Nathan Bransford, Author

Monday, April 13, 2009

Interrupting Be An Agent for a Day

I'm kind of surprised I have to say this, but some of the agents for a day are being excessively harsh with their rejections.

Please cut this out.

If some of you were real agents you'd have a pitchfork wielding mob outside of your office by now.

There are real people behind these queries, so please, not only is conducting yourself professionally part of this game, this is a supportive community, and I hope that everyone posts their suggestions as politely as possible and are as humane in their rejections as they would want a real agent to be.

Now, back to the contest.


Anonymous said...

Okay Nathan,

Point taken,

Agent XXX

Is there anyway we can do this again sometime?

Anonymous said...


I meant "any way" not "anyway"


Agent XXX

PurpleClover said...

Many apologies.

I will redact my sarcastic comment and the one that was questionably sarcastic. :)

Sophie W. said...

Honestly, I'm not surprised. I *am* looking forward to the big reveal at the end of the week, when we see which novels have been published and/or represented. I think it'll open quite a few eyes.

Keri Ford said...

Sorry anyone if I've offended you! I was giving short one to two sentences at the end of my rejections (that wouldn't have been included had I been an agent) to try and offer advice for when you query real agents. No snark was meant by me and I do apologize if I came across as so.

Deaf Indian Muslim Anarchist! said...

Yep, I've noticed some really nasty remarks by certain "agents" on the blog in order to try to be funny. Not cool, not funny, not professional at all.

Justus M. Bowman said...

Good call.

Anonymous said...

It's very helpful and insightful when people list the reasons why they did/did not reject a query, after their "official" rejection letter.

There's no need for these comments to be mean, but I think it would help everyone to see some respectful comments on why these queries are being rejected.

Myra said...


I've read a couple of queries that are intriguing, but are books that I would be unable to represent because I avoid sorrow at all costs.

Can we reject the query but suggest they sent it on to "xyz" agent? Is this something agents do?

While I avoid sorrow, I'm all about encouragement.

Rick Daley said...

For me part of the fun is in creating a professional form rejection and MS request.

Superfast said...

Thank you so much for your submission. Unfortunately, I don't...

Oh, sorry. I kind of got into a groove there.

kdrausin said...

To Rick,

I was going to email you but since the subject has been brought up...I love your rejection letters.


Lea Schizas - Author/Editor said...

Honestly, this contest will not prove much only because most writers do not actively participate in other areas (besides their own books, marketing, promoting)to understand the time crunch and organization that goes into agenting and the publishing world.

It will show them the skill it takes to weed out possible good queries and then to read the first few pages to grasp a writer's voice. Other than that, the point being about answering/sending out even generic rejections, will still be unanswered. A form letter can be massed emailed to writers whose work has been rejected.

As an exercise to wear an agent's hat - they will get to see the work involved, this I agree with.

QuerySubmitter said...

So far, I'm finding it pretty funny. Fact is, if you get 50 comments and only one says "such and such, you idiot" I think it says more about the commenter than the query.

jjdebenedictis said...

Gotta say I agree with this...

I was shocked to see writers putting such a nasty spin on what being an agent is about. Ho-lee, but I would have cried if I got some of those rejections.

TheDivaAgent said...

Dear Nathan,

Fine. I'll play nice as long as You understand that I AM A DIVA, no matter what. I'll be a nice, DIVA, though. Hmm... that's a bit of an oxymoron.

The next time we do this, can we please allow for snarkiness? It's so much more fun. And, to any who may have been offended by the Diva's posts, no insult intended. Truly. As Nathan mentioned early on, these are outstanding queries. I, as divalicious as I am, have been quite surprised at the number of rejections I've seen.


The Diva Agent (though not an agent in real life)

Anonymous said...

Sorry, that was probably me. I thought we were supposed to include our "official" response to the writer but also share with the group our reasons behind the response - however visceral they may be.

litenup_rach said...

Wow, Nathan... adorable and a compassionate heart to match... I think your 'interruption' is proof positive why your blog gets its rave reviews and HUGE bloggership.

Keep being the change, Nathan... perhaps the real world really can be strong and powerful and still have a heart.

Gabriele C. said...

I'm with the Diva here. Why not warn people it could get snarky here next time, so those who don't like that won't submit and then feel hurt. One learns more by the reasons why a query doesn't work than by the fact people reject it.

Says someone who got snarked by Miss Snark when her blog was still active. It helped me to improve that NiP.

Gabriele C. said...

*learns more from .....*

I haz gammar, just not on Mondays. ;)

Nathan Bransford said...


That's just not what this blog is about.

Nathan Bransford said...

Oh, and for the record I wasn't offended by Diva's posts -- she was satirizing agents, not authors. That's fine by me.

Anonymous said...

From Muckraker:

I ditto Anonymous above. I hope I haven't seemed at all mean, and apologize to anyone who might be offended, but may have misunderstood the point of the exercise. I thought it would be helpful to include reasons why the query failed for me, which might be helpful to the writer. In an effort to be clear, I might be being too blunt.

micatsc said...

Interesting! On most query crit sites a little snark is the order of the day, so I guess I'm used to it. Glad I waited to post rejections/requests until later. I would've been interested to see the "why rejected" from everyone else, though.

niesp said...

It's possible that some agents are being as honest in their rejections as they would want a real agent to be.

Gabriele C. said...

I understand, Nathan.

It's one of the reasons I don't actively participate in the query fun. I know I would press Send on snarky remarks before rethinking them. :) The second reason is that I can't judge anything Romance-reated, and there are a number of queries for that sort of novel.

Nathan Bransford said...

I know the queries will appreciate the individualized feedback provided that it's offered constructively. Just err on the side of politeness. Some people have crossed over from constructive to just mean.

Anonymous said...

Seriously, how can people throw a fit during Agentfail about disrespectful agents and then turn around and DO THE SAME THING?

QuerySubmitter said...

And just to be clear, my amusement in no way means I'm discounting comments. There have been some excellent points made and I, for one, fully intend to revisit my query based on this exercise.

Jenn S. said...

Echoing Anonymous 10:54--I may have been too straightforward in my post-rejection letter explanations. There's no reason we all can't be truthful without being respectful.

lesleylsmith said...

Yes, this is tricky. I've been trying to give constructive criticism in a positive way. If I've offended anyone, I sincerely apologize. Since this is an exercise though I do think authors would benefit from at least a little feedback. However, that's probably NOT realistic.

A Gent said...

Dear Everyone,
Hope I didn't offend anyone. Meant to be both constructive and have a good time while doing it. But since I don't want to run the risk of being a meanie, I wont.

All the best,
A Gent

Lucy Ammunition said...

Dear Anyone I might have offended,

Please forgive me. If I made out of line comments, I was commenting more about my own ineptness and lack of understanding of some of the material.

I am truly a fish out of water here and this contest is proving that to me.

I think anyone who sent in anything is very courageous and commend them for contributing to this blog.

Anyway, if the finger was pointing at any of my comments, I apologize profusely.


Lucy Ammunition
Fictitious Agent

Yat-Yee said...

Thanks, Nathan. Another eg of your commitment to building a supportive community.

Being honest doesn't mean one has to be mean and disrespectful.

Dara said...

Apologizing for any snarky comments made :)

jane doherty said...

I'm blunt. Can't help it. I hope you don't take that as offensive; it wasn't the intent.

Laurie said...

I've been reading along until now and this interruption actually surprised me because I haven't seen anything truly mean thus far.

I have been adding a bit of feedback with my rejections because I thought it might help the writer - BUT - I would never want to hurt someone or make them stop writing.

So if I did offend someone, please accept my deepest apologies.

I've been in several writing groups over the years and in my experience the ones that are too nice don't help the writer at all. Constructive criticism is what makes the writing stronger.

That said, now I know why agents send out form letters. Not only does it take alot longer to explain why a query doesn't work, but no one wants to feel mean.

This has been highly instructive. Knowing I can only pick five is making me reject some that might in fact be quite good.

If I were a real agent, I would request the first five pages with all queries, because query writing seems to be an artform of itself and not necessarily a representation of whether the actual manuscript is worth pursuing.

TheDivaAgent said...


A thought has just occurred to the DIVA. The thought is this: My snarkiness, and I am snarky, was not a reflection on the quality of the posted queries. It was, instead, a reflection of how agents and publishers make writers feel. This feeling engendered the animosity behind queryfail. Writers do work hard. For our troubles, more often than not, we are ignored or treated with the disdain of a form rejection. The message sent is that writers are commodities. Well, the system is as it is. This exercise is not a part of the old system. As part of a new system, however, it can help authors fine tune areas where there may be blind spots. I've been helped enormously. The DIVA has already apologized to writers who may be offended, but I should apologize to Nathan. As an agent representative, you are actually the one being skewered with the poisoned postings. I just want you to know that you're one of the good guys, at least in my book. Yeah, you're a little soft-hearted, but we all have our flaws. :D

The Diva Agent

selestial-owg said...

I've been offering feedback. I hope none of it has been offensive :(

hannah said...

Exactly what Anon 10:58 said.

All I'm going to say is I know some mean people will be surprised at the reveal.

Memoirs of a Bulimic Black Boy said...

"There are real people behind these queries, so please, not only is conducting yourself professionally part of this game, this is a supportive community…” One can only assume some of these perpetrators were just a few weeks ago ranting about how rude and abrasive many agents were. Oh, how the mighty have fallen from grace. Delicious

reader said...

Yikes, I thought we were supposed to give comments on "why" we were passing, otherwise how does the querier know what we really thought?

I hope I didn't offend anyone. I'm really sorry if I've done so.

Nathan, to clairify, do you NOT want us to give our reasons?

Melissa said...


I'm with Keri Ford. I was offering thoughts at the end of my rejections, but I was not intending to include them with the actual rejections. I wanted them to add to the discussion, but I can see that some of them might have been hurtful to the writers of the queries. I wasn't intending that at all. I apologize to anyone I offended.


Rick Daley said...

I like this blog for its lack of Snark.

For those who crave the maximum Snark in their query reviews, I recommend Evil Editor (


EE did a writing contest last week with queries made entirely of rhetorical questions. You'd be sure to laugh once or twice, unless your head explodes first.

Laura said...

Dear Nathan,

Thank you for your query, but this subject does not apply to me.

Hee. Dude, your job is HARD. I've already learned something VERY important: it's not like an agent says, "oh, that's interesting..." I'm seeing that the agent has to fall in love with the work to have a chance at selling it.

There are some great queries out there that I just don't think I'd love enough to batter down doors and bug editors about.

Agent Laura

jnantz said...

I haven't followed everyone's yet, because I was blessed enough to have my own query posted and I'm revelling in the feedback...fact is I wouldn't even have picked my own query (and I won't when I go through all 50 later), but the personal comments people are making are T-R-E-M-E-N-D-O-U-S-L-Y helpful. In fact, I can only think of one truly "snarky" response, and I got that it was DIVA playing the bad agent moreso than saying everything in my query sucked, so I found it morbidly funny.

Truth be told, I hope no one else is getting truly hurt here, because I think the feedback has been helpful and I hope that people whose queries are posted later will get just as much help. Folks, please continue to post feedback if your busy agenting day allows! Maybe just put it in a slightly more professional voice so Mr. Bransford doesn't get mad.

thelifter said...


I just read this, so please forgive my excessively mean rejections. I'll try to make them constructively mean from now on.


Mr. Snark.

hannah said...

An open suggestion--I think people should think twice before commenting on the quality of the manuscript. You've only seen the query. You can say "your query doesn't make your hero's motivation clear" without saying "your hero has no motivation."

Anonymous said...

I'd like to add that I was mortified at my comments when I went back and read them.
Somehow, in the being "pretend agents" I lost the fact that these were real queries. I thought there were only three or so real ones (the already successful ones) and that the rest were just made up ones.
I am so sorry.
I was wrong.
I'll never do it again.
What I thought was just having fun wasn't funny at all.

Belinda Frisch said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Belinda Frisch said...

This experiment is totally enlightening and I am pretty shocked anyone has time for snark.

To me, I feel like I'm shopping for the perfect "something"--I'll know what I want when I see it.

There are so many good ideas here, but I wouldn't request what I wouldn't love to read. It makes me really believe the whole "it's not you, it's me" sentiment.

I've only managed to get through 15 on top of my work day and have already gained new perspective on the form rejection.

Blessed are the literary agents for their patience and wisdom! Thanks, Nathan, for this opportunity. I don't know how you do it :-)

L.C. Gant said...

I noticed the very same thing in some folks' comments as I read them, and it made me sad.

I don't understand how some writers could brutally criticize agents in #agentfail, and then turn around and ridicule their fellow writers even more than the agents did! Seems a bit hypocritical to me.

Rick Daley said...


Thanks for the props on my rejection letter, I appreciate it ;-)

Ethan Rose said...

I am assuming the dear author etc. is implied. I am trying to give constuctive advice and not cutting and pasting a form rejection. However since I got into the game late I don't really expect anyone to read down as far as my posts anyway.

QuerySubmitter said...

Just for the record, if they're comments about your query, not only are you going to read down to the bottom from now until Sunday, but you're going to print them out and pick them apart for all eternity. ;)

DeadlyAccurate said...

I'm blunt, but I haven't once considered mocking a query. I've taken every query seriously, so if my statements hurt someone, I apologize. I did not mean it so.

Any query that was really bad, I posted the form rejection and that's it (that doesn't mean all those without comments were bad; sometimes I simply couldn't think of what to say).

TheDivaAgent said...

The Diva also apologizes to Jnantz.

Chuck H. said...

To anyone who feels I have been unkind in my remarks, I most humbly apologize. Just remember that I too am an unpublished writer and take anything I say with a biiig dash of salt. Sorry

Heather said...

Just wanted to say that this is actually opening my eyes quite a bit.

Since I have a full-time Day Job of Ick, I've had to sneak in a query here and there as I make my way through the day. I imagine this is much like what an agent would do.

Now that my work day is over, I'm attacking them in earnest, but I'm tired and have less patience after putting in a full day of Corporate Hell.

So, not to be contrary, but I full disagree with whoever said that this wouldn't work. Because I think it's fantastic.

I also have tried to keep my comments from being rude. I did want to comment on the why of the rejection, just in case the author is around and interested. But if I have offended anyone, I'm very sorry.

Nathan Bransford said...

Thanks, Heather!

Also I came in to 76 queries today. Between a busy work day (contracts, existing projects, etc.) and the contest I still have a ways to go today.

sally apokedak said...


On all of the ones I rejected, where I added a reason after the rejection, I was merely trying to help the writer. I wouldn't have a mob outside my office because I'd have form rejected those queries.

I'm sorry if I've offended anyone.

I was writing fast and I wasn't taking time to be extra nice.

My agency moved to a "if you don't hear, I'm not interested," policy after twelve queries. I have never complained when publishers and agents have had this policy so I feel no shame in adopting it for my own agency. =0)

jnantz said...

Diva - Please don't apologize. I have a very morbid sense of humor, and I really did find it funny.

Gregory said...


I agree with those who are trying to support the writer by explaining why they rejected the piece. It's FAR more helpful to get even a tiny insight into the problem areas than it is to be told the work "has potential" and to "keep writing."

If people are snarky about it, so what? Doesn't bother me. I immediately try to look past the irritation and figure out if there's a pony in there. They might be telling me something that is VERY valuable. I don't care how they say it. Really don't. I appreciate them taking the time to comment!

At the same time, it's true that it's better not to be sarcastic or cutting. Serves no useful purpose. But thoughtful, HONEST, feedback? YOU BET! Nothing more valuable than that.

Gregory said...


It would be interesting if you put up a system that provided this reader-feedback on queries routinely, for anyone who wants to submit to it.

Allow comments the query authors could see, but have a "thumbs up" vote button. You end up with queries ranked by the readership here.

Now, you look at those queries, and see how often you concur that the top vote-getters are the ones you'd select in any event. And how often would you request a partial from one that received few or no reader votes.

In other words... just how close, on average, would your readership pretty much concur with you. And if the correlation is extremely high (I'll bet it would be), you could probably exploit it as a screening mechanism.

Yes, you'd have to try to minimize multiple voting and vote-stacking, but you could always skim queries and see what the readers voted. Might be interesting feedback.

Anonymous said...

I don't understand how some writers could brutally criticize agents in #agentfail, and then turn around and ridicule their fellow writers even more than the agents did! Seems a bit hypocritical to me.And I don't understand how some writers can complain that agents don't give personalized and honest feedback and then turn around and complain when their fellow writers do.

I agree we shouldn't make fun of people's queries, but one person's honest is another person's "brutality."

If nothing else, I'm beginning to understand exactly why agents DO refrain from personal comments on queries.

Dawn said...

I submitted a query and I appreciate the constructive comments that come along with some of the rejections AND the requests.

I can remember only one comment that stung and that was "form rejection," which I read as: YOU IDIOT! WHY ARE YOU STILL BREATHING?! but it only stung for about three seconds. I didn't take it personally. Thanks for all the input. :)

sonya said...

I'd play, but I'm already familiar with at least one of the soon-to-be-published novels, so that'd be cheating. *G*

But if I did play, I'd be polite...

bveggie said...

I might have left one when I asked if the query was a joke, but I am sorry. Since I sarted at 50 and worked backwards, I am sorry I didn't go forwards.

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

I'm a big offender. Please feel free to disregard my comments.

It was a choice between being extremely frank in my reaction to the queries, and posting a generic "yes" or "no."

As Nathan has explained, that was all he was looking for, and brutal editorializing was not on the agenda.

So, my apologies. I have a few left to read and I'll keep them to yes/no reactions.

Meggrs said...

I also started at the top and worked backwards, which means I just read this post.

Unfortunately, all my comments above post #15 fall on the inappropriate side, so I can either delete them or leave that up to a blog administrator.

Either way, I understand and again offer apologies.

Meggrs said...

Ok, now I'm trolling, but I just realized that I'm not seeing an editing feature to delete my inappropriate posts.

Blog admin, my posts from #16-50 fall into this category--I don't know if you want to make the effort, but I understand if you want to pull my responses (and I'm doubly sorry for the effort that would/will take). I'd happily blast them all myself and spare you the effort.

Nathan Bransford said...

Thanks, meggrs. I already deleted one I found over the top. I think I'll leave the others, unless there's one or two in particular that you'd like me to delete.

TecZ aka Dalton C Teczon - Writer said...

I'm surprised too. I thought of this as an exercise, a way to learn together and give constructive criticism to each other. I consider, "Agent for a Day," an way to help each other improve and grow. Thank you for this opportunity Nathan. Peace and love all!

Meggrs said...

Nathan, I'll be happy to review my comments tonight and perhaps point out additional worst offenders (yanno, in case you missed them the first time).

Thanks again for your patience, and my apologies to you and my fellow blog readers/participants.

Anonymous said...

Dear writer,
I appreciate the query but your book is not what I am looking for at the moment. However, I wish you luck in getting this book published.

best regards,
Nathaniel Orange

Anonymous said...

Dear Author,
I regret to inform you that I am not interested in representing your story. I hope you have better luck in the future.
Best of luck,

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