from that many sales. Hit the mark, and both sides come out even. Under the mark, the writer's clear and free and the publisher takes a hit. Go over and royalties kick in, continuing to divide the profit. Fairly equitable, really.

And I do think there's room for lots of great books, but not endlessly so, at least not if writers want to be paid well. If the readership stays the same, there is a finite number of books being sold. If more titles are published, the number of sales for each specific title goes down. If less titles are published, the number of sales for each specific title goes up (these are averages, of course - real life is fickle). It's the ol' small fish/big pond versus big fish/little pond scenario. So if we want lots of good books published we basically have to accept the fact that most writers will sell relatively few copies. Unless, of course, we expand the readership and overall number of books being sold. Which would rock, but I have no idea how that could be done. Maybe give kids books and electro-shock them if they don't read? :) Dean Koontz's Lightning would be even scarier...

Anyway, I hope I didn't make you angry. Not intentional! And, yes, I'm a bookseller, but I sell used books. So to all involved in the publishing industry I'm basically Satan. But it's cold here, so maybe hell has frozen over! Always a bright side. I hang out here at this blog, though, not because I sell books but because I attempt to write them. I'm desperately ambitious. :) So I'm in the same boat as every other writer out there, really.

I suppose in the end it comes down to the fact that I just don't see how writers are being screwed. It's a tough and fairly unprofitable industry, really, as all the big media companies have realized. Scraping even and allowing writers to eke out enough of a living to produce good books for people to read... well, that seems about what the market can bear.

Unless, of course, my electro-shock idea is put in play. Then we'll all be rich. :)

Now, self-publishing may start to take up a larger percentage of the books being sold. The problem will be trying to find the good stuff amidst all the clutter. The basic fact is that (on average) the professionally published books are going to be a lot better than the self-published ones. Note: on average. That "on average" is very key here. Yes, there will be exceptions. Yes, some fairly mediocre-seeming books get published. Yes, some real gems will be self-published. But the difference, on average, between the two groups will be huge. Saying anything less only shows a lack of understanding of what a slush pile is really like. Finding those gems among the self-published is the problem, and the challenge for any writer going that route. It's a valid route, but it's up to the writer then to show that a) their book is one of the gems, and b) to get this information to readers so that they can find and purchase the book.

Bookstores won't trust you. They trust publishers because they have a track record. They have a history of providing good books that sell. A self-published writer has none of that. They have to be convincing, and they have to do an amazing job of salesmanship. Not impossible, but certainly not easy. And lots of writers, I'm guessing, are terrible salesmen. It's one thing to chip in on marketing and help get a buzz so that people go to the bookstore for your book... and it's another thing entirely to have to force your way into those bookstores on your own, or develop a web presence big enough that you can simply bypass that altogether. I wish the best of luck on anyone who takes that path... but personally my head hurts just thinking about it. I don't think the writer me could convince the bookseller me to buy my books (remember, the bookseller won't read the book of every self-pubbed writer. No time. How else do you convince them? That's the trick). Admittedly, I'm a tough sell. :)

My best, as always,
Bryan Russell

Mira said...


I'm not angry at you - I like you, and have enjoyed reading your comments. I'm sorry if I made it seem personal I also didn't realize you sell used books, that's wonderful. And I wish you great luck with your writing.

You have some good arguments here, and proved me wrong on the part about the agent. I didn't realize that the agent gets a percentage of the writer's 'take.' That's terrible. 15% of 2%, that's just awful. How do they make a living?

When I talk about self-publishing, I mean e-books. The costs to publish in paper form is prohibitive, and the chances of being able to get your self-published book into a brick and motar store slim to none.

Why do I think there is more of a market out there for books? Because of the lack of market testing and marketing on the part of publishing. I believe there is a tremendous market for good books that is untapped.

I really do think Rowling and Meyers proved that.

But anyway, I'm afraid I'm not going to change my stance on this. I think 2% is unforgivable. And I do think the writer is being treated badly.

But let's not keep arguing. Maybe we can just agree to disagree.

Mira said...

Oh, I do have one additional comment.

Let's say you are really angry. Naturally, you dunk your head in a bucket of ice water to calm down.

My advice - based on experience - is not to do this.

Although it sounds like a good solution, in practice doing this will actually make you more angry, rather than less.

That's because sticking your head in a bucket of ice water is pretty idiotic. It's also fairly uncomfortable to boot.

So, no matter how tempted you are, I really advise you not to stick your head in a bucket of ice water.

Just thought some people might find that advice to be helpful.

Anonymous said...

I don't know where this 2% came from, unless the traditional 10% royalty has gone by the boards. I really doubt that agents would find it profitable to take 15% of nearly nothing. I'd recommend that writers here who want to understand the book industry pick up Richard Balkin's Writer's Guide to Book Publishing, which, although more than 30 years old, has been updated and is excellent. Balkin is an excellent literary agent, too. (No relation to me, BTW, and did not take my book.)

Tim Edwards said...

Ian Irvine, an Australian author, has an excellent article about publishing in which he explains royalties and advances. It is a couple of years old, but I doubt too much has changed since then. He lists royalties for US authors as between 6 and 10%, while Australian authors seem to get between 10 and 12.5%.

Mira said...

well, I read the 2% on the web, so I'm sure it's true.

But on the off chance that it's not, I apologize. But I have to say 6-10% is just about as bad.

In the best scenario, 90% of the profit will go to someone else. And the 10% is shared with the agent.

Am I crazy? Am I the only one who sees a problem here?

Maybe I should go dunk my head in a bucket of ice water.

Oh yeah. I tried that. Not a good idea.

Tim Edwards said...

Well, I'm not sure if it's 10% of the PROFIT or 10% of the INCOME. Because if the publishing house is taking a bigger share of the INCOME, then don't forget they've had to pay for the typesetting, design, printing, cover art and so on, so they need to earn that back before they take a share of the profit too.

I'd be interested in hearing from someone in the industry who knows exactly how it is broken down...

Anonymous said...

I hope Nathan gets in here next week with some much-needed clarification, since I'm seeing a lot of terms thrown about without much realistic understanding of book publishing. Tim's right about the publishing house paying for all the operational expenses that go into publishing a book. But 10% refers to the retail price of the book. So a book selling retail at $25.00 would mean a royalty to the author of $2.50. The author's agent would get 15% of that, or 37.5 cents.

Now, just to see where all that excess money (profit?) goes, consider that bookstores require a 40% discount on trade books (not so much on scholarly books). So the publisher must cut $10.00 off the retail price of the book, and is now receiving a return of $12.50, minus the cost of production, staff, overhead, and printing (say, $6.00 to be completely generous), and is now left with a profit of $6.50 per book. That's a profit of approximately 25%.

O.K., that sounds wonderful for the publisher. But consider that bookstores can return any copies they don't sell, and the publisher must pay taxes on all inventory, and the risk factor hasn't even been calculated into these figures yet. Nor has the number of copies printed (say 7,000 you lucky, lucky author). And you happen to attract 2,000 readers max.

How does the publisher's profit look like then? More than likely, the publisher can risk these very marginal profits by going for a blockbuster bestseller, which will help pay for the less attractive books like yours and mine.

Hilabeans said...

Hold on there, Anon -
"the publisher can risk these very marginal profits by going for a blockbuster bestseller, which will help pay for the less attractive books like yours and mine"

Speak for yourself, buddy - I intend to be a bestseller. ;)

Tim Edwards said...

Thanks for the breakdown, Anon.

I remember reading somewhere that only 10% of Hollywood films actually make a profit. I wonder if it is similar with books?

Anonymous said...

Let me elaborate on the matter of books sold, if y'all will tolerate a bit more of my small rant.

Figures again. If the publisher makes $15.00 per book (40% off retail price), and pays the author 2.50 and spends $6.00 (more like $8-10) on the rest, the return on 2,000 copies (which your book maxed out at) is $30,000. You as author have made $5,000 (your poor agent made $750 on your book, including all the costs of placing it), and the production costs amount to $42,000. So the publisher is in a $17,000 hole. The only way the publisher breaks even is if your book sells over 3,000 copies. $15 x 3,133 = $47,000. That's the break-even cost for the publisher.

Writers should not be constricted by the realities of publication in their creative impulses, but they should not be ignorant of these realities when it comes to selling their books.


Anonymous said...

Hi, Hilabeans,

You said:

Speak for yourself, buddy - I intend to be a bestseller. ;)

Love your emoticon. Of course, we all intend to publish a bestseller! I'm not speaking for you, because you are certain of the possibilities of your book.

But, after all, most of us are not that certain of such illustrious prospects for our books. Most of all, we'd like to be able to speak to other people in our novels and nonfiction works - making some impact on the world, or at least on a few minds. In the end, that's the most important thing, isn't it?

I'm afraid that unrealistic expectations are the bane of writers, actors, inventors, and politicians. And writers are the only people in those groups I like very much. Inventors come second.

Oh, keep on hoping you lost souls.


Mira said...

Wow. I really feel sorry for those poor publishers. First of all they have to choose books that are hand-picked for them by agents that will sell over 3,000 copies. Wow. That seems really hard.

Then, after that, they make 13.50 off of every book. The author makes 2.50 which they share with their agent.

Boy, it's a good thing you helped me be more realistic about how fair the system is.

Oh, and if the publisher loses money - can't they do something called a tax write-off? Well, thank goodness for that. I would want them to make money either way.

And I noticed that you didn't mention how much money the bookstore doesn't make. I'd like to feel sorry for them too.

I have no idea what Amazon is thinking of, offering 30% to the author. They are obviously in terrible jeopardy of going out of business at any moment.

You call me unrealistic.

Well, I might use another word.


Mira said...

Um. That was alittle sarcastic.

I'm sorry.

I think I need to stop talking about this.

The buckets of ice water aren't working, and frankly my scalp is getting all wrinkly.

Hilabeans said...

OK – taking a break from writing.

Mira, I like your style.

DNW, so glad you like my emoticon. In response, yes, I am certain that my hard work will pay off, eventually. Where does it get me to think that I'm just a "lost soul?" ...That's right. Now say it with me... all together now... NOWHERE.
In addition, I'm going to choose to believe that you weren't somehow insinuating that my motivation for writing is purely about the illustrious potential for fame/glory/wealth. As much as I would LOVE all of those, this thick skin braves the harsh rejections for the sole purpose of providing someone else with an escape. I want others to lose themselves in my world, to fall in love with my characters, but most of all, to think about them after reaching, “The End.”
So, on one point, I agree with you. As a writer, I do want to impact the world.

OK, enough of that - going back to writing.
:) (Another emoticon just for you, DNW!)

mantecanaut said...

Interesting. Chinkle.

Anonymous said...

I do love reading this blog!!

Scotty said...

Whoah, there are toys all over the floor in here! :^P

Why does anyone see the query process as anything more than an opportunity to sell your "product"? It's no more haughty in nature than what we do as consumers every day. It's up to the manufacturer to find a way to sell us their products by conveying the message of what's in it for us. The one's who do it best, get the shot and the dosh. Simple.

What's more, I don't know of any that blame us for not buying what they're making just because they bothered to make it. It's not exactly the hardest thing in the world to sell your story in a few paragraphs if you work at it.

As far as I'm concerned, I'm extremely grateful when I see "accepts queries" near an agent's bio. It means I at least have a chance. That's all I've ever asked for, and dammit, someday it'll be all I ever need.

Hilabeans said...

Well said, Scotty!

Meredith Teagarden (The Things We Carried) said...

Thanks for sending me to Cynthia's!

Anonymous said...

Excellent metaphor, Scotty.

And let's face it, folks: your future agent not only wants your fantastic novels, but s/he presumably wants a client who can behave in a professional manner. (That 'list of ten things, half of which were "keep your mouth shut"' comes to mind.)

A query letter is a pretty small way to demonstrate that you can do this, and many of the items on the 'things not to do in query letters' lists are unprofessional.

Wanda B. Ontheshelves said...

Video subliminal suggestion?

I kind of noticed with the piglet video, the comments tended toward "awww, that's cute," whereas with the dust storm video, the comments were stirred up a bit, there were flashes of lightening (anger), visibility was low (difficulty comprehending the point of someone's comments) a previous post, Nathan had mentioned something along the lines of "cocktail parties on rainbows" with agents, (I'm not 100% sure I've got the image right, but something like that) - what kind of comments would THAT video generate, I wonder? If there was such a video...

Josh said...

I just got done reading the comments and not trying to spark anything up again, but does anyone here have a problem submitting a resume for a job out in the real world? Because, as I see it, a query letter is pretty much the same thing.

I work in HR and I judge people every day by their resumes. If I don't like the resume, they don't get an interview. And just because someone has a great resume doesn't mean they get the job. Bad resume doesn't mean they aren't talented and I probably could do the job. Resumes are just the most efficient way to get hiring done. If a fellow co-worker walks into my office and say, "I know this guy, he would be great for the position", I will sure as hell look at the person first- makes my job easier and I generally trust my co-workers.

On some job postings I might receive 100's of applicants. is there anybody out there who expects me to have them all show up and try out the job for a couple of hours to see who's best? For better or worse, you have a page to show who you are and your talents, you should probably make the best of it.

I'm just baffled at the amount of anger and frustration queries raise.


SueS said...

So true that writing should be about the reader not about the writer. On the deep level.

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