Nathan Bransford, Author

Monday, April 13, 2009

Be An Agent for a Day: Here We Go!

Are you ready? Have you sharpened your rejection letters and made sure all of your client's needs have been attended to before you handle these queries?

Here we go!

Pretty soon 50 queries will start posting automatically throughout the hours of 8:00 AM and 5:00 PM Pacific time today. You will reject or request them in the comments section. Remember, you can only request a total of 5 throughout the day. Everyone is officially on the honor system.

I sprinkled in 3 queries for books that went on to be published. Your job is to request them.

And a huge thank you to everyone who volunteered their query. I regret that I could only use some of them for the purposes of the contest.

Some tips, pointers, and reminders:

- Please please please do not e-mail me your rejections and requests. You must leave them in the comment section of the posts.

- You will need to either use a consistent identity or sign with a unique name in order to distinguish yourself from the other agents. Also, all of the queries are signed "author" so you'll have to use the title if you want to personalize your responses.

- The queries, as you'll see, vary widely. I chose them basically at random from the several hundred that were submitted to me. Some have sample pages, some don't. Some are long, some are short. Some are personalized, some aren't. Some follow the "rules", some don't. This is what an agent's inbox looks like.

- Please don't give it away if you recognize a query, whether it's someone else's or your own.

- You will have until Sunday night to complete this task.

- When in doubt, check the rules and regulations. Or ask a question here.


On your marks, get set, QUERIES!


7-iron said...

i moved my rss to my email. my inbox is going to be a disaster.

this will make more of a mess than a dog dragging his ass across the carpet.

here we go...

The First Carol said...

7-iron: if you need a dog, I have extras, (just a little warm up banter).

JuJu said...


Don't remind me about my dog. I think my housekeeper poisoned her.

Joseph L. Selby said...

"I chose them basically at random from the several hundred that were submitted to me. "


Sacre Bleu said...

This is such a great idea, Nathan.

David said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
RW said...

A recommendation Nathan . . . I can imagine people wanting to comment on the queries collectively and on this exercise. Perhaps you can create one last post to bookend it for "general discussion and open sharing."

Thanks for all the work on this. It must have been a huge job.

Megan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Do we still have one week to respond to all 50 queries? Or is it by the end of today?

:) Thanks for doing this!

Lindsey S.

Nathan Bransford said...


One week. You can try and do it all in a day to simulate the experience, but I didn't want to make the deadline so tight that people who happen to be busy today can't participate.

reader said...

OKAY, Nathan --

I've only done nine queries so far and I TOTALLY get why agents do not include writers names/book titles in their responses.

BUT, I have to say, I was able (so far) to give a sentence or two of feedback, even if it was "follow mu sub guidelines" or, "nice voice, feel free to submit other books to me."

(of course I don't do this everyday, either.:))

Anonymous said...


I was very happy to discover that one of my queries is Query #2. Several readers commented that my query letter mentions including the first five pages of the manuscript, but those pages aren't included on the Blog. Just thought I'd mention it, in case the pages were left out in cutting-and-pasting.

Amy said...

Kudos to all the authors submitting their work for the contest. I tell you, my heart broke a little bit thinking about rejecting all these fine authors. :(

But, I'm playing! So much fun, thanks for the contest!

Nathan Bransford said...


Yeah, sorry about that. I based some of my choices on whether to include the 5 pages on the basis of formatting. Some of them would have simply been too laborious to paste over to Blogger. I'll remove the part of your query that mentions the pages, if that's ok.

AmandaKMorgan said...

I have to say it. Authors certainly seemed offended about what was said during #queryfail, but some don't seem to hesitate to publicly post really cruel rejections.


Nathan Bransford said...


I think that's what has surprised me most about this process so far.

hannah said...

Seriously--I'd cry if I got some of these answers from agents.

Take a good hard look at yourselves, writers.

Bane of Anubis said...

Nathan - there's some personal info in query 15 (toward the end regarding website) that you might want to redact (perhaps it's a spurious website).

Renee Collins said...

Can we change our minds if we've already sent a rejection?

Nathan Bransford said...

Thanks, BofA.

Renee- no, I think that would wreak havoc.

Anonymous said...

Hi Nathan,

Here's my question.
Revising a client's work, do you or don't you? If you see the potential, do you dare offer ideas, or just prod a little?

Anonymous said...

Forgot to leave my siggie on the question of author revision.

Agent XXX

PurpleClover said...

is it okay to come back to a query if you haven't decided yet?

Or would you rather us decide the moment we read it before reading others?

Nathan Bransford said...


Definitely ok to come back to it. I have to do that sometimes.

PurpleClover said...

At the end are you going to tell us how many of the 50 YOU would have requested???????

I only have two left. I think I'll wait until the remaining ones are posted before I throw them around like dollar bills at a strip club. ;)

Nathan Bransford said...


I think I would have done pretty well in this contest, but in real life I passed on one of the ones that went on to be published.

thin said...

Hi Nathan,
Are tomorrow's posts going to be numbered 1-50, or 51-100?

I know it's such a technicality, but I'm reading them all before I comment on any of them and I'm trying to keep track. Maybe this isn't the best method.

This is overwhelming. I can't believe you do it every day.

PurpleClover said...

I think that is why I want to request so many. I'm afraid I'll miss the "big one."

Is there a difference between rookie agents and established agents on the amount of manuscripts they request from queries? I look at Jennifer Jackson's posts regarding how many queries read vs. requested MSs. The latest she read through 216 and requested none. I'm assuming because her book is pretty well built?? Or is it because there really is that much slush?

I can't even read through 20 without requesting three. YIKES!

Nathan Bransford said...


Don't worry, there are only 50 total. No queries tomorrow.

PurpleClover said...

You should totally have other agents do the contest and see if they get the right ones too! ;)

Nathan Bransford said...


I think it's more that you get more efficient the more queries (and manuscripts) you read. Although partly it's that this is a better batch than we normally see. Keep in mind that we'd normally have to read about 5,000 queries to find 3 published books, not 50.

thin said...

I must have grossly misunderstood the directions. Thanks for clarifying.

and thank goodness there are no queries tomorrow. whew.

PurpleClover said...

So for any of the ones that aren't the real pub'd books do you plan on requesting a full?? ;) hehe.

Christine H said...

I must say... I submitted a query to this contest. I was hoping it would appear so I could get feedback. Now I sincerely hope it doesn't!

Reading all of these (so far) has made me realize how truly awful mine is.

That, in itself, is helpful... sort of.

I still haven't figured out how to fix mine. But I'll keep working on it.


PurpleClover said...

Don't feel bad christine...some of us are thinking the exact same thing.


Christine H said...

Well, what's discouraging is that, as a fantasy writer, I have to work a lot harder to present my story than people with contemporary settings do. There are things that are understood in a contemporary setting that have to be explained for fantasy, which naturally drags the query down. (And the manuscript, too, unfortunately.)

None of the fantasy queries grabbed me - which is really discouraging, because they are all better than mine!

I think I am beginning to realize how truly awful a short blurb like this is in presenting a book. If I were a real agent, I'd probably look at the pages first, then read the query.

Anonymous said...


It's fine with me however you decide to handle the first five pages submitted with my query. I completely understand that formatting often goes completely bonkers when moving an excerpt from email to a blog site. Thanks so much for hosting this contest!

- Anon/Author of Query #2

Anahita said...

I devised a system for this exercise that enables me to rank the 50 queries. That way, when I’m done, I can select the top 5. As a first step, I tested that ranking system on my own queries (that so far have not appeared in the contest). The funny thing is, “ALL” of the queries that I have read and ranked so far, ranked better than my own!! Thanks Nathan for providing such a great opportunity to encounter such interesting works; and for an opportunity for evaluating my own work. Thanks everyone for contributing to this educational exercise by submitting your queries. I am in awe reading all these great works. I’m fortunate that I’m not an agent. If I were, I would probably end up sitting overwhelmed among the pile of manuscripts that I had requested!

Mira said...

Wow. It's hard to turn people down. Painful.

And I've only done four and requested one of them.

I wonder what it would be like to have to turn down hundreds of people all the time? How would someone handle that emotionally?

Wow. That's a hard part of the job.

Mira said...

On the other hand, it's really fun to do this.

The essence of paradox. :-)

Thanks for doing this Nathan. It's educational.

Bane of Anubis said...

Nathan, this is exhausting... :) - thanks for doing this - definitely a great learning experience.

Other Lisa said...

Ooooh, I wasn't gonna do this, but I'm getting awfully tempted.

Word verification: "submr"

Steph said...


Does requesting a partial count toward the five limit, or is that just for fulls?


Owl Sprite said...

You know, I think I'm slipping into "Author Fail" mode. This isn't my real job, I'm in a hurry, and I'm not taking enough time to look at everything closely.

Also, I just realized we are allowed to pick 5. Since there are only 3 published books here, I thought we could only pick 3.

I may have to recant some of my rejections.

Christine H said...

Self-publishing is starting to look better and better... (searches around for a rock to crawl under.)

Derek said...

Nathan, thanks for organizing this fun and educational day.

Agent For A Day.
Requested #10, #12, #17, #20, #39.

Anonymous said...

Nathan, are you going to pick your top 5, too? It would be great if you could convince other agents to pick their top 5 as well, and tell why.

Thanks for doing this, very informative! You agents don't have it easy!

Laura D said...

Wow, Nathan this was really hard. #10 and #12 seem to be the most popular. Unfortunately, neither sparked me. I must be really picky because after 49 queries, I only would have requested more from two of them. However, I agonized over reading them and despite being off work today, it still took me hours to go through them. I now fully understand how challenging your work is for you. Hopefully you love it enough to want to face the trials daily.
Laura Hyatt

Disgruntled Bear said...

Christine H wanted feedback on her query; may I suggest THE PUBLIC QUERY SLUSHPILE? It's at Nathan, I think you mentioned it a while back. I got some wonderful feedback on my query that really tightened it up (although it wasn't included in the 50 - oh, well). It's also fun to give other people some help, as well.

Craven said...

Nathan, I made it through, and I do feel for you. The hardest part was havingg only five requests for more material.

Two were very easy to say yes to. Six or seven intrigued me and I would have asked for more material to help with the decision. Instead I ponndered, reread, and struggled to narrow the choices to three.

I found the few writing samples submitted very helpful. One turned a borderline yes into a solid yes. The others turned a borderline yes into a no.

Without the "five maximum" rule, I would have asked for additional material on eight or nine manuscripts. A few sample pages submitted with the queries might have trimmed that down a bit.

Eric M said...


This was a fabulous idea!

As a writer this has given me a lot of helpful information on the query/agent selection process.

I am the organizer of two local writer's groups and I will be passing along the link to this because I think it is extremely valuable.

Some things I've already learned from this:

- what makes a good query letter
- what makes a bad query letter
- what makes a query letter stand out from all the others
- good versus poor letter structure
- the sheer volume of query letters an agent receives
- the volume versus the number of books published
- what competitors are writing and submitting
- how blatantly bad spelling and punctuation stands out
- how sample excerpts with poor beginning hooks lose the agent's interest blazingly fast
- how strange names and words distract from the letter's content
- that cliche-sounding titles seem less interesting as you read more and more query letters
- and why writers get form-letter responses

I think this list could go on and on, but I think you get the idea.

I started this experiment about 2 days late and had to click on every blog link. I've gone through about 10 so far and will finish the rest and request some. I won't send a rejection to the others though. If I were doing this as my career I would, but since it is more of an exercise and I have another deadline I will pass on those replies.

All the best,


Anonymous said...

Dear Writer,
Thanks so much for the query, but this is just not right for us at this time. Feel free to send me any others you might come up with, and best of luck in other endeavors.
Agent R.

Anonymous said...

Dear Author,
I am not interested in your novel. Keep writing, your story had potential but was not for me. Feel free to Query me later with another piece of your work.

Gail Goetz said...

Never have figured out where and how to respond to comments you make on your blog, but here I am, so here goes. About Susan Boyle and why everyone is so excited about her performance ... she is forty-seven years old and has never been been heard by the powers that could make her a star. There are plenty of roles she could fill on Broadway, a great personality to carry them off. She walked out on the stage and said she wanted to sing for the audience like Ellen Page, and everyone thought...oh no, another nut. Then she opened her mouth and incredible music poured out with unbelievable range and timber that few people have heard before, especially unexpectedly.

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