Nathan Bransford, Author

Monday, April 20, 2009

Be An Agent for a Day: The Results!!

Thank you once again to everyone who participated in the Be An Agent for a Day contest. 50 queries, 300+ participants, 15,000+ comments later..... I know you're curious to see how you did.

When I started this contest I really had no idea how it would go. I didn't even spell out a prize because I wasn't sure if we'd have five winners or fifty winners. I didn't know if it would be fantastically easy for people to spot the three actually-published authors among the fifty queries or whether it would be fantastically hard.

Well, now we have our answer. And I think you'll be surprised.

First off, none of the actually published books were among the top five most requested queries.

And out of the 300+ people who participated, only two people guessed all three published authors with their five choices (that's less than 1%, compared to the 16% who predicted they got all three). A huge, massive round of applause to Moth and Chenelley!!! They win partial manuscript critiques. They also might have a future career as agents.

Now then. At long last, here are the ones who were actually (or soon to be) published:

Query #39 was for THE PREY by Allison Brennan. The query (and manuscript) landed her an agent, a pre-empt offer from Ballantine, and reached #33 on the NY Times bestseller list. Spotting this query would have been a career-maker. Only 15% of the agents for a day requested it (and many of the ones who passed were quite rude).

Query #9 was by Hannah Moskowitz, and her novel BREAK will be published this summer by Simon Pulse. In real life 60% of the agents she queried requested to see more. But only 31% of the agents for a day requested it.

Query #21 was by Inara Scott, who subsequently received a two book deal with Hyperion Books for Young Readers. Only 16% of the agents for a day requested it.

By contrast, the most-requested query overall was #10, a work-in-progress by Dawn Johnson, which generated a 52% request rate.

What should we make of all this?

To be fair, many of the people who personalized their rejection to Allison Brennan's query mentioned that they were passing because it sounded too familiar. Well..... yeah. It was a big book. Quite a few people probably either remembered it or even read it. So I'll let some of you slide on that one.

But more importantly, I think this contest goes to show how people may have overemphasized the query itself when they were playing agents. The queries that generated the highest response rate were the most technically precise. They were tidy, they were well-organized, they followed the rules. They were good queries (and some of them may go on to have success stories of their own). But this wasn't a contest to spot the best queries.

When an agent is reading a query we're trying to look past the query to get a sense of the underlying book. We're evaluating the concept and the writing, not ticking off a box of requirements. I don't reject people solely because they start with rhetorical questions or their word count isn't quite right or they break one of the query "rules". I can't afford to do that. Nor do I request pages for a book that has a perfect query but whose underlying concept is flawed.

A good concept and strong writing are more important than good query form.

Now, a strong query helps your odds and your request rate, which is why we blogging agents spend so much time talking about the "rules". It really does help your odds to write a good one. When people are writing good queries it helps us spot the good projects. But remember: the most important thing is not writing a good query, but rather writing a good book. A strong concept is so important.

The other main element I'd take from this challenge is how subjective this business really is. What resonates with you might not resonate with someone else. That's why it's so important to query widely. I was one of the 40% who passed on Hannah's query because it just wasn't quite right for me at the time.

And of course, I hope everyone will remember this contest the next time a poor agent or editor is mocked for passing on [insert bestseller here]. Because getting it right is incredibly hard.

What do YOU think of the results?


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Chris Eldin said...

Utterly fascinating!!! Thanks for hosting this, it was a true learning experience!!

(I hope number 10 goes on to publication! LOVED her query!)

David said...

I went 0-for-3!

Like most Cleveland Indians hitters this year.

So at least I have something in common with my beloved Tribe.

Fascinating experiment overall, Nathan.

Cat Moleski said...

I loved the experience, despite missing on all three. What fun!

Derek said...

Woo hoo! I got one right! #39. My conclusion: I can't spot what Young Adults would be interested in.

Justus M. Bowman said...

It was an interesting experiment.

"But remember: the most important thing is not writing a good query, but rather writing a good book."

That is why I stopped playing the query game. It's no use unless I have a salable story.

Kats said...

The results are really interesting. I got 2 out of 3 (but didn't have the third even on my list of maybes!). Thanks for organising this, it's been enlightening and lots of fun.

Melanie Avila said...

Wow -- I had two of those, and the third was in my final eight. How many people had two right, or didn't you both figuring that out?

Again, awesome contest. I've learned so much about the process from this and I really appreciate you taking the time to help us. :)

Pure Fiction said...

You're right, the results really do show how subjective query results are.
I didn't go for any of the top three, and I know none of them are books that I would read, which is again a totally subjective thing.
I wonder if you took a poll of 300 agents, which ones would come out on top?
Maybe the queries that attracted the highest number of hits here are also ones that would result in best-selling books, if given the chance?

thin said...

1 short. darn.

Julie said...

Wow. Going through the exercise made me realize that agenting is hard work. Seeing the results taught me how it requires an incredible amount of instict. Congrats to the two SUPER AGENTS!

Julie said...

*instinct* (and better than average typing ability!)

Chanelley said...

I won!!! :) said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Congrats to Moth and Chanelley!

And Nathan while I really admire this about you;

"When an agent is reading a query we're trying to look past the query to get a sense of the underlying book. We're evaluating the concept and the writing, not ticking off a box of requirements. I don't reject people solely because they start with rhetorical questions or their word count isn't quite right or they break one of the query "rules"."

Just going around the web to different agent sites, you'd be surprised how many write about following their "rules"

I thought it was to get authors to adhere to some sort of industry query standard. I, like another poster on here stated, have thrown out the "rules" some agents wish writers to use. It hindered my voice and I get a better result now.

Agent XXX

Inara Scott said...

Hi -- and thanks to Nathan for an illuminating contest! I am the author of Running Blind (actually, Delcroix Academy, but I changed the names to protect the innocent!). Sorry for the typo in the query -- I know the name thing threw people off. My heroine's name is Dancia, but I thought that might throw a bone to anyone who remembered my story from other circles, so I changed it -- or tried to! LOL.

Anyway, I think this query actually got a request rate in the half to two-thirds range back in 2006, when I was circulating it. I knew having a hypothetical at the start would lead to some auto-rejects on this blog -- and it did! :-)

A lot of the comments focused on this being too much like X-men. I found that funny, because my agent actually pitched the book as "X-men for girls." I've never seen the X-men, but I believe you all when you say it's similar!

It's important to remember that editors like to sell things they know how to sell. So something that sounds similar to you may be very sell-able, because the editor knows what to do with it. Just a thought.

Good luck to all of you

Liana Brooks said...

About what I expected. I know my taste doesn't run to the norm. That's okay, I keep the fringe authors in business.

Yay for the two who have futures as agents! Do either of you like sci-fi?

Lupina said...

Congrats to the winners! I'm eating humble pie here for breakfast and must say I much prefer eggs and toast. I predicted I'd get three but chose none of the actually published books.

I agree with Pure Fiction that the contest showed how subjective the query-response process may be. But I also have to note that just because some of the more popular picks turned out to be for not-already-published books, it doesn't mean they couldn't still be published in the future. I bet some of them will be!

Thanks again to Nathan, his stat-compiler helpers, and to those who furnished the queries.

PurpleClover said...

Wow. I'm actually surprised I didn't even get ONE of them. But The Copycat Killer did sound really familiar...should have known.

Anyhow, great contest!

Moth & Chennelly - WOW! Congrats! You actually get manuscript critiques. NICE. sooooo jealous. ;)

The First Carol said...

Perhaps, it should give us pause before criticizing arenas where we have little experience, and maybe not well thought out (emotional) opinions. Now, let's hear some praise for the brave participants who gave it a go--agents AND authors. Cheers everyone!

Ulysses said...

0 for 3 here.
The results surprised me and it's obvious that I don't have the skill required to see past the query to the work behind it. I'm okay with that. I have no delusions that I would make a good agent. It's hard enough maintaining the delusion that I'm a good writer.

Ian said...

The most important thing is not writing a good book, but getting a good book published.

Rick Daley said...

I was 0-3 :-(

I passed on THE PREY based on the familiarity; I passed on BREAK because there seemed to be an inconsistency between the "nothing sucks" in the opening paragraph and the "all that's not well at home" in the third, and it made me question the plot and character motives; and I passed on RUNNING BLIND because there was too much going on the third paragraph, and reading "Garrett plays on Dancia’s deepest fears" made me think "who is Dancia," a person or place that is not referenced anyplace else.

It was a great exercise, thanks for hosting it. I learned quite a bit from the experience.

KareFree Kennels said...

Zero. Nada. I predicted I'd get one of them.

But the most interesting result for me was the fact that I rejected, with little thought and no waffling, all of the three successful queries. Arrrgh!

One them sounded too familiar to me, not an exact book I had read or heard about (I think), but simply too much 'more of the same.'
Obviously, agents are able to see the differences because they're closer to the market.

Great contest, Nathan. Keep up the good work!

Kathy said...

I found the contest eye-opening. I had no idea agents got so many queries in one day. It was actually depressing to find that out.

I got none of the five right. My opinion is that this is a very subjective process. We all have our own idea about what sounds like a good book. I don't think that makes some people right and some people wrong.

Thank you for doing this contest! I really did enjoy participating.

Anahita said...

Thanks for all the time and energy that you put in organizing this contest. I learned a lot and hope to see more in the future.

quixotic said...

Thanks for letting us play along Nathan. This was an eye opening experience.

Matilda McCloud said...

I wasn't surprised I went 0 for 3--at least my prediction was correct!

What Nathan says is so true--focus on writing a great novel, not on writing a great query. I have become a champion query writer and have received many breathless emails from agents requesting my ms. But few agents have requested the full ms.

I realize now I sent out my ms too soon. Don't even think about querying until you can put a knife in your ms and it comes out clean (ie, by having it critiqued, revising it twenty times, and so on). That's where 98% of your focus should be.

Anonymous said...

0-3. lol I better stick with writing. Thanks for doing this!

~Lindsey S.

Mira said...

Congratulations to Moth and Chennely!

Also, congrats to the three published authors - Allison, Hannah and Inara - very cool.

There are some very talented people here - Hannah and Inara, I hope your sales go through the roof! Allison, I don't think you need my good wishes.


julief said...

I got one of the three. And really, I already love Hannah's stuff, being an absolutewrite member. The best seller one sounded so familiar, so done, that was one of the main reasons my eyes glazed over on it. The most requested was on my maybe pile.
Truly an interesting contest and I would love to see it done again.

Anonymous said...

I passed on two of the three without even short-listing them. One sounded thoroughly boring: like I could pick up something similar anywhere on the bestseller rack. That one was the bestseller, incidentally. The other had one interesting element that seemed easy to screw up, and half a dozen extremely common elements. Should the takeaway moral be that book buyers really do want more of the same?

reader said...


I know nothing.

How does anything get published?

Anna Claire said...

This experiment was fascinating and (as always) a priceless insight for us writers. It looks like it was a huge undertaking, so thanks Nathan!

150 said...

I'm totally buying Break.

DebraLSchubert said...

I didn't actively participate, but did read some of the queries. I loved the query for "Running Blind." There sure is a lot of subjectivity happening in the publishing world! Thanks, Nathan, for hosting this eye-opening exercise and to all the folks who participated.

Jarucia said...

I read through a fair number of the queries, but didn't participate in the actual contest.

However, I think this was an excellent exercise in empathy for what agents go through.

You pointed out how Ms. Brennan's book would have been a career maker (for the agent I presume) and to see so few people request demonstrates that there must be PLENTY of agents on a daily basis kicking themselves in the butt.

We authors LOVE the stories of best-selling so-and-so getting rejected 200 times before finding a home, but it's those 200 rejecting agents and publishers that hurt the most in the end.

Nice work here.

Anonymous said...

I'd be really curious to know how much the group nature of this exercise affected people's decisions, especially for books they were "on the fence" about. After all, you can't help but read the first 3-4 comments on a post when you go to leave your own comment...

0 for 3 but I was really tempted by #39... oh well. Goes to show I'd be just as broke as an agent as I am now - no career change in my future! :-D

Mira said...

Okay. Now about losing.


Didn't get one. I thought for sure I got at least one. And I was definitely off on the one that was on the NY times list - thought it had a genre problem.


Phoeey. Phoeey. Phoeey.

And the prize was a manuscript critique!! Even more phooeys.

Of course, I don't have a manuscript to critique, but so? I could have had so much fun with that writing critique. Like use it to torment my fellow authors or make a ton of money actioning it on QVC. Something like that.

This killing me.

AND I didn't even get to volunteer.


So, yes I learned something very important here.

I learned that life is against me. Probably God hates me. There is no real true meaning to life. The whole world is a jumble of ramdom acts that toss you around like a helpless insect. No rhyme. No rhythm. No mercy.

You live. You die. In between, you lose contests.

Yes. I learned. I learned quite well, thank you.

Um, that is what I was supposed to learn here, right?

melissablue13 said...

I really should have played. I loved 21. Out to go buy the book.

Anonymous said...

Wow. Had all the published ones on my short list but the only one I put in the top 5 was #10.

Thank you Nathan and all the authors who provided feedback for my query, Seventh Son. I was surprised at some of the small details (or details that I thought were small) that people questioned in my query. Also, I mentioned my former agent but failed to mention that he changed careers (he didn't drop me as a client). That is important.

Great experience and I feel so lucky to have gotten so much feedback. : )


Dara said...


I only got one correct and then requested that work in progress. It definitely shows me how difficult it is to be an agent!

The contest was fun learning experience.

L.C. Gant said...

Ow. My pride. I went 0-for-3 =(

Well, I was really close to choosing #39, so that's some comfort. The other 2 queries weren't even on my radar.

This has been a humbling experience to say the least. Definitely won't be quitting my day job to become an agent anytime soon. And the next time I hear a writer telling agents how to do their jobs, I'll direct them to this post.

Thanks for the education, Nathan! It was truly enlightening.

Anonymous said...

Well, this was certainly surprising for me. Not that I'm not an agent or possess an agent's skill.That much I already know.
But these results were not what I expected.

I really have been no where near getting it or guessing the winner in every contest I have followed.

The first one reminded me of the movie with Sigourney Weaver, Copycat.
But I would have passed on it anyway.

And the broken bones plot was too disturbing for me.

I know which books I like to read and why,
but they are WAY different than what an agent seems to want.

I really loved the ideas behind the books I did choose and still wished I could read those manuscripts.

I wonder, Nathan, which of these (Didn't you say you would have requested six?)
you would have chosen to read (aside from the three mentioned)?

EJ Lange said...

first, congrats to the 2 super agents! well done. :)

i hope the reveal will cause some of the snarks and trolls to take a moment and reflect. i imagine one reason it's important to be kind and professional in the agenting biz is because you never know which author could become a success.. and a successful author's opinion of a snarky agent could make a big impact in such a small business. (am i right, nathan?)

i picked just one of the published works (i confess, i happened to recognize it, but would have chosen it anyway) and am pleased that at least the one i picked is in my genre.

it's interesting that hannah got a 60% request rate in real life and only a 31% request rate in this contest. i wonder if that's because it's easier to write a query than polish up a good book. (i.e. how many of these queries are for WIPs that will never be finished?)

Inara -
thanks for what you said about familiar themes being marketable. (i would totally read an X-men for girls!). it was comforting for me, because a lot of my crit was from people who said my story was too much like the movie Breakfast Club. i got scared, because, thematically, it IS very much like BC on the run/for the next generation. glad to see that's not necessarily a negative.

Finally - thanks Nathan!!!!! eye-opening all around!

Laura said...

Hey, 2 out of 3 ain't bad. It's what I figured I probably got, and I got it by choosing only those queries that really grabbed me, with the sort of premise and genre I would normally read.

I cannot wait for Running Blind and Broken! :)

Fairduncan said...

Illuminating... yes, I can see how most of us fell into the trap of being dazzled by the query itself and not looking past it to really examine the concept. Very interesting. Thanks, Nathan.

Scott said...

A very worthwhile and educational exercise, Nathan. In fact, it gave me hope. For years I kept hearing that even a slightly imperfect query is reason enough in these days of huge slush piles and narrower nets to reject. Now, it's more clear that agents will overlook some authorial red flags if they see something that floats their boat. Of course, it doesn't really make the field more diverse, but it does take pressure off the minutiae of the letter and put it where it really counts.

As for my results, I'm pretty sure I mentioned that a few of the winners had a good shot, but probably passed because I deferred to my tastes instead of the needs of the contest. I can be like that. :)

Anyway, congrats to the winners, and once again, thanks for the learning experience.

Anonymous said...

Thank you to all the authors and contributers and Nathan.

There is nothing like this anywhere else.

Laura said...

Inara-- I chose yours, and I'm psyched. I loved X-men, so X-men for girls is just my kind of candy. Congratulations, and I'll be keeping an eye out for it.

Sara Cox Landolt said...

I was pleased to select 1 of 3, and very pleased to read so many interesting queries!! Thanks Nathan for an excellent experiment. Wow!

Laurie said...

This has been a most instructive exercise. My whole writing group is following it now.

I only picked one out of the three (#9), but I did pick the most popular one: #10.

Nathan, I also wondered which queries you thought were the most promising. Also wondered if the writer who submitted #10 will get a closer look from you or other agents?

Congrats to the winners and kudos to all the writers who were willing to subject themselves to such scrutiny!

And most of all, thank you, Nathan, for having the most pertinent agent blog I've ever seen. I've only been visiting here for a few weeks, but I have already learned SO much.

Anonymous said...

Hey authors of 13, 17, 20, 31:

I was pretty much serious, I'd totally like to see more of those, so if you want a beta-reader hit me up at 150 words at gmail dot com. Fun. :)

-Agent Pro Tempore

fatcaster said...

Thank you, Jim Duncan and Nathan for the contest, the lessons and the fun. As we say in trucking, "I owe you." Thanks also to everyone who commented on my query (#20). Your interest and remarks were inspiring, sobering, immensely helpful and deeply appreciated. I owe you guys. And yes, I realize that the point was, "Is it publishable?" not "Do you like it?"

Didn't vote--wouldn't have been fair--but I could not have even come close to picking the correct queries. Thanks again.

Marc Mayfield / Grass Valley, CA

Dale - Las Vegas said...

Again, thanks for doing this Nathan.

I think what this points out more than anything is how important it is to check out each agent before you query to ensure you don't waste their time as well as yours. There are numerous sources to determine what an agent wants and how s/he wants it.
Even then, it isn't easy - how many times did Clancy and Rawlings query before they got published?

Anyhow, I didn't do well at all in this exercise - but I HAVEN'T GIVEN UP! I know the novels I've written have promise and it's but a matter of continually working to improve and find a soapbox. I WILL GET PUBLISHED! Just a matter of time and work.
Again, thanks Nathan.

Karen said...


I was POSITIVE I had gotten at least 1 of them right, but I got a big 0. Incredible. I'm really surprised by that.

What's funny is that I went back and reread the published queries and my responses/rejections to them. Even knowing they went on to be published, I would still not have changed my response.

Nathan, I completely see your point.

Litgirl01 said...

That rocks!! LOL Kudos to all of you that played. :-)

Anonymous said...

I didn't get any correct. But I'm more interested in reading the ones I did choose rather than two of the ones that were published.

I guess I'd make a poor agent, because there are a lot of best sellers that just don't appeal to me in the slightest.

Matthew said...

I didn't participate, but it was very enlightening to read through all the queries and comments on them.

And of course congrats to the winners.

Gabriele C. said...

That was really interesting to follow, though I didn't participate.

Having read through the first 15 or so I found there were too many romance/relationship themed books, a genre I don't read and therefore could not judge re. marketability. Later on YA kept cropping up a lot, and that's not a genre I read much, either (give me epic Fantasy, Historical Fiction or some nice space opera, lol).

I also won't be surprised to get a rejection from Nathan. Since he represents historical fiction, he's on my list once I got that monster finished, but I think what I write differs from what he likes.

Laurie said...

To EJ Lange: I LOVED your query and the premise behind your novel, and so did all the members of my writing group (including two published novelists). If you lived near us, we'd invite you to join, just so we could read your manuscript.

Hope to see it published and on a bookshelf soon...

csmith said...

Thanks for doing this Nathan, I am fascinated by the results. Will have to think on them, it seems to me to show how writers/members of the general public view what agents do, as opposed to what they actually do. And this gives me hope (and a worrying amount of encouragment to continue plodding on editing - have to get this to a readable book and not a pretentious pile of dreck)

Mira. Yes. We all are against you. It's a fun place to be. We have cookies! (you know I'm joking sweetie)xx

Nixy Valentine said...

Ugh. I thought I'd learned something from participating, and now I just wonder why I've bothered spending weeks agonising over my query letter.

Kristan said...

I got #9 BREAK right, and now I'm excited because I can read it soon! :P

I'm one of those people who accepts the system, flaws and all, and isn't all "OMG HOW COME AGENTS AND QUERIES STINK SO BAD?!" -- so the contest was a fun exercise but not something that changed my worldview. It did, however, illustrate for me just how very mind-numbing it can be for agents to go through queries, and that really makes me wonder how to write a query that will follow the rules (enough) but still stand out from the crowd.

As for this post, one thing struck me as odd, and I'm thinking it's mostly in your phrasing...

"When an agent is reading a query we're trying to look past the query to get a sense of the underlying book."

That particular sentence makes it sound like queries are an obstacle -- which in turns makes me wonder, Why not just read the book then? Or for efficiency's sake, why not ask for form info (author name, 3-sentence bio, writing creds if any, etc.) and then a sample paragraph or page or 5 pages. I guess that's getting mighty close to a query, but it sort of cuts to the chase and lets agents read the author's real writing instead of trying to gauge it from a dissimilar sample.

Mira said...

Oh. And I'm completely unloveable.

No one has or will ever love me.

Ever, ever, ever, ever.

As in never.

My life will be a barren wasteland of isolation and loneliness.

Boy, I'm learing SO much here.

Anonymous said...

Congratulation to Inara Scott!

“And of course,” she says snidely. “Moth and Chenelley.” ;)

But most importantly, thank you to all the brave authors who submitted their queries for brutal, public scrutiny. I aspire to be as brave as each of you one day, and I genuinely appreciate the contributions you have made to my learning experience! Mostly, I’ve learned that we are our own worst critics!

Nathan, I want to know more, please.

What are the stats on the other queries; the top ten, maybe?

Like this query pool, are the majority of submissions for YA?

I am interested in INUGAMI. Are you out there, author? Where’s this going?

BTW: EJ Lange, I liked LOSERS. Good ideas never go out of style!

AgentforDay (I've removed the id already)

Hildegarde512 said...


I got 1 of 3 and a 2nd was on my "short" list.

I would be interested to know:

Which were the other 4 top 5 most popular picks?

Of those, are you requesting further reading on any?

It will also be interesting to see if any submissions land an agent and/or are published in the future.

Thanks again for taking the time and effort to host this event!

Maya said...

Oh, man, I wish I'd had time to participate! What an important take-away-- that we should focus on writing a great BOOK, not a great query.

I submitted a query to post for a book I'd decided to set aside, but in writing the query I got excited about it again. I'm also struggling to overcome the fantasy that Nathan will e-mail me personally to encourage me to finish the book. *sigh* Was anyone else secretly hoping to get some kind of response like this? :)

At any rate, this was a really useful activity, even though I didn't take part in the official agenting. And I'm stealing the idea for my AP class. :)

Saundra Mitchell said...

I'm glad BREAK is real and coming out this year. I loved it so much, I wanted to track down the author after the contest and rec them to MY agent, if they weren't already repped!

Melissa said...

I got one (#9), which was the result I expected. Another was one of the two I'd shortlisted, but the bestseller escaped me completely. Didn't even consider it. Oh, well.

Congrats to the two winners.

Hey Nathan, are you going to give the author of #10 anything for winning the most requests? I don't know him or anything, but it seems like he deserves a reward of some kind.


Renee Collins said...

SO interesting!! I got one right and #39 was in my top ten, but wow. Once again, this contest provided a fascinating insight into an agent's world. And into the writer's world, I think.

That so many people got caught up on the "query rules" is telling. I've noticed this in the writing community and in myself. We pour all of our energy into learning/following the rules, as if strict adherence will bring us success. But really, it all boils down to having the big idea.

Thanks again for having this experiment, Nathan!!

macaronipants said...

This was very interesting. I'd be curious to know if any of the queries in the contest go on to publish.

hannah said...

Thanks so much to everyone who requested BREAK--I hope you do go out and buy it! :D

I thought it was interesting how many people commented on the word count--neither my agent nor my editor ever flagged it as an issue (nor did any agents who rejected me.) My editor actually cut a good 3K words!

Also, I liked people who worried I was corrupting teenagers. I turned eighteen last weekend.

--hannah, Query #9

Craven said...

Well I did get two out of three. After re-reviewing #39 , it did sound like a rewrite of the screenplay Copycat with Sigourny Weaver. The part that sealed the deal on my rejection was the FBI bodyguard having a brother who was a freelance DEA agent. How handy, plus there's no such thing as a freelance DEA agent - you either are DEA, or you're not.

By the way, which one slipped past you?

Court said...

Great experiment, Nathan. Is there a book idea in here somewhere? ;o)

I picked a grand total of 0, which surprises me not at all. This was a lot harder than I expected...but still, it was fun while it lasted! I'm glad that you and your compatriots enjoy doing this every day. Keep up the great work!

Anonymous said...

Hannah - One day you will know.

Lisa R said...

Fascinating! Yes. This shows how little some of us know about agenting and also what sells! Actually I requested Allison Brennan's and remember thinking "This is probably NOT one of the published books" but I was just so interested in the story! Weird. Again I think this whole thing was so instructive for us aspiring writers. Lots to think about as far as revising my queries!

Jenn Johansson said...

That was very interesting. I got one of them, so I suppose that is good.

Great and fascinating contest Nathan! Thank you!

Nathan Bransford said...

agentforday and others-

I posted the request rate for every query at the bottom of each one.

Anonymous said...


Remus Shepherd said...

Nathan, I appreciate your doing this contest for people, and I understand how difficult a job you have.

But I don't see how you've proven anything.

Data mining is a big part of my day job. We measure filters by not only how many correct items they pull out of the data, but also how many they miss. You've proven that it's very, very difficult to keep a low rate of false positives when serving as a filter for stories. But it seems to me you have no measure of your false negatives -- how many stories that were passed up by everyone could have been bestsellers?

I just don't see agents as being a good filter. Even after this fascinating exercise.

Of course, I have no suggestions on how to do it better, so like everyone else I'll shut up and be a slave to the current system. But if your goal was to make me like it...I'm sorry, that's not going to happen. It's a terrible system, made useful only because we do not have any other options.

scj said...

2 out of 3 - not bad! The third one I passed on because I didn't get a good feel for the plot or the stakes. Darn, only one request away from a critique! ;) Thanks for having this contest; very enlightening.

Sarah Laurenson said...

I got half of one right. Hah!

I passed on #9 because it struck such a deep chord in me and not a good one, but I did recognize the writer had a great voice and that came across in her query. My first reaction to it was more along the lines of 'never darken my inbox ever again' though. :-)

Great experience, Nathan. My non-writing wife remarked last night that this is a lot like dating. She's so right (as always).

Court said...

@ Hannah, author of BREAK, query #9:

Serious congratulations to you. You're living the dream I had at your age. Good for you, and I'll be buying your book.


word ver: idlywarr
I didn't know war could be an idle thing. ;o)

Nathan Bransford said...


In real life, every one of the published queries had a 50%+ request rate from the agents the authors queried. And I think the odds are better that the agents are picking the good ones than every single agent passing on a possible bestseller.

I'm not prejudging what people are going to take from this contest, but "agents aren't good filters" isn't necessarily the first conclusion I would think people would draw from this.

KC in SF said...

wow Nathan,

thank you for taking on such a huge project! I know Agent for a Day must have taken a lot of time to organize and coordinate but the amount that writers have learned (well, certainly what I have learned) is enormous.

you have earned lots of good karma :)

KC in SF

Anonymous said...

I have a question.

I thought a query letter was supposed to give the plot including the ending or resolution.

None of the winners did that. Rather, they all read more like back covers.

Can you comment on that lease.

Nathan Bransford said...


To follow up on my comment, I actually agree with you that it's an imperfect system that doesn't have any better alternatives. And you're also right that there's no way to measure false positives.


It's not necessary to cram the whole plot into a query.

Court said...

@ Remus Shepherd:

I don't think Nathan's point was to make any of us like anything. The point I took from the exercise was to get a feel for the daily realities of the agenting process. For better or for worse, this is the process that's in place, and if we writers want to get our books published, we need a clear understanding of the business side of it all.

I wasn't under the impression that anyone was trying to prove anything. I felt that it was an opportunity for us to gain a bit of experience in an area most of us will never work in. Broadening horizons! Sounding barbaric agenting yawps! ;o) Always a good thing.

Mira said...

I was depressed.

I thought. I never win anything. Why do I never get a break? Why me?

Why me?

Then, something very exciting happened. I got not one, but two letters in my e-mail. It was so exciting. There are these people, I think they are kings or something, and they will give me millions of dollars if I let them use my bank account.

Life is good again. I'm going to be a millionaire.

So, never mind. I learned something different than I thought.

Even if you don't win a contest, you might later get an e-mail that will make you a millionaire. So never give up!

Wonderful things could be just around the corner.

Dan said...


I think this contest made it pretty visible how any agent can pass on the next bestseller, and that said pass isn't a slight on the agent OR the author - it's just more an issue of bad timing?

Sort of like how the KINGS play...


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the stats.

And I forgot to mention: I have a new found appreciation for how difficult it is to be in yours and other agents’ shoes, Nathan.

I approached this seriously enough to have learned that I don’t want your job, but I do respect the quality (and quantity) of work you do.

Thank you.

You are a true professional with class – which is almost impossible to find these days.

Signing off as AgentforDay.

Casey said...

2 out of 3 here! I'm stoked!

Congrats to the winners!

Also, thanks again Nathan and thank you Nathan's volunteers!

Tabitha said...

"I think this contest goes to show how people may have overemphasized the query itself when they were playing agents."

This is why I love reading your blog, Nathan. :) I think this was a great experiment.

Anonymous said...


Stay away from the light! ;)

And don't give strangers your banking information ... unless it is me... and there is enough money in your account for me to be bothered.

kcolley said...

I rejected mainly on personal preference. Not query format. Not to get it "right". I didn't pick any of the three, but then again...I didn't like them. Just my taste in books!

Moth said...

I won?


I won!

Megan said...

YAY! 1/3!
I'm very happy.
Is there any stats on how many people got 0/3, 1/3, 2/3?
It would be interesting to see how we rank, in the top BLA of the agents.
Congrats to the winners! V jealous of the prize!

KathyF said...

Congrats to the winners and the authors.

Well, just as I predicted, I didn't pick any of them. Not agent material.

I thought COPYCAT KILLERS was too familiar (sounded like the COPYCAT movie).

I thought RUNNING BLIND wouldn't have been chosen because it's an old idea. But I'm glad to see that old ideas can still work with a new story.

And there's just no way I could ever read or pick BREAK. I do hope the book is successful.

The results are encouraging to me personally. I've been worried that when I finish my book that the basic concept would seem too familiar even though the story is new. So, now I'll just concentrate on writing a good book.


Nikki Magennis said...

Fascinating project, Nathan! Thanks for running it.

I'm curious - if the successful manuscripts had 'a 50%' query rate, does this mean that authors sent them to several agents at once?

- and here's me thinking you had to go one at a time, no simultaneous submissions stylee. Is not true?

terri said...

Even though I thought I had one picked out, I passed on all three. However, if the writers (or anyone else) cares, I thought I'd throw out a couple of comments on the three, because all three caught my eye:

Inara ("Running Blind") - I am the one who started the X-Men comparison and can see why your agent pitched it that way. I am a little unusual, a woman who is a super-duper comic book collector and fan. So, your premise boomeranged with me a bit - sounded too much like a venerated 1960s - 70s comic mythology, even if unintended! However, I am far from typical and mainstream, so I sincerely hope it boomerangs back in your direction! X-Men has been beloved for 40 years for a reason and the 'gifted outsider' premise is strong for a reason. Good luck with the book!

"Break" - I knew it, I knew it . . . However, again, personal feelings got in the way of an objective review of how it might sell. As a public defender, I work with self-mutilators and I found the premise too disturbing. Again, a sincere congrats and best wishes. This is a topic that is relevant and a fresh take on the subject might even start a discussion on the topic.

"Copycat" Got me again! I was hooked until one sentence in the query put me off. That sentence, ironically, probably helped sell the book! That sentence was "they fell into bed . . . ".

I devour legal thrillers and police procedurals. However, I refuse to ever read another Lisa Jackson because each book contains a romance/sex scene in the middle of a string of otherwise well crafted murders (I 'blah-blah-blah' my way through the romance scenes in thrillers). However, that seems to be what helps serial killer/police procedurals appeal to a larger audience these days. Again, lack of objectivity as to what would sell. And this has obviously sold and sold well! I promise to put aside my prejudice and give it a look!

So, this is why I went to lawyer school instead of agent school!

Awesome contest and, snark/trolls aside, I hope you keep them up. I went back to the 'first page' contest and found it very intriguing. I loved the pages selected and hope to get a chance to participate in 'First Page II'.

jimnduncan said...

Well, I got one at least, #9. The other two I rejected for sounding to much like stuff that's out there now. I realize now, that as an agent, wanting to find stuff that will sell, being familiar isn't necessarily a bad thing. A great many readers out there buy books that are familiar to other things they have liked. I don't think I really took this into consideration as much as I should have. That said, it doesn't mean I would have picked the other two, though I did say that while familiar, #21 did have promise. Picking the right stuff is definitely hard, and I can see with experience just how much that 'gut instinct' factor comes into play. Being more familiar with the markets you represent as an agent would certainly help too. If I had done this contest knowing so-and-so editors were looking for such-and-such a story, it likely would have altered my results.

Regardless, this contest exceeded my original expectations when I passed it along to Nathan as something that might be worthwhile. He made it into one of the best learning activities regarding the querying process that I have experienced on the net. Kudos, Nathan!

Anonymous said...

Please define your term, "Big book" (in reference to one of the published books.)

My YA has been out on submission (vis a major agent/agency) for a year.

During a conversation with a publishing type, he noted one of its problems was that it was not a "big book."

I didn't think to ask at the time how a book's size (I am thinking literally: the m.s. is 350 double spaced, courier font) impacts its sales potential.

Mira said...

Oh. Where are my manners?

Nathan, this was such a fun contest.

Thank you for doing this. I'm sure it was a huge amount of extra work for you. This was very generous and constructive. Thanks for putting all that effort to help build understanding between writers and agents.

It was both edifying and super-fun.


terri said...

I just went through the stats and found that most of my picks were in good company:

#10 - 52%
#17 - 43%
#35 - 35%

My last two picks were lonely, however something about these tales intrigued me:

#02 - 3%
#41 - 2%

Tamara said...

Wow. 0-3. I'm proud to say two of the three were on my short list, but I also disregarded them because they were so familiar. I've learned a lot from this exercise. Nathan, thank you for that. One thing in particular is like so many other things in life, when it comes to good writing, you should trust your instincts.

Anonymous said...

Is there a difference between trolls and snarks?

I'm just learning the language.. and I'd hate to call someone a snark when they're really a troll.

reader said...


I wonder if at some point you can expand on the "A strong conept is so important," par of today's post.

What makes a great concept, and how does it differ from one that's too far out there?

Nathan Bransford said...


Yeah, I'm planning on posting on that too. I think a completely original concept is somewhat overrated, but at the same time, it can't be too similar to something that's already out there. I always think of it as "fresh take on existing tropes." Because unless you're a once in a generation genius like Tolkien, Mary Shelley or H.G. Wells, you're probably not inventing an entirely new genre. And even they used story arcs that go back to the Greeks.

Deniz Bevan said...

Congratulations to the winners! And thank you to everyone that personalized their rejections/acceptions - although you can't please all the people all the time, the more comments one gets, the easier it is to edit one's query letter.
That being said, I do wonder about the whole "can't cram every detail of the plot" into the letter rule - because, invariably, the minute you leave something out, the reader comes back with "but you didn't explain this aspect, therefore the plot isn't viable, therefore I'm rejecting your manuscript." Argh! How do you get around that?

Bane of Anubis said...

0 for 3 - definitely enlightening. Thanks a bunch!

David said...


re: your comment at 8:29

I know that it is an inexact science, but do you find that authors who ultimately find representation for a particular project are getting requests for partial at a 50 percent clip (or thereabouts)?

Put another way, what kind of request rate should make us feel good, and when should we stop, re-assess whether the query needs work, or worse, maybe the entire project is flawed?

Your comment reminded me of Janet Reid's comment on her blog a while back that when she offers representation, she's usually one of a few agents doing so.

Nathan Bransford said...


Readers might do that, but an agent wouldn't. We just need the setup.

Will Entrekin said...

Okay, so those three were the published ones and one was a best-seller. I'm curious about how their queries performed during the query process, though. Did they have a high rate of success for eliciting a partial request?

That is to say: the one most requested had a 52% partial request rate, which meant that one of every two people wanted to see the book, based on the query. "Actually-published" is a decent gauge for the success of a book, but wouldn't the best gauge of a good query be how many agents asked to see pages? Each actually-published book, after all, only had to have one agent accept it for representation, for the most part, right?

I don't know. I hear about the experiments all the time wherein famous authors take their names off of queries to send to agents and editors who reject them, which makes aspiring writers say, "ah HA! Gotchya!" (Doris Lessing is the example most prominent in my head, but I think someone did it with a Naipul manuscript a few years ago) And while this exercise was certainly more informative and educational (not to mention: way more productive and positive than queryfail, so well done), I guess I'm just wondering about the measure of the successful.

Still, as always, hugely awesome and terrifically well executed, Nathan. This is one of the reasons I think this blog is far and away the single best resource for authors, established and aspiring alike, on the net.

jo said...

Please do another one of these, preferably in the summer.

Nathan Bransford said...


Think of it as your query request rate setting the odds, and then you roll the dice.

I honestly don't know what a "normal" request rate is for books that go on to be published, but there have to at least be consistent nibbles for your odds to be good.

Bane of Anubis said...

And Hannah - 18 and 2 be published - very nicely done; kudos 2 you.

And 2 Moth & C - bravo.

Heather Harper said...

I was right in assuming I only picked one of the three-BREAK. BUT, the other two were among my final choices before I actually picked. So, yay me. ;-)

Congrats to the two actual winners!

I passed on the other YA, and boy was that choice a struggle, but I felt she left unanswered questions in her query about her premise. Query pertinent questions,IMO, like:

"Sarah will be forced to take sides in the most difficult struggle she has ever faced" What struggle and why is it difficult?

I've been taught to not keep secrets in your query. To tell, not show. That is why I gave a no, even though I liked it.

And for A. Brennan... I'm an idiot.
She was a finalist on my list, but I don't think I'm a good judge of rom suspense because I'm not current with market trends, etc.

You have a hard job, Nathan. You deserve your 15% and more.

Nathan Bransford said...


All three of the actually published works had real world manuscript request rates above 50%.

I too am skeptical of the "gotcha" experiments. Particularly in the case of existing successful works like THE PREY, they had their moment in time, that moment has passed, and I think it's unfair to judge people for passing on them in 2009. And then at the end of the day of course, it's subjective.

So I don't think this proves TOO much, but what I draw from it is: 1) there's something to be said for the expertise that comes with being an agent 2) I don't know how good crowds are at predicting the success of works beforehand. It seems like there's definitely a place for the expert in all of this.

Anonymous said...

So for a synopsis, you DO include the resolution, right?

(just checking)

Nathan Bransford said...



Scott said...

I love to go against the grain with my concepts because that's what I like to read: bold authors with brass ones and wicked imaginations. I can see now it's probably hurting or at least delaying my career. My last rejection said: I love your voice, I just don't know how to sell it. Which makes me wonder if I should be more careful in future queries to place my book into a marketable context outside of just naming like authors.

For the record, my picks were: #6, #10, #18, #37, #48. "Well done" to the minds behind them.

Jen said...

Glad No. 9 got published. The premise made my skin crawl but it REALLY got my attention. Hope "Losers" (no. 35) gets picked up too. I'd have jumped all over that one.

CarrieK said...

I would love to find out if any of the sample queries used in this contest go on to be published in the future. My choices will be vindicated, I tell you! VINDICATED!

Rachel said...

Congrats to the winners. I am impressed. Maybe you could start your own agenting for agents?

Congrats to the published authors, too, as well as the writers who volunteered their queries. That took a lot of guts.

Thanks to Nathan for doing all of this. I'm sure it was a huge undertaking but I think it helped a lot of us realize how much work and intuition goes into being an agent.

Eva Ulian said...

I didn't do so badly:
I asked to see no 9:
I said that no 10 had potential and would catch the eye of the RIGHT agent:
As for no 21, since the author said it was a full length adult novel I replied that at 60,000 words she should try as YA novel- which in fact it turned out to be.

The biggest cock-up (excuse the language) was for me no 39 which because the query was never ending and complicated I was just too tired to bother...

But the overall experience was POSITIVE! Many thanks!

Gabriele C. said...

I always think of it as "fresh take on existing tropes." Like Urban Fantasy in Imperial Rome, maybe?

No, I'm not writing that. ;) I do write about the Romans, but focussing on their presence in Britain and Germany, with lots of battles and a family feud. Aside the fact that I have plans for several novels already, so far I haven't come up with a character and concept for Roman UF, and I don't know I ever will. It just struck me as an interesting idea.

:)Ash said...

Very interesting! Congrats to the winners!

Marilyn Peake said...

Oh well, I guessed two out of three. I requested fulls for #9, #39, and #10. For #10, not only did I think the query was well-written, I sincerely hoped it was published, because I so wanted to read that book. I think that #10 sounds like something that could be a best-selling book as well as a TV series someday.

Congratulations to Moth and Chenelley!

Casey McGill said...

Congrats to the winners! I didn't participate (it's almost finals week, I probably would have ended up curled in a fetal position humming Spice Girls songs if I tried...) but I commend everyone who did. I read a few of the queries and that was enough for me. I think I'll stick with writing. Thanks Nathan for a glimpse at your crazy lifestyle!

Chuck H. said...

Thanks for the opportunity to prove what I already knew. I'm not cut out to be an agent. Now I'm beginning to wonder if I'm cut out to be a writer either. Anyway, to quote one of my inspirations, Douglas Adams, "So Long And Thanks For All The Fish."

richfigel said...

As author of query #17 (INUGAMI), just wanted to thank everyone for their feedback! It was adapted from a query I used for a spec screenplay that did well in contests, but hasn't been optioned or produced yet... which is why I didn't include a word count (script queries never include that sort of thing -- it's assumed you know the "proper" length for that genre).

Mira asked "where's the romance" -- actually there is a subplot involving a beautiful Japantown artist, who is connected to the dead Fortune Teller! Should'a worked that into the query.

And yeah, probably too much synopsis info for a query. Also, I agree I should've left out the exclamation point on a plot "twist" line. Script queries try to sell the sizzle, so I like to underline big twists or put them in italics and wasn't sure that would work in this posting format.

Thanks, Nathan for doing this contest! Now that I've tested the concept as a book idea, I'm gonna adapt my script. The great thing is I get to use all the stuff I had to omit or cut out for the movie version -- probably 200 pages worth of material (most movie scripts are now under 110 pages).

Rich Figel

Leis said...

Well done Moth and Chanelley, good luck with your MSs. Hope something good comes along :)

Well I can't believe I missed ALL three... Sorry Authors. And godspeed to you all.

Nathan Bransford said...


Please query me when you've finished the adaptation.

Marilyn Peake said...


If one of our own queries was in the contest, are we allowed to talk about the project here? I received the results to my own query that I was hoping for, and would love to talk about that just a bit.

Lori Erickson said...

I didn't participate in the agent angle of the contest, but I followed with interest. (I doubt I'd have gotten more than one, and that one would've been "cheating" since I'd run across Ms. Brennan's query letter elsewhere while researching how to write my own.) I hope I learned a thing or two--as much from reading all the other queries and comments as from my own (#50).

Thanks to Nathan for running the show, to the volunteers for tallying the results, and to everyone who took time to leave comments on the queries. And congrats to the Super Agents!

Nathan Bransford said...


Of course!

PurpleClover said...

"successful works like THE PREY, they had their moment in time, that moment has passed, and I think it's unfair to judge people for passing on them in 2009"In no way am I trying to be rude, but why was this one included? I passed because it sounded like an old story. A good story, but already done (for obvious reasons). Kudos for those that chose it correctly but I'm not surpised it didn't have a higher request rate. Are you?

I'm just thinking that the chips were slightly stacked on that one.

And NO. I do not think I would have chosen the three no matter how many times the chips were restacked. ;)

Jenn S. said...

0 for 3. The closest I came to success was rejecting #9; I knew it was good but I wouldn't have been the right "agent" for it. Congrats on your success, Hannah. :-)

This contest was certainly a lesson in subjectivity. I tried to go with my gut and not read other people's comments until after I'd made my decision. The wide range of comments was quite interesting, ranging from terse, even rude rejections to raging enthusiasm on the same book. I can see why "not right for me" is such a useful phrase.

I don't think I would make a good agent in real life, but this was a great experience anyway.

Nathan Bransford said...


I wanted a range of published queries, and I thought it would be fun to have a very successful one in there.

PurpleClover said...

rich -

i totally request inugami in like 2.3 seconds. ;)

It sounded GOOD. Let us know when it gets pub'd.

Sage said...

Only got the one I knew was being published right: BREAK. (IF IT AIN'T BROKE was the title I came up with for it).

It's interesting 'cuz a lot of people rejected #21 based on the fact that it had a rhetorical question. I didn't reject it because of that, but I thought it showed off why a rhetorical question is a problem.

Query: What if you could make things happen just by imagining them?
Sage: Sounds awesome. Sign me up!

And then I waited for an example of why I shouldn't want that power and never got one.

I remember that one a lot better than #39, which I suspect I form rejected.

Anyway, this was fun! Thanks, Nathan.

Lots of love,

PPP said...

I failed miserably!

But I understand why I did. I was attracted more to good queries than to good stories.

I hope we get to go this again some time so I can apply what I've learned.

Thanks, this was fun!!


PurpleClover said...

Nathan - the whole thing was fun. Period.

Maybe you can make it a quarterly contest?? ;)

In the mean time, any hopes of a twitter contest? 140 character queries?


Megoblocks said...

Course, if you want to have some statistical fun, given 50 queries with 3 sellable works in the pile, if you pick one at random (or throw darts, or get a monkey) for each of your 5 requests, you've got a 27% chance of seeing at least one.

However, getting 3 of 5 with all random guesswork comes out to something abysmal like .086% (have to double check my math though to be sure, someone can feel free to run the numbers)

So lucky people can get 1. Seems it takes some talent to grab 2 or 3 :)

CarrieK said...

I, too, requested INUGAMI. (As did 46% of commenters! Well done, Rich!)

So, some of us may not be Super Agents now, but we might be the Super Agents of the future...

I really would love to see updates on any of these queries, and I especially hope that my picks get agented and published down the road!

SGF said...

After reading the results I thought that we did place too much emphasis on the query itself.

As Nathan commented, there is real skill in being an agent that extends past spotting a good query out of the slush. THAT'S what I take away from this experience. It's easy to point fingers at tired agents for being rude (ala #agentfail) or having no taste but they are skilled. It's really good to know that, actually. It's been a great eye-opener into the field and will ultimately help my perspective as I query.

Janny said...

Yeah, I was 0 for 3 as well. Which flat out amazes me. And #39--I KNEW I'd heard it somewhere before. But the query just struck me as "same ol' same ol'," so I passed. Ain't that a hoot!

Just shows that many of us need to stick to our, writing.

...and I had the same problem with the "Dancia" name creeping up in that query. Which I don't know whether to laugh or cry at, to be honest with you.


Congrats to the super agents! Now, will they be hanging out their shingles soon?


Enusan said...

Damn, I ended up passing on Broke at the last minute.

I hope a few of the queries I did request come out in print, or at least get a manuscript request from a real agent. I'd like to read them.

Pinkie said...

Thanks, Nathan, this experience was worth it for me.

I picked the Copycat Killer, but missed the other two. I rejected If It Ain't Broke, thinking it was too morbid. Like someone said, I'm not up to snuff on what is happening in YA. Over the weekend, I attended a reading fair in Philly and there was a long line of autograph seekers waiting for John Green to sign their copy of Paper Town. I knew nothing of the novel and asked someone standing in line. He said, "It's YA with an edge."

I also rejected Running Blind thinking it's so cliche to have someone with power that can't use it.

But I did get good feedback on my query, and I thank all the participants for pointing out its flaws as well as its strengths. And I will not disappoint those who picked my query. It will get published!


Meggrs said...

Great contest, Nathan. I'm taking a lot away from the experience (more than one lesson learned).

Congrats to the winners and kudos to the participants.

TecZ aka Dalton C Teczon - Writer said...

What an eye opener. I had #39 and #21 on my top twelve list. But the "Copy Cat Killer" sounded like a movie I saw with Sigourney Weaver. Wow, good exercise. I personally also loved #10, it was on my top twelve list and I would personally read this kind of story. I love sci-fi. I hope it gets published too.

Thanks so much Nathan. I hope you do this contest again soon. I love another try at it. (ah, I came so close, lol). Have a Beautiful Day All!!!

Brent Billy Curtis said...

Wow! Thanks a ton for the contest Nathan.

BIG Congratulations to Moth and Chenelley!!

I didn't play agent, but I was query #37 and I learned more in the one week of this contest than I have in 20 years of writing queries.

Big thanks to my thumbs up folks, and HUGE Thanks to all the folks who rejected me, (especially those who provided feedback).

I was trying too hard to sell my novel as something that it really isn't and it turned lots of people off. (lots of feedback that the query was too graphic, which it was, though my novel itself is not).

Also, I came across as a bit of a pompous jerk quoting my "accolades" that I've received over the years from screenplays and short stories. I was trying to make my query sound flashy like a book cover filled with great reviews, but obviously humility would serve me better.

Most importantly, I've been working this week on tightening up my focus and outlining my plot clearly.

So...hmmm...I think I owe Nathan and my reviewers about 20 years worth of workshop fees. :-)

morphine-moniza said...

Yay I got one correct and seriously considered another one! I'll just be happy with that.

Hmm but I must say there's a serious flaw with this contest. How do you know the books that actually have been published are likely to sell better than the unpublished books? it's extremely likely that quite a few of the other queries refer to books which are even more commercially viable, but just not ready for publishing yet. Just a thought.

Like Nathan said, they could go on to be really really successful.

Owl Sprite said...

There were so many good queries... it was really hard to tell. I had a feeling I would be 0 for 5!

After rejecting #9 it did occur to me that it was probably one of the published ones, because of the compelling topic. I couldn't stop thinking about it after I read it, even though it wasn't something I personally would read.

Annalee said...

I passed on all three, and in retrospect, I came across more snarkily than I intended to in #39. I was one of the people who passed because it looked really familiar--it just didn't occur to me that there was a good reason for that >_<. I certainly wasn't trying to be rude, but I forgot how poorly tone translates in comments--I apologize to Ms. Brennan for coming across so poorly.

I think what I took away from this more than anything else is that it hammered home the old adage that agents are looking for a reason to say yes, not a reason to say no. A query that follows the traditional format makes the reasons to say yes pop right out, so that they don't get lost in a harried agent's slush.

That doesn't mean that there won't be other reasons to say yes buried in the slush, though, which is the part I missed out on because I was too busy trying to beat the pile of queries down as quickly as I could (pause for a moment so that the real agents around these parts can laugh at me for finding fifty queries overwhelming). If Ms. Scott's query had said "X-Men for girls" in it, I'd have been all over that like white on snow. In fact, I'm going to go buy her book when it comes out, because nothing about that sounds like a bad plan to me.

I think the other lesson here, though, is really just how not-personal and subjective many rejections are. Ms. Moskowitz's query was well-written and had great voice, but because of past experiences with self-harmers in my life, I'm extremely sensitive about how they're portrayed in fiction. So I passed, knowing that agents who didn't have my background would snap it right up. And clearly they did; just not so much in this contest.

Oi. Long comment is looooong. Sorry.

Anonymous said...

I would love to hear how many of these novels work out over time.

Maybe Nathan can have a check in day for past participants of his contests now and then.

I would seriously love to read #1, #10, #12, #36, and #42

and probably a LOT of the others.

I also agree with another blog comment about how the queries here were probably going to be WAy better than typical!

Kristin Laughtin said...

Wow. I didn't actually comment on any of the posts, but just kept a running tally in my head. Definitely one and possibly two of the published novels were on my list of books I would request. (So was #10, actually.)

TOUGH job.

Lucy said...

The funny thing (although I batted absolutely zero) is that I was not by-and-large in love with my picks. I only thought they could sell, and perhaps some still will. But I think this was a great exercise, and Nathan, we appreciate you (and your volunteers) suffering through the incredible load of responses.

Classy act, Mr. Bransford!

Thank you also to the people who bravely set forth your query. A hundred-plus rejections in one day, ouch! You have my condolences. But doesn't it make you feel better to see how wrong the rest of us were? ;-)

Marilyn Peake said...

Thanks so much, Nathan, for allowing us to talk about our queries if we had one in the contest. Here goes...

When Nathan asked for contest queries, even if they weren’t for published books, I submitted several queries describing short stories I’ve had published and am thinking about expanding into novels. I wanted to see if people might be interested in the characters and basic story ideas, but I didn’t describe plot because I hadn’t thought of plots for those novels yet. One of those queries made it into the contest.

Thank you to everyone who mentioned being intrigued by the characters and premise in Query #2! I received many comments along those lines, along with a mention that there wasn’t enough information about plot.

Query #2 describes my urban fantasy short story, REPO GIRL AND THE FORTUNE FAERIE, published in the anthology, Twisted Tails IV: Fantastic Flights of Fantasy. Here’s an excerpt (originally not formatted in a way that could be posted on Nathan’s blog for the contest):

Beginning of REPO GIRL AND THE FORTUNE FAERIE by Marilyn Peake:

A brilliant half-moon cut through clouds like a scythe, retreating into blackness. Next to it, a rocky planet pulled scraps of celestial light into its skin; then shimmered like an isolated diamond in the cold night sky. Brittle leaves, nothing more than scraping sounds and grayish ghostly shapes, skittered down the street within the midnight gloom.

A hooded figure moved quickly. Passing under fiercely glowing streetlamps, she revealed little: long, dark hair escaping the confines of a purple hood; tall, shapely, female body; purple velvet cloak tied securely around her neck and held closed by the steel grip of one slender hand; high-heeled black leather boots that clacked and echoed against cold concrete slabs of pavement. Her profile was alluring and provocative, like an antique porcelain doll.

Arriving at a brownstone house, one of many along the quiet street, she marched up to the front door. The building loomed large, staring down at her through opaque glass windows. With a sense of purpose and determination, she raised the doorknocker, face of a grimacing god carved from dark wood, and slammed it repeatedly against the steel-reinforced wooden door. She shuddered, unnerved by the embedded metal, and waited.

Windows winked into awareness as yellow light flooded them, splashing the pavement with rectangular afterthoughts, the dusky building growling suddenly with confused speech.

“Coming! Wait one goddamn minute!”

“Don’t answer it! It’s after midnight, Charles!”

“I’m goin’ with the gun! Get ready to call the police!”

The woman at the front door chuckled. Police? That’s a good one.

Lace curtains slid back, revealing only a moving shadow within a downstairs room.

“I see you, Mr. Charles Quain. You and your family need to leave...right now! There are no further chances. Open up!” She pounded on the door with the sound of an angry mob of men.

Feeling strangely drawn to the porcelain face – powdery white with a hint of blush, twinkling violet eyes, long black lashes, full painted lips – the man opened the front door. Dazed, he stared into violet eyes. His wife watched from the second floor, peering over a thick balcony rail.

The hooded figure spoke in a commanding voice, “Put down your gun, Mr. Quain, and get out here!”

The man obeyed, placing a black Colt .45 on a long, intricately carved hall table, then stepping out into the night wearing only a ribbed sleeveless undershirt and boxer shorts. His wife sped away down the upstairs hallway, waking their children, leading them quietly into the master bedroom and bolting the door shut.

“Nice boxers, Quain! Hearts? How sweet! Must be feelin’ lucky tonight.”

The woman extended her long, thin hand from inside a flowing sleeve, briefly flashing glossy purple fingernails, and slapped him on the backside. His buttocks stayed firm, the spank impacting with a cracking sound. Fire burned in the man’s emerald eyes, but he said nothing.

The woman snickered. “Perhaps you’re being evicted, Mr. Quain.”

The man looked up, orange hair brilliant under the golden glow of a nearby streetlamp. “What are you talking about? You have the wrong person. My mortgage is completely paid up. Maybe you have the wrong address. Can I see your papers?” He stepped toward her, shivering in the bleak wind whistling round them.

The woman tossed her head back in laughter, hood slipping to her shoulders, thick black hair cascading down in curls. “You’re rather suggestible. I only said, ‘Perhaps you’re being evicted, Mr. Quain.’ You’re not being evicted. But you are having items repossessed. Just thought I’d have a little fun with you.” Smiling broadly, she shoved one open palm against the chest of the man moving toward her, wrestling with the other hand a folded sheet of paper from a pocket in her robe. Slowly unfolding the paper, she continued, “Looks like you haven’t paid your charge cards in a while. I’m here to collect a few things: Ming vase, wide-screen plasma TV, a few paintings...Should I go on?”

The woman snapped her fingers, and a mob of hooded figures moved swiftly from the shadows. Lights blinked on in nearby houses; then faded to black a few seconds later.

Charles Quain shuddered, tried to speak between chattering teeth, “You can’t just take my stuff away!”

The woman laughed again, mockery bouncing off the brownstone walls in waves of echo. “Ah...yes. Actually, I can take your stuff away.” Flashing a plastic-coated I.D. card in front of him, she continued, “I’m Donella Bard, Repo Girl, in charge of getting back things that don’t belong to you.”

Waving her right hand in the air, she turned her back on the man in debt. Another cloaked figure – a tall, burly man with a gray beard – stepped into the light, tossed a woolen blanket around Mr. Quain; then handcuffed him to the lamppost. When the blanket slipped open, exposing his prisoner to the elements, the hulking figure mumbled a series of rhythmic lines until Mr. Quain’s teeth stopped chattering and a healthy pink color returned to his lips. Fae were sworn to never cause direct harm to humans. Certainly freezing them to death would run contrary to Faerie Law. Therefore, the massive faerie chose a warming spell to prevent his human from death or serious injury.

Minutes later, a small group of figures wearing dark capes swarmed the steps leading up to the brownstone and passed inside. Stepping through the doorframe, Donella flicked on a switch and looked around. A large chandelier – light shimmering through crystal droplets, morphing into vibrant rainbows against floor and walls – hung from a golden chain suspended far above. The floor in the front hallway was covered in black-and-white marble tiles. Donella grabbed the Colt .45 from the white ivory table, clicked on the safety, and tucked it into her pocket.

Stepping onto the hardwood floor of the living room, she shouted orders, “Take the plasma TV. Grab those crystal glasses, and the china. Take all the furniture in the living room, and the Persian rug under the coffee table. Get the Ming vase, and the paintings. I’ll go upstairs and look for the jewelry we’re supposed to get.”

Traveling upstairs, Donella ran one hand over the richly textured, antique-white wallpaper embossed with kaleidoscopic swirls, and her other hand over the brightly polished banister. Wooden steps creaked beneath her. At the second-floor landing, she stopped and listened; then moved forward. Pounding on the door to the master bedroom, she demanded that those within unlock it. When she found her request denied, she grabbed the doorknob, twisted until the lock snapped, then kicked the door open.

T. Anne said...

Interesting. I learned a lot (even if it was from the sidelines). For one I pared down my query considerably and you know what? First revised query out landed me a partial request over the weekend, so thanx Nathan!

Jen P said...

Two of the published made my Top 10 - but I ultimately chose zero. I found it interesting that one I selected was only taken by 11% but others were taken by almost a quarter or more.

I think it shows that:
1) Your blog readers are all educated (thanks to you) on what (we think) makes a good query
2) we all know what we like to read- we aren't the specialists who know the depth of the market and cross genres well enough to know what sells.

I picked based on my limited knowledge of what I have understood right now is selling, namely: India related stories (Dadi's), Misery Memoirs cross with YA / 24 hour frame (Losers), YA/Reality with Fantasy elements (Shifters) and the eternally popular Irish set romance-novels (Rosie's Child) and the crime/thriller with dash of culture clash and romance of Inguami.

"A good concept and strong writing are more important than good query form."This is a really valuable reminder. By learning and reading about writing, it is easier to get hung up on and spend time on the 'measurable' or the more visible aspects of getting published. ie the query than the inquantifiable; that "something" which agents can see or sense, a great story and strong writing. We just have to do it.

My biggest learning is if I want to be a good writer I need to do more actual writing, and less 'thinking about, learning about, reading about, discussing and blogging about' writing.

Congrats to the two super agents, Moth and Chenelley! Well done authors - thanks for the insights on your reality of being published too, and to all the stats complilers - and biggest to Nathan.

Marilyn Peake said...


Congratulations on having BREAK accepted for publication! I guessed that BREAK was one of the published books, and I'm going to buy a copy. I love stories about humans evolving in quirky kinds of ways. Loved the movie Unbreakable, and the Heroes character whose broken bones always healed. Will definitely buy a copy of BREAK, and look forward to reading it.

Mira said...

Hi Marilyn,

I picked #2, partly because I liked it, and partly because I knew it was you, previously published and was cheating.

Um, it is published right?

So, Nathan - why doesn't it count?

(If it sounds like I'm whining, that's because I am.)

I don't care if I got one right by cheating, I just want to have gotten one right.

Personal integrity does tend to fly out the window when the stakes are so high, you know.

Anyway, I really like your work, Marilyn.

Marilyn Peake said...

Brent Billy Curtis said:
Also, I came across as a bit of a pompous jerk quoting my "accolades" that I've received over the years from screenplays and short stories. I was trying to make my query sound flashy like a book cover filled with great reviews, but obviously humility would serve me better.

I don't know how agents feel about that, but I actually was very impressed with the accolades in your query letter, and wrote "AMAZING Reviews" in my notes during the contest.

Bill Greer said...

After reading all the comments to my query (#33), I've spent the last week rewriting it. My wife gives the best feedback. She didn't see my query before I sent it to the Agent for a Day contest. She looked at it afterward and said, "You can write better than that."

We've spent a week playing around with it. She'd tell me I was getting closer, and I'd change one phrase and she'd go "No, no, no." Now she's happy with it. Me too!

Now to query a few agents and see what happens.

Marilyn Peake said...


Thank you so much for the compliments about my writing! You just made my entire day.

Anonymous said...

I think it was easier for me to read the first page of a work to get a feel for the story.

Wow,Marilyn, your actual story feels VERY different to me from the query.

I now wonder if the first one to five pages may be essential.

Ellen said...

Hi guys, I'm Query number 36, Rosie's Child.

I just want to say a big thank you to everyone who took part. I got some great feedback on my query, an amazing number of you managed to detect flaws in the manuscript based on a short query letter, and I got a major ego boost from seeing so many people ask for partials and fulls. I didn't participate myself but one of my guesses was correct (Break, which sounds fascinating!).

This competition has given me so much to think about. I'm coming to the end of the first draft of the novel and this has been surprisingly insightful about the whole book.

I'd also like to point out that the title was just a placeholder, the novel doesn't have a title yet :) I was afraid Rosie's Child was too close to parody but I'm glad it didn't give me away. Title suggestions on the back of a postcard, please!

- Ellen Brickley

Heather said...

Definitely interesting.

But I think writers who read choose (and enjoy) different books than the average reader, which might be one explanation.

Also, I'm not sure when THE PREY came out, but the "Mystery writer whose books are coming to life" storyline has been done and done again and again on television crime drama shows.

Whether or not that's a reflection of Ms. Brannen's popularity or what, if that query came across my desk, I'd immediately feel like it was a tired storyline, and I don't even read that genre.

The most interesting part to me was how much we, as writers, judged a project based on the query alone.

I wonder if that's a reflection of how we feel we are judged. Perhaps, when our projects are rejected, we feel it is because of a weak query instead of a possibly flawed concept or inferior writing in the first ten pages.

I wonder how many writers think, "If only they'd actually read the manuscript, they'd fall in love with it and rep it in a moment," or something equally delusional.

I'm pretty sure I've felt that once or twice--especially when an agent put out a wish list of projects that totally meshes with my book conceptually, but my query gets a form rejection response.

I sometimes think writers float between self-deprecation, self-confidence, and outright delusion on a continual basis. ahahaha

hannah said...

Thanks for the comments, guys.

For the record, I wrote Break because I dislike self-injury books already on the market, and I wanted to write a book about self-injury that wasn't a "self-injury book" and wasn't even a problem novel.

lesleylsmith said...

Thanks, Nathan. This was a good learning experience.

Anonymous said...

I asked for your manuscript!
I will again too.
And regarding themes:
It may have been done before, but it's in how YOU do it that makes me want to read your work.
Which was why I passed on a few queries - they seemed like repeats.
If only I had had some pages to read!
While I was pretending to be an agent, I went for five different kinds of books. As an "agent," I was trying to be diversified. I was also looking for different, fresh, and new or missing elements. I completely missed the ones I guess that are more typically popular.
But as a pretend agent, I wanted my agency to have its own imprint and wanted to build several distinct lines.
What fun to play!

Anonymous said...

When I was in a writing group a long time ago, a writer joined us. He said he could listen to anything BUT RABBIT stories. It was my turn to read. Unfortunately, I had a rabbit story.

Samuel said...

I'd really recommend everyone read the Poets and Writers link to four agents discussing the business - see Friday's TWIP post.

Jim Rutman (a very wise and eloquent speaker, I thought) says:

I feel like people have generally read something that tells them how to write, at the very least, an unobjectionable cover letter. I like it when they are fairly matter-of-fact. To me that suggests, whether it's well placed or not, a certain confidence that you're going to appreciate the pages rather than the letter. I don't have any sort of pointed advice about what people ought to do in a cover letter. It just doesn't matter that much. It's going to get read.I think there's a lot to be said in just keeping it simple: This is me. I've written a book. It's about this. Can I send you some pages?

hippokrene said...

This was all very interesting.

Thank you for putting this together Nathan. And thank you Allison, Hannah, and Inara for including your queries.

Endless Secrets said...

I guess it was harder than I thought it would be. But I did get one right! *jumps with joy*
A lot of the queries however just sounded sooo good, it was nearly impossible even to narrow it down to three.
Great experience.

Ellen said...

Anonymous @ 11.55 -

I'll be glad to send it when it's done - I lurk here a lot but I feel like I got a great sense of the type of people who post here from this contest so I imagine I'll comment a lot more from now on.

Other Lisa said...

I whiffed. Though I was among the many who rejected Copycat Killer because it sounded too familiar.

Lessons learned? "The incredibly subjective nature of the publishing business," and yeah, I should stick to writing!

Rick Chesler said...

Interesting experiment, Nathan!

Lorin said...

My notes are at home, but I'm pretty sure I got 2/3. Not bad, I think, for an amateur. BREAK was the first must read for me - I bypassed putting it on my maybe list and just responded yes right after reading it. Then again, I am biased in favor of YA books. Can't wait to read it when it comes out!

Thanks for running this contest, Nathan. It was lots of fun!

The Classic Carol said...

Personally, I believe this blog and its contests are a plot (haha punny), deliberatley intended to delay writers from practicing their craft. That way agents can catch up on their slush and spend more time in the bar. I love hidden agendas, conspiracies, intrigue, along with scheming, treacherousness, men. And you all have been charmed by that kid Nathan in the orange t-shirt, who you believe embraces boyish charm, if not the classic good looks of a CW cast member. A little more brow, might allow me to take him more seriously.

Marilyn Peake said...

Dawn Johnson,

Do you have a website? I loved the story described in Query #10. I'd love to know if and when your book is published, so I can buy it. Thanks.

Mira said...

Brent Billy and Marilyn,

I thought the credentials were impressive. It was a large part of why I chose your queries.

I could be wrong, but your peers may react differently to credidentials than an agent would.

Personally, I'd leave them in.

Then for those of us who don't have them, we can resort to the time honored method of making them up.

No, not really. I would never do that.

Just like I'd never cheat on a contest and get mad that it didn't work.

Megan said...

Woot, got one of em (#39)!Unfortunately, the other two weren't even on my short list (I picked 2, 18, 20, 36 and 39 and short listed 6, 10 33 and 38). It was lots of fun, though I didn't read the comments because I felt bad for the query authors. In any case, definitely eye opening.

Anonymous said...

I'm not too humbled, because I'm sure my 5 picks will go on to achieve greatness. ;)

Ego said...

Not one!

I was sure I'd got them all, whilst simultaneously suspecting I hadn't got any.

The first two published queries were too gruesome for me. No. 2 in particular seemed yuk. Yes, it could be a bestseller but I actively did not want to have to read it.

I loved the third query; it was charming. Can't remember why I said no but I was probably jealously guarding my remaining requests.

Another reality check for Ego! This whole trying-to-write thing has improved my grasp on reality no end.

NotJana said...

Thanks for hosting this competition Nathan!

I'm quite surprised I got one - Running Blind - and Break was my number 6! Then again, the Copycat Killer was a definite no (I even went back just now and read it again - and it's still a no even though it's a genre I read).

Anyway, even though I'm far far away from querying, I found this very fascinating. I also pointed a couple of friends (who are either aobut to start or are already actively querying) towards this contest as I think it's an invaluabe experience.

emeraldcite said...

Once again, you've run an incredibly informative and exciting contest.

Simply, you have some really awesome posts that should be required reading for all up-and-coming authors.

Although I didn't directly participate as an "agent," I did read many of the queries and comments.

Thanks for taking all the time to run these contests.

Terese said...

I didn't play Agent, but I did read all the post and a good number of the comments. This "experiment" was amazing, informative and fun to read. What I learned most of all was that an agent needs well-developed spidy-sense and writers need to be damned good at writing and original. Thanks so much!

Kristi said...

Well, I thought I had one and had none, so color me surprised - but not really. It was a tough job, albeit fun to sit on the other side of the fence for a day. Thanks for doing this and congrats to the winners! :)

Anonymous said...


Thanks for the opportunity to participate in this experiment. It was interesting, and far more exciting than I expected. And I'm surprised at the ones that are published novels, though I still don't think I'd choose two of them if I were an agent.

I wonder if the "find the published books" angle of this skewed the results a bit. If you'd kept the fact that there were successful queries in the bunch a secret until everything was tallied, I think people's choices would have been different.

It seems like agents have to go at the slushpile with an "I hope there's a winner in here" attitude rather than "I absolutely know there are 3 in this specific grouping." It changes the dynamic a bit, but it was still fun. (Yes, fun. :p )

FWIW -- some of you out there are pretty good at picking up nuances in those query letters. One of the recurring comments on mine (#48) was that the "killer" element felt tacked on (that's where a lot of people lost interest) Well... it was tacked on, about 30 seconds before I hit "send". Good eye on that one.

Erin Nolan (Agent EJN) said...

I got one right! Yay! And I rejected the other two mainly due to the fact that they just weren't to my personal taste, so again, this contest really proved how subjective this business. The one I got right was Running Blind. I found it kind of funny how a lot of people were jumping all over this author for "getting her character's name wrong" towards the end of the query. This totally tipped me off to the fact that this was probably one of the published books, and she'd missed one while disguising the character's name for the contest. But I really did request it because the story sounded like a lot of fun. I'll look for it on the shelves!

Dawn said...

Congratulations to Moth and Chenelley! Well done!

I enjoyed this very much. I wasn’t going to select queries because I didn’t have any complaints about the agent and submission process. Not yet...haven’t been at it long enough to get frustrated. However, this experiment opened my eyes, so maybe I won’t end up getting frustrated and discouraged.

Anyway, I was overwhelmed with curiosity and decided at the last minute to give it a go. I managed to pick one of the published works. (#9) Yippee! I did mull over the other two, but ultimately didn’t put them on my whittle-down list.

I appreciate all the comments on my query (#10) both positive and negative. It all helps a great deal. After sharing the day to day happenings of this experiment with my mother, she is now pushing me to get to work polishing ON ONE HAND. Hahaha! I’ve decided she’s right, especially after so many of you liked the query and Marilyn would like to read it. Thanks.

Big thanks to Nathan for running such an interesting experiment.

Venus Vaughn said...


I got 1 of the 3, and the one I got right was the one you passed on! THE BREAK. (#9)

I am actually going to go out and find that book now, because if I only had to make one choice out of the 50, that would have been it. I've been thinking of it ever since, which, I think, is exactly what you want in terms of repping a project. Something you can't get out of your mind.

As for THE PREY / COPYCAT KILLERS (#39) - once again, subjectivity comes into play. I wouldn't have had the enthusiasm to rep it properly, so I can't beat myself up for passing on it.

The final one, Inara Scott's project (#21) looked interesting and was on my maybe list. And that one would be where experience comes into play as I know nothing about the YA market. Though I should have remembered loving books like that as a kid (THE GIRL WITH THE SILVER EYES). I probably passed because it seemed too familiar.

Thanks again for the managing the work of the project. It was very illuminating.

hannah said...

Venus, thanks so much!

Martin said...

Well, apparently I would make a terrible agent. No real surprise there. :)

I was the author of Query #12 and I can't thank everyone (especially Nathan) enough for this experience (can't believe I'm saying thank you for 295 rejections in a week!)

For those interested, the query was indeed for an actual novel. Stealing Genius is currently being beta read and I'll be querying for real starting next month some time.

Thanks again, everyone, and I'll keep you posted on SG's adventures.

Caroline said...

I managed to get... 1. :)

Dawn said...

I've kept my friends updated on this experiment too, whether they wanted it or not. *giggle* And today I told them that my name was actually mentioned in a post by Nathan.

I feel like a celebrity. *weeeeee!*

holly cupala said...

Illuminating! I knocked myself out of the running after fifteen or so (would never hack it as an agent!), but I really liked the concept for BREAK and will look for it this summer. Congrats to the winners!

Davien said...

I liked the exercise, but I can't help feeling like this was a little bit stacked against us.

We didn't have the submitted writing samples for most of these queries, only the queries themselves. So, of course we relied heavily on the content of the queries.

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